Lost in Translation
– the danger of taking translations as infallible
Antient texts are handed down through centuries or even a millennia or two are read today, usually translated from another language as English was not the common tongue until more modern history, and the translation is accepted as 100% accurate.
These translations are sometimes rife with errors, intentional or unintentional, we may never know. However it behooves us to read many of these texts with an inquisitive or open mind.
The Holy Bible being one of the most printed and translated books in existence today, bears some study and a look at the translation from it’s source material and what it became. In regards to Freemasonry there are a few instances where some of our own Brothers, well intentioned, may have started the ball rolling for decades of explaining.
The original texts of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and Christian Scriptures (New Testament) were written in Hebrew, Greek, and occasionally in Aramaic. Unfortunately, relatively few adults in can read any of these ancient languages. So most of us have to rely upon English translations.
One of the most prolific “mistranslations” that we know of in Biblical texts is the word “Lucifer”.
NOTE: Lucifer is only mentioned once in the Bible and only in certain translations. From the treatment the name or word gets you’d think it was more like 100 times. What follows is the one time it appears and really only in the King James Version.
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!”
-ISAIAH 14:12 (KJV)
Since we’re discussing the “lucifer” mistranslation we’ll have to include our Brother Albert Pike into this as one man who understood the mistranslation and its origins. He goes on the write in Morals and Dogma;
“Lucifer, the Light-bearer! Strange and mysterious name to give to the Spirit of Darkness! Lucifer, the Son of the Morning! Is it he who bears the Light, and with its splendors intolerable, blinds feeble, sensual, or selfish souls? Doubt it not!”
-ALBERT PIKE in MORALS AND DOGMA OF THE ANCIENT ACCEPTED SCOTTISH RITE
Not to be outdone and pour a bit of gasoline on the fire, Manly P. Hall later writes;
“When the Mason learns that the key to the warrior on the block is the proper application of the dynamo of living power, he has learned the mystery of his Craft. The seething energies of Lucifer are in his hands, and before he may step onward and upward, he must prove his ability to properly apply energy.”
-MANLY P. HALL in THE LOST KEYS OF FREEMASONRY
Ok so what does it all mean? The danger of translation and mistranslation is clear. If the profane and/or those ignorant of the facts and souces were to read these quotes, especially the 2 latter from eminent Freemasons, they may conclude; Lucifer (popularly regarded as Satan) fell from Heaven, bears the “Light” and the controlling of Lucifer’s (the Devil’s) energy is the Mystery of The Craft.
It has been said that nobody really believes this, but I would beg to differ. Cherry picking quotes, like Albert Pike’s & Hall’s, is almost a sport in some anti-Freemason circles. In reality Pike’s one solitary sentence in a tome of 850+ pages probably would have gone unnoticed by all by the most well read of Freemasons had it not been for the antics of one Leo Taxil, aka Marie Joseph Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès.
The hoax or Taxil Hoax is almost entirely built around this one paragraph in Pike’s Opus. The Taxil Hoax is a subject best left to it’s own post so we’ll move on to how this has impacted the Craft over the years.
Based on Pike’s and Hall’s statements above, one of the chief charges leveled against the Craft by the profane is Satan or Devil worship. The Internet has only exasperated the situation in regards to those that have access to this spurious information. They say knowledge is power, but it seems that in this day in age it should be; knowledge is power… after you check your sources.
But wait, isn’t the name Lucifer another word for Satan or the Devil? Well yes it is in popular culture and among the less educated.
What needs to be made clear is the central point to the post is this:
- Lucifer, as translated, is not Satan (or the Devil) of the Bible.
In translating the Hebrew into Latin (The Latin Vulgate), St. Jerome, in the Book of Isaiah, rendered the Hebrew word “heylel” (meaning “day-star” amongst other things) into the Latin “Lucifer.”
“Lucifer” comes from the Latin words “lux” (meaning “light”) and “ferre” (meaning “to bear.”) The Septuagint renders the word as the Greek “heosphoros.” Jerome, recognizing that the word “heylel” in the Hebrew Tanakh and “heosphoros” in the Septuagint both referred to the morning star, or Venus, quite reasonably rendered them as the word “Lucifer” – the Latin name for Venus.
Most modern translations of Isaiah 14:12 do not use the word “Lucifer” at all; the New International Version instead gives us “morning star”, the New American Standard Bible offers “star of the morning”, and Young’s Literal Translation uses “shining one.” It is noteworthy to mention that even the King James Version of 1611 affords us this note concerning “Lucifer” in the margin: “Or, O daystarre.”
Importantly, Jerome did not confine his use of “Lucifer” to Isaiah 14:12, wherein the word refers to a fallen and prideful Babylonian king; see this entry under “Lucifer” from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:
The name Lucifer originally denotes the planet Venus, emphasizing its brilliance. The Vulgate employs the word also for “the light of the morning” (Job 11:17), “the signs of the zodiac” (Job 38:32), and “the aurora” (Psalm 109:3). Metaphorically, the word is applied to the King of Babylon (Isaiah 14:12) as preeminent among the princes of his time; to the high priest Simon son of Onias (Ecclesiasticus 50:6), for his surpassing virtue, to the glory of heaven (Apocalypse 2:28), by reason of its excellency; finally to Jesus Christ himself (2 Peter 1:19; Apocalypse 22:16; the “Exultet” of Holy Saturday) the true light of our spiritual life.
Fourteenth century English philosopher and theologian John Wycliffe advocated for the translation of the Bible into the common tongue. Here is Job 38:32 from the “Wycliffe Bible:” “Whether thou bryngist forth Lucifer, that is, dai sterre, in his tyme, and makist euene sterre to rise on the sones of erthe?” (“Whether thou bringest forth Lucifer, that is, day star, in season, and makest evening star to rise on the sons of earth?”).
