The knowledge of immortality (Hermes and Moses)

Towards the end of the 15th century, Marsilius Ficinus summed up the whole of « ancient theology » in six emblematic names: Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, Aglaophemus, Pythagoras, Philolaos, and Plato. In his mind, these characters formed one and the same ‘sect of initiates’, transmitting knowledge, wisdom and secrets to each other.

The first link in this long chain of initiation was Hermes Trismegistus, « three times very great », of whom Plato himself is only a distant disciple.

Well after Plato, in the 2nd century AD, the Corpus Hermeticum appeared, supposedly bringing back the essence of this ancient knowledge. The first Book of the Corpus is called after Poimandres, a Greek name meaning « the shepherd of man ».

In this Book, Hermes tells of his encounter with Poimandres:

« Who are you then?

– I am Poimandres (the « shepherd of man »), the Sovereign Intelligence. I know what you desire, and I am with you everywhere.”

Poimandres then enlightens the mind of Hermes, who expresses himself in the first person to recount his vision: « I am living an indefinable spectacle. Everything became a soft and pleasant light that charmed my sight. Soon afterwards, a frightful and horrible darkness descended in a sinuous form; it seemed to me as if this darkness was changing into some kind of damp and troubled nature, exhaling a smoke like fire and a kind of gloomy noise. Then there came out an inarticulate cry which seemed to be the voice of light.”

« Have you understood what this vision means?  » asks Poimandres. « This light is me, the Intelligence, – your God, who precedes the wet nature out of darkness. The luminous Word that emanates from Intelligence is the Son of God.

– What do you mean, I replied.

– Learn this: what you see and hear in you is the Word, the word of the Lord; intelligence is the Father God. They are not separated from one another, for the union is their life.

– I thank you, I replied.

– Understand the light, he said, and know it. »

We can deduce from the words of Poimandres that « vision » is only a glimpse of the mystery, not its end. Understanding is not knowing, and knowing is not understanding. This is an essential principle of Gnosis.

At the time when the Corpus Hermeticum was composed, the Roman Empire reached its apogee. The Pax romana reigned from Brittany (England) to Egypt, from Tingitan Mauritania to Mesopotamia. The emperor was considered a god. Marcus Aurelius had to fight against the Barbarians on the Danube front, but the invasions and serious crises of the 3rd century had not begun.

Christianity was still only a ‘superstition’ (superstitio illicita) among many others. The cult of Mithra dominated in the Roman armies, and the influence of the Eastern and Gnostic cults was significant. Hermeticism took its place in this effervescence.

Hermetic formulas undoubtedly originated several centuries earlier, and thus well before the Gospel of John, written at the end of the 1st century AD.

But as transcribed in the Poimandres, these formulas are striking in the simplicity and ease with which they seem to prefigure (or repeat?) some of the formulas of the Gospel of John. According to John, Christ is the Word of God, His Logos. Christ is the Son of God, and he is also « One » with Him. Would John have been sensitive to any hermetic influence? Or was it the opposite, the hermeticism of Poimandres mimicking Christian ideas?

Hermetic formulas do not copy the Johannine metaphors, nor do they duplicate them in any way. Under the apparent analogy, significant discrepancies emerge.

Hermeticism, however heraldable it may be to certain aspects of Christian theology, is certainly distinguished from it by other features, which belong only to it, and which clearly refer to Gnosis – from which Christianity very early wanted to distance itself, without, moreover, totally escaping its philosophical attraction.

Poïmandres says, for example, that the Sovereign of the world shows the image of his divinity to the « inferior nature ». Nature falls in love with this image, an image that is none other than man. Man too, seeing in the water the reflection of his own form, falls in love with his own nature (or with himself?) and wants to possess it. Nature and man are therefore closely united by mutual love.

Poïmandres explains: « This is why man, alone among all the beings living on earth, is double, mortal in body and immortal in essence. Immortal and sovereign of all things, he is subject to the destiny that governs what is mortal; superior to the harmony of the world, he is captive in his bonds; male and female like his father, and superior to sleep he is dominated by sleep.”

Then comes man’s ascent among the powers and towards God. By uniting with man, nature successively generates seven « men » (male and female), who receive their soul and intelligence from « life » and « light », in the form of air and fire.

This succession of « men » is an allegory of the necessary evolution of human nature. Various human natures must succeed one another through the historical ages.

Man must finally reach the stage where he/she strips him/herself of all the harmonies and beauties of the world. With only his/her own power left, he/she reaches an « eighth nature ».

In this eighth stage the « powers » reign, « ascending » towards God, to be reborn in Him.

Poimandres concluded his speech to Hermes with the following words: « This is the final good of those who possess Gnosis, – to become God. What are you waiting for now? You have learned everything, you only have to show the way to men, so that through you God may save the human race.”

Then began the mission of Hermes among Humankind: « And I began to preach to men the beauty of religion and Gnosis: peoples, men born of the earth, immersed in the drunkenness, sleep and ignorance of God, shake off your sensual torpor, wake up from your foolishness! Why, O men born of the earth, do you surrender yourselves to death, when you are allowed to obtain immortality? Come back to yourselves, you who walk in error, who languish in ignorance; depart from the dark light, take part in immortality by renouncing corruption ».

Who was Hermes Trismegistus really? A syncretic entity? A Ptolemaic myth? A pagan Christ? A Gnostic philosopher? A theological-political creation?

Through his ideas, Hermes Trismegistus embodied the fusion of two cultures, Greek and Egyptian. He is both the god Hermes of the Greeks, messenger of the gods and conductor of souls (psychopompos), and the god Thoth of ancient Egypt, who invented hieroglyphics and helped Isis to gather the scattered members of Osiris.

I stand by the interpretation of Marsilius Ficinus. Hermes is the first of the « ancient theologians ».

One lends only to the rich. In the 4th century B.C., Hecateus of Abatea had written that Thot-Hermes was the inventor of writing, astronomy and the lyre.

Artapan, in the 2nd century BC, even saw in him a figure of Moses.

Hermes in fact spoke, like Moses, with God. He too was given the mission of guiding mankind towards the Promised Land, the land that has a name: the knowledge of immortality.

« Je suis hier et je connais le matin » (ou: l’épectase d’Osiris)

Il y a cinq mille ans, N., un Égyptien anonyme est mort. Était-il homme du peuple ou scribe, prêtre ou prince ? Peu importe en fait. Il a été embaumé, momifié et placé selon les rites dans un caveau sec et secret, sur la rive occidentale du Nil. Favorisée par les chants du rituel, ayant retrouvé son nom, et défendu sa vie passée, l’âme de N. a été justifiée et admise à continuer son périple céleste. Elle poursuit son voyage vers l’Amenti, la demeure du Dieu. Elle a pour l’heure, déjà été transformée en Osiris N., ce qui représente une sacrée promotion, car elle participe maintenant de la nature de la Divinité.

Elle peut maintenant parler en son nom, et les chants rituels ici-bas transmettent sa voix, pour le bénéfice de toute l’assemblée des hommes:

« Je suis hier et je connais le matin. »i

Le Livre des morts commente :

« Il l’explique : hier, c’est Osiris ; le matin, c’est Ra, dans ce jour où il a écrasé les ennemis du Seigneur universel, et où il a donné le gouvernement et le droit à son fils Horus. Autrement dit, c’est le jour où nous célébrons la rencontre du cercueil d’Osiris par son père Ra. »ii

Emmanuel de Rougé commente ce commentaire : « La formule me paraît exprimer l’unité du temps par rapport à l’être éternel ; hier et le lendemain sont le passé et le futur également connus de Dieu. La glose introduit pour la première fois le mythe d’Osiris. Elle donne Osiris comme le type du passé sans limites qui précède la constitution de l’univers, accompagnée par la victoire du soleil sur les puissances désordonnées. Ra est ici une véritable transfiguration d’Osiris, puisque Horus est appelé son fils. La seconde glose nous montre, au contraire, Osiris comme fils de Ra. »iii

Le traité de Plutarque « Sur Isis et Osiris » montre que la figure d’Osiris peut avoir des sens bien différents. Osiris est à la fois père et fils de Ra. Comme indiqué dans un article précédent, Osiris est vis-à-vis de lui-même, engendreur et engendré.

« Il a livré un grand combat avec les dieux, sur l’ordre d’Osiris, seigneur de la montagne d’Amenti. »iv

Le Livre des Morts commente :

« Il l’explique : l’Amenti, c’est le lieu où sont les âmes divinisées, sur l’ordre d’Osiris, seigneur de la montagne d’Amenti. Autrement, l’Amenti est le lieu marqué par le dieu Ra ; quand chaque dieu y arrive, il y soutient un combat. »v

L’Amenti est l’Occident, – c’est-à-dire le séjour des morts. C’est aussi le dieu en tant que plongé dans la Nuit, et qui paraît garder une sorte de prééminence sur le dieu du Jour, Ra, puisque c’est sur l’ordre d’Osiris que Ra combat les autres dieux, sur la montagne d’Amenti. Quels autres dieux ? Les dieux des ténèbres et de la mort. Leur victoire se révélait dès l’aube suivante. Le dieu par sa lumière nouvelle prouvait sa victoire sur la Nuit, et revenait au Jour à l’Orient du monde.

L’idée implicite est que la divinité se renouvelle constamment. Elle se régénère sans fin, dans ce cycle de mort provisoire, de combat furieux, et de résurrection solaire. Horus était nommé « le vieillard qui se rajeunit »vi. L’expression « âme divinisée » doit être comprise dans ce sens, qui est une autre manière d’évoquer la vie éternelle.

N. reprend son récit :

« Je connais le Grand Dieu qui réside dans l’Amenti. »vii

Le Livre des Morts commente :

« Il l’explique : c’est Osiris. Autrement l’adoration de Ra est son nom ; l’âme de Ra est son nom, c’est celui qui jouit en lui-même. »viii

On apprend ainsi que c’est Osiris qui est le Grand Dieu de l’Amenti, le Dieu suprême. Mais alors qui est Ra ? Ra est son symbole, il est le disque solaire vu comme symbole de la Divinité.

Osiris jouit en lui-même. Emmanuel de Rougé, qui l’a traduit de l’original, souligne la force de l’expression hiéroglyphique. Il s’agit littéralement de la jouissance charnelle, poussée à l’extrême. Comment interpréter une telle jouissance charnelle, fût-elle allégorique, du point de vue du Dieu ? L’idée qui s’en rapprocherait le plus pourrait être celle d’épectase, mot dont on sait le double sens.

On pourrait ici lui en attribuer un troisième. L’épectase d’Osiris serait alors une autre manière de décrire, par une image humaine et crue, la perpétuelle génération divine dont il est le symbole.

N., comme une sorte d’émetteur Wi-Fi, branché sur les secrets divins, transmet en direct, aux hommes en peine, son savoir nouveau.

« Je suis ce grand Vennou qui apparaît dans An ; je suis la loi de l’existence et des êtres. »ix

Le Livre des morts commente :

« Il l’explique : Le Vennou, c’est Osiris dans An. La loi de l’existence et des êtres, c’est son corps. Autrement, c’est toujours et l’éternité : toujours, c’est le jour ; l’éternité, c’est la nuit. »x

An, c’est Héliopolis. Le Vennou c’est un oiseau mythique, qui renaît sans cesse, une sorte de préfiguration égyptienne du Phoenix grec. Selon l’égyptologue Heinrich Karl Brugsch, Vennou est l’un des noms sacrés de la planète Vénus, connue pour ses apparitions au matin et au soir.

Selon Emmanuel de Rougé, le papyrus du Louvre n° 3089 donne une variation de la seconde partie du verset: « Je fais la loi des mondes et des êtres. »xi

Une version plus ancienne encore donne ce commentaire : « Les êtres, c’est sa semence, c’est son corps. » Selon E. de Rougé, ce dernier texte, qui n’est qu’une glose plus tardive du Rituel, implique une sorte de panthéisme qui divinise la création et fait une émanation de la substance divine. Cette interprétation ne correspond pas au texte originel (« Je suis la loi de l’existence et des êtres ») qui pose la Divinité comme principe suprême de sa création, déterminant ses lois générales, mais sans rien dévoiler de sa véritable essence, et sans s’y mêler substantiellement ou par quelque émanation.

Le mot « toujours » (hiéroglyphe hah) prend le soleil comme déterminatif, ainsi que toutes les expressions qui se rapportent au temps. Ce temps est celui du « jour », c’est-à-dire le temps du monde tel qu’il se déroule depuis le commencement de la création.

Le mot « éternité », en revanche, se réfère à la « nuit éternelle » qui a précédé le « temps » et le « jour ». C’est la nuit primordiale, qui a précédé toutes choses.

Sur le plan symbolique et mythologique, c’est Atoum (le Dieu qui se défini en se niant Lui-même, comme l’indique l’étymologie du mot, tem) qui précède Ra.

Quelques moments plus tard, l’âme de N. s’écrie, et l’on entend encore l’écho de sa voix après cinq millénaires, telle que relayée par le Livre des Morts :

« Vous qui êtes en présence du Dieu, tendez vers moi vos bras, car je deviens l’un de vous. »xii

Mais la montée de l’âme est loin d’être terminée.

La suite dans un prochain article…

iEmmanuel de Rougé. Études sur le rituel funéraire des anciens Égyptiens. Librairie académique Didier, Paris, 1860, p.44 . Verset 5 du Chapitre XVII du Livre des morts.

iiIbid. p.44

iiiIbid. p.44

ivEmmanuel de Rougé. Études sur le rituel funéraire des anciens Égyptiens. Librairie académique Didier, Paris, 1860, p.44 . Verset 6 du Chapitre XVII du Livre des morts.

vIbid. p.45

viIbid. p.45

viiEmmanuel de Rougé. Études sur le rituel funéraire des anciens Égyptiens. Librairie académique Didier, Paris, 1860, p.45 . Verset 7 du Chapitre XVII du Livre des morts.

viiiIbid. p.45

ixEmmanuel de Rougé. Études sur le rituel funéraire des anciens Égyptiens. Librairie académique Didier, Paris, 1860, p.45 . Verset 8 du Chapitre XVII du Livre des morts.

xIbid. p.46

xiIbid. p.46

xiiEmmanuel de Rougé. Études sur le rituel funéraire des anciens Égyptiens. Librairie académique Didier, Paris, 1860, p.45 . Verset 50 du Chapitre XVII du Livre des morts.

Absent Dream

The Song of songs, at the core of the Hebraic Bible, has accustomed the faithful, in Judaism and in Christianity, to the idea that the celebration of love, with human words and not without quite crude images, could also be a metaphor for the Love between the soul and God.

However, this very idea can also be found in the Veda, – with an anteriority of at least one thousand years over the Bible. This incites us to consider why, for so many millennia, persisted the metaphor of human love as applied to the union of the human soul with the Divinity.

The Veda is the oldest text, conserved for the benefit of mankind, that testifies to the idea of the Divinity’s love for the human soul, – as improbable as it may be thought, considering the nothingness of the latter.

« As the creeper holds the tree embraced through and through, so embrace me, be my lover, and do not depart from me! As the eagle strikes the ground with its two wings, so I strike your soul, be my lover and do not depart from me! As the sun on the same day surrounds heaven and earth, so do I surround your soul. Be my lover and do not depart from me! Desire my body, my feet, desire my thighs; let your eyes, your hair, in love, be consumed with passion for me!”i

A comparative anthropology of the depths is possible. Its main advantage is that it allows us to give some relativity to much later, idiosyncratic and ‘provincial’ assertions, and above all to confirm the fruitfulness of research into the very essence of common human intuition.

This research is one of the bases of the Future Dream, whose’ absence crushed, wounded modernity suffers so much from.

iA.V. VI, 8-9

Cannabis and the Root of Roots

Ayahuasca has always been used as a hallucinogenic drink by the shamans of Amazonia to enter a trance, during sacred divination or healing rituals. This extremely ancient practice was already proven in pre-Colombian times.

In the Quechua language, aya means « spirit of the dead » and huasca means « liana ». Many Amazonian tribes know ayahuasca by other names: caapi in Tupi, natem in Jivaro, yajé in Tukano.

Ayahuasca is prepared as a decoction of a mixture of the bark and stems of a vine of the Banisteriopsis genus and rubiaceae of the Psychotria genus.

The psychotropic principle is due to these rubiaceae. Chemically, it is DMT (the alkaloid N,N-dimethyltryptamine), which is generally inactive when ingested orally, as it is degraded by the monoamine oxidases in the digestive tract. But the bark of the Banisteriopsis vine contains powerful inhibitors of these monoamines. The ayahuasca decoction releases the potency of DMT’s effects on the brain through the combination of two distinct substances working synergistically. It took the first shamans some knowledge of the pharmacopoeia.

DMT is highly hallucinogenic. Its chemical structure is close to psilocin and serotonin. It has been shown that the human body can also produce DMT naturally, through the pineal gland.

Shamanism, the first natural religion of mankind and widespread throughout the world, very early on found a link between certain natural substances, hallucinatory visions and the experience of imminent death. It was not until the 1960s that specialists in brain chemistry were able to objectify this link, identify the neurochemical mechanisms and neurotransmitters involved – without, however, answering the most important question.

Is the brain a purely self-centred organ, entirely immersed in its neurochemical microcosm? Or is it open to a back world, a world above, an elsewhere? Is the brain a simple machine operating locally, or is it also an interface, serving as an antenna, a gateway, a link with a higher universe?

From the facts reported above, two interpretations can reasonably be drawn.

The first interpretation is materialistic. Everything is chemical and electrical in the brain, dreams, visions, life, death. The brain, in its complexity, is essentially made up of a tangle of physico-chemical links, referring only to themselves, and produced by a kind of spontaneous generation.

