Folks today oftentimes think the alchemists of old literally changed lead into gold. However, the alchemists were working on a metaphorical level, and changing lead-heavy consciousness into golden light. The world alchemy, from the Aramaic, means “working within and through the dense darkness inside.” Thus, the truth of what alchemists were actually doing.
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was one of England’s greatest political thinkers. Leviathan, published in 1651, was Hobbes’ most important work, a book that explains in detail the steps to move from the nightmarish situation of the state of nature to a secure society in which life is bearable. Leviathan was the gigantic sea monster described in the Bible. For Hobbes, it was a reference to the great power of the state.
Hobbes’ Leviathan opens with a picture of a giant towering over a hillside, holding a sword and sceptre. The giant is made up of lots of smaller people, who are recognizable still as individuals. The giant represents the powerful state sovereign as its head. Without a sovereign, Hobbes believed, everything would fall apart and society would decompose into separate people ready to tear each other into pieces in order to survive.
Critics of Hobbes say he went too far in allowing the sovereign, whether it was a king or queen or parliament, to have such power over the individual in society. The state he describes is actually an authoritarian one — one in which the sovereign has almost unlimited power over citizens. Peace may be desirable, and fear of violent death a strong incentive to submit to a sovereign, but putting so much power in the hands of an individual or group can be dangerous.
For cultures of the Near East, the process of creation began with chaos, the Greek word used to signify the undifferentiated material out of which the universe was made. Chaos was imagined as water in darkness, much like a stormy sea at night, that filled everything. There was no concept of nothingness or empty outer space — there was not even the number zero.
Creation Out of Nothing
The concept of creatio ex nihilo, “creation out of nothing,” didn’t yet exist. That idea was a much later invention, not gaining full expression until the Christian period. It was a concept that developed after and because of monotheism, in controversies about what was eternal: Was God alone at the beginning, or was the “stuff” out of which the world was made there also? Was there one eternal principle or two, God and chaos?
The Enlightenment was the prelude to modern times, and boldly challenged religious establishments. Beginning in the 17th century, the Enlightenment philosophers abandoned piety and proclaimed the supremacy of Reason.
Descartes and Spinoza, Hobbes and Leibniz changed the rules of intellectual discourse. The dialogue was now secular. Appeals to the Bible and to Church doctrine gave way to Truth, which stood on the pillars of intuition and evidence.
The political stability of Roman rule – called the Pax Romana (“Roman peace”) – meant that people from all over the empire could move about with relative ease. Larger cities, like Rome itself, became cosmopolitan mixes with many immigrants jostling together. Such cities were not much different from London, New York, or Hong Kong today.
Interplay of Cultures
Wherever people went, they carried aspects of their native culture with them – language, traditions, and religion. Hence, the vibrant social mix of Roman cities invited the interplay of these different cultures, even though Rome encouraged its subject peoples to become more “Roman” in thought and values.