The Mystery Of The "Mispa"
In this article, as the title shows, I shall try to give an exposition of the ancient Hebrew Cult of Stone, which they inherited from Abraham, their great progenitor, and to show that this Stone-Cult was instituted at Mecca by that Patriarch and his son Ishmael; in the land of Canaan by Isaac and Jacob; and in Moab and elsewhere by the other descendants of Abraham.
By the term "Stone-Cult," let it be understood, I do not mean stone-worship, which is idolatry; by it I understand the worship of God at a specially consecrated stone meant for that purpose. In those days, when the chosen family were leading a nomadic and pastoral life, it had no settled habitation where to build a house, especially dedicated to the worship of God; they used to erect a particular stone around which they used to make a hajj; that is to say, to turn round seven times in the form of a dancing-ring. The word hajj might frighten the Christian readers and they might shrink at its sight because of its Arabic form and because of its being at present a Muslim religious performance. The word hajj is exactly identical in meaning and etymology with the same in the Hebrew and other Semitic languages. The Hebrew verb hagag is the same as the Arabic hajaj, the difference being only in the pronunciation of the third letter of the Semitic alphabet gamal, which the Arabs pronounce as j. The Law of Moses uses this very word hagag or haghagh (1) when it orders the festival ceremonies to be performed. The word signifies to compass a building, an altar or a stone by running round it at a regular and trained pace with the purpose of performing a religious festival of rejoicing and chanting. In the East the Christians still practice what they call higga either during their festival days or at weddings. Consequently, this word has nothing to do with pilgrimage, which is derived from the Italian pellegrino, and this also from the Latin peregrinus - meaning a "foreigner."
------------- Footnotes: (1) Unlilke the Arabs, both the Hebrew as well as the Aramaic peoples have no j sound in their alphabet; their third letter, gamal, when hard has a g sound and when soft or aspirate becomes guttural and sounds gh. ------------End of footnote
Abraham during his sojourns frequently used to build an altar for worship and sacrifice at different places and on particular occasions. When Jacob was on his way to Padan Aram and saw the vision of that wonderful ladder, he erected a stone there, upon which he poured oil and called it Bethel, i.e. "The House of God"; and twenty years later he again visited that stone, upon which he poured oil and "pure wine," as recorded in Genesis xxviii. 10-22; xxxv. A special stone was erected as a monument by Jacob and his fatherin-law upon a heap of stones called Gal'ead in Hebrew, and Yaghar sahdutha by Laban in his Aramaic language, which means "a heap of witness." But the proper noun they gave to the erected stone was Mispa (Gen. xxxi. 45-55), which I prefer to write in its exact Arabic form, Mispha, and this I do for the benefit of my Muslim readers.
Now this Mispha became later on the most important place of worship, and a center of the national assemblies in the history of the people of Israel. It was here that Naphthah - a Jewish hero - made a vow "before the Lord," and after beating the Ammonites, he is supposed to have offered his only daughter as a burnt offering (Judges xi). It was at Mispha that four hundred thousand swordsmen from the eleven tribes of Israel assembled and "swore before the Lord" to exterminate the tribe of Benjamin for an abominable crime committed by the Benjamites of Geba' and succeeded (Judges xx. xxi.). At Mispha all the people were summoned by the Prophet Samuel, where they "swore before the Lord" to destroy all their idols and images, and then were saved from the hands of the Philistines (I Sam. vii). It was here that the nation assembled and Saul was appointed king over Israel (1 Sam. x) . In short, every national question of great moment was decided at this Mispha or at Bethel. It seems that these shrines were built upon high places or upon a raised platform, often called Ramoth, which signifies a "high place." Even after the building of the gorgeous Temple of Solomon, the Misphas were held in great reverence. But, like the Ka'aba at Mecca, these Misphas were often filled with idols and images. After the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Chaldeans, the Mispha still maintained its sacred character as late as the time of the Maccabees during the reign of King Antiochus (l).
