Analysis of Branch Davidian Teachings


Any attempt to evaluate David Koresh and the Branch Davidians has to bring together a wide number of complex factors. This analysis will look at four aspects: the historical dynamic, the theological/Christian dimension, the spiritual/artistic perspecive and the lifestyle question.


The roots of Branch Davidians lie in the Seventh-day Adventist church. As with most radical religious groups, sociologically the SDA organisation made a decision to move into the conservative religious mainstream and isolate its more anti-social doctrines (the same movement can be seen in the development of a number of nineteenth century groups, such as Mormonism and Christian Science). Thus it is certainly the case that Branch Davidians are true to the original spirit of Seventh-day Adventism than the current denomination. When the SDA church first started it had a prophet from God and was constantly discovering "new light" (new doctrines) such as the seventh-day sabbath, the state of the dead, health and diet laws and so on. Once the prophet Ellen White had died, the church fixed its doctrines and institutions, the only changes being to become more "friendly" to the outside world.

The Branch Davidian history keeps the original spirit of Adventism alive, with the expectation that God will give his church a prophet, and will show new doctrines and new understandings of the Bible. This creates a much more radical understanding of God working in his church than the safe, institutionalised, sanitised organisation the SDA church has become. Koresh's Bible study attacks on the SDA church for having turned into just another part of Christianity are accurate and true.


Koresh developed very little of what could properly be called theology - he has no time for lengthly and complex philosophising, yet he certainly did have time for lengthly and complex Bible studies. If one wanted, it would be possible to understand his "philosophy" behind his thinking as a highly hermenutical, post-structuralist, post-Nietzschian maze of codes, symbols, overdetermined meanings and an intricate inter-relating of Bible, language and power.

Koresh's Bible studies have the ability to take different parts of the Bible and link them together. He will take a chapter from John, Revelation, Naham and and show how they are totally interconnected. As he starts of weave his spell the reader/listener thinks his references are simply random parts of the Bible, but then he starts of bring out a similarity here, a parallel there. He makes one text answer another. He shows the mystery about this story is explained in that story, and as the study progresses he his bringing things out of the Bible that appeared at the start totally impossible yet he has now demonstrated are completely logical. He does not explain by simplifying, but by complicating, but bringing out more and more and more relationships between different parts of the Bible and language. He adds layer onto layer, he does not analyse - break the complex into the simple - but always takes the simplicity of a verse, story, text and adds it to the vast swirling living river of truth. He was a poet of God, to "explain" what he meant would be like explaining a great poem. If someone was to write out what Eliot's _Four Quartets_ meant, it wouldn't really tell the reader its meaning, because all its power would be lost, it would be as "true" as the chemical constituents of a delicious meal, or the chemical elements of a flower.

Koresh's juxtaposing disparate elements of language and Bible creates a powerful field of symbolism and meaning. Derrida was thought to have revealed an extra level of meaning to Hegel and Genet when he placed their texts in parallel columns, but Koresh does this all the time with the Bible. His mastery of the Biblical symbolic is astounding, he is a Christian-Crowley, able to conjure up as extensive a range of indexes of life from the Bible as Crowely did from Tarot, Astology and Kabala.


Koresh was a second Blake with his visions of God, his apocalypse or revelation of God. Yet always the myths and symbols came back to Revelation and the seven seals. Revelation was the sea into which all other books ran. Revelation was the key (or even, the key to Revelation was the rest of the Bible). You could only understand Revelation when you had understood the rest of the Bible, you could only understand the rest of the Bible when you understood Revelation.

Revelation, the book of fire, was a fitting symbol for Koresh, for all its tragic overtones now. "He who is near me is near to the fire, he who is far from me is far from the kingdom" says Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas. Fish come from water, worms from the earth, birds from the air, but man comes from fire and has fire in his soul. Jesus said: I have cast fire upon the world and see, I guard it until the world is afire. Priests used to be the butchers of the ancient world, religion used to be able to contain blood and fire, its something which modern spirituality has lost. Koresh held this darkness within his teaching, but he wasn't a "Preacher of Death", because as Isaiah 45 says "I make peace and I create evil. I the Lord do all these things." Spirituality has to be strong enough to go beyond good and evil.

Now the Messiah is dead and the seed is sown.

Clear the air! clean the sky! wash the wind! take stone from stone and wash them.

The land is foul, the water is foul, our beasts and outselves defiled with blood...

We are soiled by a filth that we cannot clean, united to supernatural vermin,

It is not we alone, it is not the city that is defiled,

But the world that is wholly foul.

Clear the air! clean the sky! wash the wind! take the stone from the stone, take the skin from the arm, take the muscle from the bone, and wash them. Wash the stone, wash the bone, wash the brain, wash the soul, wash them wash them!