Making God and Giving Him Life – in Kabbalah and other Theurgic Conceptions

« Mains de bénédiction »

God needs men, even more than men need God.

The theurgic, creative power of men has always manifested itself through the ages.

Religious anthropology bears witness to this.

« No doubt, without the Gods, men could not live. But on the other hand, the Gods would die if they were not worshipped (…) What the worshipper really gives to his God is not the food he puts on the altar, nor the blood that flows from his veins: that is his thought. Between the deity and his worshippers there is an exchange of good offices which condition each other. »i

The Vedic sacrifice is one of the most ancient human rite from which derives the essence of Prajāpati, the supreme God, the Creator of the worlds.

« There are rites without gods, and there are rites from which gods derive ».ii

Unexpectingly, Charles Mopsik, in his study of the Jewish kabbalah, subtitled The Rites that Make God, affirms the « flagrant similarity » of these ancient theurgical beliefs with the Jewish motif of the creative power of the rite.

Mopsik readily admits that « the existence of a theme in Judaism, according to which man must ‘make God’, may seem incredible.»iii

Examples of Jewish kabbalistic theurgy abound, involving, for example, man’s ‘shaping’ of God, or his participation in the ‘creation’ of the Name or the Shabbath. Mopsik evokes a midrash quoted by R. Bahya ben Acher, according to which « the man who keeps the Shabbath from below, ‘it is as if he were doing it from above’, in other words ‘gave existence’, ‘fashioned the Sabbath from above. »iv

The expression ‘to make God’, which Charles Mopsik uses in the subtitle of his book, can be compared to the expression ‘to make the Shabbath’ (in the sense of ‘to create the Shabbath’) as it is curiously expressed in the Torah (« The sons of Israel will keep the Shabbath to make the Shabbath » (Ex 31,16)), as well as in the Clementine Homilies, a Judeo-Christian text that presents God as the Shabbath par excellencev, which implies that ‘to make the Shabbath’ is ‘to make God’…

Since its very ancient ‘magical’ origins, theurgy implies a direct relationship between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’ or ‘making’. The Kabbalah takes up this idea, and develops it:

« You must know that the commandment is a light, and he who does it below affirms (ma’amid) and does (‘osseh) that which is above. Therefore, when man practices a commandment, that commandment is light.»vi

In this quotation, the word ‘light’ is to be understood as an allusive way of saying ‘God’, comments Mopsik, who adds: « Observances have a sui generis efficacy and shape the God of the man who puts them into practice.»

Many other rabbis, such as Moses de Leon (the author of the Zohar), Joseph Gikatila, Joseph of Hamadan, Méir ibn Gabbay, or Joseph Caro, affirm the power of « the theurgic instituting action » or « theo-poietic ».

The Zohar explains :

« ‘If you follow my ordinances, if you keep my commandments, when you do them, etc.' ». (Lev 26:3) What does ‘When you do them’ mean? Since the text already says, « If you follow and keep, » what is the meaning of « When you do them »? Verily, whoever does the commandments of the Torah and walks in its ways, so to speak, it is as if he makes Him on high (‘avyd leyh le’ila), the Holy One blessed be He who says, ‘It is as if he makes Me’ (‘assa-ny). In this connection Rabbi Simeon said, ‘David made the Name’. » vii

« David made the Name » ! This is yet another theurgical expression, and not the least, since the Name, the Holy Name, is in reality God Himself !

‘Making God’, ‘Making the Shabbath’, ‘Making the Name’, all these theurgic expressions are equivalent, and the authors of the Kabbalah adopt them alternately.

From a critical point of view, it remains to be seen whether the kabbalistic interpretations of these theurgies are in any case semantically and grammatically acceptable. It also remains to be ascertained whether they are not rather the result of deliberately tendentious readings, purposefully diverting the obvious meaning of the Texts. But even if this were precisely the case, there would still remain the stubborn, inescapable fact that the Jewish Kabbalists wanted to find the theurgic idea in the Torah .

Given the importance of what is at stake, it is worth delving deeper into the meaning of the expression « Making the Name », and the way in which the Kabbalists understood it, – and then commented on it again and again over the centuries …

The original occurrence of this particular expression is found in the second book of Samuel (II Sam 8,13). It is a particularly warlike verse, whose usual translation gives a factual, neutral interpretation, very far in truth from the theurgic interpretation:

« When he returned from defeating Syria, David again made a name for himself by defeating eighteen thousand men in the Valley of Salt. »

David « made a name for himself », i.e. a « reputation », a « glory », in the usual sense of the word שֵׁם, chem.

The massoretic text of this verse gives :

וַיַּעַשׂ דָּוִד, שֵׁם

Va ya’ass Daoud shem

« To make a name for oneself, a reputation » seems to be the correct translation, in the context of a warlord’s glorious victory. Biblical Hebrew dictionaries confirm that this meaning is widespread.

Yet this was not the interpretation chosen by the Kabbalists.

They prefer to read: « David made the Name« , i.e. « made God« , as Rabbi Simeon says, quoted by the Zohar.

In this context, Charles Mopsik proposes a perfectly extraordinary interpretation of the expression « making God ». This interpretation (taken from the Zohar) is that « to make God » is equivalent to the fact that God constitutes His divine fullness by conjugating (in the original sense of the word!) « His masculine and feminine dimensions ».

If we follow Mopsik, « making God » for the Zohar would be the equivalent of « making love » for both male and female parts of God?

More precisely, as we will see, it would be the idea of YHVH’s loving encounter with His alter ego, Adonaï?

A brilliant idea, – or an absolute scandal (from the point of view of Jewish ‘monotheism’)?

Here’s how Charles Mopsik puts it:

« The ‘Holy Name’ is defined as the close union of the two polar powers of the divine pleroma, masculine and feminine: the sefira Tiferet (Beauty) and the sefira Malkhut (Royalty), to which the words Law and Right refer (…) The theo-poietic action is accomplished through the unifying action of the practice of the commandments that cause the junction of the sefirot Tiferet and Malkhut, the Male and Female from Above. These are thus united ‘one to the other’, the ‘Holy Name’ which represents the integrity of the divine pleroma in its two great poles YHVH (the sefira Tiferet) and Adonay (the sefira Malkhut). For the Zohar, ‘To make God’ therefore means to constitute the divine fullness [or pleroma] by uniting its masculine and feminine dimensions. » viii

In another passage of the Zohar, it is the (loving) conjunction of God with the Shekhina, which is proposed as an equivalence or ‘explanation’ of the expressions « making God » or « making the Name »:

« Rabbi Judah reports a verse: ‘It is time to act for YHVH, they have violated the Torah’ (Ps.119,126). What does ‘the time to act for YHVH’ mean? (…) ‘Time’ refers to the Community of Israel (the Shekhinah), as it is said: ‘He does not enter the sanctuary at all times’ (Lev 16:2). Why [is it called] ‘time’? Because there is a ‘time’ and a moment for all things, to draw near, to be enlightened, to unite as it should be, as it is written: ‘And I pray to you, YHVH, the favourable time’ (Ps 69:14), ‘to act for YHVH’ [‘to make YHVH’] as it is written: ‘David made the Name’ (II Sam 8:13), for whoever devotes himself to the Torah, it is as if he were making and repairing the ‘Time’ [the Shekhinah], to join him to the Holy One blessed be He. » ix

After « making God », « making YHVH », « making the Name », here is another theurgical form: « making Time », that is to say « bringing together » the Holy One blessed be He and the Shekhina…

A midrach quoted by R. Abraham ben Ḥananel de Esquira teaches this word attributed to God Himself: « Whoever fulfills My commandments, I count him as if they had made Me. » x

Mopsik notes here that the meaning of the word ‘theurgy’ as ‘production of the divine’, as given for example in the Liturgy, may therefore mean ‘procreation’, as a model for all the works that are supposed to ‘make God’. xi

This idea is confirmed by the famous Rabbi Menahem Recanati: « The Name has commanded each one of us to write a book of the Torah for himself; the hidden secret is this: it is as if he is making the Name, blessed be He, and all the Torah is the names of the Saint, blessed be He. » xii

In another text, Rabbi Recanati brings together the two formulations ‘to make YHVH’ and ‘to make Me’: « Our masters have said, ‘Whoever does My commandments, I will count him worthy as if he were making Me,’ as it is written, ‘It is time to make YHVH’ (Ps 119:126)xiii.

One can see it, tirelessly, century after century, the rabbis report and repeat the same verse of the psalms, interpreted in a very specific way, relying blindly on its ‘authority’ to dare to formulate dizzying speculations… like the idea of the ‘procreation’ of the divinity, or of its ‘begetting’, in itself and by itself….

The kabbalistic image of ‘procreation’ is actually used by the Zohar to translate the relationship of the Shekhina with the divine pleroma:

« ‘Noah built an altar’ (Gen 8:20). What does ‘Noah built’ mean? In truth, Noah is the righteous man. He ‘built an altar’, that is the Shekhina. His edification (binyam) is a son (ben) who is the Central Column. » xiv

Mopsik specifies that the ‘righteous’ is « the equivalent of the sefira Yessod (the Foundation) represented by the male sexual organ. Acting as ‘righteous’, the man assumes a function in sympathy with that of this divine emanation, which connects the male and female dimensions of the sefirot, allowing him to ‘build’ the Shekhina identified at the altar. » xv

In this Genesis verse, we see that the Zohar reads the presence of the Shekhina, represented by the altar of sacrifice, and embodying the feminine part of the divine, and we see that the Zohar also reads the act of « edifying » her, symbolized by the Central Column, that is to say by the ‘Foundation’, or the Yessod, which in the Kabbalah has as its image the male sexual organ, and which thus incarnates the male part of the divine, and bears the name of ‘son’ [of God]…

How can we understand these allusive images? To say it without a veil, the kabbalah does not hesitate to represent here (in a cryptic way) a quasi-marital scene where God ‘gets closer’ to His Queen to love her…

And it is up to ‘Israel’ to ensure the smooth running of this loving encounter, as the following passage indicates:

 » ‘They will make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you’ (Ex 25:8) (…) The Holy One blessed be He asked Israel to bring the Queen called ‘Sanctuary’ to Him (…) For it is written: ‘You shall bring a fire (ichêh, a fire = ichah, a woman) to YHVH’ (Lev 23:8). Therefore it is written, ‘They will make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you’. » xvi

Let’s take an interested look at the verse: « You will approach a fire from YHVH » (Lev 33:8).

The Hebrew text gives :

וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם אִשֶּׁה לַיהוָה

Ve-hiqravttêm ichêh la-YHVH

The word אִשֶּׁה , ichêh, means ‘fire’, but in a very slightly different vocalization, ichah, this same word means ‘woman’. As for the verb ‘to approach’, its root is קרב, qaraba, « to be near, to approach, to move towards » and in the hiphil form, « to present, to offer, to sacrifice ». Interestingly, and even disturbingly, the noun qorban, ‘sacrifice, oblation, gift’ that derives from it, is almost identical to the noun qerben which means ‘womb, entrails, breast’ (of the woman).

One could propose the following equations (or analogies), which the Hebrew language either shows or implies allusively:

Fire = Woman

Approaching = Sacrifice = Entrails (of the woman)

‘Approaching the altar’ = ‘Approaching a woman’ (Do we need to recall here that, in the Hebrew Bible, « to approach a woman » is a euphemism for « making love »?)

The imagination of the Kabbalists does not hesitate to evoke together (in an almost subliminal way) the ‘sacrifice’, the ‘entrails’, the ‘fire’ and the ‘woman’ and to bring them formally ‘closer’ to the Most Holy Name: YHVH.

It should be noted, however, that the Kabbalists’ audacity is only relative here, since the Song of Songs had, long before the Kabbalah, dared to take on even more burning images.

In the thinking of the Kabbalists, the expression « to make God » is understood as the result of a « union » of the masculine and feminine dimensions of the divine.

In this allegory, the sefira Yessod connects God and the Community of believers just as the male organ connects the male body to the female body. xvii

Rabbi Matthias Delacroute (Poland, 16th century) comments:

« ‘Time to make YHVH’ (Ps 119:126). Explanation: The Shekhinah called ‘Time’ is to be made by joining her to YHVH after she has been separated from Him because one has broken the rules and transgressed the Law. » xviii

For his part, Rabbi Joseph Caro (1488-1575) understood the same verse as follows: « To join the upper pleroma, masculine and divine, with the lower pleroma, feminine and archangelical, must be the aim of those who practice the commandments (…) The lower pleroma is the Shekhinah, also called the Community of Israel ». xix

It is a question of magnifying the role of the Community of Israel, or that of each individual believer, in the ‘divine work’, in its ‘reparation’, in its increase in ‘power’ or even in its ‘begetting’….

Rabbi Hayim Vital, a contemporary of Joseph Caro, comments on a verse from Isaiah and relates it to another verse from the Psalms in a way that has been judged « extravagant » by literalist exegetesxx.

Isaiah’s verse (Is 49:4) reads, according to R. Hayim Vital: « My work is my God », and he compares it with Psalm 68: « Give power to God » (Ps 68:35), of which he gives the following comment: « My work was my God Himself, God whom I worked, whom I made, whom I repaired ».

Note that this verse (Is 49:4) is usually translated as follows: « My reward is with my God » (ou-féoulati êt Adonaï).

Mopsik comments: « It is not ‘God’ who is the object of the believer’s work, or action, but ‘my God’, that God who is ‘mine’, with whom I have a personal relationship, and in whom I have faith, and who is ‘my’ work. »

And he concludes that this ‘God who is made’, who is ‘worked’, is in reality ‘the feminine aspect of the divinity’.

The Gaon Elijah of Vilna proposed yet another way of understanding and designating the two ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ aspects of the Deity, calling them respectively ‘expansive aspect’ and ‘receiving aspect’:

« The expansive aspect is called havayah (being) [i.e. HVYH, anagram of YHVH…], the receiving aspect of the glorification coming from us is called ‘His Name’. In the measure of Israel’s attachment to God, praising and glorifying Him, the Shekhinah receives the Good of the expanding aspect. (…) The Totality of the offices, praise and glorification, that is called Shekhinah, which is His Name. Indeed, ‘name’ means ‘public renown’ and ‘celebration’ of His Glory, the perception of His Greatness. (…) This is the secret of ‘YHVH is one, and His Name is one’ (Zac 14:9). YHVH is one’ refers to the expansion of His will. ‘His Name is one’ designates the receiving aspect of His praise and attachment. This is the unification of the recitation of the Shemaxxi

According to the Gaon of Vilna, the feminine dimension of God, the Shekhina, is the passive dimension of the manifested God, a dimension that is nourished by the Totality of the praises and glorifications of the believers. The masculine dimension of God is Havayah, the Being.

Charles Mopsik’s presentation on the theurgical interpretations of the Jewish Kabbalah (‘Making God’) does not neglect to recognize that these interpretations are in fact part of a universal history of the religious fact, particularly rich in comparable experiences, especially in the diverse world of ‘paganism’. It is thus necessary to recognize the existence of « homologies that are difficult to dispute between the theurgic conceptions of Hellenized Egyptian hermeticism, late Greco-Roman Neoplatonism, Sufi theology, Neoplatonism and Jewish mystagogy. » xxii

Said in direct terms, this amounts to noting that since the dawn of time, there has been among all ‘pagan’ people this idea that the existence of God depends on men, at least to a certain degree.

It is also striking that ideas seemingly quite foreign to the Jewish religion, such as the idea of a Trinitarian conception of God (notoriously associated with Christianity) has in fact been enunciated in a similar way by some high-flying cabbalists.

Thus the famous Rabbi Moses Hayim Luzzatto had this formula surprisingly comparable (or if one prefers: ‘isomorphic’) to the Trinitarian formula:

« The Holy One, Blessed be He, the Torah and Israel are one. »

But it should also be recalled that this kind of « kabbalistic » conception has attracted virulent criticism within conservative Judaism, criticism which extends to the entire Jewish Kabbalah. Mopsik cites in this connection the outraged reactions of such personalities as Rabbi Elie del Medigo (c. 1460- 1493) or Rabbi Judah Arie of Modena (17th century), and those of equally critical contemporaries such as Gershom Scholem or Martin Buber…

We will not enter into this debate. We prefer here to try to perceive in the theurgic conceptions we have just outlined the clue of an anthropological constant, an archetype, a kind of universal intuition proper to the profound nature of the human spirit.

It is necessary to pay tribute to the revolutionary effort of the Kabbalists, who have shaken with all their might the narrow frames of old and fixed conceptions, in an attempt to answer ever-renewed questions about the essence of the relationship between divinity, the world and humanity, the theos, the cosmos and the anthropos.

This titanic intellectual effort of the Jewish Kabbalah is, moreover, comparable in intensity, it seems to me, to similar efforts made in other religions (such as those of a Thomas Aquinas within the framework of Christianity, around the same period, or those of the great Vedic thinkers, as witnessed by the profound Brahmanas, two millennia before our era).

From the powerful effort of the Kabbalah emerges a specifically Jewish idea of universal value:

« The revealed God is the result of the Law, rather than the origin of the Law. This God is not posed at the Beginning, but proceeds from an interaction between the superabundant flow emanating from the Infinite and the active presence of Man. » xxiii

In a very concise and perhaps more relevant way: « You can’t really know God without acting on Him, » also says Mopsik.

Unlike Gershom Scholem or Martin Buber, who have classified the Kabbalah as « magic » in order to disdain it at its core, Charles Mopsik clearly perceives that it is one of the signs of the infinite richness of human potential in its relationship with the divine. We must pay homage to him for his very broad anthropological vision of the phenomena linked to divine revelation, in all eras and throughout the world.

The spirit blows where it wants. Since the dawn of time, i.e. for tens of thousands of years (the caves of Lascaux or Chauvet bear witness to this), many human minds have tried to explore the unspeakable, without preconceived ideas, and against all a priori constraints.

Closer to us, in the 9th century AD, in Ireland, John Scot Erigenes wrote:

« Because in all that is, the divine nature appears, while by itself it is invisible, it is not incongruous to say that it is made. » xxiv

Two centuries later, the Sufi Ibn Arabi, born in Murcia, died in Damascus, cried out: « If He gave us life and existence through His being, I also give Him life, knowing Him in my heart.» xxv

Theurgy is a timeless idea, with unimaginable implications, and today, unfortunately, this profound idea seems almost incomprehensible in our almost completely de-divinized world.


iE. Durckheim. Elementary forms of religious life. PUF, 1990, p.494-495

iiE. Durckheim. Elementary forms of religious life. PUF, 1990, p. 49

iiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.551


vClementine Homilies, cf. Homily XVII. Verdier 1991, p.324

viR. Ezra de Girona. Liqouté Chikhehah ou-féah. Ferrara, 1556, fol 17b-18a, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.558

viiZohar III 113a

viiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.561-563.

ixZohar, I, 116b, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.568

xR. Abraham ben Ḥananel de Esquira. Sefer Yessod ‘Olam. Ms Moscow-Günzburg 607 Fol 69b, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.589

xiSee Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.591

xiiR. Menahem Recanati. Perouch ‘al ha-Torah. Jerusalem, 1971, fol 23b-c, quoted in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.591

xiiiR. Menahem Recanati. Sefer Ta’amé ha-Mitsvot. London 1962 p.47, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.591

xivZohar Hadach, Tiqounim Hadachim. Ed. Margaliot. Jerusalem, 1978, fol 117c quoted in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.591

xvCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.593

xviR. Joseph de Hamadan. Sefer Tashak. Ed J. Zwelling U.M.I. 1975, p.454-455, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.593

xviiSee Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 604

xviiiR. Matthias Délacroute. Commentary on the Cha’aré Orah. Fol 19b note 3. Quoted in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 604

xixCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 604


xxiGaon Elijah of Vilna. Liqouté ha-Gra. Tefilat Chaharit, Sidour ha-Gra, Jerusalem 1971 p.89, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 610

xxiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 630

xxiiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 639

xxivJean Scot Erigène. De Divisione Naturae. I,453-454B, quoted by Ch. Mopsik, Ibid. p.627

xxvQuoted by H. Corbin. The creative imagination

« Making God »: Kabbalah, Trance and Theurgy.

« Shamanic Trance »

Words are devious. Language is treacherous, and grammars are vicious. Willingly ignorant of these deficiencies, men have been sailing for millennia in oceans of sentences, drifting above the depths of meanings, equipped with broken compasses, falsified sextants, under the fleeting stars.

How accurately, then, can men understand a « divine revelation » when it is made of « words », clothed in their unfathomable depths, their ambiguous abysses?

Error lurks for the wise. The study never ends. Who can pretend to grasp the ultimate meaning of any revelation?

Let us start with a single verse of the Psalms, which opened worlds of interpretation, during millenia.

« It is time to make YHVH » (Ps. 119:126).

« Making YHVH? » Really? Yes, this is the meaning that some Jewish Kabbalists, in Medieval Spain, decided was the true sense conveyed by Ps. 119:126.

Most versions of the Bible, today, give more ‘rational’ translations of Ps. 119:126, such as:

« It is time for the LORD to work »i


« It is time for thee, LORD, to work »ii

Why then, did some medieval rabbis, most of them Kabbalists, chose to deviate from the obvious, traditional meaning carried by the Massoretic text? Why did they dare to flirt with scandal? Were they not aware that they were shocking the Jewish faith, or even just simple common sense, by pretending to « make » YHVH?

Many centuries before the Jewish Kabbalists tried their wits on this particular verse, manuscripts (and interpretations) already differed greatly about its true meaning.

The obvious meaning was indeed: « It is time for God to act ».

Other interpretations prefered : « It is time to act for God », – i.e. men should finally do for God what they had to do.

Has the time come (for the LORD) to act, or has the time come (for men) to act for the LORD?

Forsaking these two possible (and indeed differing) readings, the Kabbalists in early medieval Spain chose yet another interpretation: « It is time [for men] to make God. » iii

Why this audacity, rubbing shoulders with blasphemy, shaving the abyss?

The Hebrew Bible, in the Massoretic version which was developed after the destruction of the Second Temple, and which therefore dates from the first centuries of our era, proposes the following text:

עֵת, לַעֲשׂוֹת לַיהוָה

‘èt la’assot la-YHVH

This can be translated as: « It is time to act for God », if one understands לַיהוָה = for YHVH

But the Kabbalists refused this reading. They seem not to have used the Massoretic text, but other, much older manuscripts which omit the preposition for (לַ).

The word ‘God’ (or more precisely יהוָה, ‘YHVH’) thus becomes the direct object complement of the verb ‘to do, to act’. Hence the translation : ‘It is time to make God’.

The Bible of the French Rabbinate follows the Massoretic version and translates :

« The time has come to act for the Lord ».

The Jerusalem Bible (Ed. Cerf, 1973) translates: « It is time to act, Yahweh ».

