Syriana? Part 2

This article was first published in New View magazine #70 Jan. – Mar. 2014

The first part of this article (in New View #69 Oct-Dec2013) outlined some of the economic and geopolitical aspects to the current war in Syria. Since it was written and published, there have been major developments in the region. Following a vote rejecting military action against Syria by the UK Parliament on 29 August, US President Barack Obama  called off what had seemed in late August to be an imminent western attack on Syria after unproven Anglo-American claims that the Syrian government had committed a genocidal gas attack against its own people on 21 August in Ghouta, Damascus. Then on 23/24 November came an agreement in Geneva between Iran and six major powers (US, UK, Russia, China, France, Germany) for a temporary suspension of western economic sanctions against Iran  in return for Iran scaling back elements of its nuclear programme. The deal was hailed as ‘historic’ by Obama’s allies but by his opponents it was seen as “Munich II”, a crass example of the worst kind of appeasement, once again the usual comparison here being made between any opponent of the USA and Adolf Hitler (1). Since Iran has been a major supporter of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, it is also being said that the agreement with Iran may bring a breakthrough in the Syrian crisis. As the forces supported by the US, UK and France in the Syrian war appear to be losing ground not only to the Syrian army but also to the more fanatical Sunni Islamist fighters and other assorted mercenary fighters sponsored by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, it seems that some in the West may now be thinking that the best hope for getting rid of Assad may not be by war after all but through a deal with the Iranians. Needless to say, this prospect does not please those in the region who regard Iran as their inveterate enemy, namely, Israel and the conservative Sunni Arab monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. However, before we assume that all are acting in good faith in this agreement, and that a general peace is about to break out in the Middle East, we should perhaps recall that optimism about Munich in the autumn of 1938 was followed a year later by the outbreak of war in Europe, while before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, relations between Britain and Germany had actually been at their best for several years (2). Even in the teutophobic Foreign Office it was felt, notably by Sir Edward Grey’s secretary, Sir William Tyrrell, that from 1913 Britain was “relieved, at least for a long time to come, of [what he called] the German menace” (3). Yet within 5 weeks of Sarajevo, the two countries were at war! Much could yet go wrong therefore with the US-Iran deal.

The 33 Year Rhythm
Nevertheless, it will be noteworthy for those interested in esoteric science that this deal comes some 33 years after the US embassy hostage crisis in Iran. Why should that be of interest? On 23 December 1917 in Basel, Switzerland, Rudolf Steiner spoke for the first time of a new periodicity that he said had entered human history with the Christ Event, namely, the 33 year rhythm. As he put it:

“Prior to the Mystery of Golgotha…the magi  studied the heavens when they wished to investigate the secrets of human evolution or any other mysterious event. …But at that moment in which they became aware of the important event that was happening on earth…they said, ‘From this time onward the heavenly constellations will be directly revealed in human affairs on earth.’… The time interval between Christmas and Easter is to be understood as consisting of 33 years. This is the key. What does this mean? That the Christmas Festival celebrated this year [1917] belongs to the Easter festival  that follows 33 years later [1950], while the Easter festival we celebrate this year [1917] belongs to the Christmas Festival of 1884….This is the key my dear friends for reading the new astrology….events happening at approximately the present time (we can only say approximately in such matters) refer back in their historical connections in such a way that we are able to perceive their birthdays or beginnings  in the events of 33 years ago…..All the actions of earlier generations ….poured into the stream of historical evolution have a life cycle of 33 years. Then comes its Easter time, the time of resurrection. ….all things in historical evolution arise transfigured after 33 years, as from a grave, by virtue of a power connected with the holiest of all redemptions: the Mystery of Golgotha”

At that time Steiner pointed to the events of 1881, 33 years before 1914. In 1881 there had been two other major assassinations – those of Czar Alexander II of Russia and of  President James Garfield of the USA. The Great War began as what can be called the Third Balkan War  – with Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia, which it sought to punish because of Serbian involvement in what was quite clearly an act of terrorism – the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Heir Apparent in Sarajevo and his wife. The ‘Third Balkan War’ was preceded by the  First Balkan War in 1912-1913 and the Second in 1913. The First Balkan War was sparked by Italy’s attack on Ottoman Turkey in 1911 and its seizure of Libya (then called Tripolitania) from the Ottomans. The series of crises that finally erupted in the great pan-European war that had been feared by many and eagerly awaited by some for decades thus began in North Africa in 1911. 100 years later (3 x 33), we saw the ‘Arab Spring’ break out in 2011, the consequences of which are still unfolding, just as the consequences of Italy’s attack on Ottoman-controlled  Libya were still unfolding in 1913. It was pointed out in the first part of this article that The Economist had in 1992 indicated that a global conflict would begin in the Middle East in 2011. In the light of Steiner’s comments about the 33 year cycle, we can see the three year period 1911-1914 as an ‘Easter’ that had its beginning in the ‘Christmas’ three year period of 1878-1881. What happened in that period?

The Congress of Berlin (1878) occurred 33 years before 1911. Italy’s attack on Ottoman Turkey in 1911 can thus be seen as the outcome of earlier attacks on the declining Ottoman Empire which had begun in 1875 with rebellion in Herzegovina and Bosnia against the Turks; this led on to the Russo-Turkish War and the Congress of Berlin itself, which was intended to be a comprehensive settlement of the Balkan troubles. The Bosnian rebellion of 1875 had its own consequence 33 years later in 1908, when Austria-Hungary formally annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, causing a European crisis (1908-09) that was itself only settled with difficulty and was  directly related to the outbreak of war in 1914 when Serbia and Russia were determined not to be forced to back down again as they had been in 1908-09 by Austria-Hungary and Germany. To gain support from Austria-Hungary for their own anti-Russian position and to offset Britain’s seizure of Cyprus from Turkey at the Congress of Berlin (4), Britain’s representatives, Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin  Disraeli and Lord Salisbury, supported Austria-Hungary’s desire to take over Bosnia-Herzegovina; it was proposed the territory  should be administered by Austria-Hungary for 30 years while remaining nominally under Turkish sovereignty.

