The name « Israel »


« La lutte de Jacob avec l’ange ». Alexandre Louis Leloir (1865)

The origin of the name « Israel » is based on some passages of Genesis dedicated to Jacob, which ‘explain’ why he was first named « Jacob », and then how he was renamed « Israel ».

This famous story, commented on throughout the centuries, is briefly recalled by the prophet Hosea, in the following way.

« The LORD will therefore charge against Judah, and will execute judgment on Jacob according to his ways, and will reward him according to his works. From his mother’s womb he supplanted his brother and in his manhood he triumphed over a God. He wrestled with an angel and was victorious, and the angel wept and asked for mercy.»i

The LORD will do justice for Jacob, says Hosea. What has he done? He « supplanted his brother, » he « fought against God, » and he was « victorious, » reducing him to « weeping » and asking for mercy. Let’s look at these points.

Even before he was born, in his mother’s womb, it is written that « Jacob supplanted » his brother.

He was given the name Jacob because he had come out of his mother’s womb holding his brother’s heel. « The first one came out completely red like a coat of hair, and they called him Esau. Then his brother came out, and his hand held Esau’s heel, and he was called Jacob. » ii

In Hebrew the word « Jacob » is taken from the verb עָקַב ‘aqab, « he supplanted », « he deceived », « he defrauded ». « Jacob » seems to be a difficult name to bear, even if its proper meaning can be euphemised by giving it a derived meaning from the Genesis passage: « he who caught (his brother) by the heels », at the moment of his birth.

But Jacob again earned his name by supplanting Esau a second time, by « buying » his birthrightiii, and a third time, by substituting for him to obtain the blessing of his father Isaac on his deathbed.

Jacob is aware of the negative meaning attached to his name, and he is also aware of the significance of his actions. « Perhaps my father will feel me and I will be like a deceiver in his eyes, and I will bring on me the curse and not the blessing, »iv he worries to Rebekah.

Jacob fears being seen as a « deceiver ». Therefore, he does not really consider himself as such, despite appearances and facts. He no doubt thinks he has settled the legal aspect of frauding by acquiring the birthright in exchange for a « red soup ». He also relies on his mother Rebecca who says to him: « I take your curse upon me, my son. Obey me. » v

But these are minor concerns. Jacob ends up taking the fraud personally when his father, blind and dying, asks him, « Who are you, my son? » and he answers, « It is I, Esau, your firstborn. » vi

Isaac blessed him then, but seized by doubt, asked a second time: « Is that you, there, my son Esau? « Jacob answers: « It is I. » vii Then Isaac blessed him a second time, confirming him in his inheritance: « Be the head of your brothers, and let your mother’s sons bow down before you! Cursed be he who curses you, and blessed be he who blesses you! » viii.

Esau comes up in the meantime and asks, « Is it because they named him Jacob that he has already twice supplanted me? He has taken away my birthright and now he has taken away my blessing! » ix

We can see by this that Jacob’s name carried his whole destiny in a nutshell, at least for the first part of his life.

Now let’s see how Jacob changed his name during the night combat scene.

« Jacob was left alone, and a man struggled with him until dawn. » x

Jacob is alone, but a man is with him. How to reconcile this apparent contradiction? Is this « man » just an apparition, a mirage? Or is he an angel? A divine spirit?

I opt for a third track. It could be an inner presence.

But then how can we explain this mad fight against himself?

Night-time delirium? Mystical crisis ? You have to hold on to minute details.

« Seeing that he could not defeat him, he touched his hip and Jacob’s hip dislocated as he struggled with him. » xi

The Hebrew text says that Jacob was struck in the hollow of the « hip »: כַּף-יֶרֶךְ , kaf yérek. But this word can have several meanings. If one adopts the idea that it is a physical, virile struggle, it might be a euphemism for « genitals ». A good punch in these parts can give an advantage.

But if one adopts the interpretation of an inner, mystical struggle, one must find something else. Now, this composed expression can also mean, taken word for word: « the hollow (kaf) of the bottom (yarkah)« , i.e. the « bottom of the bottom », or the « depth ».

If Jacob has engaged in an inner struggle, he has reached the extreme depths of his soul.

At that moment the man, or the angel, (or the depths of the soul?) begs Jacob: « Let me go, for the dawn has come. » Jacob answered, « I will not let you go unless you bless me. » Then he said to him, « What is your name? » He answered, « Jacob ». He said, « Jacob will no longer be your name, but Israel; for you have fought with God and with men and have triumphed. » xii

יִשְׂרָאֵל: כִּי-שָׂרִיתָ עִם-אֱלֹהִים וְעִם-אֲנָשִׁים, וַתּוּכָל.

(Israel: ki-sarita ‘im elohim ve ‘im enoshim va toukhal)

According to this interpretation, « Israel » would therefore mean: « He fought against God », taking as a basis for the word Israel the verb שָׂרָה, sarah, to struggle.

But the « very learned » Philo of Alexandria, commenting on the same passage, is, for his part, of the opinion that the name « Israel » means « seeing God », relying on the verb רָאָה, raah, « to see, to have visions ».

Which interpretation seems the best?

If it was a mystical battle, Philo’s interpretation seems much better.

But for the way forward, we can also refer to Rashi, who does not deal directly with this question here, but addresses it in another way.

Rashi comments on the verse « Jacob shall henceforth no longer be your name, but Israel » as follows: « It will no longer be said that you have obtained these blessings by trickery and supplanting (עקבה, same root as יעקב), but in all dignity and openly. The Holy One, blessed be He, will reveal Himself to you in Bethel, change your name there and bless you. I will be there and confirm them to you. This is what the Prophet Hosea will say: He wrestled with an angel and got the upper hand, he wept and begged him (Hosea 12:5). It was the angel who wept and begged. What did he ask him? In Bethel He will find us and there He will speak to us (ibid.). Give me a delay until He speaks to us there. But Jacob did not want to and the angel had to, in spite of himself, give him confirmation of the blessings. This is what is meant here in verse 30, ‘He blesses him on the spot’. He had begged him to wait, but Jacob refused. »

Rachi relies for this comment on the authority of Hosea. Hosea himself simply quotes Genesis. God appeared again to Jacob when he returned from the land of Aram, to the place that was later to be called Bethel, and blessed him there, saying to him, « Your name is Jacob; but your name henceforth shall not be Jacob any more, but Israel.» xiii

In this new account of Jacob’s change of name in Israel, Rashi gives himself his own interpretation of the meaning of the name Israel : « ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob’. This name refers to a man who is on the lookout to catch someone by surprise ( עקבה ), but you will bear a name that means prince (שׂר) and noble. »

As can be seen, Rashi proposes here a third interpretation of the meaning of the name « Israel ». After the ‘struggle’ (against God), the ‘vision’ (of God), here is the ‘kingship’ (in God?).

Immediately after these events, the story resumes with a new, mysterious episode. « The Lord disappeared from the place where he had spoken to him. Jacob erected a monument in the place where he had spoken to him, a monument of stone.» xiv

Why do I say « a mysterious episode »? Because the great Rashi himself admits about this verse: « I don’t know what this text wants to teach us. »

Let’s take a chance. We read here yet another circumstantial expression of place: « in the place where he had spoken to him ».

In Bethel, God stands « near » Jacob, during his « battle » at the place called Peniel, on the bank of the Jaboc, and that the same time Jacob holds his opponent tightly in a close combat.

This is the first difference of « placement ».

But what is surprising is that God then disappears away « from him » (i.e. moves away from the place « near » Jacob) to go « to the place where he had spoken to him » (bi maqom asher diber itou).

It seems that God disappears, not just « from » but rather « into » the place where He had just spoken.

Let’s elaborate. We must distinguish here between the place where God stood « near » Jacob, – and the « place where God had spoken », which is not a geographical place, but more likely the very soul of Jacob.

What the text teaches us, therefore, is that God disappeared « in » Jacob’s soul, melting into it, blending into it intimately.

After this anticipatory detour by Bethel, let us return to the scene of Penïêl, close to the ford of Jaboc. Jacob has just been named there for the first time « Israel ».

He then wants to know the name of the one who just called him that: « He answered, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ And he blessed him on the spot. » xv

The man, or the angel, blesses Jacob, but does not reveal his name to him. On the other hand, one can infer from the text that he showed his face to him.

Indeed, we read: « Jacob called this place Peniel: ‘Because I saw an angel of God face to face, and my life was saved’. » xvi

Peniel means, word for word, « face of God, » which seems to support the fact that Jacob-Israel did « see » God in his nightly battle.

This is an opportunity to note a kind of inverted symmetry between Jacob’s experience and that of Moses. Jacob « saw » God, but was not given to hear his name. For Moses it was the opposite, God revealed to him one of his names, Eyeh asher Eyeh, « I will be who I will be, » but He did not show him His « face, » only His « back.

What is the most manifest sign of election and grace: seeing the face of God or hearing His name?

Interpretations of this difficult question are legion. I will not discuss them here.

There is another mystery, before which Rashi himself had to admit ignorance: why did God disappear where He had spoken?

Why is the place of His presence now the place of His absence?

One lesson of the text might be that only His ‘word’ may reconcile both His (past) presence and His (present) absence.

_____________

iHos 12, 3-5

iiGen 25, 25-26

iiiGn 25.31

ivGn 27.12

vGen 27, 13

viGen 27, 19

viiGen 27, 24

viiiGen 27, 29

ixGen 27, 36

xGn 32.25

xiGen 32, 26

xiiGn 32, 27-29

xiiiGn 35, 10

xivGen 35, 14

xvGn 32, 30

xviGen 32, 31

Hair metaphysics


« Apollo and Daphne » Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)

Hair has always had an anthropological, imaginary and symbolic depth. Literature, painting, sculpture, under all latitudes, have testified and still testify to the metaphorical (and metonymic) power of hair, and more generally of hairs.

An exhaustive analysis of the representations of hair in Western painting alone could yield some exciting material.

Where does it come from? One of the fundamental problems that painters face is to make forms and backgrounds blend together in a meaningful way. The restricted and highly organized space of the canvas allows to give meaning to graphic analogies and pictorial proximities, which are as many opening metaphors, as many potential metonymies.

Paul Eluard writes that the work of the Painter,

« Is always a question of algae.

Of hair of grounds (…)  » i

How, for example, should a character’s hair, whether spread or held, mad or wise, meet on the canvas the background against which it is shaped? Should it contrast sharply with its immediate environment, or attempt a latent fusion?

For the painters who represent the metamorphosis of Daphne into a laurel, the hair of the nymph is a propitious place to present the fusion of forms to come, the transformation of the human figure into an evergreen shrub. The sculpture also takes advantage of these effects of metamorphosis. Bernini, with Apollo and Daphne, presents with precision the beginning of the vegetable transition of hair and fingers into foliage and branches, where it naturally begins.

The hair favors many other metaphors, such as that of the veil:

« O fleece, flowing down to the neckline!
O curls! O perfume loaded with nonchalance!
Ecstasy! To populate this evening the dark alcove
With memories sleeping in this hair,
I want to shake it in the air like a handkerchief! » ii

From this handkerchief, we can use it to wipe tears or tears, Luke attests it:

« And behold, a sinful woman who was in the city, when she knew that he was sitting at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster vase full of ointment and stood behind it at Jesus’ feet. She wept, and soon she wet his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with ointment. » iii

There is also the metaphor of the waves:

« Strong braids, be the swell that takes me away!

You contain, sea of ebony, a dazzling dream

Of sails, rowers, flames and masts :
A resounding port where my soul can drink. « iv.

Multiple, heteroclite, are the poetic or graphic metaphors of the hair: knots, linksv, helmets, breastplates, interlacing, clouds, and even the stars! The Hair of Berenice is a constellation of the Northern Hemisphere, named so because Berenice II, Queen of Egypt, sacrificed her hair, and that, according to the astronomer Conon of Samos, it was then placed by the gods in the sky.

Among the most widespread in painting, it is undoubtedly the metaphors of water and blood, which lend themselves very well to the supple and silky variations of the hair.

Ophelia’s drowned hair blends harmoniously with the wave, in which her body is bathed, in Eugène Delacroix or J.E. Millais. Gustave Klimt uses this effect to paint Ondines swimming lying down in Sang de poisson and in Serpents d’eau.

Bernardino Luini represents the head of John the Baptist, above a dish held by Salome, and his blood still runs in long dark streaks, prolonging the hair of the beheaded man.

Among all the countless metaphors of hair, there is one very particular one, that of fire and flame.

« The hair, flight of a flame to the extreme
Occident of desires to deploy it,
Poses itself (I’d say die a diadem)
Towards the crowned forehead its former home »vi
The image of a ‘hair of fire’ goes to the extreme indeed, and makes it possible to reach untold ends, and the Divine too…

The Ṛg Veda evokes a single God, Agni, named « Hairy », who is incarnated in three figures, endowed with different attributes. These three « Hairy » have the hair of a flamevii. « Three Hairy ones shine in turn: one sows himself in Saṃvatsara; one considers the Whole by means of the Powers; and another one sees the crossing, but not the color.» viii

The « Hair » connotes the reproductive power, the creative force, the infinite radiance of divine light. The first « Hairy » engenders himself in the Soma, in the form of a primordial germ. The second « Hairy » contains the Whole, i.e. the universe, again through Soma. The third « Hairy » is the « dark » Agni, the « unborn » Agni aja, which passes from night to light and reveals itself there.

In Judaism, hair does not burn, and it must be carefully maintained. ix

However, God chose a kind of vegetable hair, in the form of a « burning bush », to address Moses on Mount Horeb.

In Christianity, the flames of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, come to mingle with the hair of the Apostles. x

In Sufism, the « Hair » represents the Divine Essence as a symbol of multiplicity hiding unity. « Multiplicity conceals the non-existence of things, and thereby obscures the Heart, but at the same time as it veils, the Hair attracts Divine Grace and Divine Gifts. » xi

The hair represents here the « multiple », and thus nothingness. By its abundance and luxuriance, hair is an image of everything that is not the « unique ».

In absolute contrast to Sufism, John of the Cross chose precisely the metaphor of the « single hair » to represent the reciprocal love of the singular soul and of God, and to represent the fine and impalpable link that connects the soul to God. An infinitely fine link, but so strong that it has the power to link God himself to the soul he loves.

For John of the Cross, fundamentally, « the hair represents love ». xii

The initial inspiration for this metaphor seems, apparently at least, to come from the Song of Songs.

« Speaking of this wound, the Bridegroom of the Song of Songs says to the soul: You have made a woundin my soul, my sister, my wife, you have made a woundin my heart, with one of your eyes and with one hair of your neck (Ct 4:9). The eye here represents faith in the Incarnation of the Bridegroom, and the hair represents the love inspired by this mystery.» xiii

Vaporous lightness, evanescent subtlety, but also inconceivable power. Beneath the most feeble appearance, the single hair hides an extraordinary strength. A single, solitary hair has the power to hold God captive in the soul, because God falls in love with it, through this hair.

« God is strongly in love with this hair of love when he sees it alone and strong. » xiv

John of the Cross explains: « The hair that makes such a union must surely be strong and well untied, since it penetrates so powerfully the parts that it links together. The soul exposes, in the following stanza, the properties of this beautiful hair, saying :

This hair, you considered it

On my neck as it flew,

On my neck you looked at it,

It held you prisoner,

And with one of my eyes you felt hurt. » xv

John adds :

« The soul says that this hair ‘flew on her neck’, because the love of a strong and generous soul rushes towards God with vigor and agility, without enjoying anything created. And just as the breeze stirs and makes the hair fly, so the breath of the Holy Spirit lifts and sets the strong love in motion, making it rise up to God. » xvi

But how can the supreme God fall in love with a hair?

« Until now God had not looked at this hair in such a way as to be enamored of it, because he had not seen it alone and free from other hair, that is to say, from other loves, appetites, inclinations and tastes; it could not fly alone on the neck, symbol of strength ». xvii

And, above all, how can the supreme God remain captive, bound by a single hair?

« It is a marvel worthy of our admiration and joy that a God is held captive by a single hair! The reason for this infinitely precious capture is that God stopped to look at the hair that was flying on the neck of the bride, because, as we have said, God’s gaze is his love ». xviii

God allows himself to be captivated by the « theft of the hair of love », because God is love. This is how « the little bird seizes the great golden eagle, if the latter comes down from the heights of the air to let himself be caught ». xix

The single hair embodies the will of the soul, and the love it bears to the Beloved.

But why a single hair, and not rather, to make a mass, a tuft, a fleece, or an entire head of hairxx ?

« The Spouse speaks ‘of one hair’ and not of many, to make us understand that her will is God’s alone, free from all other hair, that is to say, from all affections foreign to God. » xxi

Admirable metaphor!

But the case is more complicated than it seems.

The Song of Songs does not actually contain this image. In its chapter 4 verse 9, we read the following:

« You have captured my heart, O my sister, my fiancée, you have captured my heart by one of your glances, by one of the necklaces that adorn your neck. »

The word « necklace » correctly translates the Hebrew word עֲנָק, which actually has no other meaning, and certainly does not mean « hair ».

In Hebrew, « hair » is said to be שַׂעָר. This word is also used just before, in verse 1 of the same chapter of the Song of Songs: « Your hair is like a herd of goats coming down from the Mount of Gilead »xxii.

The metaphor of the « herd of goats » implies a play on words, which is not unrelated to our subject. Indeed, the Hebrew שַׂעָר , « hair », is very close semantically to שָׂעׅיר , « goat » and שְׂעׅירָה , « goat ».

This is understandable. The goat is a very hairy animal, « hairy » par excellence. But the verse does not use this repetition, and does not use here the word שְׂעׅירָה , but another word, which also means « goat », עֵז, and which allows for an equivalent play on words, since its plural, עׅזׅים, metonymically means « goat hair ». By forcing the note, verse Ct 4.1 could be translated literally: « Your hair is like a multitude of goat’s hairs coming down from Mount Galaad… ». »

If verse 1 multiplies the effect of multitude, in verse 9, it would only be a matter of a single hair, according to John of the Cross.

The problem, we said, is that this hair is not present in the Hebrew text.

So did the Vulgate, in a translation here defective, mislead John of the Cross?

The Vulgate gives for Ct 4:9: « Vulnerasti cor meum, soror mea, sponsa; vulnerasti cor meum in uno oculorum tuorum, et in uno crine colli tui. »

The Vulgate thus translates the Hebrew עֲנָק, « necklace » by uno crine, « a curl of hair », which seems a dubious equivalence.

Poets are seers, and outstanding visionaries, they see higher, further, more accurately. Perhaps the « hair » that God « sees » on the Bride’s neck is in fact a fine, precious thread, attaching to the neck a unique jewel? Hair, or thread on the neck, what does it matter, then, if both words fulfill their role of metaphor and metonymy, signifying the love of the soul for God, and God’s love for the soul?

In the film Call me by your name, by Luca Guadagnino, the hero, Elio Perlman, played by Timothée Chalamet, sees a Star of David hanging from a thin golden thread around the neck of Oliver, played by Armie Hammer. In the film, this precious object plays a transitional role in Elio’s budding passion for Oliver.

Perhaps we can imagine an extremely precious piece of jewelry around the Bride’s neck? In this case, one should not be mistaken: what attracts the gaze of God, as Bridegroom, is not this jewel, however precious it may be, but the very thin thread that holds it, and which the Vulgate assimilates to a « hair ».

In the eyes of John of the Cross, the unique necklace of the Bride of the Song of Songs is in any case a powerful metonymy assimilating the thread to a hair and the hair to a mystical link. This metonymy inspires him, and allows him to write his own original spiritual Song of Songs, whose stanzas 21 and 22 tie the metaphor tightly together:

De flores y esmeraldas,

en las frescas mañanas escogidas,

haremos las guirnaldas,

en tu amor florecidas,

y en un cabello me entretejidas.

In solo aquel cabello

que en mi cuello volar considerarste,

mirástele en mi cuello,

y enél preso quedaste,

y en uno de mis ojos te llagaste.

(With flowers, emeralds,

Chosen in the cool mornings,

We will go to make garlands,

All flowered in your love,

And held embraced by one of my hair.

This hair, you considered it

On my neck as he flew,

on my neck you looked at him,

He held you prisoner,

And with one of my eyes you felt hurt).

__________

iPaul Éluard, Uninterrupted Poetry, Poetry/Gallimard, 2011

iiCharles Baudelaire. The Hair.

iiiLk 7, 37-38

ivCharles Baudelaire. The Hair.

v 
« D’or sont les liens, Madame,
Dont fut premier ma liberté surprise
Amour la flamme autour du cœur éprise,
eyesThe line that pierces my soul. »

Joachim du Bellay. Regrets.

viStéphane Mallarmé. The Hair

viiṚg Veda I, 164.44.

viiiIncidentally, one of the attributes of Apollo, Xantokomès (Ξανθόκομης), also makes him a God « with fire-red hair ».

ixThe rules concerning hair are very codified. But only he who purifies himself must make them disappear completely, under the razor blade: « Then on the seventh day he shall shave off all his hair, his hair, his beard, his eyebrows, all his hair; he shall wash his clothes, bathe his body in water, and become clean. « Lev 14:9

x« On the day of Pentecost, they were all together in the same place. Suddenly there came a sound from heaven like a rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Tongues like tongues of fire appeared to them, separated from one another, and rested on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them power to speak. « Acts 2:1-4

xiLaleh Bakhtiar. Sufism. Ed. Seuil, Paris, 1077, p.68

xiiJohn of the Cross, Spiritual Song B, 7,3. Complete Works . Cerf, 1990. p.1249

xiiiIbid.

xivSpiritual Song B, 31, 3 Ibid. p. 1386

xvSpiritual Song B, 31, 2 Ibid. p. 1386

xviSpiritual Song B, 31, 4 Ibid. p. 1387

xviiSpiritual Song B, 31, 6 Ibid. p. 1388

xviiiSpiritual Song B, 31, 8 Ibid. p. 1388

xixIbid.

xxHowever, in Ascent to Carmel, John of the Cross uses the metaphor of ‘hair’ in the plural. He relies on a passage from the Lamentations of Jeremiah which he translates again from the Vulgate: « Candidiores sunt Nazaraei ejus nive, nitidiores lacte, rubincundiores ebore antiquo, saphiro pulchriores ». « Their hair is whiter than snow, brighter than milk, redder than antique ivory, more beautiful than sapphire. Their faces have become blacker than coal, and are no longer recognizable in public squares. « (Rom 4:7-8) John of the Cross uses here the word cabello, « hair, » to translate into Spanish the word Nazaraei (« Nazarenes, » or « Nazirs of God ») used by the Vulgate. And he explains what, according to him, Jeremiah’s metaphor means: « By ‘hair’ we mean the thoughts and affections of the soul which are directed to God (…) The soul with its operations represented by hair surpasses all the beauty of creatures. « (John of the Cross, The Ascent of Carmel 1,9,2. Complete Works . Cerf, 1990. p.611)

xxiSpiritual Song B, 30, 9 Ibid. p. 1383

xxiiCt 4.1

The Secret of the One who Speaks


« The Sacrifice of Isaac » (Caravaggio)

All languages have their own words for ‘secret’, which unconsciously reveal a part of it.

The Greek word for secret is ἀπόῤῥηθον, aporrhêton, which literally means « far, or away, from speech ». The secret is properly what is « unspeakable », either that which cannot be said, since the resources of language are insufficient, or that which must be kept silent, since words must be kept away. The emphasis is on speech and language, their limits or their impotence. This is why the idea of secrecy among the Greeks is well expressed in hermeticism and in the religions of the mysteries, where the initiate must swear to keep secret the things taught.

In Latin, the word secretum (from the verb seco, secare, sectum, « to cut ») etymologically evokes the idea of separation, of physical cut. The emphasis is not on language, but on place or space. The secret is what is separated from the rest of the world, what is cut off from it. The secret participates in a partition of the world into highly differentiated zones, exclusive of each other.

In Hebrew, the word for secret is רָז (raz). It is a word of Persian origin. In the Bible it is only found in the book of Daniel, then at a rather late date, where it takes on the meaning of « mystery ».

Sanskrit offers, among other words: गुप्त, gupta and गुह्यguhya. The word gupta comes from the root gup- , « to keep, protect, defend ». It first means « protected, hidden ». It also means « secret » by derivation. In Sanskrit, secrecy seems to be less an end in itself, to be kept for what it is worth, than a means to protect the person who benefits from it. As for guhya, it comes from the root guh-, « tocover, to conceal, to hide ». Guhya is what must be hidden, like a magic formula, or the sexual organs, of which this word is also the name. Here too, the emphasis is on the veil and the act of veiling, more than on what is veiled.

