An Ironsides cavalry cornet flag with the inscription ASCENDIA [INCENDIA] CVRA SIONIS “Ascend to the help of Zion” or “Burning with the desire to help Zion”.
The Soldier’s Pocket Bible was issued to Cromwell’s New Model Army in 1643. It came in pamphlet edition and was a condensed version of the Protestant Bible. The booklet octavo format was 5½” × 3″ in size, had 16 pages and a total of 150 war related verses from the Bible.
Cromwell’s soldiers, nicknamed “the Ironsides” in recognition of their fortitude kept the Pocket Bible in a buttoned pocket on the inside waistcoat—near the heart—under the outer leather buff coat. They would go into battle singing hymns like Psalms 46:7“The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our Refuge.”
In an era where military leadership came from wealthy aristocratic families, Cromwell revolutionized the constellation of the parliamentary army by meritoriously appointing men of humble origin and strong Puritan convictions as officers in his cavalry regiment. These man, in turn, recruited similar minded individuals who eventually formed the core of the New Model Army.
Cromwell attributed his army’s almost unbroken chain of victories against the superior and better equipped royalist forces to their moral superiority and to G-d’s favorable intervention. In true biblical fashion, he lead cavalry charges himself and applied a strict ethical code to everyday conduct. At camp, the soldiers didn’t get drunk or gamble and were instructed in general to behave decently with orders such as:
“A Souldier must not doe wickedly”
Following strict, self imposed battlefield discipline, his soldiers did not rape, pillage, nor partake in the spoils of war. This is unusual considering the atrocities that other European armies were perpetuating on each other and inflicting on the civilian population during the contemporary Thirty Years’ War.
Image 2: Mass executions during the Thirty Years’ War – Jacques Callot: “The miseries and misfortunes of war” The text reads: ‘Finally these infamous and abandoned thieves [soldiers who plundered and raped], hanging from this tree like wretched fruit, show that crime (horrible and black species) is itself the instrument of shame and vengeance, and that it is the fate of corrupt men to experience the justice of heaven sooner or later.’
Cromwell’s extraordinary practices and the quality of soldiers they produced weren’t confined to the English Civil War. As the English Puritans immigrated to America in the mid to late 1600s, they brought these ideals with them.
Fast forward the clock by 130 years to June 17th, 1775, the eve of the go/no-go engagement of the American revolution. Posted at Breeds Hill was one Francis Merrifield. Previously, Merrifield served with the New England Ipswich militia at Ticonderoga in the French and Indian War in 1759. After hostilities with England began in April 19th 1775, Merrifield was part of the force that pursued British soldiers retreating from the battles of Lexington and Concord. Just like the Ironsides of Cromwell’s day, he too carried his bible into battle, fighting as a sergeant at Bunker Hill in the company of Captain Nathaniel Wade in Colonel Moses Little’s regiment.
Merrifield inscribed his experience on the verso of the New Testament title page and on the inside back cover, thanking G-d for his safe deliverance from the battlefield and the details of his regiment and the serial number of his musket.
The inscription reads:
“1775. Cambridge, June 17th. A batel fought on bunkers hill, on Saterday in the afternoon, which lasted an hour and a quarter, two men were wounded, and … the number of my gun, one hundred eighty three, 183, the seventeenth Rigement, 17.“
“Cambridge, Jun 17 1775. I desire to bless God for his Kind aperince in delivering me and sparing my life in the late battle fought on Bunker’s Hill. I desire to devote this spared life to His glory and honour. In witness my hand, Francis Merrifield.“
Image 3: Francis Merrifield’s Bible
It is noteworthy just how far reaching Cromwell’s influence has been on the concept of ‘the citizen soldier’, a stable English parliamentary system, the American and French Revolutions, and the formation of every modern republic variant since.
We trace many of the revolutionary republican ideas to individuals such as Adams, Franklin, Warren, and Rousseau, but its easy to overlook the fact that the core concepts of this ideology such as taxation with representation are steeped in Cromwell’s social, religious, and political policies. It was Cromwell’s refusal to become a king that later inspired Washington to follow in his footsteps and go into retirement in 1797. It also inspired John Stark’s and Thomas Jefferson’s resistance to the American Cincinnatus movement, which they viewed as an imitation of the old-world inherited form of aristocracy. Subsequently, it was this mindset that enabled congress to set term limits on the presidency 150 years later in 1947.
Most of us also misattribute the natural rights of life, liberty, and property to John Locke. But Locke, was only a wee one year old baby (his father served as a captain in Cromwell’s cavalry) when Cromwell was already hard at work implementing what he termed “freeborn rights” which he defined as the G-d given rights that every human has at birth, as opposed to the rights bestowed on them by government or by human law. Echoing Cromwell sentiment, John Stark, just before the 1777 battle of Bennington told his troops that they were fighting for their “natural born rights as Englishmen”.