In this interpretation, the Psalmist seems to somehow admonish YHVH and gives Him a pressing request to « act ». The translators of the Jerusalem Bible note that the Massoretic text indicates « for Yahweh », which would imply that it is up to man to act for Him. But they do not retain this lesson, and they mention another handwritten (unspecified) source, which seems to have been adopted by S. Jerome, a source which differs from the Massoretic text by the elision of the preposition ל. Hence the adopted translation: « It is time to act, Yahweh », without the word for.

But, again, the lessons vary, depending on how you understand the grammatical role of the word ‘Yahweh’…

S. Jerome’s version (the Vulgate) gives :

Tempus is ut facias Domine.

The word ‘Lord’ is in the vocative (‘Domine!’): the Psalmist calls upon the Lord to ask Him to act. « It is time for You to act, Lord! »

However, in the text of the Clementine Vulgate, finalized in the 16th century by Pope Clement VIII, and which is the basis of the ‘New Vulgate’ (Nova Vulgata) available online on the Vatican website, it reads:

Tempus faciendi Domino

The word ‘Lord’ is in the dative (‘Domino’), and thus plays the role of a complement of attribution. « It is time to act for the Lord ».

The Septuagint (that is, the version of the Bible translated into Greek by seventy-two Jewish scholars gathered in Alexandria around 270 B.C.E.) proposes, for its part

καιρὸς τοῦ ποιῆσαι τῷ κυρίῳ-

Kairos tou poïêsai tô kyriô

Here too the word ‘Lord’ is in the dative, not in the vocative. « It is time to act for the Lord ».

This ancient lesson of the Septuagint (established well before the Massoretic text) does not, however, resolve a residual ambiguity.

One can indeed choose to emphasize the need to act, which is imparted to the Lord Himself:

« For the Lord, the time to act has come ».

But one can just as easily choose to emphasize the need for men to act for the Lord:

« The time has come to act for the Lord ».

In relation to these different nuances, what I’d like to emphasize here is the radically different understanding chosen by the Kabbalists in medieval Spain:

« It is time to make God ».

Rabbi Meir Ibn Gabbay wrote:

« He who fulfills all the commandments, his image and likeness are perfect, and he is like the High Man sitting on the Throne (Ez. 1:26), he is in his image, and the Shekhinah is established with him because he has made all his organs perfect: his body becomes a throne and a dwelling for the figure that corresponds to him. From there you will understand the secret of the verse: « It is time to make YHVH » (Ps. 119:126). You will also understand that the Torah has a living soul (…) It has matter and form, body and soul (…) And know that the soul of the Torah is the Shekhinah, the secret of the last he [ה ], the Torah is its garment (…) The Torah is therefore a body for the Shekhinah, and the Shekhinah is like a soul for her. » iv

Charles Mopsik notes that « this expression [« making God »], roughly stated, can surprise and even scandalize ».

At least, this is an opportunity to question the practices and conceptions of the Jewish Kabbalah in matters of ‘theurgy’.

The word ‘theurgy’ comes from the Latin theurgia, « theurgy, magic operation, evocation of spirits », itself borrowed by Augustine from the Greek θεουργία , « act of divine power », « miracle », « magic operation ». E. des Places defines theurgy as « a kind of binding action on the gods ». In Neoplatonism, « theurgy » means « the act of making God act in oneself », according to the Littré.

E. R. Dodds devotes an appendix of his work The Greeks and the Irrationalv to the theurgy, which he introduces as follows: « The theologoi ‘spoke of the gods’, but [the theourgos] ‘acted upon them’, or perhaps even ‘created them' », this last formula being an allusion to the formula of the famous Byzantine scholar Michel Psellus (11th century): « He who possesses the theurgic virtue is called ‘father of the gods’, because he transforms men into gods (theous all anthropous ergazetai). » vi

In this context, E.R. Dodd cites Jamblichus’ treatise De mysteriis, which he considers ‘irrational’ and a testimony to a ‘culture in decline’: « De mysteriis is a manifesto of irrationalism, an affirmation that the way to salvation is not in human reason but in ritual. It is not thought that links theurgists to the gods: what else would prevent philosophical theorists from enjoying the theurgical union? But this is not the case. Theurgic union is achieved only by the efficacy of ineffable acts performed in the proper way, acts that are beyond understanding, and by the power of ineffable symbols that are understood only by gods… without intellectual effort on our part, signs (sunthêmata) by their own virtue perform their own work’ (De myst. 96.13 Parthey). To the discouraged spirit of the pagans of the fourth century such a message brought seductive comfort. « vii

But the result of these attitudes, privileging ‘rite’ over ‘intellectual effort,’ was « a declining culture, and the slow thrust of that Christian athéotês who all too obviously undermined the very life of Hellenism. Just as vulgar magic is commonly the last resort of the desperate individual, of those who have been lacking in both man and God, so theurgy became the refuge of a desperate ‘intelligentsia’ that already felt the fascination of the abyss. » viii

The modes of operation of the theurgy vary notoriously, covering a vast domain, from magical rites or divination rites to shamanic trances or phenomena of demonic or spiritual ‘possession’.

E.R. Dodds proposes to group them into two main types: those that depend on the use of symbols (symbola) or signs (sunthêmata), and those that require the use of a ‘medium’, in ecstasy. The first type was known as telestikê, and was mainly used for the consecration and animation of magical statues in order to obtain oracles. The making of magical statuettes of gods was not a ‘monopoly of theurgists’. It was based on an ancient and widespread belief of a universal sympatheia ix, linking the images to their original model. The original center of these practices was Egypt.

Dodds cites Hermes Trismegistus’ dialogue with Asclepius (or Aesculapius), which evokes « animated statues, full of meaning and spirit » (statuas animatas sensu et spiritu plenas), which can predict the future, inflict or cure diseases, and imprison the souls of deer or angels, all the theurgic actions summarized by Hermes Trismegistus’ formula: sic deorum fictor est homo, (« this is how man makes gods »)x.

« To make gods »: this expression was there to prefigure, with more than a thousand years of anteriority, the formula put forward later by R. Meir ibn Gabbay and other Kabbalists: « to make YHVH », – although undoubtedly with a different intention. We shall return to this.

In his book The City of God, S. Augustinexi had quoted large excerpts from this famous dialogue between Hermes Trismegistus and Asclepius, including these sentences:

« As the Lord and the Father, God in a word, is the author of the heavenly gods, so man is the author of those gods who reside in temples and delight in the neighborhood of mortals. Thus, humanity, faithful to the memory of its nature and origin, perseveres in this imitation of its divinity. The Father and the Lord made the eternal gods in his likeness, and humanity made its gods in the likeness of man. » xii

And Hermes added: « It is a marvel above all wonder and admiration that man could invent and create a divinity. The disbelief of our ancestors was lost in deep errors about the existence and condition of the gods, forsaking the worship and honors of the true God; thus they found the art of making gods. »

The anger of St. Augustine exploded at this very spot against Hermes. « I don’t know if the demons themselves would confess as much as this man! »

After a long deconstruction of the Hermetic discourse, Augustine concludes by quoting a definitive sentence of the prophet Jeremiah:

« Man makes himself gods (elohim)? No, of course, they are not gods (elohim)! » xiii

Attempting to combat the « sarcasm » of Christian criticism, Jamblichus strove to prove that « idols are divine and filled with the divine presence. « xiv

This art of making divine statues had to survive the end of the « dying pagan world » and find its way into « the repertoire of medieval magicians, » Dodds notesxv.

One could add, without seeing any malice in it, that the idea was also taken up by the Spanish Jewish cabal in the Middle Ages, and later still, by the rabbis who made Golem, such as the Maharal of Prague, nicknamed Yehudah-Leib, or Rabbi Loew…

This is at least the suggestion proposed by E.R. Dodds: « Did the theurgical telestikê suggest to medieval alchemists their attempts to create artificial human beings (« homunculi« )? (…) Curious clues to some historical relationship have recently been put forward by Paul Kraus. (…) He points out that the vast alchemical corpus attributed to Jâbir b. Hayyan (Gebir) not only alludes to Porphyry’s (apocryphal?) Book of the Generation, but also uses neo-Platonic speculations about images. » xvi

The other operational mode of theurgy is trance or mediumnic possession, of which Dodds notes « the obvious analogy with modern spiritism. xvii

I don’t know if the « modern spiritism » that Dodds spoke of in the 1950s is not a little outdated today, but it is certain that the rites of trance and possession, whether they are practiced in Morocco (the Gnaouas), Haiti (Voodoo), Nepal, Mongolia, Mexico, and everywhere else in the world, are still worth studying. One can consult in this respect the beautiful study of Bertrand Hell, Possession and Shamanismxviii, whose cover page quotes the superb answer of the Great Mughal Khan Güyük to Pope Innocent IV in 1246: « For if man is not himself the strength of God, what could he do in this world? »

Many are the skeptics, who doubt the very reality of the trance. The famous Sufi philosopher al-Ghazali, in his 12th century Book of the Proper Use of Hearing and Ecstasy, admits the possibility of « feigned » ecstasy, but he adds that deliberately provoking one’s « rapture » when participating in a cult of possession (dikhr) can nevertheless lead the initiate to a true encounter with the divine. xix

Bertrand Hell argues that simulations and deceptions about ecstasy can open up a fertile field of reflection, as evidenced by the concepts of « para-sincerity » (Jean Poirier), « lived theater » (Michel Leiris) or « true hallucination » (Jean Duvignaud). xx

In the definitions and examples of theurgies we have just gone through, it is a question of « making the divinity act » in itself, or « acting » on the divinity, and much more exceptionally of « creating » it. The only examples of a theurgy that « creates gods » are those evoked by Hermes Trismegistus, who speaks of man as the « maker of gods » (fictor deorum), and by Michel Psellus, with the somewhat allegorical sense of a theurgy that exercises itself on men to « transform them into gods ».

This is why Charles Mopsik’s project to study the notion of theurgy as it was developed in the Jewish cabal has a particularly original character. In this case, in fact, theurgy does not only mean « to make the god act upon man », or « to act upon the god » or « to make man divine », but it takes on the much more absolute, much more radical, and almost blasphemous meaning, particularly from a Jewish point of view, of « creating God », of « making God »xxi.

There is a definite semantic and symbolic leap here. Mopsik does not hesitate to propose this leap in the understanding of theurgy, because it was precisely the radical choice of the Spanish Jewish Kabbalah, for several centuries…


iAccording to the Masoretic Text and the JPS 1917 Edition.

iiKing James Version

iiiCf. the long and learned study devoted to this last interpretation by Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993

ivR. Méir Ibn Gabbay. Derekh Emounah. Jerusalem, 1967, p.30-31, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 371-372.

vE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.279-299

viMichel Psellus. Greek patrology. 122, 721D, « Theurgicam virtutem qui habet pater divinus appellatur, quoniam enim ex hominibus facit deos, illo venit nomine. »

viiE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.284.

viiiE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.284.

ixE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.289

xAsclepius III, 24a, 37a-38a. Corpus Hermeticum. Trad. A.J. Festugière. t. II. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 1973, p.349, quoted by E.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.291.

xiS. Augustine. The City of God. VIII, 23-24

xiiAsclepius, 23.

xiiiJr 16.20

xivPhotius, Bibl. 215. Quoted by E.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the Irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.292

xvE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.292

xviE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.293

xviiE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.294

xviiiBertand Hell, Possession and Shamanism. Les maîtres du désordre, Flammarion, 1999

xixBertand Hell, Possession and Shamanism. Les maîtres du désordre, Flammarion, 1999, p.198

xxBertand Hell, Possession and Shamanism. Les maîtres du désordre, Flammarion, 1999, p.197

xxiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.550.

The God named « I, I, Him »

« Old Rabbi. Rembrandt »

The Jews, fierce defenders of the monotheistic idea, are also the faithful guardians of texts in which appear, on several occasions, what could be called ‘verbal trinities’, or ‘triple names’ of God, such as: « YHVH Elohenou YHVH » (Deut 6:4), « Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh » (Ex 3:14), or « Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh « , expressed as a triple attribute of YHVH (Is 6:3).

The Zohar commented upon the first of these three-part names, « YHVH Elohenou YHVH », making a link with the « divine secret » embedded in the first sentence of the Torah: « Until now, this has been the secret of ‘YHVH Elohim YHVH’. These three names correspond to the divine secret contained in the verse ‘In the beginning created Elohim’. Thus, the expression ‘In the beginning’ is an ancient secret, namely: Wisdom (Hokhmah) is called ‘Beginning’. The word ‘created’ also alludes to a hidden secret, from which everything develops. » (Zohar 1:15b).

One could conclude that the One God does not therefore exclude a ‘Trinitarian’ phenomenology of His essential nature, which may be expressed in the words that designate Him, or in the names by which He calls Himself….

Among the strangest ‘triplets’ of divine names that the One God uses to name Himself is the expression, « I, I, Him », first mentioned by Moses (Deut 32:39), then repeated several times by Isaiah (Is 43:10; Is 43:25; Is 51:12; Is 52:6).

In Hebrew: אֲנִי אֲנִי הוּא ani ani hu’, « I, I, Him ».

These three pronouns are preceded by an invitation from God to ‘see’ who He is:

רְאוּ עַתָּה, כִּי אֲנִי הוּא

reou ‘attah, ki ani ani hu’.

Literally: « See now that: I, I, Him ».

This sentence is immediately followed by a reaffirmation of God’s singularity:

וְאֵין אֱלֹהִים, עִמָּדִי

v’éin elohim ‘imadi

« And there is no god (elohim) with Me ».

Throughout history, translators have endeavored to interpret this succession of three personal pronouns with various solutions.

The Septuagint chose to translate (in Greek) this triplet as a simple affirmation by God of his existence (ego eimi, « I am »), and transformed the original doubling of the personal pronoun in the first person singular (ani ani, « I I ») into a repetition of the initial imperative of the verb ‘to see’, which is used only once in the original text:

ἴδετε ἴδετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι

idete, idete, oti ego eimi

« See, see, that I am ».

On the other hand, the third person singular pronoun disappears from the Greek translation.

The second part of the verse gives :

καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν θεὸς πλὴν ἐμοῦ-

kai ouk estin theos plén emou.

« and there is no God but Me. »

In the translation of the French Rabbinate adapted to Rashi’s commentary, one reads:

« See now, it is Me, I, I am Him, no god beside Me! »

We see that « ani ani hu’ » is translated as « It is Me, I, I am Him ».

Rashi comments on this verse as follows:

« SEE NOW. Understand by the chastisement with which I have struck you and no one could save you, and by the salvation I will grant you and no one can stop Me. – IT IS ME, I, I AM HIM. I to lower and I to raise. – NO GOD, BESIDE ME. Rises up against Me to oppose Me. עִמָּדִי: My equal, My fellow man. » i

Let’s try to comment on Rashi’s comment.

Rashi sees two « I’s » in God, an « I » that lowers and an « I » that raises.

The ‘I’ that lowers seems to be found in the statement ‘It is Me’.

The ‘I’ that raises is the ‘I’ as understood in the formula ‘I am Him’.

Rashi distinguishes between a first ani, who is the ‘I’ who lowers and punishes, and a second ani who is an I’ who ‘raises’ and who is also a hu’, a ‘Him’, that is to say an ‘Other’ than ‘I’.

We infer that Rashi clearly supports the idea that there are two « I’s » in God, one of which is also a « Him », or that there are two « I’s » and one « Him » in Him…

As for the formula v’éin elohim ‘imadi (‘no god beside Me’, or ‘no god with Me’), Rashi understands it as meaning : ‘no god [who is my equal] is against me’.

Let us note that Rashi’s interpretation does not exclude a priori that God has an equal or similar God ‘with him’ or ‘beside him’, but that it only means that God does not have a God [similar or equal] ‘against him’.

In the translation of the so-called « Rabbinate Bible » (1899), the three pronouns are rendered in such a way as to affirm the emphasis on God’s solitary existence:

« Recognize now that I am God, I alone, and there is no God (Elohim) beside me! » ii

In this translation, note that the personal pronoun in the 3rd person singular (hu’) has completely disappeared. There is, however, a repeated affirmation of God’s ‘loneliness’ (‘I alone’, and ‘no God beside me’).

This translation by the French Rabbinate raises several questions.

Why has the expression ani hu’, « I Him », been translated by a periphrase (« it is I who am God, I alone »), introducing the words « God », « am » and « alone », not present in the original, while obliterating the pronoun hu’, « He »?

On the other hand, there is the question of the meaning of the 2nd part of the verse: if there is « no Elohim » beside God, then how to interpret the numerous biblical verses which precisely associate, side by side, YHVH and Elohim?

How can we understand, for example, the fact that in the second chapter of Genesis we find the expression יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים , YHVH Elohim, on numerous occasions, if, as Deuteronomy states, that there is no Elohim « beside » YHVH?

Some elements of clarity may be gained from Isaiah’s use of the same curious expression.

Is 43,10 : כִּי-אֲנִי הוּא ki ani hu’, ‘that I Him’

Is 43, 11: אָנֹכִי אָנֹכִי, יְהוָה anokhi anokhi YHVH, ‘I, I, YHVH’

Is 43, 25: אָנֹכִי אָנֹכִי הוּא anokhi anokhi hu’, ‘I, I, Him’

Is 51,12 : אָנֹכִי אָנֹכִי הוּא anokhi anokhi hu‘, ‘I, I, Him’

Is 52,6 : כִּי-אֲנִי-הוּא הַמְדַבֵּר הִנֵּנִי ki ani hu’ hamdaber hinnéni, ‘that I, He, I speak, there’, sometimes translated as ‘that I who speak, I am there’.

In the light of these various verses, the personal pronoun hu’, ‘He’ can be interpreted as playing the role of a relative pronoun, ‘Him’.

But why should this personal pronoun in the 3rd person singular, hu’, « He », this pronoun which God calls Himself, somehow descend from a grammatical level, and become a relative pronoun, simply to comply with the requirement of grammatical clarity ?

In this context, it is necessary to preserve the difficulty and face it head on.

God, through the voice of Moses and Isaiah, calls Himself « I I He ».

What lesson can we get out of it?

First we can see the idea that God carries within His intrinsic unity a kind of hidden Trinity, here translated grammatically by a double « I » followed by a « He ».

Another interpretation, could be to read ‘I I He’ as the equivalent of the Trinity ‘Father Son Spirit’.

One could also understand, considering that the verb to be is implicitly contained in the personal pronouns ani and hu’, in accordance with Hebrew grammar: « I, [I am] an ‘I’ [who is] a ‘Him’ « .

In this reading, God defines Himself as an I whose essence is to be an Other I, or an Him.

As confirmed by His name revealed to Moses « Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh » (Ex 3:14), God is an I that is always in the process of becoming, according to the grammatical use of the imperfect in Ehyeh, ‘I will be’.

One learns from that that God is always in potentia. He always is the One who will be Other than who He is.

Never static. Always alive and becoming. The One who is the Other.

I know : that sounds pretty unacceptable for the general theological opinion.

But grammatically, this interpretation stands up.

More importantly, it is faithful to the letter of the Torah.


iThe Pentateuch, accompanied by Rachi’s commentary. Volume V. Deuteronomy. Translated by Joseph Bloch, Israël Salzer, Elie Munk, Ernest Gugenheim. Ed. S. and O. Foundation. Lévy. Paris, 1991, p. 227

iiDt 32, 39

The « Liquidation » of Christianity

« C.G. Jung »

Two years before his own death, C.G. Jung evoked as a strong possibility the prospect of the « definitive destruction » of the « Christian myth ».

However, psychology could still help « saving » this myth. Through a better understanding of mythology and its role in intrapsychic processes, « it would be possible to arrive at a new understanding of the Christian myth, and especially of its apparently shocking and unreasonable statements. If the Christian myth is not finally to become obsolete, which would mean a liquidation of unpredictable scope, the idea of a more psychologically oriented interpretation is necessary to save the meaning and content of the myth. The danger of definitive destruction is considerable. » i

Christianity, from the beginning, had already been considered « scandal for the Jews and folly for the Greeks »ii. Now, it had even become « shocking » and « unreasonable » for the Swiss and « obsolete » for psychologists.

The fall in religious vocations, the desertion of the faithful and the decline of the denarius were already beginning to be felt at the end of the 1950s of the last century. All this seemed to give some consistency to these Jungian prophecies of the « destruction » and « liquidation » of the « Christian myth » as a logical consequence of its supposed « obsolescence ».

The movement of disaffection with Christianity has not stopped growing over the last six decades, one might add, at least if we look at the indicators already mentioned.

Is the « Christian myth », to use Jung’s expression, now dying, or even « dead »?

And if so, can it still be « resurrected »?

And if it could indeed be resurrected, in what form, and for what purpose?

Like a Saint George slaying the dragon of obsolescence, an obsolescence less flamboyant than sneaky, silent, but swallowing credence, Jung brandishes in his time the victorious spear of psychology, the only one capable, according to him, of reviving the Christian myth.

To understand Jung’s idea of the assimilation of Christianity to a « myth » – and to a myth in the process of becoming obsolete, one must return to what underlies his entire understanding of the world, the existence of the unconscious, and the « creative » character of the psyche.

For Jung, any « representation » is necessarily « psychic ». « When we declare that something exists, it is because we necessarily have a representation of it (…) and ‘representation’ is a psychic act. Nowadays, however, ‘only psychic’ simply means ‘nothing’. Apart from psychology, only contemporary physics has had to recognize that no science can be practiced without the psyche. » iii

This last assertion seems to allude to the opinion of the Copenhagen Schooliv, hard fought by Einstein et al., but an opinion to which the latest conceptual and experimental developments seem to be giving reason today.

Despite such assurances, at the highest theoretical and experimental level of contemporary science, and despite the flattering successes of analytical psychology, C.G. Jung, while at the peak of his brilliant career, seemed bitter about having to fight again and again against the outdated cliché (typical of modern times) that « only psychic » means « nothing ».

No doubt cruelly wounded in the depths of his soul, C.G. Jung may have wanted to take a terrible revenge, by showing that this « nothing » can still, and in a short time, put down one of the most important foundations of European, and even world civilization…

The unconscious exists, it is a certainty for Jung, and for many people. But few have understood the immense power, almost divine, or even divine at all, of this entity.

« No one has noticed, » explains Jung, « that without a reflexive psyche, there is virtually no world, that therefore consciousness represents a second creator, and that cosmogonic myths do not describe the absolute beginning of the world, but rather the birth of consciousness as a second creator ». v

Before Jung: In the beginning God created the earth, etc.

After Jung: The Unconscious Mind created the idea that « God created the earth etc. ».

Myths correspond to psychic developments. They can grow and die, just like the latter. « The archetypes all have a life of their own that unfolds according to a biological model. » vi

This metaphor of the « biological model » must be taken literally, including birth, maturity and death.

« A myth is still a myth, even if some consider it to be the literal revelation of an eternal truth; but it is doomed to death if the living truth it contains ceases to be an object of faith. It is necessary, therefore, to renew one’s life from time to time through reinterpretation. Today Christianity is weakened by the distance that separates it from the spirit of the times, which is changing (…). It needs to re-establish the union or relationship with the atomic age, which represents an unprecedented novelty in history. The myth needs to be told anew in a new spiritual language ». vii

All the nuances of the biological model can be subsumed under a much broader concept of life, a much more global power of meaning, including in particular the idea of resurrection (– an idea, it will be recalled, « scandalous », « crazy » and « shocking »).

