The Gospel of St. Mark
22 September 1912, Basel
In the Gospel of St. Mark directly after the great world-historical monologue which I have described there follows, as you know, the scene known as the Transfiguration or Transformation. I have often pointed out before that for the three disciples who had been taken to the “mountain” on which the Transfiguration took place, this was a kind of higher initiation. At this moment they were to be initiated, as it were, more profoundly into the secrets that were to be entrusted to them, one by one, to enable them to become leaders and guides of mankind. From what we have said before on several occasions we know that this scene contains a series of secrets. Both in the Gospels and other occult writings whenever the “mountain” is spoken of, then we have to do with something occult. In an occult connection it always means when the mountain is spoken of that those who are led to the mountain are led into certain secrets of existence. In the case of the Mark Gospel we feel this especially strongly for a reason that will become apparent if the Gospel is read rightly. But it must be read rightly.
Take, for example, the third chapter of Mark from the 7th to the 23rd or 24th verse. Actually we need not go further than the 22nd verse, but it is necessary to read it with perceptive understanding. Then something will be noticed. It has often been stressed that the expressions “accompany to the mountain” and “leading to the mountain” have an occult meaning. But in this particular chapter we find a threefold activity, and not only an “accompanying to the mountain.” If we examine carefully the three passages indicated by Mark, we notice first in verse 7, “And Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake,” etc. Then, in the 13th verse it is said, “And he went up to the mountain and called to him those who were acceptable to him.” Then in verses 20 and 21 we read, “And then he went to his home. And the crowd gathered again so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his family heard of it they went out to seize him, for they said ‘he is out of his mind.’ ” Thus we are referred to three separate localities, the lake, the mountain and the house. Just as in an occult sense the mountain signifies that something important takes place, so is this also true in the other two cases. In occult writings if such expressions as “being led to the mountain,” or “being led to a house,” occur, this invariably means that they have an occult significance. When this is the meaning intended in the Gospels some specific circumstance is connected with it. You should remember that it is not only in the Mark Gospel but also in the others that a special revelation or special manifestation is connected especially with the “lake,” as when the disciples cross the lake and Christ appears to them. They at first take Him for a ghost, but then become aware that it is He in reality that is approaching them (Mark 6:45-52). And elsewhere you can also find a similar mention in the Gospels of some event that takes place because of the lake, or by the lake. On the mountain he first appoints the Twelve, that is, he confers their occult mission on them. That was an act of occult education. It is again on the mountain that the occult Transfiguration takes place. When he was “at his home,” he is declared by his family to be “out of his mind.” This was the third thing, and all three are of the greatest and most comprehensive significance.
If we wish to understand what “by the lake” means in this connection we must call to mind something that we have often explained. We have pictured to you how the so-called Atlantean age preceded our post-Atlantean earth period, and that in that age the air was still permeated by dense masses of mist. In the same way that in the Atlantean age human beings possessed the ancient clairvoyance, their way of perceiving and their soul life were quite different because they lived in quite different physical conditions. This was linked to the fact that the physical body was entirely different, since it was embedded in the masses of mist. From this epoch something like an ancient heritage has remained with mankind. If someone in the post-Atlantean age is initiated by some means into occult matters, or comes near to them as was the case with Jesus' disciples, he becomes much more sensitive, more intensely sensitive to his environment and to the natural world around him. As man is today, we might say that, with his robust relationship with the natural world, it is more or less immaterial whether he crosses the sea or stays by the lake, or whether he climbs a mountain — we shall soon see what that means — or whether he is in his own home. How his eyes see and his mind functions do not depend very much on where he happens to be. But when a man acquires a subtler vision and ascends into spiritual cosmic conditions, then it becomes evident how crudely organized his ordinary being is.