Now, what does the word Mispa mean? It is generally translated into a "watch-tower." It belongs to that class of Semitic nouns - Asma Zarf - which take or drive their name from the thing that they enclose or contain. Mispa is the place or building which derives its name from sapha, an archaic word for "stone." The usual word for stone in Hebrew is iben, and in Arabic hajar. The Syriac for stone is kipa. But safa or sapha seems to be common to them all for some particular object or person when designated as a "stone." Hence the real meaning of Mispa is the locality or place in which a sapha or stone is set and fixed. It will be seen that when this name, Mispa, was first given to the stone erected upon a heap of stone blocks, there was no edifice built around it. It is the spot upon which a sapha rests, that is called Mispa.
Before explaining the signification of the noun sapha I have to tax again the patience of those of my readers who are not acquainted with the Hebrew. The Arabic language lacks the p sound in its alphabet just as much as do the Hebrew and other Semitic languages, in which the letter p, like g, is sometimes soft and is pronounced like f or ph. In English, as a rule, the Semitic and Greek words containing f sound are transliterated and written by the insertion of "ph" instead of "f," e.g. Seraph, Mustapha, and Philosophy. It is in accordance with this rule that I prefer to write this word sapha to safa.
------------- Footnote: (1) The Bible which I consult does not contain the so-called deutro- canonical or Apocryphal books of the Old Testament. This Bible is published by the American Bible Society (New York 1893 ) . The title runs thus Kthahhi Qaddishi Dadiathiqi Wadiathiqi Khadatt An Shad-wath Poushaqa dmin lishani qdimaqi. Matha 'ta d'dasta. Biblioneta d' America [The Holy Books of the Old Testament and of the New Covenant (Testament), with the concordance or witnesses. Translated from the ancient languages. Published at the Press of the American Bible Society]. ------------- End of footnote
When Jesus Christ surnamed his first disciple Shim'on (Simon) with the significant title of "Petros" (Peter), he must evidently have had in his mind this ancient sacred Sapha which had been lost long ago! But, alas! we cannot positively set out the exact word which he expressed in his own language. The Greek form Petros in the masculine gender - Petra in the feminine - is so unclassical and unGreek, that one is astonished at its being ever adopted by the Churches. Did Jesus or any other Jew ever dream of calling the fisherman Bar Yona, Petros? Decidedly not. The Syriac version called Pshitta has frequently rendered this Greek form into Kipha (Kipa). And the very fact that even the Greek text has preserved the original name "Kephas," which the English versions have reproduced in the shape of "Cephas," shows that Christ spoke the Aramaic language and gave the surname "Kipha" to his principal disciple.
The old Arabic versions of the New Testament have frequently written St. Peter's name as "Sham'un' as-Sapha"; that is to say, "Simon the Stone." The words of Christ: "Thou art Peter," etc., have their equivalent in the Arabic version in the form of "Antas-Sapha" (Matt. xvi. 18; John i. 42, etc.).
It follows, therefore, that if Simon is the Sapha, the Church which was to be built on it would naturally be the Mispha. That Christ should liken Simon to Sapha and the Church to Mispha is very remarkable; but when I come to divulge the mystery hidden in this similitude and the wisdom embodied in the Sapha, then it must be accepted as the most marvelous truth of Prophet Muhammad's merit to his glorious title: 'THE MUSTAPHA'!
From what has been stated above, our curiosity would naturally lead one to ask the following questions: -
(a) Why did the Muslims and Unitarian descendants of Abraham choose a stone to perform their religious service on or around it? (b) Why should this particular stone be named sapha? (c) What is the writer driving at? And so on - perhaps several others.
The stone was selected as the best suitable material upon which a traveling devotee offered his sacrifice, poured his pure oil and wine, (1) and performed his religious services around it. It was more than this; this stone was erected to commemorate the vows and certain promises which a prophet or righteous man made to his Creator, and the revelation he received from God. Consequently, it was a sacred monument to perpetuate the memory and the sacred character of a great religious event. For such a purpose no other material could surpass the stone. Not only does the solidity and durability of the stone make it suitable for that purpose, but its mere simplicity, cheapness, worthlessness in a lonely place would guarantee it against any attraction of human avarice or enmity to steal or destroy it. As is well known, the Law of Moses strictly forbids to hew or carve the stones of the altar. The stone called Sapha was to be absolutely left natural; no images, inscriptions, or engravings were to be wrought upon it, lest any one of these should be worshipped in time to come by the ignorant people. Gold, iron silver, or any other metal, could not answer all these qualities required in the simple stone. It will be understood, therefore, that the purest, the most durable, eligible, and the safest material for a religious and sacred monument could be none other than the stone.