If we apply the idea of resurrection in particular to the Christian myth itself, it is possible that the latter in fact escapes its natural, « biological » destiny and its inevitable death, provided that it is subjected to a total « renovation », to an unprecedented reinterpretation, a sine qua non condition for its « resurrection« .

The idea of the « resurrection » of a myth incarnated by a dead Savior, and whose apostles based their faith on the certainty of his own resurrection (as Paul reminds us), is not lacking in salt.

But in order to taste this salt, it would be necessary to be able to reinterpret the resurrection of Christ under the species of a new « resurrection », which is more in accordance with the spirit of the (atomic) time.

The idea of an ‘atomic’ zeitgeist was probably obvious to a psychologist living in the 1950s, after Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the rise of nuclear winter threats made tangible by Cold War arsenals.

Nowadays, the ‘spirit of the time’ of our time is a little less ‘atomic’, it seems, and more ‘climatic’ or ‘planetary’. It is inclined to let itself be influenced by new global threats, those towards which global warming and the foreseeable extinction of entire sections of the biosphere are pointing.

In this new context, what does it mean to « renovate » or « resurrect » the Christian myth of the « resurrection » (as distinct, for example, from the myths of the resurrection of Osiris or Dionysus)?

A first response would be to apply it (quite literally) to the putative resurrection of the millions of animal and plant species now extinct.

But would the idea of an « ecological » Christianity, relying for its own rebirth on the effective resurrection of billions of insects or amphibians, be enough to bring the faithful back to the parishes and to resurrect vocations?

This is doubtful.

It is not that we should not strive to bring back to life the dead species, if this is still humanly (or divinely?) possible. The modern myth that is being constituted before our eyes lets us imagine that one day a few traces of DNA will be enough to recreate disappeared worlds.

Such a re-creation by a few future learned priests, packed into their white coats and their spiritual laboratories, would then in itself be a kind of miracle, capable of melting the hardest, most closed hearts.

But one can also assume that this would still be insufficient to extricate the « Christian myth » from its spiral of obsolescence, in which accumulated millennia seem to lock it up.

But what? Will the resurrection of an immense quantity of fauna and flora, abolished from the surface of the globe, not be like a sort of living symbol of the resurrection of a Savior who died two thousand years ago?

Wouldn’t that be enough to announce to the world, urbi et orbi, that the very idea of resurrection is not dead, but alive again?

No, that would not be enough, one must argue with regret.

How can the resurrection of only half of the Earth’s biodiversity be weighed against the resurrection of the one universal Messiah?

The bids are going up, we can see it.

If Jung is right, the majority of humanity can no longer believe in the very myth of salvation and resurrection (as embodied by Christ in history two thousand years ago).

Why is that? Because this Messiah seems too dated, too local, too Galilean, too Nazarene even.

The story of that Messiah no longer lives on as before.

Why is that? The spirit of the times « has changed ».

And it is not the tales of the agony of the world’s fauna and flora, however moving they may be, that will be able to « convert » minds deprived of any cosmic perspective, and even more so of eschatological vision, to the call of a « renewed » Christian myth.

In the best of cases, the rescue and (momentary?) resurrection of half or even nine-tenths of the Anthropocene could never be more than a short beep on the radar of the long times.

We no longer live in Roman Judea. To be audible today, it would take a little more than the multiplication of a few loaves of bread, the walking on still waters or the resurrection of two or three comatose people; it would even take much more than the resurrection (adapted to the spirit of the time) of a Son of Man, a Son of God, both descended into Hell and ascended into Heaven.

After Season 1, which apparently ended with a sharply declining audience, Christianity’s Season 2, if it is to attract a resolutely planetary audience, must start again on a basis that is surprising for the imagination and fascinating for the intellect.

Reason and faith must be truly overwhelmed, seized, petrified with stupor, and then transported with « enthusiasm » by the new perspectives that want to open up, that must open up.

So one has to change words, worlds, times and perspectives.

The little Galilea must now compete with nebulous Galaxies.

The resurrected Carpenter must square black holes, plane universal constants and sweep away dark energy, like a simple cosmic sawdust.

The once dead Messiah must now truly live again before us, and at once tear all the veils, – the veils of all Temples, of all Ages, of all spirits, in all times, whether in the depths of galactic superclusters, or in the heart of quarks.

Quite an extensive program. But not unfeasable.


iLetter from C.G. Jung to Pastor Tanner Kronbühl (February 12, 1959). In C.G. Jung. The Divine in Man. 1999. p.136

ii1 Co 1,23

iiiLetter from C.G. Jung to Pastor Tanner Kronbühl (February 12, 1959). In C.G. Jung. The Divine in Man. 1999. p.135

ivThe Copenhagen School, led by Niels Bohr, stages the intrinsic role of the « observer » in the experimental definition of the observed « reality ».

vLetter from C.G. Jung to Pastor Tanner Kronbühl (February 12, 1959). In C.G. Jung. The Divine in Man. 1999. p.135

viLetter from C.G. Jung to Reverend David Cox (November 12, 1957). In C.G. Jung. The Divine in Man. 1999. p. 128

viiLetter from C.G. Jung to Reverend David Cox (September 25, 1957). In C.G. Jung. The divine in man. 1999. p. 126

Is God Willing to Exterminate His Own Creation?

Is God an « Exterminator » in potentia?

« The Lord sent death upon Jacob and it came upon Israel. » (Isaiah 9:7)

Death, really? Upon Jacob? And upon Israel? Sent by the Lord Himself ?

The word « death » is in fact used in this verse in the famous translation of the Septuagint, made around 270 B.C. by seventy Jewish scholars in Alexandria at the request of Ptolemy II. The Septuagint (noted LXX) uses the Greek word θάνατον, thanaton, which means « death ».

But in other translations, disregarding this catastrophic lesson of the LXX, Isaiah’s verse is translated much more neutrally as « word ».i

The Jerusalem Bible gives thus: « The Lord hath cast a word into Jacob, it is fallen upon Israel. »

In the original version, Hebrew uses the word דָּבָר , davar, whose primary meaning is « word ».

The dictionary also tells that this same word, דָּבָר , davar, can mean « plague » or « death », as in Exodus 9:3: « A very strong plague » or « a very deadly plague ». Here, the LXX gives θάνατος μέγας, « a great death ». In Hosea 13:14 the word davar means « plagues ».

If the noun דָּבָר , davar, carries this astonishing duality of meaning, the verb דָּבַר , davara, confirms it by adding a nuance of excess. Davara means « to speak, to say; to speak evil, to speak against », but also « to destroy, to exterminate ».

It seems that in Hebrew the sphere of meanings attached to davar and davara is not only potentially full of threats or (verbal) aggression, as in Numbers 12:1 (« Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses ») or in Ps 78:19 (« They spoke against God »), but also full of potential, fatal and deadly action, as in II Chr 22:10 (« She wiped out the whole royal race ») or in Ps 2:5 (« In his wrath he will destroy their mighty ones »).

Davar. Word. Plague. Death.

Davara. To speak. To exterminate.

Such ambivalence, so radical, implies that one can really decide on the meaning, – « word » or « extermination » ? – only by analyzing the broader context in which the word is used.

For example, in the case of Isaiah’s verse: « The Lord sent death upon Jacob and it came upon Israel », it is important to emphasize that the prophet continues to make terrible predictions, even darker:

« The Lord will raise up against them the enemies of Rezin. And he will arm their enemies. Aram on the east, the Philistines on the west, and they will devour Israel with full mouths » (Isaiah 9:10-11).

« So YHVH cut off from Israel head and tail, palm and rush, in one day » (Isaiah 9:13).

« By the wrath of YHVH Sabaoth the earth has been burned and the people are like the prey of fire » (Isaiah 9:18).

The context here clearly gives weight to an interpretation of davar as « death » and « extermination » and not simply as « word ».

The lesson in LXX appears to be correct and faithful to the intended meaning.

Another question then arises.

Is this use of the word davar in Isaiah unique in its kind?

Another prophet, Ezekiel, also reported terrible threats from God against Israel.

« I will make you a desolation, a derision among the nations that are round about you, in the sight of all who pass by » (Ez 5:14).

« I will act in you as I have never acted before and as I will never act again, because of all your abominations » (Ez 5:9).

« You shall be a mockery and a reproach, an example and a stupefaction to the nations around you, when I shall do justice from you in anger and wrath, with furious punishments. I, YHVH, have said » (Ez 5:15).

« And I will put the dead bodies of the Israelites before their filthiness, and I will scatter their bones around your altars. Wherever you dwell, the cities shall be destroyed and the high places laid waste » (Ez 6:5).

We find in Ezekiel the word davar used in the sense of « plague » or « pestilence »:

« Thus says the Lord YHVH: Clap your hands, clap your feet and say, ‘Alas,’ over all the abominations of the house of Israel, which will fall by the sword, by famine and by pestilence (davar). He who is far away will die by the pestilence (davar). He who is near shall fall by the sword. That which has been preserved and spared will starve, for I will quench my fury against them » (Ez 6:11-12).

God is not joking. Davar is not « only » a plague. It is the prospect of an extermination, an annihilation, the final end.

« Thus says the Lord YHVH to the land of Israel: Finished! The end is coming on the four corners of the land. It is now the end for you. I will let go of my anger against you to judge you according to your conduct. (…) Thus says the Lord YHVH: Behold, evil is coming, one evil. The end is coming, the end is coming, it is awakening towards you, and behold, it is coming » (Ez 7:2-5).

Faced with this accumulation of threats of exterminating the people of Israel uttered by the Lord YHVH, an even deeper question arises.

Why does a God who created the worlds, and who has « chosen » Israel, decide to send « death », threatening to ensure the « end » of His Chosen People?

There is a question of simple logic that arises.

Why does an omnipotent and all-knowing God create a world and people that seem, in retrospect, so evil, so perverse, so corrupt, that He decides to send a word of extermination?

If God is omniscient, He should always have known that His creation would eventually provoke His unquenchable fury, shouldn’t he?

If He is omnipotent, why did He not immediately make Israel a people sufficiently satisfying in His eyes to at least avoid the pain of having to send death and extermination a few centuries later?

This is in fact a question that goes beyond the question of the relationship between God and Israel, but touches on the larger problem of the relationship between God and His Creation.

Why is a « Creator »-God also led to become, afterwards, an « Exterminator »-God ?

Why can the « Word » of God mean « Creation », then also mean « Extermination »?

There are only two possible answers.

Either God is indeed omniscient and omnipotent, and then He is necessarily also cruel and perverse, as revealed by His intention to exterminate a people He has (knowingly) created « evil » and « corrupt » so that He can then « exterminate » them.

Either God is not omniscient and He is not omnipotent. But how come ? A possible interpretation is that He renounced, in creating the world, a part of His omniscience and omnipotence. He made a kind of « sacrifice », the sacrifice of His omnipotence and omniscience.

He made this sacrifice in order to raise His creatures to His own level, giving them real freedom, a freedom that in some strange way escapes divine « science » and « knowledge ».

Let us note that this sort of sacrifice was already a deep intuition of the Veda, as represented by the initial, primal, sacrifice of Prajāpati, the supreme God, the Lord of Creatures.

But why does a supreme God, the Creator of the Worlds, decide to sacrifice His omnipotence and omniscience for creatures who, as we can see, end up behaving in such a way that this supreme God, having somehow fallen back to earth, must resolve to send them « death » and promise them the « end »?

There is only one explanation, in my humble opinion.

It is that the Whole [i.e. God + Cosmos + Humanity] is in a mysterious way, more profound, more abysmal, and in a sense infinitely more « divine » than the divinity of a God alone, a God without Cosmos and without Anthropos.

Only the sacrifice of God, the sacrifice of God as not being anymore the sole « Being », in spite of all the risks abundantly described by Isaiah or Ezekiel, makes possible an « increase » of His own divinity, which He will then share with His Creation, and Humankind.

This is a fascinating line of research. It implies that Humanity has a shared but also « divine » responsibility about the future of the world, and to begin with, about the future of this small planet.


iThis debate over the meaning to be given to davar in this particular verse has been the subject of many commentaries. Théodoret de Cyr notes: « It should be noted that the other interpreters have said that it is a « word » and not « death » that has been sent. Nevertheless, their interpretation does not offer any disagreement: they gave the name of « word » to the decision to punish. « Basil adopts λόγον (« word »), and proposes another interpretation than Theodoret: it would be the Divine Word sent to the poorest, symbolized by Jacob. Cyril also gives λόγον, but ends up with the same conculsion as Theodoret: the « word » as the announcement of punishment. See Theodoret of Cyr, Commentaries on Isaiah. Translated by Jean-Noël Guinot. Ed. Cerf. 1982, p.13

Do We Need Anymore (such) Prophets?

« Kafka »

Although they belong to very distant planets, Paul Valéry and Franz Kafka have at least one thing in common. Both had the honor of a celebration of their respective birthday and anniversary by Walter Benjamini .

Why did Benjamin want to give to such different writers such a symbolic tribute?

He was sensitive, I believe, to the fact that they both sought to formulate a kind of a « negative theology » in their work.

For Valéry, this negative theology is embodied in the figure of Monsieur Teste.

Benjamin explains: « Mr. Teste is a personification of the intellect that reminds us a lot of the God that Nicholas of Cusa’s negative theology deals with. All that one can suppose to know about Teste leads to negation. » ii

Kafka, for his part, « has not always escaped the temptations of mysticism »iii according to Benjamin, who quotes Soma Morgenstern on this subject: « There reigns in Kafka, as in all founders of religion, a village atmosphere»iv.

Strange and deliberately provocative sentence, which Benjamin immediately rejects after quoting it: « Kafka also wrote parables, but he was not a founder of religion.» v

Kafka indeed was not a Moses or a Jesus.

But was he at least a little bit of a prophet, or could he pass for the gyrovague apostle of an obscure religion, working modern souls in the depths?

Can we follow Willy Haas who decided to read Kafka’s entire work through a theological prism? « In his great novel The Castle, Kafka represented the higher power, the reign of grace; in his no less great novel The Trial, he represented the lower power, the reign of judgment and damnation. In a third novel, America, he tried to represent, according to a strict equalization, the earth between these two powers … earthly destiny and its difficult demands.»vi

Kafka, painter of the three worlds, the upper, the lower and the in-between?

W. Haas’ opinion also seems « untenable » in Benjamin’s eyes. He is irritated when Haas specifies: « Kafka proceeds […] from Kierkegaard as well as from Pascal, one can well call him the only legitimate descendant of these two thinkers. We find in all three of them the same basic religious theme, cruel and inflexible: man is always wrong before God.»vii

Kafka, – a Judeo-Jansenist thinker?

« No » said Benjamin, the wrathful guardian of the Kafkaesque Temple. But he does not specify how Haas’s interpretation would be at fault.

Could it be that man is always wrong, but not necessarily « before God »? Then in front of whom? In front of himself?

Or would it be that man is not always « wrong », and therefore sometimes right, in front of a Count Westwestviii?

Or could it be that man is really neither right nor wrong, and that God himself is neither wrong nor right about him, because He is already dead, or indifferent, or absent?

One cannot say. Walter Benjamin does not give the definitive answer, the official interpretation of what Kafka thought about these difficult questions. In order to shed light on what seems to be the Kafkaesque position, Benjamin is content to rely on a « fragment of conversation » reported by Max Brod :

« I remember an interview with Kafka where we started from the current Europe and the decline of humanity. We are, he said, nihilistic thoughts, ideas of suicide, which are born in the mind of God. This word immediately reminded me of the Gnostic worldview. But he protested: ‘No, our world is simply an act of bad humor on the part of God, on a bad day’. I replied: ‘So apart from this form in which the world appears to us, there would be hope…’ He smiled: ‘Oh, enough hope, an infinite amount of hope – but not for us’. »ix

Would God then have suicidal thoughts, for example like Stefan Zweig in Petropolis twenty years later, in 1942? But unlike Zweig, God doesn’t seem to have actually « committed suicide », or if He did, it was only by proxy, through men, in some way.

There is yet another interpretation to consider: God could have only « contracted » Himself, as the Kabbalah of Isaac Luria formulates it (with concept of tsimtsum), or « hollowed out » Himself, according to Paul’s expression (concept of kenosis).

Since we are reduced to the imaginary exegesis of a writer who was not a « founder of religion », can we assume the probability that every word that falls out of Franz Kafka’s mouth really counts as revealed speech, that all the tropes or metaphors he has chosen are innocent, and even that what he does not say may have more real weight than what he seems to say?

Kafka indeed did not say that ideas of suicide or nihilistic thoughts born « in the mind of God » actually apply to Himself. These ideas may be born in His mind, but then they live their own lives. And it is men who live and embody these lives, it is men who are (substantially) the nihilistic thoughts or suicidal ideas of God. When God « thinks », His ideas then begin to live without Him, and it is men who live from the life of these ideas of nothingness and death, which God once contemplated in their ‘beginnings’ (bereshit).

Ideas of death, annihilation, self-annihilation, when thought of by God, « live » as absolutely as ideas of eternal life, glory and salvation, – and this despite the contradiction or oxymoron that the abstract idea of a death that « lives » as an idea embodied in real men carries with it.

Thought by God, these ideas of death and nothingness live and take on human form to perpetuate and self-generate.

Is this interpretation of Kafka by himself, as reported by Max Brod, « tenable », or at least not as « untenable » as Willy Haas’ interpretation of his supposed « theology »?

Perhaps it is.

But, as in the long self-reflexive tirades of a K. converted to the immanent metaphysics of the Castle, one could go on and on with the questioning.

Even if it risks being heretical in Benjamin’s eyes!

Perhaps Max Brod did not report with all the desired precision the exact expressions used by Kafka?

Or perhaps Kafka himself did not measure the full significance of the words he uttered in the intimacy of a tête-à-tête with his friend, without suspecting that a century later many of us would be religiously commenting on and interpreting them, like the profound thoughts of a Kabbalist or an eminent jurist of Canon Law?

I don’t know if I myself am a kind of « idea », a « thought » by God, a « suicidal or nihilistic » idea, and if my very existence is due to some divine bad mood.

If I were, I can only note, in the manner of Descartes, that this « idea » does not seem to me particularly clear, vibrant, shining with a thousand fires in me, although it is supposed to have germinated in the spirit of God himself.

I can only observe that my mind, and the ideas it brings to life, still belong to the world of darkness, of twilight, and not to the world of dark night.

It is in this sense that I must clearly separate myself from Paul Valéry, who prophesied:

« Here comes the Twilight of the Vague and the reign of the Inhuman, which will be born of neatness, rigor and purity in human things. »x

Valéry associates (clearly) neatness, rigor and purity with the « Inhuman », – but also, through the logical magic of his metaphor, with the Night.

I may imagine that « the Inhuman » is for Valéry another name of God?

To convince us of this, we can refer to another passage from Tel Quel, in which Valéry admits:

« Our insufficiency of mind is precisely the domain of the powers of chance, gods and destiny. If we had an answer for everything – I mean an exact answer – these powers would not exist.»xi

On the side of the Insufficient Mind, on the side of the Vague and the Twilight, we therefore have « the powers of chance, of gods and of fate », that is to say almost everything that forms the original substance of the world, for most of us.

But on the side of « neatness », « rigor » and « purity », we have « the Inhuman », which will henceforth « reign in human things », for people like Valery.

Farewell to the gods then, they still belonged to the setting evening, which the Latin language properly calls « Occident » (and which the Arabic language calls « Maghreb »).

Now begins the Night, where the Inhuman will reign.

Thank you, Kafka, for the idea of nothingness being born in God and then living in Man.

Thank you, Valery, for the idea of the Inhuman waiting in the Night ahead of us.

In these circumstances, do we need any more prophets ?


iWalter Benjamin. « Paul Valéry. For his sixtieth birthday ». Œuvres complètes t. II, Gallimard, 2000, pp. 322-329 , and « Franz Kafka. For the tenth anniversary of his death ». Ibid. pp. 410-453

iiWalter Benjamin. « Paul Valéry. For his sixtieth birthday ». Œuvres complètes t. II, Gallimard, 2000, p. 325

iiiWalter Benjamin. « Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death ». Ibid. p. 430

ivWalter Benjamin. « Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death ». Ibid. p. 432

vWalter Benjamin. « Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death ». Ibid. p. 432-433

viW. Haas, op.cit., p.175, quoted by W. Benjamin, in op.cit. p.435

viiW. Haas, op. cit., p. 176, quoted by W. Benjamin, in op. cit. p. 436.

viiiI make here an allusion to Count Westwest who is the master of Kafka’s Castle.

ixMax Brod. Der Dichter Franz Kafka. Die Neue Rundschau, 1921, p. 213. Quoted by W. Benjamin in op. cit. p. 417

xPaul Valéry. As is. « Rumbs ». Œuvres t. II. Paris, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de La Pléiade. 1960, p. 621

xiPaul Valéry. As is. « Rumbs ». Œuvres t. II. Paris, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de La Pléiade. 1960, p. 647

Descente et immanence

« Mont Sinaï »

Le verbe hébreu ירד, yarada, est l’un de ces mots paradoxaux, surprenants, mystérieux, de la littérature des Hekhalot (« les Palais »), laquelle traite des ascensions et des descentes célestes. Il a pour premier sens « descendre », et plusieurs sens dérivés : « tomber, déchoir, périr, être ruiné », ou encore « abattre, humilier, précipiter ». Il s’emploie principalement pour décrire les différentes « descentes », « chutes », « déchéances » ou « humiliations » relevant de la condition humaine.

Le paradoxe apparaît lorsque le même verbe sert aussi à décrire les théophanies, qui sont donc en quelque sorte assimilées, par contiguïté, à ce qui pourrait sembler leur exact opposé : la chute, la ruine et la déchéance.

Une succincte collection d’usages de ce mot en fera miroiter le spectre.

« Abram descendit en Égypte »i. « Elle descendit à la fontaine » (Gen. 24,16). « Moïse descendit de la montagne » (Ex. 19,14 ou Ex. 34,29). « Mon bien-aimé est descendu dans son jardin » (Cant. 6,2). « Il descendra comme la pluie sur l’herbe coupée » (Ps. 72,6).

Ce verbe s’emploie aussi métaphoriquement : « Tous fondent en larmes » (Is. 15,5). « Le jour baissait » (Jug. 19,11). « Ceux qui naviguent sur mer » (Ps. 107,23).

Il s’applique à la mort : « Comme ceux qui descendent dans la tombe » (Prov. 1,12). « Qu’ils descendent tout vivants dans le schéol » (Ps. 55,16).

Il peut prendre l’acception de « déchoir » : « Toi, tu décherras toujours plus bas » (Deut. 28,43).

Le plus intéressant pour notre propos est l’application de ce verbe aux théophanies, aux formes d’apparitions divines.