If a man, in the time when the old clairvoyance was active, crossed the sea where circumstances were quite different, even if he lived by the coast, his clairvoyant consciousness would be quite differently attuned than if he were on the plain. The greatest exertion, one might say, is necessary to bring forth any clairvoyant forces at all. The lake allows them to be brought forth more easily, but only those forces which are related to something entirely specific, not to everything. For there is again a difference whether clairvoyant consciousness is active on the plain, or whether it is active on the mountaintop. On the heights the sensitive clairvoyant consciousness is again attuned to things quite different from those on the plain. And the results of clairvoyant consciousness are again different if one is by the lake from what they are on the mountain. In each case the distinction must be made.
Of course it is also possible to arouse clairvoyance in a town, but this needs exceptional forces, whereas what we are talking about at present is valid especially for clairvoyance that comes more or less of its own accord. By the lake, by the water, and in masses of mist, the clairvoyant consciousness is especially disposed to perceive imaginations, all kinds of things through imagination, and to make use of what has already been acquired. On the mountain, in the rarified air where the proportion of nitrogen and oxygen is differently distributed, clairvoyant consciousness is more attuned to receiving inspirations, allowing something new to arise through clairvoyance. Hence the expression “to ascend the mountain” is not meant only symbolically but is used because the conditions obtaining on the mountain favor the possibility of developing new occult powers in oneself. Likewise the expression “to go to the lake” is not meant symbolically, but was chosen because coming in contact with the lake favors imaginative vision and the use of occult powers.
If one is at home, in one's own house, whether one is alone or with relatives, it is most difficult to make use of occult forces. For while it is comparatively easy for a person who has lived for a long time by a lake to believe — as long as conditions are favorable — that he experiences imaginations through the veil of his corporeality, and easier still for a person who lives in the mountains to believe that he is ascending higher, in the case of a person who is at home, one can feel only that he is outside his body, “out of his mind.” This is not to say that he could not develop occult powers, but only that this does not seem to be in harmony with his surroundings. It is less natural than it would be if he were by a lake, or on the mountain.
For this reason it has an immensely deep meaning that the Gospel is entirely in accord with what we have just described, and that this is drawn from the occult understanding of the conditions of nature. The Gospel brings this out clearly and it is factually correct in an occult sense. Hence we shall always see the following. When it is said that something took place by the lake, when being by the lake is referred to, definite forces are being applied and healing powers or powers of vision are unfolded. Thus Christ Jesus appears to His disciples by the lake in imagination only since He Himself is involved in the entire episode because of His capacity to exteriorize Himself. Although they do not have Him there in the physical body, the disciples see Him. In such an experience separation in space has no importance. He was together “with them” by the lake. For the same reason when reference is made to the soul forces of the apostles, the “mountain” is spoken of, as it was when the Twelve were appointed and their souls were enjoined to take into themselves the group soul of Elijah. And when the Christ wished to appear in the whole grandeur of His world-historical and cosmic manifestation, again the mountain is spoken of. The Transfiguration therefore takes place on the mountain.
It is indeed from this point of view that we must picture the scene of the Transfiguration. The three disciples Peter, James, and John prove themselves to be capable of being initiated into the deeper secrets of the Mystery of Golgotha. To the clairvoyant eyes of these three which were now opened there appeared, transfigured, that is in their spiritual nature, Elijah on the one side and Moses 1Moses was discussed by Steiner in two of the earlier Gospel cycles, The Gospel of Luke (1909) and The Gospel of Matthew (1910). An important lecture was devoted to him on March 9, 1911. This appeared in Turning Points in Spiritual History (London, 1934). on the other, with Christ Jesus Himself in the middle. And it is imaginatively indicated in the Gospel that Christ was now in the form in which in His spiritual nature He could be recognized. This is shown with sufficient clarity in the Mark Gospel:
And He was transfigured before them.
And His garments became gleaming bright, brighter than any fuller on earth could bleach them.
And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they conversed with Jesus. (Mark 9:2-4.)
After the great monologue of God comes a conversation among these three. What a wonderful dramatic crescendo! Everywhere the Gospels are full of such artistic sequences. Indeed they are wonderfully composed. After hearing the monologue of God we now have a conversation among these three, and what a conversation! First we see Elijah and Moses, one on each side of Christ Jesus. What is the significance of Elijah and Moses?
