Mystique of Twelve

The number twelve seems to hold a fascination for humankind that borders on reverence which is hoary with age.  There are, for example, twelve months in the solar-gauged year, and they all pretty much follow the apparent movements of various star groups (constellations).  Human life is so encased in traditions that we mortals rarely wonder why certain numbers serve as standard measures.  Why a dozen signifies twelve, for example.  Even myths usually fail to clarify why certain numbers carry an aura of veneration.

The legendary Atlantis, for example, supposedly had twelve great kings.  A clue does lie hidden in this legend, however; Atlantis was described as being circular in its layout and it regions defined by circles of water.  Something about the number twelve has fascinated mankind for many thousands of years.   Indeed the number twelve has played an important role in most organized by-the-book faith systems of the world, although it is always disguised to suit the faith system’s purpose.

The Egyptian god Osiris, the  Persian god Mithras, the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, the Gautama Buddha among numerous holy characters have traditions of having been attended by twelve apostle/disciples, just as credited to Jesus.  In Greek myth there were twelve Titans and twelve Olympian gods.  Hercules, the Greek savior-style character, had his twelve labors to perform.  The number twelve plays a pivotal symbolic role in both the Old and New Testaments.  The number twelve also flavors Islam.

In Hebrew Scriptures there is presented in Genesis, the book of beginnings, the character of Jacob who for some mystifying reason is renamed Israel by God.  This character supposedly sired twelve sons who served as the founders of the twelve tribes of the Hebrews–all of whom became revered as Israelites.  And there is Solomon’s Temple of which it is stressed, “…there was neither hammer nor axe, not any tool of iron in the house while it was building”.  And Solomon’s Temple is also claimed to have contained twelve divisions within it.  That temple “not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” certainly could not have been reference to an earthbound “holy temple”, although it is implied to have been one of the greatest man-constructed buildings.  By its description, however, it was roughly 40 fee by 125 feet!  The details given in 1 Kings 7:32-33, if examined, are actually those of the zodiac.  It is for this reason that Solomon is alleged to have had “…twelve officers over all Israel, which provided victuals for the king and his household: each man his month in a year made provisions.”

In the New Testament, the gospel of Mark, first of the Christian series texts to be written (c. 55-60 CE), has a curious conclusion (16:8), and a cautious reader is left to wonder if the apostles (nowhere yet presented as twelve of them) were unwaveringly converted to Jesus’ call or if they even felt the power with which Jesus is said to have endowed them.  Nothing emotional is expressed by Mark.  (Mark was revised c. 70-80 CE)  The gospel of Matthew (written later c 70-75 CE), which was nonetheless canonically placed in first position, is somewhat nebulous also, concluding (28:17) that some of the apostles were apparently uncertain that they had seen the resurrected Jesus.

The claim of Jesus having been attended by a band of twelve apostles was not fully embraced until considerably after the books Luke and Acts were written (traditionally attributed to “Saint” Paul).  By environmental descriptions in the text (Jerusalem as an “abandoned” house, and Jerusalem being surrounded by camps, for example) the gospel according to Luke was certainly composed well after the fall of Jerusalem to Emperor Titus (70 CE).  It was these writing attributed to Paul which were utilized to help develop the principles set forth for the struggling Jesus-cult faith system.  It is noteworthy, however, that never once in Paul’s earliest writings was there ever any mention of the alleged twelve constant companions.  Indeed, the apostles were mentioned only once in writings attributed to Paul, and that is an obvious later insertion.

The fourth gospel as the canonized holy account, which is attributed to John (written c.105-106 CE) was clearly penned well after the alleged occurrence of the crucifixion, and strangely the text sounds somewhat like a rebuttal to some never-acknowledged skeptic.  This is subtly implied in the curious insinuation of rivalry between John and Peter as depicted in the race to the empty sepulcher (20:3-8) after being told that Jesus’ body had disappeared.  Despite the contradictory elements the purpose of the canonized four gospels remains clear; their “canonical” empowerment (by a priest squad) was to establish the authority of the twelve Apostles, which, by extension just happened to institute the priests’ authority over the people in the faith system they sought to institutionalize.

The Gospel of John is most compelling for the theatrical depictions of the Last Supper and the crucifixion account.  Indeed, a similar themed  passion play had long been played out yearly in Pagan locales during the period of the Vernal Equinox (resurrection of Nature).  In John’s account the characters of Thomas and Judas, for example, who are rather nondescript in the Synoptic gospels, have surprisingly prominent roles. (This curious twist is persuasively addressed in the book Voices of the Mystic, by April DeConick.)  As the gospels have been institutionalized and accepted today the supreme tradition that there had been twelve unwavering disciples is secure; indeed, the expression “The Twelve” is used repeatedly by the gospel writers who wrote after John’s account was installed as Gospel.  Thus it is because of Paul being credited with the Luke/Acts accounts in the formative period of what is now Christianity that he is regarded as virutally the thirteenth apostle.

Again, why is there the tradition of twelve Israelite tribes or twelve apostles in the first place?  And why do the gospels infer that these favored twelve somehow represented all the big questions of life?  For the very same reason that in the Hebrew Scriptures the character Jacob/Israel supposedly had twelve sons through which the alleged twelve Israelite tribes developed. It is because both of these faith systems traditions were established upon the much older lessons on Creation/cosmology and life purpose lessons which had utilized various constellation as illustrations for study:  the same constellations known to us today, mostly through horoscope references.

We should note as well that the number twelve holds significance in Islam also.  The number twelve can be seen in Shiite theology as well.  Unlike Sunnite Muslims the Shiites hold a hardcore belief in the role of an intermediary between man and Allah.  This belief allows for the seat of a strong religion-political setup (theocracy) in the guise of god’s mouthpiece.  From the earliest days of Islam’s spread, leaders of the Shiite faction encouraged the claim that there were twelve Imans (successors to Mohammad) which served in the capacity of mediator.  These twelve, not surprisingly, were presented as the rightful successors to the Prophet Mohammad.  Fundamental Shiites today adhere to the belief that the twelfth Iman (prayer leader, scholar, authority of Islamic law) disappeared in the year 940 CE, but will reappear to establish a cleansed Islamic state.

Th Sunnites, on the other hand, follow orthodox tradition that the first four caliphs (secular and religious head of a Muslim state) were rightful successors of Mohammad.  Mohammad died unexpectedly without having specified any descendant as his successor, which seem a curious circumstance for a traditional prophet.  At any rate, the bulk of traditional Muslim law (Sunna or Sunnah) is held to be based on the words and acts of Mohammad as”revealed” by later biographers) and make for the articles of belief and serve as the alleged schema to Allah’s favoritism.  These two factions, Shiites and Sunnites, have ever since Mohammad’s unexpected demise, thus indulged in deadly feuding over which form of dogma serves as Allah’s favored strategy for entry into Paradise.

And thus today our little world rocks with terrorism and death battles that were set in motion by self-professed holy authors and political schemers who institutionalized human spiritual yearnings through their by-the-book faith systems.

 

 

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