The second interpretation, the one followed by the oldest religions of humanity, including shamanism and Vedism, is that the brain occupies the privileged place as the frontier between nature and the supernatural.

DMT is only a molecule, but it is also a kind of key that opens the door to the supernatural, and above all reveals the continuity and congruence of the links between the plants of the Amazonian forest, the brain cells, and the vision of the divine.

The materialist vision is content to note that the chemistry of the brain, in its complexity, can under certain conditions provoke extreme experiences.

This would be explained by the powerful affinity between certain molecules and neuroreceptors in the brain. Thus it is established that the active principle of Cannabis, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), has a very high affinity for the CB1 receptor found on the membranes of brain cells (in the hippocampus, associative cortex, cerebellum, basal ganglia), spinal cord, heart, intestines, lungs, uterus and testicles.

But this explanation, all mechanical, does not reveal the link between this neurochemical affinity and the nature of the worlds revealed to the initiates, and also revealed to those who have actually experienced imminent death.

There is a priori no congruence between the experience of orgasmic pleasure, which James Olds showed as early as 1952 that it could be provoked ad libitum by stimulating the septal area of the brain, and the experience of a divine vision, or the certainty of having had a glimpse, however fleeting, of the beyond.

Yet both phenomena can be reduced, according to the materialist approach, to neurochemical mechanisms.

There are many other possible theories as to the origin of the higher phenomena of which the brain is capable, and in particular the appearance of consciousness. In a short, visionary book, the great American psychologist William James proposed a theory of the « transmission » of consciousness, as opposed to the theory of the « production » of consciousness by the brain alone.i

William James likens the brain to an ‘antenna’ capable of perceiving sources of consciousness located in the beyond. Of course, this option may seem fantastical to materialistic minds. It is today experimentally unprovable. But it is a promising research option, it seems to me. It allows us to draw a line, admittedly imprecise, but productive, between the primary forest, the neural interlacing, the galactic depths, and even between all that precedes them, perhaps explains them, and the whole world of phenomena.

Above all, this research option is not incompatible but, on the contrary, perfectly coherent with the immense fund of experiences, resources, testimonies, accumulated by all the religions of humanity since the origins of human consciousness.

All religions have prided themselves on contemplating the most intimate links of the mind and soul with higher realities. This is, for example, the theory of Zohar, which dates back to the Middle Ages, and which explicitly links the root of the human soul to the « Root of All Roots », that is to say, to the Master of all worlds.

iWilliam James. Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to the Doctrine. The Ingersoll Lectures. Cambridege, 1898.“But in the production of consciousness by the brain, the terms are heterogeneous natures altogether; and as far as our understanding goes, it is as great a miracle as if we said, Thought is ‘spontaneously generated,’ or ‘created out of nothing.’ The theory of production is therefore not a jot more simple or credible in itself than any other conceivable theory. It is only a little more popular. All that one need do, therefore, if the ordinary materialist should challenge one to explain how the brain can be an organ for limiting and determining to a certain form a consciousness elsewhere produced, is to retort with a tu quoque, asking him in turn to explain how it can be an organ for producing consciousness out of whole cloth. For polemic purposes, the two theories are thus exactly on a par. But if we consider the theory of transmission in a wider way, we see that it has certain positive superiorities, quite apart from its connection with the immortality question.Just how the process of transmission may be carried on, is indeed unimaginable; but the outer relations, so to speak, of the process, encourage our belief. Consciousness in this process does not have to be generated de novo in a vast number of places. It exists already, behind the scenes, coeval with the world. The transmission-theory not only avoids in this way multiplying miracles, but it puts itself in touch with general idealistic philosophy better than the production-theory does. It should always be reckoned a good thing when science and philosophy thus meet. » 

A God with no Name

The intuition of mystery has touched humanity from the earliest ages. Eight hundred thousand years ago, men carried out religious rites accompanying the death of their loved ones, in a cave near Beijing, at Chou Kou Tien. Skulls were found there, placed in a circle and painted in red ochre. They bear witness to the fact that almost a million years ago, men believed that death was a passage.

Fascination with other worlds, a sense of mystery, confrontation with the weakness of life and the rigor of death, seem to be part of the human genetic heritage, since the dawn of time, inhabiting the unconscious, sculpting cultures, knotting myths, informing languages.

The idea of the power of the divine is an extremely ancient idea, as old as humanity itself. It is equally obvious that the minds of men all over the world have, since extremely ancient times, turned towards forms of animism, religions of immanence or even religions of ecstasy and transcendent trance, long before being able to speculate and refine « theological » questions such as the formal opposition between « polytheism » and « monotheism ».

Brains and cultures, minds and languages, were not yet mature.

Animism, shamanism, polytheism, monotheism, and the religions of the immanence try to designate what cannot be said. In the high period, the time of human dawn, all these religions in -isms obviously came together in a single intuition, a single vision: the absolute weakness of man, the irremediable fleetingness of his life, and the infinite greatness and power of the unknown.

Feeling, guessing, fearing, worshipping, revering, this power was one and multiple. Innumerable names throughout the world have tried to express this power, without ever reaching its intrinsic unity.

This is why the assertion of the monotheisms that « God is One » is both a door that has been open for millions of years and at the same time, in a certain way, is also a saying that closes our understanding of the very nature of the « mystery », our understanding of how this « mystery » has taken root in the heart of the human soul, since Homo knew himself to be a sapiens

In the 17th century, Ralph Cudworth was already tackling the « great prejudice » that all primitive and ancient religions had been polytheistic, and that only « a small, insignificant handful of Jews »i had developed the idea of a single God.

A « small insignificant handful of Jews »? Compared to the Nations, number is not always the best indicator. Another way to put the question is: was the idea of the One God invented by the Jews? If so, when and why? If not, who invented it, and for how long was it there around the world?

If we analyse the available sources, it would seem that this idea appeared very early among the nations, perhaps even before the so-called « historical » times. But it must be recognized that the Jews brought the idea to its incandescence, and above all that they « published » it, and « democratized » it, making it the essential idea of their people. Elsewhere, and for millennia, the idea was present, but reserved in a way to an elite.

Greek polytheism, the Sibylline oracles, Zoroastrianism, the Chaldean religion, Orphism, all these « ancient » religions distinguished a radical difference between multiple born and mortal gods, and a Single God, not created and existing by Himself. The Orphic cabal had a great secret, a mystery reserved for the initiated, namely: « God is the Whole ».

Cudworth deduced from the testimonies of Clement of Alexandria, Plutarch, Iamblichus, Horapollo, or Damascius, that it was indisputably clear that Orpheus and all the other Greek pagans knew a single universal deity who was « the One », and « the Whole ». But this knowledge was secret, reserved for the initiated.

Clement of Alexandria wrote that « All the barbarian and Greek theologians had kept the principles of reality secret and had only transmitted the truth in the form of enigmas, symbols, allegories, metaphors and other tropes and similar figures. « ii And Clement made a comparison between the Egyptians and the Hebrews in this respect: « The Egyptians represented the truly secret Logos, which they kept deep in the sanctuary of truth, by what they called ‘Adyta’, and the Hebrews by the curtain in the Temple. As far as concealment is concerned, the secrets of the Hebrews and those of the Egyptians are very similar.”iii

Hieroglyphics (as sacred writing) and allegories (the meaning of symbols and images) were used to transmit the secret arcana of the Egyptian religion to those who were worthy of it, to the most qualified priests and to those chosen to succeed the king.

The « hieroglyphic science » was entirely responsible for expressing the mysteries of theology and religion in such a way that they remained hidden from the profane crowd. The highest of these mysteries was that of the revelation of « the One and Universal Divinity, the Creator of the whole world, » Cudworth added.

Plutarch noted several times in his famous work, On Isis and Osiris, that the Egyptians called their supreme God « the First God » and considered him a « dark and hidden God ».

Cudworth points out that Horapollo tells us that the Egyptians knew a Pantokrator (Universal Sovereign) and a Kosmokrator (Cosmic Sovereign), and that the Egyptian notion of ‘God’ referred to a « spirit that spreads throughout the world, and penetrates into all things to the deepest depths.

The « divine Iamblichus » made similar analyses in his De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum.

Finally, Damascius, in his Treatise on First Principles, wrote that the Egyptian philosophers said that there is a single principle of all things, which is revered under the name of ‘invisible darkness’. This « invisible darkness » is an allegory of this supreme deity, namely that it is inconceivable.

This supreme deity has the name « Ammon », which means « that which is hidden », as explained by Manetho of Sebennytos.

Cudworth, to whom we owe this compilation of quotations, deduced that « among the Egyptians, Ammon was not only the name of the supreme Deity, but also the name of the hidden, invisible and corporeal Deity ».

Cudworth concludes that long before Moses, himself of Egyptian culture, and brought up in the knowledge of ‘Egyptian wisdom’, the Egyptians were already worshipping a Supreme God, conceived as invisible, hidden, outside the world and independent of it.

The One (to Hen, in Greek) is the invisible origin of all things and he manifests himself, or rather « hides » himself in the Whole (to Pan, in Greek).

The same anthropological descent towards the mysterious depths of belief can be undertaken systematically, notably with the oldest texts we have, those of Zend Avesta, the Vedas and their commentaries on Upaniṣad.

« Beyond the senses is the mind, higher than the mind is the essence, above the essence is the great Self, higher than the great [Self] is the unmanifested.

But beyond the unmanifested is Man, the Puruṣa, passing through all and without sign in truth. By knowing Him, the human being is liberated and attains immortality.

His form does not exist to be seen, no one can see it through the eye. Through the heart, through the intelligence, through the mind He is apprehended – those who know Him become immortal. (…)

Not even by speech, not even by the mind can He be reached, not even by the eye. How can He be perceived other than by saying: « He is »?

And by saying « He is » (in Sanskrit asti), He can be perceived in two ways according to His true nature. And by saying « He is », for the one who perceives Him, His true nature is established.

When all the desires established in one’s heart are liberated, then the mortal becomes immortal, he reaches here the Brahman.”iv

The Zohar also affirms: « The Holy One blessed be He has a hidden aspect and a revealed aspect. »

Aren’t these not « two ways » of perceiving the true nature of « He is »? Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhyn affirms: « The essence of the En-Sof (Infinite) is hidden more than any secret; it must not be named by any name, not even the Tetragrammaton, not even the end of the smallest letter, the Yod.” v

So what do all these names of God mean in the purest monotheism?

« R. ‘Abba bar Mamel says: The Holy One blessed be He says to Moshe: Do you want to know my Name? I name Myself after my deeds. Sometimes my name is El Shadday, Tsebaoth, Elohim, YHVY. When I judge creatures my name is Elohim, when I fight the wicked I am called Tsebaoth, when I suspend the faults of men I am El Shadday and when I take pity on the worlds I am YHVH. This Name is the attribute of mercy, as it is said: « YHVY, YHVH, merciful and compassionate God » (Ex. 34:6). Likewise: ‘Ehyeh, asher ‘Ehyeh (I am who I am) (Ex. 3:14) – I name myself after my deeds.”vi

These are very wise words, which invite us to ask ourselves what was the name of YHVH, 800,000 years ago, at Chou Kou Tien, when He saw the sorrow of these men and women, a small group of Homo sapiens in affliction and grief, assembled at the bottom of a cave.

iRalph Cudworth, True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678), quoted in Jan Assmann, Moïse l’Égyptien, 2001, p.138

iiClement of Alexandria, Stromata V, ch. 4, 21,4

iiiClement of Alexandria, Stromata V, ch.3, 19,3 and Stromata V, ch.6, 41,2

ivKaha-upaniad 2.3. 7-9 and 12-14. Upaniad. My translation into English from the French Translation by Alyette Degrâces. Fayard. 2014. p. 390-391

vRabbi Hayyim de Volozhyn. L’âme de la vie. 2ème Portique, ch. 2. Trad. Benjamin Gross. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1986, p.74

viIbid. 2ème Portique, ch. 3, p. 75.


In the Veda, Thought (manas) is one of the deepest metaphors of the Divine. Many other religions later celebrated the Divine Thought and sought to define some of its attributes. But reading in the Veda this original intuition, in all its emerging force, reinforces the idea that, for anyone, ones’ own thought, ones’ own faculty of thinking, has always been the source of a powerful astonishment, puts on the track of our origins, and uncovers the roots of our freedom.

« She in whom rest prayers, melodies and formulas, like the grapes at the hub of the chariot, she in whom is woven all the reflection of creatures, – the Thought: may what She conceives be favorable to me!”i

iṚgVéda X,71

Pa-Tu, l’Elohim des Anciens Egytiens

N. vient de mourir. La vallée du Nil verdoie. Le soleil est à son zénith, mais bientôt déclinera et disparaîtra, lui aussi, derrière l’horizon du désert, derrière le pays de l’Occident. Revivra-t-il le lendemain ? Revivra-t-il un jour ?

A la mise au tombeau de la momie, les psalmodies s’élèvent dans le petit matin.

Un Livre nous les a conservées. Son titre : « Portes de l’évocation des mânes ».

Les psaumes chantent « que N. sort, qu’il arrive dans Ker-Neter et fait partie de la suite d’Osiris, qu’il est nourri des mets d’Onnouwre le Justifié. »

Ker-Neter est le nom de la demeure des morts, et peut se traduire par ‘la Demeure divine inférieure’i. Onnouwre est un des noms d’Osiris. Il signifie ‘Être bon’, car Osiris est l’être bon par excellence, le Souverain bien’.

Les chants continuent. Ils disent que N. apparaît au jour, qu’il peut prendre toutes les formes qu’il lui plaît, qu’il porte désormais le nom d’Osiris N., qu’il a été justifié, qu’il est admis dans la demeure de la Sagesse.

On chante l’incroyable merveille et l’espoir fou, la résurrection de N., rendue possible par la puissance des paroles psalmodiées en accompagnement.

Isis avait montré la voie, qui avait rendu la vie à Osiris par ses paroles divines.

Les invocations rapportent à la famille du défunt, comme un reportage en direct, les premiers faits et gestes du nouveau défunt, dans sa nouvelle vie :

« L’Osiris N. dit : ‘Je suis Atoum, qui a fait le ciel, qui a créé tous les êtres, qui est apparu dans l’abîme céleste. Je suis Ra à son lever dans le commencement, qui gouverne ce qu’il a fait. Je suis Atoum, existant seul dans l’abîme céleste.’ »ii

Que signifie le nom d’Atoum ?

La racine du mot est tem, qui est le radical de la négation. Atoum le Dieu unique, suprême, Créateur de l’univers et de tous les êtres, ne peut se définir que négativement. Son nom est la négation de tout ce qu’il n’est pas. Théologie négative, apophatique, plus de trente siècles avant Plotin, Porphyre et Jamblique, et quarante-cinq siècles avant Jean de la Croix, Maître Echkart et Jacob Boehme.

Les noms divins Atoum comme Amoun sont apophatiques.

Les Anciens Égyptiens, deux mille ans avant le prophète Isaïe (« Vraiment tu es un Dieu qui se cache », Is 45,15), avaient donc déjà une certaine idée du Dieu caché. C’est d’ailleurs le sens d’un autre nom du Dieu : Amoun, ou Ammon, qui désigne le ‘Caché’, ou le ‘Transcendant’, l’ ‘Inaccessible’.

Le lieu de la demeure d’Atoum, cet être primordial, se nomme nu, mot déterminé par les hiéroglyphes du ciel et de l’eau. On le retrouve dans le mot copte noun par lequel furent, beaucoup plus tard, désignées les abîmes bibliques.iii

Dès le premier chant, on sait que N. est non seulement vivant, mais sauvé pour toujours, et surtout ´divinisé´ par participation à l’essence divine suprême, — que celle-ci porte le nom d’Osiris, de Ra ou d’Atoum, qui sont autant de manifestations de ses attributs.

La mélopée, funèbre et joyeuse à la fois, continue dans le brillant matin.

« Je suis le grand Dieu qui s’engendre Lui-même, je suis l’Eau, je suis l’abîme, père des dieux. »iv

Le Livre des morts commente chaque verset, comme une sorte de Talmud égyptien, deux ou trois mille ans avant les Talmuds de Babylone ou de Jérusalem.

« Il l’explique : Le grand Dieu qui s’engendre Lui-même, c’est Ra, c’est l’abîme, le père des dieux. »

Ce grand Dieu est-il Ra, dont le soleil est le signe ? Ou bien est-il aussi l’abîme primordial d’où sont engendrés les dieux ? N’est-il pas à la fois l’un et l’autre ?

Et quel est cet abîme ?

A la même époque, approximativement, et peut-être plus anciennement, vers le quatrième millénaire av. J.-C., à Sumer, on célébrait aussi l’Abysse, ou l’Abîme, comme figure de la divinité primordiale et originaire. Le nom sumérien de l’abysse est abzu, mot étymologiquement composé des cunéiformes AB 𒀊 ‘océan cosmique’ + ZU 𒍪, ‘connaître’.

On notera une sorte de dualité fondamentale réunie dans une unité transcendante.

Dualité du Tout cosmique ou de l’Océan primordial, AB, 𒀊, et du principe de la Sagesse et de la Connaissance, ZU, 𒍪.

L’abzu sumérien est aussi la demeure du Dieu Enki. Il est intéressant de souligner que le Dieu Enki , dieu de l’abîme originel, sera nommé plus tard Aya dans les langues sémitiques antiques, comme l’akkadien, – nom qui n’est pas sans analogie avec le nom hébreu יָהּ Yah de YHVH, qui représente les deux premières lettres יה du Tétragramme יהוה, et qui s’emploie dans l’expression הַלְלוּ-יָהּ Allélou Yah !v

L’idée sumerienne de l’abîme divin ne fut pas perdue, mais bien reprise par la Bible hébraïque, deux mille ans plus tard, avec d´autres notions cosmogoniques, mais aussi le récit du Déluge.