« Le Seigneur descendra à la vue du peuple entier, sur le mont Sinaï » (Ex. 19,11). « La montagne de Sinaï était toute fumante parce que le Seigneur y était descendu au sein de la flamme » (Ex. 18,18). « La colonne de nuée descendait, s’arrêtait à l’entrée de la Tente, et Dieu s’entretenait avec Moïse. » (Ex. 33,9). « Le Seigneur descendit sur la terre, pour voir la ville et la tour » (Gen. 11,5). « Je descendrai et te parlerai, et je retirerai une partie de l’esprit qui est sur toi pour la faire reposer sur eux » (Nb. 1,17). « Il incline les cieux et descend ; sous ses pieds, une brume épaisse » (2 S. 22,10). « Ah ! Puisses-tu déchirer les cieux et descendre ! » (Is. 63,19). « Tu descendis et les montagnes chancelèrent » (Is. 64,2). « L’Éternel Tsébaoth descendra pour guerroyer sur la montagne de Sion et ses hauteurs. » (Is. 31,4)

Dans tous les cas où Dieu descend dans le monde, il garde, notons-le, une certaine hauteur, ou une certaine distance. Il descend juste assez bas pour être « à la vue du peuple », mais pas plus bas. Il descend sur la montagne, mais « au sein d’une flamme ». Il descend vers la Tente, mais reste « dans une nuée ». Il descend des cieux, mais « une brume épaisse » reste sous ses pieds. Il descend vers Moïse, mais seulement à la distance nécessaire pour lui parler. Il descend sur la montagne de Sion, mais reste sur les « hauteurs ».

Qu’est-ce que cela montre ?

Notons d’abord que ce verbe connotant les idées de descente, de chute, de déchéance, de ruine, d’humiliation, peut être appliqué (métaphoriquement) à Dieu. Chacune des théophanies peut s’interpréter, du point de vue, non de l’homme, mais de Dieu, comme une sorte de « descente » et peut-être de « chute ». C’est une idée implicite mais fortement présente.

Ensuite, on a vu que les descentes décrites dans les textes cités impliquent toujours une certaine distance, une réserve. Dieu descend, mais seulement jusqu’à un certain point.

Enfin, l’idée de la descente de Dieu n’est jamais associée à l’idée de sa remontée. On pourrait objecter le cas du rêve de Jacob. Mais alors ce sont « les messagers divins » qui «  montaient et descendaient le long de l’échelle » (Gen. 28,12). Quant à lui, « l’Éternel apparaissait au sommet » (Gen. 28,13), fort loin donc d’en descendre.

En revanche, Dieu « descend », d’après de nombreux textes. Mais ces mêmes textes ne disent jamais qu’Il « remonte », après être descendu.

De cela, me semble-t-il, on peut déduire que la transcendance divine s’accommode d’une immanence pérenne, persistante. On pourrait même dire, que transcendance et immanence sont consubstantielles.

Il faut le souligner, la « descente » dans l’immanence implique l’acceptation par le Divin d’une forme de « chute », de « déchéance ». En « descendant » parmi les hommes, le Divin s’humilie, – au sens propre comme au sens figuré.

Le latin en témoigne: Homo. Humus. Et en hébreu, adam, qui est le nom générique de l’homme, avant d’être le nom du premier homme, vient du mot adama, la terre, la glaise, la boue, l’humus.


i Gen 12,10

The Grammatical Names of God: ‘Who’, ‘What’ and ‘That’.

« A Hebrew Grammar »

I’d like to compare here the use of various « grammatical » names of God, in the Veda and in the Zohar.

The idea of a « One » God is extremely old. More than four thousand years ago, long before Abraham left Ur in Chaldea, the One God was already celebrated by nomadic peoples transhumant in Transoxiana to settle in the Indus basin, as attested by the Veda, and then, a few centuries later, by the peoples of ancient Iran, as reported by the sacred texts of the Avesta.

But the strangest thing is that these very diverse peoples, belonging to cultures thousands of years and thousands of miles apart, have called God by the interrogative pronoun. They named God by the name « Who ?» and other grammatical variations.

Even more surprisingly, some three thousand five hundred years after this innovation appeared, the Jewish Kabbalah, in the midst of the European Middle Ages, took up this same idea of using the interrogative pronoun as a Name of God, developed it and commented on it in detail in the Zohar.

It seems that there is rich material for a comparative anthropological approach to various religions celebrating the God named « Who? »

The Vedic priests prayed to the one and supreme God, creator of the worlds, Prajāpati, – the « Lord (pati) of creatures (prajā) ». In the Rig Veda, Prajāpati is referred to as (Ka, « who »), in hymn 121 of the 10th Mandala.

« In the beginning appears the golden seed of light.

Only He was the born sovereign of the world.

He fills the earth and the sky.

– To ‘Who? »-God will we offer the sacrifice?

He who gives life and strength,

He whose blessing all the gods themselves invoke,

immortality and death are only His shadow!

– To ‘Who? »-God will we offer the sacrifice?


He whose powerful gaze stretched out over these waters,

that bear strength and engender salvation,

He who, above the gods, was the only God!

– To ‘Who?’-God will we offer the sacrifice? » i

Max Müller asserts the pre-eminence of the Veda in the invention of the pronoun « Who » as a name of God: « The Brâhmans did indeed invent the name Ka of God. The authors of Brahmaṇas have broken so completely with the past that, forgetting the poetic character of the hymns and the poets’ desire for the unknown God, they have promoted an interrogative pronoun to the rank of deityii.

In the Taittirîya-samhitâiii , the Kaushîtaki-brâhmaṇaiv , the Tâṇdya-brâhmaṇav and the Satapatha-brâhmaṇavi , whenever a verse is presented in interrogative form, the authors say that the pronoun Ka which carries the interrogation designates Prajāpati. All hymns in which the interrogative pronoun Ka was found were called Kadvat, i.e., ‘possessing the kad‘, – or ‘possessing the who?

The Brahmans even formed a new adjective for everything associated with the word Ka. Not only the hymns but also the sacrifices offered to the God Ka were referred to as « Kâya »’vii.

The use of the interrogative pronoun Ka to designate God, far from being a kind of limited rhetorical artifice, had become the equivalent of a theological tradition.

Another question arises. If we know that Ka actually refers to Prajāpati, why use (with its burden of uncertainty) an interrogative pronoun, which seems to indicate that one cannot be satisfied with the expected and known answer?

Further west to the highlands of Iran, and half a millennium before the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt, the Yashts, among the oldest hymns of the Avesta, also proclaim this affirmation of the One God about himself: « Ahmi yat ahmi » (« I am who I am »)viii.

God is named this way in Avestic language through the relative pronoun yat, « who », which is another way of grammatically dealing with the uncertainty of God’s real name.

A millennium before Moses, Zarathushtra asked the one God: « Reveal to me Your Name, O Ahura Mazda, Your highest, best, most just, most powerful Name ».

Then Ahura Mazda answered: « My Name is the One, – and it is in ‘question’, O holy Zarathushtra! « »ix .

The Avestic text literally says: « Frakhshtya nâma ahmi« , which can be translated word for word: « He who is in question (Frakhshtya), as for the name (nâma), I am (ahmi)« . x

Curiously enough, long after the Veda and the Avesta, the Hebrew Bible also gives the One God these same « grammatical » names, « Who » or « He Who ».

We find this use of the interrogative pronoun who (מִי , mi ) in the verse from Isaiahxi: מִי-בָרָא אֵלֶּה (mi bara éleh), « Who created that? ».

As for the relative pronoun « who, whom » (אֲשֶׁר , asher), it is staged in a famous passage from Exodusxii: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (ehyeh asher ehyeh), « I am who I am », or more acurately, « I will be who I will be », taking into account the imperfect tense of ‘ehyeh’.

The latter option leaves open the possibility of a future revelation, of another Name yet, or of a divine essence whose essence would have no grammatically formulable essence, but could be rendered only approximately, for example by means of a relative pronoun and a verbal form in the future .

Two millennia after Isaiah, in the midst of the European Middle Ages, the famous book of the Jewish Kabbalah, the Zohar, attributed to Moses de Leon, focused on a detailed study of the name Mi (« Who? ») of God.

One of the tracks that emerges from this interrogation is the intrinsically divine relationship of Mi (Who) to Mâ (What) and to Eleh (That).

« It is written: « In the beginning ». Rabbi Eleazar opened one of his lectures with the following exordium: « Lift up your eyes (Is 40:28) and consider who created this ». « Lift up your eyes up, » to what place? To the place where all eyes are turned. And what is that place? It is the « opening of the eyes ». There you will learn that the mysterious Elder, the eternal object of research, created this. And who is He? – Mi » (= Who). He is the one who is called the « Extremity of Heaven », above, for everything is in his power. And it is because he is the eternal object of research, because he is in a mysterious way and because he does not reveal himself that he is called « Mi » (= Who); and beyond that we must not go deeper. This upper end of the Heaven is called « Mi » (= Who). But there is another end at the bottom, called « Mâ » (= What). What is the difference between the two? The first, mysterious one, called « Mi », is the eternal object of search; and, after man has searched, after he has tried to meditate and to go up from step to step until he reaches the last one, he finally arrives at « Mâ » (= What). What did you learn? What did you understand? What did you look for? Because everything is as mysterious as before. This mystery is alluded to in the words of Scripture: ‘Mâ (= What), I will take you as a witness, Mâ (= What), I will be like you' ». xiii

What are we learning, indeed? What have we understood?

Mi is a Name of God. It is an eternal object of research.

Can it be reached? No.

One can only reach this other noun, which is still only a pronoun, (= What).

You look for « Who » and you reach « What ».

This Mâis not the sought-after Mi, but of Mâ we can say, as Scripture testifies: « Mâ, I will take you as a witness, Mâ, I will be like you. » xiv

The Zohar indicates indeed:

« When the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, a heavenly voice came and said, « Mâ (= What) will give you a testimony, » for I have testified every day from the first days of creation, as it is written, « I take heaven and earth as my witness this day. « And I said, « Mâ will be like you, » that is, He will give you sacred crowns, very much like His own, and make you ruler over the world. » xv

The God whose Name is Mi is not the God whose Name is Mâ, and yet they are one.

And above all, under the Name of , He will one day be the ‘equal’ of anyone who seeks Him in all things, at least according to the Zohar:

« Just as the sacred people no longer enter the holy walls today, so I promise you that I will not enter my dwelling place above until all the troops have entered your walls below. May this be your consolation, for in this form of « What » (Mâ) I will be your equal in all things. » xvi

The man who ‘seeks’ God is placed between Mi and Mâ, in an intermediate position, just as Jacob was once.

« For Mi, the one who is the upper echelon of the mystery and on whom all depends, will heal you and restore you; Mi, the end of heaven from above, and Mâ, the end of heaven from below. And this is Jacob’s inheritance that forms the link between the upper end Mi and the lower end Mâ, for he stands in the midst of them. This is the meaning of the verse: « Mi (= Who) created that » (Is 40:26). » xvii

But that’s not all. Isaiah’s verse has not yet delivered its full weight of meaning. What does « that » mean?

« Rabbi Simeon says, « Eleazar, what does the word ‘Eleh‘ (= That) mean? It cannot refer to the stars and other heavenly bodies, since they are always seen and since the heavenly bodies are created by « Mâ« , as it is written (Ps 33:6): « By the Word of God the heavens were created. » Neither can it refer to secret objects, since the word « Eleh » can only refer to visible things. This mystery had not yet been revealed to me until the day when, as I stood by the sea, the prophet Elijah appeared to me. He said to me, « Rabbi, do you know the meaning of the words, ‘Who (Mi) created that (Eleh)? « 

I answered him, « The word ‘Eleh‘ means the Heavens and the heavenly bodies, and Scripture commands man to contemplate the works of the Holy One, blessed be he, as it is written (Ps 8:4): « When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, etc ». and a little further on (Ibid., 10): « God, our master, how wonderful is your name on all the earth. « 

Elijah replied: Rabbi, this word containing a secret was spoken before the Holy One, blessed be He, and its meaning was revealed in the Heavenly School, here it is: When the Mystery of all Mysteries wished to manifest itself, He first created a point, which became the Divine Thought; then He drew all kinds of images on it, engraved all kinds of figures on it, and finally engraved on it the sacred and mysterious lamp, an image representing the most sacred mystery, a profound work coming out of the Divine Thought. But this was only the beginning of the edifice, existing but not yet existing, hidden in the Name, and at that time called itself only « Mi« . Then, wanting to manifest Himself and be called by His Name, God put on a precious and shining garment and created « Eleh » (That), which was added to His Name.

« Eleh« , added to inverted « mi » [i.e. ‘im’], formed « Elohim« . Thus the word « Elohim » did not exist before « Eleh » was created. It is to this mystery that the culprits who worshipped the golden calf alluded when they cried out (Ex 32:4): « Eleh » is your God, O Israel. » xviii

We learn in this passage from the Zohar that the true essence of the golden calf was neither to be a calf nor to be made of gold. The golden calf was only a pretext to designate « that ».

It was only there to designate the essence of « Eleh » (That), the third instanciation of the divine essence, after that of « Mi » and that of «  » …

As the Zohar indicates, this can be deduced by associating the Name « Mi » (Who?) with the Name « Eleh » (That), which allows us to obtain the Name « Elohim » (God), after inverting mi into im, ...

The Name Mi, the Name and the Name Eleh were not primarily divine nouns, but only pronouns (interrogative, relative, demonstrative).

These divine pronouns, in which lies a powerful part of mystery because of their grammatical nature, also interact between themselves. They refer to each other a part of their deeper meaning. The « Who » calls the « What », and they both also refer to a grammatically immanent « That ».

The grammatical plane of interpretation is rich. But can a more theological reading be attempted? I think so.

These three Divine Names, « Who », « What » and « That », form a kind of proto-trinity, I’d like to suggest.

This proto-trinity evokes three attributes of God:

He is a personal God, since we can ask the question « Who? » about Him.

He is a God who may enter in relation, since relative pronouns (« Whom », « What ») can designate Him.

Finally He is an immanent God, since a demonstrative pronoun (« That ») can evoke Him.

Even if Judaism claims an absolute « unity » of the divine, it cannot help but hatch within itself Trinitarian formulations – here, in grammatical form.

This Trinitarian phenomenology of the divine in Judaism, in the grammatical form it borrows, does not make it any less profound or any less eternally perennial. For if there is indeed an ever-present symbol, always at work, of the original wiring of the human mind, it is grammar…

In a million years, or even in seven hundred million years from now, and whatever idea of the divine will reign then, I guess that there will still be a transhuman or posthuman grammar to evoke the categories of the Who, the What, and the That, and to make them look as aspects or ‘faces’ of the Divine.


iRig Veda. 121st Hymn. Book X.

iiMax Müller. History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature. 1860, p. 433

iii I, 7, 6, 6

iv XXIV, 4

v XV, 10


vii The word Kâya is used in Taittirîya-samhitâ (I, 8, 3, 1) and Vâgasaneyi-samhitâ (XXIV, 15).

viii Max Müller, Theosophy or Psychological Religion. Ed. Longmans, Green. London, 1895, p.52

ix  » My name is the One of whom questions are asked, O Holy Zarathushtra ! ». Quoted by Max Müller, Theosophy or Psychological Religion. Ed. Longmans, Green & Co. London, 1895, p. 55

x Cf. this other translation proposed by Max Müller: « One to be asked by name am I », in Max Müller. Theosophy or Psychological Religion. Longmans, Green & Co. London, 1895, p. 55.

xiIs 40.26

xiiEx 3.14

xiiiZohar I,1b.

xivZohar I,1b.

xvZohar I,1b.

xviZohar I,1b.

xviiZohar I,1b.

xviiiZohar I,1b-2a

L’Un et le Trois

« Chlomo ben Jehuda Ibn Gabirol »

Les peuples, les cultures, les philosophies, les religions, sous l’apparence de leurs multiplicités, de leurs différences, laissent deviner une unité profonde, originaire. Pour la trouver, il faut partir en voyage, comme jadis Pythagore, qui « s’en fut à Babylone, en Égypte, dans toute la Perse, s’instruisant auprès des mages et des prêtres ; on rapporte qu’il s’entendit aussi avec les Brahmanes. »i.

Toujours, où que ce ce soit, les mêmes questions traversent l’esprit des hommes.

« Où est le souffle, le sang, la respiration de la terre ? Qui est allé le demander à qui le sait ? » demande le Ṛg Veda. ii

Mille ans plus tard, un peu plus à l’ouest, YHVH interrogea Job : « Où étais-tu quand je fondai la terre ? Parle, si ton savoir est éclairé. Qui en fixa les mesures, le saurais-tu, ou qui tendit sur elle le cordeau ? (…) Raconte, si tu sais tout cela. De quel côté habite la lumière, et les ténèbres où résident-elles ?»iii

On reconnaît là une familiarité instinctive, une ressemblance de ton.

Dans les Védas, Agni est appelé « Dieu du feu ». Mais ce n’est que l’un de ses noms, et le feu n’est qu’une image. Agni est le Divin sous bien d’autres aspects, que d’autres noms désignent: « Agni, tu es Indra, le dispensateur du bien ; tu es l’adorable Viṣṇu, loué par beaucoup ; tu es Brahmānaspati… tu es toute sagesse. Agni tu es le royal Varuṇa, observateur des vœux sacrés, tu es l’adorable Mitra, le destructeur. »

Agni incarne à la fois la multiplicité innombrable et l’unité du Divin.

La religion des Védas peut sembler polythéiste, par l’accumulation myriadique des noms du Dieu. Mais c’est un monothéisme dans son intuition essentielle.

Les Védas chantent, psalmodient, invoquent et crient le Divin, – sous toutes ses formes. Ce Divin s’incarne toujours dans la Parole, – sous toutes ses formes. « Par le Chant et à côté de lui, il produit le Cri; par le Cri, l’Hymne ; au moyen de la triple invocation, la Parole. »iv

Agni est le Feu divin, qui illumine, il est la libation du Soma, qui crépite. Il est celui-ci, et celui-là, et leur union. Par le sacrifice, le Feu et le Soma s’unissent. Le Feu et le Soma concourent à leur supérieure union, dont Agni est le nom.

Les anciens Hébreux, peuple consacré à l’intuition de l’Un, recherchaient et louaient ses noms divers, tout comme pourrait-on dire, les multiples noms et les attributs védiques de la Divinité célébraient son essence unique.

Dieu « crie » trois fois son nom à l’adresse de Moïse « YHVH, YHVH, EL » (יְהוָה יְהוָה, אֵל)v. Un Dieu unique prononce un triple nom. Que signifie le premier nom YHVH ? Qu’apporte le second nom YHVH ? Qu’exprime le troisième nom, EL ?

Mille années avant Moïse, des versets du Ṛg Veda évoquaient déjà les trois noms divins d’un Dieu unique: « Trois Chevelus brillent à tour de rôle : l’un se sème dans le Saṃvatsara ; l’un considère le Tout au moyen des Puissances ; et d’un autre, on voit la traversée, mais non pas la couleur. »vi

Les trois « Chevelus » représentent le Dieu unique, Agni, dont la chevelure est de flammevii.

Le premier « Chevelu » se sème dans le Soma, en tant que germe primordial, non-né. Le second « Chevelu » considère le Tout grâce au Soma, qui contient les puissances et les forces. Le troisième « Chevelu » est l’être obscur d’Agni (l’Agni « aja », – ce qui signifie « non-né »), obscurité que le Dieu « traverse », lorsqu’il passe de l’obscur au brillant, de la nuit à la lumière.

Agni déploie à trois reprises le feu de sa « chevelure » buissonneuse et brillante, pour signifier sa puissance créatrice, sa sagesse et sa révélation.

De l’intérieur du buisson ardent, Yahvé crie trois fois son nom à Moïse.

Le Dieu « Un » se montre sous « trois » aspects dans le Véda, Il s’appelle Lui-même « trois » fois dans la Torah.

La même métaphore, trine, étrange, lie l’un et le trois. Elle relie l’Inde, Israël, et aussi, par cette présence de l’image trinitaire, l’Occident gréco-latin et chrétien.

Hasard ? Coïncidence ? Le nombre trois paraît désigner une sorte de constante anthropologique, il incarne un archétype, dont la structure profonde dérive de la nature même de l’Un.

Dans La symbolique de l’esprit Jung présente le Trois comme découlant de la tension entre l’Un et l’Autre. « Toute tension d’opposés suscite un déroulement duquel naît le trois. Dans le trois la tension se dénoue, en tant que l’Un perdu réapparaît. L’Un absolu est ‘innombrable’, indéterminable, inconnaissable ; c’est seulement quant il apparaît dans le nombre un qu’il devient connaissable, car ‘l’Autre’ indispensable pour un tel acte fait défaut dans l’état de l’Un. Le trois est donc un déploiement de l’Un qui rend celui-ci connaissable. Le trois est ‘l’Un’ devenu connaissable, qui, s’il ne s’était pas résolu dans l’opposition de ‘l’Un’ et de ‘l’Autre’, serait demeuré dans un état de détermination quelconque. La relation du trois à l’unité peut s’exprimer par un triangle équilatéral : a=b=c, c’est-à-dire par l’identité des trois, le trois étant contenu en totalité dans chacun des trois angles. L’idée intellectuelle du triangle équilatéral est un modèle conceptuel logique de la Trinité. »viii

Un parallèle peut être fait avec la conception chinoise des nombres : « L’Unité ne peut pas valoir Un parce qu’elle est Tout, et d’ailleurs elle ne peut se distinguer de Deux, car c’est en elle que se résorbent tous les aspects contrastants qui s’opposent, mais aussi s’unissent : la Gauche et la Droite, le Haut et le Bas, l’Avant et l’Arrière, le Rond et le Carré, le Yang et le Yin. Tout ensemble Unité et Couple, l’Entier, si on veut lui donner une expression numérique, se trouve dans tous les Impairs, et d’abord dans le 3 (1 plus 2). »ix

Établissant un rapport avec la doctrine alchimique sur la naissance du quatre, et surtout avec la naissance de la conscience, Marie-Louise von Franz dit à propos du trois : « Du un vient le deux, et du deux vient le un comme troisième. Ici également, la ‘progression’ s’accomplit d’une façon rétrograde, en se reportant mentalement à l’unité et en hypostasiant cette dernière en un nouveau contenu de conscience (…). Entendu comme rythme ou dynamisme, le trois introduit un élément de direction dans le rythme oscillatoire du deux, ce qui permet la formation de paramètres spatiaux ou temporels. Ce pas implique l’adjonction d’une conscience qui observe. »x

Si l’Un est seul, il reste inconscient du Tout qu’il contient en puissance, et se coupe plus encore de l’Infini, dont il constitue la base. En tant qu’il est Un, il se prive de l’altérité du Deux, et sans elle, Il ne peut être Tout. En reconnaissant l’Autre comme ce qu’Il n’est pas, l’Un s’ouvre à la différence de fait et d’essence. Et par là, il s’ouvre à la conscience de son identité de son essence et de sa différence.

