In God We Trust

In God We Trust Signs

One of the pervasive proofs for the strong affinity between Judeo-Christian ethics and the role that these principles played in the formation of American political consciousness is the national motto “In God We Trust”. This inscription is engraved on our currency. It’s inscribed on the pediment above the Speaker’s podium in Congress. It’s featured on dozens of public buildings and schools across the country. It’s printed on police cars and stamps. It’s on official state documents and generously sprinkled throughout historical speeches. It’s placed over the judge’s bench in many of our courts and it’s even featured on license plates in several states. A 2016 Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans support this motto, with close to 90% of those surveyed saying they also approve of the inscription on our currency.

In God We Trust in Congress
Image 1: The “In God We Trust” motto in congress

Despite its ubiquity and popularity, this motto has been under attack and the subject of repeated challenges in court for the past 40 years. The leading argument has been that its use violates the first amendment clause of the constitution. The use of the motto has also been actively opposed by the majority of progressive civil liberties groups on ideological grounds.

Another leading contemporary argument against the use of the “In God We Trust” is the proposition that the founders were secularists who deliberately chose the Latin phrase E pluribus unum (from many to one) because they were political inclusivists who wanted to extract religious language and symbolism from state affairs. In this post, I’ll briefly review the history of the motto, it’s deep connection to the American psyche, and refute the secularist founders argument.

A Brief History of the ‘…Trust in God’ Phraseology  
More than two thousand years before the term made its way into our political iconography and phraseology it was already in wide circulation. The primary source for the phrase and its permutations is the Hebrew Bible. The term appears in a number of books including:

Psalm 40:4
And He has put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God; many shall see, and fear, and shall trust in GOD.
וַיִּתֵּן בְּפִי, שִׁיר חָדָשׁ–תְּהִלָּה לֵאלֹהֵינוּ:יִרְאוּ רַבִּים וְיִירָאוּ;יִבְטְחוּ, בַּיהוָה

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in GOD with all your heart, and lean not upon your own understanding.
בְּטַח אֶל-יְהוָה, בְּכָל-לִבֶּךָ;וְאֶל-בִּינָתְךָ, אַל-תִּשָּׁעֵן

Proverbs 29:25
The fear of man brings a snare; but who so putt his trust in GOD shall be set up on high.
חֶרְדַּת אָדָם, יִתֵּן מוֹקֵשׁ;וּבוֹטֵחַ בַּיהוָה יְשֻׂגָּב

Psalm 40:5
Happy is the man that has made GOD his trust, and has not turned unto the arrogant, nor unto such as fall away treacherously.
 אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר–אֲשֶׁר-שָׂם יְהוָה, מִבְטַחוֹ;וְלֹא-פָנָה אֶל-רְהָבִים, וְשָׂטֵי כָזָב

Psalm 73:28
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all Thy works. 
 וַאֲנִי, קִרְבַת אֱלֹהִים–לִי-טוֹב:שַׁתִּי, בַּאדֹנָי יְהוִה מַחְסִי;לְסַפֵּר, כָּל-מַלְאֲכוֹתֶיךָ

Psalm 118:8
It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.
טוֹב, לַחֲסוֹת בַּיהוָה–מִבְּטֹחַ, בָּאָדָם 

In God We Trust Up-Biblum God Cambridge 1663 & 1661 Early Bible Printing
Image 2: Early American bible titled “In God We Trust” printed in Cambridge in 1663

Prior to the American revolution, there were a number of hymns and manuscripts that used this and similar terms. One example is the 1770 The New England Psalm Singer songbook which contained an hymn titled “Chester” by William Billings. In 1778, Billings wrote a second version of the hymn in his The Singing Master’s Assistant . This version was sung during the American Revolutionary War.

The first stanza of this hymn contained a verse similar to the motto we use today:

Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And Slav’ry clank her galling chains,
We fear them not,
we trust in God,
New England’s God forever reigns.

Howe and Burgoyne and Clinton too,
With Prescot and
Cornwallis join’d,
Together plot our Overthrow,
In one Infernal league combin’d.

When God inspir’d us for the fight,
Their ranks were broke, their lines were forc’d,
Their ships were Shatter’d in our sight,
Or swiftly driven from our Coast.

The Foe comes on with haughty Stride;
Our troops advance with martial noise,
Their Vet’rans flee before our Youth,
And Gen’rals yield to beardless Boys.

What grateful Off’ring shall we bring?
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud Halleluiahs let us Sing,
And praise his name on ev’ry Chord.

An example of a pre-revolutionary era manuscript that illustrates the co-dependency of the pre-republic on G-d is the July 1774 Draft of Instructions to the Virginia Delegates in the Continental Congress written by the future president Thomas Jefferson which contained the following lines:

“The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time”  and ”Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are of God?”

A similar phrase “In God is Our Trust” can also be found in the 4th stanza of the 1812 broadside the “Defence of Fort M’Henry“, a poem that later became our national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

Defence of Fort M'Henry
Image 3
: Francis Scott Key’s poem the “Defence of Fort M’Henry”

The Need for a Religious National Motto
In 1776, work began on the design of the official seals for the new nation. The seal was to be used to formalize legal documents and international treaties. When John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson—the committee of three appointed to the task by the Continental Congress—submitted a design for the seal it included three mottos.

One of these three Annuit coeptis (G-d favors our undertakings) had an unmistakable religious tone. The other two: E pluribus unum (from many to one) and Novus ordo seclorum (new order of the ages) emphasized the republican aspects of the new nation. 

The motto “In God We Trust” began its rise to prominence as both a religious and political device during the Civil War. This was in response to the war’s carnage and horror following the terrible losses in the war’s first few months. According to US treasury documents, the genealogy of the motto on our currency can be traced back to an appeal written to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase by Rev. Mark R. Watkinson, a Baptist minister from Ridleyville, Pennsylvania. In the letter dated November 13, 1861 Watkinson expressed concern about the absence of any reference to G-d on the country’s currency. He wrote:

Ridleyville, Pennsylvania, to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase:

You are about to submit your annual report to Congress respecting the affairs of the national finances. One fact touching our currency has hitherto been seriously overlooked. I mean the recognition of the Almighty God in some form in our coins. You are probably a Christian. What if our Republic were now shattered beyond reconstruction? Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation?

What I propose is that instead of the goddess of liberty we shall have next inside the 13 stars a ring inscribed with the words ” perpetual union” ; within this ring the all seeing eye, crowned with a halo; beneath this eye the American flag, bearing in its field stars equal to the number of the States united; in the folds of the bars the words “God, liberty, law.” This would make a beautiful coin, to which no possible citizen could object.