En hébreu, abysse se dit תְּהוֹם, tehom. Au début de la Genèse, alors que Dieu s’apprête à faire œuvre de Création, il est dit que des ténèbres couvraient « la face de l’Abîme »vi, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם, ‘al-pnéï tehom.

Et plus tard encore, le psalmiste, plongé en son tréfonds, implore : « et des abysses de la Terre remonte-moi ! »vii וּמִתְּהֹמוֹת הָאָרֶץ, תָּשׁוּב תַּעֲלֵנִי , vo-mi-tehomot ha-eretz tachouv ta ‘aléni.

On en déduit une sorte de permanence anthropologique de la notion,et son caractère quasi universel.

Pendant ce temps, sur le bord occidental du Nil, le chant continue d’étendre ses appels.

« C’est Ra qui crée son nom de Seigneur de la société des dieux. »viii

Le commentaire du Livre des morts explique :

« C’est Ra qui crée ses membres, ils deviennent les dieux associés à Ra. »

Emmanuel de Rougé commente le commentaire. « C’est une nouvelle manière d’envisager le dieu qui s’engendre lui-même. Cette formule nous explique comment les Égyptiens cherchaient à concilier leurs dieux multiples avec l’unité du premier principe, qu’ils affirment d’ailleurs d’une manière si absolue. Ces dieux associé à Ra sont des attributs. La société des dieux paraît impliquer dans son nombre parfait, neuf, c’est-à-dire trois fois trois, ou un pluriel d’excellence (…) Le terme qui correspond est pa-tu ; je le considère comme le participe du verbe pa (en copte PE) esse (être). Les principales variétés du mot sont pau-ti ou l’être double, considéré comme ´père et comme fils´, et pa-tu : la société des dieux adorés collectivement. On employait cette expression au singulier comme impliquant l’idée d’une unité complexe. C’est ainsi qu’on écrivait pa-tu aa-t, les dieux grande [sic]. La Genèse s’exprime d’une manière analogue dans les mots bara elohim, ‘créa les dieux’, où le sujet au pluriel gouverne un verbe au singulier.»ix

Le hiéroglyphe signifiant la « société des dieux », sorte d’équivalent égyptien de l’Elohim hébraïque s’écrit à l’aide de neuf symboles représentant chacun le mât totémique (qui à Sumer est aussi le symbole de la divinité suprême Inanna):

Hiérogyple de Pa-Tu, l’équivalent égyptien de Elohim

Ici, il est nécessaire de faire un petit développement sur ce point délicat mais essentiel.

Dans les langues sémitiques anciennes, il existe une règle, dont la grammaire de l’arabe classique a conservé la mémoire, selon laquelle le verbe, lorsqu’il précède son sujet exprimé, doit être mis toujours au singulier. Lorsque le sujet pluriel désigne des êtres doués de raison, on peut mettre le verbe au masculin ou au féminin singulier.x

Une autre règle stipule que les sujets pluriels d’êtres animés ‘non-humains’, tels que les dieux gouvernent aussi des verbes au singulier.

Notons incidemment que les femmes au pluriel gouvernent aussi les verbes au singulier, règle qui s’observe encore de nos jours dans l’arabe classique, mais dont l’hébreu moderne a perdu le souvenir

Un argument souvent employé (par des personnes ignorant les règles grammaticales des anciennes langues sémitiques) soutient que le mot elohim (à savoir le pluriel de el, dieu) dans l’expression de la Genèse berechit bara elohim, (בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים) ‘Dans le commencement, Elohim créa’, Gn 1,1 ) doit être compris comme un singulier, puisque le verbe bara ‘créa’ est à la 3ème personne du singulier. Cette ligne d’argumentation permet alors de conclure que le pluriel elohim désigne bien en réalité un Dieu unique, dont le nom est au pluriel.

Or du point de vue de la grammaire des anciennes langues sémitiques, le premier verbe de la Genèse, bara, précède son sujet, donc il est nécessairement au singulier, que Elohim soit un singulier ou un pluriel.

Par ailleurs Elohim est morphologiquement, avec sa désinence plurielle en –im, un pluriel d’être animés non-humains, comme le sont des divinités.

Les règles de la grammaire indiquent que ce type de pluriel gouverne toujours les verbes au singulier.

Il est fort révélateur de trouver, dans l´Egypte ancienne, une règle grammaticale comparable, celle d’un pluriel qui gouverne grammaticalement le singulier, dans le texte hiéroglyphique du Livre des Morts.

Continuons d’écouter la prière des Morts, par laquelle retentit la voix de N. comme venant de l’au delà, rassurer les vivants.

« Je suis celui qu’on n’arrête pas, parmi les dieux ».

N. parle comme s’il était Atoum qui poursuit sa route inarrêtable.

Le Livre des Morts a en effet ce commentaire : « C’est Atoum dans son disque ; autrement c’est Ra dans son disque, lorsqu’il luit à l’horizon oriental du ciel. »xi

Rougé commente : « Je pense qu’il s’agit de la force souveraine du Dieu suprême ; la glose conçue dans l’esprit d’un sabéisme complet l’applique aux deux soleils : Atoum, la forme obscure, précédant toujours Ra, le soleil lumineux. »xii

Là encore, il ne s’agit pas de deux dieux, ou de deux soleils, mais d’un seul Dieu, radicalement affirmé dès le premier verset comme unique et suprême, ce qui n’empêche pas cette unicité d’être compatible avec une certaine dualité, dont le symbole solaire est une illustration, par ses deux aspects, l’un diurne, l’autre nocturne, – l’un visible, l’autre caché (le soleil obscur qui continue son voyage solitaire dans la Nuit cosmique).

Cette dualité traduit une idée plus anthropologique qu’astronomique, la dualité père-fils, ou engendreur-engendré.

C’est aussi, par anagogie, une idée fondamentalement théologique.

Dans la religion égyptienne ancienne, le grand Dieu, unique et suprême, est cependant, d’une certaine manière, ´duel´, puisqu´il se définit comme celui qui toujours « s’engendre lui-même. »

Là encore, on trouve une réminiscence de cette intuition fondamentale, dans la Bible hébraïque, quelques deux mille ans plus tard, avec la parole de YHVH s’adressant à Moïse:

אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה

« Je serai qui je serai. » (Ex 3,14)


iEmmanuel de Rougé. Études sur le rituel funéraire des anciens Égyptiens. Librairie académique Didier, Paris, 1860, p.40

iiIbid. p.41. Verset 1 du Chapitre 17 du Rituel funéraire (aussi appelé Livre des Morts). La version rapportée ici est celle du manuscrit n° 3087 conservé au Louvre.

iiiIbid p.41

ivIbid p.42. Verset 2 du Chapitre 17 du Rituel funéraire

vPs 113 – 118

viGn 1,2

viiPs 71,20

viiiIbid. p.43. Verset 3 du Chapitre 17 du Rituel funéraire

ixIbid p.43

xCf. André d’Alverny. Cours de langue arabe. Ed. Dar El-Machreq, Beyrouth, 1999, p.47, § 43

xiIbid. p.43. Verset 4 du Chapitre 17 du Rituel funéraire

xiiIbid p.44

Loving Word

« In the beginning was the Word » (Jn 1,1)

More than thousand years before the Gospel of John, the Veda was already considering the Word as having a life of its own, a divine essence. The Vedic Word was a Divine Person. The Vedic Word was a prefiguration of the Psalms of David where, as in the Veda, Wisdom is personified as a female figure associated with the One God.

The Word (vāc) is the very essence of the Veda. « More than one who sees has not seen the Word. More than one who hears does not hear it. She has opened her body to him as she did to her husband, a loving woman in rich attire.”i

The Word, or Wisdom, or Vāc, is like the loving Sulamite of the Song of songs.

Those who know will understand.

iṚgVeda X,71

Metaphysics of Butter

The Rig Veda is the most ancient source we can draw from to try to understand what the nascent state of humanity was, – and to grasp the permanence of its dreams. Religion and society, then, were in a childhood that did not exclude a profound wisdom, more original than anything that antiquity could conceive of later, and of which Solomon himself was a distant heir.

For a long time unwritten, transmitted orally for millennia by pure thinkers and ascetics without fail, the memory of the Veda bears witness to a moment in humanity much older than the time of Abraham. When this prophet of the monotheism left Ur in Chaldea, around 1200 BC, for his exile to the North then to the South, many centuries had already passed over the Oxus valleys and the Indus basin. More than a millennium before Abraham, time had sedimented the deep memory of the Veda. Long before Abraham, Vedic priests celebrated the idea of a unique and universal deity. And Melchisedech himself, the oldest prophetic figure quoted in the Bible, is a partridge of the year, if we compare him to the obscure continuation of the times that preceded him, and which allowed his coming.

These ideas must be penetrated if we want to put an end to the drama of the exception and of history, and understand what humanity as a whole has been carrying within it from the beginning.

Man has always been possessed by an intuition of the Divine, and this intuition must be grasped by opening up to what remains of its origin. The Bible is a fairly recent document, and its price should not make us forget its relative youth. Its age goes back at most to a thousand years before our era. In contrast, the Veda is one or even two millennia older.

This is why I believe it is important to rely, even today, on the soul of the Veda, to try to understand the unity of the human adventure. And to sense its possible evolution – so much so that the past is one of the potential forms of the future.

To illustrate this point, I would like to propose a quick review of some of the images celebrated by the Veda, to show its universality and depth.

In ancient times, the melted butter (ghṛita) alone represented a kind of cosmic miracle. It embodied the cosmic alliance of the sun, nature and life: the sun, source of all life in nature, makes the grass grow, which nourishes the cow, which exudes its intimate juice, the milk, which becomes butter by the action of man (churning), and finally comes to flow freely as sôma on the altar of sacrifice to mingle with the sacred fire, to nourish the flame, to generate light, and to spread the odor capable of rising to the heavens, concluding the cycle. A simple and profound ceremony, originating in the mists of time, and already possessing the vision of the universal cohesion between the divine, the cosmos and the human.

“From the ocean, the wave of honey arose, with the sôma, it took on the form of ambrosia. This is the secret name of ‘Butter’, the language of the Gods, the navel of the immortal. (…) Arranged in three parts, the Gods discovered in the cow the Butter that the Paṇi had hidden. Indra gave birth to one of these parts, the Sun the second, the third was extracted from the wise man, and prepared by the rite. (…) They spring from the ocean of the Spirit, these streams of Butter a hundred times enclosed, invisible to the enemy. I consider them, the golden rod is in their midst. (…) They jump before Agni, beautiful and smiling like young women at the rendezvous; the streams of Butter caress the flaming logs, the Fire agrees with them, satisfied.”i

If one finds in ‘Butter’ connotations that are too domestic to be able to bear the presence of the sacred, it is thought that the Priests, Prophets and Kings of Israel, for example, did not fear being anointed with sacred oil, butter and chrism, the maximum concentration of meaning, where the product of the Cosmos, the work of men, and the life-giving power of God magically converge.

igVéda IV,58

Metaphysics of Hair

Hair is one of the oldest metaphors ever devised by the human brain. It is also a metonymy. The hair, is on the head, at the top of the man, above his very thoughts, also links with the divine sphere (this is why the Jews cover themselves with the yarmulke). But the hairs also covers the lower abdomen, and announces the deep transformation of the body, for life, love and generation. Finally, the fertile earth itself covers itself with a kind of hair when the harvest is announced. Here again, the ancient genius combines the Divine, Man and Nature in a single image.

A hymn from the Veda combines these images in a single formula: « Make the grass grow on these three surfaces, O Indra, the head of the Father, and the field here, and my womb! That field over there, which is ours, and my body here, and the head of the Father, make it all hairy!”i

But hair has other connotations as well, which go beyond the simple metonymy. Hair, in the Veda, also serves as an image to describe the action of God himself. It is one of the metaphors that allow us to qualify it indirectly, as other monotheistic religions would do much later, choosing its power, mercy or clemency.

“The Hairy One carries the Fire, the Hairy One carries the Soul, the Hairy One carries the worlds. The Hairy One carries all that can be seen from heaven. Hair is called Light.”ii

igVéda VIII,91

iigVéda VIII,91

The World Garden

Towards the end of the 19th century, Europe believed it dominated the world, through its techniques, empires and colonies. But the poet Mallarmé was already feeling desperate for the crisis of the mind. He noted, bitterly, that “mankind had not created new myths”, and that, for the field that most concerned him, “the dramatic art of our time, vast, sublime, almost religious, is yet to be found.”i

Mallarmé said he was in search of the « pure myth », of « the Figure that None is” (la Figure que Nul n’est ). He believed it was possible to find such a myth, by summoning « the immortal, innate delicacies and magnificences which are unbeknownst to all in the contest of a mute assistance.”ii

He took as his theoretical model, as a perfect paradigm, for this improbable and yet to be found myth, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and its obscure depth.

Mallarmé saw in Orpheus the creative power, solar energy, and « the idea of the morning with its short-lived beauty ». He recalled that the name Orpheus comes from the Sanskrit Ribhu, the « sun », a name that the Vedas often use to describe the divine, in its various forms. Eurydice, whose name is close to that of Europe, or Euryphassa, means, according to Mallarmé, « the vast gush of dawn in the sky ». The serpent that bites Eurydice and kills her is nothing more than the serpent of darkness that puts an end to the twilight.

The descent from Orpheus to the Underworld is therefore an image of the passage from day to night. “The pilgrimage of Orpheus represents the journey that, during the hours of the night, the Sun passed by to accomplish, in order to bring back, in the morning, the Dawn, whose disappearance it causes by its dazzling splendour.”iii

In this interpretation, the myth of Orpheus probably originally refers to the voyage of Ra in the sacred boat, celebrated by ancient Egypt.

But it must also be recognized that the myth of Orpheus is not meteorological, and that it says something other than the dissolution of the dawn by the morning ray.

Isn’t Orpheus the poet par excellence, in charge of the mystery itself? Mallarmé knows it well, who saw no higher task than poetry.

« Poetry is the expression, through human language brought back to its essential rhythm, of the mysterious meaning of the aspects of existence: it endows our stay with authenticity and is the only spiritual task.”iv

Mallarmé had a religious soul. He had a great dream, that of finding the origin of the Dream. This is evidenced by this text published after his death in an obituary:

« The Theatre is the confrontation of the Dream with the crowd and the disclosure of the Book, which drew its origin and is restored there. I believe that it will remain the great Human Festival; and what is dying is its counterfeiting and lying.”v

Incorrigible optimist, I also believe in the great Human Festival yet to be seen, but we may have to wait. Before its lights and beams, how many more dark periods will humanity have to endure?

What is striking about Mallarmé’s formula is that it establishes in its cryptic way, it seems to me, and this long before Freud’s iconoclastic theories, a hidden link between Egypt and Israel, between Akhenaten and Moses.

I am incited to see in Moses a man of the great World Theatre, a man who admirably and courageously confronted the « crowd », to impose his Dream (and finally to make Akhenaten’s One God live) and deliver his Book.

But, by contrast, it also brings to light the flagrant absence of a Myth today.

Admittedly, some religions, including the three monotheisms, and Buddhism, hold the upper hand from the point of view of international agit-prop, but it would no doubt be an insult to them to consider them as pure « myths ». Having no taste for vain martyrdom, I will not go looking for any leads in this direction, refusing in advance to confront the zealots and other guardians of the sacred dens.

If the myth of Orpheus prefigures in its own way the descent into the Christic underworld, if Akhenaten is the tutelary figure of the Mosaic God, they are also proof by induction of the power of ideas through the ages.

One key question remains: What myth does the whole of modernity, globalized modernity, strangled in a cramped and overpopulated, violent and oh so unequal planet, now need?

The bottom line is that modern religions (which have lost almost all connection with the original meaning of ancient religions) are part of the problem much more than the solution.

Ancient peoples knew that the Gods have many names, but that the mystery remains unique – and this long before Moses decided to export to the Sinai, with the success we know, the « counter-religion » that Akhenaten had failed to impose in Egypt.

A new world myth, tomorrow, will have to put an end to common hatred, general exclusion, and the idolatry of difference. It will also have to go beyond what Jan Assmann calls the « Mosaic Distinction »vi.

The new world myth, tomorrow, will have to blossom into a World Dream, for everyone to see, to hear, to taste, to feel, to smell, – and to imagine.

The World Dream will not be renewed dreams of modern Babel towers, but the Dream of an Adamic ziggurat, – ochre of consciousness, red with human humus. Red, not of blood, but of the flesh and the breathe of the primal Adam.

For the future of Mankind may well be hidden, like a remembrance of its lost paradise, in a new World Garden.

iS. Mallarmé. Œuvres complètes. 1956, p. 717

iiS. Mallarmé. Œuvres complètes. 1956, p. 545

iiiS. Mallarmé. Œuvres complètes. 1956, p. 1240,

ivS. Mallarmé. Propos sur la poésie. 1953, p. 134

vRevue Encyclopédique. Art. C. Mauclair. 5 novembre 1898. p. 963

viJan Assmann. Moses The Egyptian.

Elle a vu la Vie à Avila

D’abord il y a le courage. Il ne faut pas craindre la peur. La terreur n’est rien, pour qui entreprend, d’un seul élan, ce long voyage, dans une obscurité totale, et se coupant apparemment de toutes choses terrestres.