In contrast, the German word for secret, Geheimnis, precisely brings out the link between the secret and the interiority, the inner self. The secret is what is deep in the heart, or in the intimacy of the soul.

We could go on for a long time with this anthology of the word « secret » in different languages. But we already sense that each culture has a conception of the secret that corresponds as well as possible to what it agrees to reveal to itself and to what it agrees to show to the world, as for its (collective) unconscious .

This is also true of individuals, and of the secrets that inhabit them, or that found them.

In A Taste for Secrecy, Jacques Derrida declares that the secret is « the very non-phenomenality of experience », and « something that is beyond the opposition of phenomenon and non-phenomenon, and which is the very element of existence »i.

Even if everything could be said, there is something that will always resist, that will always remain secret, singular, unique, irreplaceable, « even without having to hide anything »ii.

This singular, specific secret is not even opposed to what is not secret. Nor is it ineffable. This secret is the secret of all that is said. The secret undoes what is brought forward by the word.

The secret « undoes the word », which is also the characteristic of deconstruction.

By undoing the word, the secret takes on an absolute significance. This secret that can never be shared, even at the moment of sharing, occupies a position of overhang: it is the very condition of sharing.

This is the absolute secret. The secret is an « absolute » that reigns above or within the existing, or is completely detached from it. Derrida says: « It is the ab-solute even in the etymological sense of the term, that is to say what is cut off from the bond, detached, and cannot bind; it is the condition of the bond but it cannot bind: that is the absolute; if there is an absolute, it is secret. It is in this direction that I try to read Kierkegaard, Isaac’s sacrifice, the absolute as secret and as the ‘other’. Not transcendent, not even beyond myself: a resistance to the light of phenomenality that is radical, irreversible, to which one can give all sorts of forms, death, for example, but it is not even death. » iii

« The absolute as a secret and as the ‘other’ ». But « not transcendent ».

A rather enigmatic formula, admittedly…. But how is Isaac’s sacrifice linked to the question of the secret, if the absolute is the « other » and is not « transcendent »?

We need a tighter analysis.

« Abraham took the wood of the sacrifice, put it on Isaac his son, took the fire and the knife in his hand, and they both went together.» iv

Rashi comments: « They both went together: Abraham who knew he was going to sacrifice his son, walked with the same goodwill and joy as Isaac who suspected nothing. « 

Abraham kept the secret of what awaited Isaac. He told him nothing. The secret was absolute. Abraham did not let anything show on his face. He even walked cheerfully, according to Rashi, so as not to arouse any fear in Isaac. But some suspicion nevertheless arose and Isaac finally questioned his father: « ‘Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb of the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered: ‘God himself will choose the lamb of the burnt offering, my son,’ and they both went together. » v

The repetition of this phrase, « they both went together », suggests two different meanings. Rashi comments: « And though Isaac understood that he was going to be immolated, ‘they both went together’, with one heart. »

The first time, it is Abraham who took the emotional burden on him. The second time, it was Isaac. He did not show anything about what he had guessed to be his fate. He kept his emotion secret.

In both cases, for Abraham and for Isaac, – absolute secrecy of the heart, but a secrecy that was not transcendent, indeed.

It was only the secret of a silent father, in one case, and the secret of a son who was silent, in the other. It was a doubly absolute secret, one can imagine.

Or, perhaps, was the absolute also present, secretly, in these moments, in two different ways?

This absolute, so secret, so doubly secret, can also, in fact, be called the « other ».

One could even suggest that this absolute wasthe « All Other ».

But then why does Derrida insist on the idea that the Absolute which is the « other » is precisely not « transcendent »?

In the text of Genesis, however, transcendence does appear at this crucial moment in all splendor: « But a messenger of the Lord called to him from heaven, and he said, ‘Abraham… Abraham!’ He answered, ‘Here I am,’ and said, ‘Do not lay a hand on this young man, do nothing to him! For now I know that you fear God, you who did not deny me your son, your only son ». vi

One knows that the absolute is secret, that it is the « other ». As for being « transcendent », it is a question of interpretation.

Shortly after finding a ram embarrassed by its horns in a bush and sacrificing it as a burnt offering in place of his son, Abraham named the place where this whole scene had taken place: « YHVH will see. »vii In Hebrew: יְהוָה יִרְאֶה (‘Adonai-Yiré’)

The Targum interprets this verse as follows, according to Rashi: God will choose for Himself this place to make His Divine Presence reside there and to make offerings there. And it will be said about this place: It is on this mountain that God makes Himself seen by His people.

But if « YHVH will see » is to be understood as « God will be seen », the Targum should also explain why the active way (God will see) has been changed into a passive way (God will be seen).

The Midrach gives yet another interpretation, according to Rachi. « YHVH will see » means: « The LORD will see this offering to forgive Israel every year and to spare it the punishment it deserves. So it will be said in the generations to come: Today God shows Himself on the mountain. Isaac’s ashes are still there to make atonement for our sins. »

A Cartesian spirit will point out that the ashes of the ram offered as a holocaust are still on the mountain called « YHVH will see », but certainly not the ashes of Isaac, since the latter left, alive and well, with his father to Beer-sheba.

From all of this, it emerges that the initial secret, so opaque, unravels endlessly, in twisted insinuations, in down-to-earth or messianic interpretations, depending on different « points of view ».

For us, who respect grammatical values more than lyrical flights of fancy, we will remember above all that « He will see » may also mean « He will be seen ».

Ultimately, it is the grammar itself, the foundation of the language, that must be deconstructed if we want to unlock the secret, not of the language, but of the one who speaks.

iJacques Derrida, Maurizio Ferraris. Le goût du secret. Hermann. 2018, p.69-70

iiIbid, p.70

iiiIbid, p.70

ivGen. 22.6

vGen. 22, 7-8

viGen. 22, 11-13

viiGen. 22.14

Mystique du Quatre


« Un kāribu assyrien »

Pour Pythagore, le nombre quatre représente la justicei. La Tétrade (l’idée abstraite associée au ‘quatre’) symbolise aussi la perfection ou encore le Cosmos. Arrangée en une forme triangulaire, la Tétractys figure la Décade (l’abstraction associée au nombre 10), qui se ramène elle-même à l’Unité cachée, car 1+ 0 = 1. D’un point de vue néo-pythagoricien, le 4 symbolise, en la déployant, la perfection absolue de l’1.

Le nombre quatre se lit d’emblée dans le Tétragramme, יְהוָה. Ces quatre lettres ne sont d’ailleurs en réalité que trois (yod, , vav), le étant employé deux fois. Vu l’importance du nom divin, ceci ne peut que provoquer la réflexion et inciter à la recherche. La cabale juive a réalisé un Tétractys composé des quatre lettres du Tétragramme, et s’est livrée à de savantes analyses sémiologiques. Mais les mystères du Tétragramme sont fort loin d’être épuisés. Y ayant consacré plusieurs articles, j’invite le lecteur intéressé à s’y reporter :

De quelques secrets du Tétragramme.

Trinité et Tétragramme

La Sagesse et י

Le coït alphabétique et le silence de la Kabbale

Noms de Dieu

La métaphore de la « Parole »

Dans le contexte biblique, plusieurs occurrences significatives du nombre quatre l’enrichisse d’harmoniques puissantes.

La fameuse vision d’Ezéchiel, reprise dans les textes de l’apocalyptique juive (les livres d’Hénoch) puis dans l’Apocalypse de Jean, est particulièrement frappante à cet égard.

« Or, je vis soudain un vent de tempête venant du Nord, un grand nuage et un feu jaillissant avec une lueur tout autour, et au centre, comme l’éclat du vermeil au milieu du feu. Et au centre, les ressemblances de quatre Vivants (חַיּוֹת, Ḥayot); et voici leur aspect, elles avaient figure humaine. Chacune avait quatre faces et chacune quatre ailes. Leurs jambes étaient droites; leurs sabots étaient comme des sabots de bœuf, et ils étincelaient comme l’éclat de l’airain poli. Et sous leurs ailes, il y avait des mains d’hommes tournées vers les quatre directions, de même que leurs faces et leurs ailes à eux quatre. Leurs ailes étaient jointes l’une à l’autre, elles ne se tournaient pas en marchant, chacune allait droit devant elle. Quant à la forme de leurs visages, elles avaient une face d’homme et toutes les quatre une face de lion à droite, et toutes quatre avaient une face de taureau à gauche, et toutes quatre avaient une face d’aigle. Et leurs faces et leurs ailes étaient déployées vers le haut; chacune avaient deux ailes se joignant et deux ailes lui couvrant le corps.  »ii

Chacun des quatre « Vivants » a quatre « faces » (d’homme, de lion, de taureau et d’aigle), ce qui fait seize faces au total.

Il est intéressant de noter que le paradigme quaternaire est ici mis en scène d’une manière « fractale », pourrait-on dire. Les « quatre Vivants ont une figure humaine », et chacun d’entre eux ont à leur tour quatre faces (et quatre ailes).

Autre trait frappant : la description de ces «Vivants» reprend quatre attributs caractéristiques des Kāribu assyriens. Ces statues monumentales qui gardaient les palais de Babylone figuraient des êtres à tête humaine, avec un corps de lion, des pattes de taureau et des ailes d’aigle. L’influence de Babylone sur l’imaginaire d’Ézéchiel est indéniable. Les Kāribu au service des dieux assyriens sont maintenant attelés au char du Dieu d’Israël.

Ce sont les kāribu assyriens qui ont donné leur nom aux keroubim hébreux (כְּרֻבִים ), c’est-à-dire aux Chérubins de l’Arche d’alliance (Ex 25,18+), – le mot hébreu keroub dérivant de l’assyrien kāribu.

En assyrien, le mot kāribu désigne un prêtre ou une personne accomplissant un acte religieux (notamment en présence du Roi). Il peut désigner une femme dont la fonction est de prier pour d’autres personnes. Il décrit également une déité faisant un geste d’adoration.

L’origine étymologique de kāribu renvoie au substantif karābu, « prière, bénédiction », et au verbe karāba, « prononcer une bénédiction, une formule de louange ou d’adoration ; prier les dieux ; faire un geste d’adoration (ou prier le Dieu Marduk) ».iii

Ezéchiel rapporte une autre vision de Dieu en compagnie des chérubins, dans un contexte particulièrement dramatique.

« La gloire du Dieu d’Israël s’éleva de sur le chérubin sur laquelle elle était, au seuil du Temple »iv, et à ce moment, YHVH ordonne le massacre des habitants de Jérusalem: « Parcourez la ville et frappez. N’ayez pas un regard de pitié, n’épargnez pas ; vieillards, jeunes gens, vierges, enfants, femmes, tuez et exterminez tout le monde. Mais quiconque portera le signe au front, ne le touchez pas. Commencez à partir de mon sanctuaire.»v

Dans les livres d’Hénoch, la symbolique du nombre quatre apparaît lors de visions apocalyptiques impliquant non des chérubins, mais des séraphins ainsi que des « Vigilants » et des « Saints ».

Hénoch raconte : « J’aperçus des milliers de milliers, des myriades de myriades, et un nombre infini d’hommes qui se tenaient debout devant le Seigneur des esprits. Sous les quatre ailes du Seigneur des esprits, à ses quatre côtés, j’en vis encore d’autres (…) Alors j’entendis la voix de ceux qui étaient aux quatre côtés ; ils célébraient le Seigneur de toute gloire. La première voix célébrait le Seigneur des esprits dans tous les siècles. La seconde voix que j’entendis célébrait l’élu et les élus qui sont tourmentés pour le Seigneur des esprits. La troisième voix que j’entendis suppliait et priait pour ceux qui sont sur la terre, et qui invoquent le Seigneur des esprits. La quatrième voix que j’entendis repoussait les anges impies, et leur défendait de se présenter devant le Seigneur des esprits afin qu’ils ne suscitent point d’accusations contre les habitants de la terre. »vi

Les « quatre voix » qu’Hénoch entend sont clairement différenciées. Ce sont celles des quatre anges les plus proches de la Face de Dieu, respectivement Michel, « l’ange clément et patient », Raphaël, « l’ange qui préside aux douleurs et aux blessures des hommes », Gabriel, « qui préside à tout ce qui est puissant », et enfin Phanuel, « qui préside à la pénitence et à l’espérance de ceux qui doivent hériter de la vie éternelle ».vii

On peut interpréter ces « quatre voix » comme une autre expression encore ou une représentation « quaternaire » du Dieu Un. Dans le contexte du monothéisme juif, qui ne transige pas sur l’unité essentielle du divin, ces quatre « voix » ou « anges » peuvent représenter quatre hypostases ou quatre émanations du Dieu Un, par lesquelles il communique ou fait connaître aux hommes, respectivement « sa clémence et sa patience », sa compassion pour « les douleurs et les blessures des hommes », sa « puissance », ainsi que l’espérance de la « vie » (éternelle) qu’il entend partager avec eux.

Dans le Livre hébreu d’Hénoch (ou : ‘3 Hénoch’), le nombre ‘quatre’ est associé non aux Chérubins, mais aux Séraphins (les serafim, étymologiquement les « Brûlants »):

« Combien sont les Séraphins ? Quatre, correspondant aux quatre vents du monde. Combien de faces ont-ils ? Seize faces, quatre à chaque direction. »viii

Quatre est aussi, dans le Livre des Palais, le nombre des Saints et des Vigilants :

« Les Vigilants et les Saints, quatre grands Princes. Deux sont les Vigilants, et deux sont les Saints. »ix

Plus tard, l’apologétique chrétienne réinterprétera les figures des quatre Vivants comme des symboles des quatre Évangélistes. S’appuyant sur les thèmes traités au début des quatre Évangiles, on fit correspondre le symbole de l’Homme à Matthieu, le Lion à Marc, le Taureau à Luc et l’Aigle à Jean.

Jérôme de Stridon (347-420) estime que les quatre Vivants ont une autre signification encore : ils résument les quatre moments essentiels de la vie du Christ.
Le Verbe de Dieu s’est incarné (l’Homme), il a été tenté au désert (le Lion), il a été immolé (le Taureau) et il est monté au ciel (l’Aigle).

Une synthèse des interprétations d’Hénoch et de Jérôme est possible, me semble-t-il.

On a vu que, selon Hénoch, les quatre principaux attributs de YHVH symbolisés par les quatre Vivants et par les anges Michel, Gabriel, Raphaël et Phanuel, sont la « clémence et la patience », la « puissance », la « compassion pour les douleurs et les blessures des hommes » et la « vie » éternelle.

Les quatre moments-clé de la vie du Christ sont quant à eux, l’« incarnation », la « tentation », le « sacrifice » et la « résurrection ».

L’Homme symbolise la clémence et la patience de Dieu pour l’humanité que Michel représente, et aussi l’incarnation du Verbe qui en est l’expression historique.

Le Lion représente la puissance de Dieu (que l’archange Gabriel incarne), et aussi la tentation du Christ au désert et sa victoire sur le Satan.

Le Taureau figure la compassion divine pour « les douleurs et les blessures des hommes » que Raphaël personnifie, et corrélativement il évoque le sacrifice sanglant de Jésus.

L’Aigle signifie l’envol vers la vie éternelle et l’espérance que l’ange Phanuel connote, et parallèlement il représente la résurrection, et la montée au ciel du Christ ressuscité.

Mais en réalité ces quatre symboles sont intimement liés. Chacun des quatre Vivants a lui-même quatre « faces », tant dans l’ordre divin, tout est « un », et tant dans l’ordre symbolique le nombre ‘quatre’ incarne l’unité.

________________

i Aristote, Métaphysique, 985b27, 990a23, 1078b22

iiEz 1, 11

iiiThe Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Volume 8, « K », Chicago, 1971, p.192-193

ivEz 9, 3

vEz 9, 5-6

viLe Livre d’Hénoch (ou 1 Hénoch). Ch. 40,1-7

viiLe Livre d’Hénoch (ou 1 Hénoch). Ch. 40,8-10

viiiLe Livre hébreu d’Hénoch, ou Livre des palais (3 Hénoch), 26, 9-10. Traduction de l’hébreu par Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier, 1989, p. 126

ixLe Livre hébreu d’Hénoch, ou Livre des palais (3 Hénoch), 28,5. Traduction de l’hébreu par Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier, 1989, p. 128

Le « Fils de l’homme ». Ou : L’inconscient de Dieu, 2


« Jérémie »

Dans un précédent article, il a été établi que Dieu était en partie « inconscient ».

Inconscient de quoi ? Inconscient de tous les effets de sa propre puissance.

Ce résultat, initialement dû à C.G. Jung, peut paraître surprenant, et même ‘blasphématoire’ aux yeux de ‘croyants’ habitués à répéter des formules figées comme « Dieu est bon », ou « Dieu est un », sans toujours mesurer la logique profonde qui sourd inconsciemment des jugements humains sur l’essence de la divinité.

Si la raison humaine est à l’évidence bien incapable de pénétrer jusqu’au fin fond des mystères qui lui sont en quelque manière et allusivement ‘présentés’, elle est malgré tout l’un des rares instruments de recherche, de critique et de prospective qui soient donnés à notre conscience.

L’idée que Dieu est en partie « inconscient » peut être déduite des contradictions intrinsèques qui apparaissent lorsque l’on considère des attributs classiquement attribués à Dieu : son « omnipotence », son « omniscience » et sa « bonté », et qu’on les confronte à la réalité de l’existence du Mal dans la création divine.

La seule manière de rendre compatibles les attributs divins que l’on vient d’énumérer avec l’existence du Mal, est de faire l’hypothèse d’une « inconscience » (partielle) de Dieu quant à la nature de sa propre puissance (la nature de son ‘omnipotence’ a priori supposée), et de la connaissance qu’il en a (la nature de son ‘omniscience’, elle aussi a priori supposée).

Sa « bonté » ne peut être compatible avec le « Mal » existant dans le monde que si Dieu n’est pas absolument conscient du rôle du Mal et de son impact effectif dans la vie de ses créatures… S’il en était « conscient », en effet, comment sa « bonté » doublée de son « omnipotence » laisserait-elle le Mal prospérer ?

D’où les questions et les plaintes paradigmatiques de Job…

Mais d’un autre côté, comment concilier l’idée d’un Dieu en partie « inconscient » avec son « omniscience » (supposée) ?

A cela on peut répondre que ce Dieu est un Dieu « Vivant », « Un » et aussi « Infini ». Il est essentiellement « libre ». Cette liberté est toujours « en acte », mais aussi toujours « en puissance ». Dieu n’est donc pas toujours actuellement conscient de toute la liberté des infinis possibles dont il est capable en puissance. Car s’il en était conscient, il serait alors en quelque sorte déterminé par cette conscience même, ce qui serait incompatible avec sa liberté essentielle.

La liberté de sa conscience est en partie liée à l’indétermination de son inconscient.

Dans ce contexte, certes difficile à saisir, mais pas entièrement opaque (car nous pouvons prendre appui sur notre propre appréhension du rôle de l’inconscient par rapport à notre conscience), la question du Mal se révèle à la fois extraordinairement délicate et anthropologiquement cruciale.

Je dis ‘anthropologiquement’ car c’est bien de la nature humaine tout entière qu’il s’agit, et non pas de quelque religion ou de quelque philosophie que ce soit. Il s’agit de s’interroger sur le sens profond de l’aventure humaine, et de son rapport putatif avec le Cosmos tout entier, mais aussi avec les puissances (divines?) qui en furent à l’origine, et qui continuent (peut-être?) d’y jouer un rôle.

La question du Mal est d’autant plus délicate, et cruciale, que c’est Dieu lui-même qui affirme : « Je crée le mal », selon la parole rapportée par Isaïe : וּבוֹרֵא רָע, (boréra‘).i

On a déjà vu que le verbe « créer » (en hébreu, bara’) est ici conjugué à l’inaccompli (boré’), ce qui semble indiquer que le Mal est constamment « créé » par Dieu, et que son rôle dans l’économie de la création divine semble donc être structurel.

Cette problématique, on l’a dit, ne relève pas d’une approche théologique ou philosophique classique, vu les blocages conceptuels accumulés, et l’ossification de la pensée ‘théologique’ mais aussi ‘philosophique’, après de nombreux siècles de conservatisme a-critique.

En revanche, une approche anthropologique et psychologique de la question du Mal dans l’économie divine de la Création semble pouvoir ouvrir des pistes nouvelles.

L’une de ces pistes, elle aussi due à Jung, est celle de la « conjonction des opposés », – principe fondamental, qui n’est pas sans peser de sa propre charge de « mystère » (mysterium conjunctionis) dans l’inconscient collectif.

Comme Dieu est essentiellement « un » (du moins dans le cadre formel posé par les divers monothéismes), il faut donc considérer comme une ‘conjonction des opposés’ ou comme une ‘course des contraires’ (pour reprendre le concept d’énantiodromie dû à Héraclite) le fait que la conscience et l’inconscient peuvent coexister dans l’unité divine.

Une autre manière de formuler ce constat est de s’appuyer sur les sources bibliques qui signalent significativement que Dieu a toujours eu auprès de lui, et cela dès avant même la création du monde, un personnage particulièrement mystérieux, la Sagesse.

Voici à titre d’illustration quelques citations, incitatives à la réflexion :

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

« Il fit les cieux avec la Sagesse » (Ps 136,5)

« YHVH, par la Sagesse, a fondé la terre » (Pr 3,19)

« Donne-moi celle qui partage ton trône, la Sagesse » (Sg 9,4)

« Mais avant toutes choses fut créée la Sagesse » (Sir 1,4)

« L’Esprit de YHVH, – Esprit de Sagesse et d’Intelligence » (Is 11,2)

« Il a fait la terre par sa Puissance, établi le monde par sa Sagesse, déployé les cieux par son Intelligence » (Jér 10,12)

Il n’est pas indifférent de noter que, selon les cas, on observe une ‘dualité’ (YHVH + la Sagesse/Ḥokhmah), une ‘trinité’ (YHVH + la Sagesse/Ḥokhmah + l’Intelligence/Binah) et même une relation ‘quaternaire’ (YHVH + la Sagesse + l’Intelligence + la Puissance).

Ces relations duelles, trinitaires ou quaternaires se constituent entre la Divinité et ce que l’on pourrait appeler des « attributs » divins. Mais, dans le contexte divin, ces « attributs » ne peuvent pas être simplement « passifs », ils sont dotés d’une sorte d’essence propre.

C’est pourquoi dans divers textes de la tradition juive (Livres prophétiques, Écrits apocalyptiques, Talmud, Cabale) on a pu aussi les décrire comme étant des « faces » de Dieu, ou bien les assimiler à des « anges », ou encore leur donner le statut de sefirot.

Il existe aussi des cas particulièrement significatifs, où la relation entre Dieu et l’une des entités qui paraissent le seconder est symbolisée par un personnage mystérieux, nommé le « Fils de l’homme » (en hébreu Ben-Adam).

Le Psalmiste lui donne un statut presque équivalent à celui de Dieu, en le nommant « mon Seigneur » (Adoni), et en le faisant siéger à la droite de YHVH:

« Oracle de YHVH à mon Seigneur : ‘Siège à ma droite’.»ii

נְאֻם יְהוָה, לַאדֹנִי–שֵׁב לִימִינִי « Né’oum Adonaï la-Adoni – chev li-mini »

Il est certes fort peu conforme à la tradition strictement monothéiste, que le roi David lui-même chante la présence d’Adoni (« Mon Seigneur ») siégeant à la droite de YHVH (יְהוָה , le Tétragramme imprononçable, mais qu’on lit « Adonaï », ce qui signifie aussi « Mon Seigneur »).

Le livre d’Hénoch, l’un des textes apocalyptiques juifs, évoque également le ‘Fils de l’homme’, Ben-Adam, et il le place aussi à la droite de Dieu.

Le ‘Fils de l’homme’, appelé aussi l’« Élu », ou encore l’« Autre », désigne dans les livres d’Hénoch une personne à la fois ‘humaine’ et ‘transcendante’. Elle reçoit de Dieu le royaume eschatologique, et elle est appelée à s’asseoir sur le « trône de la gloire » de Dieu.

« Là je vis l’Ancien des jours, dont la tête était comme de la laine blanche, et avec lui un Autre, qui avait la figure d’un homme. Cette figure était pleine de grâce, comme celle d’un des saints anges. Alors j’interrogeai un des anges qui était avec moi, et qui m’expliquait tous les mystères qui se rapportent au Fils de l’homme. Je lui demandai qui il était, d’où il venait, et pourquoi il accompagnait l’Ancien des jours ?

