The Biblical roots of the Left and Right - A Petersonian symbolical analysis

I asked in a poll long ago my Twitter followers what my first English-only blog should be about. Although the Biblical roots of the Left and Right didn't win, I decided to still make a blog about it. Enjoy!


We're are so accustomed to it, referring to political parties as either right-wing (conservative, capitalist) or left-wing (progressive, socialist). But why is that? Why not up and down? Or why not the reverse: the left conservative and the right progressive?

The classical explanation is that during the French Revolution, the royalists sat on the right of the king while the revolutionaries sat on the left. As such, this could have been pure chance. Would in a multiverse half of the universes had the royalists on the left of the king and the revolutionaries on the right?

A video of RockingMrE explains that the left/right divide has ancient roots in the Bible and the occult. As an atheist, I found this fascinating. But it is only since the Biblical lectures of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, that it got me thinking. What does the Bible say about left and right?

I'm no psychologist or a theologian but I will do my very best to look at a sort of Petersonian way to the relevant Bible passages.

Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

According to RockingMrE, the left/right divide can be traced back to the passages in Matthew 25:31-46. This is referred to as the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (although technically it is not a parable). In these 15 paragraphs, Jesus tells what will happen during the Last Judgement. He will divide the world in two groups, sheep on the right and goats on the left. The former will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, the latter will burn in hell for all eternity:
31 “When the Son of Man shall come in His glory and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory. 32 And before Him shall be gathered all nations, and He shall separate them one from another as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.33 And He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.34 Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.35 For I hungered, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in;36 naked, and ye clothed Me; I was sick, and ye visited Me; I was in prison, and ye came unto Me.’37 Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we Thee hungering and fed Thee, or thirsty and gave Thee drink?38 When saw we Thee a stranger and took Thee in, or naked and clothed Thee?39 Or when saw we Thee sick, or in prison, and came unto Thee?’40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.’41 “Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.42 For I hungered, and ye gave Me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink;43 I was a stranger, and ye took Me not in; naked, and ye clothed Me not; sick and in prison, and ye visited Me not.’44 Then shall they also answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we Thee hungering or athirst or a stranger, or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee?’45 Then shall He answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me.’46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.”
The Last Judgement of Fra Angelico. The sheep (right-side of Jesus) go to heaven, the goats (left-side of Jesus) to hell.

What is peculiar about this parable are these things:
  1. Jesus symbolizes himself as a shepherd of humanity.
  2. He compares good with sheep and evil with goats.
  3. Jesus is the Judge.
  4. Being good means doing good and not being aware of it.
  5. He places the sheep on his right-side.
Jesus the shepherd

The shepherd is a recurring theme in the Bible. There are numerous references to shepherds in the Bible. Numerous characters in the Bible were shepherds - Abel, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph the Dreamer, Moses, King David and the shepherds who visited baby Jesus - or were referred to as shepherds, people who are spiritual leaders - God, Jesus, Apostle Peter and current pastors. It is a metaphor to understand the relationship between God or Jesus (as ultimate shepherd) and man.

Jordan Peterson noted in his lecture about Cain and Abel that shepherds were tough people, they had to travel into the wild all by themselves and fend off bandits and wild animals like bears, wolves, leopards and lions (yes, lions lived in Israel and Palestine!). What shepherds did was lead the herd of sheep to the feeding grounds and protect them from danger.

Peterson also explained the "walking with God" motive as the correct attitude to protect oneself from the wrath of God, in this case the flood. God is here visualised by Peterson as the ideal mode of Being (so having the right moral ethics, to say it bluntly) and the flood represents the chaos that can swep you away. So as sheep, if you're lead by God or Jesus the shepherd, you will follow the correctpath that protects you from the outside chaos (predators, wolves in particular, the archetypal adversary in fairy-tales).