« Pensez-vous que ce soit peu de choses et qu’il faille peu de courage lorsque l’âme se voit privée de ses sens et se croit séparée de son corps, sans comprendre ce qu’elle devient ? Il faut que Dieu accorde à l’âme une si haute faveur, lui donne encore le courage nécessaire. »i

Ensuite, il y a la dureté. Il faut être plus que fort, il faut être dur comme du basalte, durci dans les volcans premiers. Il s’agit d’affronter un tel feu, qu’une âme trop tendre brûlerait trop tôt pour sentir seulement l’évanouissement instantané de son néant.

« Je ne suis point tendre, et j’ai, au contraire, le cœur si dur que cela me cause quelque fois de la peine. »ii

Sont nécessaires trois instruments de navigation. La connaissance. L’humilité. Le mépris.

La connaissance ne cesse de s’agrandir au fur et à mesure du voyage. Plus on avance, plus les perspectives s’ouvrent, et l’avancée s’accélère. Le mathématicien dira : ‘progression géométrique !’. Le poète pensera : ‘plonger au fond du gouffre pour trouver du nouveau !’. Le philosophe rêvera : ‘vivre la mort, mourir la vie’.

« Le démon ne saurait lui donner les trois choses que je vais dire, et qu’elle possède à un très haut degré.

La première, une connaissance de Dieu qui, à mesure qu’il se découvre, nous communique une idée plus haute de sa grandeur.

La seconde, la connaissance de nous-même et un sentiment d’humilité, à la seule pensée qu’une créature, qui n’est que bassesse en comparaison de l’auteur de tant de merveilles, ait osé l’offenser et soit encore assez hardie pour le regarder.

La troisième, un souverain mépris pour toutes les choses de la terre. »iii

Le danger est extrême. Est engagé l’enjeu même, – la mort, la mort absolue, sans retour. Danger d’autant plus menaçant qu’on ne redoute alors plus la mort, mais qu’on la désire, telle une luciole le feu. Il ne faut pourtant pas mourir, mais on le voudrait. Ce serait l’erreur fatale, que de succomber à cet appel intempestif. Et on la désire de toute son âme.

« Sa vie est un dur tourment quoique mêlé de délices, et elle soupire très vivement après la mort. Aussi demande-t-elle à Dieu, avec des larmes fréquentes, de la retirer de cet exil. Tout ce qu’elle voit la fatigue ; elle ne trouve de soulagement que dans la solitude. »iv

La mort est à la portée. Mais elle tarde. Où se tapit-elle ? Dans l’amour ? Dans la parole ? Non, elle se tient au centre de l’âme. Comme un cancer minuscule, qui voudrait grandir, tout dévorer.

« Ici, l’âme se trouve embrasée d’un tel amour, que très souvent, à la moindre parole qui lui rappelle que la mort tarde à venir, soudain, sans savoir ni d’où ni comment, il lui vient un coup, et comme une flèche de feu (…) La blessure est pénétrante. Et cette blessure, à mon avis, n’est point faite à l’endroit où nous ressentons les douleurs ordinaires, mais au plus profond et au plus intime de l’âme, à l’endroit où le rayon de feu, en un instant, réduit en poussière tout ce qu’il rencontre de notre terrestre nature. »v

L’âme est en soi un monde. Et, le croirez-vous ? C’est même un monde plus vaste que l’univers entier. Cela semble impossible. Et pourtant ça l’est. C’est un monde si vaste qu’il contient même le Tout qui, pour sa part, contient tout. Ceux qui savent comprendront. Le Tout est en tous, et réciproquement. Fi de la logique booléenne.

« Nous devons, mes filles, nous représenter l’âme, non pas comme un coin du monde étroit et resserré, mais comme un mode intérieur, où se trouvent ces nombreuses et resplendissantes demeures que je vous ai fait voir ; il le faut bien, puisqu’il y a dans cette âme une demeure pour Dieu lui-même. Or, lorsque Notre Seigneur veut accorder à une âme la grâce de ce mariage divin, il l’introduit d’abord dans sa propre demeure. Déjà sans doute, il s’était uni cette âme soit dans les ravissements, soit dans l’oraison d’union. Dieu l’introduit donc dans sa demeure par une vision intellectuelle. Comment se fait cette représentation, je l’ignore ; mais elle se fait. »vi

Quelle est cette ‘demeure’ ? C’est la ‘septième’. Quelle est cette ‘septième demeure’ ? Il y a là un souvenir extrêmement ancien, sans doute inscrit dans nos gènes humains depuis le Paléolithique, ou même bien avant, l’homme-oiseau, le chamane de Lascaux en témoigne. J’en veux pour preuve, pour ce qu’elle indique de permanence dans la psyché humaine, la figure d’Inanna, la Divinité sumérienne de l’amour, de la guerre et de la sagesse. Il y a six mille ans, à Sumer, fut composé le récit du voyage d’Inanna sous terre, sa quête dans l’abysse primordial, au royaume de Kur, où règne la mort. Elle dut franchir successivement sept portes, fortement gardées, se dépouillant à chaque fois d’une pièce de ses habits, pour enfin arriver, entièrement nue, devant la Divinité de la Mort.

Dans les traditions juives et chrétiennes, de célèbres aventuriers de l’impossible eurent aussi l’heur de monter fort haut, ou bien de descendre très bas.

Hénoch, on ne sait jusqu’à quel ciel il allavii. Élie, non plusviii. Jonas plongea au fond de l’Abîmeix.

S. Paul a révélé, dans sa manière cryptique, son ravissement au ‘troisième ciel’x. Pas mal ! Mais en l’occurrence Paul put peu, ou moins que d’autres, qui parlent du ‘septième ciel’.

Qu’importe le nombre, pourvu qu’on ait l’ivresse d’avancer dans la profondeur, ou de s’élever dans la hauteur.

Il reste que le chiffre 7 a cette vertu anthropologique, universelle. Même en Asie, au Japon ou en Chine, on célèbre encore aujourd’hui le mariage mystique des deux Constellations divines, la Tisserande et le Bouvier, le septième jour du septième mois de l’année.

« Lorsqu’il plaît à Notre Seigneur d’avoir compassion d’une âme qu’il s’est choisie pour épouse et qui souffre si fort du désir de le posséder, il veut, avant le mariage spirituel, la faire entrer dans cette septième demeure qui est la sienne. Car le Ciel n’est pas son seul séjour, il en a aussi un dans l’âme, séjour où il demeure lui seul et que l’on peut nommer un autre ciel. »xi

Il y a une autre analogie à caractère universel qu’il convient de rapporter ici, celle de l’idée générale d’abysse ou d’abîme.

Ces mots viennent du grec « abyssos » (άβυσσος) qui signifie « sans fond ». Le terme est repris en latin et devient « abyssus », puis à la forme superlative « abyssimus », d’où en français « abysme » puis « abîme »

En sumérien, abysse se dit abzu, mot étymologiquement composé des cunéiformes AB 𒀊 ‘océan cosmique’ et ZU 𒍪, ‘connaître’. L’abzu est la demeure de la Divinité Enki. Il est intéressant de souligner que ce Dieu Enki sera nommé plus tard Aya dans les langues sémitiques antiques, comme l’akkadien, – nom qui n’est pas sans analogie avec le nom hébreu יָהּYah (l’un des noms bibliques de YHVH), qui représente les deux premières lettres יה du Tétragramme יהוה, et qui s’emploie dans l’expression הַלְלוּ-יָהּ Allélou Yah !xii

En hébreu, abysse se dit תְּהוֹם, tehom. Au début de la Genèse, il est dit que des ténèbres couvraient « la face de l’Abîme »xiii, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם, ‘al-pnéï tehom. Le psalmiste, plongé en son tréfonds, implore : « et des abysses de la Terre remonte-moi ! »xiv וּמִתְּהֹמוֹת הָאָרֶץ, תָּשׁוּב תַּעֲלֵנִי , vo-mi-tehomot ha-eretz tachouv ta ‘aléni. Jonas se remémore: « l’Abîme m’entourait »xv, תְּהוֹם יְסֹבְבֵנִי , tehom yeçovvéni.

Dans le mysticisme allemand, le concept d’abîme a été décliné avec les moyens propres à la langue allemande, qui jouit de sa souplesse prépositionnelle : Abgrunt, Ungrund et Urgrund. Maître Eckhart et Jacob Boehme, puis plus tard, Schelling, Hegel et Heidegger ont magistralement joué avec l’idée d’abîme, et le concept du « Sans-fond ».

Maître Eckhart, dominicain allemand du début du 14ème siècle, développe une théologie négative et mystique de l’Abgrunt (l’Abîme). L’âme humaine est « capable » de retrouver en elle sa propre origine, son essence primordiale, ce qu’elle était elle-même avant toute création, c’est-à-dire son fond originel (Grunt ,dans sa graphie médiévale, mot devenu plus tard Grund). En ce fond primordial, qui n’est justement pas un fond (Grunt) mais un Sans-Fond (Ab-Grunt) elle peut s’efforcer de rejoindre Dieu dans son infinité.

L’Abîme, chez Jacob Böhme, est aussi l’image négative, apophatique, de l’origine. L’origine est définie négativement comme ce qui « n’a ni fond, ni commencement, ni lieu », comme un « Un-Rien ».xvi

Après avoir introduit le concept d’Ungrund (le « Sans-fond »), Böhme établit l’existence d’une « volonté sans-fond (Ungrund), incompréhensible, sans nature et sans créature […] qui est comme un Rien et pourtant un Tout […] qui se saisit et se trouve en soi-même et qui enfante Dieu de Dieu »xvii

Plus proche de nous, Heidegger analyse l’abîme dans lequel Rilke est censément « descendu ».

« Rainer Maria Rilke est-il un poète en temps de détresse ? Quel est le rapport de son dire poétique avec l’indigence de l’époque ? Jusqu’où descend-il dans l’abîme ? Jusqu’où le poète parvient-il, une fois posé qu’il va aussi loin qu’il le peut ? »xviii

Et Jankélévitch, dans son livre La Mort, reprend lui aussi cette métaphore inépuisable – et incomblable :

« Dieu est une sorte de rien abyssal, et pourtant la vérité ne s’abîme pas dans cet abîme, ni ne s’écroule dans ce précipice »xix.

Après ce court développement, et peut-être mieux pénétré de la puissance métaphorique de l’abîme, on lira sous une autre lumière ce que « cette personne » dit avoir vu à Avila :

« Elle voit clairement (…) qu’elles sont dans l’intérieur de son âme, dans l’endroit le plus intérieur, et comme dans un abîme très profond ; cette personne, étrangère à la science, ne saurait dire ce qu’est cet abîme si profond, mais c’est là qu’elle sent en elle-même cette divine compagnie. »xx

Que voit-elle exactement ?

« Elle n’avait jamais vu le divin maître se montrer ainsi dans l’intérieur de son âme. Il faut savoir que les visions des demeures précédentes diffèrent beaucoup de cette dernière demeure ; de plus, entre les fiançailles et le mariage spirituel, il y a la même différence qu’ici-bas entre de simples fiancés et de vrais époux (…) Il n’est plus question ici du corps que si l’âme en était séparée, et que l’esprit fût seul. Cela est surtout vrai dans le mariage spirituel parce que cette mystérieuse union se fait au centre le plus intérieur de l’âme, qui doit être l’endroit où Dieu lui-même habite. Aucune porte là, dont il ait besoin pour entrer. »xxi

L’image du mariage, par contraste avec celle de « simples » fiançailles, est puissamment évocatrice. Le Cantique des cantiques nous avait certes habitués à des métaphores d’une telle crudité, que l’on ne peut guère s’étonner d’en retrouver des échos, voilés, et nettement plus chastes, sous la plume d’une nonne du seizième siècle.

Le mariage mystique est entièrement consommé.

« L’âme, ou mieux l’esprit de l’âmexxii, devient une même chose avec Dieu. Afin de montrer combien il nous aime, Dieu, qui est esprit lui aussi, a voulu faire connaître à quelques âmes, jusqu’où va cet amour, (…) il daigne s’unir de telle sorte à une faible créature, qu’à l’exemple de ceux que le sacrement de mariage unit d’un lien indissoluble, il ne veut plus se séparer d’elle. Après les fiançailles spirituelles, il n’en est pas ainsi, plus d’une fois on se sépare. De même, après l’union, car bien que l’union consiste à réunir deux choses en une seule, et définitive, ces deux choses peuvent être disjointes et aller chacune de leur côté (…) Dans le mariage spirituel, au contraire, l’âme demeure toujours avec Dieu dans le centre dont j’ai déjà parlé. »xxiii

Dans la religion grecque, Zeus s’unit à Héra, et la métaphore poétique qui en rend compte est celle de la pluie qui féconde la terre.

Une métaphore analogue est employée par la mystique d’Avila. Mais la pluie s’unit non à la terre, mais à l’eau vive.

« L’union du mariage spirituel est plus intime : c’est comme l’eau qui, tombant du ciel dans une rivière, ou une fontaine, s’y confond tellement avec l’autre eau qu’on ne peut plus ni séparer ni distinguer l’eau de la terre et l’eau du ciel ; c’est encore comme un petit ruisseau qui entrerait dans la mer et s’y perdrait entièrement. »xxiv

Cette image de l’humble ru qui finit par se fondre à la mer, – avant de monter au ciel, appelé par le soleil, me fait penser à ce poème de Swinburne :

« From too much love of living
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea. 

Ce poème est dédié à Proserpine, déesse de la Mort.

L’eau qui se joint à l’eau, et le ru à la mer, – à Avila, c’est la Vie.

iThérèse d’Avila. Le château intérieur. Trad. de l’espagnol par Marcel Bouix. Ed. Rivages Poche. 1998, p.261

iiIbid. p. 268

iiiIbid. p. 260

ivIbid. p. 262

vIbid. p. 322-323

viIbid. p. 339-340

viiGn, 5,24

viii2 R 2,11

ixJon 2,6

x2 Cor 12,2

xiIbid. p. 337

xiiPs 113 – 118

xiiiGn 1,2

xivPs 71,20

xvJon 2,6

xviJ. Böhme, De la signature des choses (De signatura rerum, oder Von der Geburt und Bezeichnung aller Wesen, 1622), VI, 8.

xvii Jacob Böhme 1623, repris dans König 2006, p. 52.

xviii « Ist R.M. Rilke ein Dichter in dürfitiger Zeit ? Wie verhält sich sein Dicthen zum Dürftigen der Zeit ? Wie eit reicht es in den Abgrund ? Wohin kommt der Dichter, gesetzt dass er dahin geht, wohin er es kann ? », Martin Heidegger, « Wozu Dichter ? », in Holzwege, Klostermann, Frankfurt a.M, 1963 (4), p. 252 ; « Pourquoi des poètes ? » in Chemins qui ne mènent nulle part, traduction Wolfgang Brokmeier, Gallimard, Paris, 1986, p. 329.

xixV. Jankélévitch, La mort, Paris, Flammarion, 1966.

xxThérèse d’Avila. Le château intérieur. Trad. de l’espagnol par Marcel Bouix. Ed. Rivages Poche. 1998, p.341

xxiIbid. p. 346

xxii Une expression comparable se retrouve dans le Zohar, qui explique que la Sagesse ou Ḥokhmah, est symbolisée par la 1ère lettre du Tétragramme, c´est-à-dire la lettre Yod י , et qu’elle est aussi appelée le « souffle du souffle ». Voir mon articleי/

xxiiiThérèse d’Avila. Le château intérieur. Trad. de l’espagnol par Marcel Bouix. Ed. Rivages Poche. 1998, p.347-348

xxivIbid. p. 349

xxvAlgernon Charles Swinburne. The Garden of Proserpine

The Absolute Constant of the Mystery

The famous 17th century Hindu thinker, Śaṃkara, proposed four essential concepts, sat, cit, ātman, and brahman.

They may be tentatively translated into English by the words being, thought, self, and absolute.

But it is worth digging a little beneath the surface.

For Śaṃkara, sat is « what is here and now ». Sat seems closer to being than to existence, or essence. Sat is, so to speak, the true form of being. But then what can be said of what is not here or now, of what was or will be, or even of what could or should be? One can say sat, too, to designate these sort of beings, but we oblige ourselves to an effort of abstraction, by thinking of these other modalities of being as “beings”.

Cit means thought, but also and above all consciousness. The objective idea is grasped by thought, the subjective feeling requires consciousness. Cit brings the two meanings together, but it is consciousness that leads the game.

As for ātman, this word is originally linked to life, life force, energy, wind, air, breath. It is only later that it comes to designate the person. In the Upaniṣad, the meaning of the word varies: body, person, self, or Self. This ambiguity complicates interpretation. Is the Self without a body? Is the Self a person? Difficulties related to language.

Finally, brahman may be translated as ‘absolute‘, but it has many other possible meanings. It is referred to in the Upaniṣad as breath, speech, mind, reality, immortality, eternity and also as the aim, “that which is to be pierced »i. It may mean ‘sacred word’, but it evolves to mean ‘absolute silence’. « Leave the words: here is the bridge of immortality.”ii

In the end, brahman comes to designate the absolute, the absolute of speech, or the absolute without speech, the absolute silence.

This analogy has been proposed: ātman represents the essence of the person, brahman identifies with the essence of the entire universe.

The word brahman has had some success in the Indo-European sphere of influence. Its root is ḅrhat, « greatness ». The Latin word flamen derives from it, as does brazman (« priest » in old Persian).

But the meaning of brahman as “priest” does not at all capture the mystery of its main meaning.

The mystery of the poet and the mystery of the sacred word are both called brahman. The mystery of absolute silence is also brahman. Finally, the mystery of the absolute, the mystery of the absolute is brahman.