This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed. From my heart I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters. To you first I address a subject that must be agitated.

In January 1862, Rev. Watkinson followed with a second letter stating:

“Dear Sir:
Will you allow a few suggestions respecting the devices upon our American coins? Is it not a burning shame that this far in our national history our coins have been so thoroughly heathenish?

Suppose our governmental fabric were now dissolved [due to the civil war]; suppose in a future era some antiquary searching among the ruins of our public edifices, even of our churches, would alight upon the corner stone memorials of them; would he not justly pronounce us an idolatrous people, worshipping [sic] the “goddess of liberty;” and perchance pantheistic also, so far as to worship eagles?

Can God, the eternal arbiter of national destiny, have been pleased with this displacement and superseding of Himself?

As a result of a nationwide campaign and the appeals from clergy and multitudes of individuals, Secretary Chase instructed James Pollock, Director of the mint at Philadelphia, to prepare a befitting motto.

Rev. Watkinson second letter to the Secretary of the treasury Chase
Image 4
: Rev. Watkinson’s second letter to Secretary of the Treasury Chase

Finalizing the Motto’s Verbiage
In November 20, 1861, Chase addressed the following letter to James Pollock, Director of the Mint in Philadelphia:

Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.

You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.

And on that with the shield, it should be changed so as to read: IN GOD WE TRUST.”

In December 1863, the mint Director Pollock submitted designs for new one-cent, two-cent, and three-cent coins to Secretary Chase for approval. Pollock proposed the following two motto variations:

“Our Country; Our God” and “God Our Trust”, which he took from a line (“And this be our motto: In God is our trust”) from the fourth stanza of the “Star-Spangled Banner”.  Interestingly, Pollock referred to the poem as “our National Hymn”. In a December 9, 1863 letter to Mint Director Pollock, Secretary Chase replied:

I approve your mottos, only suggesting that on that with the Washington obverse the motto should begin with the word Our, so as to read Our God and Our Country”

After some additional back-and-forth, the phrase was eventually finalized as “In God We Trust”. Legislation for adding the motto was passed in April 22, 1864, and US coinage widely adopted the motto in 1865.

The Ideology Behind the Motto
Creating the new motto was an exercise in religious nationalism. The war rekindled the flame of a religious revival in the North and South armies with both sides calling on G-d for guidance. When the Confederate States of America wrote their own constitution, its preamble read as follows:

“We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity—invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God—do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.”

Constitution of the Confederate States of America
Image 5: The preamble to the confederate constitution

Many northern clergy reacted to the confederate constitution by calling for the federal leaders in DC to make a similar religious statement.

The Steady Growth in the Motto’s Popularity
The motto was intended to deliver the message that the United States was a nation of believers, and it that spirit, it appeared on some of the coins in 1864, about a year before the end of the war.

But, not everyone celebrated the new phrase. The New York Times, in true character to its MO, campaigned against it calling it a “new form of national worship”, describing “such tract-printing by the government as “always improper” and asking Americans “to carry our religion—such as it is—in our hearts and not in our pockets”.

Five years after the war, the motto was added to other denominations and with the increased circulation it gained more popularity and made its way into everyday use. By the 1870s, many Americans were already referring to “In God We Trust” as “our nation’s motto”. Moreover, it quickly became associated not only with the country’s currency, but also with our political culture. By the 1880s, the slogan was adopted by many groups such as Masonic orders in decorating their lodges.

IN GOD WE TRUSTon the 1864 Two-cent piece
Image 6: First appearance of “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the 1864 two-cent piece

Further, Prohibitionists embraced it as an unofficial motto for their movement. Activists across the political spectrum from pacifists to nativists made use of it. Political parties utilized it to lend credence to their case. In the election of 1896, for example, with the free silver political debate, Bryan Democrats charged their Republican opponents with seeking to change “In God We Trust” to “In Gold We Trust”, while McKinley Republicans responded that if Bryan won, “In God We Trust” would mean only that the coin holder could “trust in God for the balance due”.

1896 McKinley & Hobart In Gold We Trust Badge
Image 7: 1896 McKinley & Hobart “In Gold We Trust” Badge

By the close of the nineteenth century, “In God We Trust” had taken on universal religious and political meanings. The motto’s character was embraced by all religious streams, Protestant,  Catholic and Jewish alike. In 1883, the Reverend William Harris of Garrison Avenue Congregational Church in St. Louis told a multi-congregation Thanksgiving Day service how “In God we Trust” was “stamped on the coins of our country” and how he “hoped to God the same motto was stamped upon the hearts of the American people”.

In the Reconstruction era, “In God We Trust” emerged as the common ground for national reconciliation. In less than fifty years since its creation, the new motto was as revered as the American flag and became the core of the American civil religion

In 1893, Boston’s Congregation Ohavei Sholom (the Lovers of Peace) marked its fiftieth anniversary with a celebration attended by the Mayor of Boston and the Governor of Massachusetts, featuring a sermon by Rabbi Joseph Silverman on America’s “liberty and good will” toward the Jewish people and the singing of a special hymn, titled “In God We Trust”, written for the occasion.

Removing the Motto from the Currency
Interestingly, the biggest challenge to the motto came not from atheists or a progressives but rather from a religious statesmen who had given several speeches urging the American public to read the Bible regularly. Theodore Roosevelt had long felt that placing G-d’s name on the currency was a sacrilege because it was an object of greed and materialism.

Roosevelt saw his opportunity in 1907 when a new coin was being designed. He directed the mint’s artist to omit the motto which had been on coins for over fifty years by that time. His decision would evoke heated debates across the country, uniting preachers, rabbis, politicians, and ordinary citizens around the meaning of the motto and its status as a sacred and secular symbol.

The debate only lasted a few months but in the process, Roosevelt become the the first and last national political leader to question the use of the motto. Roosevelt, attempting to emulate the elegance of European coins, instructed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create new designs for the new ten- and twenty-dollar dollar currency. Saint-Gaudens suggested that extraneous inscriptions including “In God We Trust” be removed, and Roosevelt agreed. He then authorized the Director of the Mint to issue the coins without the motto. The first of these coins went into circulation in 1907, only to be met by immediate criticism.

Roosevelt tried to defend his action by releasing a letter in which he described “In God We Trust” as a sacred symbol, a “solemn” statement of faith that “should be treated and uttered only with that fine reverence which necessarily implies a certain exaltation of spirit.” He argued that it was appropriate to place the motto on the nation’s monuments and public buildings but not on anything as common as its currency. To “leave it on [the currency] would be nothing less than “irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege”. But that was too late, the flood gates of national consensus around the motto were wide open.

