May 9, 1886
Highly respected Helena Petrovna, I received your letter of May 3rd new style on May 5th in Odessa. Your aunt's maid brought it to me and said it had staid with them for a long time. First of all, thank you sincerely for your attention towards me. Letters speak more frankly and simply than other writings and therefore your letters, without flattery I say, are very remarkable and are a valuable scientific material for me. But I am afraid of scattering my thoughts in letters. In conversation with intelligent people I also get scattered and therefore I force myself to concentrate on one subject or at least on those of the same kind. Even before I got acquainted with Jacolliot, I had studied the history of religions and recognised that there is some analogy in the way they spread. Religion is not a technical discovery and it has, in all its various manifestations, a character not of creativity but rather of borrowing. Thus, I have long believed that Jewish monotheism was borrowed from wherever it had formerly existed. Christianity in its original form is an offspring of Brahmanism or Buddhism rather where the soul is concerned. Subsequent changes in Brahmanism, Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Christianity or Judaism are wrong deviations. How did religion spread in ancient times? Looking at the globe one must pay attention to the routes of communication that existed for centuries. Take India and the routes leading out of it: to Assyria and Judea to the Bosphorus and the Mediterranean Sea; to Arabia and Egypt; to Persia and the Caucasus; to Tibet and Mongolia; to China as far as the Amur region. These routes existed several thousand years ago. There is no doubt that religious movement spread along these routes, and who knows, maybe Jesus Christ - it is not known where he lived for about 9 years - was in India. But I actually want to talk about the Jews. I see clearly from the Bible that they have never been a settled people. Their continual minglings with other nations prove how easily they fell into idolatry and were not attached to their religion; but as soon as the seed of sedentary state was born, there was immediately a desire and need for a religious code. Therefore, the Pentateuch being chronologically recorded could not have been the first such code. The Pentateuch does not stand up to scientific criticism, but at the time of its composition, as a scripture surrounded by a halo, it could evoke faith. The further one reads the Bible, the smarter and more consistent it is, the more morals it contains and the more clearly it shows some statehood-oriented purpose. But where could the Pentateuch have come from? As a later work it may have been based on legends which are only peculiar to Eastern peoples who were dejected by mysticism. Mohammed, for instance, knew no written religious codices, but only legends which would come to him from India, Egypt, Judea and pagan countries. Jesus Christ is positively a son of wandering religious beliefs, and his apostles knew even less than he did the circumstances of arranging a religion. There is no doubt that the way to India gave a stream of religious knowledge. This way existed even before the consolidation of the Jews into a state. The creators of the religious code could not borrow word for word, because they would not have been acknowledged, but had to resort to what the people already believed in, i.e. the legends about Moses. The latter undoubtedly left Egypt because of the anti-Semitic movement – and with his high priests was establishing a religious code, but it did not take root; and from it, except for the commandments, only legends remained, which then provided the material for compiling the Pentateuch. Now, who could compile this Pentateuch? Undoubtedly it was the high priests before the kings; the Brahmins who took over everything. The mystery of the tabernacle and the castes of the Levites are from the Indian [code]. The high priests and Levites were ignorant in comparison with the Brahmins and could only crudely imitate, but in compiling the religious code they were obliged to create something independent, popular among their people, distinctive, which would not contradict the legends and which would not coincide in text with what was being propagated along the route of communication from India as far as the Bosphorus. Therefore, based on much that I have not considered necessary to mention, the Bible is divided into two parts: the historically true from the time of the kings and the legendary before the kings. That fact that the Pentateuch was borrowed was very well known to the ancient peoples, because none of them adopted the Jewish religion. In the legends which served as the basis for systematizing the Gospel, there is no special belief in the Pentateuch either, and even all subsequent Christianity seemingly ignores the whole Bible. Now the interest that arises when looking for where the Pentateuch is borrowed from is understandable, and I regret that I will not be familiar with your work The Secret Doctrine. In borrowings it is not the names or the years that are important, but the nature, the purpose, the time of the borrowing, the development of the borrowers and the political condition of those contemporaries for whom the borrowing was made. I don't know whether you have given attention to this in your book? There are always concepts in borrowings which can be profaned but not passed off as original. So in the Pentateuch, in creation, the Word is of great importance. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” [John 1:10], etc. The word, according to the Vedas, is Vas, not Vah, as you write – “h” is not present in Sanskrit – and in the primitive Vedic concept Vas [Vāch] was Brahma’s wife. But the Brahmins, then the Buddhists, had a scholarly theological system of teaching, developed historically by the succession of schools and their teachers, while the Jews had none of this. The later Pharisees and Sadducees were not without a political colouring, and of the Essenes who imitated the Indian ascetics and probably had intercourse with India, we sadly do not know anything. It seems to me, however, that Jesus Christ and some of his apostles were involved with the Essenes, who had much knowledge even of the miracles and deceptions of the gullible and ignorant Jews. In my opinion, among the Judeans the doctrine about the one God in three persons was quite known, and Jesus Christ propagated it at first gingerly, but later more boldly. And only his disciples focused on this dogma, which with its novelty surprised not the Jews – who knew, that in India there were three murtis [Trimurti] – but the Gentiles, who had walked away long ago from the faith in one God and returned to it with acquiring belief in St. Trinity and that with the proneness to bribery which turned ordinary people into gods. Mohammed spoke categorically against such a belief; he laughed at the Christians who had turned Jesus Christ into a god; he sacrificed even his divinity and pointed out that he would die in terms of his body like any mortal. In general I find in Mohammed's Koran many historical indications of the position of Christianity and Judaism in his time. Mohammed himself does not attach importance to the Pentateuch; Mohammed's contemporaries also only acknowledge that the Arabs and Mohammed descended from Ishmael, son of Abraham and Rebekah, and that concerning the 12 tribes of Ishmael the prophecy of God will be fully confirmed. In what you have read I have stated what I think about the religious issues, but it is not an exposition of my research, which I cannot present; but your conclusions given in the letter are taken by me as a work which has arisen from a critical evaluation of the materials you have obtained. In your writings you are immeasurably superior to the fantasist Jacolio, who, living very long in India, did not know Sanskrit, and juggled facts to fit the template preconceived by him or even created them. But agree that this man's destructive plan for Christianity is truly remarkable. Unfortunately, by fruits of fantasy it is impossible to kill even the most foolish superstition much less a faith based on worthy morality, as can be found in the Gospel, and which is more striking, while the morality of the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran has been scattered to the point of being difficult to comprehend.
Highly respected Helena Petrovna! You have aroused my curiosity, so please excuse my importunity. I would like to receive from you a brief account of the borrowing of the Pentateuch and your opinion on the emergence of Christianity as a teaching first of a sectatorian nature and then formed historically. Did Bramanism or Buddhism have much attention on Christianity in its first period? Did the Jews contemporary to Christ take Christianity for a borrowed creed or not? To clarify the latter I have never had any materials, though I am familiar with Renan's work about the life of Jesus Christ, but you probably know the works of more recent scholars – Kab[b]alists and Talmudists – who were always critical of the earthly activities of Christ and the apostles. Besides this I wished to know the main foundations of the teaching of the Theosophical Society, a teaching which I suspect is not without connection with the purest Bud[d]hism. Ovsyanikov-Kulikovsky has the same desire. The information we have received about the Theosophical Society from Russian newspapers is, firstly, inconsistent and, secondly, not entirely trustworthy. Theosophists have quite a definite notion of the soul, perhaps only the Bud[d]hists also have as definite a notion, but neither I nor Ovs[yanikov] Kul[ikovsky] dare to speak categorically about theosophism and, to tell the truth, we cannot. Often there is a demand to clarify at least the main philosophical and theological theses of the theosophical teaching. For me, for example, it would be very interesting to know why in general not only the Hindus, but also the higher clergy in India have joined theosophical society and become its members. Can it be because in the philosophical views of theosophists they saw identity with the original purity of their religion? Or was it because of the similarity of the chief tenets? Theosophists, e.g., have become interested in Brahmanism and Bud[d]hism – as you yourself are as their head – but were they interested in them also in the very beginning – at the genesis of the teaching?
I apologize a thousand times for my importunity, but such is a characteristic of scholarly curiosity. For the sake of the latter one reads even bad books, so how not read good ones, and how not refer to you having such a chance? I wish you health and good recovery in Ostend. Yours respectfully, P. Grosul-Tolstoy.
- On 8 May 1886 H. P. Blavatsky left the German city of Würzburg, where she had been living, for the Belgian city of Ostend. On the way she stayed in Elberfeld visiting G. Gebhard and arrived in Ostend on July 8. – Ed.
- Sectarian (French: sectateur). – Ed.
- So in the manuscript (Russian: внимание), perhaps the typo and it should be "influence" (влияние). – Ed.
- The Life of Jesus (1863). – Ed.