The brahman is that from which all beings are born, all gods, and the first of them is Brahmā himself. Brahman is what everything is born of, « from Brahmā to the clump of grass »iii.

The absolute, the brahman of Śaṃkara, is at the same time greatness, speech, silence, sacred, enigma, mystery, divinity.

It must be underlined. The Veda does not offer a unique, exclusive, absolute truth. There is no truth, because an absolute truth could not account for the absolute mystery. In the Veda, the absolute remains an absolute mystery.

This lesson is compatible with other ideas of the hidden God, that of ancient Egypt, that of the God of Israel, or that of the God of Christian kenosis.

This may be a hint of an anthropological persistence, throughout the ages.

The persistent presence of an absolute mystery.

iMuU II,2,2

iiMuU II,2,5

iiiTubh III, 1,1

Anthropological Trinity

The Veda is about knowledge and vision. The Sanskrit word veda has for its root विद् vid-, as does the Latin word video (“I see”). This is why it is not untimely to say that the Ṛṣi have ‘seen’ the Veda. However, seeing is not enough, we must also hear. « Let us praise the voice, the immortal part of the soul » says Kālidāsa.

In the Veda, the word ‘word’ (vāc) is feminine. And the ‘spirit’ is masculine. This means both can along together and unite intimately, as in this verse from the Satabatha-Brāhmana: “For the spirit and the word, when harnessed together, carry the Sacrifice to the Gods.”i

This Vedic formula combines in the same sentence the Spirit, the Word and the Divine.

A Christian may think of this alliance of words as a kind of Trinity, two thousand years before the Holy Spirit came to the Verb sent by the Lord.

Could it be that some deep, anthropological constant, worthy of being observed, is here revealing itself, in times of profundity?

iS.B. I,4,4,1


The idea of an infinite, hidden God, on whom everything rests, was conceived by Mankind long before Abraham or Moses. The Veda testifies that this idea was already celebrated millennia before these famous figures.

« Manifest, It is hidden. Ancient is Its name. Vast is Its concept. The whole universe is based on It. On It rests what moves and breathes. (…) The Infinite is extended in multiple directions, the infinite and the finite have common borders. The Guardian of the Heavenly Vault runs through them, separating them, He who knows what has passed and what is to come. (…) Without desire, wise, immortal, born of Himself, satiating Himself with vital sap, suffering from no lack – He who has recognized the Ātman, wise, not of old age, always young, does not fear death.”i

iA.V. X, 8

Unspeakable words

Every language has its genius, their words have their power, their potency. One speaks them without really knowing them. One grazes their abysses, fly over their peaks, ignoring their heaps of secrets.

Our languages tell us that we are enigmas to ourselves.

Perhaps two examples will shed some light on the far-reaching implications of this unconscious of languages.

The Hebrew verb נָהַר (nāhar) means ‘to shine, to radiate with joy’, as in Is 60:5 (“Then you will look and be radiant”i). A derived word נָהָר (nāhār) means « stream, river ». In feminine form, this word becomes נָהָרָה (nāhārā) and means « light ». And in a different vocalization, attested in Chaldean, נָהִירוּ (nāhiru) means « wisdom ».

This word, therefore, may incarnate unto itself light, joy, a river – and wisdom!

Curiously, the Greek language also has words that bring together the meaning of light, the idea of joy and the brilliance of water. A verse from Aeschylus in the Prometheus in chains sings « the countless smile of the sea waves » (ποντίων τε κυμάτων άνήριθμον γέλασμα).

Another example highlights the intrinsic capacity of a word to bear witness to the dream of the whole language, and of those who speak it. Thus the verb עָלַם (alam) means « to hide, to be ignored ». As a noun, the same word עָלַם means ‘eternity’. One would like to ask: does this word incite to think that eternity is ‘hidden’? Or that ignorance is ‘eternal’?

In another vocalization, the same word means ‘world’. But perhaps even most beautifully, the word , in yet another vocalization (‘elem), means ‘child’.

Again the mind wanders… Is the world a veiled child? Does a child hide his eternity? Does eternity veil and hidden childhood? Is the veil the eternal childhood of the world?

A thousand possible thoughts arise from just one word. Languages, all of them, abound with simple surprises, disconcerting shifts, and forgotten nuggets. Yet they bear witness to a dream, they testify that the smallest word is linked to untold mysteries.

i In Hebrew : ‘אָז תִּרְאִי וְנָהַרְתְּ ‘

Anything May Yet Happen

Sometimes inaction or a wait-and-see attitude pays off. For example, it is written: « Moses and the Ark of the Covenant did not move ». Standing still in the middle of the camp was the best thing to do. Tactical caution was called for. Those who rushed to the top of the mountain were soon « cut to pieces » by the Amalekite and the Canaanite.

Far from the factual, from common sense, Philo proposes two unexpected ways of interpreting this verse: « Either the wise man does not separate himself from virtue, or virtue ignores movement, and the good man changes it.”i

Philo’s method is known. He always looks for the allegorical meaning in words, the hidden movement towards symbolic heights. Phrases seem to move, taking on a higher meaning as they pass by.

By this upward movement, the sentence mimics the non-movement (permanence) of virtue, it embodies the non-change (immutability) of the good man.

Philo explains: « The breath of God joins only one category of men, those who strip themselves of all that is in the becoming, of the innermost veil, of the envelope of opinion »ii.

The future is not in the becoming. Nor in opinion.

Aaron speaks, he is skilful with words; Moses remains in silence, he strips himself of any words. With a few words, the biblical sentence makes the silent and immobile contemplation of Moses heard.

This is a general lesson. Thought must free itself from everything that clutters it, make itself « naked ».

When Moses leaves the camp, he will pitch his tent on the mountain. He goes out of the world. That is to say, he establishes himself firmly on his own judgment, so that he can enter the “dark cloud”, the invisible region. He will need this inner immutability in order to face the mysteries, and to bear witness to them afterwards.

Moses is not only an initiate. He is the hierophant of mystical knowledge, a tutor of divine truths, which are neither of heaven nor earth.

There are men who are from the earth, others are from heaven, but others go even further. Those of the earth seek material pleasures and cherish the body. Those from heaven are the artists, the scientists and the humanists.

And then there are those who, like Moses or other Prophets, are not satisfied with the Kingdom of the universe, and are not satisfied with being citizens of the world. They neglect all the senses. They emigrate. They choose the exodus to the Land of immortal and immaterial ideas. They believe that the Earth is not the future of mankind. Neither are the Heavens. Does man have a future, by the way? Isn’t man essentially transitory, fleeting, ephemeral?

Didn’t God say that He wanted to « blot out man”?

“The Lord regretted having created man on earth, and he grieved within himself. And the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth, every man and beast and crawling creature and bird of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them’.”iii

The Lord « regretted » and then « grieved ».

How can God regret what He has done? Is He not supremely wise? Could He not foresee in His foreknowledge what would become of His creation?

And why these two verbs, « to regret » and « to grieve », in succession? Pleonasm? Unnecessary repetition?

Maybe the first verb translates the clarity of the notion, the second conveys the depth of the reflection. One is thinking at rest, the other is thinking on the move. These are two powers of the mind. They allow us to contemplate creatures as they are, but also as being able to become other than they are.

Rashi comments on this verse.

“ ‘He regretted having created’. The Midrach translates: God took solace in the fact that at least He had created man ON EARTH. If He had created him in heaven, he would have led the worlds above in his rebellion. ‘And He grieved in His heart’. The Targum Onkelos translates: Man (subject of the verb) became an object of suffering in the heart of God. It came to God’s mind to inflict punishment on him. Another explanation of the first verb VA-YINA’HEM: ‘he regretted’. In God’s mind, mercy gave way to justice. He wondered: what to do with the man He had created on earth? The verb נחם always means in the Bible: to ask oneself what to do. It means: ‘What is the right thing to do?’ God is not a man to regret (Num 23,19) « .

The dictionary says that the verb נחם means: « to repent, to change one’s feelings, to allow oneself to be bent, to have pity, to forgive ». These nuances of meaning do not apply indifferently to man or to God.

It can apply to the point of view of man, but probably not to the point of view of God, when it is a question of « repenting », « regretting », « changing one’s feelings ». But it can be applied from God’s point of view, if we translate this word as « to have mercy », « to forgive », « to allow oneself to be bent ».

The nuance proposed by Rashi, « to ask oneself what to do », opens up still other paths, which (tellingly) are not quoted in the dictionary, and which are turned towards the future, towards the unforeseen.

Virtue ignores movement, and the good man ignores change, Philo said two thousand years ago. And, a little less than a thousand years ago, Rashi said that God himself could « change his feelings » and « ask himself what to do ».

There is no end to surprises, yet to come. Anything is possible, definitely. Anything may yet happen.

iPhilo. De Gigantibus. 1,48

iiPhilo. De Gigantibus. 1,53

iiiGen 6, 6-7

The « Highest » and the « Lowest »

In Biblical Hebrew, the word « to descend » (יָרַד yarad) offers a curiously vast range of meanings, including distant semantic universes that are brought closer together, some very simple, everyday ones and others touching on very high notions, including the idea of theophany.

The primary meaning of the verb yarad is “to go from top to bottom”:

« She went down to the fountain » (Gen 24:16)

« My beloved went down to his garden. « (Ct 6,2)

« Abram went down to Egypt. « (Gen 12:10)

« Moses came down from Mount Sinai. « (Ex 34:29)

But the idea of a « descent » invites various metaphors. Here are some examples:

« He will come down like rain on the cut grass. « (Ps 72:10)

« Those who go down into the peat. « (Pr 1,12)

« Let them go down alive into the sheol. « (Ps 55:16)

Some of the metaphors associated with “yarada” broaden the meaning, while keeping the general idea.

« The day was going down. « (Jg 19:11)

« They all burst (yoréd, יֹרֵד בַּבֶּכִי) into tears. « (Is 15:3)

« Those who sail (yoredéi, יוֹרְדֵי הַיָּם) on the sea. « (Ps 107:23)

A second group of meanings is formed around meanings such as: « to fall, to perish, to be ruined ».

« You, you will always fall further and further down. « (Deut 28:43)

The Ritual speaks of a sacrifice that « goes up » and « goes down », that is to say that it varies according to the fortune or virtue of the person offering it.

A third group of meanings, built around the Hiphil form of the verb, increases the strength and intensity of the meaning: « To bring down, to humiliate, to precipitate ».

Finally there is the particular group of meanings associated with apparitions of God, the theophanies.

« The Lord will come down (yéréd YHVH,  יֵרֵד יְהוָה )to Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. « (Ex 19:11)

« The mountain of Sinai was all steamy because the Lord had come down (yarad  יָרַד )there in the midst of the flame (ba-éch בָּאֵשׁ). « (Ex 19:18).

« When Moses had entered, the pillar of cloud descended (yéréd יֵרֵד) and stopped at the entrance of the Tent and God spoke with Moses. « (Ex 33:9)

« The Lord of Hosts will come down to do battle on Mount Zion and its heights. »(Is 31:4)

« The Lord came down to earth to see the city and the tower. « (Gen 11:5)

A theophany is obviously an extraordinary phenomenon. Witnesses who are able to report a godly vision and translate it into convincing words can sometimes contradict themselves, increasing the doubt of the skeptics. But they also strengthen the faith of those who see hidden meanings beyond words.

Let us take the example of a curious verse:

« He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under His feet. » (2S 22,10)

A good Cartesian might object: if God comes down with a thick mist under His feet, how can one see Him from below?

Several answers to this rather naive objection are possible. The phenomenon can be observed from several angles. Or the expression « dark clouds » may be open to interpretation. It may mean that God is indeed descending, but with a kind of reticence. Another verse is an allegory of the cloud or mist:

« Ah, may you tear the heavens apart and come down! « (Is 63:19).

Theophany is sometimes followed by considerable physical effects or, conversely, very subtle consequences.

In the catastrophic genre: « You went down, and the mountains staggered. « (Is 64:2)

In a more subtle genre, there is the dream, like those of Jacob and Moses.

« The divine messengers went up and down this ladder. « (Gen 28:12). There is the idea of a continuous, processional link between the top and the bottom.

God thus addresses Moses in this way:

« I will come down and speak to you and I will take away part of the spirit that is on you and put it on them. « (Num 11:17)

Is Moses threatened with a possible lobotomy? Should part of his mind be removed to benefit his co-religionists?

Philo offers this reassuring comment:

« Don’t think that the removal was done by entrenchment or separation. It’s like fire: one would light a thousand torches in it, but it remains equal to itself and does not diminish in the least. This is also the nature of science. »i

There is a more important issue. Why does God, who in principle is abundantly endowed with it, need to take some of the spirit of Moses and distribute it like at auction?

God takes a little of Moses’ spirit because Moses possesses a unique spirit, without equal. God recognizes this uniqueness and wants others to benefit from it. God wants to multiply (to clone?) part of Moses’ spirit, to share it with the Hebrews.

This is a kind of « communion ».

God has « come down » to distribute to the people what is unique in Moses.

The semantic analysis of the word yarad projects, as one can see, a wide spectrum of meaning.

This word may mean « fall », « decay », « humiliation », but also the « appearance » of God in glory on the mountain or in the clouds, or may convey the intimate operation of a « communion », linking spirit to spirit.

Thus, the idea of a theophany, expressed in the form of God’s « descent » is not, by construction, immune from possible contamination or slippage, coming from more ordinary, much more human acceptances.

From this observation, of a purely semantic nature, a lesson can be drawn about an aspect of the deepest nature of the divine.

The Highest may also descend into the Lowest.

iPhilo. De Gigantibus. 1,22

The Poisonous Death of the Prophet

The prophet Muhammad may have been poisoned, according to Hela Ouardi, a Tunisian academic. In her book, « The Last Days of Muhammad » (2017), she takes a cautious and documented look at the last hours of the Prophet. He died in a few days from a strange illness. Yet he was a man in his prime, robust and even corpulent.

« Muhammad was a lover of tayyibât, a delicacy celebrated in the Koran: women, perfumes and food.i The prophet is a gourmand, fond of meat, honey and sweetsii. Muslim traditionalists describe the strong appetite of the Prophet in gargantuan scenes such as the one where he is seen swallowing half a sheep aloneiii. »iv

The famous Boukhâri, quite an illustrious authority on Islamic chains of tradition, reports two theories that can explain such a quick death, pleurisy and poisoning.

But pleurisy is excluded from the outset, at least if one believes the words of the Prophet himself. « In his Tabaqat, Ibn Sa’d relates that the mother of Bisht, Muhammad’s companion, visiting the Prophet, said to him: ‘I have never seen anyone suffering from a fever like the one that overwhelms you. – God multiplies suffering to multiply the reward,’ he replies. – People say that you are suffering from pleurisy, » she said, to which he replied: « God will never inflict it on me; it is a satanic disease; in fact I am suffering from this meal I have had with your son and I feel that this dish [of goat] will rupture my aortav. »vi

Muslim tradition reports that « the Prophet’s entourage, convinced that the Prophet was suffering from pleurisy, administered against his will a remedy suspected of being a poison that only accelerated the end; this remedy was given to the Prophet on Sunday, the day before his death.vii»viii

This could all be found in a novel by Agatha Christie. All the more so as the sudden death of the prophet did not fail to redistribute the political cards.

« Two men then played a leading role: Abû Bakr and ‘Umar who had to improvise and set up a new political institution based on the idea of replacing the Prophet: the Caliphate. The Caliphate still nourishes the collective Muslim imagination, which sees it as an infallible political institution. »ix

And Hela Ouardi pushes the point of the argument even further, in a politically sensitive direction: « After the death of the Prophet, Abû Bakr and ‘Umar will thus make a decisive entry on the stage of history. Are they not finally the true founders of a new religion that they must rebuild on the ruins of a primitive belief that suddenly collapsed the moment Muhammad died? »x

These two men will soon be murdered themselves, by the very people on whom they had sought political and religious ascendancy.

Today, Islam is still paying a heavy price for the endless excesses of this original conflict.

iTabaqât 1/410

iiTabaqât 1/391 ; Muslim 4/185. His favourite meal was tharîd, a kind of « ratatouille » with bits of bread (Tabaqât 1/393). Muhammad often compared his wife Aisha to his favourite meal (Bukhâri 3/1252 ; Dârimî Sunan 2/144 ; Muslim 4/1886 ; Ibn Mâjah Sunan 2/1092 ; Tirmidhî 4/275 ; Hâkim Mustadrak 4/129 ; Muttaqî Kanz 12/33)

iiiTabaqât 1/393 ; Ibn Hanbal Musnad 45/172

ivHela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.164

vTabaqât 2/236 ; Balâdhuri Ansâb 2/221

viHela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.171-172

viiWâqidî Maghâzi 3/1119 ; Tabaqât 2/190 ; Bukhâri 5/2159-2160 ; Ibn ‘Asâkir Tarîkh Dimashq 2/56 : Muttaqî Kanz 10/573

viiiHela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.172

ix Hela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.233

x Hela Ouardi. Les derniers jours de Muhammad, Ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 2017, p.233

Nudity and Mystery

There are four kinds of nudity in the Bible.

The first kind of nudity is the proud and innocent nudity of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. « Now they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed. « (Gen. 2:25).