Il me répondit en ces mots : ‘Celui-ci est le Fils de l’homme, à qui toute justice se rapporte,

avec qui elle habite, et qui tient la clef de tous les trésors cachés ; car le Seigneur des esprits

l’a choisi de préférence, et il lui a donné une gloire au-dessus de toutes les créatures’. »iii

Hénoch rapporte encore que Dieu, ou l’« Ancien des jours », annonce que son « Élu » sera assis sur le trône de la gloire de Dieu, et qu’il jugera au nom du Seigneur.

« O rois, ô puissants de ce monde, vous verrez mon Élu assis sur le trône de ma gloire ; il

jugera Azazyel, tous ses complices et toutes ses cohortes, au nom du Seigneur des esprits. »iv

La figure juive du « Fils de l’homme » sera, quelques siècles plus tard, reprise par Jésus, qui s’attribuera de lui-même et à lui-même ce titre. Il confirmera aussi le rôle eschatologique qui était déjà associé au Fils de l’homme par Hénoch:

« Et alors apparaîtra dans le ciel le signe du Fils de l’homme ; et alors toutes les races de la terre se frapperont la poitrine ; et l’on verra le Fils de l’homme venant sur les nuées du ciel avec puissance et grande gloire. »v

Le Fils de l’homme nouvellement incarné par Jésus doit aussi prendre place sur le trône de la gloire (divine) pour juger le monde :

« Quand le Fils de l’homme viendra dans sa gloire, escorté de tous les anges, alors il prendra place sur son trône de gloire. »vi

C’est précisément l’affirmation de ce statut unique, celui de pouvoir siéger « à la droite de Dieu », lui donnant une forme de parité divine, qui sera la cause de sa condamnation à mort par le Grand prêtre :

« Le Grand prêtre lui dit : ‘Tu ne réponds rien ? Qu’est-ce que ces gens attestent contre toi ?’ Mais Jésus se taisait. Le Grand prêtre lui dit : ‘Je t’adjure par le Dieu Vivant de nous dire si tu es l’Oint, le Fils de Dieu’. ‘Tu l’as dit, lui dit Jésus. D’ailleurs je vous le déclare : dorénavant, vous verrez le Fils de l’homme siégeant à droite de la Puissance et venant sur les nuées du ciel.’ Alors le Grand prêtre déchira ses vêtements en disant : ‘Il a blasphémé !’ »vii

Cependant, malgré ce statut de quasi-parité avec le rang de Dieu, le Fils de l’homme s’en distingue, par plusieurs traits significatifs, et en particulier par une moindre connaissance, notamment quant aux conditions touchant aux fins dernières du projet divin.

Malgré sa filiation divine, et son élection, malgré sa gloire et son rôle de juge, il est des choses que le Fils ignore, et qui ne sont connues que du Père :

« Quant à la date de ce jour, et à l’heure, personne ne les connaît, ni les anges des cieux, ni le Fils, personne que le Père, seul. »viii

Si l’on s’en tient à une interprétation anthropologique, l’expression de ‘Fils de l’homme’ connote donc à la fois une certaine humilité de la condition humaine par rapport à Dieu, mais aussi, une capacité virtuelle à s’élever à un rang supérieur à celui de tous les anges, lui donnant de pouvoir siéger à la droite de Dieu, en tant que « juge » du monde.

Si l’on rassemble toutes ces indications éparses, et qu’on les lie en une sorte de faisceau, on est amené à faire l’hypothèse que ce personnage mystérieux, qui côtoie Dieu depuis toujours, dès avant même que toutes choses fussent, et qui est nommé « la Sagesse » (ha-okhmah) ou encore le « Fils de l’homme » (Ben-Adam), n’est pas une créature établie dans une relation duelle avec Dieu, comme le sont les parèdres divins des religions anciennes dites « païennes ».

L’idée monothéiste (qui reste un paradigme fondamental dont on ne souhaite pas s’écarter, du fait de son importance et de son universalité anthropologique) impose de penser l’essence du divin dans son unité. Il faut donc faire l’hypothèse que ce personnage, Ben-Adam, n’est pas une sorte de double ou de parèdre divin, mais qu’il pourrait cependant en représenter une hypostase, compatible avec l’unité divine.

Qu’on nomme cette hypostase « Sagesse » ou « Intelligence » est non seulement possible du point de vue de la théologie juive, mais ces noms/attributs divins sont effectivement avérés et employés dans plusieurs textes canoniques juifs.

Les textes du Livre d’Hénoch vont cependant plus loin puisqu’ils proposent d’identifier ces hypostases à une entité dite « Autre », « Élue », bien vivante, capable de régner en gloire, et de juger le monde.

Les textes d’Hénoch vont même, et c’est là que les choses deviennent particulièrement intéressantes, à qualifier cette entité du nom de « Fils de l’Homme », établissant ainsi un lien formel de rapprochement (dans la Gloire) entre Dieu et un « homme », il est vrai assez spécial, unique, et appelé « Fils de l’homme ».

Parfaitement fidèle à son idée monothéiste originelle, la théologie juive ne reconnaît d’aucune manière la validité d’un des concepts centraux de la théologie chrétienne, à savoir celui de « trinité ».

Pourtant le christianisme est aussi un monothéisme, et certainement pas un « tri-théisme ».

La trinité chrétienne se comprend comme la trinité de trois hypostases dans l’unité divine.

Il n’y a pas a priori de contradiction formelle entre l’idée juive des trois hypostases de la « Puissance », de la « Sagesse » et de l’ « Intelligence » à laquelle fait allusion Jérémie, et l’idée chrétienne des trois hypostases du « Père », du « Fils » et de l’« Esprit ».

Le fait que certains textes canoniques du judaïsme n’hésitent pas à évoquer symboliquement les relations duelles, trinitaires ou même quaternaires, que le divin entretient avec lui-même est d’une grande importance anthropologique, par rapport à l’enquête que nous avons amorcée sur le rôle du Mal dans le monde, et aussi sur l’idée d’un Dieu, à la fois « inconscient » et « conscient ».

Autrement dit, le Fils de l’homme, Ben-Adam, pourrait fort bien représenter une hypostase de la « conscience » (ou de la « Sagesse ») de Dieu.

Mais l’existence même de cette hypostase, la figure même de ce Ben-Adam, implique précisément l’existence, en Dieu, de son « inconscient », c’est-à-dire de tout ce qui échappe à la « conscience » ou à la « Sagesse » incarnées par le « Fils de l’homme ».

J’approfondirai cette problématique dans d’autres articles à venir.

____________

iIs 45,7

iiPs 110, 1

iiiLe Livre d’Hénoch (ou 1 Hénoch). Ch. 46, 1-4

ivLe Livre d’Hénoch (ou 1 Hénoch). Ch. 54, 5

vMt 24, 30

viMt 25,31

viiMt 26, 62-65

viiiMt 24, 36

L’inconscient de Dieu


« Job » Léon Bonnat

Pour une conscience critique qui réfléchit sur la présence du mal dans le monde, il est impossible de croire que Dieu puisse s’identifier au Summum Bonum, le ‘Souverain Bien’, auquel la philosophie chrétienne l’associe naturellement, comme allant de soi.

Une première indication de l’ambivalence de Dieu quant aux notions de ‘bien’ et de ‘mal’, peut être trouvée dans la Bible hébraïque, où Dieu lui-même déclare qu’il « crée le mal ».

« Je forme la lumière, et je crée les ténèbres: je fais la paix et je crée le mal: Moi, l’Éternel, je fais toutes ces choses »i.

Dans l’hébreu d’Isaïe : עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע, « Je fais la paix (‘ossé chalom) et je crée (boré’) le mal (ra‘). »

Le verbe bara’ employé ici est aussi celui utilisé au premier verset de la Genèse pour dire qu’« au commencement, Dieu créa la terre et les cieux » (Berechit bara’ Elohim…).

Mais dans le texte d’Isaïe, le verbe bara’ est conjugué à l’inaccompli (boré’). Ceci implique que Dieu ne cesse pas de créer le mal dans le temps présent, et qu’il continuera de le faire dans le futur…

J’ai souvent remarqué qu’il était pratiquement impossible de traiter sérieusement de cette question épineuse avec des théologiens chrétiens. Par exemple, pour se défausser de la question sans entrer en matière, ils dévaluent d’emblée l’autorité du prophète. L’« Isaïe », auteur du chapitre 45, ne serait en réalité qu’un « deutéro-Isaïe », qui aurait subi les influences (dualistes, manichéistes et païennes) des croyances religieuses de l’Assyrie, pendant l’Exil à Babylone…

Tour de passe-passe, qui évite d’affronter directement cette parole de l’Éternel, trop à rebours des conventions figées.

En revanche, il est stimulant de s’appuyer sur les travaux pionniers de C.G. Jung à cet égard, tels que relatés dans son livre séminal Réponse à Job, dont voici la synthèse qu’il en propose:

« Clément de Rome professait que Dieu régentait le monde avec une main droite et une main gauche. La main droite signifiait le Christ et la gauche Satan. La conception de Clément est manifestement monothéiste puisqu’il réunit les principes opposés dans un Dieu. Plus tard, toutefois, le christianisme devint dualiste dans la mesure où la part des éléments opposés, personnifiée par Satan, se trouve dissociée et où Satan se trouve banni dans un état d’éternelle malédiction. Le voilà, le problème central. Il est d’une signification essentielle et il est à l’origine de la doctrine chrétienne du salut. Si le christianisme a la prétention d’être une religion monothéiste, il ne peut se passer de l’hypothèse que les contraires sont unifiés dans un Dieu. »

Les ressources de la psychologie des profondeurs, mais aussi de la simple raison, peuvent être mobilisées pour explorer (heuristiquement) la question du Mal dans le projet divin.

Mais il est aussi fort utile de faire appel aux diverses sources juives et chrétiennes qui en traitent, comme le Livre de Job, le Livre d’Hénoch (et les livres de l’Apocalyptique juive), certains Prophètes, et les Évangiles.

En bonne logique, un Dieu qui est ‘créateur du monde’, et qui est aussi ‘omniscient’ et ‘omnipotent’, a en conséquence une indéniable responsabilité quant à la présence du Mal dans ce monde qu’il est censé avoir créé en toute connaissance de cause.

Son omniscience (supposée) aurait dû l’informer par avance du rôle particulièrement néfaste du Mal dans l’économie de sa création, et dans le risque encouru par les créatures de tomber en son pouvoir.

Par ailleurs, l’omnipotence (supposée) de Dieu aurait pu (aurait dû?) lui permettre d’éradiquer a priori toute future présence du Mal dans le monde, et cela dès avant même la création. S’il l’avait réellement voulu, Dieu aurait pu créer un monde vide de tout Mal, à jamais. Mais il ne l’a pas voulu. Pourquoi ?

De plus pourquoi révèle-t-il à Isaïe qu’il «crée le mal », de façon continuelle ?

Ces questions sont d’autant plus flagrantes si l’on prend en compte l’étiquette de « Dieu bon » et de Père « aimant » dont il est qualifié, dans certains textes de la Bible hébraïque ainsi que dans les Évangiles.

Comment un Dieu ‘suprêmement bon’ a-t-il pu laisser volontairement le Mal entrer dans sa création pour s’y développer tout à loisir, sans être immédiatement éradiqué par la (bonne) puissance divine?

Il faut choisir. Dieu ne peut pas, logiquement, être à la fois « bon », « omniscient », « omnipotent » et « créateur du mal ». Ces attributs, pris ensemble, sont en forte contradiction intrinsèque.

Comment un Dieu ‘bon’ et ‘omniscient’, capable de prévoir le rôle pervers du Mal, a-t-il pu le laisser advenir ?

Comment un Dieu ‘bon’ et ‘omnipotent’ a-t-il pu laisser le Mal prendre sa part parmi les causes actives dans le monde ?

Soit il faut lever la contradiction ‘logique’, soit il faut renoncer à la raison elle-même.

Des solutions au dilemme ont pu être proposées au cours des millénaires, comme celle du dualisme et du manichéisme, qui différencient le Dieu « bon » et le Dieu « mauvais ».

Mais c’est une solution de facilité, qui par ailleurs est incompatible avec le paradigme du monothéisme, celui du Dieu « un ».

La seule possibilité qui reste, est d’envisager l’idée d’un Dieu « un », qui conjoigne en Lui-même les opposés. En Lui-même, c’est-à-dire dans son propre Inconscient.

Mais alors, comment un tel Dieu peut-il exiger des croyants (du moins de ceux qui n’ont pas, quant à eux, ses capacités de synthèse et de conjonction des opposés) qu’ils le « craignent » (comme un Dieu qui châtie, et qui peut laisser le Mal se répandre sur le monde) et qu’ils l’« aiment » aussi (comme un Dieu qui sauve, et qui fait vivre) ?

La crainte que le Dieu biblique est censé inspirer au croyant est un élément supplémentaire d’incompréhension pour la conscience critique. Pourquoi devrait-on craindre le Dieu suprêmement bon, le Dieu du Summum Bonum?

La théorie du Messie salvateur, et tout particulièrement la théorie de l’ ‘Oint’, du ‘Christ’ qui se sacrifie pour sauver l’humanité pécheresse est également difficile à comprendre, dans la perspective de la conscience critique.

Comment un Dieu ‘suprêmement bon’ peut-Il envoyer Son propre ‘Fils’ (unique) sur la terre afin que son ‘sacrifice’ sauve l’humanité du Mal que le Dieu ‘bon’ a par ailleurs sciemment laissé prospérer sur terre ?

Comment un Dieu ‘bon’ et ‘juste’ peut-il envoyer son Fils bien-aimé au sacrifice, pour qu’il sauve l’humanité de Sa propre colère, et du châtiment qu’Il entend infliger de ce fait aux hommes? Comment peut-il (logiquement) sacrifier son propre Fils pour calmer sa propre fureur?

En bonne logique, un Dieu ‘bon’, ‘juste’ et ‘omnipotent’ n’avait pas besoin de sacrifier un innocent de plus, son ‘Fils’, pour empêcher l’humanité d’être punie par Lui-même…

Il aurait pu se contenter d’éradiquer le Mal de par sa Toute-Puissance, ou bien d’effacer unilatéralement les fautes de l’humanité, sans avoir à passer par le sacrifice de son Fils.

Le seul fait que la conscience critique puisse poser ces questions, sans pouvoir obtenir de réponses claires, univoques, est révélateur de la profondeur du mystère. On n’évacuera pas la question par des arguments d’autorité. La conscience critique ne peut se satisfaire non plus des oukases théologiques.

La question n’est en réalité ni théologique, ni philosophique. Elle est d’ordre anthropologique et psychologique.

Tout d’abord, soulignons que le paradigme du sacrifice divin est une constante anthropologique (Prajāpati en Inde, Inanna à Sumer, Osiris en Égypte, Dyonisos en Grèce, Jésus en Israël).

Ensuite, il faut accepter de prendre conscience que les injonctions religieuses (aimer et louer un Dieu « biblique », capable de crises de rage, d’injustices patentes, et d’infidélité par rapport aux promesses faites) sont des injonctions contradictoires.

Comment une conscience critique peut-elle ‘comprendre’ ce Dieu se montrant essentiellement et logiquement contradictoire?

A ces questions, Jung donne une réponse simple : Dieu est en partie « inconscient » de qui Il estii. C’est le manque indubitable de « réflexion » dans la « conscience de Dieu » qui seul peut (logiquement) expliquer ses conduites inexplicables (au regard de la conscience humaine, décidée à opter pour la posture critique).

La conséquence de cette inconscience partielle, c’est que Dieu ne peut que subir une « défaite morale », lorsqu’il est confronté à la conscience critique, aiguisée, de ses créatures, révoltées par l’injustice de leur sort. L’exemple paradigmatique est Job.

Cette « défaite morale » de Dieu par rapport à sa créature entraîne deux autres conséquences.

D’une part, l’homme se trouve du coup moralement élevé, de façon tout-à-fait inattendue, à un autre niveau de conscience. Du simple fait d’avoir désormais conscience de devoir être confronté à un Dieu inconsciemment immoral, Job ou toute autre conscience critique, peut en bonne justice le prendre à partie, et le pousser dans ses retranchements.

D’autre part, la ‘défaite morale’ de Dieu provoque à l’échelle de l’humanité un chaos, un bouleversement profond de l’inconscient (collectif et individuel).

Le nouveau statut ‘moral’ de l’homme pénètre l’abîme de l’inconscient, mais c’est pour y occuper le ‘vide’ laissé par l’absence (inconsciente) de Dieu. L’homme a désormais pour lui-même, inconsciemment, davantage de ‘valeur morale’ dans son propre inconscient, qu’il n’en a consciemment, à travers l’image consciente qu’il continue d’avoir de lui-même.

L’inconscient valorise (inconsciemment) un homme ‘grandi’ moralement par rapport à l’image consciente, dévalorisée, que l’homme a de lui-même.

Dans ces circonstances, les autres potentialités de l’inconscient ne demandent qu’à se faire davantage connaître de la conscience, sous forme de rêves, de visions, de révélations, de prophéties.

Dans la première moitié du 6ème siècle, le prophète Ézéchiel reçut des visions. Jung les interprète comme des symptômes de la fracture entre la conscience et l’inconscient. Elles montrent ce qu’Ézéchiel avait saisi des contenus essentiels de l’inconscient collectif de cette époque.

Et leur contenu le plus essentiel était la ‘défaite morale’ de YHVH devant l’homme moralement grandi, préparant un autre événement ultérieur, six siècles plus tard, plus décisif encore, celui de l’incarnation du divin dans le ‘Fils de l’homme’.

A la même époque que celle d’Ézéchiel, Siddhārtha Gautama (né en 562 av. J.-C.), appelé l’« Éveillé » ou le « Bouddha », fit connaître pour sa part les possibilités infinies de la conscience, capable de dépasser le brahman même, et d’atteindre le parabrahman, c’est-à-dire le brahman absolu ou suprême…

Le brahman est le nom du sva (le Soi), qui est l’origine du Tout. Un autre de ses noms, dans le védisme, est Prajāpati, le Seigneur de la Création. Dans l’hindouisme , le brahman est la conscience cosmique présente en toute chose, ou encore le Soi immanent en tout être (ātman), ou encore l’Absolu à la fois transcendant et immanent, le principe ultime qui est sans commencement ni fin. Et au-dessus du brahman, on évoque un brahman plus élevé encore, le parabrahman,

La course de la conscience semble sans fin.

Ézéchiel ne va pas si loin. Mais il a saisi qu’en un sens YHVH s’était rapproché de l’homme, comme en témoignent les symboles de ses visions.

Il est aussi significatif qu’Ézéchiel emploie pour la première fois l’expression ‘Fils de l’Homme’ ( בֶּן-אָדָם , Ben-Adam), qui est l’expression dont YHVH se sert à de nombreuses reprises pour désigner le prophèteiii. Ce sera le seul prophète ainsi nommé par YHVH dans le canon juif, à l’exception de Daniel appelé aussi ‘Fils de l’Homme’ par l’ange Gabrieliv.

Plus tard, Jésus reprendra à son tour l’expression à de nombreuses reprisesv, mais innovera en l’utilisant pour se désigner lui-même et pour en faire un titre messianique.

« Nul n’est monté au ciel, hormis celui qui est descendu du ciel, le Fils de l’homme. Comme Moïse éleva le serpent dans le désert, ainsi faut-il que soit élevé le Fils de l’homme, afin que quiconque croit ait par lui la vie éternelle. Car Dieu a tant aimé le monde qu’il a donné son Fils unique, afin que quiconque croit en lui ne se perde pas, mais ait la vie éternelle. Car Dieu n’a pas envoyé son Fils dans le monde pour juger le monde, mais pour que le monde soit sauvé par lui. »vi

On voit ici surtout que Jésus établit formellement, pour la première fois, l’identité (pour le coup fort paradoxale, et même apparemment para-logique) du « Fils de l’homme » et du « Fils unique » (de Dieu)vii.

Plus tard, l’un de ses disciples, Étienne, s’exclamera lors de sa lapidation et de son agonie, en présence de Saul (le futur Paul), complice de ses tortionnaires :

« Ah ! Dit-il, je vois les cieux ouverts et le Fils de l’homme debout à la droite de Dieu. »viii

Il importe ici de noter que cette image du ‘Fils de l’homme’, assis ou debout ‘à la droite de Dieu’, que l’on retrouve aussi dans le livre de l’Apocalypseix, n’était absolument pas une innovation « chrétienne », car elle était déjà employée depuis plusieurs siècles dans les textes apocalyptiques juifs, et tout particulièrement dans les trois livres d’Hénoch.

Je traiterai de ce point dans le prochain article L’inconscient de Dieu, 2.

_____________

iIs 45,7

ii« The undoubted lack of reflection in God’s consciousness is sufficient to explain his peculiar behaviour. » C.G. Jung. Answer to Job. Ed. Routledge, 1954, p.73

iiiPar exemple : Ez 2,1 ; 3,1 ; 3,4 ; 3,10 ; 3,17 ; 3,25 ; 7,2

ivL’Ange Gabriel lui dit : « Fils d’homme, comprends : c’est le temps de la Fin que révèle la vision. » Dn 8,17

v «Les renards ont des tanières, et les oiseaux du ciel ont des nids ; le Fils de l’homme, lui, n’a pas où reposer la tête. » (Mt 8,20) « Jean vient en effet, ne mangeant ni ne buvant, et l’on dit : ‘Il est possédé !’ Vient le Fils de l’homme, mangeant et buvant, et l’on dit : ‘Voilà un glouton et un ivrogne, un ami des publicains et des pécheurs !’ Et justice a été rendue à la sagesse par ses œuvres. » (Mt 11,18-19)  « C’est ainsi que le Fils de l’homme n’est pas venu pour être servi, mais pour servir et donner sa vie en rançon pour une multitude. » (Mt 20,28) « Élie est déjà venu, et ils ne l’ont pas reconnu, mais l’ont traité à leur guise. De même le Fils de l’homme aura lui aussi à souffrir d’eux. » (Mt 17,12) « Le Fils de l’homme va être livré aux mains des hommes, et ils le tueront, et, le troisième jour, il ressuscitera. » (Mt 17,22)

viJn 3, 16-17

viiL’expression ‘Fils de l’homme’ peut aussi être rapprochée de l’expression ‘Mon Fils’ (employée par Dieu) lors de la Transfiguration : « Voici qu’une voix disait de la nuée : ‘Celui-ci est mon Fils bien-aimé, qui a toute ma faveur, écoutez-le’. » (Mt 17, 5) Et quatre versets plus loin : « Comme ils descendaient de la montagne, Jésus leur donna cet ordre : ‘Ne parlez à personne de cette vision, avant que le Fils de l’homme ne ressuscite d’entre les morts. » (Mt 17, 9)

viiiAc 7,56

ix« Je vis sept candélabres, at au milieu des candélabres, comme un Fils d’homme, revêtu d’une longue robe serrée à la taille par une ceinture en or. Sa tête, avec ses cheveux blancs, est comme de la laine blanche, comme de la neige, ses yeux comme une flamme ardente » Ap 1,13-14

La conscience, la sève et l’amandier


« L’amandier » Van Gogh (1890)

Dans un article précédent, Phénoménologie et conscience, j’ai essayé de montrer que Husserl n’avait fait que commencer d’explorer les premiers niveaux des états possibles de la conscience.

Il en est beaucoup d’autres, en réalité. Mais l’approche progressive du philosophe n’en enlève pas le prix. En un sens, il débroussaille et simplifie, ce qui est nécessaire quand on s’attaque à des problèmes immensément complexes.

Certaines structures alors apparaissent, à partir desquelles on peut commencer à faire croître la réflexion.

Ainsi Husserl distingue dans le moi un « moi sous-jacent » et un « moi réfléchissant », impliquant par là la possibilité d’une « scission du moi »i. Le « moi réfléchissant » est « le spectateur de moi-même », et aussi le spectateur du « moi sous-jacent » dit encore Husserl.

Ce faisant, il se met en mesure d’explorer le « royaume » des « mères de la connaissance »ii, où germent toutes les croyances, où jaillissent les innombrables sources d’inspiration, où naissent les intuitions, les paradigmes et les archétypes.

Il ne faut donc pas prendre la « réduction » du phénoménologue au sens propre, mais plutôt en un sens figuré, qui signifierait d’ailleurs, de façon amusante, exactement le contraire d’une réduction, et irait plutôt dans le sens d’une augmentation considérable de la conscience, et de la portée de sa réflexion.