Turkey was forced to give Britain Cyprus (located opposite Syria to the east and opposite Egypt to the south and therefore a convenient base for the navy to keep watch on the Suez Canal), and then in 1882, under the Liberal Prime Minister Gladstone, Britain happened to commence a ‘temporary’ occupation of Egypt which lasted until 1952! Control of Egypt and the Canal was seen predominantly in terms of securing Britain’s hold on India. By 1910 the Admiralty had realised that to maintain Britain’s naval pre-eminence, her fleets would have to be powered not by coal, of which Britain itself had plenty, but by oil, of which Britain had very little indeed. Britain thus had two strong motivations for seeking to dominate Egypt and the Near East -  the Suez Canal and Mesopotamian oil – and both were focused primarily on securing India. 33 years after Britain”s occupation of Egypt in 1882, itself the result of joint Anglo-French pressure on Egypt in order to safeguard Anglo-French interests  in the Canal, Britain and France engaged in what became the disastrous attempt to invade Turkey at Gallipolli (1915). They both had their plans for breaking up the Turkish Empire and seizing parts of it for themselves.

1916-Sykes-PicotMap-01That summer of 1915 a French diplomat, Francois Georges-Picot, arrived in London to press France’s claim to the whole of Syria and a sizeable part of southern Turkey. On the 21st December, the Foreign Office arranged for him to meet Sir Mark Sykes, a self-appointed ‘expert’ on the Middle East who only days earlier had impressed the Cabinet with his plan to (literally) draw a line in the sand “from the ‘e’ of Acre to the last ‘k’ in Kirkuk” (as Sykes put it; click on map to enlarge) and demarcate French control of Syria above the line from British control of what would become Transjordan and Iraq below the line. This was intended to enable the British a) to have territory safeguarding the Canal from the east and b) to enable Britain to send oil overland via a pipeline from Mesopotamia (Iraq) to the Mediterranean at Haifa (today in Israel, just south of Acre). On 3 January 1916, Sykes and Picot concluded their secret arrangement, subsequently known as “Sykes-Picot”; Palestine was vaguely intended to be subject to ‘international control’.   With the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 the pre-war Franco-Russian Alliance ended, and with it ended also Britain’s desire to be close to France, the pre-war imperative of British Edwardian foreign policy having been to forestall any Franco-Russian threats to Britain’s Empire by entering into Ententes with these two main imperial rivals. Hence, in late 1917 the British government turned against the Sykes-Picot deal, which had been signed when the war situation had looked very different, and instead began to imagine how it could force France out of Syria and the Levant altogether (the view of T.E. Lawrence and others, for example) and control the whole region itself, notably the crucially important Canal and the Mesopotamian oilfields. It is in this changed geo-political context that the Balfour Declaration to the Jews (2 November 1917) needs to be understood. Instead of an internationally governed Palestine, a modernising, Jewish satellite state in a Palestine under British ‘guidance’, it was felt, would not only win for Britain the thanks of wealthy Jews in America, useful in the future, but would also serve as a good ‘sentry’ for British imperial interests in the region (5). Britain could thus supervise the future of Palestine itself, without French involvement in Palestine, or anywhere in the Middle East. 1917 was 33 years after 1884, when a conference in Berlin attempted to bring some kind of regulation to the imperialist Scramble for Africa which had been spurred by Britain’s occupation of Egypt and Belgium’s acquisition of the Congo. So we see that these events affecting the Muslim Ottoman Empire from 1875 to 1917 well reflect the 33 year life cycle of Jesus Christ and end up in the city of Jerusalem, where the Mystery of Golgotha occurred and which the British General Allenby took from the Turks on 11 December 1917, becoming the first ‘Christian ruler’ of the city since 1187. It may yet be that the recent US-Iran deal will,  33 years on from the hostage crisis of 1980, bring to an end to a very difficult period in relations between Iran and the West and even contribute to terminating the war in Syria.

Antioch, Syria and T.E. Lawrence
The first part of this article (New View Issue 69, Autumn 2013) closed by referring to a 1992 article in The Economist which imagined a world war scenario in the first half of the 21st century that would get underway in 2011 in the Middle East. One of the first major military operations in the war, it was imagined, would be “a bungled British-French expedition (2014)” to the city of Antioch to try to prevent the invasion of Turkey by the Chinese-Muslim alliance.(6). The fact that the article stipulates that the war would feature an attack fighting at an ancient city associated with the beginnings of Christianity seems not accidental. Today Antioch is in Turkey and known as  Antakya, but it was formerly long associated with Syria and called Antiokia. ‘Antioch the Great’, founded in 293 BC by Seleucus I, one of Alexander’s generals,  was a metropolis in ancient times with half a million people. The birthplace of St. Luke, it was the capital of the Roman province of Syria and one of the very earliest Christian centres, where Peter, Barnabas and Paul preached. It was the first place where converts were referred to as ‘Christians’ and was known as “the cradle of Christianity”. Many translations were later made there into Syriac of theological, scientific and philosophical works. It is located in the northeast corner of the Mediterranean, at 36 degrees North and 36 degrees East, in a region which has been very significant over the centuries, and the long eastern needle of the nearby large island of Cyprus points to this corner of the Mediterranean.

The Knights Templar had castles on Cyprus for over a hundred  years after the fall of Jerusalem (1187). British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli described Cyprus and Alexandretta (today Iskenderun, Turkey), a coastal city near to inland Antioch, as “the keys to Asia”. What did he mean by that? While working in Cairo in 1915 the young intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence (two years later he would become famous as “Lawrence of Arabia”) wrote that “the only place from which a fleet can operate against Egypt is Alexandretta. It is a splendid natural naval base which we don’t want but which no-one else can have without detriment to us”(7).