Le trois est l’Un rendu conscient de l’altérité qui l’unit à l’Autre.

En cela, il est le principe dynamique par excellence.xi

Chlomo ben Jehuda Ibn Gabirol, philosophe et poète juif dans l’Espagne du 11ème siècle, déclare pour sa part, frisant l’hérésie, dans une étrange synthèse judéo-platonico-aristotélicienne : « L’Unité n’est pas la racine de tout, puisque l’Unité n’est qu’une forme et que tout est à la fois forme et matière, mais 3 est la racine de tout, c’est-à-dire que l’unité représente la forme et deux représente la matière. »xii

Si l’on prend un point de vue psychologique sur ces questions, à la suite de Jung et Von Franz, l’on dira que le trois ou la « triade » est un archétype qui habite le préconscient. Le trois réalise symboliquement l’union de l’un avec son opposé interne, le deux, et il représente cette union réalisée dans l’espace-temps des formes et de la matière, c’est-à-dire dans la conscience.

Le Trois incarne la conscience de l’Un.


i Eusèbe de Césarée. Préparation évangélique, 4,15

ii Ṛg Veda I, 164,4.

iiiJob, 38, 4-19

ivṚg Veda I, 164,24.

v Ex. 34,6

vi Ṛg Veda I, 164,44.

vii Notons ici incidemment que l’un des attributs d’Apollon, Xantokomès (Ξανθόκομης), en fait aussi un Dieu « à la chevelure rouge-feu »

viiiC.G. Jung. Essais sur la symbolique de l’esprit. Albin Michel, Paris, 1991, p.157

ixMarcel Granet, La Pensée chinoise, Paris 1968, pp.229,233

xMarie-Louise von Franz, Nombre et temps – Psychologie des profondeurs et physique moderne. Ed. La Fontaine de pierre. 2012, p.117

xiR. Allendy, Le symbolisme des nombres, Paris, 1948. p. 41-43. « Trois est bien le principe dynamique par excellence. » « Trois, dit Balzac, est la formule des mondes créés ». Cité par M.-L. Von Franz, op.cit., p. 117, note 9

xiiIbid. p.43

Wisdom or Prophecy?

« Sefer ha-Zohar »

The Jewish Kabbalah pits the Prophet against the Wise man, and puts the Wise man above the Prophet. Why this hierarchical order? Is it justified? What does it teach us? What can we expect from this vision of things?

Let’s start with some elements of argumentation, against prophetism.

« The Wise man always prevails over the Prophet, for the Prophet is sometimes inspired and sometimes not, while the Holy Spirit never leaves the Wise men; they have knowledge of what has happened Up-There and Down-Here, and they are under no obligation to reveal it. » i

The Wise men « know ». Their wisdom is such that they even dispense with the risk of speaking about it publicly. There would only be blows to be taken, trouble guaranteed. And for what benefit? In their great wisdom, the Wise men are careful not to « reveal » what they « know ». It is precisely because they are « wise » that they do not reveal what is the basis of their « wisdom ».

What do they do then, if they do not reveal their knowledge to the world? Well, they continue to deepen it, they study to climb the ladder of knowledge constantly.

« Those who study the Torah are always preferable to the prophets. They are indeed of a higher level, for they hold themselves Above, in a place called Torah, which is the foundation of all faith. Prophets stand at a lower level, called Netsah and Hod. Therefore, those who study the Torah are more important than the prophets, they are superior to them. » ii

This frontal antagonism between sages and prophets has a long history. It can be summed up in the age-old rivalry between prophetic Judaism and rabbinic Judaism.

Gershom Scholem, who has studied the great currents of Jewish mysticism, notes « an essential point on which Sabbatianism and Hasidism converge, while moving away from the rabbinic scale of values, namely: their conception of the ideal type of man to whom they attribute the function of leader. For rabbinic Jews, especially at that time, the ideal type recognized as the spiritual leader of the community was the scholar, the Torah student, the educated Rabbi. From him, no inner rebirth is required. (…) In place of these masters of the Law, the new movements gave birth to a new type of leader, the seer, the man whose heart was touched and changed by God, in a word, the prophet. » iii

The rivalry between the scholar and the seer can be graduated according to a supposed scale, which would symbolically link the Below and the Above. For rabbinic Judaism, the talmudic scholar, the student of the Torah, is « superior » to the seer, the prophet, or the one whose heart has been changed by God.

Once a sort of scale of comparison is established, other hierarchies proliferate within the caste of the « masters of the Law ». They are based on the more or less proper way of studying the Law, on the more or less proper way of approaching the Torah.

The texts testify to this.

« Why is it written on the one hand, ‘For thy grace is exalted to the heavens’? (Ps 57:11) and on the other hand: ‘Your grace is greater than the heavens’ (Ps 108:5)? There is no contradiction between these two verses. The first refers to those who do not care about the Torah in a selfless way, while the second applies to those who study in a selfless way. » iv

One might conclude (probably too hastily) that it is therefore in one’s interest to be disinterested (as to the purpose of the study), and to be disinterested in any interest (for the purpose of the Torah), if one wants to know the grace that « transcends the heavens ».

But another avenue of research opens up immediately.

Rather than only concerning those who ‘study the Torah’, the grace that ‘ascends to heaven’ and the grace that ‘transcends heaven’ could apply respectively to the masters of the Law and the prophets, – unless it is the other way around? How do we know?

We have just seen that the Zohar resolutely takes sides with the superiority of the masters of the Law over the seers and the prophets. But the ambivalence of the texts of the Hebrew Bible undoubtedly allows for many other interpretations.

Perhaps we can draw on the sayings of the Prophets themselves to form an opinion about them, and try to see if what they have to say can « reach beyond the heavens »?

Isaiah states about his own prophetic mission:

« Yes, so spoke YHVH to me when his hand grasped me and taught me not to follow the path of this people, saying :

‘You will not call a conspiracy all that this people calls a conspiracy, you will not share their fears and you will not be terrified of them. It is YHVH Tsebaot whom you will proclaim holy; it is He who will be the object of your fear and terror.

He will be a sanctuary, a rock that brings down, a stumbling block for the two houses of Israel, a net and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Many will stumble, fall and break, and they will be trapped and captured.

Enclose a testimony, seal an instruction in the heart of my disciples’.

I hope in YHVH that hides His face from Jacob’s house. » v

According to Isaiah’s testimony, YHVH declares that He himself is a ‘rock that makes fall’, a ‘stumbling block’, a ‘net and snare’. But a little further on Isaiah radically reverses this metaphor of the ‘stone’ and gives it the opposite meaning :

« Thus says the Lord YHVH:

Behold, I am going to lay in Zion a stone, a granite stone, a cornerstone, a precious stone, a well-established foundation stone: he who trusts in it shall not be shaken. » vi

Contradiction? No.

To paraphrase what was said above about self-serving and selfless study of the Torah, let us argue that the ‘well-grounded foundation stone’ applies to true prophets.

On the other hand, the ‘stumbling block’ refers to the ‘insolent’, those who have ‘made a covenant with death’, who have made ‘lies’ their ‘refuge’ and who have ‘hidden in falsehood’vii, as well as false prophets, priests and all those who claim to ‘teach lessons’ and ‘explain doctrines’….

Isaiah eructs and thunderstruck. His fury bursts out against the pseudo-Masters of the Law.

« They, too, were troubled by the wine, they wandered about under the effect of the drink. Priest and prophet, they were troubled by drink, they were taken with wine, they wandered with drink, they were troubled in their visions, they wandered in their sentences. Yes, all the tables are covered with abject vomit, not a clean place! » viii

The false prophets and priests are drunk and roll around in their abject vomit… Their visions are troubled… Their sentences are rambling… They stutter, they donkey absurd sentences, but YHVH will give them their derisory lessons and knock them off their pedestals :

« Who does He teach the lesson to? To whom does He explain the doctrine? To children barely weaned, barely out of the teat, when He says: ‘çav laçav, çav laçav; qav laqav, qav laqav; ze ‘êr sham, ze ‘êr shamix. Yes, it is with stuttering lips and in a foreign language that He will speak to this people (…) Thus YHVH will speak to them thus: çav laçav, çav laçav; qav laqav, qav laqav; ze ‘êr sham, ze ‘êr sham‘, so that as they walk they may fall backwards, be broken, be trapped, be imprisoned. » x

As we can see, Isaiah had, more than a millennium beforehand, already warned of the subtle contempt and the self-satisfaction of the Kabbalistic scholars, and of the pseudo-sapiential sentences of rabbinic masters.

Today, what has become of the ancient bipolarity of prophetic and rabbinic Judaism?

It seems that rabbinic Judaism now occupies almost all the ideological terrain. The time of the (true) prophets has indeed been over for more than two millennia. The (false) prophets have been particularly discredited since the recurrent proliferation of multiple « Messiahs » (ranging from Jesus Christ to Isaac Luria, Sabbatai Zevi and Nathan of Gaza…).

There is little hope that the Messiah will risk to come again on the world stage any time soon. We know now what it cost the daring ones who ventured to take the role.

What future, then, for the Eternal People? What future for Judaism in a shrinking, suffering planet, threatened from all sides, especially by war, injustice, biological death?

I don’t know, not being wise enough.

I only know that, in truth, probably only a prophet would be able to answer these questions…


iZohar II 6b (Shemot). Quoted by Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhyn. The soul of life. Fourth portico: Between God and man: the Torah. Verdier 1986, p.215.

ii Zohar III 35a (Tsav). Quoted by Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhyn. The soul of life. Fourth portico: Between God and man: the Torah. Verdier 1986, p.215.

iiiGershom Scholem. The great currents of Jewish mysticism. Trad. M.-M. Davy. Ed. Payot et Rivages, Paris, 2014, pp.483-484

ivRabbi Hayyim of Volozhyn. The soul of life. Fourth portico: Between God and man: the Torah. Ed. Verdier 1986, p.210.

vIs 8, 11-17

viIs 28.16

viiIs 28, 14-15

viiiIs 28, 7-8

ixLiterally: « Order to order…measure to measure…a little here, a little there ». This can be interpreted as a derogatory imitation of the self-nominated « masters of the Law ».

xIs 28, 9-13

Les Oracles Chaldaïques

Les Oracles chaldaïques datent du 2ème siècle de notre ère. C’est un texte court, calme, brûlant, attribué à Julien. Ses formules oraculaires ouvrent des voies brèves, œuvrant d’un éclat ancien ; elles brillent comme un feu sec, – ou des pépites d’or vieux, précieuses, luisantes, usées.

Dont ici quelques étincelles.

(Entre parenthèses, j’en dis ce que j’en perçois, comme d’un halo).

« De l’Esprit, en effet, l’esprit » (νοῦ γάρ νόος).

(Non de la matière, des quarks ou des neurones.)

« Le silence des pères, dont Dieu se nourrit. »

(Non de leurs paroles ou de leurs lois. Il a faim, semble-t-il, de l’errance et du silence de ceux qui le cherchent, comme en un puits sans fond, et non sous les convenances, qu’elles soient montagnes, sacrifices, bois ou temples.)

« Vous qui connaissez, en le pensant, l’abîme paternel, au-delà du cosmos. »

(Il faut sortir du monde, l’horizon est prison et les abîmes des barres. L’esprit ne se veut pas immobile. L’âme ne reste pas là où elle donne la vie. L’un court là où il pense, l’autre vole au-delà, là où elle aime.)

« Tout esprit pense ce Dieu. »

(L’ange et la mouche ont ceci de commun).

« L’Esprit n’existe pas seul, privé de ce à quoi il pense, et ce qu’il pense ne subsiste pas sans l’Esprit. »

(Un peu d’imagination fait voir la puissance de l’esprit. L’Esprit, par anagogie, crée ce qu’Il pense).

« Artisan, ouvrier du monde en feu. »

(Tout ce qui est créé se hâte de monter, comme la bûche en flamme devient lumière, et le charbon chaleur).

« L’orage, s’élançant impétueux, atténue peu à peu la fleur de son feu, en se jetant dans les cavités du monde. »

(Grottes et creux, caves et cuves, gouffres et cavités, – métaphores de l’âme, devant l’éclair et la foudre, l’illumination et l’inondation. Comme dans son ouverture et dans sa nuit, Moïse même se cacha dans la fentei.)

« Pensées intelligentes, qui butinent en abondance, à la source, la fleur du feu, au plus haut point du temps, sans repos. »

(L’intelligence comme une abeille, fait son miel de toutes fleurs. Entrée dans le feu, comme dans sa source, elle s’y consume et se fait miel même.)

« Le feu du soleil, il le fixa à l’emplacement du cœur. »

(Tout ce qui est dans l’homme est caché, – le feu, le ciel, le soleil, le cœur. Tout en lui est en puissance – de mouvement. La conscience toujours s’éveille, avec son essence et sa nature, comme le soleil se lève, elle sort de sa nuit, cherche sa place, change de lieu, et migre loin au-dessus d’elle-même.)

« Aux fulgurations intellectuelles du feu intellectuel, tout cède. »

(La foudre fulgure, éclatante elle illumine, le ciel se vide, et tombe en torrents la pluie qui féconde, unifiant les profondeurs du sein.)

D’autres fragments, étincelles éparses, fusent, fugacesii.

Mille ans après la parution de ces Oracles, Michel Psellus (1018-1098) en a commis ses Commentaires, faisant ressortir leurs influences assyriennes et chaldéennes.

Et mille ans après Psellus, Hans Lewy leur a consacré son grand œuvre, Chaldean Oracles and Theurgy. Mysticism magic and platonism in the later Roman Empire (Le Caire, 1956).

D’autres savants, tels W. Kroll, E. Bréhier, F. Cumont, E.R. Dodds, H. Jonas se sont penchés sur ces textes, entre la fin du 19ème siècle et le début du siècle dernier. Bien avant eux, une chaîne antique de penseurs, Eusèbe, Origène, Proclus, Porphyre, Jamblique, avait tracé quelques pistes de recherche. Il ressortait qu’il fallait remonter à Babylone, et plus avant encore, aux sources du zoroastrisme, pour tenter de comprendre le sens de ces poèmes magico-mystiques, qui obtinrent chez les néo-platoniciens le statut de révélation sacrée.

Qu’en reste-t-il aujourd’hui?

On peut trouver inspirantes des idées comme celle du voyage de l’âme à travers les mondes, et peut-être utiles des mots comme « anagogie » ou « Aïon », dont Jung fit le titre d’une des œuvres majeures, et qui est un autre nom de l’éternité.

Il y aussi l’hypothèse, assez époustouflante si l’on y prend goût, de la révélation d’une « hypostase noétique de la Divinité », formulée par Hans Lewy.

G. Durand eut un jour une formule fameuse: « Le symbole est l’épiphanie d’un mystère. »iii

Ces Oracles, ces symboles de Babylone, ces épiphanies zoroastriennes, semblent mystifier le monde, et leurs charbons éclairent la nuit.

Salomon a dit, non de lui-même, mais sous l’influence de quelque haute inspiration: « Moi, la Sagesse, j’ai habité au Conseil, j’ai appelé à moi la connaissance et la pensée. »iv

Les « modernes » n’habitent plus de tentes au désert, et ils n’ont rien à dire des mystères, de la Sagesse, des sources de la pensée et des « fulgurations de l’esprit ».


iEx 33,22

ii« N’éteins pas en ton esprit. » (105)

« Le mortel qui se sera approché du Feu tiendra de Dieu la lumière. » (121)

« Ne pas se hâter non plus vers le monde, hostile à la lumière. » (134)

« Tout est éclairé par la foudre. » (147)

« Quand tu auras vu le feu saint, saint, briller sans formes, en bondissant, dans les abîmes du monde entier, écoute la voix du feu. » (148)

« Ne change jamais les noms barbares. » (150)

« Ne te penche pas vers le bas. » (164)

« Et jamais, en oubli, ne coulions, en un flot misérable. » (171)

« Les enclos inaccessibles de la pensée. » (178)

« La fureur de la matière. » (180)

« Le vrai est dans le profond. » (183)

« Temps du temps (χρόνου χρόνος). » (185)

iii G. Durand L’imagination poétique

iv Prov. 8,12

Double Meanings and Triple Names (The Cases of Veda and the Sheqel ha-Qodesh)

Classical Sanskrit is a language which allows a lot of verbal games (śleṣa), and double entendres. This semantic duplicity is not simply linguistic. It has its source in the Veda itself, which gives it a much deeper meaning.

« The ‘double meaning’ is the most remarkable process of the Vedic style (…) The objective is to veil the expression, to attenuate direct intelligibility, in short to create ambiguity. This is what the presence of so many obscure words contributes to, so many others that are likely to have (sometimes, simultaneously) a friendly side, a hostile side. » i

The vocabulary of Ṛg Veda is full of ambiguous words and puns.

For example, the word arí means « friend; faithful, zealous, pious » but also « greedy, envious; hostile, enemy ». The word jána refers to the men of the tribe or clan, but the derived word jánya means « stranger ».

On the puns side, let us quote śáva which means both « force » and « corpse », and the phonetic proximity invites us to attribute it to God Śiva, giving it these two meanings. A representation of Śiva at the Ethnographic Museum in Berlin shows him lying on his back, blue and dead, and a goddess with a fierce appearance, multiple arms, a ravenous mouth, ecstatic eyes, makes love to him, to gather the divine seed.

Particularly rich in contrary meanings are the words that apply to the sphere of the sacred.

Thus the root vṛj- has two opposite senses. On the one hand, it means « to overthrow » (the wicked), on the other hand « to attract to oneself » (the Divinity) as Louis Renouii notes. Huet’s Sanskrit dictionary proposes two pallets of meanings for this root: « to bend, to twist; to tear out, to pick, to take away, to exclude, to alienate » and « to choose, to select; to reserve for oneself », which we can see that they can be applied in two antagonistic intentions: rejection or appropriation.

The keyword devá plays a central role, but its meaning is particularly ambiguous. Its primary meaning is « brilliant », « being of light », « divine ». But in RV I,32,12, devá designates Vṛta, the « hidden », the god Agni hid himself as « the one who took human form »iii. And in later texts the word devá is clearly used to refer to ‘demons’iv.

This ambiguity is accentuated when it is prefixed like in ādeva or ádeva: « The word ādeva is different: sometimes it is a doublet of ádeva – ‘impious’ – which is even juxtaposed with in RV VI 49:15; sometimes the word means ‘turned towards the gods’. It is significant that two terms of almost opposite meanings have merged into one and the same form. » v

This phonetic ambiguity of the word is not only ‘significant’, but it seems to me that it allows to detect a crypto-theology of the negative God, of the God « hidden » in his own negation…

The ambiguity installed at this level indicates the Vedic propensity to reduce (by phonetic shifts and approximations) the a priori radical gap between God and Non-God.

The closeness and ambiguity of the meanings makes it possible to link, by metonymy, the clear negation of God (ádeva) and what could be described as God’s ‘procession’ towards Himself (ādeva).

The Sanskrit language thus more or less consciously stages the potential reversibility or dialectical equivalence between the word ádeva (« without God » or « Non-God ») and the word ādeva which, on the contrary, underlines the idea of a momentum or movement of God « towards » God, as in this formula of a hymn addressed to Agni: ā devam ādevaṃ, « God turned towards God », or « God devoted to God » (RV VI, 4,1) .

This analysis is confirmed by the very clear case of the notion of Asura, which combines in a single word two extreme opposite meanings, that of « supreme deity » and that of « enemy of the deva« vi.

The ambiguity of the words reflects on the Gods by name. Agni is the very type of the beneficent deity, but he is also evoked as durmati (foolish) in a passage from RV VII, 1,22. Elsewhere he is accused of constant deceit (RV V,19,4). The God Soma plays a prominent role in all Vedic rites of sacrifice, but he is also described as deceitful (RV IX 61,30), and there are several instances of a demonized Soma identified at Vṛtra. vii

What interpretation should be given to these opposing and concurrent meanings?

Louis Renou opts for the magic idea. « The reversibility of acts as well as formulas is a feature of magical thinking. One puts deities into action against deities, a sacrifice against one’s sacrifice, a word against one’s word ». (MS II, 1,7) »viii.

Anything that touches the sacred can be turned upside down, or overturned.

The sacred is at the same time the source of the greatest goods but also of panic terror, by all that it keeps of mortal dread.

If we turn to the specialist in comparative myth analysis that was C. G. Jung, another interpretation emerges, that of the « conjunction of opposites », which is « synonymous with unconsciousness ».

« The conjuctio oppositorum occupied the speculation of the alchemists in the form of the chymic marriage, and also that of the Kabbalists in the image of Tipheret and Malchut, of God and the Shekinah, not to mention the marriage of the Lamb. » ix

Jung also makes the link with the Gnostic conception of a God ‘devoid of consciousness’ (anennoetos theos). The idea of the agnosia of God psychologically means that God is assimilated to the ‘numinosity of the unconscious’, which is reflected in the Vedic philosophy of Ātman and Puruṣa in the East as well as in that of Master Eckhart in the West.

« The idea that the creator god is not conscious, but that perhaps he is dreaming is also found in the literature of India:

Who could probe it, who will say

Where was he born and where did he come from?

The gods came out of him here.

Who says where they come from?

He who produced the creation

Who contemplates it in the very high light of the sky,

Who did or did not do it,

He knows it! – Or does he not know it? » x

Similarly, Master Eckhart’s theology implies « a ‘divinity’ of which no property can be asserted except that of unity and being, it ‘becomes’, it is not yet Lord of oneself, and it represents an absolute coincidence of opposites. But its simple nature is formless of forms, without becoming of becoming, without being of beings. A conjunction of opposites is synonymous with unconsciousness, because consciousness supposes a discrimination as well as a relation between subject and object. The possibility of consciousness ceases where there is not yet ‘another’. » xi

Can we be satisfied with the Gnostic (or Jungian) idea of the unconscious God? Isn’t it a contradiction for Gnosis (which wants to be supremely ‘knowledge’) to take for God an unconscious God?