The second kind of biblical nakedness is that of the man who is not fully conscious, for example when he is drunk. This was the case of Noah: « He drank of his wine and became drunk, and laid himself bare in the midst of his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and went outside to tell his two brothers. « (Gen. 9:21-22)

The third kind of (partial) nudity comes from the observance of certain rites, under certain circumstances, for example having one’s head uncovered, one’s face unveiled, or tearing one’s clothes. Thus Moses said to Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar: « Do not uncover your heads or tear your clothes, unless you want to die and bring divine wrath upon the whole community. « (Lev. 10:6)

Sadness and mourning had taken hold of Aaron and his sons because a divine fire had just fatally burned two of his other sons. But Moses did not allow them to express their sorrow according to the agreed rites (head uncovered, clothes torn), because this misfortune that befell them came from the divine anger.

In another episode, it is the unveiled face of Abraham’s wife that is the problem, because it arouses the Pharaoh’s desire and incites Abraham to lie to him about his wife, whom he presents as his sister.

« When he was about to arrive in Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, « I know that you are a woman with a graceful face. It will happen that when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’, and they will kill me and keep you alive. « (Gen. 12:11-12)

The fourth kind of nudity is that of the shameful body. “The Eternal God called the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard your voice in the garden. I was afraid, because I am naked, and I hid myself.’ Then he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’”(Gen. 3:9-11)

I propose to interpret these four kinds of nudity as four different allegories of mystery.

They are so many images of the various ways in which man confronts what escapes him, when he approaches what he cannot grasp, trying to reach what is absolutely transcendent.

There are myriads of mysteries, furtive or infinite, subtle or profound. Some are clearly visible, brought to light, but irreducibly incomprehensible, and others seem intelligible, but in reality reserved, elusive, exclusive.

Of all the mysteries that heaven and earth conceal, many are beyond human reach, and many are destined for only a chosen few. As for the common mysteries, they are shared by all, but they can have several levels of unveiling, requiring, to understand them, various qualities.

In principle, the naked essence of the mystery cannot be seen as it is. But there are intermediate cases.

Seeking to lift the veil, to expose the mystery, always implies a risk.

Aaron, respecting the rites, uncovers his head, tears his garments, but against time, against sense, and then risks arousing divine anger.

The nakedness of drunken Noah presents another risk.

Without having looked for it, Ham saw by chance the « nudity » of his father. Ham will be punished not for having « seen » it, but for not having « hidden » it.

Instead of acting immediately, taking the necessary measures, Ham went out to reveal the incident to his brothers Shem and Japheth. Instead, he should have covered up his father’s « nakedness ». One might say, metaphorically, that he should have hidden the “mystery” instead of revealing it to those who were not initially chosen to see it.

In fact, it was his brothers who took the initiative to carefully cover the « nudity », by approaching their father backwards and turning their faces away.

Although they have not « seen » the mystery, they will be rewarded for not trying to « see » it precisely, but rather, out of respect, for giving it back its full aura.

The first nudity, the happy nudity of Adam and Eve, is that of the beginnings. This is yet another image. At the beginning, they saw the entire mystery, without veil. Full revelation, « frontal » nudity, dazzling perhaps? The paradox for Adam and Eve is that they were not fully aware of the profound nature of what was then revealed to them. Everything was unveiled, but it was as if there was nothing special for them to see, as if the mystery actually dissolved in their eyes without really letting itself be seen, although it was actually « visible ». Trap of the visible not intelligible. Ties of an un-exercised intelligence. Laces, corsets, of an untried will to see.

Adam and Eve did not see the mystery that surrounds them, they were not aware of their own mystery. The mystery was indeed there, present in them, around them, but they knew nothing of it.

The fourth kind of nudity is the « shameful » one. Adam then knew and finally saw his nudity as it was, but he was « ashamed » of it. What does this metaphor teach us?

The mystery was revealed to him in an instant. Adam’s consciousness had access to the knowledge of a mystery that was briefly « revealed » to him. But the presence of the mystery was immediately withdrawn, because he was not worthy of it.

Four ways of biblical nakedness, four ways of seeing or not seeing, of fleeing or grasping the mystery.

Four metaphors of the weakness of human consciousness.

Logos and Glial Cells

Originally, the Greek word Logos had two rather simple, distinct meanings: ‘word’ and ‘reason’.

With Plato, the concept of Logos began its extraordinary destiny. The Logos became a Principle. By extension, it was also to represent the whole of intelligible things and ideas, as well as the link that connects all the divine powers, and what founds their unity. Finally, it was to become the Intermediary between man and God.

The Neo-Platonists took up the concept and its rich harvest.

Philo of Alexandria, for example, several centuries after Plato, made the Logos an essential attribute of the God of Israel. In God, the Logos was to incarnate the divine Intelligence, the eternal Thought, the Thought in its eternal potency, the Thought that always thinks, the Thought that can think everything, anything, forever.

For Philo, the Logos could also take a second form, which resided not in God, but in the real world. The Logos was then the Thought in act, the Thought which is realized outside God.

Shortly after Philo, John in turn gave his vision of the Logos, in its Christian interpretation. The Gospel of John says that “in the beginning” the Logos was with God and the Logos was God. And the Logos became “flesh”.

Does this mean that there are three instances of the Logos? The Logos who is God, the Logos who is with Him and the Logos who becomes flesh? Are these verbal nuances, poetic metaphors, or metaphysical realities?

In Philo’s theology, the Logos is double: Intelligence in potency, and also Intelligence in act.

In Christian theology, one may say that there are three kind of Logos, who personify themselves respectively as Father, Son, Spirit.

For the philosopher who always seeks for structures, it is possible to discern a general outline in these various interpretations.

The Logos comes out in three ways, according to what it “is”, to what it “thinks” and to what it “says”.

In theory, Being, Thinking and Saying do converge. But who knows?

These three states are also fundamental states of the human being. And Philo goes quite far in his ternary theory of the Logos, in spite of the putative difficulty that monotheism opposes when one wants to reconcile the unity of God and the multiplication of His appearances.

One way of overcoming this difficulty is to posit that the Logos is the set of all ideas which are ‘living’ in God. All the things that exist in the universe are deemed to derive from an original “idea”, from a « seal ». The Logos is the general seal whose imprint is on the whole universe.i

Divine ideas “act like seals, which when they are brought close to the wax, produce countless imprints without themselves being affected in any way, always remaining the same.”ii

Unlike the Logos of John, the Logos of Philo is not a divine person. It is only the ‘Organ’ of God. It is both His Reason and His Word, — which are manifested in His Creation.

Philo multiplies metaphors, analogies, images, applying them to the divine, human and natural realms. The Logos is creation, word, conception, flow, radiation, dilatation. According to yet another image, the Logos governs, as God reigns.

Philo’s thought about the Logos is quite complex. A 19th century commentatoriii judged that a tremendous confusion was in fact at the basis of Philo’s system, because he indiscriminately mixed up Logos (Word), Pneuma (Spirit), Sophia (Wisdom) and Episteme (Knowledge).

All the difficulty comes down to a simple question: what can one really infer a priori from the nature of the divine Spirit?

Difficult to stay.

Maybe one could start by saying that, in the divine Spirit, no distinction can really be made between what « contains » and what is « contained ».

Consequently, for instance for Philo, the Logos is at the same time the Author of the Law and the Law itself, the Spirit and the Letter.iv

The Logos is the Law, and is also the One who announces it, who reveals it.

The Wisdom of God is the source of the Logos, and it is also the Logos itself. In the same way, the Spirit of God is the source of all the intelligible beings, and it is also their total sum.

Everything which constitutes the Logos is divine, and everything which is divine, apart from the essence of God, is the Logos.

The Logos is, in all the universe, the image of the divine brought to unity. He is also the intermediary between this unity and God.

These difficult ideas have in fact been described by some hasty commentators as a « philosophical hodgepodge », adding that they showed a « lack of rigor »v on Philo’s part.

But, in my opinion, other conclusions may emerge.

On the one hand, Philo and John, independently of each other, and at about the same time in History, about two thousand years ago, just before the destruction of the Second Temple, clarified the contours of a “theophany” of the Logos, with some clear differences but also deep common structures.

On the other hand, what is still striking today is the extraordinary resilience of the concept of Logos, throughout history.

The Logos of the Stoics, the Platonic Noos, the Angel of the Eternal, the Word of YHVH, the Judeo-Alexandrine Logos, the Word made flesh, the Messiah of the first Christian Church, all these noetic figures are more similar in their absolute analogies than in their relative differences.

For the various sectarians of monotheism, however, the main difficulty lies in reconciling the idea of the unity of God with the reality of his multiple emanations, such as the Law (the Torah), or His Wisdom (okhma).

On a more philosophical level, the real difficulty is to think a Thought that exists as an absolute Being, but which also unfolds as a living, free, creative Being, in the Universe, and which finally reveals itself as the revealed Word, in the world.

Today, the « moderns » willingly deny the existence of the Logos, or of the Noos.

The Spirit, as it manifests itself in each one of us, is said by the “moderns” to arise only from biochemical mechanisms, synaptic connections, epigenetic processes, in the midst of glial cells.

The brain would multiply cellular and neuronal networks, and even « viral » ones. By their proliferation, the mechanical miracle of the Spirit coming to consciousness would appear.

But it is only a relative miracle, since we are assured that the “singularity” is close. And tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, it is affirmed, we will pass from deep learning AI to the synthesis of artificial consciousness…

However, another line of research seems possible, in theory.

It is a hypothesis that Kant already put forward, in a slightly provocative way.

“Our body is only the fundamental phenomenon to which, in its present state (in life), the entire power of sensibility and thus all thought is related. Separation from the body is the end of this sensitive use of one’s faculty of knowledge and the beginning of intellectual use. The body would therefore not be the cause of thought, but a merely restrictive condition of thought, and, consequently, it should be considered, without doubt, as an instrument of the sensible and animal end, but, by that very fact, as an obstacle to pure and spiritual life.”vi

Pursuing this line of research, purely intuitive it is true, one could conjecture that the brain, the human body, but also all peoples and Humanity as a whole could figure, in their own way, as immense metaphysical antennas, singular or collective, whose primary mission would be to capture the minute and diffuse signs of a supra-worldly Wisdom, of a creative Intelligence.

The greatest human geniuses would not find their ideas simply by the grace of unexpected crossings of some of their synapses, assisted by ionic exchanges. They would also be somehow « inspired » by the emanations of immense clouds of thinking thoughts, in which all living things are mysteriously immersed from the beginning.

In this hypothesis, who is really thinking then? Just synapses? Or the infinite, eternal choir of wise beings? Who will tell?

Who will say who really thinks, when I think, and when I think that I am?

I am thinking a thought that is born, that lives, and that becomes. I am thinking that thought, which never ceases to let itself think, – and from there, intuitively, I pass to the thought of a thought that would immediately precede and dispense with all thoughts; a thought that would never dispense with thinking, eternally.

Who will say why I pass to this very thought, immediate, eternal? Another shot of ionised synapses, by chance excited, finding their way among a hundred billion neurons (approximately), and twice as many glial cells?

iPhilo. De Mundi I, 5. De Prof. I, 547

iiPhilo. De Monarchia. II, 218

iiiCf. Jean Riéville. La doctrine du Logos dans le 4ème évangile et dans les œuvres de Philon. 1881

ivPhilo, De Migr. Abrah. I, 440-456

vJean Riéville, op.cit.

viEmmanuel Kant. Critique de la raison pure. Trad. A. Tremesaygues et B. Pacaud. PUF . 8ème édition, Paris, 1975, p.529.

YHVH’s Temounah

The Hebrew word תְּמוּנָה (temounah) has three meanings, according to Maimonides.

Firstly, it refers to the shape or figure of an object perceived by the senses. For example: « If you make a carved image of the figure (temounah) of anything, etc., it is a form or figure of an object perceived by the senses. « (Deut. 4:25)

Then, it may describe imaginary figures and thoughts that may occur in the imagination: « In thoughts born of night visions, etc. »(Jb. 4:13). This passage from Job ends by using the word temounah: « A figure (temounah), whose features were unknown to me, stood there before my eyes. « (Jb. 4:16). This means, says Maimonides, that there was a ghost before Job’s eyes, appearing while he was sleeping.

In its third sense, this word means the idea perceived by the intelligence. It is in this sense, says Maimonides, that one can use temounah when speaking of God, as in this passage: « And he beholds the figure (temounah) of the Lord (YHVH). « (Num. 12:8).

Maimonides comments as follows: “That is to say, he [Moses] contemplates God in his reality.”

In this famous passage, God speaks in the first person singular: “I speak to him [Moses] face to face, in evidence, not in riddles.”

Then, immediately afterwards, God speaks of Himself in the third person: « and he [Moses] sees the form (temounah) of YHVH. »

Maimonides comments: « The doctors say that this was a reward for having first ‘hidden his face so as not to look at God’ (Berakhot 7a) ».

Indeed, during the burning bush episode: “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look towards God” (Ex. 3:6)

But Maimonides is silent on the fact that the Berakhot treatise reports opposing opinions on this subject.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korḥa interprets negatively that Moses first hid his face and then asked God to show him His « glory » (Ex. 33:18). Consequently, God denies him this privilege.

On the contrary, Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani and Rabbi Yonatan believe that Moses’ discretion when God appeared in the burning bush was rewarded in three ways. Firstly, his face « shone » when he came down from the mountain (Ex. 34:29). Secondly, the Israelites « were afraid to approach him » (Ex. 34:30). Thirdly, Moses could « see the form (temounah) of YHVH » (Num. 12:8).

It is difficult to say anything new after the doctors of the Talmud and Maimonides. I will try anyway.

The word תְּמוּנָה (temounah) has as its verbal root מוּן, moun, “to furrow, split; to invent, fabricate, lie”i. The letter taw, initial of temounah, gives the word its substantive form. But if one swaps this taw with the teth of the Hebrew alphabet, one gets the word themounah. And curiously enough, the word thamana, טָמַן, means precisely « to hide, to bury ».

I find it very surprising that Moses “hides” (thamana) his face in order not to see the temounah of God. And that by “hiding” (thamana) his face, he was precisely granted the privilege of seeing YHVH’s temounah…

One may still want to ask: was YHVH’s temounah a figure, a vision or an idea?

Admittedly, the etymological root of the word temounah is not very reassuring, as it evokes invention, fabrication or lies…

We may want to re-read Num 12:6-8 with extra attention:

“If there is a prophet among you, it is in a vision ( בַּמַּרְאָה , ba-mar’ah) that I reveal myself to him, it is in a dream (בַּחֲלוֹם , ba-ḥalom) that I speak to him. It is not so with my servant Moses, all my house is entrusted to him. I speak to him face to face, (פֶּה אֶל-פֶּה , pê êl-pê), in evidence, (מַרְאֶה , mar’êh), not in riddles, and he sees the temounah of YHVH.” (Numbers 12:6-8).

It is said explicitly, here, that Moses is not just like other prophets, and that consequently, God did not reveal Himself to Moses “in a vision” (ba-mar’ah) or “in a dream” (ba-ḥalom).

However God revealed Himself as “mar’êh” and as “temounah”. What do these words really mean?

The word מַרְאֶה , mar’êh, means in fact « vision », but also « mirror ». The first meaning is found in Dan 10:7, « They did not see the vision » and in Ez 8:3, « In visions of God » (בְּמַרְאוֹת אֱלֹהִים , be-mar’ot Elohim). The second meaning is found in Ex 38:8, « with the mirrors of the women ».

Given the context, it seems probable that the meaning found in Daniel and Ezechiel (‘vision’) must prevail here, though this meaning still seem to contradict Num 12:6.

The translation of mar’êh by « evidence » is also a possible option, but there still may be an ambiguity, if the « vision » is seen like in a « mirror ».

The King James translation of Num 12:8 gives :

« With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold. »

That translation does not really help to eradicate a doubt about the real nature of the mar’êh and of the temounah.

So, did Moses “see” YHVH “apparently”, or in a “vision”, or like “in a mirror”, or “in evidence” ?

What we just know is that Moses did not “see” the temounah of YHVH ( תְמֻנַת יְהוָה ), “by a vision” or “in a vision” (ba-mar’ah).

We also know that Moses did not “see” but did “contemplate” (יַבִּיט , yabit) “a vision” (mar’êh), – directly, without the preposition בַּ, i.e. without any intermediary.

Moses contemplated a pure and intelligible idea, perceived by his intelligence, his soul.

iCf. Ernest Klein. A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. Carta Jerusalem & The University of Haifa. 1987

Prophecy and Ecstasy

In the year 16 A.D., under Tiberius, soothsayers, astrologers and magi were expelled from Italy. Divination and magical practices, then, had become a capital crime that was paid for with one’s life.

Several centuries before, Moses prophesied. God sent him dreams. Divine images were communicated directly to his soul. The prophet could see the future, and through his power of ‘enthusiasm’, his capacity for ‘ecstasy’, he was able to be fully ‘possessed’ by divine madness.

During ecstasy, the divine Being introduced into the soul of the prophet a capacity for understanding, for comprehension, without comparison with that of human nature. The prophet directly « heard » the thought of God.

God breathed thoughts into Moses’ mind; Moses in turn breathed them back in the form of words, addressed to Aaron and the tribes of Israel.

The intelligence (or Moses) was the interpreter of God. The word (as spoken to Aaron) represented the prophetic act.

« The soul has an earthly base, but it has its summit in pure intelligence. »i

iPhilo, De Somn. 1. 146

Eternal Birth

Man is an “intermediate being”, said Plato, “between the mortal and the immortal”i. This obscure expression can be understood in several senses.

Man is constantly on the move. He goes up and down. He ascends towards ideas he doesn’t quite understand, and he descends towards the matter he has forgotten and which reminds him of her. Systole and diastole of the soul. Breathing of the body, inhalation, exhalation of the spirit.