« La réduction phénoménologique ne consiste pas à limiter le jugement à un fragment prélevé sur la totalité de l’être réel »iii dit Husserl. Elle n’a pas d’objet spécifique. Il faut se la représenter plutôt comme un « champ ».

« Réduire » (transcendantalement) la conscience c’est en effet revenir au champ entier de l’expérience « pure », champ dans et avec lequel tous les objets, tous les éléments de la nature observée sont corrélés (ou « intriqués », comme on le dirait dans le contexte de la théorie quantique).

Et Husserl fait ce saut : le champ d’expérience « pure » de la conscience est aussi « le tout de l’être absolu »iv.

Saut de la conscience « pure » vers l’illimité. Le total. L’universel. Et peut-être même l’Un ?

Peut-on réellement poser, comme le fait Husserl, l’identité du « champ de l’expérience pure » et du « tout de l’être absolu » ?

Peut-on reconnaître que le moi transcendantalement « réduit » est identique au Soi (absolu, et infiniment totalisé)?

Dans notre époque matérialiste, positiviste, cynique, déterministe, peut-on encore succomber à la tentation idéaliste que la phénoménologie husserlienne propose ?

Peut-on encore, un siècle après Husserl, se mettre dans la posture (implicite, cryptique ou consciemment assumée) d’un « recueillement » dans la « pureté » de l’expérience?

Peut-on encore aujourd’hui plonger dans le mouvement d’une sortie de la conscience hors d’elle-même, s’immerger dans la mouvance de sa propre désaliénation ?

A l’époque des dangers mondiaux, peut-on encore vivre d’une vie ultra-consciente (et ultra-personnelle), peut-on vivre d’une vie qui revient sans fin sur elle-même, à la recherche de son fondement perdu, dans un mouvement toujours recommencé de sortie hors du moi, et hors du soi ?

Que signifient aujourd’hui, dans une planète plus étriquée qu’intriquée, les métaphores anciennes de l’Exil, et de l’Exode ?

Un exil hors du soi, par le moyen d’un retour au soi ?

L’image des migrants de la mondialisation ne réduit-elle pas la réduction transcendantale à l’état de chimère quiétiste, indifférente à tous les malheurs du monde ?

La réduction (transcendantale), la suspension (de la croyance), la mise entre parenthèses des pseudo-certitudes de l’expérience, sont aujourd’hui absolument essentielles aux esprits qui veulent aller réellement de l’avant.

Je veux ici affirmer qu’est toujours d’actualité l’inactualité du rêve husserlien.

La réduction, pour s’augmenter.

La suspension, pour l’élan, et le saut.

La mise entre parenthèses, pour le lâcher-prise, et le bond suivant l’abandon.

Le « moi réfléchissant » n’est pas un « moi » en position de dédoublement, de dissociation, de détachement d’avec le « moi sous-jacent » et ses croyances.

Le « moi réfléchissant » est le « moi » qui ramasse son énergie et qui bondit. C’est le « moi » qui profondément inspire et s’immerge, plonge, s’absorbe dans l’abîme de la vie même, qui se fond dans la source vive de la conscience.

Que vive alors vraiment la conscience qui veille et qu’elle s’éveille de son éveil même!

Un prophète, Jérémie, jadis nous légua une image de la veille et de l’éveil.

« La parole de YHVH me fut adressée en ces termes : ‘Que vois-tu, Jérémie ?’ Je répondis : ‘Je vois une branche de ‘veilleur‘ ‘. Alors YHVH me dit : ‘Tu as bien vu, car je veille sur ma parole, pour l’accomplir’. »v

Il y a là en hébreu, un jeu de mots intraduisible. Le ‘veilleur’ (שָׁקֵד, shaqed) désigne l’amandier, qui ‘guette’ le printemps pour fleurir le premier. Métaphoriquement, il évoque aussi le Veilleur, le Vigilant (שׁוֹקֵד, shôqed), c’est-à-dire le Dieu toujours en éveil.

Comme un amandier en hiver, la conscience veille à la venue d’un printemps pressenti, qui la couvrira de fleurs, et elle conjecture peut-être aussi l’été qui la fera fructifier.

La conscience demeure vigilante, elle veille sans cesse à l’arrivée de ce qui est manifestement absent. Elle veille sur l’absence apparente de toute sur-nature dans la conscience naturelle, et dans l’expérience du monde.

Elle attend, dans cette veille, l’occasion de « s’élever au-dessus »vi de son propre être, « au-dessus » de son être de nature, au-dessus du monde des choses.

Il ne s’agit surtout pas pour elle de fuir l’expérience de vie dans laquelle elle est enfouie, mais de savoir la savourer dans toute son amplitude, pour la pressentir dans toutes ses potentialités.

Il s’agit d’en apercevoir l’infinie puissance, laquelle ne se donne jamais comme une évidence.

Les branches (apparemment) sèches de l’amandier l’hiver savent-elles la sève monter ?

Pressentent-elles le suc et le lait de l’amande fraîche ?

La conscience et l’amandier veillent. Celui-ci attend le printemps et la promesse des fleurs. Celle-là attend sa floraison (son élévation) et sa fructification (sa métamorphose).

La conscience fut une fois comme un fœtus blotti dans son amnios. Puis elle a commencé à vivre comme un « enfant du monde »vii, depuis le temps de sa naissance primordiale. Elle a longtemps veillé sans vraiment en avoir conscience. Elle veille maintenant sur la venue présomptive de quelque nouvelle plénitude.

Que sent-elle venir, en elle ou hors d’elle ?

C’est l’enjeu de la phénoménologie, et d’une philosophie future de la métanoïa.

Le phénoménologue, tel l’amandier en hiver, « suspend » la montée de la sève pour mieux la sentir monter. La « réduction » signifie l’attente de la sève.

Soyons ici un instant technique, pour mieux filer ensuite la métaphore de la sève à son terme, vers sa lumière.

Il y a deux sortes de sèves, la sève brute, qui monte, et la sève élaborée, qui descend.

La sève brute est une solution composée d’eau et de sels minéraux. Cette solution est absorbée au niveau des racines par les radicelles. Elle circule principalement dans le xylème, c’est-à-dire les vaisseaux du bois. Par le xylème, la plante faire monter la sève dans ses parties aériennes. Elle utilise pour ce faire deux mécanismes différents, un effet aspirant et la pression racinaire.

L’effet aspirant est provoqué par les pertes d’eau (par transpiration et évaporation) au niveau des feuilles, ce qui entraîne une diminution de la pression. La baisse de pression attire alors l’eau du xylème vers le haut de la plante.

La pression racinaire a lieu surtout la nuit. L’accumulation des sels minéraux dans la stèleviii de la racine provoque la venue de l’eau, une augmentation de la pression hydrique et l’ascension du liquide dans le xylème.

La sève élaborée est composée de la saccharose produite par la photosynthèse au niveau des feuilles. Elle doit « descendre » des feuilles pour être distribuée dans les divers organes de la plante. Pour ce faire, elle emprunte un autre tissu conducteur, le phloème. La sève élaborée descend dans le phloème, à contre-courant de la sève brute, qui monte en parallèle dans le xylème. Cette double circulation permet aussi aux molécules d’eau de passer du xylème vers le phloème.ix

Un mot maintenant sur la photosynthèse.

Les organismes qui utilisent la photosynthèse absorbent les photons lumineux dans des structures appelées « antennes ». Leur énergie excitent des électrons et provoquent leur migration sous forme d’excitons dont l’énergie sera ensuite convertie en énergie exploitable chimiquement. Ces « antennes » varient selon les organismes. Les bactéries utilisent des antennes en forme d’anneau, tandis que les plantes se servent des pigments de chlorophylle.

Les études sur l’absorption des photons et le transfert d’électrons montrent une efficacité supérieure à 99 %, qui ne peut être expliquée par les modèles mécaniques classiques. On a donc théorisé que la cohérence quantique pouvait contribuer à l’efficacité exceptionnelle de la photosynthèse.

Les recherches récentes sur la dynamique du transport suggèrent que les interactions entre les modes d’excitation électronique et vibratoire nécessitent une explication à la fois classique et quantique du transfert de l’énergie d’excitation. En d’autres termes, alors que la cohérence quantique domine initialement (et brièvement) le processus de transfert des excitons, une description classique est plus appropriée pour décrire leur comportement à long terme. Un autre processus de la photosynthèse qui a une efficacité de presque 100% est le transfert de charge, ce qui peut aussi justifier l’hypothèse que des phénomènes de mécanique quantique sont en jeux.

Reprenons le fil de la métaphore.

L’énergie de la lumière est captée par des « antennes » puis elle est convertie en diverses étapes en une énergie chimique, qui permet la synthèse des glucides, éléments actifs de la sève « élaborée » et « descendante » nécessaire à la plante.

Mais la sève descendante prélève aussi une partie de l’eau et des sels minéraux liée à la sève montante, pour nourrir la plante et la faire croître. Les deux sèves collaborent…

L’amandier (le « veilleur ») est une sorte d’antenne arborescente, qui reçoit les signaux du ciel et de la terre, l’énergie de la lumière et de l’eau. En hiver, il guette la venue du printemps. Dès qu’il en perçoit le signe patent, il est le premier parmi tous les arbres à en proclamer la venue. Il excite toute la puissance de sa sève. Il bourgeonne, et se couvre de fleurs.

En février 1890, son parfum a rempli l’âme de Van Gogh ; il a excité sa sève créatrice, pendant son séjour à Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

Aujourd’hui encore, ce parfum oublié remplit notre regard.

Il est maintenant temps de se mettre à marcher, du côté des Alpilles, et de respirer.

__________

iE. Husserl. Philosophie première, t.II, Traduction de l’allemand par Arion Kelkel, PUF, 1972, p.136

iiE. Husserl. La Crise des sciences européennes et la phénoménologie transcendantale. Gallimard, 1976, p.174

iiiE. Husserl, Idées directrices pour une phénoménologie et une philosophie phénoménologique pures, Gallimard, 1950, p.168, § 51

ivE. Husserl, Idées directrices pour une phénoménologie et une philosophie phénoménologique pures, Gallimard, 1950, p.168, § 51

vJr 1, 11-12

viE. Husserl. La Crise des sciences européennes et la phénoménologie transcendantale. Gallimard, 1976, p.172

viiE. Husserl. Philosophie première, t.II, Traduction de l’allemand par Arion Kelkel, PUF, 1972, p.173

viii La stèle est le cœur de la racine, et est aussi nommée cylindre vasculaire

ix http://www.colvir.net/prof/chantal.proulx/BCB/circ-vegetaux.html#c-transport-de-la-sve-brute-

xAdriana Marais, Betony Adams, Andrew K. Ringsmuth et Marco Ferretti, « The future of quantum biology », Journal of the Royal Society, Interface, vol. 15, no 148,‎ 11 14, 2018.

Kinds of Prophets


« Isaiah » – Michelangelo

Prophets can be grouped into three categories, admittedly. There are those who see with their eyes, such as Abraham who saw three men under the oak tree of Mamre. There are those who see by the spirit, like Isaiah. And there are those who see neither with the eyes nor with images or figures, but with pure intuition of the spirit (intuitio). Thus Daniel intuitively contemplated, by the sole force of his intellect, what Baltassar had seen in his dream, and was able to interpret it. ii

Maimonides reduces these three groups to one, and draws a general lesson from it. « Know that the three verbs raâ, hibbît and ‘hazà apply to the sight of the eye; but all three are used metaphorically for the perception of intelligence. (…) It is in this metaphorical sense that the verb raa must be taken whenever it is applied to God, as for example in the following passages: ‘I saw the LORD’ (1 Kings 22:19); ‘and the LORD showed himself to him’ (Gen. (Gen. 18:1); ‘And God saw that it was good’ (Gen. 1, passim); ‘Let me see your glory’ (Ex. 33:18); ‘And they saw the God of Israel’ (Ex. 24:10). This is everywhere an intellectual perception, not the sight of the eye.» iii

According to Maimonides, all « visions » must be understood as operations of intelligence.

But this rationalist approach does not account for all cases of observed « prophecies ».

Other commentators offer a more detailed analysis, such as Isidore of Sevilleiv, who distinguish seven kinds of prophecies.

The first is ecstasy (ekstasis). It is a temporary passage of the mind into an afterlife. Thus the ecstasy of Peter. « He saw the sky open, and an object like a great tablecloth tied at the four corners, descending and lowering itself to the earth, where all the quadrupeds and the reptiles of the earth and the birds of the sky were.» v

This ecstasy consists of three moments: an exit out of the body, the sight of an (extraordinary) phenomenon in the heights, followed by a descent, a lowering and a return to earth.

The second is vision (visio). Isaiah tells: « In the year of the death of King Uzziah I saw the Lord sitting on a great and high throne. His train filled the sanctuary. Seraphim stood above him, each with six wings, two to cover his feet, two to cover his face, and two to fly. They shouted to one another, « Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, his glory fills the whole earth.» vi

Unlike ecstasy, which is an elevation followed by a descent, the vision stands entirely in the heights. Another difference: ecstasy is precise, detailed. Peter perceives all the animals of the earth and the sky (but not those of the sea). In contrast, Isaiah’s vision is partial, more veiled. He sees the « sanctuary », filled by God’s « train ». The Hebrew text uses the word Hekal, הֵיכָל. The Hekal is the part of the temple that stands before the « Holy of Holies », the Debir, דְּבִיר, – which is the most sacred, most inaccessible place. So Isaiah sees the sanctuary, but not the Holy of Holies, which remains veiled by the « train » (שׁוּלׇ), the bottom of God’s garment. He also sees seraphim, but only partially, since two pairs of their wings cover their faces and feet. Isaiah’s vision is partly incomplete.

Vision is superior to ecstasy in that it « sees » in the heights certain aspects of the divinity, but it also encounters various obstacles, veils that cover other layers of mystery.

The third kind of prophecy mobilizes the dream (somnium). Jacob saw in the dream: « Behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven, and angels of God ascended and descended on it! Behold, Yahweh stood before him and said, ‘I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham, your ancestor and the God of Isaac.» vii

Jacob’s dream combines the ascent and descent, as in ecstasy, and adds a divine vision, in which the Lord calls himself and speaks. He makes a solemn promise and a covenant: « I am with you, I will keep you wherever you go. » viii

All this could impress anyone. But Jacob is a cautious man. He saw Yahweh in a dream, and the LORD spoke to him, and made him mirthful promises. But it was only a dream after all. The next day, when Jacob woke up, he made a vow: « If God is with me and keeps me on the road where I am going, if he gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, if I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God. » ix

The dream after all is only a dream. Nothing can replace true reality. Jacob waits to see, in order to believe in his dream, the fulfillment of promises: bread, clothes, a safe journey. The vision of the dream is veiled too, from the veil of doubt, the doubt of the dreamer.

The fourth kind of prophecy is not direct either, it is perceived through still other veils: fire, a cloud or a storm.

One reads: « And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. Moses looked, and the bush was ablaze but not consumed. » x

One also reads: « I will come to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the people will hear when I speak with you and believe in you forever. » xi

Or: « And the LORD answered Job out of the midst of the storm, and said… » xii

Here again, the vision is somehow mixed, confused. The vision is made against the background of a phenomenon of nature with which it hybridizes.

The fifth kind of prophecy is not a vision but a voice, – coming from heaven. « The angel of Yahweh called it from heaven and said, ‘Abraham! He answered, ‘Here I am. xiii

Abraham hears the voice of God distinctly, at a particularly dramatic moment: « Do not stretch out your hand against the child! Do no harm to him! I know now that you fear God: you did not deny me your son, your only one. » xiv

If the ear undoubtedly hears, the vision remains earthly. At the sound of God’s voice, Abraham raises his eyes and sees a ram whose horns have been caught in a bush.

A similar phenomenon took place on the road to Damascus, with different effects. « Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? xv

There is the voice but not the image. « His companions on the road had stopped, mute in amazement: they heard the voice, but saw no one. » xvi

Deeper, this voice that we do not see, – this (non-)vision, blind. « Saul rose from the ground, but although his eyes were open, he saw nothing. He was led by the hand back to Damascus. For three days he was blind, eating and drinking nothing. » xvii

The sixth kind of prophecy is purely intellectual. It is the one that happened to Solomon composing his Proverbs.

The seventh kind of prophecy sums them all up. It consists in being fulfilled by the Holy Spirit (repletio). It is common to all prophets, for it is the very condition of their prophecy.

These various kinds of prophecies all have another thing in common, which is that they are always in some way, for one reason or another, veiled.

Maimonides made a comment on this subject, which may help to become aware of the inevitability of the veil. « It is frequently found in the Midrashoth and Haggadoth of the Talmud [this assertion] that among the prophets there are some who saw God behind many veils, others through a few, depending on how close they were to the divinity and on the rank of the prophets, so that [the Doctors of the Law] have said that Moses, our Master, saw God behind a single veil that was shining, that is, transparent, according to this word (Yebamot 49b): « He (Moses) contemplated God [as] through a mirror illuminating the eyes », ispaklaria (=speculare) being [in Latin] the name of the mirror, made of a transparent body, like glass and crystal. » xviii

Maimonides adds that the prophet Isaiahxix said that the sins and vices of man are « veils » that come between man and God. This is why, according to the doctors of the law, « prophetic inspiration is given only to a wise, strong and rich man » (Shabbat 92a).

But, Maimonides also tempers, « the prophet need not necessarily possess all the moral qualities, so that no vice can befall him, since Solomon was a prophet in the witness of Scripture. ‘At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon’ (Kings 3:5), but we know of a moral defect, a passion for a certain thing: the great number of women. » xx

He also points to the negative examples of David, « who shed much blood » (Chron. 28:3), and Elijah, who was prone to anger and fanaticism.

What can be said is that the more the prophet is afflicted with nonconforming moral dispositions, the more the number of veils between him and God increases. But there are also structural limits, inherent in man’s intelligence.

Even to Moses, there remained « a single transparent veil that prevented him from attaining the real knowledge of the divine essence: human intelligence ». xxi

Even Moses still had a veil…

But could any man still live, if stripped of all veils, in the cruellest nudity?

A document was read at the Nuremberg trial, the deposition of the German engineer Graede, an eyewitness to the massacre of several thousand Jews near Dubno in October 1942. « Men, women and children of all ages were undressed before the eyes of the SS, who walked among them with a whip or whip in their hands. They would then place their clothes in the place that was indicated to them, pieces of clothing on one side, shoes on the other. Without shouting or crying, all these naked people grouped themselves into families. After kissing each other and saying goodbye, they waited for the sign of the S.S. who was standing at the edge of the pit, also with a whip in his hand. I stayed about fifteen minutes with one of them, and I did not hear anyone complaining or asking for mercy… I saw a whole family: a man and a woman of about fifty years old, with their children of eight and nine years old, and two tall girls in their twenties. A white-haired woman was holding a one-year-old child in her arms, singing a song to him and tickling him…: the child laughed, the father and mother looked at their child with tears in their eyes. The father of a ten year old child held his hand and spoke softly to him; the child tried not to cry; the father pointed to the sky, stroked his hair; he seemed to be explaining something to him. » xxii

The father pointed to the sky, stroking his child’s hair. He really was explaining something to him.

______________

iMc 9.4

iiDan. 2, 26-28

iiiMoses Maimonides. The Guide of the Lost. Ed. Verdier, 1979, p.35.

ivEtymologies, VII, viii, 33-37

vActs 10,11-12

viIs. 6,1-3

viiGen. 28, 12-13

viiiGen. 28.15

ixGen. 28, 20-21

xEx. 3, 2

xie.g. 19.9

xiiJob 38.1

xiiiGen. 22, 11

xivGen. 22.12

xvActs 9, 4

xviActs 9, 7

xviiActs 9, 8-9

xviiiMoses Maimonides. Treatise on the eight chapters. Verdier, 1979, p. 667.

xixIs. 59.2

xxMoses Maimonides. Treatise on the eight chapters. Verdier, 1979, p.668.

xxiIbid. p.670

xxiiLe Monde, issue of January 3, 1946. Cited in Jules Isaac, Jésus et Israël, Ed. Fasquelle, 1959, reprinted 1987, p.527.

The Original Language


« Gershom Scholem, circa 1970 »

According to Gershom Scholem: « Hebrew is the original language »i. For the sake of a sound debate, one could perhaps argue that Sanskrit, the « perfect » language (according to the Veda), was formed several millennia before Hebrew began to incarnate the word of God. However, such historical and linguistic arguments may have no bearing on the zealots of the « sacred language », the language that God Himself is supposed to have spoken, with His own words, even before the creation of the world.

Where does this supposedly unique status of the Hebrew language come from?

A first explanation can be found in the relationship between the Torah and the name of God. The Torah is, literally, the name of God. Scholem explains: « The Torah is not only made up of the names of God, but forms in its entirety the one great name of God. » In support of this thesis, the opinion of the Kabbalistic cenacle of Gerona is quoted: « The five books of the Torah are the name of the Holy One, blessed be He.» ii

How can this be? Here and there in the Torah, we find various names of God, such as the name Yahveh (YHVH) or the name Ehyeh (« I shall be »). But there are also many other (non divine) names, and many other words, that are perfectly profane in the Torah. The four letters aleph, he, waw and yod (אהוי), which are present in Yahveh (יהוה) and Ehyeh ( אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה) are also the letters that serve in Hebrew as matres lectionis (the « mothers of reading »), and as such, they are spread throughout the text, they structure it, and make it intelligible.

From that consideration, some Kabbalists, such as Abraham Aboulafia, draw the conclusion that the true name of God is neither Yahveh nor Ehyeh. Aboulafia goes so far as to say that the true original name of God is EHWY (אהוי), that is, a name composed of the four fundamental letters, without repetition. « The tetragrammaton of the Torah is thus only an expedient, behind which the true original name is hidden. In each of two four-letter names there are only three of the consonants that make up the original name, the fourth being only a repetition of one of them, namely, he (ה). » iii

It was, without a doubt, a thesis of « unheard-of radicality » to affirm that the name of God does not even appear in the Torah, but only some of his pseudonyms… Moses Cordovero of Safed rose with indignation against this maximalist thesis. Yet a similar idea resurfaces elsewhere, in the Kabbalistic work entitled Temunah. It evokes « the conception of a divine name containing, in a different order these four letters, yod, he, waw, aleph, and which would constitute the true name of God before the creation of the world, for which the usual tetragram was substituted only for the creation of this world.» iv

Not surprisingly, there are many more other ideas on the matter. There is, for example, the idea of the existence of seventy-two divine names formed from the seventy-two consonants contained in each of the three verses of Exodus 14:19-21. « Know that the seventy-two sacred names serve the Merkavah and are united with the essence of the Merkavah. They are like columns of shining light, called in the Bible bne elohim, and all the heavenly host pays homage to them. (…) The divine names are the essence itself, they are the powers of the divinity, and their substance is the substance of the light of life.» v

There are also technical methods « to expand the tetragram, writing the name of each of the consonants that make up the tetragram in full letters so as to obtain four names with numerical values of 45, 52, 63 and 72, respectively ».vi Far from being a simple set of letters and numbers, this is a mechanism that is at the foundation of the worlds. « The Torah is formed in the supreme world, as in this original garment, only from a series of combinations, each of which unites two consonants of the Hebrew alphabet. It is only in the second world that the Torah manifests itself as a series of mystical divine names formed from new combinations of the first elements. It has the same letters, but in a different order than the Torah we know. In the third world the letters appear as angelic beings whose names, or at least their initials, are suggested. It is only in the ultimate world that the Torah becomes visible in the form in which it is transmitted to us.» vii

From all of this, one may be tempted to draw the fundamental idea that Hebrew is indeed the original language, the divine language. « Hence the conventional character of secular languages as opposed to the sacred character of Hebrew. »viii

However, there was the catastrophic episode of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of languages, which spared none of them – including Hebrew! « But to the sacred language itself have since then mingled profane elements, just as profane languages still contain here and there elements or remnants of the sacred language.» ix

One is always happy to learn, when one has a somewhat universalist sensibility, that « remnants » of the sacred still exist, « here and there », in other languages. To lovers of languages and dictionaries then comes the thankless but promising task of discovering these sacred snags, which are perhaps still hidden in Greek or Arabic, Avestic or Sanskrit, or even Fulani, Wolof and Chinese, who knows?