“At the outset of World War I when Britain was contemplating the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, Lord Kitchener considered the conquest of Alexandretta to be essential in providing Britain with a port and railhead from which to access Iraq  [i.e. Iraqi oil, the rights to drill for which Britain had only just acquired]. He proposed a new railway from Alexandretta which would greatly reduce the time for reaching India from the UK. The de Bunsen Committee (8 April – 30 June 1915), a British inter-departmental group which was set up to discuss the issue in greater detail, preferred Haifa [today, on the coast of Israel] for this purpose [and Haifa was eventually decided on] (8).

In 1878 Alexandretta and the coast of Syria belonged to Turkey, and since that region could not be acquired without war, the British government saw Cyprus opposite the Syrian coast as the next most useful base for their navy in the Eastern Mediterranean from which to safeguard their recently acquired (1875) investments in the Suez Canal. It became even more important when William Gladstone’s Liberal government occupied Egypt seven years later in 1882; they claimed the occupation would only be temporary, but Britain ended up staying in Egypt for 70 years, until 1952! The reason was of course the Canal, the lifeline to India and the rest of Britain’s imperial possessions in Asia and the Pacific. Cyprus became still more important to Britain when the French decided that they wanted Syria to become a French colony and sent M. Georges-Picot to London to negotiate its acquisition. This was because France had certain commercial, educational and religious interests in Syria and some pretentious romantic notions about the French heritage in the region dating back to the time of the Templars; Antioch and the Syrian and Lebanese coastline and hinterland had formed part of the Crusading States which existed for 200 years in the 11th and 12th centuries. T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”), who had conducted archaeological digs in Syria before the war, was under no illusions about such French claims; he wanted to “biff the French out of all hope of Syria” and suggested attacking the Turks at Alexandretta rather than at Gallipoli: “So far as Syria is concerned, it is France and not Turkey that is the enemy”, he wrote in 1915. (9) French concern to keep Britain out of Syria scotched  Lawrence’s proposal.  

Anglo-American ‘Values’
Now, readers may be wondering: what does all this have to do with the esoteric aspects of the Syrian crisis, which this article is supposed to be about? Since ‘the fall’ of Communism in 1989-91, the emphasis in what can be called western propaganda has shifted from ‘the Reds’ to ‘the Greens’, green being the traditional colour of Islam. So-called ‘Islamist Terror’ has for 20 years now been presented as the great global threat to the West (“they hate our freedoms” – George W. Bush) and has been used to justify not only a massive extension of surveillance – everything from Internet spying to killer drones -  and the curtailment and infringement of western societies’ civil rights, but also a number of wars and military actions of various kinds, as well as the use of torture and unlimited detention. All this has been defended as necessary by the mainstream media and governments of the US, the UK and their allies.

These same societies all subscribe to a certain form of economic and political practice that originated in the 18th century in Britain and America and which was declared, after the end of Communism, would now become the norm throughout the world(10). These practices are usually called ‘democracy’ and ‘free market liberal capitalism’. But what this model of economic and political practice has been based on since the 18th century is a certain philosophical view of the human being. Despite the repeated elevated use of words such as ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’, this view of the human being can only be described as the ‘freedom’ of the self-seeking personality, and the economic system that has developed to reflect this ‘freedom’ is one that is informed by a view of the human being as self-centred, materialist and acquisitive. These qualities are regarded as ‘realistic’, ‘natural’ and ‘pragmatic’. What I want, what my family wants, what my party wants, what my social class or national tribe wants – these are seen as the priorities. Such self-centred views and attitudes inevitably led the peoples of western Europe into an historical phase of imperialist self-aggrandisement and acquisition.

Parallel with the emergence of the economic and political practices that reflect these ‘philosophical’ proclivities has been the steady decline of organised religion over the past 150 years and a consequent moral relativism and philosophical materialism – to the point where today our scientists and media pundits can soberly discuss or eagerly enthuse about the prospects for civil rights for animals (as we are held to be genetically animals too) and for the replacement of human beings by machines and supercomputers (as our brains, which supposedly define us, are held to be but machines anyway). ‘Transhumanists’ such as the American inventor, futurologist and Technical Adviser at Google, Ray Kurzweil, are eagerly looking forward to the end of the biological human race by the middle of this century (See his books The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999) and The Singularity Is Near (2005)). Such philosophical, economic and political ideas are only possible when one cannot or does not appreciate that a non-physical spirit can incarnate into and unite itself with a physical entity or body. This concept of a spiritual incarnation is the very basis of Christianity. St Paul said that If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… (1 Cor 15: 14-17), but the Resurrection of Christ was only possible because what was present in and with that human body of Jesus of Nazareth was a divine spirit, not an ordinary human spirit. In other words, it was possible because of the Incarnation of Christ in Jesus – which, according to Steiner, occurred at the Baptism in the river Jordan and not at the birth of the baby Jesus. If we have no incarnating spirit (which according to Steiner, first unites itself with the human body after conception and then increasingly and ever more deeply in the 21 years or so after birth), and if we are but material entities determined by our brains and our genes, then we are essentially no different from animals or from machines and any talk of a higher ego, or of the evolution of consciousness is vain. Evolutionary biologists, ‘cheered on’ by the media (New Scientist, Scientific American et al.), are even at present trying to prove that moral qualities such as altruism and acts of charity are actually due to prehistoric drives determined by natural selection and are intrinsically nothing to do with individual choice or free will, which, it is argued,  cannot in any case exist, as we are essentially beings determined by our environment or by our genes and by electro-chemical activities in our brains. We shall therefore remain with a purely material body that includes four elements  – mineral, fluid, gaseous and  heat elements and nothing beyond that (until we are replaced by Kurzweill’s supercomputer robots).