Among the first to take on Roosevelt were Presbyterian leaders who denounced the design of the new coin and condemned the President’s actions and called on “all Christian ministers” to join the “fight to the bitter end for the restoration of the old motto”. In Chicago, Catholic clergy were united in their stand against removing the motto. In Baltimore, a minister preaching a sermon opposing the change convinced his congregation to petition Congress to restore the inscription. In the South, Methodist conferences passed resolutions calling on the President to rescind his order and maintain the motto on the country’s coins. Most arguments for reinstating the motto were that it was a religious statement, a clear expression of America’s belief in G-d. To strip it represented forgetting and repudiating G-d and attacking American embrace of religion.

In demanding the motto’s return, many argued that its purpose on currency was to provide a spiritual disinfectant to the otherwise corruptible worlds of investment, commerce, and trade. Boston’s Rabbi M. M. Eichler wrote that the motto should be seen as a means to overcome the growing gap between “the domain of God and the domain of gold” by reminding everyone “that all blessings come from God”.

As the debates raged on, the motto gained the support of the general public. Its promoters became more emboldened as congregants began to express strong opposition to the President’s decision. Faith-based organizations such as the Gideons mobilized in support of the motto and were joined by an coalition of civic, patriotic, and veterans groups that included chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Finally, by 1908, Roosevelt realized his defeat and performed a strategic retreat, announcing that he would not veto any bill in congress to reestablish the motto on American currency.

At that point, the motto was set in stone. A House committee wrote a bill recommending that it be restored to the country’s coins. Charles G. Edwards (D-GA) wrote “the Methodist, the Baptist, the Presbyterian, the Catholic, the Hebrews, the Episcopal, in fact all churches, all creeds, who have a belief in God, are as one in the opinion that it was a great mistake to ever have removed this motto from our coins”. Washington Gardner (R-MI) spoke about the motto’s importance for national reconciliation. He wrote “We of the North join hands with you of the South and say, your God is our God, as your people are our people”.

In 1956, after 48 years of uninterrupted use, and two years after incorporating the phrase “under God” into the pledge of allegiance, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law officially declaring “In God We Trust” to be the nation’s official motto. The law, P.L. 84-140, also mandated that the phrase be now printed on all American paper currency.

Since the 1960, in spite of numerous challenges, the Supreme Court uphold the motto, which remains the official expression of US government to this day.

The Motto in the Post Modern Era
Through extensive litigation over recent years, the progressive movement has been promoting the argument that “In God We Trust” should not be our national motto because we have now become a pluralistic society.  

To all of you post modernists/revisionist cauldron stirrers hard at work boiling hedonistic atheism as the nourishment for the new American Socialist Democracy, you may want to go back and examine the primary sources from the Revolutionary era. These days, much is being said about the separation of church and state and the removal of G-d from all public life. But as is abundantly clear from the writings of our founding fathers, there was never a doubt in their mind as to the role that G-d played in the formation of the American republic and his continued involvement in its future welfare. Let’s pray that future generations will remember our dependency on the divine. Or as George Washington wrote in 1792:

To John Armstrong

(Private)

Dear Sir,Philad. March 11th 1792

“…I am sure there never was a people who had more reason to acknowledge a divine interposition in their affairs than those of the United States; and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency which was so often manifested during our Revolution—or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them.

Your friendly wishes for my happiness and prosperity are received with gratitude—and are sincerely reciprocated by Dear Sir, Your affectionate & obed. Servt

Go: Washington

LB, DLC:GW.

From George Washington to John Armstrong, 11 March 1792
Image 8
: George Washington to John Armstrong, March 11, 1792 in regards to G-d’s role in the establishment of the Untied States and its future welfare

Sources and References:
George Washington to John Armstrong, March 11, 1792George Washington Papers
From George Washington to John Armstrong, 11 March 1792 – National Archives
The Eagle and the Shield – A History of the Great Seal of the United States – page 514
Defence of Fort M’Henry – The poem that became the “The Star-Spangled Banner”
The U.S. National Motto & the Contested Concept of Civil Religion – Michael Lienesch

The Complex Personality of Rev. Watkinson – by Roger W. Burdette 
“On November 25, 1860, in a sermon from his pulpit, Rev. Watkinson let his people know where he stood. He declared himself forthrightly in favor of the course of the South, and in opposition to the views of abolitionists. The sermon created a sensation; many people were overjoyed and called for a church conference that evening to request a copy of the sermon”

“When the Virginia Legislature passed a secession bill in April 1861, rioting and violence
threatened Portsmouth. The United States flag was torn down on April 20, 1861. Ships were burnt in the Gosport Navy Yard in nearby Norfolk – the region seemed in open rebellion. Apparently, some of the violence was directed at Rev. Watkinson and his family due to his position in the community. His family was in danger and he quickly sent his wife and children northward by steamer.”

“As the last boat was about to leave for the North on April 23, 1861, he stepped aboard leaving behind his church and congregation. There were many harsh words about his disloyalty to Virginia, and the inconsistency of his sermon versus his act of abandoning Portsmouth.”

“The next Sunday afternoon 19-year Annie M. Cox [one of Watkinson parishioners] wrote in her diary:

1861 – APRIL 28TH Sabbath afternoon. I did not go to church this morning as it commenced raining just about church time. Pa went down but there was no preaching. Alas! We are now left without a pastor. Mr. Watkinson has taken his departure, gone north & sent a letter of resignation to the church. I think it would have been much more manly & better for him if he had resigned before he left. I am very sorry that he has acted thus & that is after preaching and talking so much against abolitionists to go right among them. But we cannot judge him. God alone knoweth the heart.

1890 Director Edward Leach “In God We Trust” Letter – Based on research by Roger W. Burdette

“1890 letter from Director Edward Leech responding to a congressman’s inquiry on the origin of “In God We Trust” on U.S. coinage. The motto first appeared on the two-cent piece in 1864, although pattern pieces dated 1863 alternately employed GOD AND COUNTRY, GOD OUR TRUST, and IN GOD WE TRUST. The adoption of “In God We Trust” is one of the better documented design changes within United States coinage and is traced back to a November 13, 1861 letter from Rev. Mark Watkinson of Ridleyville, PA to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase, urging acknowledgement of Almighty God on American coinage.

Watkinson’s original proposal was much different than that eventually adopted: “What I propose is that instead of the goddess of Liberty we shall have next inside the thirteen stars, a ring inscribed with the words perpetual union. Within this ring the all-seeing eye, crowned with a halo. Beneath this eye the American flag, bearing in its fields stars equal to the number of the States United. In the fields of the bars the words God, liberty, law.”