From a perhaps more polemical point of view, one may wonder whether this is not a kind of idolatry of the letter, — an « idolettry » , then, or a « grapho-latry »…

We may need to go up to a higher level of understanding, to see things from a higher perspective. « Wisdom is contained and gathered in letters, in sefirot and in names, all of which are mutually composed from each other.» x

We need to broaden the vision. These tiny sacred traces present in the languages of the world are like living germs. « All languages derive their origin by corruption from the original sacred language, in which the world of names immediately unfolds, and they all relate to it in a mediated way. As every language has its home in the divine name, it can be brought back to this center.» xi

All languages then have a vocation to return to the divine « center ». Every word and every letter contain, perhaps, by extension, a tiny bit of sacredness…

« Each singular letter of the Kabbalah constitutes a world in itself » xii, Gershom Scholem adds in a note that in the Zohar (1:4b) it is said that every new and authentic word that man utters in the Torah stands before God, who embraces it and sets it with seventy mystical crowns. And this word then expands in its own motion to form a new world, a new heaven and a new earth.

Let’s be a little more generous, and give the goyim a chance. When the poet says, for example, « O million golden birds, O future vigor!  » , is there any chance that these inspired words, though not present in the Torah, will one day appear trembling before God, and that God will deign to grant them one or two mystical crowns? I do not know. But maybe so. In the eyes of Aboulafia himself, « the knowledge that can be attained by following the path of the mysticism of language prevails over that which follows the path of the ten sefirot. xiii

So let’s make a wager that all languages have their own « mystical » way, certainly well hidden.

Scholem concludes: « What will be the dignity of a language from which God has withdrawn? This is the question that must be asked by those who still believe that they perceive, in the immanence of the world, the echo of the creative word that has now disappeared. It is a question that, in our time, can only be answered by poets, who do not share the despair of most mystics with regard to language. One thing connects them to the masters of Kabbalah, even though they reject its theological formulation, which is still too explicit: the belief in language thought as an absolute, however dialectically torn, – the belief in the secret that has become audible in language. » xiv

For my part, I believe that no human language is totally deserted of all creative speech, of all sacred flavor. I believe that poets all over the world may hear the disturbing echoes, may perceive infinitesimal vibrations, guess the celestial chords present in their languages.

Whether they are whispered, spoken, dreamed, revealed, words from all origins only approach the mystery. It is already a lot, but it is still very little.

There is much more to be said about silence than about words.

« It is indeed quite striking in view of the sacramental meaning that speech had in a decisive manner in contemporary paganism, that it does not play any role in the Israelite religion, nor especially in its rite. This silence is so complete that it can only be interpreted as intentional silence. The Israelite priest fulfills all his offices entirely without any words, with the exception of the blessing which he must pronounce aloud [Numbers 6:24]. In none of his ceremonial acts is he prescribed a word that he must pronounce. He makes all sacrifices and performs his duties without uttering a single word »xv.

The opposition thus made by Benno Jacob between « Israelite worship » and « paganism » may be be easily contradicted, for that matter. During the Vedic sacrifice of the soma, the high priest also remains absolutely silent throughout the ceremony, while his acolytes chant, sing, or recite the hymns.

It is true, however, that the Veda is certainly not a « pagan » religion, since more than a millennium before Abraham left Ur in Chaldea, Veda was already celebrating the unspeakable unity of the Divine.

______________

iGershom Scholem. The name of God and the Kabbalistic theory of language. Ed. Alia. 2018, p. 100.

iiIbid. p.48

iiiAbraham Aboulafia. Gold ha-Sekel. Ms. Munich Heb. 92 Fol.54 a-b. Quoted in Gershom Scholem. The name of God and the Kabbalistic theory of language. Ed. Alia. 2018, p. 71

ivGershom Scholem. Op. cit. p. 72

vJacob ben Jacob Cohen of Soria (~1260-1270) quoted in op.cit. p.77

viGershom Scholem. Op. cit. p. 88

viiIbid. p.88

viiiIbid. p. 91

ixIbid. p. 91

xNer Elohim. Ms. Munich 10, fol. 164B quoted in op.cit. p. 91

xiIbid. p. 106

xiiSefer ha-Melits. Ms. Munich 285, fol. 10a

xiiiGershom Scholem. Op. cit. p.109

xivIbid. p.115

xvBenno Jacob. In the Name of God. Eine sprachliche und religiongeschichtliche Untersuchung zum Alten und Neuen Testament. Berlin, 1903, p. 64. Quoted in G. Scholem, op.cit. p. 19-20.

Memory and Manhood


« Kouros d’Anavyssos – (vers -530) »

Some words are like solitary gems, waiting to be re-discovered, in order to reveal some strange resonances. They sometimes indicate constants of the human nature, which travel through passed millennia, vanished empires, linguistic basins, linking together distant cultures and old civilizations.

For example, in English, the words: « medecine, meditate, mediation, moderate, modest, mode », all actually originate from the same Indo-European root MED-, in Sanskrit : मद्. It is a very rich root, which is also reflected in Latin (medicus, meditor, modus) and Greek ( μἠδομαι, medomai: ‘to meditate, think, imagine’ ; μῆδος, mêdos: ‘thought, design’).

What is more surprising is that in its plural form, this latter word reveals a latent, but significant ambiguity. The plural of μῆδος is μἡδεα, médéa, which means « thoughts » but may also mean « human genitals », establishing thereby an unexpected link between two different aspects of human experience.

There is something even more surprising! The ambivalence between « thought » and « genitals » embedded in this Greek word is found almost identically in Arabic and Hebrew, even though these two semitic languages do not belong to the same linguistic and cultural Indo-European sphere as Greek. How can this happen ? Pure coincidence ? Or symptom of a deeper constant of the human mind ?

The primary meaning of the Arabic verb ذَكَرَ , dzakara, is : « to touch, hit or hurt someone in the virile member », and its secondary meanings are : « to remember, to tell », and « to pray, to say one’s prayers ». We also find a similar ambivalence in the nouns that derive from it. For example, ذِكْرً , dzikr, means « reminiscence, remembrance, recollection » and also « invocation, prayer, reading the Koran ». The same root with different vowels,ذَكَرً , dzakar, means « male », and its plural ذُكُورً, dzoukour, is the « male organ ».

In Hebrew, the verb זָכַר, zakhar, means « to think, to remember, to mention », but also, in a derived sense, « to be born male ». The name of the prophet Zechariah takes his name from this verbal root, and means : « The one God remembers ». The noun זַכֶר , zakher, means « remembrance, name » and זָכָר, zakhar, « that which is male, masculine ».

The word zakhar is, for example, used very crudely by Maimonides in the Guide for the Perplexed(Part I, Chapter 6), which deals with « man and woman » (ish and ishâ)i: « The term zakhar v-nekebah was afterwards applied to anything designed and prepared for union with another object » ii Note that the Hebrew word nekebah literally means « hole », and that zakhar v-nekebah thus literally means « the member and the hole ».

I find it extremely astonishing that languages as different as Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic should share such analogies, by creating direct verbal links between the male organ, mind, memory, and even the sacred.

Even more surprisingly, similar analogies and links can be found in Sanskrit !…

The Sanskrit root MED-, मद् is associated with the idea of strength, vigor, energy. It gave words like medas, « fat, marrow, lymph », medin, « vigor, energy », medini, « fertility, earth, soil », medah, « fat-tailed sheep », or medaka « spirituous liquor ».

As for the root MEDH-, मेध् , it gave words such as: medha: « juice, sauce, marrow, sap; essence; sacrificial victim; sacrifice, oblation »; medhā: « intellectual vigor, intelligence; prudence, wisdom »; medhas: « sacrifice »; medhya: « full of sap, vigorous; strong, powerful; fit for sacrifice; pure; intelligent, wise ».

We see in all these meanings the same kind of metonymic thinking at work. Marrow and sacrifice, sap and power, physical strength and mental energy, intelligence and wisdom draw semantic orbs where the vital energy (sap, fat, seed) is, by its abundance, conducive to sacrifice, and rises to signify man’s higher functions.

If we dig deeper the relationship between fat, sex and mind, we find some amazing leads. In fact, the sanskrit root MED- is a strong form of MID-, « getting fat » or MITH- « understanding » and « killing ».

How can « understanding » and « killing » have the same root, the same etymology? MITH- has as first meaning « to unite, to couple » and as derived meanings « to meet, to alternate », and also « to provoke an altercation ».

It seems that the idea of « meeting » is fundamentally twofold: one can meet as a friend or as an enemy, as a couple or as an antagonist, hence the two meanings derived from this very deep, very primeval intuition: that of « understanding » and that of « killing ».

One can go back even further to more originary sources with the root MI- , « to fix in the ground, to found, to build, to plant pillars ». Hence the derived meanings: « to measure, judge, observe » and « to perceive, know, understand ». Thus the word mit means: « pillar, column », and more generally « any erected object ». It is close to mita, « measured, metered; known ».

Let’s summarize. Every « erection » is a « foundation », and a preparation for future « knowledge »; to « erect » is to prepare oneself to « know ». Memory is rooted in the very foundation of one’s being.

For these ancient languages, « to be manly » is to be pegged to one’s own body, and thus rooted in the entire memory of the species, but it also means projecting oneself entirely into the future.

_______________

iCuriously enough, the French edition of the Guide des égarés published by Editions Verdier (1979) left entirely over the sentenceAs can be seen on page 39 of the 1979 edition, but it is indeed present in the English translation dating from 1919.

iiMoses Maimonides. The Guide for the Perplexed. Translated by M. Friedländer. Ed. George Routledge & Sons, London, 1919, p.19

Métaphysique du Dieu « Jaloux »


« YHVH, représenté sur une drachme de la province de Yehud Medinata (Perse), datant du 4ème siècle av. J.-C. »

Dans le psaume 89, le Psalmiste constate, presque cliniquement, que YHVH a de facto rompu unilatéralement l’alliance (censée être éternelle) qu’il avait conclue avec son élu, son oint.

« Et pourtant tu l’as délaissé, rejeté, ton élu, tu t’es emporté contre lui. Tu as rompu l’alliance de ton serviteur, dégradé, jeté à terre son diadème. »i

Il énonce les conséquences épouvantables de cet abandon, de cette rupture de l’alliance: les murailles démolies, les forteresses ruinées, les populations dévastées et pillées, les ennemis remplis de joie, la fin de la splendeur royale, le trône mis à bas, et la honte générale.

Le Psalmiste met YHVH devant sa responsabilité, rappelant que les malheurs et les souffrances ne semblent pas près de finir, alors que la vie de l’homme est infiniment brève :

« Rappelle-toi combien je suis éphémère, combien est vaine la vie que tu donnes à tous les fils d’Adam. Est-il un homme qui demeure en vie sans voir venir la mort ?»ii

Il se permet de rappeler une nouvelle fois, fort discrètement, la promesse faite jadis, et qui devait (en principe) engager YHVH pour toujours:

« Où sont tes anciens bienfaits, Seigneur, que dans ta sincérité tu avais promis à David ? »iii

Ce constat fait, le Psalmiste conclut abruptement, mais sans la moindre acrimonie, par une brève louange, adressée à ce Dieu incompréhensible, et apparemment oublieux :

« Loué soit l’Éternel à jamais ! Amen et amen ! »iv

L’oint délaissé, quelque peu désenchanté, que le Psalmiste incarne, ne semble pas tenir rigueur à l’Éternel de ne pas avoir respecté sa promesse. Il ne semble pas conscient de ce que cet abandon de la promesse pourrait lui donner une sorte de légère supériorité morale sur un Dieu apparemment inconscient de son ‘oubli’.

Il valait peut-être mieux en effet, pour l’oint, cacher toute critique et toute velléité de rancœur à l’égard d’un Dieu si puissant.

C’est un fait que, dans toute sa gloire et son infinie puissance, YHVH ne semble pas vraiment apprécier la pensée critique, quand elle s’exerce à son encontre. Toute espèce de ‘critique’ émanant d’un homme ne peut que diminuer la reconnaissance absolue et la dévotion totale que le Dieu est si désireux de trouver chez ses créatures.

Quoique Son pouvoir soit immense, et qu’il s’étende à l’échelle de tout l’univers, et même au-delà, YHVH a un besoin fondamental, semble-t-il, d’être ‘connu’ et ‘reconnu’ par des consciences réflexives (et laudatives), afin de véritablement « exister » dans la réalité de Sa propre Création. Sans l’existence de ces consciences vivantes, attentives, l’« existence » du Dieu passerait absolument inaperçue, n’ayant aucun témoin.

Sans les (libres) consciences capables de reconnaître (et de louer) Son existence et Sa gloire, celles-ci n’auraient aucun ancrage dans ce monde-ci. Et en est-il d’autres ?

Une existence divine peut certes fort bien se concevoir dans la solitude métaphysique. Après tout, c’était le lot du Dieu, avant que la Création n’advienne.

Mais l’idée d’une gloire divine, infinie, a-t-elle seulement un sens, s’il n’y a aucune conscience qui en soit témoin ?

La gloire de Dieu serait-elle réellement « glorieuse » dans une absolue solitude, une totale absence de toute autre présence, dans un désert, vide de toutes consciences ‘autres’ capables d’en percevoir la réalité ?

L’existence divine ne semble être « réelle » que si cette existence est consciemment perçue (et louée) par quelques consciences réelles. Une existence infiniment ‘seule’, sans conscience ‘autre’ pouvant en témoigner, ne serait pas réellement ‘réelle’, mais serait plutôt comparable à une sorte de sommeil, divin, mais inconscient.

C’est pourquoi le Créateur a besoin de la conscience des hommes pour n’être pas seul dans Sa gloire, pour ne pas rester seul face à Son inconscient, cet inconscient fondamentalement sans limite, plus infiniment sans limite que Sa conscience, elle aussi illimitée, mais relativement, et dans un autre sens.

Le Créateur a ´besoin ´de sa créature… Qu’est-ce que l’Homme possède, et que Dieu n’a pas ?

L’Homme possède sa conscience propre, faite de fragilité, de fugacité, d’évanescence et de néant. Il possède une conscience capable de réfléchir sur elle-même, selon plusieurs degrés de profondeur. La conscience de l’Homme est absolument unique, et même le Dieu omnipotent ne peut défaire le fait qu’il l’a irrévocablement créée dans son exceptionnelle singularité, son unique ipséité.

Dieu Lui-même ne peut être à la fois conscient à la manière d’un Dieu et conscient à la manière de l’Homme. Dieu ou homme, il Lui faut choisir. Il ne peut être à la fois (puisqu’Il est Dieu) conscient/inconscient comme l’est l’Homme, et conscient/inconscient comme l’est Dieu.

Autrement dit, la connaissance de la conscience propre, unique, inviolable, de l’homme fait partie de l’inconscient de Dieu.

Au commencement, la possibilité de l’Homme-Dieu n’était pas encore d’actualité. Il n’y avait alors qu’une seule alternative ontologique : Dieu, ou l’Homme. L’inconscient (infini) ou la conscience (finie).

Finie, mais dense, comme un diamant.

« Est-ce que Yahvé a pu soupçonner que l’Homme possède une lumière infiniment petite, mais plus concentrée que celle que lui, Yahvé, possède ? Une jalousie de cette sorte pourrait peut-être expliquer sa conduite.»v

Yahvé, un Dieu jaloux ? Vraiment ?

Eh bien oui! L’expression « Dieu jaloux » est d’ailleurs courante dans la Bible hébraïque : אֵל קַנָּא , El qanna’. C’est même le nom dont YHVH se nomme Lui-même (à deux reprises) lorsqu’il apparaît à Moïse sur le mont Sinaï ;

 כִּי יְהוָה קַנָּא שְׁמוֹ, אֵל קַנָּא הוּא

«  Car YHVH, son nom est ‘Jaloux’, Il est un Dieu jaloux! » (Ex 34, 14)

Ce nom terrible porte à conséquence, pour l’Homme, — et cela de façon (humainement) amorale :

«Car moi, l’ Éternel, ton Dieu, je suis un Dieu jaloux, qui poursuis le crime des pères sur les enfants jusqu’à la troisième et à la quatrième générations, pour ceux qui m’offensent. » (Ex 20,4 et Dt 5,8)

« L’Éternel est un Dieu jaloux et vengeur; oui, l’Éternel se venge, il est capable de se courroucer: l’Éternel se venge de ses adversaires et il garde rancune. » (Nahoum 1,2)

Non seulement YHVH se venge, mais même vengé, Il garde encore « rancune »…

Selon Jung, c’est Job qui a sans doute été le premier à avoir pleinement compris la contradiction, pour Dieu, d’être à la fois omniscient, omnipotent, et cependant « jaloux » de sa propre créature…

« Job a été élevé à un degré supérieur de connaissance de Dieu, connaissance que Dieu Lui-même ne possédait pas (…) Job a découvert l’antinomie intime de Dieu, et à la lumière de cette découverte, sa connaissance a atteint un caractère numineux et divin. La possibilité même de ce développement repose, doit-on supposer, sur la ‘ressemblance à Dieu’ de l’homme. »vi

L’inconscient, qu’il soit humain ou divin, a une nature « animale », une nature qui veut surtout vivre et ne pas mourir.

La vision ‘divine’ telle qu’Ézéchiel la rapporte était d’ailleurs composée de trois-quarts d’animalité (lion, taureau, aigle) et d’un seul quart d’humanité : «  Quant à la forme de leurs visages, elles avaient toutes quatre une face d’homme et à droite une face de lion, toutes quatre une face de taureau à gauche et toutes quatre une face d’aigle. »vii

D’une telle ‘animalité’, si évidemment [présente dans la ‘vision’ de la divinité par Ézéchiel, qu’est-ce qu’un homme peut (raisonnablement) attendre? Une conduite ‘morale’ ?

Une conduite (humainement) morale peut-elle être (raisonnablement) attendue d’un lion, d’un aigle ou d’un taureau ?

La conclusion que fait Jung peut paraître provocante, mais elle a le mérite de la cohérence :

« YHVH est un phénomène, et non pas un être humain. »viii

Job affronta dans sa propre chair la nature éminemment non-humaine et phénoménale de Dieu, et il fut le premier à s’étonner de la violence de ce qu’il y découvrit, et de ce qui s’y révéla.

Depuis, l’inconscient de l’homme s’est profondément nourri de cette découverte ancienne, jusqu’à nos jours.

Depuis des millénaires l’homme sait inconsciemment que sa propre raison est fondamentalement aveugle, impuissante, devant un Dieu, qui est phénomène pur. Un phénomène dont la vision (prophétique) est aux trois quarts animale, selon Ezéchiel. Un phénomène essentiellement non-humain.

Il doit maintenant tenter de vivre avec ce savoir brut, irrationnel, inassimilable.

Job fut le premier, peut-être, à avoir découvert (consciemment) une connaissance depuis longtemps enfouie au fond de l’ inconscient humain, celle de la nature profondément antinomique, duelle, du Créateur, à la fois aimant et jaloux, violent et doux, créateur et destructeur, conscient et inconscient de toute la profondeur de Sa puissance. Un Dieu ´omniscient´ et cependant, non ignorant mais ´inconscient´ de l’ipséité que chaque homme porte en lui-même. Une divine omniscience, mais ´inconsciente´de ce savoir humain, unique, éphémère et minuscule.

L´incendie ne sait pas l´étincelle…

Quel est ce savoir-étincelle ? C´est le savoir que la conscience de l’Homme, seule et singulière, transcende toute animalité, et se transporte virtuellement dans l’infini de la non-animalité, dans le vertige non-animal de la méta-humanité.

Dieu, essentiellement non-humain. L’Homme, virtuellement non-animal et méta-humain.

_______________

iPs 89, 39-40

iiPs 89, 48-49

iiiPs 89, 50

ivPs 89, 53

vC.G. Jung, Answer to Job, Routledge, 1954, p.15

viC.G. Jung, Answer to Job, Routledge, 1954, p.16

viiEz 1, 10

viiiC.G. Jung, Answer to Job, Routledge, 1954, p.24

Shadow and Tears


« Adam’s Creation » Michelangelo

« Let us make man in our image, after our likeness » (Gen. 1:26).

What exactly do these words refer to? What is this divine « image »? What is this Godhead’s « likeness »?

Hebrew has a dozen different terms that express or connote the idea of image. But in this verse, it is the word tselem (צֶלֶם) that is used. Its primary meaning is « shadow, darkness ». It is only in a figurative sense that tselem means « image, figure, idol ».

As for the idea of « likeness » or « resemblance », it is expressed in this verse by the word demouth (דְמוּת). The root of this word comes from the verb damah (דָּמָה), « to resemble, to be similar ».

From this same verbal root derives the word dam (דָּם), « blood »; and figuratively « murder, crime ». Another derived meaning is « resemblance », probably because people of the same blood can have similar traits.

There are several other words, quite close etymologically to damah, that are worth mentioning here, for their potential resonances: דֻּמָּה , dummah, « destruction »; דְּמִי, demi, « destruction, annihilation »; דֳּמִּי, dami, « silence, rest » ; דָּמַע, dama, « to shed tears ».

There is also the word dimyon, which means « demon », and which seems very close to the Greek daimon (δαίμων). Is this a coincidence? Perhaps the Hebrew term was borrowed from the Greek daimon, and transformed into dimyon? Or was it the other way around? I would tend for the former option. It is a fact that the word daimon was used by Homer to mean « divine power ». Moreover, the Greek word daimon etymologically comes from the verb daiomai, « to share, to divide ». Its initial meaning, taken from this verb, is « the power to attribute », hence « divinity, destiny ».

One can usefully compare the same shift in meaning with the old Persian baga and the Sanskrit bogu, « god », which give in Avestic baga-, « part, destiny » and in Sanskrit, bhaga, « part, destiny, master ».

Taking into account all these resonances, I’d like to propose alternatives translations of Genesis 1:26:

« Let us make man out of our shadow (tselem), and out of our tears (dama). »

Or , more philosophically:

« Let us make man out of our darkness (tselem), and out of our annihilation (dummah). »

New questions would then arise:

What does that (divine) darkness refer to? What does this (divine) annihilation really mean ?

A short answer: darkness (´tselem´) is a metaphor of the (divine) unconscious, and annihilation (´dummah´) is a metaphor of the (divine) sacrifice.

Life after Death (a Short Review)


In a famous passage from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul recounts his rapture in paradise in a strangely indirect way:

« I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago – was it in his body? I don’t know; was it outside his body? I don’t know; God knows – … that man was taken up to the third heaven. And that man – was it in his body? Was it without his body? I don’t know; God knows; I know that he was taken up to heaven and heard words that cannot be spoken, that a man is not allowed to say again.»i

Augustine commented specifically on the « third heaven », where Paul was delighted.

According to him, there are indeed three « heavens » corresponding to three different levels of « vision ». There are the heaven of the body, the heaven of the mind and the heaven of the soul.

In the third heaven, at the third level of vision, one can « see the divine substance ».

Augustine exercises in passing his critical mind about the « rapture » of which Paul was apparently the beneficiary. Quite acid is his comment:

« Finally, even though the Apostle who was taken away from the bodily senses and then was taken up to the third heaven and into paradise, he certainly lacked one thing to have this full and perfect knowledge, such as is found in the angels: not knowing whether he was with or without his body. »ii

The body seems to be a hindrance to the full consciousness of the delighted soul. If one can access through ecstasy or rapture to the contemplation of divine things by the soul, what is the use of the body in these exceptional circumstances?

« Perhaps the objection will be made: what need is there for the spirits of the dead to recover their bodies at the resurrection, if, even without their bodies, they can enjoy this sovereign bliss? The question is undoubtedly too difficult to be perfectly dealt with in this book. There is no doubt, however, that the intellectual soul of man, both when rapture takes it away from the use of the carnal senses and when after death it abandons the remains of the flesh and even transcends the similarities of the bodies, cannot see the substance of God as the holy angels see it. This inferiority is due either to some mysterious cause or to the fact that there is a natural appetite in the soul to rule the body. This appetite somehow delays it and prevents it from reaching for that supreme heaven with all its might, as long as the body is not under its influence. »iii

The delighted soul, therefore, sees the substance of God, but in an incomplete way, in any case less than that which the angels enjoy. The body corrupts and burdens the soul, and binds it.

These limitations come from the special relationship (« the natural appetite ») that in men, is established between the soul and the body.

We can deduce that death brings deliverance and gives the soul a power of transformed vision.

But then, if this is the case, why desire the resurrection? Won’t finding one’s body bind the soul again?

Augustine answers that « mysterious » transformations of the glorious body will change its relationship with the soul after the resurrection. The soul will no longer be hindered, but on the contrary energized, and perhaps even capable of contemplating the divine substance in a more active or perfect way, surpassing then that of the angels. iv

In an epistle to the Corinthians, Paul gives his own explanation.