Despite all the talk among particle physics theorists since the mid-1990s about the 11 dimensions of space-time which are also understood in abstract materialist terms, the  reduction of the human being to its lower elements, the assertion that there is essentially nothing beyond them, is the dominant (though I do not say the only) philosophy, the prevailing ‘religion’, if you will, of the Anglo-American world today. It is usually called ‘secular humanism’  and informs the science, the education, the economic and political practices as well as much of the culture and entertainment of the English-speaking world, and as this is the dominant culture in the world today, those practices proceed from it into other cultures. What we call conventional religion in the English-speaking world – Christianity, for example -  is something that stems from the previous epoch, from before the 15th century, but the doctrine of ‘secular humanism’, the mainstream economic and political practices of Anglophone societies, has emerged only in our post-Reformation, post-Renaissance, post-Enlightenment culture. Christianity may well only come into its own in our epoch as it becomes a really individual experience free of collective and tribal restraints but historically, Christianity did not begin in our epoch or in our western region; it began 2000 years ago in the Middle East, in places like Galilee, Jerusalem and Antioch. What elements in our culture have been increasingly seeking to do over the past 200 years is eradicate Christianity utterly from this world. Not only are the traditional Churches continually under attack in the media but the very concepts of spirituality and spiritual experience themselves are either ignored or dismissed as irrelevant and old-fashioned in a “scientific and secular age”.

Nestorian Christianity in Syria
But while the traditional Christianity of the churches may be undergoing a slow crucifixion on the Cross of “secular humanism”, on the intellectual Place of the Skulls, (a modern Golgotha), a new spirituality and a new Christianity are already emerging like visible buds on a tree from which the leaves have all fallen in winter. They are emerging from experiences in individuals’ lives which turn those lives around. Perhaps the first example of those experiences which turn people to Christ, even though He is not physically present, but present in the spiritual world close to the earth, was Saul’s experience in Syria 2000 years ago on the road to Damascus, where he became one of the first to experience Christ in the suprasensible world. This experience turned Saul away from the evil that he himself had been doing in persecuting the Christians of his day. The experience made him blind for three days, and it was in Damascus that he received back his sight through Ananias’ blessing and was baptised. After he escaped from Damascus, where his life was in danger, he came to Jerusalem, and the only one of the disciples who would help him was Barnabas, who was himself from Cyprus. Not long afterwards Saul was sent by the apostles to Tarsus his home city, which is just round the corner, literally, from Antioch, and across the sea from Cyprus. Barnabus was then sent to Antioch and on to Tarsus and found him and brought him to Antioch, where they preached together for a year “and the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). It  was also in Antioch that Saul (now Paul) and Barnabas began to preach to   Gentiles and accept them as Christians (Acts 13:45-50). Paul and Barnabas were very successful in their preaching in Antioch; almost the entire population came to hear them (Acts 13:44). Acts 14:26 has a significant passage about Paul and Barnabas: which points to the significance of Antioch: “And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled”. It was really from Syrian Antioch, which lies at 36°North of the equator and 1°East of Jerusalem, that the Christian message first went out into the wider world! (Acts 13).

For many centuries of early Christian history Antioch and Alexandria in Egypt vied with each other for the theological direction of the young Christian Church. The philosophical heritage of Aristotle was strong in Antioch while that of Plato flourished in Alexandria. Christian scholars in Antioch by c.400 AD were emphasising the human aspects of the Incarnation of Christ and gradually moved towards a view of Jesus Christ as two persons, the divine Logos and the human Jesus,  while those in Alexandria laid emphasis on His divinity and oneness. Eventually, in the early 5th century these differences erupted in the great struggle between Bishop Nestorius of Antioch (386-450) and Bishop Cyril of Alexandria (c.376 – 444). Nestorius, a student of Theodore of Mopsuestia of the School of Antioch, insisted that Mary was not Theotokos (Mother of God) because she had not given birth to a god but to a human baby, while Cyril maintained that Mary was true Theotokos and had literally given birth to a divine being: “If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is God in truth, and therefore the holy Virgin is theotokos—for she bore in the flesh the Word of God become flesh—let him be anathema.”   This struggle reflected that between the Monophysite (single nature) leanings of the Egyptians and the more Duophysite (dual nature) inclinations of the Antiochene theology, which tended to emphasise the different elements in the nature of Jesus Christ rather the unity of His nature. This Antiochene view showed the influence of Aristotle’s differentiated understanding of the spirit-soul-body relation, which was known and studied in Antioch in Nestorius’ lifetime:

Aristotle’s anthropology…is a strongly dualistic teaching of the relation of the spirit to the body: the spirit comes from outside, it might even be pre-existent, it enters into a polar relation to the sensitive and vegetative soul permeating the body and generates a field of tension similar to the colour realm between light and darkness. Finally, it drives away the opposition coming from the body, and causes part of the body to die – paralyzes it, presses it back…. The spirit remains choristos (separated), it remains apathes (non-suffering), and amiges, (not mixed with the body).(11)

Nestorius was defeated by the schemes of Cyril and his supporters, condemned at the Council of Ephesus (431) and forced into exile (12). At the Council he was supported only by John, Bishop of Antioch and 33 others. Gradually, his view of the Incarnation of Christ, with its Aristotelian influence, moved further East, to Persia, and from there to India and China. It became known as the Nestorian Church or the Church of the East and survives today in the Assyrian Church of the East in Iran, Iraq and Syria.(13).