1890 letter from Director Edward Leech responding to a congressman’s inquiry on the origin of “In God We Trust
Image 9
: Mint Director Leech’s letter to Alabama congressman Joseph Wheeler, 6/12/1890

Copyright 2020 Yaacov Apelbaum, All Rights Reserved.

Cromwell’s Soldier Pocket Bible

Oliver Cromwell Old Ironside
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.” 

Ironsides Uniform
Image 1: Cromwell’s Ironsides lobster helmet, armor, and leather buff coat

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.

The Great Miseries of War) by Jacques Callot, 1632
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.

Francis Merrifield Bible
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.

Cromwell the Father of the Modern Republic
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!

Military Pocket Bibles in History
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.

Feel free to download and distribute it.

P1 P2P3 P4P5 P6P7 P8P9 P10P11 P12P13 P14P14 P16

 

References
The Soldier’s pocket Bible – PDF version
P1

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.

Preface to The Soldier's pocket Bible

Bunker Hill
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

The Statue of George III – Journal of The American Revolution

Cincinnatus – An excerpt from the 1783 poem about Washington by Philip Freneau 

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 Wilson's Preface
President Woodrow Wilsons’s Preface to the World War I Soldier’s Bible

Theodore Roosevelt Bible Preface
Colonel Theodor Roosevelt’s Preface to the Soldier’s Bible

President Roosevelt's Preface
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Preface to the WW II Soldier’s Bible

George Fords bible carried to the battle of the Somme
1914-1917 Private George Ford’s pocket bible carried by him to the battle of the Somme

US Marine WWII Reading Bible
1944 US Marine in Saipan reading his pocket bible

The Angel of Death as an Outsourced Service

Angel of Death in Egypt

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:

  1. “I will pass through the land of Egypt”, I and not an angel;
  2. ”And I will smite every first-born in the land of Egypt”, I and not a seraph;
  3. ”And I will carry out judgment against all the gods of Egypt”, I and not a messenger;
  4. ”I G-d”, and none other!

;וְעָבַרְתִּי בְאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה – אֲנִי וְלֹא מַלְאָךְ
;וְהִכֵּיתִי כָל בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ־מִצְרַים. אֲנִי וְלֹא שָׂרָף
;בְכָל־אֱלֹהֵי מִצְרַיִם אֶעֱשֶׂה שְׁפָטִים. אֲנִי וְלֹא הַשָּׁלִיח
.ואֲנִי ה’. אֲנִי הוּא וְלֹא אַחֵר

The 1320 Golden Hagadah P36-37
Image 1: The passage in the Golden Hagaddah circa 1320 CE

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 I will 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.

וְעָבַרְתִּי בְאֶרֶץ-מִצְרַיִם, בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, וְהִכֵּיתִי כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, מֵאָדָם וְעַד-בְּהֵמָה; וּבְכָל-אֱלֹהֵי מִצְרַיִם אֶעֱשֶׂה שְׁפָטִים, אֲנִי יְהוָה

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.”

וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, וְהִנֵּה-טוֹב מְאֹד; וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי

I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am G-d, that doeth all these things.

יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ, עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע; אֲנִי יְהוָה, עֹשֶׂה כָל-אֵלֶּה

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.”

וַיֹּאמֶר עָרֹם יָצָתִי מִבֶּטֶן אִמִּי, וְעָרֹם אָשׁוּב שָׁמָּהיְהוָה נָתַן, וַיהוָה לָקָח; יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה, מְבֹרָךְ

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. Legends and Commentary Sources such as: Testament of Solomon, The Zohar, The Talmud, the book of Tobit, and Thanksgiving Hymns

Specifically, these implied angelic associations can be found in some of the following passages:

Genesis 3:2-5
Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which G-d had made. And he said unto the woman: ‘Yea, hath G-d said: Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’

וְהַנָּחָשׁ, הָיָה עָרוּם, מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה, אַף כִּי-אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן

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.” 

וְעָבַר יְהוָה, לִנְגֹּף אֶת-מִצְרַיִם, וְרָאָה אֶת-הַדָּם עַל-הַמַּשְׁקוֹף, וְעַל שְׁתֵּי הַמְּזוּזֹת; וּפָסַח יְהוָה, עַל-הַפֶּתַח, וְלֹא יִתֵּן הַמַּשְׁחִית, לָבֹא אֶל-בָּתֵּיכֶם לִנְגֹּף

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?’

וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא, כִּי אֲנִי שַׂר-צְבָא-יְהוָה–עַתָּה בָאתִי; וַיִּפֹּל יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶל-פָּנָיו אַרְצָה, וַיִּשְׁתָּחוּ, וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, מָה אֲדֹנִי מְדַבֵּר אֶל-עַבְדּוֹ

Zechariah 3:1-2
And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of G-d, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.

וַיַּרְאֵנִי, אֶת-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ הַכֹּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל, עֹמֵד, לִפְנֵי מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה; וְהַשָּׂטָן עֹמֵד עַל-יְמִינוֹ, לְשִׂטְנוֹ

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.

בְּעֵדֶן גַּן-אֱלֹהִים הָיִיתָ, כָּל-אֶבֶן יְקָרָה מְסֻכָתֶךָ אֹדֶם פִּטְדָה וְיָהֲלֹם תַּרְשִׁישׁ שֹׁהַם וְיָשְׁפֵה, סַפִּיר נֹפֶךְ, וּבָרְקַת וְזָהָב; מְלֶאכֶת תֻּפֶּיךָ וּנְקָבֶיךָ בָּךְ, בְּיוֹם הִבָּרַאֲךָ כּוֹנָנוּ

Job 1:6-12
Now it fell upon a day, that the sons of G-d came to present themselves before G-d, and Satan came also among them.

וַיְהִי הַיּוֹם–וַיָּבֹאוּ בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים, לְהִתְיַצֵּב עַל-יְהוָה; וַיָּבוֹא גַם-הַשָּׂטָן, בְּתוֹכָם

Job 16:14
The wrath of a king is as messengers of death; but a wise man will pacify it.

חֲמַת-מֶלֶךְ מַלְאֲכֵי-מָוֶת; וְאִישׁ חָכָם יְכַפְּרֶנָּה

Job 33:22
Yea, his soul draweth near unto the pit, and his life to the destroyers.

וַתִּקְרַב לַשַּׁחַת נַפְשׁוֹ; וְחַיָּתוֹ, לַמְמִתִים

Isaiah 14:12
How art thou fallen from heaven, O day-star, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, that didst cast lots over the nations!

