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.

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