The figure of Moses has long been familiar to you; even from the occult standpoint it has often been illuminated. We know that world-historical wisdom chose to bridge the span between primeval ages and the Mystery of Golgotha indirectly through Moses. We know from our studies on the Luke Gospel that in the Jesus boy of whom Matthew especially speaks the reincarnated Zarathustra is to be seen. We know also that this Zarathustra through all that belonged to him and was in him made preparations for his later appearance on earth. I have often mentioned how through special occult processes Zarathustra gave away his etheric body, which then passed over into Moses so that Zarathustra's etheric body was active in him. Thus when Elijah and Moses are pictured next to Christ Jesus we have, so to speak, in Moses those forces destined to lead over from primitive forms of culture to what mankind was later to be given in Christ Jesus and the Mystery of Golgotha.
But from another point of view we also have a transitional figure in Moses. We know that he not only had within him the etheric body of Zarathustra, which enabled him to bear within himself the wisdom of Zarathustra which could then become active in him, but we know also that Moses was in a certain way initiated into the secrets of other peoples. In the meeting with the Midianite priest Jethro we have to see a special scene of initiation, as we have discussed before. This is to be found in the Old Testament (Exodus 2:16-21). Here it is clearly pointed out how Moses visits this lonely priest and not only learns from him the secrets of the initiation of Judaism but also those of other peoples. He bears all these within his inner being which has already experienced the special strengthening that came from the etheric body of Zarathustra. So there entered into the Jewish people through Moses the secrets of initiation of the whole surrounding world, thus enabling him to prepare, on a lower stage, as it were, what was to come about through Christ Jesus. This then was one of the streams that was to lead to the Mystery of Golgotha.
The other stream, as I have also indicated before, derived from what by this time was living in a natural way in the Jewish people, as a people. Moses was the individuality who as far as was possible in his time allowed the other stream that was in the world to pour into that stream that flowed through the generations from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But at the same time we should always keep in mind what was especially connected with the nature of the Hebrew people. Why had this people been chosen? Their task was to prepare for that era that we tried to call before our souls when, for example, we referred to Hellenism, and then when yesterday we spoke of Empedocles. We were referring in this way to that time when the ancient clairvoyant capacities were disappearing from men, when they lost their ability to see into the spiritual world, when the power of judgment took its place; and judgment is the special characteristic of the ego, when the ego emerges as an independent entity.
It was for the purpose of bringing to the ego all that could be given to the natural being of man through the organization of the blood that the Hebrew people were chosen. Absolutely everything that can be fully experienced through the physical organization of the human being had to be experienced fully by this people. Man's intellectuality is certainly bound to his physical organization; and from the physical organization of the ancient Hebrew people was to be taken that which truly could nourish those human capacities that are dependent on the intellect. By contrast other peoples had to allow what comes from without, from initiation, to shine into their earthly organization, whereas what was able to rise up in man's own being through the blood relationship was to rise up through this relationship in the ancient Hebrew people. For this reason it was insisted on that this blood connection be a continuous one, and that every Hebrew carried within himself those capacities that have been flowing through the blood since the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The ego, bound to the blood, had to be conveyed to the physical organization through the blood of the ancient Hebrew people, and this could come about only through the medium of heredity.
I have already pointed out that the Old Testament story of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham and the manner in which it was prevented indicates how this people was specially chosen by the Godhead to be a gift to humanity, so that the outer physical vessel for egohood could be given to mankind. That this physical vessel, the ancient Jewish people, was a gift of God to humanity is indicated by Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. If he had sacrificed Isaac, Abraham would at the same time have sacrificed that physical organization that was to give mankind the physical basis for the intellect, and thus for egohood. In receiving back his son Abraham received back the whole God-given organization. This is the great significance of the restoration of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19). At the same time it is also indicated that on the one side there is the spiritual stream pictured for us in the Transfiguration scene in the person of Moses, and this is now to flow onward precisely through the instrument of the Jewish people as far as the deed of the Mystery of Golgotha. What then is pictured for us in the person of Elijah?