« Other the brightness of the sun, other the brightness of the moon, other the brightness of the stars. A star itself differs in brightness from another star. So it is with the resurrection of the dead: one is sown in corruption, one resurrects in incorruptibility; one is sown in ignominy, one resurrects in glory; one is sown in weakness, one resurrects in strength; one is sown in the psychic body, one resurrects the spiritual body.

If there is a psychic body, there is also a spiritual body. This is how it is written: The first man, Adam, was made a living soul; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that appears first; it is the psychic, then the spiritual. The first man, who came from the ground, is earthly; the second comes from heaven. Such was the earthly, such will also be the earthly; such will also be the celestial, such will also be the celestial. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly, so shall we also bear the image of the heavenly. »v

The first Adam is made a living soul. The last Adam is made a life-giving spirit, for Paul.

For Augustine, the vision of the « spirit » reaches the second heaven, and the vision of the « intellectual soul » reaches the third heaven.

Strangely enough, everything happens as if Paul and Augustine had switched their respective uses of the words « soul » and « spirit ».

Perhaps a return to Biblical Hebrew, which distinguishes neshma, ruah, and nephesh, (breath, spirit, soul), will be helpful?

In Gen. 2:7 we read precisely two different expressions:

נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים , breath (neshma) of life,

and :

לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה, soul (nephesh) alive.

Here is Gen 2:7:

ז וַיִּיצֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם, עָפָר מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו, נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים; וַיְהִי הָאָדָם, לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה.

The French Rabbinate offers a French translation, of which I propose this translation in English:

« The Eternal-God fashioned man from dust detached from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils a breath of life, and man became a living soul. »

The Jerusalem Bible gives :

« Then YHVH God molded man with the clay of the ground, breathed into his nostrils a breath of life and man became a living being. »

Rachi comments on this verse as follows:

« HE FASHIONED (the word is written וַיִּיצֶר with two יּ). Two formations, one for this world, one for the resurrection of the dead. But for the beasts that will not appear on Judgment Day, the same word has only one י (verse 19).

DUST FROM THE GROUND. God has gathered dust from all the earth at the four cardinal corners. In every place where man dies, the earth agrees to be his grave. Another explanation: it was dust taken from the place where it says, « You will make me an altar OF THE EARTH » (Ex. 20:24). God said, « May it be an atonement for him, and he will be able to remain ».

AND HE BREATHED INTO HIS NOSTRILS. He formed it from elements from below and elements from above. The body from below; the soul from above.

For on the first day the heavens and the earth were created. On the second day He said, « Let the earth appear beneath. On the fourth day He created the lights above. On the fifth day He said, « Let the waters swarm and so forth, below. On the sixth day, He had to finish with the world above and the world below. Otherwise there would have been jealousy in the work of creation.

A LIVING SOUL. Pets and field animals are also called living souls. But man’s soul is the most living soul, because it also has knowledge and speech. »

We can see that what matters for Rashi is not so much the distinction between nephesh and neshma, but the life of the soul, which is « more alive » in the case of man.

It is not enough to be alive. It is important that life be « as alive » as possible.

And there is a connection between this « more alive » life and God’s vision.

In a note by P. Agaësse and A. Solignac – « Third Heaven and Paradise » – added to their translation of Augustine’s Genesis in the literal sense, there is a more complete analysis which I summarize in the following paragraphs.

If the third heaven that St. Paul saw corresponds to the third kind of vision, it may have been given to Paul’s soul to see the glory of God, face to face, and to know His very essence. This is Augustine’s interpretation.

But if we make the third heaven one of the celestial spheresvi, among many others, we can in this hypothesis, admit a hierarchy of spiritual and intellectual visions with numerous degrees. Augustine, rather dubious, admits that he himself does not see how to arrive on this subject at a knowledge worthy of being taught.

If most modern exegetes adopt Augustine’s interpretation, the history of ideas is rich in other points of view.

Ambrose affirms that man « goes from the first heaven to the second, from the second to the third, and thus successively to the seventh, and those who deserve it to go to the top and to the vault of the heavens ». vii

He admits the existence of more than three heavens. And he criticizes the idea that Paul only ascended to the « third heaven », which would be only that of the « moon ».

Origen also evokes Paul’s vision to show that man can know heavenly things. But, he says, it is not man by himself who accesses this knowledge, it is the Spirit of God who illuminates man.viii

Origen also says that the friends of God « know him in His essence and not by riddles or by the naked wisdom of voices, speeches and symbols, rising to the nature of intelligible things and the beauty of truth. » ix

Origen also believes that it is reasonable to admit that the Prophets, through their hegemonikon (which is another Greek name for the noos, the spirit), were able to « see wonders, hear the words of the Lord, see the heavens opened »x, and he gives the rapture of Paul as an example of those who saw the heavens open.

From all this we can infer that there is some confusion about the nature of the « heavenly visions », their hierarchy, and their actual ability to « know » the divine essence.

This confusion is somehow symbolized by the fact that Augustine calls spiritual and intellectual what other authors call psychic and spiritual.

Paul himself distinguishes, as we have seen, the living soul of the « first Adam » and the life-giving spirit of the « last Adam » .

Are these only battles of words? No, they bear underlying witness to a fundamental question: what is the nature of the bond between soul and body?

This is a very old question, but also a hyper-modern one, as it highlights the powerlessness of neuroscience to deal with this kind of subject.

The three kinds of visions proposed by Augustine shed light on the nature of the « place » that the soul reaches after death. This place, in which the soul finds rewards, or punishments, is essentially spiritual. There is therefore a corporeal Paradise or Hell, such as the Jewish Gehenna, one of whose entrances is in Jerusalem, and Eden, whose entrance is in Damascus or Palestine, according to the Talmud?

The separated soul no longer has a body, but it keeps a mysterious link with the body in which it lived, as a « living soul », and retains a certain similarity with it.

The body is a cocoon, and the soul separates from it to continue its progression.

« It is a whole theory of knowledge that Augustine develops (with the three kinds of visions), in all its dimensions, sensitive, imaginative and intellectual, normal and pathological, profane and mystical, intramural and celestial.

The three kinds of visions mark the stages of the soul’s journey from the corporeal to the intelligible, reveal the structure of its essence in its triple relationship to the world, to itself, to God, and develop the dialectic of transcendence that fulfills its destiny. »xi

Let’s give Paul the benefit of the last word. The first Adam was made a « living soul ». His destiny, which sums up Man, is to metamorphose, through life, death, and resurrection, into the last Adam, who is « life-giving spirit ».

The destiny of the soul, therefore, is to metamorphose not into a merely « living » spirit, but into a spirit that « invigorates », a spirit that gives life and « makes live ».

__________________

i2 Cor. 12, 2-4

iiS. Augustine. Genesis in the literal sense. Book XII, 36, 69. Desclée de Brouwer. 1972, p.455.Augustine concedes, however: « But this knowledge will no longer fail him when, once the bodies are recovered at the resurrection of the dead, this corruptible body will be clothed with incorruptibility and this mortal body clothed with immortality (1 Cor. 15:53). For all things will be evident and, without falsity or ignorance, will be distributed according to their order – both bodily and spiritual and intellectual – in a nature that will have recovered its integrity and will be in perfect bliss. »

iiiIbid. Book XII, 35, 68, p.451.

iv« Afterwards, when this body is no longer an animal body, but when the coming transformation has made it a spiritual body, the soul, equal to the angels, will acquire the mode of perfection proper to its nature, obedient and commanding, invigorated and invigorating, with such ineffable ease that what was a burden to it will become for it an added glory. Even then, these three kinds of vision will subsist ; but no falsehood will make us take one thing for another, neither in bodily nor in spiritual visions, much less in intellectual visions. These will be so present and clear to us that in comparison the bodily forms which we reach today are much less obvious to us, they which we perceive with the help of our bodily senses and to which many men are so enslaved that they think that there are no others and figure that, all that is not such, does not exist at all. Quite different is the attitude of the sages in the face of these bodily visions: although these things appear more present, they are nevertheless more certain of what they grasp is worth to them by intelligence beyond the bodily forms and similarities of bodily things, although they cannot contemplate the intelligible with the intellectual soul as they see the sensible with the bodily sense. « » S. Augustine. Book XII, 35-36, 68-69. Desclée de Brouwer. 1972, p.451

v1 Cor. 15, 41-49

vi Some have seven, others eight, nine or even ten. One can refer to Plato’s theses on this subject.

In addition, P. Agaësse and A. Solignac recall that the Ambrosiaster rejects the opinion that Paul was raised to the third heaven, that of the moon.

viiIn Ambrose’s commentary on Ps. 38:17.

viii De Orat. 1, P.G.11,416 BC citing 2 Cor. 12,4 and 1 Cor. 2, 11-16

ixExhort. ad Mart. 13, P.G. 11,580 C

x C. Cels. 1,48

xiP. Agaësse and A. Solignac. Note in La Genèse au sens littéral, op.cit. p. 585.

Visions and Consciousness


« Peter’s Vision » Gordon Wilson

Where is the Garden of Eden?

According to the Talmud, it is either in Palestine, or in Arabia, or in Damascus. i

Where is the Underworld?

In Sion, says Rabbi Ismael’s school. ii

And where is the entrance to the Underworld? Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar said, « Gehenna has three entrances: one in the desert, another in the sea, and the third in Jerusalem. » iii

Gehenna takes its name from Gaihinom, meaning a valley as deep as the Valley of Hinom. But Gehenna has many other names as well: Tomb, Perdition, Abyss, Desolation, Mire, Mire of Death, Land of Below. iv

This last expression is similar to the one used by the Nations: the « Underworld ».

« We speak in Latin of the underworld (inferi) because it is below (infra). Just as in the order of bodies, according to the law of gravity, the lowest are all the heaviest, so in the order of spirits, the lowest are all the saddest. » v

Everyone agrees that the Underworld is a sad place. But is it a geographical place, like being located « under Zion »?

Augustine, for his part, asserts that the Underworld is a spiritual place, not a place « under the earth ».

And he adds that this « spiritual place » is in Heavens.

In Heavens ? But which one?

Augustine indeed distinguishes three different Heavens.vi

First Heaven: The corporeal world, which extends over the waters and the earth.

Second Heaven: Everything that is seen by the spirit, and resembles bodies, like the vision of animals that Peter in ecstasy saw coming down to him (Acts, X, 10-12).

Third Heaven: « What the intellectual soul contemplates once it is so separated, distant, cut off from the carnal senses, and so purified that it can see and hear, in an ineffable way, what is in heaven and the very substance of God, as well as the Word of God by whom all things were made, and this in the charity of the Holy Spirit. In this hypothesis, it is not unreasonable to think that it was also in this sojourn that the Apostle was delighted (II Cor., 12:2-4), and that perhaps this is the paradise superior to all the others and, if I may say so, the paradise of paradises. » vii

How can one explain the difference between the second Heaven and the third one ?

One may get an idea of the difference by analyzing two visions of Peter as opposed to Paul’s own famous revelation:

« He felt hungry and wanted to eat something. But while they were preparing food for him, he fell into ecstasy. He saw the sky open and an object, like a large tablecloth tied at the four corners, descending towards the earth. And inside there were all the quadrupeds and reptiles and all the birds of the sky. Then a voice said to him, ‘Come, Peter, kill and eat.’ But Peter answered, ‘Oh no! Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is unclean or impure!’ Again, a second time, the voice spoke to him, ‘What God has cleansed, you do not defile.’ This was repeated three times, and immediately the object was taken up to heaven. (…) As Peter was still reflecting on his vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Here are men who are looking for you. Go therefore, come down and go with them without hesitation, for I have sent them.» viii

Following the advice, Peter goes to Cornelius’ home, who was a Roman centurion. There he finds a large number of people waiting for him. Then Peter said to them, « You know that it is absolutely forbidden for a Jew to fraternize with a stranger or to enter his house. But God has just shown me that no man is to be called unclean or impure.» ix

This first vision had a very real and concrete effect on Peter. It induced this eyebrowed and law-abiding Jew to somewhat overlook some prohibitions set by the Law, and to fraternize and share food with a group of non-Jews, assembled in their own home.

Peter then had a second vision, in more dramatic circumstances.

Peter had been arrested, put in prison, and about to be executed, on the order of King Herod.

« Suddenly the angel of the Lord came, and the dungeon was flooded with light. The angel struck Peter on the side and raised him up: « Get up! Quickly, » he said. And the chains fell from his hands. »x

Then, « Peter went out and followed him, not realizing that which was done by the angel was real, but he thought he was having a vision.» xi

This was not a vision indeed, but a real event, since Peter was really set free.

Still, there was an element of « vision » in this « reality » : the apparition of the angel and his role in the escape of Peter.

Peter had yet to acknowledge that role.

« Suddenly, the angel left him. Then Peter, returning to consciousness, said, « Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and has taken me out of the hands of Herod and out of all that the people of the Jews were waiting for.» xii

It was not the reality of his evasion from the prison of Herod that awakened the consciousness of Peter.

He became conscious only when the angel left him.

______________

iAt least that is what Rech Lakich asserts in Aggadoth of the Babylonian Talmud. Erouvin 19a §16. Translated by Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre. Ed. Verdier. 1982, p.264.

iiThe passage « Who has his fire in Zion and his furnace in Jerusalem » (Is. 31:9) shows us this. According to the school of R. Ishmael, His fire in Zion is Gehenna; His furnace in Jerusalem is the entrance to Gehenna. In Aggadoth of the Babylonian Talmud. Erouvin 19a §14. Translation by Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre. Ed. Verdier. 1982, p.263.

iiiAggadoth of the Babylonian Talmud. Erouvin 19a §14. Translated into French by Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre, and my English translation. Ed. Verdier. 1982, p.263.

ivAccording to R. Joshua ben Levi. Ibid. p.264

vS. Augustine. Genesis in the literal sense. Book XII, 34, 66: Desclée de Brouwer. 1972, p.449.

viS. Augustine. Genesis in the literal sense. Book XII, 34, 67. Desclée de Brouwer. 1972, p.449.

viiIbid. Book XII, 34,68; p.451

viiiAct. 10, 10-20

ixAct. 10, 28

xAct, 12.7

xiAct, 12.9

xiiAct, 12, 10-11

Neurosciences, the Talmud and the Soul


« First page of the Talmud »

One can consult the latest research in Neurosciences on consciousness: many interesting hypothesis are tested, but there is never a word about the soul. Total absence of the idea, even. Is soul a blind spot of techno-sciences? One may suppose that the soul, by her very nature, escapes all scientific investigation, she is out of reach, absolutely. She can’t be looked at, with a simply « objective », « materialistic » gaze.

By contrast, the Talmud is more prolific on the subject, and teaches several things about the human soul: she has been called « Light »; she « fills » and « nourishes » the whole body; she « sees » but cannot be seen; she is « pure »; she resides in a « very secret place »; she is « weak ».

It’s a good start. But let’s review these Talmudic determinations of the soul.

The soul is named « Light ».

« The Holy One, blessed be He, said, ‘The soul I have given you is called Light, and I have warned you concerning the lights. If you heed these warnings, so much the better; if not, beware! I will take your souls’. » i

Light is only the third of God’s « creations », right after heaven and earth. But there is an important nuance. Heaven and earth were definitely « created ». « In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. » ii

But « light » was not « created », literally speaking. Rather, it came right out of the word of God: « God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. » iv

Moreover, it seems that from the start, light worked better, as a creation: « God saw that the light was good. » v God did not say that the heaven or the earth were « good ».

Light, therefore, was the first of the divine creations to be called « good ».

Hence, maybe, its extraordinary success as a metaphor. Light became the prototype of life (of men): « Life was the light of men »vi. And, by extension, it also became the prototype of their soul, as the Talmud indicates. If life is the light of men, the soul is the light of life.

This explains why, later on, we will see a deep connection between light and truth: « He who does the truth comes to the light »vii.

The Hebrew word for « light » is אור, « or ». The word אור means « light, radiance, sun, fire, flame », but also, by extension, « happiness ».

« Or », אור, is maybe the true name, the true nature of the soul.

The soul fills and nourishes the body, sees, is pure, and resides in a very secret place.

We learn all this in the Berakhot treaty:

« R. Chimi b. Okba asked: ‘How can I understand? Bless the LORD, my soul: let all my womb bless his name. (Ps 103:1)? (…) What was David thinking when he said five timesviii Bless the LORD, my soul?

– [He was thinking ] of the Holy One, blessed be He, and to the soul. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, fills the whole world, so the soul fills the whole body; the Holy One, blessed be He, sees and is not visible, and likewise the soul sees but cannot be seen; the soul nourishes the whole body, just as the Holy One, blessed be He, nourishes the whole world; the Holy One, blessed be He, is pure, the soul also; like the Holy One, blessed be He, the soul resides in a very secret place. It is good that the one who possesses these five attributes should come to glorify the One who possesses these five attributes. » ix

This text teaches us that the soul has five attributes. These five attributes are based on the hypothesis of a « likeness » or « resemblance » between the soul and the « Holy One ».

The soul fills the whole body and nourishes it. But then what happens when a part of the body becomes detached from it? Does a piece of the soul leave as a result? No, the soul is indivisible. What is called « body » takes its name only from the presence of the soul that envelops and fills it. If the body dies and decomposes, it just means that the soul has gone. Not the other way around.

The soul sees. It is not, of course, through the eyes of the body. It is all about seeing what cannot be seen, which is beyond all vision. The soul sees but she does not see herself. This comes from the fact that she is of the same essence as the divine word that said « Let there be light ». One cannot see such a word, nor can one hear it, one can only read it.

The soul is pure. But then evil does not reach her? No. Evil does not attain her essence. It can only veil or darken her light. Evil can be compared to thick, uncomfortable clothes, heavy armor, or rubbish thrown on the skin, or a hard gangue hiding the brilliance of an even harder diamond.

The soul resides in a very secret place. This statement should be made known to the specialists of neurosciences. The first Russian cosmonauts famously reported, after their return to earth, that they had not found God in space. Nor is there much chance that the soul can be detected by positron emission tomography or other techniques of imagery. This makes it necessary to imagine a structure of the universe that is much more complex (by many orders of magnitude) than the one that « modern », positivist science is trying to defend.

The soul is weak.

The soul is « weak », as evidenced by the fact that she « falters » when she hears even a single word from her Creator. « R. Joshua b. Levi said: Every word spoken by the Holy One, blessed be he, made the souls of Israel faint, for it is said, My soul fainted when he spoke to me (Cant. 5:6). But when a first word had been spoken and the soul had gone out, how could she listen to a second word? He made the dew fall that was destined to raise the dead in the future, and it raised them up. » x

There are even more serious arguments. The soul is weak in its very essence, because she « floats ».

« [In Heaven] are also the breaths and souls of those who are to be created, for it is said before me the breaths float, and the souls which I have made (Is. 57:16); and the dew that will serve the Holy One, blessed be he, to raise the dead. » xi

The quotation from Isaiah in this excerpt from the Talmud, however, lends itself to other interpretations, and translations…

The word « float » here translates the Hebrew יַעֲטוֹף: « to cover oneself; to be weak ».

With this more faithful sense, one reads: « Thus says He who is high and exalted, whose dwelling is eternal and whose name is holy: ‘I am high and holy in my dwelling place, but I am with the contrite and humiliated man, to revive the humiliated spirits, to revive the contrite hearts. For I do not want to accuse constantly or always be angry, for before me would weaken the spirit and those souls I created.  » (Is. 57:15-16)

Another translation (by the Jerusalem Bible) chooses to translate יַעֲטוֹף as « to die out »:

« Sublime and holy is my throne! But it is also in the contrite and humble hearts, to vivify the spirit of the humble, to revive the hearts of the afflicted. No; I don’t want to argue without respite, to be angry all the time, because the spirit would eventually die out in front of me, with these souls that I myself have created. »

So, is the soul « floating », « weak » or threatened to « die out »?

All this together, for sure. Fortunately, Isaiah brings us good news.

The souls of the humble and the afflicted will be enlivened, revived.

It is the souls of the proud who risk to die out.

I would like to conclude here, with yet another metaphor, due to the Psalmist:

« My soul is in me like a child, like a little child against its mother. » xii

___________________________

i Aggadoth of the Babylonian Talmud. Shabbat 31b. §51. Translated by Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre. Ed. Verdier. 1982, p.168.

iiGen. 1.1

iiiGen. 1.2

ivGen. 1.3

vGen. 1.4

viJn 1.4

viiJn 3.21

viiiIn Psalm 103, David says three times, Bless the LORD my soul (Ps 103:1, 2 and 22), once bless the LORD, you his angels (103:20), once bless the LORD, you his hosts (Ps 103:21), once bless the LORD, you all his creatures (Ps 103:22). However, David says twice more Bless the LORD, my soul in Psalm 104:1, « My soul, bless the LORD! O LORD my God, you are infinitely great! « and « Bless, my soul, YHVH, hallelujah! « Ps 104:35.

ixAggadoth of the Babylonian Talmud. Berakhot 10a. §85. Translated by Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1982, p. 69-70.

xAggadoth of the Babylonian Talmud. Shabbat 88b. §136. Translated by Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre. Ed. Verdier. 1982, p.207.

xi Aggadoth of the Babylonian Talmud. Haguiga 12b, § 31. Translated by Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre. Ed. Verdier. 1982, p.580.

xiiPs. 131,2

The Pagan and the Rabbi


« The Old Rabbi ». Rembrandt

Is a « beautiful girl », whose beauty is « without soul », really beautiful?

Kant thought about this interesting question.

« Even of a girl, it can be said that she is pretty, conversational and good-looking, but soulless. What is meant here by soul? The soul, in the aesthetic sense, refers to the principle that, in the mind, brings life.» i

For Kant, here, the soul is an aesthetic principle, a principle of life. Beauty is nothing if it does not live in some way, from the fire of an inner principle.

Beauty is really nothing without what makes it live, without what animates it, without the soul herself.

But if the soul brings life, how do we see the effect of her power? By the radiance alone of beauty? Or by some other signs?

Can the soul live, and even live to the highest possible degree, without astonishing or striking those who are close to her, who even brush past her, without seeing her? Or, even worse, by those who see her but then despise her?

« He had no beauty or glamour to attract attention, and his appearance had nothing to seduce us. » ii

These words of the prophet Isaiah describe the « Servant », a paradoxical figure, not of a triumphant Messiah, but of God’s chosen one, who is the « light of the nations »iii and who « will establish righteousness on earthiv.

A few centuries after Isaiah, Christians interpreted the « Servant » as a prefiguration of Christ.

The Servant is not beautiful, he has no radiance. In front of him, one even veils one’s face, because of the contempt he inspires.

But as Isaiah says, the Servant is in reality the king of Israel, the light of the nations, the man in whom God has put His spirit, and in whom the soul of God delightsv.

« Object of contempt, abandoned by men, man of pain, familiar with suffering, like someone before whom one hides one’s face, despised, we do not care. Yet it was our suffering that he bore and our pain that he was burdened with. And we considered him punished, struck by God and humiliated. » vi

The Servant, – the Messiah, has neither beauty nor radiance. He has nothing to seduce, but the soul of God delights in him.

A beautiful woman, without soul. And the Servant, without beauty, whose soul is loved by God.

Would soul and beauty have nothing to do with each other?

In the Talmud, several passages deal with beauty; others with the soul; rarely with both.

Some rabbis took pride in their own, personal beauty.

R. Johanan Bar Napheba boasted: « I am a remnant of the splendors of Jerusalem ». vii

His beauty was indeed famous. It must have been all the more striking because his face was « hairless ».viii

And, in fact, this beauty aroused love, to the point of triggering unexpected transports.

« One day, R. Johanan was bathing in the Jordan River. Rech Lakich saw him and jumped into the river to join him.

– You should devote your strength to the Torah, » said R. Johanan.

– Your beauty would suit a woman better, » replied Rech Lakich.

– If you change your life, I’ll give you my sister in marriage, who is much more beautiful than I am. » ix

At least this R. Johanan was looked at and admired ! The same cannot be said of Abraham’s wife. She was beautiful, as we know, because the Pharaoh had coveted her. But Abraham did not even bother to look at her…

« I had made a covenant with my eyes, and I would not have looked at a virgin (Job, 31:1): Job would not have looked at a woman who was not his, says Rabbah, but Abraham did not even look at his own wife, since it is written, « Behold, I know that you are a beautiful woman (Gen. 12:11): until then he did not know it. » x

From another point of view, if someone is really beautiful, it can be detrimental, even deadly.