אֵיךְ נָפַלְתָּ מִשָּׁמַיִם, הֵילֵל בֶּן-שָׁחַר; נִגְדַּעְתָּ לָאָרֶץ, חוֹלֵשׁ עַל-גּוֹיִם

Isaiah 27:1
In that day the LORD with His sore and great and strong sword will punish leviathan the slant serpent, and leviathan the tortuous serpent; and He will slay the dragon that is in the sea.

בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יִפְקֹד יְהוָה בְּחַרְבּוֹ הַקָּשָׁה וְהַגְּדוֹלָה וְהַחֲזָקָה, עַל לִוְיָתָן נָחָשׁ בָּרִחַ, וְעַל לִוְיָתָן, נָחָשׁ עֲקַלָּתוֹן; וְהָרַג אֶת-הַתַּנִּין, אֲשֶׁר בַּיָּם

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.

.וַיֵּצֵא מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה, וַיַּכֶּה בְּמַחֲנֵה אַשּׁוּר, מֵאָה וּשְׁמֹנִים וַחֲמִשָּׁה, אָלֶף; וַיַּשְׁכִּימוּ בַבֹּקֶר, וְהִנֵּה כֻלָּם פְּגָרִים מֵתִים

Proverbs 16:14
The wrath of a king is as messengers of death; but a wise man will pacify it.

חֲמַת-מֶלֶךְ מַלְאֲכֵי-מָוֶת; וְאִישׁ חָכָם יְכַפְּרֶנָּה

Psalm 109:6
Set Thou a wicked man over him; and let an adversary stand at his right hand.

הַפְקֵד עָלָיו רָשָׁע; וְשָׂטָן, יַעֲמֹד עַל-יְמִינוֹ

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.”

וַיִּשְׁלַח יָדוֹ הַמַּלְאָךְ יְרוּשָׁלִַם, לְשַׁחֲתָהּ, וַיִּנָּחֶם יְהוָה אֶל-הָרָעָה, וַיֹּאמֶר לַמַּלְאָךְ הַמַּשְׁחִית בָּעָם רַב עַתָּה הֶרֶף יָדֶךָ; וּמַלְאַךְ יְהוָה הָיָה, עִם-גֹּרֶן האורנה (הָאֲרַוְנָה) הַיְבֻסִי

Chronicles 21:14-16
So G-D sent a pestilence upon Israel; and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men.

וַיִּתֵּן יְהוָה דֶּבֶר, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיִּפֹּל, מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, שִׁבְעִים אֶלֶף, אִישׁ

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.

וַיִּשְׁלַח הָאֱלֹהִים מַלְאָךְ לִירוּשָׁלִַם, לְהַשְׁחִיתָהּ, וּכְהַשְׁחִית רָאָה יְהוָה וַיִּנָּחֶם עַל-הָרָעָה, וַיֹּאמֶר לַמַּלְאָךְ הַמַּשְׁחִית רַב עַתָּה הֶרֶף יָדֶךָ; וּמַלְאַךְ יְהוָה עֹמֵד, עִם-גֹּרֶן אָרְנָן הַיְבוּסִי

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.

וַיִּשָּׂא דָוִיד אֶת-עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא אֶת-מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה עֹמֵד בֵּין הָאָרֶץ וּבֵין הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְחַרְבּוֹ שְׁלוּפָה בְּיָדוֹ, נְטוּיָה עַל-יְרוּשָׁלִָם; וַיִּפֹּל דָּוִיד וְהַזְּקֵנִים מְכֻסִּים בַּשַּׂקִּים, עַל-פְּנֵיהֶם

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.

וַיְהִי, בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא, וַיֵּצֵא מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה וַיַּךְ בְּמַחֲנֵה אַשּׁוּר, מֵאָה שְׁמוֹנִים וַחֲמִשָּׁה אָלֶף; וַיַּשְׁכִּימוּ בַבֹּקֶר, וְהִנֵּה כֻלָּם פְּגָרִים מֵתִים

Hosha 13:14
Shall I ransom them from the power of the nether-world? Shall I redeem them from death? Ho, thy plagues, O death! Ho, thy destruction, O nether-world! Repentance be hid from Mine eyes!

מִיַּד שְׁאוֹל אֶפְדֵּם, מִמָּוֶת אֶגְאָלֵם; אֱהִי דְבָרֶיךָ מָוֶת, אֱהִי קָטָבְךָ שְׁאוֹל–נֹחַם, יִסָּתֵר מֵעֵינָי

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 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. 

Egyptian Hell
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 Mavet (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!

The goodess Anath Text
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.

Lacking direct biblical sources to support these assertions, some prominent theologians such as Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, and John of Damascus, Origen used unrelated passages such as Isaiah 14:12-15 to buttress their claims:

“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.”

The Satanic Verses V1
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”

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, The Celestial Hierarchy
Image 5: The Celestial Hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite

By the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 CE, angles and saints (who are in affect demi-angles) became official objects of veneration and adoration and patrons of every mundane daily function such as food preparation, travel, and athletic activity

St. Sebastian Sterling Silver Medals
Image 6: The St. Sebastian athletic emulates

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 a decisive victory.

Archangel Michael
Image 7: Depiction of Archangel Michael in medieval and renaissance art

Anubis Weighing of the Heart
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:

  1. Lucifer – Pride
  2. Beelzebub (Belzebub) – Gluttony (Glotouns)
  3. Satan (Sathanas) – Wrath (Wraþþe)
  4. Leviathan (Leviathan) – Envy (Envous)
  5. Mammon – Greed (Auarouse)
  6. Belphegor –  Sloth (Slow)
  7. Asmodeus – Lust (Leccherouse)

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:

  1. Incubi and succubi
  2. Familiars
  3. Drudes
  4. Cambions born from the union of a demon with a human being (AKA witches and warlocks).
  5. Demons that induce old women to attend Witches’ Sabbaths

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 1533 De Occulta Philosophia by Cornelius Agrippa. A demon classification system based on the number 4 and the cardinal directions that included:

  1. Oriens – East
  2. Paymon – West)
  3. Egyn – North
  4. Amaymon – Sout

The 1591 The Confessions of Warlocks and Witches by Peter Binsfeld. A demon classification system similar to the Lantern of Light’s seven deadly sins but with a slight variation in the classification as follows:

  1. Lucifer – Pride
  2. Mammon – Greed
  3. Asmodeus – Lust
  4. Leviathan – Envy
  5. Beelzebub – Gluttony
  6. Satan – Wrath
  7. Belphegor – Sloth

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:

  1. Spectra – Used to describe spirits that trouble houses or solitary places
  2. Oppression – Used to describe spirits that follow upon certain people to outwardly trouble them at various times of the day
  3. Possession – Used to describe spirits that enter inwardly into a person to trouble them
  4. 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.