Without Cromwell’s successful challenge to the belief in the divine right of kings which he based on 1 Samuel 8:11-18 and the execution of Charles I, it is unlikely that King George III would have ever been challenged with the list of grievances and labeled a tyrant or that Luis the XVI would have been guillotined.
Image 4: (L-R) The execution of Charles I (1649), the toppling of George III lead statue in New York (1776), the execution of Luis XVI (1793)
It seems that history has a well developed sense of Irony, during the English civil war, the royal party known as the cavaliers referred to Cromwell’s army with the derogatory term “roundheads”. This mucking nickname first described the soldiers, and then the whole Parliamentary party. The term arose from the puritan custom of getting buzz cuts. This was done to demonstrate their contempt for stylish hairdressing. This practice was in contrast to the long flowing hair styles of the royalist. Instead of getting offended, the parliamentarians embraced it. A roundhead, announced one pamphlet, was “a good, honest, zealous, and true protestant’, called by God to do his work.”
100 years later, in 1754, during the French Indian wars, the British came up with another coiffure related pejorative term “Yankee doodle” to describe the colonists of New England, insinuating that they were uncouth, low-class men lacking a sense of style and masculinity. The New Englanders, just like the roundheads, happily adapted the term and used it proudly.
Yankee Doodle is the tune That we all delight in; It suits for feasts, it suits for fun, And just as well for fightin’.
Cromwell’s words about “A Souldier must not doe wickedly” also aged well with the passage of time, almost 300 years after they were put down in writing, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, wrote in his preface to the soldier’s bible:
“LOVE MERCY; treat prisoners well, succor the wounded, treat every woman as if she was your sister, care for the little children, and be tender to the old and helpless.”
The word indeed is mightier than the sword!
Image 5: Military Pocket bibles
The following is a full copy of the original 1643 Soldiers Pocket Bible. The footnote section at the bottom of the post has a link to the printable PDF version.
1861 Edition of The Soldier’s Pocket Bible – South Carolina Tract Society The Soldier’s pocket Bible: issued for the use of the army of Oliver Cromwell. The Soldier’s pocket Bible, containing the most (if not all) of those places contained in Holy Scripture, which do show the qualifications of his inner man that is a fit soldier to fight the Lord’s battles, both before the fight, in the fight, and after the fight: which scriptures are reduced to several heads, and fitly applied to the soldier’s several occasions, and so may supply the want of the whole Bible, which a soldier cannot conveniently carry about him; and may be also useful for any Christian to meditate upon, now in this miserable time of war : with the soldier’s prayer, and battle hymn.
Map of the Battle of Bunker Hill Breeds Hill is located at the center right
Yankee Doodle Dandy in the 18th century style – The Towpath Volunteers Fife and Drum Corps
Despising pomp and vain parade, At home you stay, while France and Spain The secret, ardent wish convey’d, And hail’d you to their shores in vain: In Vernon’s groves you shun the throne, Admir’d by kings, but seen by none.
President Woodrow Wilsons’s Preface to the World War I Soldier’s Bible
Colonel Theodor Roosevelt’s Preface to the Soldier’s Bible
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Preface to the WW II Soldier’s Bible
1914-1917 Private George Ford’s pocket bible carried by him to the battle of the Somme
The Hagaddah which is recited at the Seder on the first night of Passover retells the biblical story of the infliction of the ten plagues on Egypt and the exodus of the Israelites slaves. One four verse passage referencing chapter 12 in the book of Exodus stands out in the narrative because of the redundant emphasis on who was responsible for these acts:
“I will pass through the land of Egypt”, I and not an angel;
”And I will smite every first-born in the land of Egypt”, I and not a seraph;
”And I will carry out judgment against all the gods of Egypt”, I and not a messenger;
The context of the verses makes it clear that G-d alone inflicted the punitive measures and that they were executed directly by Him and not through other intermediaries like an angel, seraph, or messenger. Further support for this can be found in verse 12:12:
“For Iwill go through the land of Egypt on that night and will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am G-d.“
But despite this clear and repetitive language regarding G-d’s direct responsibility, some Jewish and Christian scholars argue that the term “destroyer” used in verse 12:23 does not refer to G-d and should instead be read as the “angel of death”. They also postulate that G-d doesn’t act directly or get involved in the ‘hands-on’ day to day minutiae. Thus, he must have been using an agent of some sort to perform this work.
This textual dichotomy has been the source of endless arguments between theologians, translators and scholars. For example, the Pseudo-Jonathan Targum (translation) of Exodus 12 uses both the terms מַלְאָכָא מְחַבְּלָא (Aramaic for “destroying angel”) and מַלְאָךְ מוֹתָא, (Aramaic for the “angel of death”). Obviously, this interpretation suggests that besides G-d there is another entity—angelic or otherwise—with a certain degree of autonomy at work here.
From the contextual point of view, the arguments in favor of an angelic agent raise a number of questions about the role of this “destroyer” and the scope of his responsibility and autonomy. For example, can this destroyer exercise free judgment? Is he constrained by any boundaries?