The very handsome rabbi R. Johanan reported: « From the river Echel to Rabath stretches the valley of Dura, and among the Israelites whom Nebuchadnezzar exiled there were young men whose radiant beauty eclipsed the sun. Their very sight alone made the women of Chaldea sick with desire. They confessed it to their husbands. The husbands informed the king who had them executed. But the women continued to languish. So the king had the bodies of young men crushed.» xi

In those days, the rabbis themselves did not hide their appreciation of the beauty of women :

« Rabbi Simon b. Gamaliel was on the steps of the Temple Hill when he saw a pagan woman of great beauty. How great are your works, O LORD! (Ps. 104:24) he exclaimed. Likewise, when R. Akiba saw Turnus Rufus’ wifexii, he spat, laughed, and wept. He spat because she came from a stinking drop; he laughed because she was destined to convert and become his wife; and he wept [thinking] that such beauty would one day be under the earth. » xiii

That Rabbi Akiba dreamt of converting and seducing the wife of the Roman governor of Judea can be attributed to militant proselytizing.

Or was it just a parable?

Why did Rabbi Akiba mourn the beauty of this pagan?

Shouldn’t the beauty of her « converted » soul have obliterated forever the beauty of her body, destined moreover to be buried some day?

_____________

iEmmanuel Kant. Criticism of the faculty of judgment.

iiIsaiah, 53.2

iiiIsaiah, 42, 6

ivIsaiah, 42.4

vIsaiah, 42.1

viIsaiah 53:3-4

viiAggadoth of the Babylonian Talmud. Baba Metsi’a. §34. Translated by Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre. Ed. Verdier. 1982, p.895.

viiiIbid.

ixIbid. §35, pp. 895-896.

xIbid. Baba Bathra. §37, p. 940.

xiIbid. Sanhedrin. §143. p.1081.

xiiRoman governor of Judea in the first century of the Christian era.

xiiiIbid ‘Avoda Zara. §34, p. 1234

The Murder of Moses


John Everett Millais‘ Victory O Lord! (1871)

« All men are either Jews or Hellenes; either they are driven by ascetic impulses which lead them to reject all pictorial representation and to sacrifice to sublimation, or they are distinguished by their serenity, their expansive naturalness and their realistic spirit, » wrote Heinrich Heinei.

The over-schematic and somewhat outrageous nature of this statement may surprise in the mouth of the « last of the Romantic poets ».

But, according to Jan Assmann, Heine here would only symbolize the opposition between two human types, each of them holding on to two world visions, one valuing the spirit, without seeking a direct relationship with material reality, and the other valuing above all the senses and the concrete world.

In any case, when Heinrich Heine wrote these words at the beginning of the 19th century, this clear-cut opposition between « Hebraism » and « Hellenism » could be seen as a kind of commonplace “cliché” in the Weltanschauung then active in Germany.

Other considerations fueled this polarization. A kind of fresh wind seemed to be blowing on the European intellectual scene following the recent discovery of Sanskrit, followed by the realization of the historical depth of the Vedic heritage, and the exhumation of evidence of a linguistic filiation between the ‘Indo-European’ languages.

All this supported the thesis of the existence of multi-millennia migrations covering vast territories, notably from Northern Europe to Central Asia, India and Iran.

There was a passionate search for a common European origin, described in Germany as ‘Indo-Germanic’ and in France or Britain as ‘Indo-European’, taking advantage as much as possible of the lessons of comparative linguistics, the psychology of peoples and various mythical, religious and cultural sources.

Heine considered the opposition between « Semitic » and « Aryan » culture as essential. For him, it was a question not only of opposing « Aryans » and « Semites », but of perceiving « a more general opposition that concerned ‘all men’, the opposition between the mind, which is not directly related to the world or distant from it, and the senses, which are linked to the world. The first inclination, says Heine (rather simplistically, I must say), men get it from the Jews, the second, they inherited it from the Greeks, so that henceforth two souls live in the same bosom, a Jewish soul and a Greek soul, one taking precedence over the other depending on the case.» ii

A century later, Freud thought something comparable, according to Jan Assmann. « For him, too, the specifically Jewish contribution to human history lay in the drive toward what he called « progress in the life of the spirit. This progress is to the psychic history of humanity what Freud calls ‘sublimation’ in the individual psychic life.”iii

For Freud, the monotheistic invention consisted « in a refusal of magic and mysticism, in encouraging progress in the life of the spirit, and in encouraging sublimation ». It was a process by which « the people, animated by the possession of truth, penetrated by the consciousness of election, came to set great store by intellectual things and to emphasize ethics »iv.

This would be the great contribution of « Judaism » to the history of the world.

At the same time, however, Freud developed a particularly daring and provocative thesis about the « invention » of monotheism. According to him, Moses was not a Hebrew, he was Egyptian; moreover, and most importantly, he did not die in the land of Moab, as the Bible reports, but was in fact murdered by his own people.

Freud’s argument is based on the unmistakably Egyptian name ‘Moses’, the legend of his childhood, and Moses’ « difficult speech, » an indication that he was not proficient in Hebrew. Indeed, he could communicate only through Aaron. In addition, there are some revealing quotations, according to Freud: « What will I do for this people? A little more and they will stone me! « (Ex. 17:4) and : « The whole community was talking about [Moses and Aaron] stoning them. » (Numbers 14:10).

There is also that chapter of Isaiah in which Freud distinguishes the « repressed » trace of the fate actually reserved for Moses: « An object of contempt, abandoned by men, a man of sorrow, familiar with suffering, like one before whom one hides his face, despised, we took no notice of him. But it was our sufferings that he bore and our pains that he was burdened with. And we saw him as punished, struck by God and humiliated. But he was pierced because of our crimes, crushed because of our faults. « (Is. 53:3-5)

Freud infers from all these clues that Moses was in fact murdered by the Jews after they revolted against the unbearable demands of the Mosaic religion. He adds that the killing of Moses by the Jews marked the end of the system of the primitive horde and polytheism, and thus resulted in the effective and lasting foundation of monotheism.

The murder of the « father », which was – deeply – repressed in Jewish consciousness, became part of an « archaic heritage », which « encompasses not only provisions but also contents, mnemonic traces relating to the life of previous generations. (…) If we admit the preservation of such mnemonic traces in the archaic heritage, we have bridged the gap between individual psychology and the psychology of the masses, we can treat people as the neurotic individual.”v

The repression is not simply cultural or psychological, it affects the long memory of peoples, through « mnemonic traces » that are inscribed in the depths of souls, and perhaps even in the biology of bodies, in their DNA.

The important thing is that it is from this repression that a « decisive progress in the life of the spirit » has been able to emerge, according to Freud. This « decisive progress », triggered by the murder of Moses, was also encouraged by the ban on mosaic images.

« Among the prescriptions of the religion of Moses, there is one that is more meaningful than is at first thought. It is the prohibition to make an image of God, and therefore the obligation to worship a God who cannot be seen. We suppose that on this point Moses surpassed in rigor the religion of Aten; perhaps he only wanted to be consistent – his God had neither name nor face -; perhaps it was a new measure against the illicit practices of magic. But if one admitted this prohibition, it necessarily had to have an in-depth action. It meant, in fact, a withdrawal of the sensory perception in favor of a representation that should be called abstract, a triumph of the life of the mind over the sensory life, strictly speaking a renunciation of impulses with its necessary consequences on the psychological level.”vi

If Judaism represents a « decisive progress » in the life of the spirit, what can we think of the specific contribution of Christianity in this regard?

Further progress in the march of the spirit? Or, on the contrary, regression?

Freud’s judgment of the Christian religion is very negative.

« We have already said that the Christian ceremony of Holy Communion, in which the believer incorporates the Saviour’s flesh and blood, repeats in its content the ancient totemic meal, certainly only in its sense of tenderness, which expresses veneration, not in its aggressive sense ».vii

For him, « this religion constitutes a clear regression in the life of the spirit, since it is marked by a return to magical images and rites, and in particular to the sacrificial rite of the totemic meal during which God himself is consumed by the community of believers.”viii

Freud’s blunt condemnation of Christianity is accompanied by a kind of contempt for the « lower human masses » who have adopted this religion.

« In many respects, the new religion constituted a cultural regression in relation to the old, Jewish religion, as is regularly the case when new, lower-level human masses enter or are admitted somewhere. The Christian religion did not maintain the degree of spiritualization to which Judaism had risen. It was no longer strictly monotheistic, it adopted many of the symbolic rites of the surrounding peoples, it restored the great mother goddess and found room for a large number of polytheistic deities, recognizable under their veils, albeit reduced to a subordinate position. Above all it did not close itself, like the religion of Aten and the Mosaic religion which followed it, to the intrusion of superstitious magic and mystical elements, which were to represent a serious inhibition for the spiritual development of the next two millennia.”ix

If one adopts a viewpoint internal to Christianity, however hurtful Freud’s attacks may be, they do not stand up to analysis. In spite of all the folklore from which popular religiosity is not exempt, Christian theology is clear: there is only one God. The Trinity, difficult to understand, one can admit, for non-Christians as well as for Christians, does not imply « three Gods », but only one God, who gives Himself to be seen and understood in three « Persons ».

To take a cross-comparison, one could infer that Judaism is not « strictly monotheistic » either, if one recalls that the Scriptures attest that « three men » (who were YHVH) appeared to Abraham under the oak tree of Mamre (Gen 18:1-3), or that the Word of God was « incarnated » in the six hundred thousand signs of the Torah, or that God left in the world His own « Shekhinah » .

From the point of view of Christianity, everything happens as if Isaiah chapter 53, which Freud applied to Moses, could also be applied to the figure of Jesus.

It is the absolutely paradoxical and scandalous idea (from the point of view of Judaism) that the Messiah could appear not as a triumphant man, crushing the Romans, but as « an object of contempt, abandoned by men, a man of sorrow, familiar with suffering, like someone before whom one hides one’s face, despised. »

But what is, now, the most scandalous thing for the Jewish conscience?

Is it Freud’s hypothesis that Isaiah’s words about a « man of sorrow », « despised », indicate that the Jews murdered Moses?

Or is it that these same Isaiah’s words announce the Christian thesis that the Messiah had to die like a slave, under the lazzis and spittle?

If Freud is wrong and Moses was not murdered by the Jews, it cannot be denied that a certain Jesus was indeed put to death under Pontius Pilate. And then one may be struck by the resonance of these words uttered by Isaiah seven centuries before: « Now it is our sufferings that he bore and our sorrows that he was burdened with. And we considered him punished, struck by God and humiliated. But he was pierced because of our crimes, crushed because of our faults. « (Is. 53:4-5)

There is obviously no proof, from the Jewish point of view, that these words of Isaiah apply to Jesus, — or to Moses.

If Isaiah’s words do not apply to Moses (in retrospect) nor to Jesus (prophetically), who do they apply to? Are they only general, abstract formulas, without historical content? Or do they refer to some future Messiah? Then, how many more millennia must Isaiah’s voice wait before it reaches its truth?

History, we know, has only just begun.

Human phylum, if it does not throw itself unexpectedly into nothingness, taking with it its planet of origin, still has (roughly) a few tens of millions of years of phylogenetic « development » ahead of it.

To accomplish what?

One may answer: to rise ever more in consciousness.

Or to accomplish still unimaginable « decisive progress »…

With time, the millennia will pass.

Will Isaiah’s words pass?

What is mankind already capable of?

What will be the nature of the « decisive progress » of the human spirit, which has yet to be accomplished, and which still holds itself in the potency to become?

It is necessary to prepare for it. We must always set to work, in the dark, in what seems like a desert of stone, salt and sand.

For example, it would be, it seems to me, a kind of « decisive » progress to “see” in the figure of Moses « put to death » by his own people, and in that of Christ « put on the cross », the very figure of the Sacrifice.

What Sacrifice?

The original Sacrifice, granted from before the creation of the world by the Creator God, the « Lord of Creatures » (that One and Supreme God whom the Veda already called « Prajāpati » six thousand years ago).

It would also, it seems to me, be another kind of « decisive » progress to begin to sense some of the anthropological consequences of the original « Sacrifice » of the supreme God, the « Lord of Creatures ».

Among them, the future of the « religions » on the surface of such a small, negligible planet (Earth): their necessary movement of convergence towards a religion of Humanity and of the World, a religion of the conscience of the Sacrifice of God, a religion of the conscience of Man, in the emptiness of the Cosmos.

iHeinrich Heine. Ludwig Börne. Le Cerf. Paris, 1993

iiJan Assmann. Le prix du monothéisme. Flammarion, Paris 2007, p. 142

iiiIbid. p. 143

ivSigmund Freud, L’Homme Moïse et la Religion monothéiste, traduit de l’allemand par Cornelius Heim, Paris, Gallimard, 1993, p.177, cité par J. Assmann, op.cit. p.144

vIbid. p.196

viIbid. p.211-212

viiIbid. p.173 et 179

viiiJan Assmann. Le prix du monothéisme. Flammarion, Paris 2007, p. 163

ixSigmund Freud, L’Homme Moïse, p.211-212

The Same Ancient and New Truth


« A Nag Hammadi Codex »

They all claim to bring « revelation », but no religion has ever presented total transparency, assumed full disclosure. Much of their foundation is shrouded in secrecy, and « the further back we go in religious history, the greater the role of secrecy”i .

But this secrecy should not be confused with mystery.

The mystery is deep, immense, alive.

The secret is useful and human. It is maintained on purpose, by the pythies, the shamans, the magi, the priests, the haruspices. It is used for control, it facilitates the construction of dogma, reinforces rites and the rigor of laws.

The mystery belongs to no one. It is not given to everyone to sense it, and even less to grasp its essence and nature.

The secret is put forward, proclaimed publicly, not in its content, but as a principle. It is therefore imposed on all and benefits a few.

To a certain extent, the secret is based (a little bit) on the existence of the mystery. One is the appearance of the reality of the other.

This is why the secret, through its signs, can sometimes nourish the sense of mystery, give it a presence.

The secret can remain such for a long time, but one day it is discovered for what it is, and we see that it was not much, in view of the mystery. Or, quite simply, it is lost forever, in indifference, without much damage to anyone.

The mystery, on the other hand, always stands back, or very much in the front, really elsewhere, absolutely other. It’s never finished with it.

Of the mystery what can we know?

A divine truth comes to be « revealed », but it also comes « veiled ».

« Truth did not come naked into the world, but it came dressed in symbols and images. The world will not receive it in any other way.”ii

Truth never comes « naked » into the world.

At least, that is what sarcastic, wily common sense guarantees.

God cannot be « seen », and even less « naked »…

« How could I believe in a supreme god who would enter a woman’s womb through her sexual organs […] without necessity? How could I believe in a living God who was born of a woman, without knowledge or intelligence, without distinguishing His right from His left, who defecates and urinates, sucks His mother’s breasts with hunger and thirst, and who, if His mother did not feed Him, would die of hunger like the rest of men?”iii

Rigorous reasoning. Realism of the details.

Yehoshua, the Messiah? « It is impossible for me to believe in his being the Messiah, for the prophecy says of the Messiah, ‘He shall have dominion from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth’ (Psalm 72:8). But Jesus had no reign at all; on the contrary, he was persecuted by his enemies and had to hide from them: in the end he fell into their hands and could not even preserve his own life. How could he have saved Israel? Even after his death he had no kingdom… At present, the servants of Muhammad, your enemies, have a power greater than yours. Moreover, prophecy foretells that in the time of the Messiah … ‘the knowledge of YHVH will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea’ (Isaiah 11:9). From the time of Jesus until today, there have been many wars and the world has been full of oppression and ruin. As for Christians, they have shed more blood than the rest of the nations.”iv

In this affair, it seems, common sense, reason, truth, are on the side of the doubters. Two millennia of Christianity have not changed their minds, quite the contrary…

What is striking in this whole affair is its paradoxical, incredible, implausible side.

Philosophically, one could tentatively argue that there are « naked » truths that are, by that very fact, even more veiled. They are hidden in the plain sight.

But history teaches us over and over again that there are no « naked » truths, in fact, but only veiled ones.

« The ancient theory of Egypt’s secret religion, as found in Plutarch and Diodorus, Philo, Origen, and Clement of Alexandria, and in Porphyry and Iamblichus, is based on the premise that truth is a secret in itself, and that it can only be grasped in this world through images, myths, allegories, and riddles.”v

This ancient conception probably dates back to the pre-dynastic period, and one can think that it goes back well before pre-history itself .

Since these immensely remote times, it has not ceased to influence the « first » religions, then the « historical » religions. Nor has it ceased to proliferate in Pythagorism, Platonism, Hermeticism or Gnosis.

The Nag Hammadi manuscripts still retain the memory of it. One of them, found in 1945, the Gospel of Philip, affirms that the world cannot receive truth otherwise than veiled by words, myths and images.

Words and images do not have the function of hiding the truth from the eyes of the unbelievers, the hardened, the blasphemers.

Words and images are themselves the very expression of the secret, the symbols of mystery.

Goethe summed up the ambivalence of the secret, both as concealment and as the manifestation of truth, in three words:

« The true is like God;

it does not appear immediately,

we have to guess it from its manifestations.”vi

Secrets always end up being revealed, but then they only reveal the ’emptiness’ of their time, their era.

The mystery, for its part, never ceases to stay hidden.

Jan Assmann concluding his beautiful study on « Moses the Egyptian » with a provocative thought:

« At its apogee, the pagan religion did not hide a void in the mysteries, but the truth of the One God.”vii

A good example of that is Abraham himself coming all the way to pay tribute to Melchisedech, a non-Hebrew « priest of the Most High ».

Augustine connected all the ages of belief in one stroke:

« What today is called the Christian religion existed in antiquity, and from the origin of the human race until Christ became incarnate, and it was from him that the true religion that already existed began to be called Christian.”viii

Basically the idea is very simple. And very stimulating, in a way.

Truth always has been ‘true’, and always will be. Truth was ‘true’ from the beginning of the world, and even before the beginning of the world. Truth will still be  »true in a hundred million or a hundred billion years, and even after the end of this (fleeting) universe.

The various words that tell the Truth, and the men who believe in it, such as Akhnaton, Melchisedech, Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Plato, Yehoshua, are only themselves quite fleeting, but they serve It, according to their rank, and wisdom.

Truth is as ancient as the Ancient of Days; Truth is also very young, and just beginning to live again, everyday, in hidden, mysterious cradles.

_____________

iJan Assmann. Moïse l’Égyptien. Aubier, Paris, 2001, p.316

iiGospel of Philip, 67

iiiDavid Kimhi (1160-1235) quoted by Shmuel Trigano. In Judaïsme et christianisme, entre affrontement et reconnaissance. Bayard. Paris, 2005, p. 32

ivMoses Nahmanide. La Dispute de Barcelone. Lagrasse, Verdier, 1984, p.41s. Cité par S. Trigano in op.cit.

vJan Assmann. Moïse l’Égyptien. Aubier, Paris, 2001, p.317

viGoethe. « Aus Makariens Archiv ». Werke 8. Münich 1981, p. 460 N.3. Cité in Jan Assmann, op.cit. p.318

viiJan Assmann. Moïse l’Égyptien. Aubier, Paris, 2001, p.320

viiiAugustin. Retr. I, 13

YHVH and AI


« Leshan Giant Buddha« , built during the Tang dynasty (618–907)

At the time of the introduction of Indian Buddhism in China, the scholars of the Chinese Empire, confronted with the arrival of new ‘barbaric words’ (i.e. the sacred names and religious terms inherited from Buddhism) considered it preferable not to translate them. They chose to only transliterate them.

A tentative translation into the Chinese language would have given these terms, it was thought, a down-to-earth, materialistic sound, hardly likely to inspire respect or evoke mystery.

Much later, in the 19th century, a sinologist from Collège de France, Stanislas Julien, developed a method to decipher Sanskrit names as they were (very approximately) transcribed into Chinese, and provided some examples.

« The word Pou-ti-sa-to (Bôdhisattva) translated literally as ‘Intelligent Being’ would have lost its nobility and emphasis; that is why it was left as veiled in its Indian form. The same was done for the sublime names of the Buddha, which, by passing in a vulgar language, could have been exposed to the mockery and sarcasm of the profane.”i

There are words and names that must definitely remain untranslated, not that they are strictly speaking untranslatable, but their eventual translation would go against the interest of their original meaning, threaten their substance, undermine their essence, and harm the extent of their resonance, by associating them – through the specific resources and means of the target language – with semantic and symbolic spaces more likely to deceive, mislead or mystify, than to enlighten, explain or reveal.

Many sacred names of Buddhism, originally conceived and expressed in the precise, subtle, unbound language that is Sanskrit, have thus not been translated into Chinese, but only transcribed, based on uncertain phonetic equivalences, as the sound universe of Chinese seems so far removed from the tones of the Sanskrit language.

The non-translation of these Sanskrit words into Chinese was even theorized in detail by Xuanzang (or Hiouen-Thsang), the Chinese Buddhist monk who was, in the 7th century AD, one of the four great translators of the Buddhist sutra.

« According to the testimony of Hiuen-Thsang (玄奘 ), the words that should not be translated were divided into five classes:

1°) Words that have a mystical meaning such as those of the Toloni (Dharanîs) and charms or magic formulas.

2°) Those that contain a large number of meanings such as Po-Kia-Fan (Bhagavan), « which has six meanings ».

3°) The names of things that do not exist in China, such as the trees Djambou, Bhôdhidrouma, Haritaki.

4°) Words that we keep out of respect for their ancient use, for example the expression Anouttara bôdhi, « superior intelligence ».

5°) Words considered to produce happiness, for example Pan-jo (Prodjna), « Intelligence ». »ii

Far from being seen as a lack of the Chinese language, or a lack of ideas on the part of Chinese translators, the voluntary renunciation to translate seems to me to be a sign of strength and openness. Greek once allowed the Romance languages to duplicate each other, so to speak, by adding to the concrete semantic roots of everyday life the vast resources of a language more apt for speculation; similarly, Chinese has been able to incorporate as it stands some of the highest, abstract concepts ever developed in Sanskrit.

There is a general lesson here.

There are compact, dense, unique words that appeared in a specific culture, generated by the genius of a people. Their translation would, despite efforts, be a radical betrayal.

For example, the Arabic word « Allah » literally means « the god » (al-lah). Note that there are no capital letters in Arabic. There can be no question of translating « Allah » into English by its literal equivalent (« the god »), as it would then lose the special meaning and aura that the sound of the Arabic language gives it. The liquid syllabes that follow one another, the alliterative repetition of the definite article, al, “the”, merging with the word lah, « god », create a block of meaning without equivalent, one might think.

Could, for instance, the famous Koranic formula « Lâ ilaha ilâ Allâh » proclaiming the oneness of God be translated literally in this way: « There is no god but the god »?

If this translation is considered too flat, should we try to translate it by using a capital letter: “There is no god but God” ?

Perhaps. But then what would be particularly original about this Islamic formula? Judaism and Christianity had already formulated the same idea, long before.

But the preservation of the proper name, Allah, may, on the other hand, give it a perfume of novelty.

The Hebrew word יהוה (YHVH) is a cryptic and untranslatable name of God. It offers an undeniable advantage: being literally untranslatable, the question of translation no longer arises. The mystery of the cryptogram is closed by construction, as soon as it appears in its original language. One can only transcribe it later in clumsy alphabets, giving it even more obscure equivalents, like “YHVH”, which is not even a faithful transcription of יהוה, or like “Yahweh”, an imaginary, faulty and somewhat blasphemous transcription (from the Jewish point of view).

But, paradoxically, we come closer, by this observation of impotence, to the original intention. The transcription of the sacred name יהוה in any other language of the world, a language of the goyim, gives it de facto one or more additional, potential layers of depth, yet to be deciphered.

This potential depth added (in spite of itself) by other languages is a universal incentive to navigate through the language archipelagos. It is an invitation to overcome the confusion of Babel, to open to the idiomatic lights of all the languages of the world. We may dream, one day, of being able to understand and speak them all, — through some future, powerful AI.

Some words, such as יהוה, would still be properly untranslatable. But, at least, with the help of AI, we would be able to observe the full spectrum of potential semantic or symbolic “equivalences”, in the context of several thousands of living or dead languages.

I bet that we will then discover some gold nuggets, waiting for us in the collective unconscious.

