Regular readers will remember Donald Zygutis as the man who wrote a book last year claiming that the government was suppressing Carl Sagan’s ancient astronaut beliefs, even though it had done no such thing and Sagan himself rejected his own hypothesis after learning about the mistakes he had made in understanding ancient history, and more or less how he had been duped by Russian propaganda. My review of The Sagan Conspiracy can be found here: Part 1 and Part 2. Well, Zygutis returned this year with a promise that he would prove alien contact in ancient times with information posted to a website on Christmas. His evidence was … underwhelming.
Zygutis believes that he has discovered a new Bible code, or rather rediscovered one that Isaac Newton had been working on. Basically, he claims that the three primarily staple agricultural products of the eastern Mediterranean—grain, wine, and oil—represent the male generative principle, the female generative principle, and the outcome of reproduction respectively. Therefore, the Last Supper involves a Gnostic ritual where the one anointed with oil (Christ) honors his Father (bread) and Mother (wine), who is Sophia, or wisdom. This Gnostic reading is supposed to be from space aliens because, as Zygutis implies in his lengthy but incomplete writings, as a Christian minister he could not get over the appearance of oil alongside wheat and wine in the Hebrew Bible and suspected something extraterrestrial was behind the “extra” element in the presaging of the Christian Last Supper narrative.
To make his case, Zygutis makes much hay out of an eighteenth century change to the Masonic ceremony of the London Grand Lodge for laying a cornerstone whereby an offering of grain, wine, and oil was added to the laying of the stone. Zygutis recognizes that the ceremony has biblical echoes, but he concludes that there is a secret occult reason for the inclusion of oil, which is not found in the Christian eucharistic feast. “Turning to Scripture, we find that there are no bread, wine, and oil sequences in the New Testament, and only a couple in the Old Testament, certainly not enough to be considered a code.” Not until Zygutis is done with them, that is.
There is a good reason for the oil, but Zygutis doesn’t want to believe it. The ceremony references the first fruits that God commanded the Jews to give to the priests of Yahweh in Deuteronomy 18:4: “The firstfruits of your grain, of your wine and of your oil, and the first fleece of your sheep, you shall give him.” This same set of three first fruits is given seven times in Deuteronomy, twice in 2 Chronicles, five times in Nehemiah, and in scattered references elsewhere. The texts are conveniently summarized here. Since the Masons see themselves as heirs to the Temple, the ritual makes symbolic sense without appeal to an alien code. Oh, and the claim about no wheat, wine, and oil combos in the New Testament is false. One occurs in Revelation 6:6, but with the oil and wine reversed, indicating that Zygutis is simply picking and choosing his preferred texts. Frankly, I see no reason to interrogate the material further, but Zygutis does.
Zygutis rejects the above in pursuit of occult secrets, for he concludes that the in their cornerstone ceremony some Masons preserved a secret third part of the Christian communion unknown to anyone else until Isaac Newton found it again:
The Masonic celebration of the Lord’s Supper is different in that it is based on a knowledge of deeper layers of symbolism in the original Last Supper. If my hypothesis that Isaac Newton discovered those deeper levels is true, and if they contain a map that leads to a verifiable Bible code, institutional Christianity may have to rethink some of its core beliefs.
It’s such a secret hidden symbolism that it literally is spelled out at least sixteen times in the Bible. Zygutis knows this, but he does not accept that the Masons of the eighteenth century might have simply been modeling their rituals on a known Jewish practice, as they were otherwise known to do in their various appeals to Solomon, Enoch, and other Old Testament figures. Pretty much everything we need to know about this claim is that Zygutis rests much of his historical background on the bonkers historical claims of the later books by the authors of the discredited Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.
Zygutis argues that since Christ is the Messiah, and the Messiah is the anointed one, and anointing occurred with oil that therefore Christ is the oil in the Masons’ ersatz communion ritual. He then performs a statistical analysis to try to prove that aliens encoded secret information in the Bible. He starts by wrongly assuming that the collection of grain, wine, and oil cannot be the result of an actual ritual practice that would leave its mark on language. He therefore expresses shock that the sequence of words occurs at least 46 times in the Bible, including the sixteen references to the specific sacrificial ritual:
If the above sequences don’t blow your mind, let me remind you that the Old Testament was written over an 800 year period by an unknown number of authors and editors, most of whom were not alive at the same time and therefore not personally acquainted. On top of that, the Old Testament is regarded by most academics as the most haphazard and chaotic anthology ever assembled. Yet nineteen of the thirty-nine books that comprise the Old Testament contain sequences that are symmetrical with the grain, wine, oil sequence featured in the Masonic Laying of the Cornerstone ceremony. Almost as if by magic, by simply modulating bread, wine, and oil, the entirety of the Newton Bible Code is unveiled. That which for thousands of years had been invisible suddenly comes into the light. The Smoking Gun that proves extraterrestrial existence is now ready to be tested.