The Hebrew bible emphasizes the idea that the entire universe falls under G-d’s jurisdiction and that all of nature falls under his control. He is the creator of light and darkness, good and evil. As Genesis 1:31 and Isaiah 45:7 state, He is the creator of all things:
“And G-d saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
The scripture also makes it clear that G-d is not dependent on his creation and the creation cannot exist independently of Him. Even Satan’s depiction in Job 1.7 illustrates that he is not a rival of G-d nor does he possess the ability to oppose him in any way, he is just one of many tools that G-d uses to maintain the world in working moral order. Job 1.21 further reinforces the idea that the life and death cycle entirely emanates from G-d:
“And he said; naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither; G-d gave, and G-d hath taken away; blessed be the name of G-d.”
So if the scripture consistently states that G-d has complete and undisputed sovereignty, what then is the basis for the existence of an independent angelic agent who manages death, destruction, and the afterlife?
Broadly speaking, the source for this argument can be classified into these three categories of references:
Specific scriptural terminology such as: Abaddon, destroyer, messengers of death, angel that destroys, executioner, slayer, angel of G-d, Ashmedai, Satan, the harvester of souls, the angel that smites, serpent, adversary, captain of the host of G-d, leviathan the slant serpent, leviathan the tortuous serpent, and dragon
Allegorical Sources such as: Personification of death in the scripture, messengers of death, Day-Star, cherub that walks on stones of fire, and anointed cherub
Exodus 12:23 “For G-d will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side-posts, G-d will pass over the door and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.”
Joshua 3:13-14 And he said: ‘Nay, but I am captain of the host of G-d; I am now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said unto him: ‘What saith my lord unto his servant?’
Ezekiel 28:13-19 thou wast in Eden the garden of G-d; every precious stone was thy covering, the carnelian, the topaz, and the emerald, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the carbuncle, and the smaragd, and gold; the workmanship of thy settings and of thy sockets was in thee, in the day that thou wast created they were prepared.
Isaiah 37:36 And the angel of G-d went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.
2 Samuel 24:16 ”And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, G-d repented Him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people: ‘It is enough; now stay thy hand.’ And the angel of G-d was by the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”
And G-d sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it; and as he was about to destroy, G-d beheld, and He repented Him of the evil, and said to the destroying angel: ‘It is enough; now stay thy hand.’ And the angel of G-d was standing by the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of G-d standing between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.
II Kings 19:35 And it came to pass that night, that the angel of G-d went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred fourscore and five thousand; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.
Early Sources The argument advocating for the concept of an independent destroyer goes back to dawn of Egyptian and Canaanite religions. Egyptian texts that describe Osiris as the god of the dead and the lord of underworld date as early as 2500 BCE. According to passages in the book of the dead, after death, the deceased would face forty-two divine judges that evaluated If he lived in conformance with the guidelines of goddess Ma’at, who represented truth and rightness living. If the they passed the test, they were welcomed into the heavenly kingdom of Osiris. If they failed, they did not share in eternal life and were taken by Ammit, the “devourer” and subjected to terrifying punishments and then thrown to the soul-eating demons in hell. Sort of Dante’s inferno, Egyptian style.
Ones in hell, the goddess Sekhmet inflicted further punishments on them in the place of “destruction”. The dead were thrown into lakes of fire kindled by flame spitting snakes, where demons fed on the victims entrails and drank their blood. The demons then butchered and hacked their victims to pieces and burned them with inextinguishable fire, in deep pits or in cauldrons, where they were scorched, cooked, and reduced to ashes.
Image 2: Egyptian view of hell
Not as detailed as the Egyptian book of the dead, the Canaanites developed similar concepts about their god of death and the underworld.
The Canaanite deity Mavet מָוֶת (who shares some traits with Osiris), played a central role in the The Baal Cycle written circa 1500 BCE. The hymn describes the god of death and the underworld as a predator with an unsatieted appetite for consuming the living by:
…Mavet (Death) would open His mouth wide. “A lip to earth, A lip to heaven, And a tounge to the stars, So that Baal may enter His inwards, Yea, descend into His mouth, As scorched is the olive, The produce of the Earth, And the fruit of the Trees.”
In addition to a detailed description of Mavet’s character and exploits, several other passages in the text detail the rivalry between Baal (the Canaanite equivalent of Zeus) and his brother Mavet (the Canaanite equivalent of Hades). In one example, goddess Anath informs El, the head of the gods about a battle she witnessed between the two deities:
Then Anath went to El, at the source of the rivers, in the middle of the bed of the two oceans. She bows at the feet of El, she bows and prosternates and pays him respects. She speaks and says: “the very mighty Baal is dead. The prince, lord of the earth, has died” (…) “They fight like heroes. Mavett wins, Baal wins. They bit each other like snakes. Mavett wins, Baal wins. They jump like horses. Mavett is scared. Baal sits on his throne”.