Jung’s allusion to the Jewish Kabbalah allows me to return to the ambiguities in biblical Hebrew. This ambiguity is particularly evident in the ‘names of God’. God is supposed to be the One par excellence, but in the Torah there are formally ten names of God: Ehyeh, Yah, Eloha, YHVH, El, Elohim, Elohe Israel, Zevahot, Adonai, Chaddai. xii

This multiplicity of names hides in it an additional profusion of meanings deeply hidden in each of them. Moses de Leon, thus comments on the first name mentioned, Ehyeh:

« The first name: Ehyeh (‘I will be’). It is the secret of the proper Name and it is the name of unity, unique among all His names. The secret of this name is that it is the first of the names of the Holy One blessed be He. And in truth, the secret of the first name is hidden and concealed without any unveiling; therefore, it is the secret of ‘I will be’ because it persists in its being in the secret of mysterious depth until the Secret of Wisdom arises, from which there is unfolding of everything. » xiii

A beginning of explanation is perhaps given by the comment of Moses de Leon about the second name :

« The secret of the second name is Yah. A great principle is that Wisdom is the beginning of the name emerging from the secret of Clear Air, and it is he, yes he, who is destined to be revealed according to the secret of ‘For I will be’. They said:  » ‘I will be’ is a name that is not known and revealed, ‘For I will be’. « Although the secret of Yah [YH] is that it is half of the name [the name YHVH], nevertheless it is the fullness of all, in that it is the principle of all existence, the principle of all essences. » xiv

Judaism uncompromisingly affirms the absolute unity of God and ridicules the Christian idea of the ‘divine Trinity’, but it does not, however, refrain from some incursions into this very territory:

« Why should the Sefirot be ten and not three, in accordance with the secret of Unity that lies in three? You have already treated and discussed the secret of Unity and dissected the secret of : YHVH, our God, YHVH’ (Deut 6:4). You have dealt with the secret of His unity, blessed be His name, concerning these three names, as well as the secret of His Holiness according to the riddle of the three holinesses: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ (Is 6:3).

(…) You need to know in the secret of the depths of the question you asked that ‘YHVH, our God, YHVH’ is the secret of three things and how they are one. (…) You will discover it in the secret: ‘Holy, holy, holy’ (Is 6:3) which Jonathan ben Myiel said and translated into Aramaic in this way: ‘Holy in the heavens above, dwelling place of His presence, Holy on earth where He performs His deeds, Holy forever and for all eternity of eternities’. In fact, the procession of holiness takes place in all the worlds according to their descent and their hierarchical position, and yet holiness is one. » xv

The idea of the ‘procession of the three Holies’ is found almost word for word in the pages of the book On the Trinity written by St. Augustine, almost a thousand years before the Sheqel ha-Qodesh of Moses de Leon… But what does it matter! It seems that our time prefers to privilege sharp and radical oppositions rather than to encourage the observation of convergences and similarities.

Let us conclude. The Veda, by its words, shows that the name devá of God can play with its own negation (ádeva), to evoke the « procession » of God « towards God » (ādeva).

A thousand years later, God revealed to Moses His triple name ‘Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh‘. Then, three thousand years after the Ṛg Veda, the Jewish Kabbalah interpreted the mystery of the name Ehyeh, as an ‘I will be’ yet to come – ‘For I will be’. A pungent paradox for radical monotheism, it also affirms the idea of a « procession » of the three « Holinesses » of the One God.

Language, be it Vedic or biblical, far from being a museum of dead words and frozen concepts, has throughout the ages constantly presented the breadth, depth and width of its scope. It charges each word with meanings, sometimes necessarily contrary or contradictory, and then nurtures them with all the power of intention, which is revealed through interpretation.

Words hold in reserve all the energy, wisdom and intelligence of those who relentlessly think of them as being the intermediaries of the absolute unthinkable and unspeakable.


iLouis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p.36-37

iiLouis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §16. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p. 58

iiiRV I,32,11

ivLouis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §67. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p. 103

vLouis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §35. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p. 77

viSee Louis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §71. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p. 107

viiExamples cited by Louis Renou. Selected Indian studies. §68. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p.104

viii Louis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §77. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p.112

ixC.G. Jung. Aïon. Trad. Etienne Perrot. M.M. Louzier-Sahler. Albin Michel. 1983, p. 88

xRV X, 129 Strophes 6 and 7. Quoted by C.G. Jung, Aïon. Translated by Etienne Perrot. M.M. Louzier-Sahler. Albin Michel. 1983, p.211

xiC.G. Jung. Aïon. Trad. Etienne Perrot. M.M. Louzier-Sahler. Albin Michel. 1983, p.212

xiiCf. The Gate of the Ten Names that are not erased », in Moses de Leon. Sheqel ha-Qodesh. Translated by Charles Mopsik. Verdier. 1996. pp. 278-287.

xiii« The Gate of the Ten Names that are not erased, » in Moses de Leon. Sheqel ha-Qodesh. Translated by Charles Mopsik. Verdier. 1996. p. 280.

xiv« The Gate of the Ten Names that are not erased, » in Moses de Leon. Sheqel ha-Qodesh. Translated by Charles Mopsik. Verdier. 1996. p. 281-282

xv« The Gate of the Ten Names that are not erased, » in Moses de Leon. Sheqel ha-Qodesh. Translated by Charles Mopsik. Verdier. 1996. pp. 290, 292, 294.

Le feu et l’étincelle de l’âme

Le « torcol » est un drôle d’oiseau. Il a deux doigts en avant et deux en arrière, selon Aristote. Il pousse des petits cris aigus. Il est capable de tirer longuement sa langue, à la manière des serpents. Il tire son nom, « torcol », de sa capacité à tourner le cou sans que le reste de son corps ne bouge. Et surtout il est capable de faire tomber les femmes et les hommes en amour.

Lorsque Jason partit à la recherche de la Toison d’or, il dut affronter mille difficultés. Heureusement la déesse Aphrodite décida de lui venir en aide, en rendant Médée amoureuse de lui, par le truchement d’un torcol, ou « bergerette ». En grec, cet oiseau se nomme ἴϋγξ, transcrit en « iynge ».

« Alors la déesse aux flèches acérées, Cyprine, ayant attaché un torcol aux mille couleurs sur les quatre rayons d’une roue inébranlable, apporta de l’Olympe aux mortels cet oiseau du délire, et apprit au sage fils d’Éson des prières et des enchantements, afin que Médée perdit tout respect pour sa famille, et que l’amour de la Grèce agitât ce cœur en feu sous le fouet de Pitho. » i

La magie opéra. L’« oiseau du délire » remplit Médée d’amour pour Jason, et « tous deux conviennent de s’unir par les doux liens du mariage. »

Le torcol a une autre qualité encore, celle de « transmetteur de messages », décrite dans un texte de la fin du 2ème siècle ap. J.-C., les Oracles chaldaïquesii. Le fragment 78 évoque les « iynges », qui « transmettent des messages  comme le font les « intermédiaires » (metaxu) et les « démons » (daimon) platoniciens. Le « feu », métaphore de « l’âme du monde », est aussi l’un de ces intermédiaires.

Les âmes sont reliées au feu, parce qu’elles viennent de lui: « L’âme humaine, étincelle du Feu originel, descend par un acte de sa volonté les degrés de l’échelle des êtres, et vient s’enfermer dans la geôle d’un corps. »iii

Comment cette descente s’opère-t-elle ? Quels rôles respectifs jouent le Feu originel, « âme du monde », et l’étincelle des âmes ?

C’est une vieille croyance orientale que les âmes portent des voiles, des vêtements. Les âmes, dans leur descente depuis le Feu originel, se revêtent des qualités des plans intermédiaires comme autant de tuniques successives,.

Chaque âme incarnée est en réalité un dieu tombé, dira-t-on « déchu » ?

Elle doit s’efforcer de sortir de l’oubli (d’elle-même) dans lequel elle a ainsi sombré. Il lui faut pour cela proférer une certaine parole, en souvenir de son origine.

Il lui faut quitter le « troupeau », soumis au destin « intraitable, pesant, sans part à la lumière », afin « d’éviter l’aile impudente du sort fatal ».iv

Ces idées « orientales », « chaldaïques », ont grandement influencé des penseurs grecs comme Porphyre, Jamblique, Syrianus et Proclus. Elles leur permettaient de décrire la « remontée de l’âme », l’ἀναγωγηv. Elles se substituaient aux idées de la philosophie grecque, pratiquée encore par Plotin, et ouvraient la voie à la théurgie.

La théurgie est « un système religieux qui nous fait entrer en contact avec les dieux, non pas seulement par la pure élévation de notre intellect vers le Noûs divin, mais au moyen de rites concrets et d’objets matériels ».vi

La théurgie chaldaïque est pleine de signes admirables. On y côtoie l’indicible, qui s’exprime en symboles ineffables. « Les noms sacrés des dieux et les autres symboles divins font monter vers les dieux. »vii

La prière chaldaïque est efficace, car « les supplications hiératiques sont les symboles des dieux mêmes »viii.

Au 11ème siècle, Michel Psellus expliqua que « ce sont les anges de l’ascension qui font monter les âmes vers eux, en les tirant du devenir. Ils les soustraient pour cela aux « liens qui les lient », c’est-à-dire aux natures vengeresses des démons et aux épreuves des âmes humaines. »

Les Oracles chaldaïques donne ce conseil aux amateurs d’ascension spirituelle: « Que s’ouvre la profondeur immortelle de l’âme, et dilate bien en haut tous tes yeux ! ». ix

Dans son commentaire des Oracles chaldaïques, Psellus précise la nature du défi à relever: « Dieu est au-delà de l’intelligible et de l’intelligible en soi. Car il est supérieur à toute parole, à toute pensée, comme entièrement impensable et inexprimable, et mieux honoré par le silence, qu’il ne serait glorifié par des mots d’admiration. Car il est au-dessus même de la glorification, de l’expression, de la pensée. »x

Du point de vue comparatif, il est fort frappant de trouver dans les cérémonies védiques une approche structurellement équivalente des mystères de la Divinité. Au côté des prêtres qui opèrent le sacrifice védique, se tiennent des prêtres qui récitent les hymnes divins, d’autres qui les psalmodient et d’autres enfin qui les chantent. Surveillant l’ensemble, il y a un autre prêtre encore, le plus élevé dans la hiérarchie, qui se tient immobile et reste en silence, pendant toute la cérémonie.

Hymnes, psaumes, chants, doivent le céder en tout au silence même, dans la religion chaldaïque comme dans la religion védique.

L’autre point commun est l’importance primordiale du symbole du feu.

Les deux traditions, par ailleurs fort éloignées l’une de l’autre à maints égards, transmettent le souvenir d’une lumière venue d’une ancienne et profonde nuit. Elles se réfèrent toutes deux à la puissance d’un Feu originaire, et l’opposent à la faiblesse de la flamme qu’il a été donné à l’homme de faire vivre :

« Le Feu a la force d’un glaive lumineux qui brille de tranchants spirituels. Il ne faut donc pas concevoir cet Esprit avec véhémence, mais par la flamme subtile d’un subtil intellect, qui mesure toutes choses, sauf cet Intelligible. »xi

L’esprit mesure et comprend toutes choses, sauf l’Intelligible même, qui lui permet cette mesure et cette intellection.

Il y a dans l’esprit une puissance de connaissance, qui peut s’appliquer à tout, sauf à elle-même. L’esprit ne peut se mesurer lui-même, et ni comprendre la puissance de sa propre capacité d’intellection.

Une troisième tradition s’est aussi intéressée à la question de l’intelligence dans l’esprit, en tant qu’elle s’applique à elle-même. Mais elle va notablement plus loin que les Oracles Chaldaïques ou que les Védas, sur ce chemin difficile et escarpé.

Paul de Tarse lui donne cette forme :

« Vous devez être renouvelés dans votre esprit (τῷ πνεύματι, pneuma), en tant qu’il est intelligence (νοὸς, noos) » :

ἀνανεοῦσθαι δὲ τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ νοὸς ὑμῶν, ananeoûsthai dè tō pneumati toû noos umōn.xii

Comment l’esprit peut-il se renouveler, par sa propre intelligence, cachée dans la profondeur même de son être ?

Maître Eckhart a cherché à expliquer cette puissance interne de renouvellement par la métaphore de l’étincelle, singulière et fécondante.

« Quand l’homme se détourne de lui-même et de tout le créé – dans la mesure où tu fais ça, tu es amené à l’unité et à la béatitude dans la petite étincelle de l’âme qui n’a jamais eu rien à faire avec l’espace et le temps. Cette étincelle s’oppose à toutes les créatures (…) Oui, j’affirme : il ne suffit pas non plus à cette lumière que la nature divine, fécondante, s’engendre en elle. Je vais plus loin encore, et cela semble encore plus extraordinaire : j’affirme en toute gravité qu’à cette lumière ne suffit pas non plus l’essence divine unique, reposant en soi, qui ne donne ni ne reçoit : elle veut savoir d’où vient cet être ; dans le fond simple, dans le désert tranquille où jamais quelque chose de distinct n’a jeté un regard, dans le pli intime de l’être, là où personne n’est chez soi, là seulement cette lumière se tient pour satisfaite, et elle lui appartient plus intérieurement qu’elle ne s’appartient à elle-même. »xiii

Il y a dans l’esprit, pouvons-nous penser, une puissance inconsciente, emplie de formes, ou d’images de formes, – ces formes que Platon nommait « idées » et que C.G. Jung proposa d’appeler « archétypes ». Cette puissance archétypale est immémoriale, originaire, elle est chargée de toutes les richesses de l’inconscient collectif, dont notre mémoire, consciemment ou inconsciemment, répand à tout moment le trésor vivant dans les autres facultés de l’esprit.

L’âme s’y renouvelle dans la mesure où, comme l’esprit, elle se détache librement de l’ici et du maintenant et de tout ce qui est dans le monde ou la nature, pour se replonger dans son origine.


i Pindare, 4ème Pythique

iiLa plus ancienne collection des Oracles chaldaïques qui nous soit parvenue est due à Pléthon (1360-1452) et s’intitulait alors: « Oracles magiques des disciples de Zoroastre. » Par là, à nouveau, on voit s’établir un lien entre le monde égypto-judéo-grec d’Alexandrie avec les centres mésopotamien et iranien de pensée.

iiiF. Cumont. Lux perpetua (1949)

iv Oracles chaldaïques, Fragment 109

v Porphyre, De regressu animae

vi A. Festugière dans Révélation (1953)

viiSynésius de Cyrène (370-413) énonce un certain nombre de ces noms efficaces. Άνθος est la « fleur de l’Esprit », Βένθος est le « profond », Κολπος est le « Sein ineffable » (de Dieu), Σπινθήρ est « l’Étincelle de l’âme, formée de l’Esprit et du Vouloir divins, puis du chaste Amour » : « Je porte en moi un germe venu de Toi, une étincelle de noble intelligence, qui s’est enfoncée dans les profondeurs de la matière. » Ταναός est la « flamme de l’esprit tendué à l’extrême », et Τομή est « la coupure, la division », par laquelle se produit « l’éclat du Premier Esprit qui blesse les yeux ».Proclus s’empara de ces thèmes nouveaux pour éveiller la « fleur », la « fine pointe de l’âme ». Cf. Édouard des Places, dans son introduction à sa traduction des Oracles chaldaïques (1971)

viiiÉdouard des Places, dans son introduction à sa traduction des Oracles chaldaïques (1971)

ix Oracles chaldaïques, fragment 112

xCité par Édouard des Places, dans son introduction à sa traduction des Oracles chaldaïques (1971)

xi Oracles chaldaïques, fragment 1.

xiiEph. 4,23

xiiiMaître Eckhart. Sermons-Traités. « De la sortie de l’esprit et de son retour chez lui ». Traduction de l’allemand par Paul Petit. Gallimard. 1942, p.122

Hearing the Murmur

« Elijah »

Hegel puts science far above religion in the final chapter of Phenomenology of the Mind.

Why? Because only science is capable of true knowledge.

What is true knowledge ? It is the knowledge that the mind has of itself.

« As long as the spirit has not been fulfilled in itself, fulfilled as a spirit of the world (Weltgeist), it cannot reach its perfection as a self-conscious spirit. Thus in time, the content of religion expresses earlier than science what the spirit is, but science alone is the true knowledge that the spirit has of itself ». i

Today, we are nearing the end of the Hegelian « system ». We are at the end of the book. But there are still a few crucial steps to be taken…

First of all, the spirit must be « self-fulfilling », that is to say, it must be « fulfilled as the spirit of the world ». After this accomplishment, we could say that it has reached its perfection.

This perfection can be measured as follows: it has become a self-conscious mind.

But how can we be aware of this accomplishment as « spirit of the world », of this accomplishment of the mind as « self-awareness »?

How can we get some knowledge about the mind becoming self-aware?

By religion? No.

Religion does not yet express true knowledge about the spirit. Religion expresses what the spirit is, when it is finally fulfilled as « spirit of the world ». But this is not enough. What religion expresses (by its content) is not yet true knowledge.

So what is true knowledge about the self-conscious mind?

True knowledge is not what the mind is, but what the mind has, – true knowledge is the knowledge that the mind has of itself.

Religion, by its content, can give an idea of what the mind is, but it remains somehow outside the mind, it does not penetrate the essence of the mind.

In order to really know, we must now enter into the spirit itself, and not be satisfied with the content of religion, which gives only an external image of it.

To reach true knowledge, one can only rely on « science alone ».

How does this « science » work?

« Science alone » makes it possible to go beyond the content ofreligion and finally penetrate the mysteries of the mind.

By entering the mind itself, « science alone » accesses what the mind knows of itself, it accesses the knowledge that the mind has of itself, which alone is true knowledge.

That is the goal, the absolute knowledge: the mind knowing itself as mind.

Given the emphasis thus placed on « absolute knowledge » as the final goal, one might be tempted to describe the Hegelian approach as « Gnostic ».

Gnosis (from the Greek gnosis, knowledge) flourished in the first centuries of our era, but it undoubtedly had much more ancient roots. Gnosticism was intended to be the path to the absolute ‘knowledge’ of God, including the knowledge of the world and of history. Ernest Renan noted incidentally that the word ‘Gnostic’ (Gnosticos) has the same meaning as the word ‘Buddha’, « He who knows ».

Some specialists agree on Simon the Magician as being at the origin of Gnosticism among Judeo-Christians, as early as the first century AD. Who was Simon the Magician? Renan, with a definite sense of provocation, but armed with considerable references, speculates that Simon the Magician may well have been the apostle Paul himself. Adolf von Harnack, more cautious, also puts forward this hypothesis but does not settle the question.

Was Paul a « Gnostic »? Or at least, was his doctrine a Gnostic one, in some respects?

Perhaps. Thus, as Hegel will do later, long after him, Paul used a formula with Gnostic resonances : the « spirit of the world ».

But unlike Hegel, who identifies the « spirit of the world » (Weltgeist) with the « accomplished » spirit, the « self-conscious » spirit, Paul radically contrasts the « spirit of the world » (« pneuma tou kosmou ») with the spirit of God (« pneuma tou theou »).

« We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which comes from God, that we may know the good things which God has given us by his grace »ii.

Not only is the « spirit of the world » nothing like the « Spirit that comes from God, » but the « knowledge » we derive from it is never more than the « knowledge of the blessings » that God has given us. It is not, therefore, the intimate knowledge of the « self-conscious mind » that Hegel seeks to achieve.

One could infer that Hegel is in this respect much more Gnostic than Paul.

For Hegel, the « spirit of the world » is already a figure of the fulfillment of the « self-conscious mind, » that is, a prefiguration of the mind capable of attaining « absolute knowledge ». One could even add that « the spirit of the world » is for Hegel a hypostasis of Absolute Knowledge, that is, a hypostasis of God.

However, the idea of « absolute knowledge » as divine hypostasis does not correspond in any way to Paul’s profound feeling about the « knowledge » of God.

This feeling can be summarized as follows:

On the one hand, people can know the « idea » of God.

On the other hand, men can know the « spirit ».

Let’s look at these two points.

– On the one hand, people can know the « idea » of God.

« The idea of God is known to them [men], God has made it known to them. What He has had unseen since creation can be seen by the intellect through His works, His eternal power and divinity ». iii

Men cannot see God, but ‘His invisible things’ can be seen. « This vision of the invisible is the idea of God that men can ‘know’, the idea of his « invisibility ».

It is a beginning, but this knowledge through the idea is of no use to them, « since, having known God, they have not given him as to a God of glory or thanksgiving, but they have lost the sense in their reasoning and their unintelligent heart has become darkened: in their claim to wisdom they have gone mad and have changed the glory of the incorruptible God against a representation. » iv

The knowledge of the invisibility of God, and the knowledge of the incomprehensibility and insignificance of our lives, do not add up to a clear knowledge. In the best of cases, this knowledge is only one « light » among others, and these « lights » that are ours are certainly not the light of « Glory » that we could hope to « see » if we had really « seen » God.

It is as much to say then that these human « lights » are only « darkness », that our intelligence is « vain » and that our heart is « unintelligent ». We are limited on all sides. « Empty of meaning, left to his own resources, man faces the forces which, empty of meaning, reign over the world (…) Heartless, understanding without seeing, and therefore vain, such has become thought; and without thought, seeing without understanding, and therefore blind, such has become the heart. The soul is alien to the world and the world is without a soul when they do not meet in the knowledge of the unknown God, when man strives to avoid the true God, when he should lose himself and the world, in order to find himself and the world again in this God. » v

The only sure knowledge we have, therefore, is that we always walk in the night.

– On the other hand, men can have a knowledge of the mind.

Here, two things:

If the spirit has always been silent, if it is still silent, or if it has never just existed, then there is nothing to say about it. The only possible « way » then is silence. A silence of death. There is nothing to know about it.

But if the spirit means, if it speaks, however little, then this sign or word necessarily comes into us as from someone Other than ourselves.

This sign or word is born in us from a life that was certainly not in us until then, not in the least. And this life that was not in us could even die, before us, and like us.

Words, writings, acts, silences, absences, refusals, life, death, all of this always refers us back only to ourselves, to extensible « I’s » whose tour we make indefinitely, – a potentially cosmic tour (in theory), but really always the same (deep down).

Only the spirit has the vocation to burst in, to suddenly melt into us as the very Other, with its breath, its inspiration, its life, its fire, its knowledge.

Without this blatant breath, this inspiration, this living life, this fire of flame, this knowledge in birth, I would never be but me. I would not find, alone, helpless by myself, any clue whatsoever, from the path to the abyss, from the bridge over the worlds, from Jacob’s ladders to heaven.

It is certainly not the man who enters of himself into the knowledge of the Spirit « conscious of himself », on his way to « absolute knowledge ». It is rather the opposite, according to testimonies.

It is the Spirit, « conscious of itself », which enters, of itself, into the spirit of man to make itself known there. Man, if he is vigilant, then knows the Spirit, not as a « self-conscious » Spirit, but only as a « grace », – the grace of « knowing » that there is an « Other consciousness ».

Another name for the « Other » is « truth ». The Spirit is « Other » and it is « truth » (in this, Hegel is no different). But it is not we who can see the truth, who can consider it objectively. It is the opposite. It is the truth that sees us, from its own primal point of view. Our own point of view is always subjective, fragmented, pulverized.

But the true cannot be subjective, exploded, pulverized.

As for what the true is, one can only say (negatively) that it is hidden, unknown, foreign, unfathomable, beyond all knowledge.

The true is beyond life and death, beyond all life and death. If truth were not beyond life and death, it would not be « true ».

It would be life, and death, that would be « true » instead of the « true ».

We don’t know what the True is. We do not know what the Spirit is.

We can only hope to find out one day.

Hoping for what we don’t see is already a bit like knowing it.

And we are not necessarily alone in this expectation.

If the Spirit is not pure nothingness, it is not impossible to hope for a sign of it one day.