Augustine of Hippo, writing in the 4th century A.D., gives us this in On Christian Doctrine:
“…the Romans made an attempt to dedicate the star which we call Lucifer to the name and honor of Cæsar. And this would, perhaps, have been done, and the name handed down to distant ages, only that his ancestress Venus had given her name to this star before him…”
Considering all of the above – the meaning of the Hebrew word “heylel,” contemporary translations, the explanatory note of the 1611 KJV, Wycliffe’s translation, and the commentary of Augustine (but one of several early Christian writers that referred Lucifer to the morning star) – it ought to be plain that “Lucifer” is the day or morning star, and therefore the planet Venus.
It is incorrect to synonymize the Lucifer of the Vulgate and Satan. This error arose when Jesus’ words in the text of Luke 10:18 (“I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven”) became linked to the Vulgate’s translation of Isaiah 14:12, which seemingly describes the same event.
Isaiah 14:12 describes the fall of a prideful Babylonian tyrant; Luke 10:18 the fall of or victory over “ha-Satan,” the accuser and opposer of mankind. “Lucifer,” having enjoyed multiple utilities, should therefore be considered more a descriptor and less a proper name.
Having, I think, provided sufficient evidence that “Lucifer” of the Bible is not The Devil, let us then ask just who (or what) Pike claims “bears the Light” and just whose “seething energies” Manly Hall claims the Mason can possess in his hands.
Since Lucifer is the “Light Bearer,” let us examine the concept of “Light” in Freemasonry.
“Light is an important word in the Masonic system. It conveys a far more recondite meaning than it is believed to possess by the generality of readers..it contains within itself a far more abstruse allusion to the very essence of Speculative Freemasonry…Freemasons are emphatically called the Sons of Light, because they are, or at least are entitled to be, in possession of the true meaning of the symbol; while the profane or uninitiated who have not received this knowledge are, by a parity of expression, said to be in darkness.”
-ALBERT MACKEY in ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FREEMASONRY, page 446
“To the Ancients, Light was the cause of life; and God was the source from which all light flowed; the essence of Light, the Invisible Fire, developed as Flame manifested as light and splendor.”
-ALBERT PIKE in MORALS AND DOGMA OF THE ANCIENT ACCEPTED SCOTTISH RITE, page 13
“Light is the key which opens the door to our mysteries, and it is the same Light which ‘shines in every letter of the Koran,’ and is the Light of Mithra, who is the light of Ahura-Mazda. It is the same Light from which Moses shaded his eyes when it appeared to him in the bush…It is that Light of which it is written in our Scriptures that ‘the Light shineth in the Darkness and the Darkness comprehended it not.’ “
-J.S.M. WARD in FREEMASONRY AND THE ANCIENT GODS, pages 61-62
“The true Mason is not creed bound. He realizes with the divine illumination of his lodge, that as a Mason his religion must be Universal. Christ, Buddha or Mohammed. The name means little, for he recognizes only the light and not the bearer.”
-MANLY P. HALL in THE LOST KEYS OF FREEMASONRY, page 64
Very well for the Light…but who is Lucifer? Lucifer is MOSES. Lucifer is JESUS. Lucifer is PROPHET MOHAMMED. Lucifer is SIDDHARTHA GAUTAMA and the subsequent BUDDHAS. Lucifer is GURU NANAK and the GURUS that followed him, and so on.
“Lucifer” is the archetypical Light Bearer – a soul that has shed Truth upon mankind; it is not the name of an hubristic angel cast out of Heaven, but rather an honorific, a title rightly belonging to the great teachers of our race – those who have been bridges between the Spark of Deity entombed within us and the ineffable fury that is Deity.
So knowing what we know now about “Lucifer” and Light lets reexamine Pike’s and Hall’s statements on the matter;
“When the Mason learns that the key to the warrior on the block is the proper application of the dynamo of [Light], he has learned the mystery of his Craft. The seething energies of [Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, etc.,] are in his hands, and before he may step onward and upward, he must prove his ability to properly apply energy.”
So a slight change to a better translation of some select word(s) in Hall’s statement, yield a much more understandable meaning. So what about Pike’s “Lucifer” statement?
“The Apocalypse is, to those who receive the nineteenth Degree, the Apotheosis of that Sublime Faith which aspires to God Alone, and despises all the pomps and works of Lucifer. Lucifer, the Lightbearer! Strange and mysterious name to give to the Spirit of Darkness! Lucifer, the Son of the Morning! Is it he who bears the Light, and with its splendors intolerable, blinds feeble, sensual, or selfish souls? Doubt it not! for Traditions are full of Divine Revelations and Inspirations: and Inspiration is not of one Age nor of one Creed. Plato, and Philo, also, were inspired.”
First we must look at the whole statement in context and not “Cherry pick” a sentence out of a paragraph. Pike tells us that “The Apocalypse” (the Book of Revelation) is the Apotheosis, that is, the deification or sanctifying, of a faith which seeks only God but yet despises “the pomps and works of Lucifer.” Here Pike is sarcastic and inflammatory simultaneously, marveling that any faith seeking God (Deity) could despise the work of Lucifer – of Lucifer who dispenses Light to mankind. Further he points to the irony of calling the Spirit of Darkness, i.e., Satan, by the name Lucifer – the “Light Bearer,” and rightly states that the Light born by Lucifer is incomprehensible and enfeebling to minds and hearts ill-prepared to receive it. Finally, Pike echoes Hall’s sentiments by rebuking the premise that Light belongs to but a single faith.