In the final part of the Baal cycle, Mavet informs Baal that he, “like a lion in the desert, hungers constantly for human flesh and blood”. Mavet threatens to cause the heavens to wilt and collapse and break Baal into pieces and eat him. Baal is also warned by Shapash, the sun-goddess, about Mavet’s superior power and advises that he submit to him:
Do not draw near the god Mavet, Lest He make You like a lamb in His mouth, Like a kid in His jaws Ye be crushed! The Torch of the gods, Shapash, burns; The heavens halt on account of El’s darling, Mavet. By the thousand acres, Yea the myriad hectares At the feet of Mavet bow and fall. Prostrate Yourselves and honor Him!
Image 3: Text from the goddess Anath epic referencing Baal’s rivals
The Hebrew Bible View of Death The Hebrew Bible rejected these polytheistic concepts of an independent god of death and the rivalry between deities. According to Isaiah 45:7, G-d is the only source of both good and evil and is the master of life and death.
Cassuto in his commentary on the Pentateuch argued that the bible was written in the language of the common man, and thus, the personification of death and the allusions to his other emissaries such as the leviathan the slant serpent, leviathan the tortuous serpent, and the dragon as described in Genesis 1:21 and Isaiah 23:1 were remnants of the ideological war that the Hebrew bible waged against the pervasive culture that was infused with these concepts. In opposition to the dominant beliefs of the time, the scripture emphasized the notion that no other entity but G-d possessed the power to create and return man to dust Job 10:9.
A careful reading of the roles of the “destroyer”, “the harvester of souls”, the “angel of the Lord” who “smites” and “destroys” human beings in the scripture shows that they are always temporary messengers with limited scope of operation and windows of opportunity of action. In the few instances where death is personified as in Psalms 49:15; 91:3; Job 18:14, and Proverbs 16:14; 17:11 it is clear that he does not possesses any permanent power nor has the ability to terminate life of his own volition.
The Formation of the Axis of Evil From a historical prospective, the western concept of an independent angel of death only emerged in the post-biblical period and can be attributed to the fusion of Egyptian, Canaanite, and Greek religions in the Hellenistic world.
This amalgam of deities the likes of Hades, Osiris, and Mavet formed the distinct figure of the angel of death who became associated with the terrifying demons and evil spirits commonly found in the ancient near east literature. By this time, this hybrid deity retained only a tangential association with the biblical concepts of the destroyer as a vehicle for delivering morally driven divine retribution.
This new manifestation of evil, death, cruelty, and wretchedness also incorporated the concept of the morally deficient, cunning, and deceitful snake from the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-14) and after several additions and enhancements such as evil spirits, demons, and Liliths, it appeared in the literature and theology of 2nd century BCE-1st century CE as בְּלִיַעַל Belial. One example dated to the second Temple period found in a Dead Sea Scroll titled the “Songs of the Sage”, contains the following apotropaic prayer:
“And, I the Sage, declare the grandeur of his radiance in order to frighten and terri[fy] all the spirits of the ravaging angels and the bastard spirits, demons, Liliths, owls”
In another Dead Sea scroll, a fragment entitled “Curses of Belial” contains a reference to Belial בְּלִיַעַל (wicked or worthless), “sons of Belial”, the “angel of the Pit” and a “spirit of destruction” and carries the following curses against him and his lot:
“The Community Council shall say together in unison, ‘Amen. Amen.’ Then [they] shall curse Belial and all his guilty lot, and they shall answer and say, ‘Cursed be [Be]lial in his devilish and damned be he in his guilty rule.”
From the 2nd century CE through the early middle ages, Belial became affiliated with the devil in gospel texts and assumed a central and permanent role of the ultimate evil that seeks to seduce, sabotage, harm, and fight mankind. He is described as a rebellious fallen angel who rose against G-d and challenged his sovereignty.
“And thou saidst in thy heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, above the stars of G-d will I exalt my throne, and I will sit upon the mount of meeting, in the uttermost parts of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.”
Image 4: L-R Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Dionysius, John of Damascus, Origen
The absence of supporting scriptural provenance didn’t stop the widespread dissemination of these daemonic ideas. Now instead of using biblical exegesis, writers resorted to speculative fiction to describe in detail the devil’s nature, domain, powers, and attributes. For example, Cyprian in his Treatise 10.4 claimed that the reason for the fall of Satan was:
“When he saw human beings made in the image of God, he broke forth into jealousy and malevolent envy” and thus rebelled against God.
Where the biblical world experienced a rare and indirect interaction with a “destroyer”, the religious universe of late Roman period swarmed with pitched battles between angels and demons, with humanity caught in between. Even the most mundane matters including eating, marriage, and bearing children became a battleground between good the evil. Origen in his Commentary on Matthew and Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata discuss these prevailing contemporary views including one that the institute of marriage “is fornication” and that it was “introduced by the devil”.