The Observer's Book of Monsters by Claude Savagely
Image 9: The Observer’s Book of Monsters by Claude Savagely

The 1608 Compendium Maleficarum by Francesco Maria Guazzo (a rework/rip-off of the the 11th century Classification of Demons by Michael Psellus). The work classified demons into:

  1. Empyreal – Fiery
  2. Aerial – Airborne
  3. Subterranean – Underground
  4. Lucifugous – Heliophobic
  5. Aqueous – Water based
  6. Terrene – On the ground

The 1686 Semiphoras and Schemhamforas by Andreas Luppius which was based on a similar system of classification as “De Occulta Philosophia” but instead of 4 used the number 9 and had the following orders of demons:

  1. False spirits
  2. Spirits of lying
  3. Vessels of iniquity
  4. Avengers of wickedness
  5. Jugglers
  6. Airy powers
  7. Furies sowing mischief
  8. Sifters or triers
  9. Tempters or ensnarers

Demonic classification books
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.

Golden Haggadah 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.

Intro Text to Golden Haggadah
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

Module TenthPlague

    KillFirstBorn()

    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…

          Exit

       
        ‘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)

         
         
End If

       
        ‘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)

         
End If

       
       
End If

   
   
End
Sub


End
Module

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 pestilence  upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed; and there died of the people from Dan even to Beer-sheba seventy thousand men.”

וַיִּתֵּן יְהוָה דֶּבֶר בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵהַבֹּקֶר וְעַד-עֵת מוֹעֵד; וַיָּמָת מִן-הָעָם, מִדָּן וְעַד-בְּאֵר שֶׁבַע, שִׁבְעִים אֶלֶף, אִישׁ

and in Samuel 24:16, where the “destroyer” is described as:
 
”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.”

וַיִּשְׁלַח יָדוֹ הַמַּלְאָךְ יְרוּשָׁלִַם, לְשַׁחֲתָהּ, וַיִּנָּחֶם יְהוָה אֶל-הָרָעָה, וַיֹּאמֶר לַמַּלְאָךְ הַמַּשְׁחִית בָּעָם רַב עַתָּה הֶרֶף יָדֶךָ; וּמַלְאַךְ יְהוָה הָיָה, עִם-גֹּרֶן האורנה (הָאֲרַוְנָה) הַיְבֻסִי

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.

Death and Hollywood
Image 13: Satanic and demonic motifs in mainstream entertainment account for 5%-15% of movies

Horror is profitable
Image 14
: The profitability of Satanism

Berkeley Psychics
Image 14
: Distribution and density of Psychics, Tarot Card Readers, and Clairvoyant Mediums in Berkeley

All of this makes you wonder: what is it about these simple four self-explanatory statements that can possibly be confusing?

  1. “I will pass through the land of Egypt”, I and not an angel;
  2. ”And I will smite every first-born in the land of Egypt”, I and not a seraph;
  3. ”And I will carry out judgments against all the gods of Egypt”, I and not a messenger;
  4. ”I G-d”, and none other!

Happy Passover and Easter. 

References and Sourcing
*** Special thanks to Dr. Alshech for his contribution to the translation of the introduction to the Golden Haggadah

The Golden Hagaddah – Credit the British Library Add. MS 27210

He Smote the First Born of Egypt – Handel Israel In Egypt

Campin’ In Canaan’s Happy Land – Stanley Brothers Old Time Camp Meeting Album

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

The Promised Land – Hymn 128 Sacred Harp Tunebook
128 The Promised Land

On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye,
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.

I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land,
Oh, who will come and go with me,
I am bound for the promised land.

Oh, the transporting, rapt’rous scene,
That rises to my sight,
Sweet fields arrayed in living green,
And rivers of delight.

I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land,
Oh, who will come and go with me,
I am bound for the promised land.

Filled with delight, my raptured soul
Would here no longer stay!
Though Jordan’s waves around me roll,
Fearless I’d launch away.

I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land,
Oh, who will come and go with me,
I am bound for the promised land.

The Curse of Belial – Dead Scroll 394, 4Q2864Q287, fragment 6
Curse of Belial

(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[1] 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[1] 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 Goddess Anath: Canaanite Epics of the Patriarchal Age – Umberto Cassuto

The Observer’s Book of Monsters – Gavin Lines
The Observer's Book of Monsters

Copyright 2019 Yaacov Apelbaum, All Rights Reserved.

Literary Devices in the Book of Isaiah

Book of Isaiah Scroll
View interactive version of the scroll here

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-Christian movements.

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: 

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.

וְהֶחֱרִים יְהוָה, אֵת לְשׁוֹן יָם-מִצְרַיִם, וְהֵנִיף יָדוֹ עַל-הַנָּהָר, בַּעְיָם רוּחוֹ; וְהִכָּהוּ לְשִׁבְעָה נְחָלִים, וְהִדְרִיךְ בַּנְּעָלִים

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.

הִנְנִי מֵשִׁיב אֶת-צֵל הַמַּעֲלוֹת אֲשֶׁר יָרְדָה בְמַעֲלוֹת אָחָז בַּשֶּׁמֶשׁ, אֲחֹרַנִּית–עֶשֶׂר מַעֲלוֹת; וַתָּשָׁב הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ עֶשֶׂר מַעֲלוֹת, בַּמַּעֲלוֹת אֲשֶׁר יָרָדָה

Isaiah 45:7 (reference to Genesis 1-3)
I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am G-d, that doeth all these things.

יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ, עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע; אֲנִי יְהוָה, עֹשֶׂה כָל-אֵלֶּה

Allegory (A metaphor in which a character, place, or event is used to deliver a broader message)

Isaiah 40:8
The grass withereth, the flower fadeth [people/life]; but the word of our G-d shall stand for ever.

יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר, נָבֵל צִיץ; וּדְבַר-אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יָקוּם לְעוֹלָם

Isaiah 40:11
Even as a shepherd [G-d] that feedeth his flock, that gathereth the lambs in his arm, and carrieth them in his bosom, and gently leadeth those that give suck.

כְּרֹעֶה, עֶדְרוֹ יִרְעֶה, בִּזְרֹעוֹ יְקַבֵּץ טְלָאִים, וּבְחֵיקוֹ יִשָּׂא; עָלוֹת, יְנַהֵל

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;

כִּי כַּאֲשֶׁר יֵרֵד הַגֶּשֶׁם וְהַשֶּׁלֶג מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְשָׁמָּה לֹא יָשׁוּב–כִּי אִם-הִרְוָה אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְהוֹלִידָהּ וְהִצְמִיחָהּ; וְנָתַן זֶרַע לַזֹּרֵעַ, וְלֶחֶם לָאֹכֵל

Aphorisms (A concise, terse, laconic, memorable expression of a general truth or principle)

Isaiah 40:21
Know you not? hear you not? Hath it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood the foundations of the earth?