Through him the totality of the divine revelation living in the Jewish people unites with what happens through the Mystery of Golgotha. In the book of Numbers it is shown in the 25th chapter how Israel is led astray into idolatry, but is rescued through the agency of one man. Through the decisiveness of one man the Israelites, the ancient Hebrew people, were not totally given over to idolatry at that time. Who is this man? It is he of whom we are told in the book of Numbers that he had the strength to come before the ancient Hebrew people who were in danger of lapsing into the idolatry of the surrounding peoples, and to intercede with the God who had been revealed through Moses. This was truly a strong soul. This intercession with God is usually translated into the German language as “eifern,” and in English as “be zealous.” This zeal is not to be thought of in any bad sense; it simply means to intercede strongly. Thus we read in Numbers 25:10-12:
And the Lord spoke with Moses and said: “Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away my anger from the children of Israel through his zeal concerning me. So in my zeal I have not destroyed the children of Israel. Therefore say: See, I give him my covenant of peace.”
Yahweh said this to Moses. And in this particular passage we must also see something that according to ancient Hebrew esoteric teaching is exceptionally significant. This is confirmed by occult research. We know that those representing the high priesthood of ancient Israel are direct descendants of Aaron, and that in them the essence of what was given to mankind by the Jewish people lives on. At that moment of world history, according to Hebrew esoteric teaching and confirmed by more recent occult research, the significant truth was indicated that Yahweh imparts the knowledge to Moses that in Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the grandson of Aaron, he was bestowing on the Hebrew people a very special priest who represents him and is closely connected with him. And the esoteric teaching and occult research reveal that the same soul lives in the body of Phinehas that was later present in Elijah. Thus we have a continuous line of descent which in several points we have already described. In Aaron's grandson we have one soul that is of concern to us, the soul that lives in Phinehas. The same soul appears again in Elijah-Naboth and then in John the Baptist, and we know how it continues throughout the evolution of mankind. So there is pictured for us this soul on the one side of the Christ, and on the other the soul of Moses himself.
So in the Transfiguration, in the Transformation on the mountain, we have before us a streaming together of the entire spirituality of earth evolution, the essence of which flowed through the Jewish blood into the Levitical line. Thus the soul of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron stands before us; Moses stands before us; and there stands before us also He who fulfilled the Mystery of Golgotha. And the three disciples who were to be initiated, Peter, James and John, were to perceive in imaginative knowledge how these forces, these spiritual streams, flowed together. When yesterday I tried to picture for you how something like a call sounds over from Greece to Palestine and the call that answered it, this was something more than a mere pictorial description of the facts. It was indeed a preparation for that great world-historical discourse that now actually took place. The disciples Peter, James, and John were to be initiated into what these three souls had to discuss together; one soul who belonged to the people of the Old Testament, one who carried within himself much of what we know about the Moses soul, while the third, as cosmic deity, is uniting Himself with the earth. This the disciples were to see.
We know that it could not immediately enter into their hearts, nor could they understand immediately what was revealed to them. But this is customary with much that is experienced in the realm of the occult. It is experienced imaginatively. One does not understand it, and often learns to understand it only in the following incarnation. But then our understanding is better able to adapt itself to what had previously been seen. We can feel how on the mountain there were the three cosmic powers, while down below were the three who were to be initiated into these great cosmic secrets. And from all these things the feeling can arise in our souls that the Gospel, if we understand it correctly, and especially if we allow the dramatic intensification and the artistic composition which is itself an expression everywhere of cosmic facts, does truly point to the great revolution that really happened at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha.
When the Gospel is explained through occult research it speaks a very clear language indeed. In the future it will become important that people should recognize ever more clearly what is the issue at stake, and what is particularly significant in one or the other passage in the Gospel; and only then will we be able to grasp the point that is of special importance in a particular parable, or in one story or another. It is strange how ordinary theologians or philosophers when they try to explain the most important things in the Gospels actually always take their point of departure as if they were not putting the horse before the cart in the usual way but the other way round — or, as we say in common parlance, they “put the cart before the horse.” This indeed happens with so many interpreters and commentators; they miss the main point.
