The “Seer” and the “Hearer”


Philo of Alexandria lived two thousand years ago, at the center of a dense web of exchanges and ideas, in a city where Africa, Asia and Europe meet. He is the author of a scholarly, hybrid and, according to him, inspired work.

« Sometimes I would come to work as if I were empty, and suddenly I was full, ideas would fall invisible from the heavens, spread out inside me like a shower. Under this divine inspiration, I was so excited that I no longer recognized anything, neither the place where I was, nor those who were there, nor what I was saying or writing. But on the other hand I was in full awareness of the richness of interpretation, the joy of light, of very penetrating views, of the most manifest energy in everything that had to be done, and all this had as much effect on me as the clearest eye evidence would have had on my eyes. »i

You either see or you don’t. The seer sees.

In the old days in Israel, when people went to consult God, they said, « Come, let us go to the seer. For he who is called the prophet today was once called the seer. « (1 Sam 9:9).

The “seer”. הָרֹאֶה . Ha-ro’eh.

After his fight in the dark night, without seeing his opponent, Jacob wanted to hear the name of the one he was fighting, or at least the sound of his voice. The ear, allied with the eye. Hearing united with seeing. But no name was revealed to him except his own. It was his own name, his real name, that he then learned. Only then, presumably, he « saw » after he « heard ».

Through the wisdom contained in his name, he was finally able to « see ». See what?

« It is necessary to make you emigrate, in search of your father’s land, the land of the sacred word, the land of the father of those who practice virtue. This land is wisdom. »ii

Wisdom is a land, which is a light, – a light that sees, a light that sees itself, a light that sees us. It is splendour. The sun is a very weak metaphor for it.

Above all, like the sun, wisdom brings life.

Philo, the wise Alexandrian, wanted to « see », like the ancients:

« If the voice of mortals is addressed to the ear, the oracles tell us that the words of God are, like light, things ‘seen’. It is said, ‘All the People saw the voice’ (Ex. 20:15) instead of ‘heard the voice’. For indeed there was no shaking of the air due to the organs of the mouth and tongue; there was the splendour of virtue, identical to the source of reason. The same revelation is found in this other form: ‘You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven’ (Ex. 20:18), instead of ‘you have heard’, always for the same reason. There are occasions when Moses distinguishes between what is heard and what is seen, hearing and sight. ‘You heard the sound of words, and saw no form but a voice’ (Deut. 4:12). »iii

Seeing the voice! Seeing the word! Rather than « hearing it »…

The senses are not separate. They are together. The taste is tasted and the sight is illuminated. We admire the robe of the grand cru, we smell its bouquet before savouring it. The touch, the caresses, you can enjoy them with your eyes closed, and seeing the hand magnifies them, afterward, as a bonus.

Seeing ‘voices’, hearing their roar or their sweetness, tasting their gall or their honey, feeling their breath, their air.

But what about the divine Voice? Does it have a smell? A taste? Does it touch or graze?

If we are to believe Tradition, only the splendour of the Voice seemed to be revealed – and for the People, it was inaudible. It was only visible.

One may « see » the Voice. And when one has « seen » it, the most difficult thing remains: « hearing » it.

iPhilo, De migratione Abrahami, 35

iiDe migr. Abr., 28

iiiDe Migr. Abr., 47

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