By now, the previous narrative of the “destroyer” as mere messenger or the delivery mechanism for divine retribution regressed to the ancient idolatrous relationship between factions of warring deities reflected in the Enuma Elish. The new pantheon of the devil and his cohorts grow steadily and by the 6th century CE authors were dedicating entire treatises to the cataloging of the demonic and angelic realms. Early medieval writers such as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite also produced an encyclopedic works such as the The Celestial Hierarchy that classified angels by function and utility and discussed in great details subjects such as:
“Which is the first Order of the Heavenly Beings? which the middle? and which the last? How many, and of what sort, are the Orders of the super-celestial Beings, and how the Hierarchies are classified amongst themselves”
Image 5: The Celestial Hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite
By the middle ages, Archangel Michael acquired an affiliation with certain functions of the angel of death who—among other responsibilities—was tasked with evaluating and carrying the souls of all the deceased to heaven and fighting Satan. Just like in the case of the Egyptian Anubis, Byzantine and Catholic liturgy and art assigned Michael the role of weighing the souls of the dead with his scales. Another popular depiction of him is being armed with a spear or sword and locked in mortal combat with Satan—In which for some unknown reason, he consistently fails to win adecisive victory.
Image 7: Depiction of Archangel Michael in medieval and renaissance art
Image 8: Anubis weighing the souls of the dead
From the late middle ages through the late renaissance, we find an increasing a number of books on demonic classification. These works progressively become more elaborate. They detail the nature of each demon, their MO, the category of sins which they impart to their human victims, the month in which their power is strongest, and the saints that are their adversaries. Some of the more notable classification works from this period are:
The 1410 Lantern of Light by John Wycliffe. A daemon classification system that was based on the Seven Deadly sins and the following association of sin and demon:
The 1459 Fortalitium Fidei by Alphonso de Spina. In the chapter on demons, Asphonso took daemon accounting to a new level or precision and stated that the total number of angels who sided with Lucifer’s revolt against G-d was 133,306,668. He also classified demons based on the following criteria:
The c. 1486 Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches). This most ‘thorough’ treatise on witchcraft and demons was written by two German Dominican monks, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger and came with an official papal bull. The book sold more copies than any other book except the Bible until 1678. It was single-handedly responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of innocent woman and young girls across Europe. According to the book, it has been proven that it is normal for many woman to embrace sorcery and “to perform filthy carnal acts with demons.”
The 1597 Daemonologie by King James (the same James who later sponsored the translation of the Bible to English better known as the “King James Bible”). A demon classification treatise in three volumes dedicated to the study of demonology and the methods demons used to inflict and torment mankind. The classification included:
Spectra – Used to describe spirits that trouble houses or solitary places
Oppression – Used to describe spirits that follow upon certain people to outwardly trouble them at various times of the day
Possession – Used to describe spirits that enter inwardly into a person to trouble them
Fairies – Used to describe spirits that prophesy, consort, and transport
The books also covered important topics such as werewolves and vampires. It was aimed at educating the ignored citizenry of England on the history, practices and implications of practicing sorcery and all things demonic.
Image 9: The Observer’s Book of Monsters by Claude Savagely
Image 10: A sampling of a few demonic classification books from the 14th-17the centuries
The Jewish View Some ancient and modern Jewish scholars, like Richard Friedman, also erroneously made the correlation between the “destroyer” and the angel of death. These errors were based on anecdotal evidence in the secondary literature and art. Friedman for example came to this conclusion based on a sword bearing figure in one of the illustrations on the Golden Haggadah whom he identified as the angel of death (top right corner of Image 11). This led him to conclude that the authors of the 14th century Haggadah must have also subscribed to the textual and theological interpretation that the “destroyer” was in fact the angel of death.
Image 11: Illustration from the Golden Haggadah (Note figure in top right corner)
Ironically, the same Golden Haggadah that is used as proof for the existence of the angel of death contains a hand written note, which is a combination of some biographical details and poetry. In line 6 of the note it reads:
״…בחוכמה בתבונה ובדעת, חי העולמים יושב המרומים ומשגיח התחתונים אחד ונעלם אלקי חיים ומלך עולם…״
“…In wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, the creator of the universe who sits on high and oversees the underworld (i.e. the dead), who is one and unseen, the king of the world…”
From the context it’s clear that the writer of the text (and likely the owner of the book) did not buy into the angel of death idea or his ability to challenge the sovereignty of G-d.
Image 12: The hand written note in cursive script in the Golden Haggadah and its in-line transliteration to block script
Why The Confusion? I think that the confusion about the meaning of the “destroyer” in the verses in Exodus can be attributed to the misreading of the text and failure to identify the wordplay and the variant usage of the root N-G-F נגפ. This root and its derivatives can be read as smite, obstacle, defeated, plague, blow, and strike. Depending on its usage and context, it can also be used as a noun such as in ‘bubonic plague’ and as a verb such as in ‘I’ve been plagued by ill health”. Keeping this in mind, we can try to reconcile the contextual problem by reading verses 12:12-29 as follows:
12–For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite [וְהִכֵּיתִי] all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am G-d.