If it is « breath », some breeze can be expected (as the prophet Elijah testifies):

« And after the hurricane there was a hurricane, so strong and so violent that it split the mountains and broke the rocks, but the Lord was not in the hurricane; and after the hurricane there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire, and after the fire there was the murmur of a gentle breeze. »vi

From the Spirit, we can always expect the « unexpressed »:

« The Spirit also comes to meet our weakness. For we do not know what we should be praying for as we should. But the Spirit himself, in his overpowering power, intercedes for us with unspoken sighs, and he who searches the hearts knows what the Spirit’s thought is (‘to phronèma tou pneumatos’), andthat his intercession for the saints corresponds to God’s views. » vii

Even prayer is useless in this waiting, in this hope. You never know how to pray.

Man does not know how to get out of himself, he does not know the way out of what he has always been.

He knows nothing of the encounter with the living God.

And even if he met Him, he knows nothing of what the Spirit thinks.

But that doesn’t mean that man can never get out of himself. He can – if the circumstances are right, or if he gets a little help.

We don’t even know that yet. We are only waiting without impatience.

We look into the distance. Or beyond. Or within. Or below.

There are in us two men, one from the earth, the other from heavenviii.

And it is the latter, the man from heaven in us, who can feel the light breath, and hear the murmur.


iHegel. Phenomenology of the mind, II. Trad. J. Hyppolite. Aubier, 1941, p.306

ii1 Co. 2.12

iiiRm 1, 19

ivRm 1, 21-23

vKarl Barth. The Epistle to the Romans . Ed. Labor and Fides. Geneva, 2016. p. 53

vi1 Kg 19, 11-12

viiRom 8, 26-27

viii1 Co 15.47

The God named: ‘Whoever He Is’


« Aeschylus »

In the year 458 B.C., during the Great Dionysies of Athens, Aeschylus had the Choir of the Ancients say at the beginning of his Agamemnon:

« ‘Zeus’, whoever He is,

if this name is acceptable to Him,

I will invoke Him thus.

All things considered,

there is only ‘God alone’ (πλὴν Διός) i

that can really make me feel better

the weight of my vain thoughts.

The one who was once great,

overflowing with audacity and ready for any fight,

no longer even passes for having existed.

And he who rose after him met his winner, and he disappeared.

He who will celebrate with all his soul (προφρόνως) Zeus victorious,

grasp the Whole (τὸ πᾶν) from the heart (φρενῶν), –

for Zeus has set mortals on the path of wisdom (τὸν φρονεῖν),

He laid down as a law: ‘from suffering comes knowledge’ (πάθει μάθος). » ii

Ζεύς, ὅστις ποτ´’ ἐστίν,

εἰ κεκλημένῳ’ αὐτῷ φίλον κεκλημένῳ,
τοῦτό νιν προσεννέπω.
Οὐκ ἔχω προσεικάσαι
πάντ´’ ἐπισταθμώμενος
πλὴν Διός, εἰ τὸ μάταν ἀπὸ ἄχθος
χρὴ βαλεῖν ἐτητύμως.

πάροιθεν’ ὅστις πάροιθεν ἦν μέγας,
παμμάχῳ θράσει βρύων,
οὐδὲ λέξεται πρὶν ὤν-
ὃς ἔφυ’ ἔπειτ´’ ἔφυ,

τριακτῆρος οἴχεται τυχών.

Ζῆνα δέ τις προφρόνως ἐπινίκια κλάζων

τεύξεται φρενῶν φρενῶν τὸ πᾶν,

τὸν φρονεῖν βροτοὺς ὁδώσαντα,

τὸν πάθει πάθει μάθος θέντα κυρίως ἔχειν.

A few precisions :

The one « who was once great » and « ready for all battles » is Ouranos (the God of Heaven).

And the one who « found his conqueror and vanished » is Chronos, God of time, father of Zeus, and vanquished by him.

Of these two Gods, one could say at the time of the Trojan War, according to the testimony of Aeschylus, that the first (Ouranos) was already considered to have « never existed » and that the second (Chronos) had « disappeared » …

From those ancient times, there was therefore only ‘God alone’ (πλὴν Διός) who reigned in the hearts and minds of the Ancients…

The ‘victory’ of this one God, ‘Zeus’, this supreme God, God of all gods and men, was celebrated with songs of joy in Greece in the 5th century BC.

But one also wondered about its essence – as the formula ‘whatever He is’ reveals -, and one wondered if this very name, ‘Zeus’, could really suit him….

Above all, they were happy that Zeus had opened the path of ‘wisdom’ to mortals, and that he had brought them the consolation of knowing that ‘from suffering comes knowledge’.

Martin Buber offers a very concise interpretation of the last verses quoted above, which he aggregates into one statement:

« Zeus is the All, and that which surpasses it. » iii

How to understand this interpretation?

Is it faithful to the profound thought of Aeschylus?

Let us return to Agamemnon’s text. We read on the one hand:

« He who celebrates Zeus with all his soul will seize the Whole of the heart« .

and immediately afterwards :

« He [Zeus] has set mortals on the path of wisdom. »

Aeschylus uses three times in the same sentence, words with the same root: προφρόνως (prophronos), φρενῶν (phronōn) and φρονεῖν (phronein).

To render these three words, I deliberately used three very different English words: soul, heart, wisdom.

I rely on Onians in this regard: « In later Greek, phronein first had an intellectual sense, ‘to think, to have the understanding of’, but in Homer the sense is broader: it covers undifferentiated psychic activity, the action of phrenes, which includes ’emotion’ and also ‘desire’. » iv

In the translation that I offer, I mobilize the wide range of meanings that the word phren can take on: heart, soul, intelligence, will or seat of feelings.

Having said this, it is worth recalling, I believe, that the primary meaning of phrēn is to designate any membrane that ‘envelops’ an organ, be it the lungs, heart, liver or viscera.

According to the Ancient Greek dictionary of Bailly, the first root of all the words in this family is Φραγ, « to enclose », and according to the Liddell-Scott the first root is Φρεν, « separate ».

Chantraine believes for his part that « the old interpretation of φρήν as « dia-phragm », and phrassô « to enclose » has long since been abandoned (…) It remains to be seen that φρήν belongs to an ancient series of root-names where several names of body parts appear ». v

For us, it is even more interesting to observe that these eminent scholars thus dissonate on the primary meaning of phrēn…vi

Whether the truly original meaning of phrēnis « to enclose » or « to separate » is of secondary importance, since Aeschylus tells us that, thanks to Zeus, mortal man are called to « come out » of this closed enclosure, the phrēnes,and to « walk out » on the path of wisdom…

The word « heart » renders the basic (Homeric) meaning of φρενῶν (phrēn) ( φρενῶν is the genitive of the noun φρήν (phrēn), « heart, soul »).

The word « wisdom » » translates the verbal expression τὸν φρονεῖν (ton phronein), « the act of thinking, of reflecting ». Both words have the same root, but the substantive form has a more static nuance than the verb, which implies the dynamics of an action in progress, a nuance that is reinforced in the text of Aeschylus by the verb ὁδώσαντα (odôsanta), « he has set on the way ».

In other words, the man who celebrates Zeus « reaches the heart » (teuxetai phronein) « in its totality » (to pan), but it is precisely then that Zeus puts him « on the path » of « thinking » (ton phronein).

« Reaching the heart in its entirety » is therefore only the first step.

It remains to walk into the « thinking »…

Perhaps this is what Martin Buber wanted to report on when he translated :

« Zeus is the All, and that which surpasses him »?

But we must ask ourselves what « exceeds the Whole » in this perspective.

According to the development of Aeschylus’ sentence, what « surpasses » the Whole (or rather « opens a new path ») is precisely « the fact of thinking » (ton phronein).

The fact of taking the path of « thinking » and of venturing on this path (odôsanta), made us discover this divine law:

« From suffering is born knowledge », πάθει μάθος (pathei mathos)...

But what is this ‘knowledge’ (μάθος, mathos) of which Aeschylus speaks, and which the divine law seems to promise to the one who sets out on his journey?

Greek philosophy is very cautious on the subject of divine ‘knowledge’. The opinion that seems to prevail is that one can at most speak of a knowledge of one’s ‘non-knowledge’…

In Cratylus, Plato writes:

« By Zeus! Hermogenes, if only we had common sense, yes, there would be a method for us: to say that we know nothing of the Gods, neither of themselves, nor of the names they can personally designate themselves, because these, it is clear, the names they give themselves are the true ones! » vii

 » Ναὶ μὰ Δία ἡμεῖς γε, ὦ Ἑρμόγενες, εἴπερ γε νοῦν, ἕνα μὲν τὸν κάλλιστον περὶ θεῶν οὐδὲν ἴσμεν, ἔχοιμεν περὶ αὐτῶν τῶν ὀνομάτων, περὶ ποτὲ ἑαυτοὺς τρόπον- ἅττα γὰρ ὅτι ἐκεῖνοί γε τἀληθῆ. »

Léon Robin translates ‘εἴπερ γε νοῦν ἔχοιμεν’ as ‘if we had common sense’. But νοῦς (or νοός) actually means ‘mind, intelligence, ability to think’. The metaphysical weight of this word goes in fact much beyond ‘common sense’.

It would therefore be better to translate, in this context, I think :

« If we had Spirit [or Intelligence], we would say that we know nothing of the Gods, nor of them, nor of their names. »

As for the other Greek poets, they also seem very reserved as for the possibility of piercing the mystery of the Divine.

Euripides, in the Trojans, makes Hecuba say:

« O you who bear the earth and are supported by it,

whoever you are, impenetrable essence,

Zeus, inflexible law of things or intelligence of man,

I revere you, for your secret path

brings to justice the acts of mortals. » viii

Ὦ γῆς ὄχημα κἀπὶ γῆς ἔχων ἕδραν,
ὅστις ποτ’ εἶ σύ, δυστόπαστος εἰδέναι,
Ζεύς, εἴτ’ ἀνάγκη φύσεος εἴτε νοῦς βροτῶν,
προσηυξάμην σε· πάντα γὰρ δι’ ἀψόφου
βαίνων κελεύθου κατὰ τὰ θνήτ’ ἄγεις.

The translation given here by the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade does not satisfy me. Consulting other translations available in French and English, and using the Greek-French dictionary by Bailly and the Greek-English dictionary by Liddell and Scott, I finally came up with a result more in line with my expectations:

« You who bear the earth, and have taken it for your throne,

Whoever You are, inaccessible to knowledge,

Zeus, or Law of Nature, or Spirit of Mortals,

I offer You my prayers, for walking with a silent step,

You lead all human things to justice. »

Greek thought, whether it is conveyed by Socrates’ fine irony that nothing can be said of the Gods, especially if one has Spirit, or whether it is sublimated by Euripides, who sings of the inaccessible knowledge of the God named « Whoever You Are », leads to the mystery of the God who walks in silence, and without a sound.

On the other hand, before Plato, and before Euripides, it seems that Aeschylus did indeed glimpse an opening, the possibility of a path.

Which path?

The one that opens « the fact of thinking » (ton phronein).

It is the same path that begins with ‘suffering’ (pathos) and ends with the act of ‘knowledge’ (mathos).

It is also the path of the God who walks « in silence ».


iΖεύς (‘Zeus’) is nominative, and Διός (‘God’) is genitive.

iiAeschylus. Agammemnon. Trad. by Émile Chambry (freely adapted and modified). Ed. GF. Flammarion. 1964, p.138

iiiMartin Buber. Eclipse of God. Ed. Nouvelle Cité, Paris, 1987, p.31.

ivRichard Broxton Onians. The origins of European thought. Seuil, 1999, pp. 28-29.

vPierre Chantraine. Etymological dictionary of the Greek language. Ed. Klincksieck, Paris, 1968.

viCf. my blog on this subject :

viiPlato. Cratyle. 400 d. Translation Leon Robin. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Gallimard, 1950. p. 635-636

viiiEuripides. Les Troyennes. v. 884-888. Translated by Marie Delcourt-Curvers. La Pléiade. Gallimard. 1962. p. 747

Judaism, Christianity and « their Indissoluble Difference ».

« Jacob Taubes »

Jacob Taubes wrote an article, The controversy between Judaism and Christianity, whose subtitle reads: « Considerations on their indissoluble difference« i, in which he densely summed up what he views as the essence of the « impossible dialogue between « the Synagogue » and « the Church » ».

This non-dialogue has been going on for two millennia, and will only end at the end of time, in all probability.

The popular expression « Judeo-Christian tradition » is often used. But it is meaningless. Above all, it impedes a full understanding of the « fundamental » differences in the « controversial questions concerning the Jewish and Christian religions » that « continue to influence every moment of our lives ». ii

From the outset, Jacob Taubes asserts that no concession on the part of Judaism towards Christianity is possible. The opposition is frontal, radical, absolute, irremediable.

In order for two parties to begin any kind of debate, at the very least, they must recognize each other’s legitimate right to participate in that debate.

However, these really basic conditions are not even fulfilled…

One party does not recognize the other. Christianity means nothing to Judaism. Christianity has absolutely no religious legitimacy for the latter:

« For the Jewish faith, the Christian religion in general and the body of the Christian Church in particular have no religious significance. For the Church, there is a Jewish « mystery, » but the Synagogue knows no « Christian » mystery of any kind. For Jewish belief, the Christian Church cannot have any religious significance; and the division of historical time into a « before Christ » and an « after Christ » cannot be recognized by the Synagogue. Moreover, it cannot even be recognized as something that, though meaningless to the Jewish people, represents a truth to the rest of the world. » iii

The denial of Christianity by Judaism is implacable, definitive. Christianity is not « recognized » by Judaism. It has intrinsically no « religious significance ». This absence of « religious significance » is not limited to the « Jewish people ». Nor does Judaism recognize any religious « significance » for religions from « the rest of the world ».

It is useless to expect from Jacob Taubes scholarly comparisons and fine analyses comparing Jewish and Christian theological elements in order to try to deepen the terms of a common questioning.

A major element of the Christian faith is only « blasphemy » from the Jewish point of view:

« But, from the Jewish point of view, the division into « Father » and « Son » operates a cleavage of the divine being; the Synagogue looked at it, and still looks at it, simply as blasphemy. » iv

In theory, and in good faith, for the sake of the « controversy », Jacob Taubes could have evoked, on this question of the « Father » and the « Son », the troubling passages of the Zohar which deal with the generation of Elohim following the « union » of the One with Wisdom (Hokhmah)v.

Is the « Father-Son-Holy Spirit » Trinity structurally analogous to the Trinity of « the One, Hokhmah and Elohim »?

Does it offer points of comparison with the revelation made to Moses under a formal Trinitarian formula: « Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh » (Ex. 3:14) or with the strange Trinitarian expression of Deuteronomy: « YHVH, Elohenou, YHVH » (Deut. 6:4)?

Maybe so. Maybe not. But this is not the bottom line for Taubes: he is not at all interested in a thorough confrontation of texts and ideas on such opaque and metaphysical subjects.

This lack of interest in comparative hermeneutics is all the more striking because Taubes immediately admits that Judaism, in its long history, has in fact fallen back a great deal on its supposed « rigid monotheism »:

« The recent insistence on rigid monotheism as the defining characteristic of Jewish religious life is contradicted by a fact that contemporary Jewish thinkers tend to dismiss: the centuries-long predominance of the Lurian Kabbalah in Judaism. The Kabbalah has developed theological speculations that can only be compared to Gnostic (and pagan) mythologies. The mythical unity of the divine King and the divine Queen, the speculation on Adam Kadmon, the mythology of the ten sephirot, which are not attributes but manifestations of the divine, of different essences, poses a challenge to any historian of religion who claims to judge what is Jewish and what is not according to the criterion of a « rigid monotheism ». The Jewish religion would not have been able to cope with the explosion of Kabbalistic mythologization if its fundamental and determining characteristic had been a rigid monotheism. » vi

Even more astonishing, Jacob Taubes, after having denied any kind of « religious significance » to Christianity, affirms however that « Christianity is a typically Jewish heresy »:

« Christian history, Jesus’ claim to the title of Messiah and Pauline theology of Christ as the end of the Law are not at all « singular » events for Judaism, but are things that regularly recur in the fundamental Jewish frame (Grundmuster)of religious existence. As I have already said, Christian history does not constitute a « mystery » for the Jewish religion. Christianity represents a « typical » crisis in Jewish history, which expresses a typically Jewish « heresy »: antinomistic messianism – the belief that with the coming of the Messiah, what is decisive for salvation is not the observance of the Law, but faith in the Messiah. » vii

But if Christianity is, for Judaism, a « typically Jewish heresy », does this not recognize it as a form of « significance » in the eyes of Judaism, if only because of its antinomic opposition? The fact that forms of heresy, at least formally analogous to Christianity, may have appeared in a recurring manner within Judaism itself, does not this imply the presence of a subterranean question, always at work, in the darkness of the foundations?

Judaism seems indeed to suffer from certain structural « weaknesses », at least according to the opinion of Jacob Taubes :

« The weakness of all modern Jewish theology – and not only modern – is that it fails to designate Halakhah, the Law, as its alpha and omega. Since the period of Emancipation, the Jewish religion has been in crisis because it lost its center when Halakhah lost its central position and binding force in Jewish thought and life. From the moment Halakhah ceases to be the determining force in Jewish life, the door is open to all the anti-halakhic (antinomistic) and disguised Christian assumptions that are prevalent in secularized modern Christian society. » viii

On the one hand, Christianity has no « religious significance », according to Jacob Taubes.

On the other hand, Christianity threatens Halakhah in its very foundation, which is of the order of the Law, and in its « ultimate » principle, justice:

« Halakhah is essentially based on the principle of representation: the intention of man’s heart and soul must be manifested and represented in his daily life. Therefore the Halakhah must become « external » and « legal », it must deal with the details of life because it is only in the details of life that the covenant between God and man can be presented. (…) Halakhah is the Law because justice is the ultimate principle: ecstatic or pseudo-ecstatic religiosity can see in the sobriety of justice only dead legalism and external ceremonialism, just as anarchy can conceive law and order only as tyranny and oppression. » ix

Here we are at the core. For Taubes, Judaism has as its essential foundations Law and Justice, which are radically opposed to the « principle of love »:

« The controversy between the Jewish religion and the Christian religion refers to the eternal conflict between the principle of the Law and the principle of love. The « yoke of the Law » is challenged by the enthusiasm of love. But in the end, only the « justice of the Law » could question the arbitrariness of love. » x

Let’s summarize:

-Judaism does not give any religious significance to Christianity, nor does it recognize any meaning for the « rest of the world ».

-In reality Christianity is only a « Jewish heresy », as there have been so many others.

-Judaism is threatened by Christianity in that it deeply undermines Halakhah in a modern, secularized Christian society.

-The two essential principles of Judaism are the Law and justice.

-The essential principle of Christianity is love, but this principle is « arbitrary », -Judaism must question the « principle of love » through the « justice of the Law ».

Logically, the above points are inconsistent with each other when considered as a whole.

But logic has little to do with this debate, which is not, and probably cannot be « logical ».

Therefore, one has to use something other than logic.

But what? Vision? Intuition? Prophecy?

One reads, right at the very end of the Torah, its very last sentence:

« No prophet like Moses has ever risen in Israel, whom YHVH knew face to face. »xi

Let’s presume that the Torah tells the ultimate truth about this. How could it be otherwise?

Then, maybe, « He » could have risen out of Israel?

The Masters of Israel, from blessed memory, also testified, according to Moses de Leon:

« He has not risen in Israel, but He has risen among the nations of the world.» xii

The Masters cited the example of Balaam. He is a prophet, undeniably, since « God presented Himself (vayiqar) to Balaam » (Num. 23:4), but Balaam still is a « sulphurous » prophet.

However Balaam « stood up » before the end of the Torah. Which leaves open the question of other prophets « standing up » after the Torah was completed…

It is up to us, who belong to the nations of the world, to reflect and meditate on the prophets who may have risen – no longer in Israel, since none could possibly have « risen » in Israel since Moses – but among the « nations of the world ».

And this according to the testimony, not only of the Torah, but of the illustrious Jewish Masters who commented on it.

Vast program!


iJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009.

iiJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference. « Time is running out. From worship to culture. Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p.101

iiiJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 105

ivJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. . p. 104

vSee my article on this blog: How the Elohim Were Begotten | Metaxu. Le blog de Philippe Quéau.

viJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. . p. 111

viiJacob Taubes. »The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 113

viii« The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 114-115

ix« The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 115

xJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. Seuil. 2009. p. 117

xiDt. 34,10

xiiQuoted by Moses de Leon. The sicle of the Sanctuary (Chequel ha-Qodesh). Translation Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier. 1996. p. 103

Berechit Bara Elohim and the Zohar

« Zohar »

The Book of Creation (« Sefer Yetsirah ») explains that the ten Sefirot Belimah (literally: the ten « numbers of non-being ») are « spheres of existence out of nothingness ». They have appeared as « an endless flash of light, » and « the Word of God circulates continuously within them, constantly coming and going, like a whirlwind. »i.

All of these details are valuable, but should not in fact be disclosed at all in public. The Book of Creation intimates this compelling order: « Ten Sefirot Belimah: Hold back your mouth from speaking about it and your heart from thinking about it, and if your heart is carried away, return to the place where it says, ‘And the Haioth go and return, for that is why the covenant was made’ (Ezekiel 6:14). » ii

I will not « hold my mouth » : I will quote the very texts of those who talk about it, think about it, go to it and come back to it over and over again.

For example, Henry Corbin, in a text written as an introduction to the Book of Metaphysical Penetrations by Mollâ Sadrâ Shîrâzi, the most famous Iranian philosopher at the time of the brilliant Safavid court of Isfahan, and a contemporary of Descartes and Leibniz in Europe, wonders in his turn about the essence of sefirot, and raises the question of their ineffability.

« The quiddity or divine essence, what God or the One is in his being, is found outside the structure of the ten sefirot, which, although they derive from it, do not carry it within them at all. The ten sefirot are ‘without His quiddity’ (beli mahuto, בלי מהותו), such is the teaching of the sentence in the Book of Creation. (…) But a completely different exegesis of the same sentence from the Book of Creation is advanced in the Sicle of the Sanctuary. For this new exegesis, the word belimah does not mean beli mahout (without essence) but refers to the inexpressible character of the sefirot whose mouth must ‘refrain itself (belom) from speaking' ». iii

So, the question is : are sefirot « without divine essence », as the Book of Creation seems to say?

Or are sefirot really divine, and therefore « unspeakable »?

Or are they only « that which cannot be spoken of », according to the restrictive opinion of Moses de Leon (1240-1305), who is the author of the Sicle of the Sanctuary?

It seems to me that Moses de Leo, also apocryphal author of the famous Zohar, occupies a position on this subject that is difficult to defend, given all the speculations and revelations that abound in his main work…

Moreover, if one « cannot speak » of the sefirot, nor « think » about them, how can one then attribute any value whatsoever to the venerable Sefer Yetsirah (whose origin is attributed to Abraham himself, – but whose writing is dated historically between the 3rd and 6th century A.D.)?