After the Emperor Zeno closed the Mesopotamian School of Edessa in 489 on account of its Nestorian tendencies, Nestorian scholars, taking aristotelian ideas with them, wandered into the Sassanid Empire in Persia, where they were welcomed at the city and Academy of Gondishapur. Here they and their successors were later joined in 530-533 by seven Athenian philosophers, exiles from the pagan School of Athens, which had been closed by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 529. The city of Gondishapur (Camp of Shapur) was built by Sassanid Emperor Shapur I (240-272), using Roman army prisoners of war, after he had defeated the Roman Emperor Valerian (253-260), captured him and had retaken Antioch from the Romans.   Shapur originally called his new city Veh-Az-Andev-Shapur (‘City of Shapur, better than Antakkye’ [Antioch]) so there is even a connection between Antioch and Gondishapur in the original name of Gondishapur. Shapur I’s wife was the daughter of the Roman Emperor Aurelian, and she brought with her to Persia Greek doctors who taught Hippocratic medicine in the new city, so there were western medical connections with it from its very beginnings. The School or Academy at Gondishapur was founded by Shapur II (309-379) and soon became noted for its  medical studies. The Academy was at its peak during the reign of Khosrau I Anushiravan (“The Immortal”, 531-579; cf. the Prophet Mohammed was born in Arabia in 570; the Emperor Justinian ruled in Constantinople for much of Khosrau’s reign). Medicine, anatomy, dentistry, astronomy, mathematics, geometry, philosophy, military leadership, architecture, craftsmanship, agriculture and irrigation were taught there, and the Academy, which was both the premier research centre and teaching hospital in Sassanid Iran, if not the world west of India (14), was located in the province of Khuzestan, S.W. Iran, in the region where Iran and Iraq fought their 8 year-long war 1980-88. Its ruins today lie near the village of Shahabad, 14 km south-east of Dezful, on the road to Shush (see picture).  Today, there is a university in the region that seeks to continue the medical tradition; it is known as the Ahvaz Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences. Iran has never been far from the centre of world events since the Iranian revolution in 1978/79, the US embassy hostage crisis of 1980 and the subsequent hostile relations between Teheran and Washington  – relations which only this year, 33 years after the crisis of 1980, seem to be heading in a more positive direction since the coming to power of the new, 7th Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, on 15 June this year.

In typical dualist Iranian tradition (15), the “Immortal” Khrosrau looked to both East and West, to the Mediterranean and to India and China for inspiration and knowledge. The rich combination of intellectual views which competed and communicated with one another at the Academy of Gondishapur  between c.500 and c.640 (16) was further fertilised by the development at Gondishapur of the game of chess and the practice of refining sugar, which, respectively, stimulate a purely intellectual consciousness and give an artificial boost to the ego and the willpower. A kind of intellectual ‘hothouse’ thus developed at Gondishapur at the crossroads of western Asia, and at the centre of that hothouse was medical science, the philosophies of Aristotle and the Neoplatonists (translated from Greek into the Syriac language, a Semitic form of Middle Aramaic) and the Christian religious ideas of Nestorianism. These were rubbing shoulders there, as it were, with the dualist religion of classical Zoroastrianism and the later Iranian development of Zoroastrianism known as Zurvanism (the worship of the monotheistic divinity Zurvan (17), or ‘Infinite Time’ who was seen as the originator or father of the twins Ahura Mazdao (light, truth) and Ahriman (darkness, lies).

To this unique cosmopolitan intellectual hothouse (18) which had received such a strong influence from Syria and from Greek thought translated into Syriac, (teaching at the Academy was in Greek, Syriac and Pahlevi) came in the 7th century two powerful spiritual forces. One was that of the ‘new’ monotheistic faith of Islam which arose like a storm out of the Arabian desert and in just two decades had swept away the ancient Persian Empire which had become exhausted by its long battles against the Eastern Romans (the Byzantines). The Arab armies also arrived at Gondishapur shortly after 638. According to Rudolf Steiner, Islam’s arrival had the effect over the following decades of putting a lid on the bubbling cauldron of the intellectual ferment that was Gondishapur and thus of blunting the global impact of the other  spiritual force at that time, which had worked into human thinking at the Academy over the previous decades. This was the extremely negative influence of the spiritual being Sorath (of whom more later). Steiner associated the first Sorathic attack on humanity around the year 666 with the prodigious but premature intellectual developments at Gondishapur. These developments would have flooded the western world in the 7th and 8th centuries with a technical and scientific knowledge and especially with an understanding of the human being for which the western world was neither  then ready nor sufficiently mature. For whereas the world of Asia had conceived of the I as something cosmic and divine, bestowed on the human being from above, as it were, so that it had more of a Gnostic and collective rather than an individual nature, in Europe, and especially northern Europe, the human I was developing as something individual within the human will active in earthly deeds. Steiner termed the 4th Post-Atlantean epoch (747 BC – 1413 AD) the age of the development of the Verstandes-Gemütsseele; the usual translation is ‘Intellectual-Mind Soul’ but ‘Intellect and Mind Soul’ might be more accurate). In other words, human beings in that epoch learned to understand the world rationally (Verstand) for themselves but also to reflect inwardly on their feelings (Gemüt), to live within the feeling and will. One could say that Verstand was more objective and collective, and Gemüt more subjective and personal. It was this latter quality of the Gemüt which needed to develop in the peoples of northern and western Europe before they were exposed to the power of the rational intellect. In Asia, the traditional social hierarchies, patterned on supra-personal cosmic models, had served to maintain social order for millennia. These did not exist in Europe north of the Mediterranean. The wild will forces of the Celtic, Germanic and later, Slavic peoples had first to be moulded by Christian religious feeling in the human soul life (Gemüt) before Europe was really ready, by the early 17th century, to adopt the ways of thinking of natural science mediated to it by the Arabs. What we today would call Islamic fundamentalism actually blunted the impulse of Gondishapur but was unable to stamp it out. It leaked out of the cauldron from under the Muslim lid, so to speak, and under the impress of the thoughts of Muslim teachers in later centuries who were influenced by the intellectual spirit of Gondishapur, men such as Averroes and Avicenna (19), it metamorphosed into the natural science of the European West in the subsequent age of the Consciousness Soul. Sorath had sought to propagate it some 1000 years before its time in order to pervert human development. It is instructive that the place where ‘he’ sought to do so, the Academy of Gondishapur, featured the study of medicine, Aristotelian philosophy, and (Nestorian) Christianity, all of which might normally be regarded as positives. This points us back to the Mystery of Evil – how good and evil are frequently intertwined, and how the forces of evil so often seek to invert those of good and abuse them for their own purposes.