13–And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague [נֶגֶף] be upon you to destroy [לְמַשְׁחִית] you, when I smite [בְּהַכֹּתִי] the land of Egypt.
22–Take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two side-posts with the blood that is in the basin; and none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning.
23–For G-d will pass through to smite [לִנְגֹּף] the Egyptians; and when He seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side-posts, G-d will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer [הַמַּשְׁחִית] to come in unto your houses to smite [לִנְגֹּף] you.
27–that ye shall say: It is the sacrifice of G-d’s Passover, for that He passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when He smote [בְּנָגְפּוֹ] the Egyptians, and delivered our houses.’ And the people bowed the head and worshipped.
29–And it came to pass at midnight, that G-d smote [הִכָּה] all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle.
Putting all of these elements together gives us: the destroyer [הַמַשְׁחִית] smites [לִנְגֹּף] using a plague [מגיפה] the first born in Egypt via “the destroyer’s plague” [ נֶגֶף לְמַשְׁחִית], with plague [נֶגֶף].
A similar word play in English would be along the lines of:
The striker (destroyer), stroke (inflicted), the stricken (victims), with a strike (affliction).
So, G-d Himself “passes through” (עָבַר) the land of Egypt and smites all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. This is accomplished via “the destroyer” which happens to be the plague, that plagues the firstborn of Egypt with a plague. In this context, the destroyer is G-d’s mechanism for delivering the destruction.
To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes: “This Exodus story stands flat-footed upon the ground and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No angel of death need apply.”
Considering this, I propose a practical alternative reading of the “destroyer” to be a software function that looks like the following:
Function Destroyer(Identity, DateTime, Agent, Cause, Delay, Reason, Place, Duration, Awareness, Terminate) Identity = Identity of the deceased (VictimID) DateTime = Date&Time of death (from the creation of the universe) Agent = Delivery Mechanism (e.g. Carbon monoxide) Cause = Actual cause of death (see CDC codes) Delay = In hours:minutes:seconds Reason = Triggering event Place = Location of victim in universal XYZ coordinates Duration = Timed (use ‘Delay’ as an offset) or Permanent Awareness = Premonition value 0-9 about the impending death Terminate = A real-time abort flag (True or False) End Function
DeceptionInvolved = Use cases like Egyptians using fake blood or paint on their door, hiding in an Israelite home, etc.
‘Test if everything is Kosher
If BloodFoundOnDoor = true DeceptionInvolved = false Then
‘Nothing to see here, move along…
‘Are they cheating? ElseIf DeceptionInvolved = True Then
‘Is there a first born inside? If FirstBornPresent and Terminate = False Then
‘Get’em! Destroyer(VictimID,4.54×109,Anthrax,Pneumonia-Cardiac Arrest,0,Disobedience10,30°0’47.001656” N 31° 12’31.870834” E 12.920,Permanent,0,False)
‘There is no blood on the door or we are in the open ElseIf BloodFoundOnDoor = False Then ‘Is there a first born present? If FirstBornPresent and Terminate = False Then Get’em! Destroyer(VictimID,4.54×109,Anthrax,Pneumonia-Cardiac Arrest,0,Disobedience10,30°0’47.001656” N 31° 12’31.870834” E 12.920,Permanent,0,False) EndIf
The ‘destroyer’ is no more good or bad than any other types of delivery system and has no more free will than an envelope delivering a letter. Thus, the destroyer is a mere mechanism that G-d uses to execute judgment upon Egypt, Israel, and others. it is not a separate entity. The same dual reference to G-d’s action and His ‘delivery mechanism’ can be seen in Samuel 15-16, where G-d sent a plague to punish Israel:
“So G-d sent a pestilenceupon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed; and there died of the people from Dan even to Beer-sheba seventy thousand men.”
”And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, G-d repented Him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people: ‘It is enough; now stay thy hand.’ And the angel of G-d was by the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”
Conclusion It is ironic, that the same pagan ideas that the scripture fought so hard to invalidate are even more popular today then they were 3500 years ago. The prevalence of psychic readers on every street corner, Satanism in movies, literature, and popular culture just show you that regardless of how clear the message is, there are always creative ways to misinterpret and change it.
