The Burning Bush by Edward Reaugh Smith
Terms and Phrases Volume I
An Anthroposophical Commentary on the Bible
Published by The Anthroposophic Press in 1997
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002
There was a bush or briar, a very thorny plant, and very weak and supple . . . entirely enveloped . . . by the abundant flame, . . . it nevertheless remained whole without being consumed, like some impassible essence, and not as if it were itself the natural fuel for fire, but rather as if it were taking the fire for its own fuel.
---Philo in "On the Life of Moses, I"
In coming to terms with the author of this book, we must necessarily start at the central metaphor in the title, which is the "burning bush" of Moses. What is it that burns in each of us that takes the fire for its own fuel? It cannot be our body because our body is consumed by the fire, either external flames as in cremation after our life in this body, or internal, slow combustion during our life. Whatever it is, it must have a unique name. "I have a unique name," you might be thinking, but chances are there is someone in the world, maybe many, with the same name as you. But there is one name you have that only you can use in referring to yourself. That name is "I". When anyone else uses it, they can not use it to refer to you; only you may do that. "I" is the name that we give our individuality in English, that immortal spirit that burns within us, that lives imperishably in our body and departs from it still burning when our body has been turned into ashes. Like the burning bush, our "I" is not consumed, but rather takes the fire that it burns with as its own fuel, as Philo so eloquently puts it in the quotation above.
As a materialistic scientist I learned that all the fuels that we consume on the Earth come from the Sun if we trace them back far enough. Coal and other fossil fuels come from plants that eons ago drew their nourishment from the rays of the Sun. Rightly understood, all sources of energy are solar energy - the difference is the extraction and delivery systems for harnessing the energy from the Sun that varies with fossil, nuclear, hydroelectric, fuel cells, or other sources of energy. As a spiritual scientist I learned that all the spiritual fire in my "I" also comes from the Sun, or better said, comes from the spiritual Beings who created the Sun. The spiritual Beings who created me (and inhabit the Sun as we inhabit the Earth), created my Individuality, my "I am". All these phrases are synonyms for my "I", my "burning bush" that takes the fire of the spiritual world as its own fuel. My human being is comprised of four nested entities during this Earth phase of evolution: physical body, etheric body, astral body, and “I”.
The “I” is a relatively new addition to humankind, gradually emerging into human awareness only in historical times, thus the “I” was very new to Moses in his time. Abraham was the first human to become aware of his "I" when he was called to sacrifice his son Isaac. As he lifted his hand with the dagger to take Isaac's life, his hand was stayed by a thought that came to him: "Take a lamb and sacrifice the lamb in place of Isaac." This thought was placed in his mind by his Guardian Angel and established Abraham as the human possessor of an "I am" that was to flow via his blood into his numerous descendants. The potential existed for each of his descendants to have a fully developed "I am" but mostly they depended on Abraham to be the key individual who made decisions for all of the tribe. They were content to be nestled "in the bosom of Abraham," a phrase that illustrates the location of the "I am" of the tribe in their leader. Beginning with Abraham, any outstanding individual, someone who showed their "I am" by making original and important contributions to the tribe, was called a Prophet.
With this background, it is possible to understand what Steiner meant when he said, "The time of prophets is past." He was explaining that humankind has evolved in the time since Abraham such that, culminating in our time, each human has an individual "I am" fully as powerful as Abraham did in his time. A paraphrase of Steiner would be, "The time is here when everyone is fully a prophet as Abraham was." Like water to a fish is so ubiquitous that the fish does not understand the concept of water, so the concept of "I am" or "I" seems to us today without some contemplation or study. Like the fish lives and moves in water, we live and move in our "I am" - it is the burning bush that lives in us and lives off of the fire that would else seem to consume it. This is the central metaphor of The Burning Bush; let us now turn to the central metaphor of the Bible itself as the author lays it out.
The Bible's central metaphor is the parable or allegory of the Prodigal Son which in microcosm parallels the entire opus that is the Bible in macrocosm.
[page 1] In both we see the theme of two sons, one of whom leaves home, loses the original inheritance, comes to self-knowledge, and returns home transformed.
In addition, as the author points out, the parable parallels "the human being's own evolutionary journey, itself macrocosmic" -- encompassing the time scope from the birth of the solar system to the vaporization of the Earth, "when suns shall rise and set no more ." Prodigal Son to Bible to Human Evolution is the threefold progression - from seventeen verses to the whole Bible to the whole scope of human life in a physical body - from the microcosmic to the macrocosmic. Rightly understood, the Bible is the story of human evolution from beginning to end, a process that we are in the approximate middle of as I pen these words. It is the story of human evolution that Edward Smith has embodied in the series of books called Terms and Phrases, of which The Burning Bush is volume 1.
In the content of The Burning Bush as it quotes from Steiner's works, I have encountered several startling new concepts, in spite of the 112 books of his I've read over the past eleven years. In addition, the author's manner of presentation and his sparkling insights as to the meaning of many of the familiar concepts warmed my heart as they enlightened me. I had attempted to imagine in recent years how one might present all the works of Steiner in a harmonious way to completely naive newcomers to his works. I had mulled over various designs and approaches, but here in "Burning Bush" just such an approach is presented and in full bloom. What the author does is to assemble key phrases from the Bible and comment on them at length. Thus the subtitle of this is An Anthroposophical Commentary on the Bible. Rightly understood, it is equally a Biblical commentary on Rudolf Steiner's anthroposophy. The two fields of endeavor, the Bible and anthroposophy, ratify each other in a powerful way that adds credence to both fields.
How does one begin so mammoth an undertaking as to understand the many books of the Bible or the 900 plus books of Rudolf Steiner? I have a saying that "when learning something new, it's best to learn everything about it before you start" -- that concisely expresses the "