What does it mean, "being lead by"? Well, what shepherds and God does is to call upon you (John 10:4 ; Psalms 77:20 ; 80:1), which is also a common theme in the Bible. Abraham was called upon God and Peterson explains this as an invitation by God to enter chaos. Indeed, one can argue: why should the flock of sheep be subjected to the dangers of predators when they can stay at home? But staying would be equal to starving, as the feeding grounds are out there into the wild. Peterson has explained numerous times that chaos is that unexplored territory which dangers us, but also that unexplored territory which is full of potential to be collected from and brought home.

In this, being lead by the shepherd means one enters the chaos forthrightly and as long one follows the shepherd, (s)he is protected from the dangers of chaos but simultanously (s)he is capable to harvest the goods from the potential chaos.

Good sheep, evil goats

Why the sheep is equated with good requires an entire section, but why goats are equated with evil, is what I'm addressing now.

Ezekiel 34 warns about what happens when one is a bad shepherd. Especially Ezekiel 34:17 is of relevance here as it states: “As for you, My flock, thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I will judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and the male goats." Again, this repeats the theme of the Parable. According to Gill's comment, the latter (rams) he may meant persons of superior power and authority, of greater wealth and riches, and of more wisdom and knowledge, at least in their own conceits; and who were oppressive and injurious to the poor and common people, and less knowing, at least as they thought; who may be intended by the former (goats).

Another reference to goats and evil is Zechariah 10:3: "My anger is kindled against the shepherds, And I will punish the male goats; For the LORD of hosts has visited His flock, the house of Judah, And will make them like His majestic horse in battle." This again represent goats as the wicked.

The devil is often portrayed with goat-like features, suggesting that the Biblical mode of Being of goats is equivalent with the mode of Being of the devil. Jordan Peterson explains in one of his lectures what this mode is by the poet Paradise Lost. John Milton describes Lucifer as God's highest angel, the bringer of light, the personification of rationality falling in love with its totalitarian creation that rebels against God (the transcendent mythological representation of of Being) out of hubris and as a result was cast into hell (e.g. caused suffering).

So as goats represent the devil and the devil represents rationalist constructions of totalitarian potential, it makes sense why the French revolutionaries could be seen as devilish goats. The French-Continental Enlightenment, as I previously explained, is characterised as being radical, rationalist, perfectionist, dogmatic, all-encompassing and resulted in the Reign of Terror.

Back to Ezekiel 34:17, the goats are seen as oppressive but also less knowing. This is again a reference to the nature of the intellectual rationalist, who is blinded by its own hubris and while conjuring up the perfect system, doesn't have the deeper knowledge of Being. It is more nuanced. In the Stoic tradition, evil is seen not as ignorance but as the absence of wisdom, of understanding. Glenn Hughes described Nazi's as intelligent but stupid, as oxymoronic that sounds. Rationalists lack wisdom and understanding, thinking they do good but as a consequence cast society into hell. The cure is not more rationality, but understanding, which religion and philosophy provides.

Sam(m)ael or Satanel, the Adversary of God

As discussed before, Jordan B. Peterson's account of the Devil restricts itself to Paradise Lost. However, in this tale the Devil's angelic name is referred to as Lucifer, which means "morning and evening star".

Well, Lucifer isn't an angelic name. Almost all of the angels have a name that ends with -el (Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, etc.), with El meaning God (so all the name means <> of God, Gabriel being "Man of God", "God has shown Himself Mighty", "Hero of God" or "Strong one of God", Raphael being "God is Healing" or "Healing one of God" and Michael being "Who is like God?"). So if it is true that the Devil was once an angel, he's name should be something with -el.

The only Biblical account of the Fallen Angels, is in the Books of Enoch (1 Enoch, 2 Enoch and 3 Enoch). These books are considered apocryphal, meaning non-canonical because they detail the accounts of the fallen angels, which was considered blasphemous by the Jews (as angels were pure). The Ethiopian Jews however, do consider 1 Enoch to be canonical.