------------ Footnote: 1. Wine was not forbidden to the people of Israel. ------------end of footnote
The molten bronze statue of the Jupiter worshipped by the heathen Roman Pontifex Maximus, was taken away from the Pantheon and recast into the image of St. Peter by order of a Christian Sovereign Pontiff; and indeed, the wisdom embodied in the Sapha is admirable and worthy of all those who worship no other object besides God.
It should also be remembered that not only is the erected Sapha a sacred monument, but the very spot and the circuit in which it is situated as well. And it is for this reason that the Muslim hajj, like the Hebrew higga, is performed round the building where the Sacred Stone is fixed. It is known fact that the Karamatians who carried the Black Stone from the Ka'aba and kept it in their own country for some twenty years, were obliged to bring and put it back in its former place because they could not draw the pilgrims from Mecca. If it had been gold or other precious object, it could not have existed, at least, for some five thousand years; or even if it had had on it some carvings or images of art, it would have been destroyed by the Prophet Muhammad himself.
As to the meaning - or rather meanings - of the Sapha, I have already referred to them as qualities of the stone.
The word consists of the consonants "sadi" and "pi" ending with the vowel "hi" both as a verb and noun. It means, in its qal form, "to purify, to watch, to gaze from distance, and to choose." It also has the meanings of "to be firm and sound"; in its pi'el paradigm, which is causative, it simply means "to make a choice, to cause to elect," and so on.
A man who watched from a tower was called Sophi (2 Kings ix. 17, etc.). In ancient times - that is, before the building of the Temple of Solomon - the Prophet or the "Man of God" was called Roi or Hozi, which means the "seer" ( 1 Sam. ix. 9). The Hebrew scholars are, of course, familiar with the word Msaphpi, or rather Msappi, which is equivalent in orthography to the Arabic musaphphi, which signifies "one who endeavors to elect that which is pure, sound, firm," and so forth. The watchman on the Tower of Yizrael, as quoted above, was gazing and watching sharply from a great distance to distinguish a company of persons coming on towards the town. He saw the first messenger of the King who arrived and joined the group but did not return. The same was the case with the second and the third envoy. It was later on that the Sophi could distinguish the chief of the group as Jehu. Now, what then was the business and the office of that watchman? It was to look out sharply from some distance to distinguish one among the others with a view to understanding his identity and his movements, if at all possible, and then to inform his king. If you ask: What was the business and the office of the solitary Sophi of the Mispa? the answer - which would merely be that he used to watch from the minaret of the Misppha (Mispa) in order to distinguish the identity of the pilgrims in the desert, or that he used to keep watch against some danger - could not satisfy an eager inquirer. If so, the Mispha would lose its religious and sacred character, and would rather seem to assume that of a military watchtower. But the case with the Sophi of the Mispha was quite different. Originally the Mispha was only a simple shrine on a solitary high place in Gal'ead where the Sophi with his family or attendants used to live. After the conquest and occupation of the land of Canaan by Israel, the number of the Misphas increases, and they soon become great religious centers and develop into institutions of learning and confraternities. They seem to be like the Islamic Mevlevi, Bektashi, Neqshbendi, and other religious confraternities, each one of them being under its own Sheikh and Murshid. They had schools attached to the Mispha, where the Law, the religion, the Hebrew literature and other branches of knowledge were taught. But over and above this educational work, the Sophi was the supreme head of a community of initiates whom he used to instruct and teach the esoteric or mystic religion which we know under the name of Sophia. Indeed, what we term to-day Sufis were then called nbiyim or "prophets," and what is called, in Islamic takkas, zikr or invocation in prayer, they used to term "prophesying." In the time of the Prophet Samuel, who was the head of the State as well as that of the Mispha institutions, these disciples and initiates had become very numerous; and when Saul was anointed and crowned, he joined the zikr or religious practice of invocation with the initiates and was announced everywhere: "Behold Saul also among the Prophets." And this saying became a proverb; for he was also "prophesying" with the group of prophets (1 Sam. x 9-13). The Sufism among the Hebrews continued to be an esoteric religious confraternity under the supremacy of the Prophet of the time until the death of King Solomon. After the division of the kingdom into two, it appears that a great schism had taken place among the Sufis too. In the time of the Prophet Elias, about 900 B.C., we are told that he was the only true Prophet left and that all others were killed; and that there were eight hundred and fifty prophets of the Baal and Ishra who "ate at the table of Queen Izabel" (1 Kings xviii. 19). But only a few years later, Elias's disciple and successor, the Prophet Elisha, at Bethel and at Jericho is met by scores of the "sons of Prophets" who foretell him about the imminent ascension of his master Elias (2 Kings ii.).