הֲלוֹא תֵדְעוּ הֲלוֹא תִשְׁמָעוּ, הֲלוֹא הֻגַּד מֵרֹאשׁ לָכֶם; הֲלוֹא, הֲבִינוֹתֶם, מוֹסְדוֹת, הָאָרֶץ

Isaiah 49:15
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, these may forget, yet will not I forget you.

הֲתִשְׁכַּח אִשָּׁה עוּלָהּ, מֵרַחֵם בֶּן-בִּטְנָהּ; גַּם-אֵלֶּה תִשְׁכַּחְנָה, וְאָנֹכִי לֹא אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ

Isaiah 49:24
Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of the victorious be delivered?

הֲיֻקַּח מִגִּבּוֹר, מַלְקוֹחַ; וְאִם-שְׁבִי צַדִּיק, יִמָּלֵט

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.

הָאֹמֵר לְכוֹרֶשׁ רֹעִי, וְכָל-חֶפְצִי יַשְׁלִם; וְלֵאמֹר לִירוּשָׁלִַם תִּבָּנֶה, וְהֵיכָל תִּוָּסֵד

Isaiah 45:3 [alluding to Nebuchadnezzar’s stolen treasures from the the temple of Salomon]
And I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I am G-d who call thee by thy name, even the G-d of Israel.

וְנָתַתִּי לְךָ אוֹצְרוֹת חֹשֶׁךְ, וּמַטְמֻנֵי מִסְתָּרִים:  לְמַעַן תֵּדַע, כִּי-אֲנִי יְהוָה הַקּוֹרֵא בְשִׁמְךָ–אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

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.

כִּי כֶרֶם יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאִישׁ יְהוּדָה, נְטַע שַׁעֲשׁוּעָיו; וַיְקַו לְמִשְׁפָּט וְהִנֵּה מִשְׂפָּח, לִצְדָקָה וְהִנֵּה צְעָקָה

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.

וְהָלְכוּ עַמִּים רַבִּים, וְאָמְרוּ לְכוּ וְנַעֲלֶה אֶל-הַר-יְהוָה אֶל-בֵּית אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב, וְיֹרֵנוּ מִדְּרָכָיו, וְנֵלְכָה בְּאֹרְחֹתָיו:  כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה, וּדְבַר-יְהוָה מִירוּשָׁלִָם

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.

Encryption

Isaiah 7:4
Let us go up against Judah, and distress 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.

נַעֲלֶה בִיהוּדָה וּנְקִיצֶנָּה, וְנַבְקִעֶנָּה אֵלֵינוּ; וְנַמְלִיךְ מֶלֶךְ בְּתוֹכָהּ, אֵת בֶּן-טָבְאַל

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.

 

Row-2

א

ב

ג

ד

ה

ו

ז

ח

ט

י

כ

Row-1

ל

מ

נ

ס

ע

פ

צ

ק

ר

ש

ת

Row-1

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

I

J

K

L

M

Row-2

N

O

P

Q

R

S

T

U

V

W

X

Y

Z

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; AlephLamed & BethMem.

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 stand for an ensign of the peoples, unto him shall the nations seek; and his resting-place shall be glorious.

וְהָיָה, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, שֹׁרֶשׁ יִשַׁי אֲשֶׁר עֹמֵד לְנֵס עַמִּים, אֵלָיו גּוֹיִם יִדְרֹשׁוּ; וְהָיְתָה מְנֻחָתוֹ, כָּבוֹד

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;

כָּל-גֶּיא, יִנָּשֵׂא, וְכָל-הַר וְגִבְעָה, יִשְׁפָּלוּ; וְהָיָה הֶעָקֹב לְמִישׁוֹר,[וְרוְשׁים] וְהָרְכָסִים לְבִקְעָה

Isaiah 40-4 Every valley shall be lifted up

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).

Word Variation (using verb conjugation)

Isaiah 33:1  
Woe to you that spoilest, and thou was not spoiled; and deals treacherously, and they dealt not treacherously with you! When you hast ceased to spoil, you shalt be spoiled; and when your are weary with dealing treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with you.

הוֹי שׁוֹדֵד, וְאַתָּה לֹא שָׁדוּד, וּבוֹגֵד, וְלֹא-בָגְדוּ בוֹ; כַּהֲתִמְךָ שׁוֹדֵד תּוּשַּׁד, כַּנְּלֹתְךָ לִבְגֹּד יִבְגְּדוּ-בָךְ

Homographs (Words that use the same root but have different meanings)

Isaiah 29:9
Stupefy yourselves, and be stupid! Blind yourselves, and be blind! ye that are drunken, but not with wine, that stagger, but not with strong drink.

הִתְמַהְמְהוּ וּתְמָהוּ, הִשְׁתַּעַשְׁעוּ וָשֹׁעוּ; שָׁכְרוּ וְלֹא-יַיִן, נָעוּ וְלֹא שֵׁכָר

Metaphors and Analogies (Figure of speech that for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another)

Isaiah 24:20
The earth reels to and fro like a drunken man, and sways to and fro as a lodge; and the transgression thereof is heavy upon it, and it shall fall, and not rise again.

נוֹעַ תָּנוּעַ אֶרֶץ כַּשִּׁכּוֹר, וְהִתְנוֹדְדָה כַּמְּלוּנָה; וְכָבַד עָלֶיהָ פִּשְׁעָהּ, וְנָפְלָה וְלֹא-תֹסִיף קוּם

Isaiah 29:18
And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of a book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness.

וְשָׁמְעוּ בַיּוֹם-הַהוּא הַחֵרְשִׁים, דִּבְרֵי-סֵפֶר; וּמֵאֹפֶל וּמֵחֹשֶׁךְ, עֵינֵי עִוְרִים תִּרְאֶינָה

Isaiah 41:18
I will open rivers on the high hills, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.

אֶפְתַּח עַל-שְׁפָיִים נְהָרוֹת, וּבְתוֹךְ בְּקָעוֹת מַעְיָנוֹת; אָשִׂים מִדְבָּר לַאֲגַם-מַיִם, וְאֶרֶץ צִיָּה לְמוֹצָאֵי מָיִם

Isaiah 54:16 
Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the fire of coals, and bringeth forth a weapon for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.