Enoch is the great-grandfather of Noah. In Genesis, Enoch is mentioned to walk with God and unlike others, didn't die but was taken by God before his time (Abraham, Noah, Moses and other important characters enjoyed the same privilege). In 3 Enoch, it is revealed Enoch became the archangel called Metatron, the chief of angels and sits to the right-side of God.

In 1 Enoch, the fall is explained in section two, chapters 6 till 10. The crime they committed was mating with the women of man, resulting in the Nephilim (Genesis 1:6-4), or Giants. It states the chefs: "And these are the names of their leaders: Samlazaz, their leader, Araklba, Rameel, Kokablel, Tamlel, Ramlel, Danel, Ezeqeel, Baraqijal, Asael, Armaros, Batarel, Ananel, Zaq1el, Samsapeel, Satarel, Turel, Jomjael, Sariel. These are their chiefs of tens.

The descendants of these fallen angels would eventually lead to the deluge (of which Noah, Enoch's great-grandchild) would be the sole survivor. The archangels Uriel, Raphael, Gabriel and Michael would simultaneously kick out the rebellious angels.

However, the much later 2 Enoch chapter 18 tells a slightly different story:
And they said to me: These are the Grigori, who with their prince Satanail rejected the Lord of light, and after them are those who are held in great darkness on the second heaven, and three of them went down on to earth from the Lord’s throne, to the place Ermon, and broke through their vows on the shoulder of the hill Ermon and saw the daughters of men how good they are, and took to themselves wives, and befouled the earth with their deeds, who in all times of their age made lawlessness and mixing, and giants are born and marvellous big men and great enmity
Chapter 29 states something slightly different:
2 And from the rock I cut off a great fire, and from the fire I created the orders of the incorporeal ten troops of angels, and their weapons are fiery and their raiment a burning flame, and I commanded that each one should stand in his order.
3 And one from out the order of angels, having turned away with the order that was under him, conceived an impossible thought, to place his throne higher than the clouds above the earth, that he might become equal in rank to my power.
4 And I threw him out from the height with his angels, and he was flying in the air continuously above the bottomless.
Satanail, that's a familiar name! Sometimes spelled Satanel, we know that angel as simply Satan. Chapter 29 however visits the Luciferian theme of hubris and deep fall into Hell. But how is it that the leader in 1 Enoch is Samyaza, while 2 Enoch states Satanel? Well, while Samlazaz (also called Semjaza) was the leader, Satanel was considered the prince. As 200 angels fell, only 19 chiefs are named, the 20th being Satanel. In chapter 40 of 1 Enoch, the fallen angels are colloquial referred to as Satans, supporting that Satanel, not Samyaza, is the true instigator.

What is interesting is the following: (Ha-)Satan is Hebrew for "the Adversary" or "the Accuser". In the Hebrew tradition is Satan more of a title (for those who oppose God, human or other). The theme of the Accuser of Adversary returns in the Bible, but this time in the Book of Job. In a first account, the Satan tries to tempt Job to sin against God. In Chronicles, the Satan also tempts King David (but he failed, so an angel killed seventy thousand people died). But both times, God sanctioned the tempt and should the person failed, was punished accordingly by God.

The titel of Satan is in Jewish tradition reserved for only one heavenly being: Samael. Samael, sometimes also spelled Sammael and other variants, translates as "Poison of God" or "Severity of God". In the Dictionary of Angels, Samael is considered to be an archangel of good and evil. Samael is one of the many archangels of death, and also identified as an angel of destruction (Mashhit) (the angel that killed seventy thousand people? Yep that was Samael). He's also Esau's guardian angel.

He is often depicted as serpent-like. He is identified as the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The wording of Genesis 4:1 ("I have gotten a man from the Lord") also lead to speculation that Cain is actually the child of Eve and Samael. Jewish folklore also suggested that Lilith, the first but rejected wife of Adam, mated with Samael, their offspring being demons (such as Asmodai, meaning "Sword of Samael"). Yeah, that Samael can surely screw around!