The ancients had formed words that can help to understand these opposite movements. The Greek word ἒκστασις (extasis), means « coming out of oneself ». In « ecstasy », the spirit « comes out » of the body, it is caught in a movement that carries it away. Ecstasy has nothing to do with what is called « contemplation », which is immobile, stable, and which Aristotle called θεωρία (theoria).

The meaning of the word θεωρία as « contemplation, consideration » is rather late, since it only appears with Plato and Aristotle. Later, in Hellenistic Greek, the word took on the meaning of « theory, speculation », as opposed to « practice ».

But originally, θεωρία meant « sending delegates to a religious festival, religious embassy, being a theorist ». The « theorist » was the person going on a trip to consult the oracle, or to attend a religious ceremony. A « theory » was a religious delegation going to a holy place.

Ecstasy is an exit from the body. The theoria is a journey out of the homeland, to visit the oracle of Delphi. These words therefore have one thing in common, that of a certain movement towards the divine.

They are images of the possible movement of the soul, vertically or horizontally, as ascent or approach. Unlike the theoria, which denotes a journey of the body in the literal sense, ecstasy takes the form of a thought in movement outside the body, traversed by lightning and dazzle, always aware of its weakness, its powerlessness, in an experience which is beyond it, and which it knows it has little chance of really grasping, little means of fixing it in order to share it on its return.

The word ecstasy is the minimal trace of a kind of experience that is difficult to understand for those who have not lived it. It is not simply a matter of « ascending » to higher or even divine realities. When the soul moves into these generally inaccessible regions, she encounters phenomena that are absolutely dissimilar to anything she has ever observed on earth, in her usual life. She runs an infinitely fast race, in pursuit of something that is always ahead of her, and which draws her further and further away, into an ever-changing elsewhere, and which projects her to an infinite distance of what she has ever experienced.

Human life cannot know the end of this incredible race. The soul, which is given the experience of ecstasy, understands by experience the possibility of such a search. She will always remain marked by her ‘election’, by the gift given to her of a striking flight towards a reality that is forever elusive.

It is interesting to question the texts that report ecstasies that have had the effect of changing the course of history, and to analyze their differences.

In his comments on the experience of ecstasyii, Philo considers that Moses, despite the fame and the power of his visioniii, did not have access to the full understanding of the divine powers.

Philo then sought in the vision of Jeremiah, with more success, the traces of a greater penetration of these powers.

Moving forward in these fields is a random and delicate undertaking. The texts are difficult, they resist interpretation.

“This is how the word of God was addressed to Jeremiah”iv.

This is a restrained way of giving an account of what was, one might think, originally an ecstasy. Reading these lines, one can guess at its hold.

“Dominated by your power, I lived in isolation.”v

Other prophets expressed the marks of their ecstasy in other metaphors. Ezekiel says that « the hand of God came »vi upon him, or that the spirit « prevailed ».vii

When ecstasy is at its height, the hand of God weighs more than usual:

“And the spirit lifted me up and carried me away, and I went away sorrowful in the exaltation of my spirit, and the hand of the Lord weighed heavily on me.”viii

The definition of ‘ecstasy’ according to the National Center for Textual and Lexical Resource (CNRTL) is as follows:

“A particular state in which a person, as if transported out of himself, is removed from the modalities of the sensible world by discovering through a kind of illumination certain revelations of the intelligible world, or by participating in the experience of an identification, of a union with a transcendent, essential reality.”

This definition speaks of enlightenment, identification or union with transcendental realities. But what do these words really cover?

According to other testimonies, ecstasy, of mystical essence, seems infinitely more dynamic, more transforming. It draws its principle and its energy from the intuition of the divine infinite and from participation in its movement.

Ecstasy is more a race than a stasis, more a dazzle than an illumination.

Bergson, the philosopher of movement, paradoxically gives a rather static, ‘arrested’ image of ecstasy: “The soul ceases to turn on herself (…). She stops, as if she were listening to a voice calling out to her. (…) Then comes an immensity of joy, an ecstasy in which she is absorbed or a rapture which she undergoes: God is there, and it is in her. No more mystery. Problems fade away, obscurities dissipate; it is an illumination.”ix

It is not known whether Bergson knows from real personal experience what he is talking about.

One only has to pay attention to the testimonies of Blaise Pascal or S. John of the Cross, to guess that ecstasy cannot be so luminously static. Taken to such an elevation, ecstasy has a fiery power that carries away all certainty, all security, and even all illumination.

Ecstasy dazzles like a primal dive into the center of Light. And the worlds, all the worlds, are then only like tiny quantum hairs emanating from a divine Black Hole.

It is difficult to explain in audible words, in palpable images, the infinite rapture of the soul, when she is given to see her own, eternal, birth.

iPlato. Symposium.

iiPhilo. De Monarch. I, 5-7

iiiEx 33, 18-23

ivJer. 14,1

vJer. 15,17

viEz. 1,3

viiEz. 3,12

viiiEz. 3,14

ix H. Bergson, Deux sources, 1932, p. 243.

A Jewish Trinity

How is it to be understood that a God who is essentially One may also be endowed, as his various Names testify, with multiple attributes?

If God is unique, where does the multiplicity of His attributes come from? How can His essential Unity be so ‘diverse’, from a phenomenological point of view?

Christians think that the Unity of God can also be understood as a « Trinity » (uniting the Creator, the Verb, the Spirit). The Jews absolutely refute that any « trinity » may be “seen” in an essentially One God. Muslims, too, are particularly sensitive to this question of the essential unity of God. They call Christians « associationists », and some verses of the Qu’ran affirm that they deserve death for this reason.

The “unity” of God raises difficult questions, when confronted to the multiplicity of God’s appearances.

A biblical image may help to understand the issue.

Abraham received three guests under the tree of Mamre. He then distinguished three representations of one single phenomenon, which he knew was of divine essence.

According to some, these three guests were “angels”. According to others, they were “Elohim” (“Gods” or « Lords »). According to yet other interpretations, Abraham’s vision was the vision of the One as a unique being, but accompanied by two of his “shadows”, which represented two degrees of divine “knowledge”, which some called, in Greek, the doxa (opinion) and the aletheia (truth).

For Philo, it was indeed the One God, but escorted by two divine Powers, the power of Creation and the power of Royalty.

The « power of Creation » is the power of God as the Creator. This power may also be called « goodness », because God « creates » through His goodness, and it is “good” that the Creator created the world. The power of Creation emanates from God, it derives from Him. One can also say that He « generates » it, like a Father a Son.

The « power of Royalty » is the power of the Lord as a ruler. It is the power of the Law, because the Lord is the one who punishes.

The « power of Royalty » is embodied in the Law. The power of the Law, the power of the Torah, is also the power of the Spirit, and it prevails in the intelligible world. “Listen, listen, and you will understand!”

The power of the Spirit is distinct from God, but it emanates from Him. Likewise, the scrolls of the Torah are not God, yet they emanate from Him, having been revealed to Moses.

God, His Goodness, His Spirit. One and Three.

Much later, the Jewish Kabbalah came out with yet another metaphor, the first three sefirot: Keter, Ḥokhmah, Binah.

Crown, Wisdom, Intelligence.

From a structural point of view, no real difference between the Christian Trinity and the Kabbalist one…

No End to Interpretation

The Arabic word تأويل, ta’wil, means « interpretation », and is used particularly in connection with the reading of the Qur’an, as to its inner, allegorical, mystical meaning.

This word has other meanings, which I recall here because they help to feel how the Arabic language understands the idea of « interpretation ».

Ta’wil may also mean: « vision, spectre, ghost; interpretation of dreams, of visions. »

The root of ta’wil is أول, ‘awal, which means « beginning » and comes from the verbal root أآل , ‘a’al, whose meaning, in its I form, is « to arrive, to reach a place; to return; to be a leader, to command; to abandon someone ». In form II of the verb ‘a’al, the meaning is: « to bring back, to make someone come back to something; to explain, to interpret; to establish, to institute; to define, to determine; to explain ».

Let’s indulge in an impromptu psychoanalysis of the word ta’wil and its verbal root.

It implies fundamentally a ‘return’ to a ‘beginning’. The ta’wil is essentially oriented towards an ‘origin’. The thought of ta’wil seems to be fascinated by an « original place », where it is necessary to « come back » to, in order « to take command », in order to « establish », to « institute », to « define », to « determine ».

But before attempting the ta’wil of any Koranic suras, it might be wise to proceed to the ta’wil of the ta’wil itself.

Perhaps the ta’wil would function more freely, if it were free from any absolute « beginning » and « origin », and if it took into account the complexity of human History, the diversity of beliefs, and the unexpected resources of various wisdoms, — and if it also turned more towards the future, towards the as yet unthought, rather than towards the past.

One of the most ancient meanings of the verbal root ‘a’al of the word ta’wil is « to abandon », as I already mentioned.

Perhaps, in order to make a good ta’wil, it is necessary to abandon clichés, repetitions, mechanical thoughts ?

Perhaps it is necessary to free the ta’wil from any imposed ‘truths’, from any fatwas, from any self-nominated ‘authorities’.

Perhaps it is necessary, for a really critical ta’wil, to finally leave the ossified, stale, dry, dead world of ready-made ideas, hammering heavily their way into human brains.

La Sagesse et י

Dans la bible hébraïque, le mot חָכְמָה, ḥokhmah, se rapporte à une entité mystérieuse, parfois définiei mais le plus souvent indéfinie, généralement singulière et quelquefois plurielleii. Elle peut ‘habiter’ dans l’esprit des hommes ou parmi les peuples. On ne sait pas d’où elle vient.iii

On dit qu’elle a aidé le Très-Haut dans son œuvre de Création.iv

Voici un bref florilège, phénoménologique, de ses furtives apparitions :

Elle fait vivre.v

Elle fait luire le

Elle est torrent, ou source.vii

Elle peut être d’Orient ou d’Égypteviii.

Elle peut emplir Josuéix ou Salomonx.

Elle peut se trouver chez les humblesxi et les vieillardsxii, chez l’homme simplexiii ou chez le justexiv.

Elle peut venir avec la connaissancexv, ou bien avec la puissancexvi, ou encore avec l’intelligencexvii. Mais elle vaut bien mieux que la force.xviii

Elle peut se cacher dans un murmurexix, dans un crixx, ou dans le secretxxi.

On peut l’appeler ‘amie’xxii, ´sœur’xxiii, ‘mère’ ou ‘épouse’.

Elle rend heureux.xxiv

Elle conduit à la royauté.xxv

Elle est ‘esprit’.xxvi

Elle est brillante, et elle ne se flétrit pas.xxvii

Plus rapide que n’importe quel mouvement, elle est infiniment mobile.xxviii

Elle habite dans sa propre demeure, et celui qui habite avec elle, celui-là seul Dieu l’aime.xxix

Elle peut tout

Elle peut mourirxxxi

Elle accompagne l’ange d’ « Élohim », et aussi le Seigneur appelé « Adonaï »xxxii.

Elle est en Thôtxxxiii, mais c’est YHVH qui la donnexxxiv.

Elle partage le trône du Seigneur.xxxv

Elle est avec Lui, et elle connaît Ses œuvres.xxxvi

Elle a été créée avant toute chose.xxxvii

C’est par elle que les hommes ont été formés.xxxviii

Et c’est elle qui les sauve.xxxix

Ces bribes, ces fulgurances, ne sont qu’une infime partie de son infinie essence.

Mais une simple lettre, la plus petite de l’alphabet hébraïque, י, Yod, peut la comprendre et l’incarner tout entière.

Le Yod est la première lettre du Tétragramme : יהוה. Dans la cabale juive, et peut-être pour cette raison, le Yod correspond surtout à la séfira Ḥokhmahxl, la Sagesse, ce qui nous mène au cœur du sujet.

Le Tétragramme יהוה, nom certes indicible, peut du moins, en principe, être transcrit en lettres latines: YHVH.

Y pour י, H pour ה, V pour ו, H pour ה.

Ce nom, YHVH, on le sait, est le nom imprononçable de Dieu.

Mais si on l’écrit avec un blanc interstitiel YH VH, il est aussi le nom de l’Homme primordial, – selon la thèse du Zohar que l’on va maintenant rappeler ici.

Le commentaire du Livre de Ruth dans le Zohar ne s’embarrasse pas de détours. D’emblée, servi par un style immensément dense, il plonge dans le mystère, il saute dans l’abysse, il affronte la nuit primordiale, il explore la profondeur de l’Obscur, à la recherche de l’origine oubliée des mondes.

Le Zohar sur Ruth, – vin puissant, savant nectar, aux arômes de myrrhe et d’encens.

A déguster lentement.

« Le Saint béni soit-Il a créé en l’homme YH VH, qui est son saint nom, le souffle du souffle qui est appelé Adam. Et des lumières se répandent en neuf éclats, qui s’enchaînent depuis le Yod. Elles constituent la lumière une sans séparation ; aussi le corps de l’homme est appelé vêtement d’Adam. Le est appelé souffle, et il s’accouple avec le Yod, il s’épand en de nombreuses lumières qui sont une. Yod Hé sont sans séparation, c’est ainsi que ‘Élohim créa l’homme à son image, à l’image d’Élohim il le créa, mâle et femelle il les créa … et il les appela Adam’ (Gen 1,27 et 5,2).Vav est appelé esprit, et il est dénommé fils de Yod Hé ; [final] est appelé âme et il est dénommé fille. Ainsi y a-t-il Père et Mère, Fils et Fille. Et le secret du mot Yod Hé Vav Hé est appelé Adam. Sa lumière se répand en quarante-cinq éclats et c’est le chiffre d’Adamxli, mahxlii, qu’est-ce ? »xliii.

Logique cabalistique. Sacralité de la lettre, du nombre. Unité du sens, mais multiplicité de ses puissances. Toute idée germe, et engendre dérives, ombres neuves, soleils naissants, lunes seules. La pensée ne cesse jamais son rêve, elle aspire au souffle, au chant, à l’hymne.

La lettre relie le ciel et la terre. Elle relie en séparant, littéralement : יה → יהוה et וה .

En lisant יה, le cabaliste pressent le rôle inchoatif, séminal et sexuel de י, – d’où émaneront les lumières des sefirot.

Résumons ce que dit le Zohar:

YHVH → YH VH → Adam → le Yod, י, le « souffle du souffle » → okhmah , la ‘lumière une’ → d’où émanent les autres ‘lumières’ ou sefirot.

YHVH « crée en l’homme YH VH », c’est-à-dire qu’Il crée en l’homme le nom divin, comme deux couples, יה et וה, respectivement YH et VH, qui seront aussi le nom de l’Homme primordial, Adam, « YH VH ».

Ces deux couples de lettres peuvent être interprétés symboliquement, comme des métaphores de l’union et de la filiation : YH = Père-Mère, et VH = Fils-Fille.

C’est en effet une ancienne interprétation de la Cabale que le Yod, י, représente le principe masculin, et que le , ה, représente le principe féminin.

Le Vav, ו, symbolise le fruit filial de l’union de י et ה. Le second ה du Tétragramme s’interprète alors comme un autre fruit, la « Fille », quand il s’associe au Vav ו…

Images humaines, charnelles, cachant une autre idée, divine, spirituelle…

Une deuxième série de métaphores est en effet ici décelée par la cabale, qui explique:

YH = Sagesse-Intelligence (okhmah-Binah) et VH = Beauté-Royauté (Tiferet-Malkhout).

A partir de Ḥokhmah, d’autres séfirot s´unissent ou émanent.

Le Zohar nous apprend de plus que Ḥokhmah, c´est-à-dire י , la 1ère lettre du Tétragramme, symbolise le « souffle du souffle », créé en « Adam »…

Est-ce que cet « Adam » est le même que « le Adam » (הָאָדָם ha-’adam), qui a été créé après le 7ème jour, selon Gen 2,7 ?

Et quelle différence, s’il y en a une, entre cet « Adam », souffle du souffle, et « le Adam » de la Genèse ?

Le Zohar pose cette question et y répond, dans un style opaque, concis, condensé :

« Quelle différence entre Adam et Adam ? Voici : YHVH est appelé Adam, et le corps est appelé Adam, quelle différence entre l’un et l’autre ? En vérité, là où il est dit : ‘Élohim créa Adam à son image’, il est YHVH ; et là où il n’est pas dit ‘à son image’, il est corps. Après qu’il est dit : ‘YHVH Elohim forma’ (Gen 2,7), à savoir qu’il forma Adam, il le ‘fit’, comme il est écrit : ‘YHVH Elohim fit pour Adam et sa femme une tunique de peau et il les en revêtit’ (Gen 3,21). Au début, il y a une tunique de lumière, à la ressemblance de l’en-haut, après qu’ils fautèrent, il y a une tunique de peau.xliv A ce propos il est dit : ‘Tous ceux qui sont appelés de mon nom, que j’ai créés pour ma gloire, que j’ai formés, et même que j’ai faits’ (Is 43,7)xlv. ‘Que j’ai créés’, c’est Yod Hé Vav Hé, ‘que j’ai formés’, c’est la tunique de lumière, ‘et même que j’ai faits’, c’est la tunique de peau. »xlvi

Les indices laissés par l’Écriture sont minces, assurément. Mais Isaïe, d’une phrase, illumine l’intelligence de la création de l’Homme. Et il ouvre des perspectives puissantes à notre compréhension du Texte qui la rapporte.