We wish to draw your attention now to a passage that you will find in the fourteenth chapter of the Mark Gospel. We do this because it is of great significance for the progress of our studies.
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came in as he sat at table with an alabaster flask of genuine costly ointment of nard, and she broke the flask open and poured the ointment over his head.
But some of those present disputed among themselves and said, “Why this waste of ointment?” It could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii that could have been given to the poor. And they were indignant with her.
But Jesus said, “Let her alone, why do you trouble her? She has accomplished a good work in me. For you have the poor with you all the time and you can do good to them whenever you wish. But you do not have me with you forever. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial.
I say truly to you, wherever in the whole world this Gospel is proclaimed, her deed will be spoken of in her memory.” (Mark 14:3-9.)
It would surely be a good thing if we were to admit that this passage contains something striking in it. Most people, if they are honest, ought to confess that they are forced to sympathize with those who complained that the ointment was wasted, and that in any event it was unnecessary to pour it over someone's head. Most people will indeed believe it would have been better to sell the ointment for three hundred denarii and give the money to the poor. And if you are honest perhaps you will find that Christ was being callous when He said that it was better to let her do what she wished to do instead of giving the three hundred denarii to the poor, a sum that the ointment would have realized if it had been sold. At this point, if we are not to be shocked by the whole story, we must say to ourselves that there must be something else behind this. Indeed, the Gospel goes further, and in this passage it is not at all polite. For it seems to imply that if you can find a number of people who admit that it would have been better to give to the poor the three hundred denarii that could have been obtained for the ointment, then these people are thinking like a certain other person. For it continues:
“Wherever in the whole world this Gospel is proclaimed, her deed will also be spoken of in her memory.”
And Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief Priests to deliver him up to them. And they were glad when they heard it, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he could find a good opportunity to deliver him up. (Mark 14:9-12.)
That is to say, because Judas Iscariot was specially offended by the spilling of the ointment — and the others who took offense at the spilling of the ointment are thereby associated with the example of Judas — so the Gospel is by no means even polite, for it points out with the utmost clarity that those who took offense at the spilling of the ointment are exactly like Judas Iscariot, who later sold the Lord for thirty silver pieces. What the Gospel is saying is that Judas is too fond of money, and so are the people who wish to sell the ointment for three hundred denarii. We should never gloss over the Gospel, for glossing over such passages prevents an objective, correct interpretation. What we must do is find out what is the real issue. And we shall find many more examples to show us how the Gospel sometimes even persists in giving incidental details in a rather offensive manner if the purpose is to cast an especially clear light on a particular point.
What is the real question at issue in this passage? The Gospel wishes to tell us that it is man's task not to look only at sense existence, nor to suppose that only those things are important that have value and meaning in sense existence. Beyond everything else man should take the super-sensible world into himself, and it is important to pay attention also to things that no longer have any meaning for sense existence. The body of Christ Jesus, which was anointed in advance by the woman before its burial, has no meaning if it is dead; but we should also do something for what has value and meaning beyond sense existence. This had to be especially strongly emphasized. For this reason something was made use of, to which even the natural human consciousness in the life of the senses attaches great value. The Gospel here chooses a special example to show how sometimes something must be withdrawn from sense life and offered to the spirit, to the ego after its liberation from the body. Just at this moment the Gospel chooses what is apparently an irreverent example; something is taken away from the poor that is given to the spirit, given to the ego when it has been freed from the body. It does not look at what gives value to earth existence but at what can come into the ego and can radiate forth from it. This is pictured here in a very powerful manner, by bringing it into relation with Judas Iscariot, who commits a treacherous deed because he feels himself at heart especially impelled toward sense existence, and associates with those who are described in far from courteous terms as the real Philistines, not too strong a word for those who are clearly indicated in this passage. Judas is concerned only with what has meaning in sense existence, in the same way as those who believe that what can be bought for three hundred denarii has more importance than that which transcends the life of sense.