Whatever may have been the real position of the Hebrew Sufis (or Sophees) after the great religious and national schism, one thing is certain, namely, that the true knowledge of God and the esoteric science of religion was preserved until the appearance of Jesus Christ, who built his Community of the Initiates in the Inner Religion upon Simon the Sapha, and that the true Sophis or seers of the Christian Mispha perpetuated this knowledge and watched over it until the appearance of the Elect of Allah, Prophet Muhammad al-Mustapha - the Hebrew "Mustaphi"!
The Bible mentions - as I said above - numerous prophets attached to the Misphas; but we must well understand that, as the Qur'an clearly declares, "God best knows whom He shall appoint for His Messenger" that He does not bestow the gift of prophecy on a person on account of his nobility, riches, or even piety, but for His own pleasure. The faith and all works of piety, meditations, spiritual exercises, prayers, fasting, and divine knowledge may raise a novice to become a spiritual murshid or guide, or to the rank of a saint, but never to the status of a prophet; for prophecy is not procured by effort, but is a gift of God. Even among the Prophets there are only a few who were Messengers favored with a special book and commissioned to direct a certain people or with a particular mission. Therefore the term "prophets" as used in the Hebrew Scriptures is often ambiguous.
I must also remark in this connection that probably the majority of the material of the Bible was the work or production of these Misphas before the Babylonian Captivity or even earlier, but afterwards has been revised by unknown hands until it has taken the shape which we nowadays have.
It now remains to say few words about the Muslim Sufism and the Greek word Sophia (wisdom or love of wisdom); and a discussion of these two systems of high knowledge does lie outside the scope of this article. Philosophy, in the wider sense of the term, is the study or science of the first principles of being; in other words, it transcends the limits of physics to study the pure being, and leaves behind the study of causes or laws of that which happens or is seen in nature trying to reach the metaphysics which deals with faith, ethics and law known now as the spiritual aspects of civilization, while the physic is considered the material aspects of civilization. Thereby it takes the greatest pains to find the truth.
The difference between the Greek Sophia and the Muslim Sufi is that the Greek have mixed between the materialistic and spiritual areanas and at the same time, they failed to received revelation as their top philosophers i.e. Aristotle and Socrates admitted that dealing in the metaphysics without receiving revelation from the Creator is like crossing the ocean on a piece of wood! Whereas the lucky Muslim Sufis concentrated on the area of ethics and following the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad and his companions in disciplining one's heart and self in sailing to reach the High Assembly of the Angels and so forth.
Muslim Sufism is the contemplation on the deeds of Allah and His Creation and ones self and avoiding the contemplation on Allah Himself because the human is made of his environment and sooner use their five senses to describe Allah which becomes exceedingly dangerous as it happened with the Egyptians when they imagined the Sphinx that has head, paws, body etc.
The superiority of the Islamic Sophia to the Greek philosophy is manifest from the object it views at. And it is decidedly superior to the Christian celibacy and monasticism in its indifference towards the consciences and the beliefs of other people. A Muslim Sophi (Sufi) always entertains respect for other religions, laughs at the idea of "heresy" and abhors all persecutions and oppressions. Most of the Christian Saints were either persecutors of or the persecuted by heretics, and their celebrity consists in their excess of intolerance. This is, alas but only too true.