Image 13: Satanic and demonic motifs in mainstream entertainment account for 5%-15% of movies
I have left the land of bondage with its earthly treasures I’ve journeyed to the place where there is love on every hand I’ve exchanged the land of heartaches for the land of pleasure I’m camping, I’m camping, in Canaan’s happy land
Every day I’m camping (camping) in the land of Canaan (Canaan) And in rapture I survey its wondrous beauty grand (Oh, Glory) Glory, hallelujah (I have) found the land of promise (And I’m) camping, I’m camping, in Canaan’s happy land
Out of Egypt I have traveled through the darkness dreary Far over hills and valleys and across the desert sands Thoughts of land that’s safe and homeward I shall not go weary I’m camping, I’m camping, in Canaan’s happy land
Yes I’ve reached the land of promise with the saints of glory My journey ended in a place so lovely and so grand I’ve been led by Jesus to this blessed land of story I’m camping, I’m camping, in Canaan’s happy land
(1) The Community Council shall say together in unison, ‘Amen. Amen.’ Then [they] shall curse Belial (2) and all his guilty lot, and they shall answer and say, ‘Cursed be [Be]lial in his devilish (Mastematic) scheme, (3) and damned be he in his guilty rule. Cursed be all the spir[its of] his Mot in their Evil scheme. (4) And may they be damned in the schemes of their [un]clean pollution. Surely [they are the to]t of Darkness. Their punishment (5) will be the eternal Pit. Amen. Amen. And cursed be the Evi One [in all] of his dominions, and damned be (6) all the sons of Bel[ial] in all their times of service until their consummation [forever. Amen. Amen.’] (7) And [they are to repeat and say, ‘Cursed be you, Angel of the Pit and Spir[it of Destruction in al the schemes of [your] gu[ilty] inclination, (8) [and in all the abominable [purposes] and counsel of [your] Wick[edness. And damned be you in [your] [sinful] d[omi]n[ion] (9) [and in your wicked and guilty rule,] together with all the abom[inations of She]ol and [the reproach of the P]it, (10) [and with the humiliations of destruction, with [no remnant and no forgiveness, in the fury of [God’s] wrath [for]ever [and ever.] Amen. A[men.] (11) [And cursed be al]1 who perform their [Evil schemes,] who establish your Evil purposes [in their hearts against] (12) Go[d’s Covenant,] so as to [reject the words of those who see] his [Tru]th, and exchange the Judge[ments of the Torah…]
Targum of Yonatan ben Uzziel (in Aramaic) Targum (translation) Jonathan is a western targum of the Torah (Pentateuch) from the land of Israel as opposed to the eastern Babylonian Targum Onkelos (which was written by the nephew of the Roman emperor Titus). Its correct title was originally Targum Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Targum), which is how it was known in medieval times. But because of a printer’s mistake it was later labeled Targum Jonathan, in reference to Jonathan ben Uzziel. Some editions of the Pentateuch continue to call it Targum Jonathan to this day.
Most scholars refer to the text as Targum Pseudo-Jonathan. This targum also includes Aggadic material (non legal or narrative material, as parables, maxims, or anecdotes) collected from various sources as late as the Midrash Rabbah and the Talmud. It is a combination of a commentary and a translation. In the translation portions, it often agrees with the Targum Onkelos. The date of its composition is disputed. It cannot have been completed before the 633 CE Arabic conquest as it refers to Mohammad’s wife Fatimah, but might have been initially composed in the 4th Century CE. However, some scholars date it in the 14th Century (which would make this document contemporary with the Golden Haggadah).
The Book of Isaiah is the first of the latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible. It was written circa 8th-7th century BCE and is the work of Isaiah ben Amoz. The book is a prophetic vision mixed with historical discussion about the destiny of the Jews, Jerusalem, and Judea prior, during, and after the Babylonian exile. Many of the book’s passages such 9:5 formed the foundation of messianism and eschatology in several Judeo-Christianmovements.
Outside of the Masoretic version of the Hebrew bible, there are several versions of the book of Isaiah. One of the more interesting ones is the Great Isaiah Scroll (pictured above). This document is one of the seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 near the ruins of Qumran, Masada, Wadi Murabba’at, Nahal Hever, and Nahal Tze’elim in the Judean desert in Israel. The scroll contains some minor variations from the Masoretic version, but Its 54 columns contain all of the 66 chapters of the version found in the Hebrew Bible. The Great Isaiah Scroll is dated to circa 125 BCE.
For many years, I’ve been reading Isaiah contextually, but have just recently started parsing it for structure. Here are a few interesting stylistic and literary devices that I found.
Note on language proficiency Isaiah is a mix of poetry and prose. In general, translated poetry tends to loses more of its meaning than prose. If you don’t read Hebrew, you may miss some nuances such as rhyming, letter geometry, word play, and diction. To help capture these nuances, I’ve included several recordings of the Hebrew passages in the rhyming section. To those of you who would like to pronounce the Hebrew text there is an alphabet and vocalization chart at the end of the post.
Epigraphs (a reference to another composition to help the reader understand the work).
Isaiah 11:15 (reference to splitting the sea Exodus 14:21) And G-d will utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with His scorching wind will He shake His hand over the River, and will smite it into seven streams, and cause men to march over dry-shod.
Isaiah 38:8 (cross reference to 2 Kings 20:8–11) Behold, I will cause the shadow of the dial, which is gone down on the sun-dial of Ahaz, to return backward ten degrees.’ So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.