Everywhere in the Gospels attention is directed to the main point and not to side issues; and the Gospel will be recognized wherever the spiritual is recognized. This example will be recognized as pertinent wherever the spiritual is truly recognized. Wherever one wishes to exalt the value of the super-sensible for the ego, it will always be said that the wasting of the ointment was a matter of no importance. There is another remarkable passage where it is again possible to perceive the methodically artistic manner in which the Gospel veils the occult facts concerned with the evolution of mankind. This passage is again a difficult puzzle for the commentators.
And the next day, as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry.
And from afar he saw a fig tree, which had leaves. So he went to see if he might find something on it. And when he came to it he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.
And he began to speak to it, “Never to all eternity shall anyone eat fruit from you!” And his disciples heard it. (Mark 11:12-14.)
Now we should all ask ourselves honestly, “Is it not truly extraordinary that, according to the Gospel, a God should go straight up to a fig tree, look for figs and find none, and then the reason is explicitly given why He did not find any — it was not the time for figs — so at a time when there are no figs He goes up to the fig tree, looks for figs and finding none, says, “Never to all eternity shall anyone eat fruit from you?”
Now consider the usual explanations given of this story — although the Gospel gives nothing but the dry and prosaic fact that for some strange reason Christ Jesus feels hunger, and goes up to a fig tree at a time when no figs grow. He finds no figs, and then curses the tree telling it that to all eternity no figs will grow any more on it. What, then is the fig tree, and why is the entire story told here? Anyone who can read occult works first of all will recognize in the fig tree (its connection with the Gospel will be shown later) the same picture as was spoken of in relation to the Buddha, who sat under the Bodhi tree and received enlightenment for his sermon at Benares. “Under the Bodhi tree” means the same as “under the fig tree.” From a world-historical point of view it was still the “time of figs” in respect to human clairvoyance, that is to say it was possible to receive enlightenment as the Buddha did, under the Bodhi tree, under the fig tree. But this was no longer true, and that is what the disciples had to learn. From the point of view of world history it was a fact that there was no longer any fruit on the tree under which the Buddha had received his enlightenment.
And what was happening in all of mankind was mirrored at that time in the soul of Christ. We may see in Empedocles of Sicily a representative of humanity, a representative of many people who were similarly hungry because their souls could no longer discover the revelation that had been given earlier and had to be satisfied with the abstractions of the ego. In the same way that we can speak of the starving Empedocles, we can speak of the hunger for the spirit that all men felt in the times that were then beginning. And the entire hunger of mankind discharged itself into the soul of Christ Jesus as the Mystery of Golgotha approached. The disciples were to participate in this secret and know of it.
Christ led them to the fig tree and told them the secret of the Bodhi tree, omitting to tell them, because it had no significance for them, that the Buddha was still able to find fruit on it. Now it was no longer the “time of figs,” figs that the Buddha had received from the Bodhi tree when he gave his sermon at Benares. Now Christ had to tell them that for all eternity the fruit of knowledge would never again ripen on the tree from which the light of Benares had shown down, but that hereafter the light would shine from the Mystery of Golgotha.
What is the truth that is presented to us here? The truth that Christ Jesus went with His disciples from Bethany to Jerusalem, and that a specially strong feeling, a specially strong force was called forth in the disciples, awakening clairvoyant forces in their souls, so that they were predisposed toward imagination. Clairvoyant imaginative powers were awakened in the disciples. In clairvoyance they see the Bodhi tree, the fig tree, and Christ Jesus inspires in them the knowledge that the fruit of knowledge can no longer come from the Bodhi tree, for it is no longer the “time of figs,” that is of the ancient knowledge. For all eternity the tree will be withered, but a new tree must grow forth, a tree consisting of the dead wood of the cross; a tree on which the fruit of ancient knowledge will not ripen, but the fruit that can ripen for mankind from the Mystery of Golgotha, which is linked as by a new symbol to the cross on Golgotha. In the place of that scene of world history when the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree stands the picture of Golgotha where another tree, the tree of the cross, is raised, on which hung the living fruit of the God-man revealing himself, so that from Him may radiate the new knowledge of the fruit of the ever growing tree that will bear fruit to all eternity.