Strangely, Sammael got associated with the Egyptian desert and storm god Set or Seth, the Greek storm god Typhon and the Philistine storm god Ba'al Hadad, shortly Ba'al and later transformed into the demonic name Beelzebub (Ba'al Zebub). It is purely speculative on my part, but maybe the fact storm gods are destructive gods and Sammael is the angel of destruction, might explain that association.

As the Egyptian god Seth rebelled against Osiris, this sounds the same as the rebellion of Satan against God. According to D. M. Murdock, Set is Satan, and also Apep, the Egyptian serpent that devours the sun god Ra or Re. However, I find this reading problematic. Yes, Set killed Osiris but he also fought against Apep, being one of the few gods that could resist Apep's stare (reminiscent of the basilisk stare). That's why there was a cult of Set in Egypt, he was also considered a hero. Also, besides this source and Peterson's statement, I couldn't find any reference that Set and Satan are the same etymologically.

However, what about Lucifer? Well, that is a title that god-kings gave themselves. The King of Babylon referred to himself as the morning- and evening star, in Isaiah 14:12-14, the prophet Isaiah said:
"How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
This has probably gave rise to the association of Lucifer and Satan. One last interesting note: Sammael is considered to be one of the patron angels of Egypt and which monarch called himself the morning- and evening star? The pharaoh.

To summarise: Samael, Satanel or Satan is known as the Adversary of God, opposing God in many ways. He's the deceiver, the liar and the destroyer. These are all motifs of chaos, and thus the left hand. However, in Jewish lore, Samael never "fell", explaining why God allows Samael (chaos) to continue to work in his service, even though Samael actively opposes God. This however means that God represents order.

Being a sheep

So we know what a goat is, but what is a sheep mode of being then? Two popular idioms state: be meek as a lamb or be gentle as a sheep. Meek is according to Jordan Peterson:
"Meek” [πραΰς] is not a good translation, or the word has moved in the 300 years [sic] or so since it was translated. What it means is this: ‘Those who have swords, and know how to use them, but keep them sheathed, shall inherit the world’…that’s a big difference.
However this is contested by Justin Shelby, being meek is more according to the commentary of Kelly:
"Meekness is not merely to have a sense of nothingness in ourselves, or to be filled with sorrow for the opposition to God here below; but it is rather the calmness which leaves things with God, and bends to God, and thankfully owns the will of God, even where naturally it may be most trying to ourselves."
If I translate this is common English, meekness is a kind of humble mentality towards life, a trusting attitude that God's providence. Sheep also symbolises a form of helplessness and guidance. If we trust in God (Being in the psychological reading), we trust that whatever happens in life, the good and the bad, should be met with patience. This echoes Jordan B. Peterson's rule to speak the truth: it is an act of faith towards Being.

However, as shown in one of the comments below Shelby's piece, meekness or praus is according to Bible Hub: "exercising God's strength under His control – i.e. demonstrating power without undue harshness". Meek or praos is "the necessary balance of exercising power and avoiding harshness". This corresponds more to Jordan B. Peterson's reading. Meekness, as symbolised by sheep, is a mode of being of forceful restraint in your responses. According to Jordan Peterson, it is what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount as offering your other cheek when slapped.

I'm no classical philologist, so I cannot judge what reading is right. But in the context of the Parable, both readings of the meek and gentle nature of sheep as the path to heaven are supported. Jesus states that the path of heaven is to help those in need, even if you don't realise it. If a stranger comes to your doorstep, having faith or showing restraint in dismissing him or her, gives a ticket to heaven. Or as the Biblical idiom in Matthew 5:5 states: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth

Left and Right Hand

RockingMrE connects the right hand and the left hand of Jesus with the right hand path and the left hand path in occultism. From the Wikipedia-page:
The Right-Hand Path is commonly thought to refer to magical or religious groups which adhere to a certain set of characteristics:
  • They divide the concepts of mind, body and spirit into three separate, albeit interrelated, entities.
  • They adhere to a specific moral code and a belief in some form of judgement, such as karma or the Threefold Law.  
The historian Dave Evans studied self-professed followers of the Left-Hand Path in the early 21st century, making several observations about their practices:
  • They often reject societal convention and the status quo, which some suggest is in a search for spiritual freedom. As a part of this, LHP followers embrace magical techniques that would traditionally be viewed as taboo, for instance using sex magic or embracing Satanic imagery.
  • They often question religious or moral dogma, instead adhering to forms of personal anarchism.
  • They often embrace sexuality and incorporate it into magical ritual.
The Luciferian hubris/Satanael opposition emerges again: the left-hand path questions the rules, while the right-hand path adheres the rules. In the Bible, the right hand symbolises strength, authority, sovereignty, blessing and ruler-ship.

This echoes the primary psychological division between order and chaos in the Petersonian sense. In his conversation with Dr. Ian McGilchrist, Peterson made the observation that the left-hemisphere regulates explored territory (order) while the right-hemisphere regulates unexplored territory (chaos). However, as your left hemisphere controls the right-side of your body and your right hemisphere controls the left-side of your body, this means that order is controlled by your right hand and chaos is controlled by your left hand.

However, Jordan B. Peterson strongly rejects the manichaeistic idea of the struggle between order and chaos as being a substitute struggle between good and evil. Chaos and order needs both in a proper balance according to him. What he represents as the proper path would be in between those two, with one leg in order and the other in chaos. So how can the left still be considered evil?

To answer that question, I need to discuss the symbology of God in Christianity vs. Judaism/Islam. In Judaism and Islam, it is forbidden to picture God. This is traced back to the Exodus story of the golden calf. This story warns about the dangers of idolatry. When you try to represent God in a figure, you risk reducing it till a second aspect so you start worshipping the wrong God.

This happened in Christianity. God was separated into three aspects as part of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. As God is symbolically pictured as the Father, God got reduced to the order aspect. As such it created an symbolical imbalance towards order, which pervaded into how we picture good and evil. God is considered good, so thus is order while its opposition is evil and chaos.

If you're wondering how this has to do with politics: everything. The Right believes in the natural law and order of things, in hierarchy and tradition. The Left opposes that, believing in their own capacity of reason, wishes to dispense with that. As such, God, as representing order, is associated with the Right and Satan, as representing chaos and the adversary, is associated with the Left.

In the French parliament, the monarchists seated right while the republicans seated left. Who seated in the middle? The king. Even today, the king (or queen) is supposed to stand above the political divisions. The king represents Jesus, the Son of the Holy Trinity who symbolically represents the path between order and chaos. The king is also the supreme judge, which Jesus also is in the parable.


It could very well be that the Left and Right in political terms are purely coincidental associated with progressive and conservative. However, this is unlikely.

In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus acts like a judge, putting sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left hand. The right hand and sheep are associated with those that walk with God, while the left hand and goats are associated with those that opposes God.

But what does God represent? The right hand path in occultism is considered to be the path that follows the natural order of things, while the left hand path deviates from the natural order. The left hemisphere of the brain (that controls the right side of the body) deals with that is known, while the right hemisphere of the brain (that controls the left side of the body) deals with the unknown.

This however means God is not the representation of only the path between order and chaos, but actually tilts towards order (hence his symbolic representation as the Father). Thus symbolically, he needed an adversary: Samael, Satanel or Satan. So the right hand or political Right is God and the left hand or political Left is Satan. As such, the Left and Right are in the same fashion seated in parliament. In the middle seats the King, Jesus, the Judge.

The analysis of symbolism is not in any way rocket-science, and I'm clearly no expert in it, but this is a humble attempt to explain something fundamental to political discourse and still shapes the way we think.

However, something changed recently. An inversion happened. The Left is put on the pinnacle of righteousness. The Right on the other hand is pushed into the role of adversary. This is pure speculation, but this symbolical inversion might translate psychologically in the increased polarisation.