Charles Mopsik commente ce passage clé de la façon suivante : « Le verset d’Isaïe tel que le lit le Zohar présente une progression de la constitution de l’homme en fonction de trois verbes : le verbe créer se rapporte à la constitution d’Adam comme nom divin (les quatre âmes précitées [le souffle du souffle, le souffle, l’esprit, l’âme]), le verbe former se rapporte à la constitution de son corps primordial, qui est une robe de lumière, enfin le verbe faire se rapporte à sa constitution d’après la chute, où son corps devient une enveloppe matérielle, une tunique de peau, que la ‘colère’, c’est-à-dire l’Autre côté, le domaine d’impureté, avoisine sous la forme du penchant au mal. »xlvii

L’Homme est, dans la Genèse, associé à trois mots hébreux, essentiels : néchamah, ruaḥ et néfech. Ces mots ont plusieurs acceptions. Pour faire simple, on les traduira respectivement par « souffle », « esprit » et « âme ».

On apprend ici qu’il y a aussi, à l´origine, à la toute première place, à la racine du souffle, le « souffle du souffle ».

Et ce « souffle du souffle », c’est la sagesse : י

i‘Haḥokhmah’, comme dans וְהַחָכְמָה, מֵאַיִן תִּמָּצֵא ,Vé-ha-ḥokhmah, méïn timmatsa’, « Mais la Sagesse d’où provient-elle ? » Job 28,12

iiOn peut l’employer comme un substantif au féminin pluriel חָכְמוֹת, ḥokhmot, signifiant alors, suivant les traductions, « les femmes sages », ou les « sagesses », ou la « Sagesse », comme dans חָכְמוֹת, בָּנְתָה בֵיתָהּ , « Les femmes sages – ou les sagesses – ont bâti sa maison » (Pv 9,1) ou encore comme חָכְמוֹת, בַּחוּץ תָּרֹנָּה , « Les femmes sages – ou la Sagesse – crie(nt) par les rues » (Pv 1,20) 

iii « Mais la Sagesse d’où provient-elle ? » Job 28,12

iv« YHVH, avec la Sagesse, a fondé la terre, par l’intelligence il a affermi les cieux. » Pv 3,19

v« C’est que la sagesse fait vivre ceux qui la possèdent » Qo 7,12

vi« La sagesse de l’homme fait luire son visage et donne à son visage un double ascendant » Qo 8,1

vii« Un torrent débordant, une source de sagesse » Pv 18,4

viii« La sagesse de Salomon fut plus grande que la sagesse de tous les fils de l’Orient et que toute la sagesse de l’Égypte » 1 Ro 5,10

ix« Josué, fils de Nûn, était rempli de l’esprit de sagesse » Dt 34,9

xLes Proverbes lui sont attribués, comme le Qohélet.

xi« Mais chez les humbles se trouve la sagesse » Pv 11,2

xii« La sagesse est chez les vieillards » Job 12,12

xiii « Il donne la sagesse au simple » Ps 19,8

xiv« La bouche du juste exprime la sagesse » Pv 10,31

xv« Sagesse et connaissance sont les richesses qui sauvent » Is 33,6

xvi« Mais en Lui résident sagesse et puissance » Job 12,13

xvii« Esprit de sagesse et d’intelligence » Is 11,2

xviii« Sagesse vaut mieux que force, mais la sagesse du pauvre est méconnue » Qo 9,16

xix« La bouche du juste murmure la sagesse » Ps 37,30

xx« La Sagesse crie par les rues » Pv 1,20

xxi« Dans le secret tu m’enseignes la sagesse » Ps 51,8

xxii« La Sagesse est un esprit ami des hommes » Sg 1,6

xxiii« Dis à la sagesse : Tu es ma sœur ! Et appelle la raison Mon amie ! » Pv 7,4

xxiv« Heureux l’homme qui a trouvé la sagesse » Pv 3,13

xxvSg 6,20

xxvi« Esprit de sagesse et d’intelligence » Is 11,2

xxviiSg 6,12

xxviiiSg 7,24

xxixSg 7,28

xxxSg 8,5

xxxi« Avec vous mourra la Sagesse » Job 12,2

xxxii « Mais mon Seigneur (Adonaï), sage comme la sagesse de l’ange de Elohim ». 2 Sa 14,20

xxxiiiמִי-שָׁת, בַּטֻּחוֹת חָכְמָה « Qui a mis la sagesse en Thôt [Thouot] ? » (Job 38,36)

xxxiv« Car c’est YHVH qui donne la sagesse » Pv 2,6

xxxvSg 9,4

xxxviSg 9,9

xxxvii« Mais avant toute chose fut créée la Sagesse. » Sir 1,4

xxxviiiSg 9,2

xxxixSg 9,18

xlLe Zohar. Midrach Ha-Néélam sur Ruth, 78c. Trad. de l’hébreu et de l’araméen, et annoté par Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier. 1987, p.83, note 136.

xliLa valeur numérique du Tétragramme YHVH est 45, de même que la valeur numérique du mot Adam.

xliiL’expression « Qu’est-ce ? » ou « Quoi ? » (mah) a aussi 45 pour valeur numérique.

xliiiLe Zohar. Midrach Ha-Néélam sur Ruth, 78c. Trad. de l’hébreu et de l’araméen par Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier. 1987, p.82-83. (Ch. Mopsik traduit néchama par ‘respir’ et néchama [de la] néchama par ‘respir du respir’, ce qui est un peu artificiel. Je préfère traduire néchama, plus classiquement, par ‘souffle’, et dans son redoublement, par ‘souffle du souffle’).

xlivCh. Mopsik note ici : « Lumière se dit ’or (avec un aleph) et peau se dit ‘or (avec un ‘aïn). Avant la faute Adam et Eve sont enveloppés dans un ‘corps’ lumineux, la ‘tunique de lumière’ pareille à celle des anges ; après la faute, ils endossent un vêtement d’une étoffe plus grossière : une tunique de peau. » Le Zohar. Midrach Ha-Néélam sur Ruth, 78c. Trad. de l’hébreu et de l’araméen par Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier. 1987, p.84, note 148.

xlv כֹּל הַנִּקְרָא בִשְׁמִי, וְלִכְבוֹדִי בְּרָאתִיו:  יְצַרְתִּיו, אַף-עֲשִׂיתִיו.  Les trois verbes employés ici par Isaïe impliquent une progression de l’intervention toujours plus engagée de Dieu par rapport à l’homme; bara’ , yatsar, ‘assa, signifient respectivement : « créer » (tirer du néant), « façonner/former », et « faire/accomplir ».

xlviLe Zohar. Midrach Ha-Néélam sur Ruth, 78c. Trad. de l’hébreu et de l’araméen par Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier. 1987, p.84

xlviiIbid. note 149

Shadows of God

The biblical name Bezaleeli literally means « in the shadow of God ». Philo offers this interpretation: “The ‘shadow of God’ is the Logos. Just as God is the model of His own Image, which He has here called ‘shadow’, so the Image becomes the model of other things, as He showed at the beginning of the Law (Gen. 1:27) (…) The Image was reproduced after God, and man after the Image, who thus took on the role of model.”ii 

Man then is only the shadow of a shadow, the image of an image, or the dream of a dream. For the word shadow evokes the dream, the dream, according to Philo, who quotes the verse: « God will make Himself known unto him in a vision, that is, in a shadow, and not in all light » (Num. 12:6).

In truth, this quotation from Philo is a bit approximate.

The King James version says, more faithfully: “If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.”

In fact, in the original Hebrew, we read not the word « shadow » (tsal), but « dream » (halom).

If one renders the translation with this word, the verse reads:

« Listen to my words. If he were only your prophet, I, the LORD, would manifest myself to him in a vision, I would speak with him in a dream. But no: Moses is my servant; he is the most devoted of all my house. I speak to him face to face, in a clear apparition and without riddles; it is the very image of God that he contemplates. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant, against Moses? »iii

Even to a ‘prophet’, God may manifest Himself in ambiguous and fragile ways: through a vision or a dream.

But to Moses, God appeared face to face, clearly, ‘without riddles’. And Moses contemplated God as an « image ».

He had the great privilege of seeing God face to face, but in reality he saw only His image. This image, this « shadow », was the Logos of God, if we are to follow Philo.

Evidently, here, the Platonic theories of the Logos had percolated and sowed some seeds in the mind of a great Jewish thinker.

Born in Alexandria just before our era, Philo appears in history shortly before a certain Yĕhōshúa of Galilea, who was later destined to be granted the name of the divine Logos by his followers.

From Moses to Jesus, one can see some continuity and some difference. Moses talks face to face with the Logos of God, i.e. His « image », or His « shadow ». Jesus also talks face to face with God, but he is himself called Logos.

What is the difference? Maybe a difference in the degree of ‘incarnation’ of the Divine Spirit.

The prophets usually are given visions and dreams. To Moses, was given the image and vision of the Logos. To Jesus was given to be the Logos.

And to the Prophet Muhammad what was given? He was given the Qur’an. As the prophet was notoriously illiterate, this text was first dictated to him in oral form, by an angel. Some scribes then took it upon themselves to transcribe the revealed text for posterity.

Can we say that the Qur’an is an instance of the divine Logos? Admittedly, the Qur’an and the Logos are both different instances of the Word of God.

So what is the (ontological) difference between the experience of Moses, that of Jesus and that of Muhammad?

In all three cases God manifests Himself through His Word.

Three brands of monotheism came out to celebrate these manifestations.

The Jews conserve the ‘words’ that God spoke to Moses. They believe that the Logos can be embodied in the vision that Moses saw, and in the Law that he heard.

The Christians believe that the Logos can incarnate Himself in a Messiah, called « Son of God », and that the (divine) Word is « the Son of God ».

The Muslims believe that the « Uncreated Qur’an » is the Word of God.

In reality, nothing may prevent the Logos to ‘descend’ and ‘incarnate’ in this world, wherever and whenever He or She wishes to do so.

iEx 31,2

iiLegum Allegoriae, 96

iiiNum. 12,6-8

Finding Knowledge in Death

In the Book of Genesis, God creates man in two different ways. Two words, עֲשֶׂה ‘ésêh, « to make » and יָצָר yatsar, « to form » are used, at two distinct moments, to indicate this nuance.

« And God said: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness » (Gen. 1:26). The Hebrew word for « let us make » is נַעֲשֶׂה from the verb עֲשֶׂה ‘ésêh.

And in the second chapter of Genesis we read:

« And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there he put the man whom he had formed. « (Gen. 2:8) The Hebrew word for « formed » is: יָצָר , yatsar.

What does this difference in vocabulary teach us?

The verb עֲשֶׂה means “to make” but has several other nuances: “to prepare, arrange, care, establish, institute, accomplish, practice, observe.” This range of meanings evokes the general idea of realization, accomplishment, perfection.

The verb יָצָר means “to form, to fashion” but also has an intransitive meaning: “to be narrow, constricted, embarrassed, afraid, tormented”. It evokes an idea of constraint, of embarrassment.

It is as if the first verb (« to make ») translated the point of view of God creating man, and as if the second verb (« to form ») expressed the point of view of man who finds himself in the narrow « form » imposed to him, with all that it implies of constraint, tightness and torment.

The Book of Genesis twice cites the episode of the creation of man, but with significant differences.

Firstly, God « places » (וַיָּשֶׂם שָׁם ) a man “whom he had formed « (Gen. 2,8) in the Garden of Eden. A little later, God « establishes » (וַיַּנִּח ) a man there to be the worker and the guardian (Gen. 2,15).

Philo interprets this reference to two different “placement” or “establishment” of “man” as follows: the man who tills the garden and looks after it, is « the man [whom God] has made », and not the man whom he has « formed ». God « receives the former, but drives out the latter.”i

Philo introduces a distinction between the « heavenly » man and the « earthly » man. « The heavenly man was not formed, but made in the image of God, and the earthly man is a being formed, but not begotten by the Maker. »ii

One can understand thusly: God first « formed » a man and « placed » him in the garden. But this man was not deemed worthy to cultivate it. God drove him out of the Garden of Eden. Then He « established » the man whom He « made » in his place.

Philo adds: « The man whom God has made is different, as I have said, from the man who has been formed: the formed man is earthly intelligence; the man who has been made is immaterial intelligence. »iii

So it was just meant to be a metaphor. There are not two kinds of men, but rather two kinds of intelligence in the same man.

« Adam is the earthly and corruptible intelligence, for the man ‘in the image’ is not earthly but heavenly. We must seek why, giving all other things their names, he did not give himself his own name… The intelligence that is in each of us can understand other beings, but it is incapable of knowing itself, as the eye sees without seeing itself. »iv

The « earthly » intelligence thinks all beings but does not understand itself.

God takes up his work again, and endows man with a « celestial » intelligence. He then has new troubles, since this new man disobeys him and eats of the fruit of the « tree of the knowledge of good and evil ».

It can be argued that without this « heavenly » intelligence, man could not have eaten and known good and evil.

Another question: Was this tree really in the Garden of Eden?

Philo doubts it, because God has said: « But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it.”

This is (grammatically) not an order, but just a factual statement. Philo infers that « this tree was therefore not in the garden ».v

This can be explained by the nature of things, he argues: « It [the tree] is there by substance, it is not there in potency. »

In other words, the “tree” is apparently there, but not really its “fruit”.

More philosophically: knowledge is not to be found in life. Knowledge is only to be found “in potency”, i.e. in death.

For the day that one eats of the fruit of the tree of knowledge is also the day of death, the day of which it is said, « You shall die of death » מוֹת תָּמוּת, mot tamut, (Gen. 2:17).

Why this pleonasm, “to die of death”, in the biblical text?

« There is a double death, that of man, and the death proper to the soul; that of man is the separation of soul and body; that of the soul, the loss of virtue and the acquisition of vice. (…) And perhaps this second death is opposed to the first: this one is a division of the compound of body and soul; the other, on the contrary, is a meeting of the two where the inferior, the body, dominates, and the superior, the soul, is dominated. »vi

Philo quotes here the last part of the fragment 62 of Heraclitus: “ Immortals are mortal, mortals immortal, living their death, dying their life ».

He believes that Heraclitus was « right to follow the doctrine of Moses in this », and, as a good Neoplatonist, Philo takes up the famous thesis of the body, tomb of the soul, developed by Plato.

“That is to say, at the present time, when we live, the soul is dead and buried in the body as in a tomb, but by our death the soul lives of the life proper to it, and is delivered from evil and from the corpse that was bound to it, the body.”vii

The Book of Genesis says: “You shall die of death!”. Heraclitus has a formula which is less of such a pleonasm: “The life of some is the death of others, the death of some, the life of others.”

Who to believe? Is death double, that of the body and that of the soul? Or does death herald another life?

We can try to propose a synthesis, like Philo did.

Knowledge is not to be found in life. It is only there “in potency”, and it is probably to be found in “death”, which announces an “other” sort of life.

iPhilo of Alexandria, Legum Allegoriae, 55

iiIbid., 31

iiiIbid., 88

ivIbid., 90

vIbid., 100

viIbid., 105

viiIbid., 106

Unspeakable Suns

« And the evening and the morning were the first day.”i

« And the evening and the morning were the second day.”ii

« And the evening and the morning were the third day.”iii

However, the sun was not created until the fourth day of the Creation! During the first half of the six days of the Creation, there was no sun, yet there was light and darkness…

What were those « mornings » and « evenings » really like, when the sun was not yet created? Were they only metaphors? Symbols? Images?

One could speculate that these « mornings » (without sun) could be a colourful, metaphoric, way of describing the dawn of things, their principle, their idea, their essence.

And continuing on this train of thoughts, the « evenings » – which came before the « mornings », in the Book of Genesis – could then represent the knowledge that precedes principles, ideas, – the obscure knowledge that precedes the dawn of the understanding, the dawn of the essence of things.

The « evenings » would then confusingly embody all that announces things yet to be created, in advance, all that prepares them in secret, makes them possible and compatible with matter, life, reality.

The « evening knowledge » may represent the knowledge of things as they subsist, latent, in their own nature, immersed in a slowly emerging consciousness, that is still formless.

And when the « morning » comes, then appears the « morning knowledge », the knowledge of the primordial nature of beings, their true, luminous, essence.

A lion, an eagle or a squid, live their own unique life in the steppe, the sky or the sea. Who will tell the unique experience of this particular lion, this singular eagle, this specific squid? Who will bundle them with ‘sensors’ from birth to death, observe their entire life, grasp all their perceptions, understand the full range of their emotions, their fears, their pleasures, and acquire their grammar, their vocabulary?

Plato invented the idea of “the idea”. We may then imagine that there is such a thing as the “idea” of the tiger, its very essence, the “tiger-dom”. But even if we could grasp the essence of the generic tiger, what about the essence of a specific tiger?

To access the « morning knowledge » of the tiger, one would also have to be capable of abstraction, to penetrate its essence, to understanding the paradigm at work.

But, even more difficult maybe, one would also have to be a very zealous observer, endowed with empathy, sensitivity, and encyclopedic patience, to claim the « evening knowledge » of this or that particular tiger.

One should ideally strive to be able to grasp at the same time, not only the “tiger-dom” in general, but the unique “tiger-dom” of this or that particular tiger.

In a sense, a specific tiger may well represent its species. But from another perspective, an individual tiger remains deeply immersed in its own, opaque, singularity. It can never represent the sum total of the life experiences of its fellow tigers of past and future times. One tiger virtually sums up the species, one can admit, but is also overwhelmed on all sides by the innumerable lives of other, real tigers.

During the first days of the Genesis, and before the sun was even created, three evenings and three mornings benefited from a non-solar “light”, a “light” without photons, but not without enlightenment, – a non material “light”, but not without “ideas”…

During those first three days and nights, in the absence of the sun, we can infer that were crated many other (unspeakable) “suns” that were never before seen, and many other unheard-of and unspeakable “moons”.

iGn. 1, 5

iiGn. 1, 8

iiiGn. 1, 13