The Counter-Sun Spirit
Precisely because our epoch since the 15th century is the epoch of the struggle for freedom, the epoch in which human beings endeavour to realise what they really are, this epoch is what Steiner called the age of the Mystery of Evil, that is, of our struggle to comprehend Good and Evil. Why evil? In this epoch human beings wake up to their true nature in the struggle with evil, both within them and outside them, and it is in this epoch that after the ‘Crucifixion’ and death of the traditional Christian churches which is going on presently, “by a strange paradox, mankind is led to a renewed experience of the Mystery of Golgotha in the fifth epoch [1413-3573] through the forces of evil”(20) that is, in the struggle with evil. By the end  of the previous epoch, human beings had learned to think for themselves instead of the Gods thinking through them, a process similar to teenagers learning to think for themselves instead of thinking what their parents tell them in the years before puberty. In seeking to understand the Christ Mystery, human beings used their new-found capacities for intellectual thought to try to understand Christ’s birth and death, hence conflicts arose such as that between the theologians Nestorius and Cyril. Further east, Buddhists used their thinking to try to understand why human beings were born and died and how they could escape from that process. But in our epoch, we have descended so low into materialism that not only do we still not understand what matter actually is and not only are we incapable, through the inadequacy of our religious and natural scientific concepts, of comprehending what birth and death really are, the only way we seem to be able to wake up to the existence of a moral and spiritual dimension is through the shocks, personal, communal or societal,  of the encounter with radical evil. This has been ever more the case over the past 100 years since the First World War.

The spiritual entity for whom the eradication of Christianity is the goal, for whom the eradication of any notion of human spiritual being is the goal, and for whom the creation of a dark void around each individual, the eclipse of each human being’s light and love, so to speak, the spiritual entity that inspires what has traditionally been called ‘black magic’, in which light and love are eclipsed by the need for personal power, is called in western esotericism Sorath and has been known in Europe since at least the 15th century (21). Mediaeval esotericists, basing their ideas on older Jewish Kabbalist teachings which were themselves drawing on more ancient Middle Eastern knowledge, held that every heavenly body had a physical aspect and a spiritual aspect just as human beings do and that the heavenly bodies had their own beneficent and baleful spiritual beings that indwelt them. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, student of abbot Johannes Trithemius of Sponheim (1462-1516), wrote of Sorath as the baleful ‘spirit’ of the Sun as distinct from the beneficial ‘intelligence’ of the Sun, which he named as Nachiel Sorath can therefore be regarded as as a kind of Double of the Sun, a Counter-Sun being, or ‘Black Sun’. According to Steiner, every 666 years, Sorath, whose name in gematria has the numerical value of 666 (Samech Vau Resh Tau S-V-R-T: 60-6-200-400)  resumes his particular assault on humanity, which is to seek to prevent humanity from rising above its animal nature, to prevent it from transmuting its ‘self-centred ego (its ‘eclipsed’ self, one could say) into its higher (Sun) self. This is intimately connected with the emergence (or non-emergence) in the human being of the Consciousness Soul, also called by Steiner the Spiritual Soul (22). It is in the epoch of this Consciousness Soul development, in the 5th Post-Atlantean epoch (1413-3573), that we are challenged in this way, for this is the epoch in which we are to emerge from the collectivities and group affiliations of the past (race, ethnic group, family, religion or even gender). Each one of us faces the choice of falling into a self-centred lower nature or rise into true  humanity.

Steiner points to the two attacks of Sorath that occurred around the years 666 and 1332 and indicated that a third was due around 1998. He said that these attacks never occur through an incarnation of Sorath into a particular human being (as with the Incarnation of the Christ being in Jesus) but only act spiritually through human thinking and willing. He makes clear that these attacks refer not to one year but to a period around that year. How long is this period? Steiner does not say precisely but we can gain a good clue by considering the second of the attacks, which was associated with the destruction of the Knights Templar by King Philip IV (‘the Fair’). A signature of Sorath is spiritual ‘inversion’  – things are turned inside out, upside down, light becomes darkness (Philip was called ‘the Fair’ because he was handsome but in his cold, deceitful and sadistic treatment of the Templars, he was anything but ‘fair’.) Philip’s attack on the Templars began with their sudden arrest on false charges in France on Friday 13th October 1307. 1307 was 25 years before 1332, the second 666 date. If we postulate a similar 25 year period after 1332, we arrive at 1357, so 1307-1332-1357 is a period of some 49/50 years (7 x 7). If we map this 49/50 year period onto the 1st and 3rd Sorath attacks in the 7th and 21stth centuries respectively, we come to 641-666-691 and 1973-1998-2023. With regard to the 3rd attack, when we consider the events that have occurred since 1973, especially in relation to the Middle East (David Rockefeller visited Communist Chinese leaders, foundation of the Trilateral Commission (23), Arab-Israeli War, the oil shocks, Saddam Hussein and Col. Gadaffi, the growth of terrorism, the Iranian Revolution, the US embassy hostage crisis, the murders of Anwar Sadat and Yitzak Rabin, the Afghan Wars, the AIDS epidemic, the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, the Osama bin Laden phenomenon, the US Neo-Con Zionist Lobby, 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, Bush’s War on Terror and the consequent creeping extension of electronic surveillance worldwide, the banking and financial crash of 2008, the US-Iran stand-off, the so-called “Arab Spring” and the events of 2011, and the war in Syria) and when we consider all these dark events in relation to the unipolar “New World Order” declared by US President George H.W. Bush on September 11th 1990, the “New Imperialism” of the Project for an American Century and the various moves towards a centrally organised global economic order signalled by the current ongoing negotiations for Atlantic and Pacific free trade blocs (24), at the centre of both of which would be the USA that, despite the evident failure of its economic model in the crash of 2008, shows no evidence whatsoever of seeking any fundamental change in that model, then we could feel justified in seeing in this catalogue of calamities since the early 1970s – which also includes the rapidly worsening ecological situation and the morphing of Communist China into a pseudo-capitalist State and world Power at what can only be called an unhealthy pace – evidence of the third attack of Sorath in our time which is likely to continue until at least the early 2020s. This third attack is taking place above all in relation to the human will, whereas the first attack in the 7th century was against human thinking.