הן אָנֹכִי, בָּרָאתִי חָרָשׁ–נֹפֵחַ בְּאֵשׁ פֶּחָם, וּמוֹצִיא כְלִי לְמַעֲשֵׂהוּ; וְאָנֹכִי בָּרָאתִי מַשְׁחִית, לְחַבֵּל

Juxtapositions (Placing two elements side by side in order to compare and or contrast them)
Isaiah 42:18
Hear, ye deaf, and look, ye blind, that ye may see.

הַחֵרְשִׁים, שְׁמָעוּ; וְהַעִוְרִים, הַבִּיטוּ לִרְאוֹת

Isaiah 42:20
Seeing many things, thou observest not; opening the ears, he heareth not.

ראית רַבּוֹת, וְלֹא תִשְׁמֹר; פָּקוֹחַ אָזְנַיִם, וְלֹא יִשְׁמָע

Isaiah 52:3
For thus said G-d: You were sold for nought; and you shall be redeemed without money.

כִּי-כֹה אָמַר יְהוָה, חִנָּם נִמְכַּרְתֶּם; וְלֹא בְכֶסֶף, תִּגָּאֵלוּ

Parallelism (Balance within one or more sentences using similar phrases or concepts)
Isaiah 1:2
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for G-d hath spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up…

שִׁמְעוּ שָׁמַיִם וְהַאֲזִינִי אֶרֶץ, כִּי יְהוָה דִּבֵּר:  בָּנִים גִּדַּלְתִּי וְרוֹמַמְתִּי

Isaiah 1:3
The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider.

יָדַע שׁוֹר קֹנֵהוּ, וַחֲמוֹר אֵבוּס בְּעָלָיו; יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא יָדַע, עַמִּי לֹא הִתְבּוֹנָן

Isaiah 28:23
Give ye ear, and hear my voice; attend, and hear my speech.

הַאֲזִינוּ וְשִׁמְעוּ, קוֹלִי; הַקְשִׁיבוּ וְשִׁמְעוּ, אִמְרָתִי

Isaiah 9:1
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

הָעָם הַהֹלְכִים בַּחֹשֶׁךְ, רָאוּ אוֹר גָּדוֹל:  יֹשְׁבֵי בְּאֶרֶץ צַלְמָוֶת, אוֹר נָגַהּ עֲלֵיהֶם

Rhyming (Repetition of similar sounds in the final stressed syllables)

Isaiah 17:12
Ah, the uproar of many peoples, that roar like the roaring of the seas; and the rushing of nations, that rush like the rushing of mighty waters!

הוֹי, הֲמוֹן עַמִּים רַבִּים, כַּהֲמוֹת יַמִּים, יֶהֱמָיוּן; וּשְׁאוֹן לְאֻמִּים, כִּשְׁאוֹן מַיִם כַּבִּירִים יִשָּׁאוּן

Isaiah 24:3
The earth shall be utterly emptied, and clean despoiled; for G-d hath spoken this word.

הִבּוֹק תִּבּוֹק הָאָרֶץ, וְהִבּוֹז תִּבֹּז:  כִּי יְהוָה, דִּבֶּר אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה

Isaiah 24:4
The earth fainteth and fadeth away, the world faileth and fadeth away, the lofty people of the earth do fail.

אָבְלָה נָבְלָה הָאָרֶץ, אֻמְלְלָה נָבְלָה תֵּבֵל; אֻמְלָלוּ, מְרוֹם עַם-הָאָרֶץ

Isaiah 24:17
Terror, and the pit, and the trap…

פַּחַד וָפַחַת, וָפָח

Isaiah 24:19
The earth is broken, broken down, the earth is crumbled in pieces, the earth trembleth and tottereth;

רֹעָה הִתְרֹעֲעָה, הָאָרֶץ; פּוֹר הִתְפּוֹרְרָה אֶרֶץ, מוֹט הִתְמוֹטְטָה אָרֶץ

Isaiah 27:7
Hath He smitten him as He smote those that smote him? Or is he slain according to the slaughter of them that were slain by Him?

הַכְּמַכַּת מַכֵּהוּ, הִכָּהוּ:  אִם-כְּהֶרֶג הֲרֻגָיו, הֹרָג

Isaiah 28:10
For it is precept by precept, precept by precept, line by line, line by line; here a little, there a little.

כִּי צַו לָצָו צַו לָצָו, קַו לָקָו קַו לָקָו-זְעֵיר שָׁם, זְעֵיר שָׁם

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.

וְנָחָה עָלָיו, רוּחַ יְהוָה רוּחַ חָכְמָה וּבִינָה, רוּחַ עֵצָה וּגְבוּרָה, רוּחַ דַּעַת, וְיִרְאַת יְהוָה

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.

וְנָתַתִּי מַפְתֵּחַ בֵּית-דָּוִד, עַל-שִׁכְמוֹ; וּפָתַח וְאֵין סֹגֵר, וְסָגַר וְאֵין פֹּתֵחַ

Isaiah 27:5
Or else let him take hold of My strength, that he may make peace with Me; yea, let him make peace with Me.

אוֹ יַחֲזֵק בְּמָעוּזִּי, יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם לִי; שָׁלוֹם, יַעֲשֶׂה-לִּי

Isaiah 29:2 
…Ariel, and there shall be mourning and moaning; and she shall be unto me as a hearth of G-d.

לַאֲרִיאֵל; וְהָיְתָה תַאֲנִיָּה וַאֲנִיָּה, וְהָיְתָה לִּי כַּאֲרִיאֵל

Isaiah 5:20
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that change darkness into light, and light into darkness; that change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter!

הוֹי הָאֹמְרִים לָרַע טוֹב, וְלַטּוֹב רָע שָׂמִים חֹשֶׁךְ לְאוֹר וְאוֹר לְחֹשֶׁךְ,שָׂמִים מַר לְמָתוֹק וּמָתוֹק לְמָר

Isaiah 10:11
Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?’

הֲלֹא, כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְשֹׁמְרוֹן–וְלֶאֱלִילֶיהָ: כֵּן אֶעֱשֶׂה לִירוּשָׁלִַם, וְלַעֲצַבֶּיהָ

Isaiah 13:15
Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is caught shall fall by the sword.

כָּל-הַנִּמְצָא, יִדָּקֵר; וְכָל-הַנִּסְפֶּה, יִפּוֹל בֶּחָרֶב

Not bad for a 2800 year old document.

References and Sources:

Note on language
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.

1. The Book of Isaiah
2. Chapter-by-Chapter Recordings of the Hebrew Bible
3. The Aleppo Codex
4. The Dead Sea Scroll Collection
5. Hebrew verb conjugation application 

Hebrew Alphabet Chart

Hebrew verb conjugation table
Source: Language Learning Beta

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