Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Stone of Beginnings: The Shetiyyah Stone and Peter the Rock

In one Hebrew creation myth, God began the creation of the world by casting down a stone into the primeval waters and then building up dry land around it. This stone is referred to as the Shetiyyah stone. This tale is somewhat reminiscent of the Egyptian creation story in which the world begins as an earthen mound that emerged from the primeval waters of Nun.

This story makes use of the motif of a foundation stone or mound as the sacred center around which the world is built at the very beginning of creation. A concept found in many cultures, this sacred center is referred to as an
omphalos (Greek), which means “navel,” hearkening back to an old belief that the very first part of a thing (i.e. the world, human bodies, animal bodies, etc) to come into existence was the navel and that all the rest of the thing is then built up around it.

Roughly 3000 years ago the holiest structure in Judaism, the Jerusalem temple, was built upon Mount Moriah, with the Shetiyyah stone marking the temple’s most sacred precinct—the Holy of Holies. This indicates that the site of the stone, a flat rocky outcropping atop Mount Moriah, was the sacred center of the Hebrew nation both politically and spiritually. Some of Israel’s most important national myths were rooted there: it was thought to be the place where Abraham, ever obedient to God’s command, intended to sacrifice his son Isaac. It was said to be the place where Jacob dreamed of the ladder that ascended to heaven, with angels ascending and descending. It was believed that the Shetiyyah stone was the boundary that separated the Underworld—the Abyss, the Tehom, place of primeval waters—from the surface world. Not only a boundary, it was a “stopper” which held back those primal waters from flooding the land (as they had during Noah's time), and also was a gateway to that realm.

The Shetiyyah stone, also known as the
Foundation Stone, marked the center of the Hebrew nation and culture. Much later in time Islam honored the spot as one of its holiest by building a shrine there, now known as the Dome of the Rock.

* * * * *

Jesus said to Peter —
“Thou are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.”

Just as Hebrew culture and religion was founded upon the Shetiyyah, the Foundation Stone, so also was the Roman Catholic Church founded upon a foundation stone—the apostle Simon, who was also known as Peter.

The above quote, attributed to Jesus, is another example of the use of the ever-important omphalos, or center.

The presence of the Foundation Stone on Mount Moriah marked the place as the center of the (Hebrew) world. Similarly, by Jesus’s proclamation, Peter is being designated as the Foundation Stone or center point of the new Christian world that is about to begin; the physical stone, the center point, is now a person. As such, this particular passage of scripture may well be a later interpolation, planted there by someone aware of the symbolism, in order to add validity to the Papacy.

Although renamed Peter by Jesus in scripture, Peter’s actual name was Simon bar Jonah, which means Simon son of Jonah. This is an interesting name, with many layers of possible meaning and significance.

Besides possibly being the father of Simon, who was Jonah?

The prophet Jonah of the Old Testament is famous for being swallowed by a whale—as he tried to run away from God’s command to preach—and spending three days in utter darkness inside the whale’s belly as it lay on the floor of the sea. This scared him sufficiently to agree to God’s command and pray for deliverance, at which point the whale then resurfaced and disgorged him.

This story is symbolic and most likely refers to the well known classic three day initiation ceremony of the ancient world’s mystery schools, during which the initiate was confined in a dark chamber of some sort for three days before being ‘reborn’ into the light and a new life. It is reminiscent of some of the old Egyptian initiation tales wherein the candidates were taken blindfolded into a chamber of the temple, sometimes placed within a coffin-like stone sarcophagi, and closed in. In some cases they were instructed to find their way out again through pathways beset with poisonous snakes, dead ends, and other terrifying ordeals. The image of Jonah, sitting at the dark bottom of the sea, inside the darkness of the whale’s belly, pretty well fills the criteria for an appropriately terrifying and seemingly dead-end initiatory scenario.

Was the whale that swallowed Jonah the Leviathan, the great dragon/serpent beast of the deep mentioned in Hebrew legends and Bible stories? In nearby Babylon the great beast of the deep was Tiamat, the great dragon/serpent mother who was the great goddess of the Deep, the Tehom, the Void. Being “inside the whale” is akin to being in her womb and is indicative of an initiation process that lead to a spiritual rebirth. Jonah was within the whale for three days before being disgorged to a new life, Lazarus was in the tomb for three days before being raised from the dead, and later Jesus was in the tomb for three days before he arose, just as ancient Egyptian initiates spent three days undergoing their ordeals in the temples before emerging spiritually reborn. The “whale’s belly” is, therefore, symbolic of the same dark underworld testing place as the tomb -- the death that leads to resurrection and new life.

So the Jonah story is most likely an initiation story and the name Simon bar Jonah in the New Testament might well refer to a person who had passed an initiation. The name
Simon means “one who hears,” “he has heard,” or “he hears.” The word bar means “son of.” The name Jonah means “dove.” In Christian iconography, the dove was a symbol of the Holy Spirit. But for many centuries prior to Christianity, the dove was, in the Middle East, an image for the Goddess.

On one level, Simon’s name might simply mean that his father’s was named Jonah. But another possible interpretation of the name Simon bar Jonah might be “He hears/has heard the Son of the Dove (i.e. Goddess).” How appropriate for a disciple of Jesus, the Son of Mary—Mary being the Sacred Feminine figure of the Christian dispensation.

Another possible interpretation is that Simon is himself the “Son of the Dove,” i.e. he has passed an initiation and been found worthy to be called the Son of the Dove/Goddess/Holy Spirit.

The fact that Simon bar Jonah is later called Peter—the “rock” upon which the church (i.e. temple) is to be built—might indicate that he did pass an important initiation, one that allowed him to be designated as the "foundation stone" of the new dispensation.

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