No, it’s not. To claim that a conventional use of stock phrases is evidence of independent provision from space aliens requires much more evidence. The conventional Homeric descriptors of the Greek gods recur over nearly a thousand years precisely because they are conventional; similarly, today we find rhetorical flourishes from Shakespeare and the King James Bible in most competent English language authors. That the description of corn, wine, and oil is not a discovery of Isaac Newton or the Masons in the early 1700s is made clear by the appearance of the same phrase in Milton’s Paradise Lost (12.19) in 1667.
Zygutis is aware of this, but he rejects the notion that it refers to either a conventional phrase or a description of real life sacrifices of typical staple foods. “The problem with this explanation is that over the past decade, dozens of individuals, including myself, have searched period literature and not found anything even remotely close. Without a doubt, this massive body of literary symmetry is unique in all the world.” This statement may be technically true in that Zygutis found no references to the first fruits in list form, but it depends, I guess, on what he means by “period.” Julian the Apostate, speaking in the 300s CE, spoke of supplying his subjects with “wine, oil, and bread.” The Augustan History makes the probably fictitious Julius Capitolinus speak of a lack of “wine, oil, and wheat” (“vini, olei, et tritici”) as the depth of poverty (Life of Antoninus Pius 8). The phrase also appears several times in Justinian’s Digest of Roman law (33.6). The difference here is that the Romans placed wine first, but that’s probably attributable to the way that vinum sounds in Latin.
Nor is it to be thought that the lack of the same phrases in Hebrew literature outside the Bible is disproof. First, I am not sure that all of the texts written in that period have been indexed and/or translated to allow for such a categorical statement. Second, when phrases became associated with the sacred, they were no longer used as frequently for the profane. To take a familiar example: Shakespeare coined many new phrases that echo those of the Anglican liturgy because Biblical phrases could not be used for secular purposes lest an author be accused of blasphemy.
Going back still further, when we have only sketchy records, we find that the lists of inventories in Linear B tell us that the three most important non-animal items in a Mycenaean sacrifice were grain, oil, and wine, to which they added figs and honey, and sometimes wool—just as Deuteronomy tells us the Jews did for their God. One notable sacrifice to Poseidon recorded as Un718 gives the ceremonial offerings as “wheat, wine, one bull, ten cheeses, one ram’s fleece, and honey, then wheat, wine, two rams, five cheeses, oil, and one ram's fleece; and again two rams, corn, and wine; corn, wine, five cheeses and honey” (Burkert, Greek Religion). Sadly, while the tablets give us an inventory of the items consumed—through which we know that grain, wine, and oil took pride of place through sheer quantity—the lack of ritual texts from the era leave us ignorant of the phrasing used to describe them. But in later times we find evidence of a continuation of practice at every level. Theophrastus wrote that ordinary Greeks made sacrifices of Thylemata, which was a mixture of—guess what?—ground grain, wine, and oil.
The Biblical phrase is notable neither for original wording nor for its “unique” composition. It is simply a description of a widespread sacrificial offering of the three most important agricultural products of the eastern Mediterranean region.
To try to make a case that the appearance of these staple products in the Bible is the result of alien intervention, Zygutis claims that there is yet another secret code, this one embedded in Carl Sagan’s book Contact, which explains how to hunt for a Bible code. I won’t bore you with the numerological details, but I will note only that Zygutis has become fixated on some rather common numbers—three, 33, etc.—and read into them a cosmic drama that (a) isn’t there, and (b) even if real would no more speak to space aliens than to Atlanteans or just really good Stone Age mathematicians.
So what does any of this have to do with Isaac Newton? Beats me. Zygutis largely skips over him except to speculate that Newton found this “code” while working on his efforts to decode the books of Daniel and Revelation to calculate the Second Coming. Zygutis believes—and this is becoming a theme—that nefarious temporal and spiritual powers would have destroyed Newton for revealing this code, so he encoded the code in his own coded code that only the most code-breaking code-breaker with a degree in symbology from Dan Brown University can break. He claims that Newton hid the code in Freemasonry to protect it from church and state suppression and that’s why the Masons give the traditional Jewish gifts of first fruits when laying a cornerstone. It couldn’t be that the creators of the Grand Lodge cornerstone ceremony had read the Bible. Oh, no, not that!
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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