The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail
But there has been a resonance with that first attack on thinking in that a phenomenon has been evident since the 1970s which might seem quite trivial by comparison with the catalogue of calamities mentioned above but which actually points to something very insidious, namely, the overt assault on Christianity through western publications and media phenomena such as the book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982) and the subsequent welter of books and films related to it, notably Dan Brown’s books, The Da Vinci Code (2003) et al. These books not only further traduce the Knights Templar, the 700th anniversary of whose persecution was marked in 2007 (25), but they claim that Christ was no divine being but either a Jewish King or a priest of Egyptian sex magic Mysteries and that he was married to Mary Magdalene,  whose physical body was claimed to be the real Holy Grail,  had had children by her whose descendents (sang réal) are ‘out there somewhere’ today waiting to be found.  The authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail even identified such a descendent and suggested he might become the ruler of a United Europe! This line of publications and films since the early 1980s (thus within the Sorathic ‘window’ 1973-2023), emerging from Anglo-American economic interests (publishing and media companies) and pushed onto a global stage through extensive publicity, clearly represents a significant assault on the essence of Christianity – on the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ. The claims made in these books have, fortunately, been thoroughly debunked by many people and shown to be false and fabricated (cf. the many critiques on the Internet), but it is worth noting the similarities between the modes of deception in these books and the lies spread by Philip IV against the Templars. It is also worth noting that a key event in the fabricated story of the Priory of Sion in these books, an alleged secret Order that the authors claimed had founded not only the Templars but also the esoteric Rose Cross movement, was the murder of the Merovingian Frankish King Dagobert II (a real personality) in the year 679, the result, according to the authors,  of a betrayal of the Merovinigians by the Church. That was  just 13 years after 666, so the key event in the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail was also within the timeframe of the first Sorathic attack (641-691). Furthermore, the authors claimed that in 1188 at Gisors, France, in an event known as the ‘Cutting of the Elm’, the Priory of Sion cut its ties to its supposed progeny the Templar Order, disowned its ‘child’, and gave itself a new name  – ‘the Order of the True Rose Cross’. Western esoteric lore has long associated the elm tree with Mercury, the figure that communicates and connects, but here we see Mercury and the Rose Cross deliberately associated with division, disagreement and separation; this would appear to be an example of inversion involving both an untruth and a half-truth. An untruth because there was no public Rosicrucian ‘movement’ before that in early 17th century Germany (Tübingen), and not even any covert Rosicrucian initiative before the mid-13th century, according to Steiner (26). A half-truth was involved because there was a disagreement between the Kings of England and France at Gisors in 1188 which did indeed apparently involve the cutting down of an elm tree, but this had nothing to do with any Priory of Sion, the Templars or the Rosicrucians. This kind of gratuitous mix of fact and fiction runs throughout The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and others which followed in its wake. (27) The Knights Templar were also at the centre of the The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail; indeed, a common interest in the Templars was what brought the three authors  -  Briton (Henry Lincoln [real name Soskin], New Zealander Michael Baigent, and American Richard Leigh  – together in the mid-1970s. So the period of the second Sorathic attack (1307-1357) also plays a big part in the story. Finally, the book itself  – based on an artful weaving of a skein of truth, half-truth and untruth and the controversy surrounding the book  – exploded like a time bomb in the media in the period of the third Sorathic attack 1973-2023. Despite the authors’ feeble protestations to the contrary, the common thread through the whole construction is its attack on Christianity. It is as full of deception as an earlier, more strident but less successful anti-Christian book, “The Jesus Scroll”, by the Australian, Donovan Joyce (1973). That book claimed to be “the fall-out” from “a time–bomb” that had exploded in November 1964, the alleged discovery of an ancient scroll from the time of the Roman siege of the Jewish stronghold of Masada (73-74 AD), a scroll which, according to Joyce, utterly undermined Christianity. Joyce’s book turned out to be as baseless as the history of the Priory of Sion. But there it was, published in 1973 at the very beginning of the third 666 period.
40 years on, as 2013 draws to a close, it will be remembered in Britain, amongst other things, as the year of the horrific killing of British soldier Lee Rigby in Greenwich, London on 22 May by two British citizens of Nigerian descent, both named Michael, who claimed to have killed Lee Rigby as ‘soldiers of Allah’. As I am writing this, the trial of the two men is taking place in London. Just after the killing, one of the men, Michael Adebolajo, was filmed saying: “The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers. And this British soldier is one … By Allah, we swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone… leave our lands and you will live in peace.” Adebolajo also pointed to the connection between British politicians’ actions and their consequences for ordinary British citizens. The situation in the Middle East, in Palestine, Egypt, Iran and Syria is overwhelmingly the consequence of western, mainly British imperialist actions before, during and after World War One (the occupation of Egypt, Sykes-Picot, the cynical promises made to both Jews and Arabs, the destruction and division of the Ottoman Empire). Those actions, based on the economic and political outlook of the English-speaking peoples since the 17th century, were taken to secure resources and a geopolitical position that could ensure a certain standard of living for the British people, especially those in the wealthier classes, and a position of prestige and prominence for the British Empire, and necessitated British (and later, American) intervention and interference in the lives of  Middle Eastern peoples and control, either directly or indirectly, of their societies. Muslims have resisted this as fiercely as they resisted during the Crusades. Islam was able to burst out of Arabia after the death of Mohammed (632) because of the weakness of the rival empires of Persia and Eastern Rome (Byzantium). Those two empires weakened their own spiritual substance in suppressing the teachings of two great Christian teachers  – Nestorius and Mani, the founder of the Manichaean spiritual stream. Mani was put to death in the new city of Gondishapur in 276. Some of the leading followers of Nestorius left Antioch and Syria and moved to Gondishapur. There, in the ‘hothouse academy’, they were enveloped by the spirit of Sorath, whose influence, Steiner tells us, could only be blocked at that time by the spiritual world unleashing against it the ‘new’ religion of Islam, which was animated by a pre-Christian impulse. Against the force of the Counter-Sun, the spiritual world inspired the religion of the crescent Moon.(28) And when was Steiner speaking about Sorath and Gondishapur as he did? During the British invasion of Syria and the final battles in the Middle East in October 1918; the Battle of Megiddo began on 19 September, Damascus was captured on 1st October, Aleppo on the 25th, and the Turks agreed to an armistice on 30 October.

