It is important to understand what we as a race of human beings were like before the dawn of the scientific age. This is not actually the best way to pose this question, because we have always been scientific; we have always sought to understand the world around us and organize our observations into coherent theories. The difference between then and now is that the emphasis is on what we can perceive with our physical senses and less on what we know intuitively or can come up with creatively. The challenge today is to strive for a balance between these two world views.
There is a lot of evidence that ancient civilizations had more knowledge of the way the world works than scientists today are willing to acknowledge. The Pyramids of Egypt are a good example. Engineers are puzzled by the degree of accuracy with which the pyramids were built, accuracy that would be hard to duplicate even with today’s technology. The ancient Egyptians did not have GPS, and yet the pyramids are laid out as if they did.
Since the Egyptians did not have the tools we have today, how is it that they were able to achieve such results? Laying aside for the moment all of the popular theories about their methods, we want to acknowledge that though their world view was different, the spirit they brought to their endeavors was identical to the spirit we bring to our best achievements today. Little has changed in this regard. The human spirit and desire for understanding and articulating our knowledge is the same now as it was then.
But the way they organized what they knew was different. They had a different way of expressing it. In our current philosophical framework, it is very important to separate what we know from what we believe. Our rational and intuitive faculties are kept strictly apart. But for the ancients, science and religion were one and the same. The split had not yet taken place. And it is easy for us to jump to the conclusion that because they were the same that there was no science. This mistaken assumption is the main stumbling block to understanding the Bible.
The scientific part of our nature has always recognized that the world operates according to principles. We talk of them now in terms of the Laws of Thermodynamics and more recently in terms of Quantum Physics. And we are able to distinguish among the different laws because of the way we use the language. But the ancients called these principles “gods” and were able to distinguish them by giving them different names and attributes. The stories of the gods were symbolic representations of how the principles they represented interacted with one another (Campbell). Without the scientific language we have today, stories were the only form they could use. And just as understanding science requires advanced degrees from specialized universities, for those in the ancient world understanding the symbolic meanings of the stories required elaborate stages of initiation.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that what the ancients were up to was merely science as we understand it to be, only in its infancy. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we need to admit to ourselves as a race is that our intuitive faculties are in a state of extreme atrophy, but in the ancients they were in full career. What our compromised intuition allows for is a misconception of the world as a machine, a mechanism devoid of consciousness and intelligence. We have lost the ability to sense Life as a living energy. But the ancients knew that the world is alive, and the best way they could describe what they saw was to put it into story form.
Unless you can see the world through their eyes, you will not be able to understand the Bible.