It is also worthy noting that in the time of the first era of Islam, Muslim Sufis were referred to as "Zahid" or "Zohad" and at that time they had no methodology, but they had a complete fellowship of faith and jurisprudence to their respective school. They concentrated on the ethics and thinking. The following generation established the methodology of courses to be taken by beginners, the intermediate and the advanced based on the Qur'an and Prophetic Quotations. It is very clear that the daily rectition of Qur'an, the remembrance of the Names of Allah and the prayer on Prophet Muhammad together with asking Allah for forgiveness and praying at night, fasting during the day are some of the important characteristics. On the other hand, the authentic Muslim Sufi reject any insincere members who fail to keep the way of Prophet Muhammad. Admittedly, many ignorant people were exposed, thinking that these insincere cases are representative of Muslim Sufism. They fail to understand that the (Ihsan) which is one third of the Religion, as demonstrated in the answer of Prophet Muhammad to the question "What is Islam?, What Is Iman, and What is Ihsan? when Prophet Muhammad commented that the one who asked the questioner was the angel Gabriel and that he had come to teach you the Religion. Also, Islam was served by the four schools of jurisprudence while iman was served by faith schools such as Salaf and Asharia and of course Sufi served Ihsan. If some one doubts this let him name the scholars of Ihsan, because if you go to an Islamic Court which belongs to the section of Islam, or go to a Faith school and admit that he has jealousy and malice in his heart etc. of the disease of the soul both schools will admit that they have nothing to do with this aspect and refer him to an Abid, worshiper, or Sufi, Shaykh.
As a secondary remark I should like to add that the Muslim authors have always written the Greek word "philosophy" in the form of Phelsepha with sin instead of sadi or tzadi, which is one of the constituent letters in the Hebrew and Arabic words Sapha and Sophi. I think this form was introduced into the Arabic literature by the Assyrian translators who formerly belonged to the Nestorian sect. The Turks write the name St. Sophia of Constantinople with sadi, but philosophy with sin, like the samekh of the Hebrews. I believe that the Greek Sophia is to be identified etymologically with the Hebrew word; and the idea that the Muslim word sophia (sowfiya) is derived from the soph, which means "wool," ought to be abandoned.
The true Sophia - or wisdom - the true knowledge of God, the true science of religion and morality, and the infallible selection of the Last Messenger of Allah from among all His Messengers, belonged to the ancient institution of Israel called Mispha, until it was transformed into the Mispha of the Nassara or Christian. It is indeed marvelous to see how complete is the analogy and how the economy of God concerning His dealings with man is carried on with absolute uniformity and order. The Mispha is the filter where all the data and persons are filtered and strained by the Musaphphi (Hebrew, Mosappi) as by a colander (for such is the meaning of the word); so that the genuine is distinguished and separated from the false, and the pure from the impure; yet centuries succeed each other, myriads of Prophets come and go, still the Mustapha, the Elected One, does not appear. Then comes the Holy Jesus; but he is rejected and persecuted, because there existed no longer in Israel that official Mispha which would have recognized and announced him as a true Messenger of God who was sent to bear witness to the Mustapha that was the Last Prophet to follow him. The "Grand Assembly of the Synagogue" convoked and instituted by Ezra and Nehemiah, the last member of which was "Simeon the Just" (ob 310 B.C.), was succeeded by the Supreme Tribunal of Jerusalem, called the "Sahedrin"; but this latter Assembly, whose President was the Nassi or the "Prince," condemned Jesus to death because it did not recognize his person and the nature of his divine mission. A few Sophis, however, knew Jesus and believed in his prophetical mission; but the crowds at one time mistook him for the Mustapha or the "elected" Messenger of Allah, and seized and acclaimed him king, but he vanished and disappeared from among them. He was not the Mustaplta, otherwise it would be ridiculous to make Simon the Sapha and his Church the Mispha; for the office and the duty of the Mispha was to watch and look for the Last Messenger, so that when he came he would be proclaimed as the Elected and Chosen One - the Mustapha. If Jesus were the Mustapha, there would be no need for the institution of the Mispha any longer. This is a very deep and interesting subject; it deserves patient study. Prophet Muhammad al-Mustapha is the mystery of the Mispha, and the treasure of the Sophia.