It was shortly before this, on 18 July 1918, the day after the massacre of the Russian Royal family by the Bolsheviks, that there came from the spiritual world, a king of another kind, someone whose life path showed the answer to what is represented by the violence of Michael Adebolajo, someone who as a younger man, like the young Adebolajo, was angry about injustice and sought to do something about it but who, through his own suffering in 27 long years in prison, where his prison number was 46664, went on to show the world how to deal with the forces of evil, how to overcome his own demons and most effectively demonstrate to the world the power of forgiveness and reconciliation -  the black, white magician,  Nelson Mandela.


(1) and
(2) The Royal Navy was visiting the German Navy at Kiel at the time of the assassination, and the British  had come to an arrangement that very month with the Germans regarding British oil rights in Mesopotamia which was very favourable to Britain (British finance provided 75% of the share capital to a joint Anglo-German backed company).
(3) Valentine Chirol on Tyrrell 1913, quoted in Z. Steiner, Britain & the Origins of the First World War (1977), p.187
(4) Cyprus, not far from the coast of Syria, is, though supposedly an independent country and member of the EU, still host to British military bases of all three services. Britain has paid some £300 million for this access since Cyprus became independent in the 1960s.
(5) See James Barr, A Line in the Sand (2011); Jill Hamilton, God, Guns and Israel (2004), and Ronald Sanders, The High Walls of Jerusalem (1983) passim. 
(6) It must be emphasised that this scenario is not fated to happen, but it was what certain elite forces in the West were imagining  would happen, and subsequent events would seem to suggest that they have actually been seeking to bring it about. For example, the Arab Spring Muslim uprisings began ‘on cue’ in 2011, exactly 100 years after Italy’s seizure of Libya from Turkey, a move that began the series of Balkan events that culminated in the First World War in 1914.
(7) Quoted in James Barr, A Line in the Sand (2011), p.15.
(9) Quoted in James Barr, A Line in the Sand (2011), p.39.
(10) Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book “The End of History and the Last Man” was the most strident annunciation of this doctrine.
(11) H.H. Schoeffler, The Academy of Gondhishapur – Aristotle on the Way to the Orient (1979) p.43. Schoeffler’s discussion of these questions is far more subtle and complex than can be described in detail in a short article such as this, and the reader is recommended to consult his book, published by Mercury Press. This aristotelian anthropology was further developed by Steiner, who described how our conscious  spirit actually destroys the organic body by day necessitating the revivification of the body during sleep when the spirit is absent from the body.

(12) It is worth noting that Antioch was one of the last Crusader territories to be lost by the Crusaders (1268) when the city was beseieged and taken by the Mamelukes of Egypt, now Muslim, of course,  and its people sold as slaves. After this, Antioch steadily declined.
(13) By the time of the Crusades it had become the most widespread Christian stream, with dioceses from Syria to China; it declined after the 14th century but still exists today in the forms of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church.
(14) “[T]o a very large extent, the credit for the whole hospital system [of modern times] must be given to Persia.” —Cyril Elgood, A Medical History of Persia, quoted from
The Cambridge History of Iran  described the Academy as “the most important medical centre of the ancient world (defined as Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East) during the 6th and 7th centuries”…. Khosrau “organized the world’s first medical symposium, in Ctesiphon in 550 CE, in which hundreds of physicians and religious figures from different countries participated. …
(15) The 2nd Post-Atlantean epoch was the Age of Gemini (5067-2907 BC), the age of the oldest Iranian culture, when the spring equinox was in Gemini, as today it is in Pisces.
(16) Some five thousand students were studying at Gondi-Shapur during the reign of [Khosrau] Anushiravan, with five hundred scholars teaching in different scientific fields…
(17) The word is related to the Sanskrit word sarva, meaning all or everything and whole, complete; Zurvanism had disappeared by the 10th century, its monotheism presumably giving way to that of Islam.
(18) The only rival in the ancient world at that time was probably the Buddhist academy at Nalanda  near Patna, India; it flourished from the 5th to the 12th centuries. Whereas Nalanda was like a large university, with many students, Gondishapur was more of a specialist research centre
(19) Avicenna (c.980-1037), Iranian philosopher and polymath; Averroes 1126-1198, Spanish Arab rationalist aristotelian philosopher
(20) Steiner lecture of  25.10.1918 Collected Works GA 185
(21) See, for example, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, De occulta philosophia libri tres (Three Books Concerning Occult Philosophy) 1530-1533. Each of these beings had a number associated with its name;  that of Sorath is 666 and Nachiel 111.
(22) One of the ways that European humanity was prepared before the beginning of the modern epoch for the emergence of the Consciousness Soul was by the story of Parzival, in which the hero Parzival advances through various hard trials from an innocent dullness to wakeful ethical insight and becomes the King of the Grail, that is, his own higher being is born from his own soul, something that had not been possible for the previous, fallen Grail King, Amfortas.
(23) A semi-private organisation in which members of the elites of the three regions N.America, Europe, and E.Asia meet to discuss world issues. Founded in 1973  by David Rockefeller and Zbigniew Brzezinski as an extension of the even more secretive Euro-American Bilderberg Group (1954)
(24) Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA) (1995) or Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) (2013) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) (2010)
(25) In 2007 the Vatican made known that, having discovered documents in its Secret Archive which proved that the Templars had never actually been heretics and that Pope Clement V had not in fact considered them to be such, the Templars were thus exonerated from all such charges – somewhat late in the day, some people might feel.
(26) See Rudolf Steiner, Esoteric Christianity and the Mission of Christian Rosenkreutz, lectures of 1911 and 1912, Collected Works GA 130.
(27) With regard to the principle of ‘inversion’, it is worth noting that Dan Brown is on record as saying he likes to hang upside down wearing gravity boots to give him ideas for his  books!
(28) Steiner lecture 12 October 1918 Collected Works GA 184



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