Similes(A figure of speech that directly compares two things)
Isaiah 55:10 For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, except it water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, and give seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
Allusions (A figure of speech, in which an object or circumstance is referred to indirectly)
Isaiah 44:28 [the term “My shepherd” is alluding to Moses] That saith of Cyrus: ‘He is My shepherd, and shall perform all My pleasure’; even saying of Jerusalem: ‘She shall be built’; and to the temple: ‘My foundation shall be laid.
Isaiah 45:3 [alluding to Nebuchadnezzar’s stolen treasures from the the temple of Salomon] And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I am G-d who call thee by thy name, even the G-d of Israel.
Wordplay, Parables, and Puns(A didactic prose or verse that illustrates instructive principles)
Isaiah 5:7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah the plant of His delight; and He looked for justice, but behold violence; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
The Song of the Vineyard describes how G-d had done everything to make his vineyard “the nation of Israel … the people of Judah,” 5:7a) fruitful. He expected luscious, plump, juicy grapes at the time of harvest, but instead, the vineyard “brought forth wild grapes.” (5:2). So G-d pronounces judgment on his people (5:3–6). In this context, verse 5:7 uses the following wordplay: “And he looked for justice (משׁפט), but behold violence (משׂפח); for righteousness (צדקה) but heard a cry (צעקה)”. In addition to the wordplay, these words in Hebrew also sound similar.
Isaiah 2:3 And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of G-d, to the house of G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.
There are many passage that use double entendres. For example the passage: “for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.” can have multiple meanings and it depends on how we interpret the terms “Zion”, “Jerusalem”, the “law”, and the “word of G-d”.
If the reference to “Jerusalem”, “Zion” (City of David), “mountain of G-d” (Temple mount), and to the “house of G-d” (Solomon’s Temple), are just parallel forms, then the meaning of the whole passage is that the future word of G-d will once again emanate from this location.
On the other hand, if we read “Jerusalem”, “Zion”, “mountain of G-d”, and “house of the G-d” as distinctive locations with an ascending levels of holiness (which they had historically), then each one of these places has a unique messianic purpose, and in the future, the righteous will go through a sequence of: (1) pilgrimage to Jerusalem, (2) visit to the temple, (3) attendance of service, (4) and spread the law and the inspired word of G-d throughout the world.
Isaiah 7:4 Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set up a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeel.
This passage describes the scheming of Rezin, the king of Syria, and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, king of Israel (the united monarchy had split by that time to the kingdoms of Judah and Israel), who conspired against King Ahaz of Judah and plotted to replace him with the “son of Tabeel”.
Tabeel is an known biblical figure. But Tabeel, (spelled T-B-L without vowels) could be an encrypted name. Decrypting it using the “ALABM” cypher yields R-M-L- Remala (for Remaliah), a possible reference to Pekah’s father.
The ALABM (אלבם) cypher employs a substitution system in which the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet is split into two halves and lined up in two overlapping rows. In this way, the first letter of the first top row, Aleph (א), is substituted with the first letter of the second row, Lamed (ל), the second letter of the first row, Beth (ב), is substituted for the second letter of the second row, Mem (מ), and so on. The name of the “ALABM” cypher is derived from the first four letters of this arrangement; Aleph–Lamed & Beth–Mem.
The equivalent English would be the first letter of the first top row A, substitutes for the first letter of the second row N, the second letter of the first top row B, substitutes for the second letter of the second half row O, and so on
Encoding the message: “DEATH IS NOT THE WORST OF EVILS” with the English version of ALABM would yield the code: ”DEAGH IF ABG GHE JBEFG BF EIILF”. Palindromes(A sequence of characters which read the same backward as forward)
Isaiah 11:10 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the root of Jesse, that standeth for an ensign of the peoples, unto him shall the nations seek; and his resting-place shall be glorious.
Isaiah 40:4 (a perfect palindrome if we substitute: ”וְהָרְכָסִים” which is a Hapax legomenon with “וְרוְשׁים”) Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the rugged shall be made level, and the rough places a plain;
Interestingly, the great Isaiah scroll has alternate spelling for several words in verse 40:4 (see grayed out section). The word “גֶּיא” (valley) for example, is spelled without the Alef as “גֶּי” and the word “וְהָרְכָסִים” (rough places or mountain tops) is spelled with an extra Vav between the letters Resh and Kaf “וְהָרְוְכָסִים” (the word is located in the dotted rectangle in image above).
Isaiah 33:1 Woe to thee that spoilest, and thou wast not spoiled; and dealest treacherously, and they dealt not treacherously with thee! When thou hast ceased to spoil, thou shalt be spoiled; and when thou art weary with dealing treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with thee.
Symmetry and Mirroring(Sentences of similar parts and meaning that face each other) A number of passages retain their meaning even if read in different directions. From right to left, left to right, or from the center outwards to either right and left. In other passages the meaning on left and the right side of the sentences balances.
Isaiah 11:2 And the spirit of G-d shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of G-d.
Isaiah 22:22 (chapter and paragraph numbers are mirrored) And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.