On the other hand, – an argument of authority it is true, but not without relevance -, it should be emphasized that the Sicle of the Sanctuary is nevertheless « a little young » compared to the Sefer Yestsirah, which is at least a millennium older.

In view of these objections, let us consider that we can continue to evoke here (albeit cautiously) the sefirot, and try to reflect on them.

The sefirot, what are they? Are they of divine essence or are they pure nothingness?

The Zohar clearly states :

« Ten Sefirot Belimah: It is the breath (Ruah) of the spirit of the Living God for eternity. The Word or creative power, the Spirit and the Word are what we call the Holy Spirit. » iv

Finding expressions such as the « Word » or the « Holy Spirit » in one of the oldest philosophical texts of Judaism (elaborated between the 3rd and 6th centuries A.D.), may evoke strangely similar wordings, used in Christian Gospels.

There is, at least, a possibility of beginning a fruitful debate on the nature of the divine « emanations », to use the concept of atsilut – אצילות, used by Moses de Leon, and on the possible analogy of these « emanations » with the divine « processions » of the Father, Son and Spirit, as described by Christian theology?

What I would like to discuss here is how the Zohar links the « triple names » of God with what Moses de Leon calls the divine « emanations ».

The Zohar repeatedly quotes several combinations of God’s « names », which form « triplets ».

In addition, it also deals with the divine « emanations » of which the sefirot seems an archetype, as well as expressions such as the « Breath » of God or his « Seed ».

Do the « divine emanations » and the « triple names » of God have some deep, structural, hidden relationship, and if so, what does this teach us?

The « triple names » of God.

In Scripture, there are several instances of what might be called the « triple names » of God, that is, formulas consisting of three words that form a unitary whole, an indissoluble verbal covenant to designate God:

-Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh (Ex. 3:14) (« I am he who is »)

-YHVH Elohenou YHVH (Deut. 6:4) (« YHVH, Our God, YHVH »)

To these « trinitarian » formulas, the Zohar adds for example:

Berechit Bara Elohim (Gen 1:1) (« In the beginning created Elohim »)

Bringing these different « triplets » together, the Zohar establishes the idea that the names contained in each of these « triplets » are individually insufficient to account for the divine essence. Only the union of the three names in each of these formulations is supposed to be able to approach the mystery. But, taken individually, one by one, the names « YHVH », or « Ehyeh », or « Elohim », do not reach the ultimate level of comprehension. It is as if only the dynamic « procession » of the relationships between the names « within » each triplet could account for the mystery of God’s « Name ».

On the other hand, the Zohar suggests a kind of structural identity between the « triple names » just mentioned. Thus, by comparing term by term the verses Ex. 3:14 and Dt. 6:4, one can assume a kind of identity between YHVH and « Ehyeh ». And, based on the supposed analogy between Dt 6:4 and Gen 1:1, we can also identify the name « YHVH » with the names « Berechit » and « Elohim ».

Finally, if we pursue this structuralist logic, a word that could a priori be a « simple conjunction » with a grammatical vocation (the word « asher« ) acquires (according to the Zohar) the status of « divine noun », or divine hypostasis, as does the verb « bara« .

Let’s look at these points.

The Zohar formulates these structural analogies as follows:

« This is the meaning of the verse (Dt. 6:4): ‘Listen, Israel, YHVH, Elohenu, YHVH is one’. These three divine names designate the three scales of the divine essence expressed in the first verse of Genesis: ‘Berechit bara Elohim eth-ha-shamaim’, ‘Berechit’ designates the first mysterious hypostasis; ‘bara’ indicates the mystery of creation; ‘Elohim’ designates the mysterious hypostasis which is the basis of all creation; ‘eth-ha-shamaim’ designates the generating essence. The hypostasisElohim’ forms the link between the two others, the fecundating and the generating, which are never separated and form one whole. » v

We see that the Zohar thus distinguishes, from the first verse of the Torah, two « triplets » of divine names, somehow embedded in each other: ‘Berechit bara Elohim’ on the one hand, and ‘Bara Elohim eth-ha-shamaym’ on the other.

We also deduce that the second « triplet » is somehow « engendered » (in the sense of « generative grammars ») by the first « triplet », thanks to the special role played by the name ‘Elohim’.

The generative theory of the divine « triplets » also allows us to better understand the profound structure of the famous verse ‘Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh’ (Ex. 3:14) (« I am he who is »), and moreover allows us to establish a link with the theory of the divine emanations of the Zohar.

Let’s look at this point.

The Seed of God: ‘Asher’ and ‘Elohim’.

The « Seed » of God is evoked metaphorically or directly in several texts of Scripture as well as in the Zohar. It has various names: Isaiah calls it ‘Zera’ (זֶרָע: ‘seed’, ‘seed’, ‘race’)vi. The Zohar calls it « Zohar » (זֹהַר: glow, brightness, light), but also « Asher » (אֲשֶׁר: « that » or « who » – that is, as we have seen, the grammatical particle that can be used as a relative pronoun, conjunction or adverb), as the following two passages indicate:

« The word glow’ (Zohar) refers to the spark that the Mysterious One caused when he struck the void and which is the origin of the universe, which is a palace built for the glory of the Mysterious One. This spark constitutes in a way the sacred seed of the world. This mystery is expressed in the words of Scripture (Is. 6:13): ‘And the seed to which it owes its existence is sacred.’ Thus the word ‘glow’ (Zohar) refers to the seed He sowed for His glory, since the purpose of creation is the glorification of God. Like a mollusk from which purple is extracted and clothed in its shell, the divine seed is surrounded by the material that serves as its palace, built for the glory of God and the good of the world. This palace from which the divine seed has surrounded itself is called « Elohim » (Lord). This is the mystical meaning of the words: ‘With the Beginning He created Elohim’, that is, with the help of the ‘light’ (Zohar), the origin of all the Verbs (Maamaroth), God created ‘Elohim’ (Lord) ». vii

But a few lines later, the Zohar assigns to the word « Zohar » two more meanings, that of « Mysterious » and that of « Beginning ». Therefore, since the word « Zohar » is no longer available as a metaphor for the divine « Seed », the Zohar uses the word « Asher » (אֲשֶׁר: « that » or « who ») to designate the latter, but also the word « Elohim », which derives from it by synonymous engendering and following a kind of « literal » pirouette, as shown in this passage:

« By the word glow’ (Zohar), Scripture refers to the Mysterious called ‘Berechit’ (Beginning), because it is the beginning of all things. When Moses asked God what His name was, God replied (Ex. 3:14): « Ehyeh asher Ehyeh » (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה , I am He who is). The sacred name ‘Ehyeh’ appears on both sides, while the name ‘Elohim’ forms the crown, since it appears in the middle; for ‘Asher’ is synonymous with ‘Elohim’, whereas the nameAsher’ is formed from the sameletters that make up the wordRoch’ (head, crown). ‘Asher’, which is the same asElohim’, is derived from ‘Berechit’. As long as the divine spark was enclosed in the sublime palace, that is to say, before it manifested itself,it did not form any peculiarity that could be designated in the divine essenceby anyname; the Whole was One, under the name ‘Roch’. Butwhen God created, with the help of the sacred seed (‘Asher’), the palace of matter, ‘Asher’ took shape in the divine essence; only then did ‘Asher’ take, in the divine essence, the shape of a crown head (‘Roch’), being situated in the middle (‘Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh’). Now, the word ‘Berechit’ contains the word ‘Roch’, synonymous with ‘Asher’;it forms the words ‘Roch’ and ‘Baït’, i.e. ‘Roch’ enclosed in a palace (‘Baït’). viiiThe words: ‘Berechit Bara Elohim’ thus mean : When ‘Roch’, synonymous with ‘Asher’,wasused as divine seed in the palace of matter, ‘Elohim’ was created; that is to say, Elohim took shape in the essence of God. ix

Let’s summarize what we just learned from the Zohar.

The divine « Seed » receives, according to its authors, the following names: Zera‘, Zohar, Asher, Roch (‘seed, glow, who, head’).

The « Seed » is deposited in the middle of the « palace ».

The Palace-Semen together are called ‘Beginning’ (Berechit).

And this ‘Beginning’ ‘created’ ‘Elohim’.

And all this is presented in the first verse of the Torah.

How can we fail to see in this thesis of the Zohar a structural analogy between « Elohim » and the Christian concept of « Son of God »?

Decidedly, even a purely ‘monotheistic’ theology needs « emanations » to live in the « world ».

iBook of Creation, 1.5

iiBook of Creation, 1.7

iiiHenry Corbin. The vocabulary of being. Preface to the Book of Metaphysical Penetrations. Molla Sadra Shiraz. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse. 1988, p. 50

ivBook of Creation, 1.8

vZohar 1, 15b

viIs. 6.13

viiZohar, 1.15a

viiiThe two consonants of Baït, B and T frame the two consonants of Rosh, R and SH, in the word BeReSHiT.

ixZohar, 1.15a-15b

How the Elohim Were Begotten

« Gershom Scholem »

Let’s begin with this verse from the Psalmist: « The foundation of your word is truth »i. In the original Hebrew: רֹאשׁ-דְּבָרְךָ אֱמֶת, roch devar-ka emét.

Another translation gives: « Truth, the principle of your word! » ii

In yet another translation, the word רֹאשׁ, roch, is translated as « essence »: « Truth is the essence of your word. »iii

The words used here, « foundation », « principle », « essence » are quite abstract. They belong to the philosophical language, and they seem somewhat removed from the spirit of ancient Hebrew, an eminently concrete, realistic language.

Originally, the word רֹאשׁ, roch means: 1) head, person, man. Then, by derivation, metonymy or metaphor: 2) head, top, point, main thing; 3) sum, number, troop; 4) beginning, the first; 5) a poisonous plant (the hemlock, or poppy), poison, venom, gall.

It is from the 4th meaning of roch that the word reshit, « beginning », derives, this word which one finds precisely at the very beginning of the Torah: Be-rechit, « in the beginning ».

If one wanted to render exactly all the connotations of the word רֹאשׁ, rosh in the verse of Psalm 119, one would have to resolve to translate it into a sum of formulations, – a swarm of meanings:

-At the head of your word, the truth.

-The tip of your word is truth.

-The sum of your word is truth.

-Truth is the beginning of your word.

-The truth is the venom of your word.

Each of these formulas is clearly unsatisfactory, but as a whole they open up new questions and new perspectives.

For example, if truth is « at the head » of the word, or in its « tip », or in its « beginning », does this mean that in all the « rest » of the word there is something other than truth?

If it is the « sum » of the word that is the « truth », does this imply that each of the parts of the « word » does not really contain it?

How can we understand that the word (of God) can contain a « venom »?

The more modern translations that have been cited (« foundation, principle, essence ») seem to escape these difficulties of interpretation. They immediately give the verse a veneer of depth and a kind of philosophical allure.

But this « abstract » veneer and this « philosophical » appearance are undoubtedly the indications of a real deviation from the original meaning, intended by the Psalmist, which was to be much more « concrete ».

If one wants to remain faithful to the genius of ancient Hebrew, the essence of the word roch must rather be sought in one of its main derivative, the word rechit (« beginning »).

This word is indeed part of the description of a key moment of Creation, the « Beginning », and it derives a special prestige from it.

This eminent moment is described by Zohar 1:15a in a surprisingly vivid way, in a passage full of dark light, particularly delicate to « translate », even for the best specialists and the most learned rabbis who have worked on it.

One may judge the difficulty from four very different translations of this strange text which will now be presented.

Gershom Scholem offers :

« In the beginning, when the King’s will began to act, he drew signs in the divine aura. A dark flame gushes forth from the most intimate depths of the mystery of the Infinite, the En-Sof; like a mist that gives form to what has no form, it is enclosed in the ring of this aura, it appears neither white, nor black, nor red, nor green, without any color. But when it began to grow in height and spread, it produced radiant colors. For in the innermost center of this flame, a spring gushes forth, whose flames spill over everything below, hidden in the mysterious secrets of the En-Sof. The source gushes forth, and yet it does not gush forth completely, through the ethereal aura that surrounds it. It was absolutely unrecognizable until, under the shock of this spurt, a higher point then hidden would have shone. Beyond this point, nothing can be known or understood and that is why it is called Rechit, meaning « beginning », the first word of creation. » iv

What is this « point » called Rechit? Gershom Scholem indicates that for the Zohar (whose paternity he attributes to Moses de León) and for the majority of Kabbalist writers, this primordial « point », this « beginning » is identified with the divine « Wisdom », Hokhmah.

Before proposing his own translation-interpretation of this difficult passage of the Zohar, Charles Mopsikv cites two other translation-interpretations, that of R. Siméon Labi of Tripoli and that of R. Moses Cordovero, both dating from the 16th century:

R. Simeon Labi :

« In the head, the King’s word carved signs in the highest transparency. A spark of darkness came out of the middle of the enclosure, from the head of the Ein-Sof; attached to the Golem (or initial formless matter), planted in the ring (…) This source is enclosed in the middle of the enclosure until, thanks to the jostling force of its breakthrough, a point, the supreme enclosure, is illuminated. After this point one knows nothing more, that is why it is called Rechit (beginning), first word. » vi

R. Moses Cordovero :

« At the moment before the King said, in his supreme zenith, he engraved a sign. An obscure (or eminent) flame gushes out inside the most enclosed, which started from the confines of the Infinite, forms in the Golem planted in the center of the ring (…) In the center of the Flame a spring gushes out from which the colors took their hue when it reached the bottom. The enclosure of the Enigma of the Infinite tried to pierce, but did not pierce its surrounding air and remained unknown until, by the power of its breakthrough, a point was illuminated, the supreme enclosure. Above this point nothing is knowable, so it is called Rechit, beginning, first of all words. » vii

Having thus prepared the ground with three different versions, and benefiting from their respective contributions, Charles Mopsik proposes his own translation, which is also jargonous and amphigorous, but which is not without opening up new reflexive possibilities:

« From the outset, the King’s resolution left the trace of his withdrawal in supreme transparency. An obscure flame springs from the quivering of the Infinite in its confinement. Like a form in the formless, inscribed on the seal. Neither white, nor black, nor red, nor green, nor of any color. When he then set the commensurable, he brought out colors that illuminated the confinement. And from the flame a spring gushed forth, downstream from which the hues of these colors appeared. Enclosure in the Confinement, quivering of the Infinite, the source pierces and does not pierce the air that surrounds it and it remains unknowable. Until by the insistence of its piercing, it brings to light a tenuous point, supreme confinement. From there this point is the unknown, so it is called the ‘beginning’, the first of all. » viii

It should be noted at the outset that Mopsik clearly distinguishes himself from other translators, from the very first sentence, by proposing that the King « leave the trace of his withdrawal in supreme transparency », rather than « engrave or carve signs ».

He justifies this bold choice in this way:

« What led us to prefer the expression ‘to leave the trace of its withdrawal’ to ‘to inscribe signs’ comes from the fact that the verb galaf or galif is rarely found in the Midrach, and when it appears, it is associated with the idea of inscribing in hollow, of opening the matrix. Thus it is this term that is used when God visited Sarah and then Rikvah who were barren (see Gen 47.2 , Gen 53.5 and Gen 63.5).

It is therefore likely that Zohar uses these connotations of generation and fertilization. Moreover, the passage in question was later interpreted by the school of Louria as an evocation of the Tsimtsum, or withdrawal of the divine.»ix

In Mopsik’s interpretation, therefore, in the beginning, God « opens the matrix », then withdraws from it, but nevertheless « leaves a trace of his withdrawal ».

Which « matrix » is it?

According to the Zohar, this ‘matrix’ is Wisdom (Hokhmah).

Indeed, a little further on, the Zohar gives these relatively cryptic, yet enlightening explanations:

« Until now, this has been the secret of ‘YHVH Elohim YHVH’. These three names correspond to the divine secret contained in the verse ‘In the beginning created Elohim’ (Berechit bara Elohim). Thus, the expression ‘In the beginning’ is an ancient secret, namely: Wisdom (Hokhmah) is called ‘Beginning’. The word ‘created’ also alludes to a hidden secret, from which everything develops. » x

Let’s summarize what we just learned:

Wisdom (Hokmah) is also called ‘Beginning’ (Rechit).

The « matrix » that God « opens » at the « Beginning », before « withdrawing » from it, is that of Wisdom. According to Charles Mopsik, the metaphors that the Zohar uses to describe this moment evoke « generation » and « fecundation ».

The Zohar, decidedly well-informed, still delivers these precisions:

« With this Beginning, the Hidden and Unknown One created the Temple (or Palace), and this Temple is called by the name ‘Elohim’. This is the secret of the words: ‘In the beginning created Elohim. xi

The great secret, unspeakable, spreads out clearly in the Zohar:

The One unites himself with Wisdom (whose other name is ‘Beginning’), then withdraws from it, while leaving his trace. From this union of the One and the Beginning is born the Temple (also called ‘Elohim’).

According to the Zohar, the first verse of the Torah ‘Be-rechit bara Elohim’ should be understood as follows: « With the Beginning, [the One, the Hidden One] created the Elohim (Lords).

Jewish ‘monotheism’ is definitely full of surprises…

From the Beginning, the Trinity of the One, Wisdom and Elohim is revealed.

The Elohim are generated by Wisdom, impregnated by the One…


iPs. 119:160

iiThe Jerusalem Bible. Ed. du Cerf, Paris, 1996

iiiGershom G. Scholem, in The Name of God and Kabbalistic Theory of Language. Alia. 2018, p.11

ivZohar 1.15a. Quoted by Gershom G. Scholem, Les grands courants de la mystique juive. Translation from English by Marie-Madeleine Davy. Ed. Payot, Paris, 2014, p.320

vCharles Mopsik. The Zohar. Ed. Verdier. 1981, p.482

viR. Simeon Labi de Tripoli in Ketem Paz Biour ha Milot (Enlightenment of Words), 1570, quoted by Charles Mopsik in op.cit. p.482

viiR. Moïse Cordovero, Or Yakar, Quoted by Charles Mopsik in op.cit. p.483

viiiTranslation by Charles Mopsik. The Zohar. Ed. Verdier. 1981, p.484

ixCharles Mopsik. The Zohar. Ed. Verdier. 1981, p.484

xZohar 1.15b

xiZohar 1.15a

La mort et les mots

Souvent les mots ont un double sens presque immédiatement apparent, mais aussi des strates de signification, profondes, cachées.

En sanskrit, la racine यु YU- renvoie à deux espaces sémantiques absolument opposés.  D’un côté, YU- (1) signifie “séparer, éloigner, exclure, protéger de, repousser”. De l’autre, YU- (2) signifie au contraire “ unir, attacher, joindre, lier, attirer, prendre possession de, tenir, adorer, honorer”. Comment expliquer une telle ambivalence, pour une même racine, indépendamment de tout affixes correcteurs?

La radicale divergence des sens ( « séparer » et « unir ») que porte la racine YU- est confirmée par deux racines qui en sont issus, et qui restent d’ailleurs fort proches phonétiquement. YU- (1) est à l’origine de la racine युछ् YUCH-, « partir, quitter, disparaître, errer ». On lui associe le latin juvo.
YU- (2) a produit la racine युज् YUJ-, “joindre, unir, juguler, atteler, harnacher; diriger son esprit, fixer son attention”. YUJ- renvoie au latin jungo.

Une racine, qui semble plus originaire encore, या YĀ-, porte tous les sens associés au mouvement: « aller, marcher, avancer, voyager, s’en aller », mais aussi: « aller vers, entrer, approcher, arriver, atteindre ». On voit que YĀ- couvre la gamme des sens possibles du mouvement, qu’ils soient centrifuges ou centripètes.

Tout se passe comme si le sens vraiment originaire de YĀ- ou de YU- était le fait de se mouvoir, le but de cette motion (partir ou revenir) étant en quelque sorte secondaire. Ainsi l’anglais to go, « aller », ne voit son propre sens précisé que par l’adjonction d’adverbes: to go away, « partir », to go back, « revenir ».

En hébreu, on trouve un cas comparable d’ambivalence, avec סוּר, sour, qui dans une première acception signifie : « s’écarter, se retirer, disparaître ». En voici deux exemples: « Dieu s’est retiré de moi. » (1 Sam. 28.15) « Ils se sont tous écartés de la bonne voie. » (Ps. 14.3) Mais le même verbe signifie aussi : « Quitter un endroit pour s’approcher d’un autre, s’approcher, se tourner vers, venir, entrer ». Par exemple : « Il faut que j’approche et que je voie cette grande vision, et pourquoi le buisson ne se consume point » (Ex. 3.3), « Entre chez moi » (Juges 4.18), « Et le deuil de ceux qui sont étendus voluptueusement approchera » (Amos 6.7).
Quand Moïse  « s’approche » pour mieux voir le buisson ardent, il doit « se détourner » de son chemin. Le verbe porte ces deux sens, celui de l’écart et celui du rapprochement.

Un autre exemple montre toute l’ambiguïté du mot סוּר, sour. Agag, roi d’Amalek, est amené devant Samuel. Agag est gai, joyeux, car il croit avoir échappé à la mort, et il dit : « Certainement, l’amertume de la mort est passée !» (1 Sam. 15.32), traduction la plus courante (Segond, Cahen, Darby). Mais Sander et Trenel traduisent : « L’amertume de la mort approche ». Ces deux traductions en sens contraires portent chacune une part de vérité. Agag avait cru s’en tirer à bon compte. La mort semblait avoir été écartée. Mais l’instant d’après, Samuel le « mit en pièces » : elle était en fait toute proche, imminente.

Ces dualismes, ces ambiguïtés, dans des mots de langues aussi différentes que le sanscrit ou l’hébreu, administrent une leçon large, celée.

Dans un de ses plus célèbres fragments, Héraclite proposait une énigme comparable: 

« La route, montante, descendante, une et même. »
On pourrait résoudre le paradoxe, en l’explicitant, par un mot qui manque: « La route vers la mort, proche ou lointaine, une et même ».

Un autre fragment héraclitéen offre une piste plus oblique:
« Limites de l’âme, tu ne saurais les trouver en poursuivant ton chemin
Si longue que soit la route
Tant est profond le logos qu’elle renferme. »

La proximité ou l’éloignement de la mort n’est pas ce qui importe. Ce n’est pas non plus le chemin suivi, sa longueur, sa montée ou sa descente. Aucune route en réalité ne mène assez loin, car toutes elles restent à la surface du monde.

Quant à la mort, elle se cache sous les mots, tout comme s’y cache le logos.



A Hebrew and English lexicon of the Old Testament, W. Gesenius, trad. E. Robinson. Oxford, 1906.
A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, M. Monier-Williams. Oxford, 1899
Dictionnaire Hébreu-Français, N. Ph. Sander et I. Trenel. Paris, 1859.
Diogène Laërce, Vies, IX, 7
Héritage du Sanskrit. Dictionnaire sanskrit-français, G. Huet, 2011
Hippolyte, Réfutation de toutes les hérésies, IX, 10