_______________

iMéthode pour déchiffrer et transcrire les noms sanscrits qui se rencontrent dans les livres chinois, à l’aide de règles, d’exercices et d’un répertoire de onze cents caractères chinois idéographiques employés alphabétiquement, inventée et démontrée par M. Stanislas Julien (1861)

iiHoeï-Li and Yen-Thsang. Histoire de la vie de Hiouen-Thsang et de ses voyages dans l’Inde : depuis l’an 629 jusqu’en 645, par, Paris, Benjamin Duprat,‎ 1853 .

Drops of Truth


« Maimonides »

Rav Shmuel ben Ali, Gaon of Baghdad, rightly pointed out that in Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed , there is not a single word on the question of the immortality of souls or that of the resurrection of the dead.

It is not that Maimonides was not interested in these delicate problems. In his great work, the Mishneh Torah, he asserted that the rational soul is immortal, and that she is conscious of her personal individuality, even in the world to comei.

Maimonides also said that the individual soul, which he also called the « intellect in act », joins after death the « agent intellect » that governs the sublunar sphere. At birth, the soul emanates from this sphere, and she comes to melt into it again at death.

The immortality of the soul does not take a personal form. Immersed in the bosom of the “agent intellect”, the soul possesses a kind of identity, without however having a separate existence.ii

Clearly, we are entering here into a highly speculative territory where the reference points are incomplete, even absent, and the indications of the rare daring ones who think they have some revelation to make on these subjects are scattered and contradictory.

The opportunities for getting lost are multiplying. No ‘guide’ seems to be able to lead us to a good port.

Perhaps that is why Maimonides did not see fit to include these ideas in his own Guide, despite the few insights he had into these matters.

Speculation about the afterlife, however fraught with pitfalls, offers an opportunity to dream of strange states of consciousness, to dream of unimaginable possibilities of being. There are more futile activities.

From the few elements provided by Maimonides, it is worth trying to freely imagine what the soul experiences after death, at the moment when she discovers herself, in a kind of subliminal awakening, plunged into another « world ». Arguably, she is fully conscious of herself, while feeling a kind of fusion with other sister souls, also immersed in the infinity of the « agent intellect ».

In this new « world », several levels of consciousness are superimposed and cross-fertilized, of which she hardly perceives the ultimate extensions or future implications.

The soul accessing the « sublunar sphere » is conscious of being (again) newly « born », but she is not completely devoid of reference points.

She has already experienced two previous « births », one at conception, the other at childbirth. She now knows confusedly that she has just experienced a kind of 3rd birth after death, opening a new phase of a life decidedly full of surprises, leaps, jumps.

Not long ago, on earth, she was a principle of life and consciousness, and now she swims in an ocean of life and intelligence, which absorbs her completely, without drowning her, nor blinding her, quite the contrary.

She was, a while ago, a “principle” (of life and consciousness, as I said) , and now she has become pure spiritual substance !

In this new state, she is probably waiting for an opportunity to manifest herself as a singular being, perhaps having taken a liking for it in her previous lives. Or, nourished by the thousand wounds of experience, she volunteers for yet other states of consciousness, or for yet other worlds, of a hopefully less cruel nature, and of which there is perhaps a profusion, beyond the sublunar sphere.

This kind of idea, I am well aware, seems perfectly inadmissible to an overwhelming majority of « modern » thinkers. Nihilists and other materialists give full meaning to « matter » and give nothing to the strength of the spirit, to its autonomy, to its capacity for survival, in an unsuspected way, after the vicissitudes of a life dominated by « matter ».

By contrast, Maimonides, in twelfth-century Spain, then a crossroads of thought, has attempted to unravel the mystery of what happens after death.

Maimonides was neither reactionary, nor an “illuminati”, nor a bigot, nor complacent. He flew high above innumerable dogmatic quarrels. There was in him an aspiration to pure reason, a nostalgia for the beyond of religious forms.

There was no question of renouncing the Law, however, or of abandoning memory of ancient cults. In his strange, aloof, ironic style, he says: « To ask for such a thing would have been as if a prophet in those times, exhorting the worship of God, came to us and said: ‘God forbids you to pray to Him, to fast, and to call on His help in times of trouble, but your worship will be a simple meditation, without any practice.”iii

This phrase that Maimonides put into the mouth of an imaginary prophet as if by play, can be taken today, a thousand years later, at face value. What seemed at the time a frank denial can now be interpreted as a rhetorical ruse, a posthumous warning from the man Maimonides, a master of double meaning.

The irony of the time fades away. The meaning is reversed, the intention is revealed.

His idea was radical. It is necessary to put an end to all cults, to idolatry, to hypocrisy, based on « prayers », « sacrifices », « fasts » and « invocations ».

Here comes the time for « simple » meditation!

I think that Maimonides was, very early on, one of the necessary prophets of new times, of those times which are always announced with delay, just as today these future times are late in coming, when ancient cults will no longer be respected for what they claim to embody, in their motionless repetitions.

In our times in parturition, naked meditation will surpass the practices of surface and appearance.

Is this idea subversive, scandalous?

Or is it a real vision, for the ultimate benefit of humankind?

Men have practiced, millennia after millennia, multiple sorts of religion. They have followed ordinances and laws, detailed or symbolic, or even freed themselves from them.

History is far from having said its last word.

There is no end to prophecy. There is no seal of the prophets.

Always, the search for a truer truth will animate the minds of men.

And in our wildest imagination, we are still very far from having tasted a small drop from this oceanic truth.

______________

iCf. Gérard Bensussan. Qu’est-ce que la philosophie juive ? 2003

iiIbid.

iiiMaïmonide. Guide des égarés. Traduction de l’arabe par Salomon Munk, Ed. Verdier, 1979, p.522

Bread and Wine


« Bread and Wine »

The « realist » philosophers analyze the world as it is, or at least how it looks, or what they believe it to be. But they have nothing to say about how being came to be, or about the genesis of reality. They are also very short about the ultimate ends, whether there are any or none.

They are in no way capable of conceptualizing the world in its full potency. They have no idea how the universe emerged from nothingness in indistinct times, when nothing and no one had yet attained being, when nothing was yet « in act ».

Nor do they have any representation of this world (the planet Earth) a few hundred million years from now, which is not a large space of time, from a cosmological point of view.

My point is: if one takes the full measure of the impotence and pusillanimity of the “realist” philosophy, then our mind is suddenly freed, – freed from all the past web of philosophical tatters studded with limited thoughts, turning short, local truths, fleeting views, closed syllogisms.

Our mind is freed from all inherited constraints. Everything is yet to be thought, and discovered.

We should then exercise the highest faculty, that of imagination, that of dreaming and vision.

It is an incentive to get out of reason itself, not to abandon it, but to observe it from an external, detached, non-rational point of view. “Pure reason” is ill-equipped to judge itself, no matter what Kant thinks.

What can we see, then?

Firstly, reason is truly unable to admit that it is closed on itself, let alone willing to admit that it necessarily has an outside, that there is something out there that is inconceivable to reason.

The purest, most penetrating reason is still quite blind to anything that is not reasonable.

Reason sees nothing of the oceanic immensity of non-reason which surrounds it, exceeds it infinitely, and in which however reason bathes, as an ignorant, fragile, ephemeral bubble.

Reason has always been in a strong relationship with language. But we know quite well that the language is a rudimentary tool, a kind of badly cut, flimsy flint, producing from time to time some rare sparks…

Let’s try to show this flimsiness with an example, based on a simple but foundational sentence, like « God is one ».

Grammatically, this sentence is a flimsy oxymoron. It oozes inconsistency. It links a subject (« God ») and a predicate (« one ») with the help of the copula (« is »). But in the same time it separates (grammatically) the subject and the predicate. In the same time, it separates them (semantically) and then reunites them (grammatically) by the sole virtue of a copulative verb (« is »), which, by the way, exists only in some human languages, but remains unknown to the majority of them…

If truly, I mean grammatically, ‘God is one’, then it should be impossible to really separate the words ‘God’, ‘is’, or ‘one’. They would be just the same reality.

If grammatically ‘God is one’, there would only be a need for the word ‘God’, or if one prefers only for the word ‘one’, or only for the word ‘is’. Those words or ‘names’ imply just the same, unique reality. Moreover, after having stated this ‘unique reality’, one would remain (logically) short. What else could be added, without immediately contravening the ‘unitary’ dogma? If anything else could be added, it should be immediately engulfed into the “oneness” of the “being”. Or, if not, that would imply that something could “be” outside the “One and Unique Being”. Which is (grammatically) illogical.

If grammatically ‘God is one’, then one must already count three verbal instances of His nature: the ‘name’ (God), the ‘essence’ (Being), the ‘nature’ (Oneness).

Three instances are already a crowd, in the context of the Unique One…

And no reason to stop there. This is why there are at least ten names of God in the Torah, and 99 names of Allah in Islam….

If grammatically ‘God is one’, then how can language itself could dare to stand as overhanging, outside of the ‘oneness’ of God, outside of His essential ‘unity’?

If grammatically ‘God is one’, then shouldn’t the language itself necessarily be one with Him, and made of His pure substance?

Some theologians have seen this difficulty perfectly well. So they have proposed a slightly modified formula: « God is one, but not according to unity.”

This clever attempt doesn’t actually solve anything.

They are just words added to words. This proliferation, this multiplicity (of words) is not really a good omen of their supposed ability to capture the essence of the One… Language, definitely, has untimely bursts, uncontrolled (but revealing) inner contradictions… Language is a mystery that only really take flight, like the bird of Minerva (the Hegelian owl), at dusk, when all the weak, flashy and illusory lights of reason are put under the bushel.

Here is another example of reason overcome by the proper power of language.

The great and famous Maimonides, a specialist in halakha, and very little suspect of effrontery in regard to the Law, surprised more than one commentator by admitting that the reason for the use of wine in the liturgy, or the function of the breads on display in the Temple, were completely beyond his comprehension.

He underlined that he had tried for a long time to search for some « virtual reasons »i to use wine and bread for religious purpose, to no avail. This strange expression (« virtual reasons ») seems to vindicate that, for Maimonides, there are in the commandments of the Law « provisions of detail whose reason cannot be indicated », and « that he who thinks that these details can be motivated is as far from the truth as he who believes that the general precept is of no real use »ii.

Which leaves us with yet another bunch of mysteries to tackle with.

Maimonides, a renowned expert of halakha in the 11th century A.D., candidly admitted that he did not understand the reason for the presence of bread and wine in Jewish liturgy, and particularly their presence in the premises of the Temple of Jerusalem.

It is then perhaps up to the poet, or the dreamer, or the anthropologist, to try to guess by analogy, or by anagogy, some possible « virtual reasons » for this religious use of bread and wine?

Maybe the bread and wine do belong to the depths of the collective inconscious, and for that reason are loaded with numinous potency?

Or, maybe Maimonides just would not want to see the obvious link with what had happened, more that a millennium before his time, in Jerusalem, during the Last Supper?

Whatever the answer, the question remains: why bread and wine, if “God is One”?

______________

iMaimonides. Le Guide des égarés. Ed. Verdier. 1979. The translation from Arabic into French by Salomon Munk, p.609, gives here : « raisons virtuelles ».

iiMaimonides. Le Guide des égarés. Ed. Verdier. 1979. Translation from Arabic into French by Salomon Munk, p.609 sq.

Neuroscience and Metaphysics


« Ezekiel’s Vision »

« There are not many Jewish philosophers, » says Leo Straussi.

This statement, however provocative, should be put into perspective.

The first Jewish philosopher, historically speaking, Philo of Alexandria, attempted a synthesis between his Jewish faith and Greek philosophy. He had little influence on the Judaism of his time, but much more on the Fathers of the Church, who were inspired by him, and instrumental in conserving his works.

A millennium later, Moses Maimonides drew inspiration from Aristotelian philosophy in an attempt to reconcile faith and reason. He was the famous author of the Guide of the Perplexed, and of the Mishne Torah, a code of Jewish law, which caused long controversies among Jews in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Another celebrity, Baruch Spinoza was « excommunicated » (the Hebrew term is חרם herem) and definitively « banished » from the Jewish community in 1656, but he was admired by Hegel, Nietzsche, and many Moderns…

In the 18th century, Moses Mendelssohn tried to apply the spirit of the Aufklärung to Judaism and became one of the main instigators of the « Jewish Enlightenment », the Haskalah (from the word השכלה , « wisdom », « erudition »).

We can also mention Hermann Cohen, a neo-Kantian of the 19th century, and « a very great German philosopher », in the words of Gérard Bensussanii.

Closer in time, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Emmanuel Lévinas .

That’s about it. These names don’t make a crowd, but we are far from the shortage that Leo Strauss wanted to point out. It seems that Leo Strauss really wished to emphasize, for reasons of his own, « the old Jewish premise that being a Jew and being a philosopher are two incompatible things, » as he himself explicitly put it.iii

It is interesting to recall that Leo Strauss also clarified his point of view by analyzing the emblematic case of Maimonides: « Philosophers are men who try to account for the Whole on the basis of what is always accessible to man as man; Maimonides starts from the acceptance of the Torah. A Jew may use philosophy and Maimonides uses it in the widest possible way; but, as a Jew, he gives his assent where, as a philosopher, he would suspend his assent.”iv

Leo Strauss added, rather categorically, that Maimonides’ book, The Guide of the Perplexed, « is not a philosophical book – a book written by a philosopher for philosophers – but a Jewish book: a book written by a Jew for Jews.”v

The Guide of the Perplexed is in fact entirely devoted to the Torah and to the explanation of the « hidden meaning » of several passages. The most important of the « hidden secrets » that it tries to elucidate are the ‘Narrative of the Beginning’ (the Genesis) and the ‘Narrative of the Chariot’ (Ezekiel ch. 1 to 10). Of these « secrets », Maimonides says that « the Narrative of the Beginning” is the same as the science of nature and the “Narrative of the Chariot” is the same as the divine science (i.e. the science of incorporeal beings, or of God and angels).vi

The chapters of Ezekiel mentioned by Maimonides undoubtedly deserve the attention and study of the most subtle minds, the finest souls. But they are not to be put into all hands. Ezekiel recounts his « divine visions » in great detail. It is easy to imagine that skeptics, materialists, rationalists or sneers (whether Jewish or not) are not part of the intended readership.

Let us take a closer look at a revealing excerpt of Ezekiel’ vision.

« I looked, and behold, there came from the north a rushing wind, a great cloud, and a sheaf of fire, which spread a bright light on all sides, in the center of which shone like polished brass from the midst of the fire. Also in the center were four animals that looked like humans. Each of them had four faces, and each had four wings. Their feet were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like polished bronze. They had human hands under the wings on their four sides; and all four of them had their faces and wings. Their wings were joined together; they did not turn as they walked, but each walked straight ahead. As for the figures of their faces, all four had the face of a man, all four had the face of a lion on the right, all four had the face of an ox on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle.”vii

The vision of Ezekiel then takes a stunning turn, with a description of an appearance of the « glory of the Lord ».

« I saw again as it were polished brass, fire, within which was this man, and which shone round about, from the form of his loins upward, and from the form of his loins downward, I saw as fire, and as bright light, about which he was surrounded. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of that bright light: it was an image of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”viii

The « man » in the midst of the fire speaks to Ezekiel as if he were an « image » of God.

But was this « man » really an « image » of God? What « philosopher » would dare to judge this statement ?

Perhaps this « man » surrounded by fire was some sort of « reality »? Or was he just an illusion?

Either way, it is clear that this text and its possible interpretations do not fit into the usual philosophical canons.

Should we therefore follow Leo Strauss, and consequently admit that Maimonides himself is not a « philosopher », but that he really wrote a « Jewish book » for the Jews, in order to respond to the need for clarification of the mysteries contained in the Texts?

Perhaps… But the modern reader of Ezekiel, whether Jewish or not, whether a philosopher or not, cannot fail to be interested in the parables one finds there, and in their symbolic implications.

The « man » in the midst of the fire asks Ezekiel to « swallow » a book, then to go « to the house of Israel », to this people which is not for him « a people with an obscure language, an unintelligible language », to bring back the words he is going to say to them.

The usual resources of philosophy seem little adapted to deal with this kind of request.

But the Guide for the Perplexed tackles it head on, in a both refined and robust style, mobilizing all the resources of reason and criticism, in order to shed some light on people of faith, who are already advanced in reflection, but who are seized with « perplexity » in the face of the mysteries of such « prophetic visions ».

The Guide for the Perplexed implies a great trust in the capacities of human reason.

It suggests that these human capacities are far greater, far more unbounded than anything that the most eminent philosophers or the most enlightened poets have glimpsed through the centuries.

And it is not all. Ages will come, no doubt, when the power of human penetration into divine secrets will be, dare we say it, without comparison with what Moses or Ezekiel themselves were able to bequeath to posterity.

In other words, and contrary to usual wisdom, I am saying that the age of the prophets, far from being over, has only just begun; and as well, the age of philosophers is barely emerging, considering the vast scale of the times yet to come.

Human history still is in its infancy, really.

Our entire epoch is still part of the dawn, and the great suns of the Spirit have not revealed anything but a tiny flash of their potential illuminating power.

From an anatomical and functional point of view, the human brain conceals much deeper mysteries, much more obscure, and powerful, than the rich and colorful metaphors of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel’s own brain was once, a few centuries ago, prey to a « vision ». So there was at that time a form of compatibility, of correspondence between the inherent structure of Ezekiel’s brain and the vision which he was able to give an account of.

The implication is that one day in the future, presumably, other brains of new prophets or visionaries may be able to transport themselves even further than Ezekiel.

It all winds down to this: either the prophetic « vision » is an illusion, or it has a reality of its own.

In the first case, Moses, Ezekiel and the long list of the « visionaries » of mankind are just misguided people who have led their followers down paths of error, with no return.

In the second case, one must admit that a “prophetic vision” implies the existence of another “world” subliminally enveloping the « seer ».

To every « seer » it is given to perceive to a certain extent the presence of the mystery, which surrounds the whole of humanity on all sides.

To take up William James’ intuition, human brains are analogous to « antennae », permanently connected to an immense, invisible worldix.

From age to age, many shamans, a few prophets and some poets have perceived the emanations, the pulsations of this other world.

We have to build the neuroscience and the metaphysics of otherworldly emanations.

_________

iLeo Strauss. Maïmonides. 1988, p.300

iiGérard Bensussan. Qu’est-ce que la philosophie juive ? 2003, p.166.

iiiLeo Strauss. Maïmonides. 1988, p.300

ivIbid., p.300

vIbid., p.300

viIbid., p. 304

viiEzekiel, 1, 4-10

viiiEzekiel, 1, 4-10

ixWilliam James. Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to the Doctrine.1898. Ed. Houghton, Mifflin and Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge.

Divine Splinters


Orpheus and Euridyce

In ancient Greek dictionaries, just right after the name Orpheus, one may find the word orphne (ὄρφνη), « darkness ». From a semantic point of view, orphne can be applied to the underworld, the « dark » world. Orpheus, also descended into the Underworld, and was plunged into orphne.

Orpheus was « orphic » par excellence. He sought revelation. He ventured without hesitation into the lair of death, and he came out of it alive – not without the fundamental failure that we know well. But later, the shadows caught up with him. A screaming pack of Thracian women tore him apart, member to member.

Only his severed head escaped the furious melee, rolled ashore. The waves swept him across the sea, and Orpheus‘ head was still singing.

He had defeated death, and passed over the sea.

The myth of Orpheus symbolizes the search for the true Life, the one that lies beyond the realm of Death.

The philosopher Empedocles testifies to the same dream: « For I was once a boy and a girl, and a plant and a bird and a fish that found its way out of the sea.”1

In tablets dating from the 6th century BC, found in Olbia, north of the Black Sea, several characteristic expressions of Orphism, such as bios-thanatos-bios, have been deciphered. This triad, bios-thanatos-bios, « life-death-life », is at the center of orphism.

Orpheus, a contemporary of Pythagoras, chose, contrary to the latter, to live outside of « politics ». He refused the « city » and its system of values. He turned towards the elsewhere, the beyond. « The Orphics are marginal, wanderers and especially ‘renouncers‘ », explains Marcel Detiennei.

Aristophanes stated that the teaching of Orpheus rested on two points: not making blood flow, and discovering »initiation ».

The Greek word for initiation to the Mysteries is teletè (τελετή). This word is related to telos, « completion, term, realization ». But teletè has a very precise meaning in the context of Orphism. Among the Orphic mysteries, perhaps the most important is that of the killing of the god-child, Dionysus, devoured by the Titans, – except for his heart, swallowed by Zeus, becoming the germ of his rebirth within the divine body.

Several interpretations circulate. According to Clement of Alexandria, Zeus entrusted Apollo with the task of collecting and burying the scattered pieces of Dionysus’ corpse on Mount Parnassus.

According to the neo-Platonic gnosis, the Mysteries refer to the recomposition, the reunification of the dismembered body of God.

The death of Orpheus is mysteriously analogous to the more original death of the god Dionysus, which probably derives from much older traditions, such as those of the ancient Egyptians, who worshipped Osiris, who was also torn to pieces, scattered throughout Egypt, and finally resurrected.

For the comparatist, it is difficult to resist yet another analogy, that of the sharing of Christ’s « body » and « blood, » which his disciples « ate » and « drank » at the Last Supper just before his death. A scene that has been repeated in every Mass since then, at the time of « communion ».

There is a significant difference, however, between the death of Christ and that of Osiris, Dionysus or Orpheus. Contrary to the custom that governed the fate of those condemned to death, the body of Christ on the cross was not « broken » or « dismembered, » but only pierced with a spear. The preservation of the unity of his body had been foretold by the Scriptures (« He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken », Psalm 34:20).

No physical dispersion of the body of Christ at his death, but a symbolic sharing at Communion, like that of the bread and wine, metaphors of flesh and blood, presented at the Last Supper, symbols of a unity, essentially indivisible, universally shareable.

This makes all the more salient the search for the divine unity apparently lost by Osiris or Dionysus, but found again thanks to the analogous care of Isis, Zeus, or Apollo.

Beyond the incommensurable divergences, a paradigm common to the ancient religions of Egypt and Greece and to Christianity emerges.

The God, one in essence, is dismembered, dispersed, really or symbolically, and then, by one means or another, finds Himself unified again.

One, divided, multiplied, dispersed, and again One.

Again One, after having been scattered throughout the worlds.

So many worlds: so many infinitesimal shards within the divine unity.

__________________

1Empedocles F. 117

iMarcel Detienne. Les dieux d’Orphée. Gallimard. 2007

The « churning » of East and West


 « The Churning of the Ocean of Milk ». Dasavastra manuscript, ca. 1690 – 1700, Mankot court, Pahari School (India)

In India at the end of the 19th century, some Indian intellectuals wanted to better understand the culture of England, the country that had colonized them. For instance, D.K. Gokhale took it as a duty to memorize Milton’s Paradise Lost, Walter Scott’s Rokeby, and the speeches of Edmund Burke and John Bright.

However, he was quite surprised by the spiritual emptiness of these texts, seemingly representative of the « culture » of the occupying power.

Perhaps he should have read Dante, Master Eckhart, Juan de la Cruz, or Pascal instead, to get a broader view of Europe’s capabilities in matters of spirituality?

In any case, Gokhale, tired of so much superficiality, decided to return to his Vedic roots. Striving to show the world what India had to offer, he translated Taittirīya-Upaniṣad into English with the famous commentary from Śaṃkara.

At the time of Śaṃkara, in the 8th century AD, the Veda was not yet preserved in written form. But for five thousand years already, it had been transmitted orally through the Indian souls, from age to age, with extraordinary fidelity.i

The Veda heritage had lived on in the brains of priests, during five millenia, generation after generation. Yet it was never communicated in public, except very partially, selectively, in the form of short fragments recited during sacrifices. The integral Veda existed only in oral form, kept in private memories.

Never before the (rather late) time of Śaṃkara had the Veda been presented in writing, and as a whole, in its entirety.

During the millenia when the Veda was only conserved orally, it would have been necessary to assemble many priests, of various origins, just to recite a complete version of it, because the whole Veda was divided into distinct parts, of which various families of Brahmins had the exclusive responsibility.

The complete recitation of the hymns would have taken days and days. Even then, their chanting would not have allowed a synoptic representation of the Veda.

Certainly, the Veda was not a « Book ». It was a living assembly of words.

At the time the Taittirīya-Upaniṣad was composed, the Indo-Gangetic region had cultural areas with a different approach to the sacred « word » of Veda.

In the Indus basin, the Vedic religion has always affirmed itself as a religion of the « Word ». Vāc (the Sanskrit word for « Word ») is a vedic Divinity. Vāc breathes its Breath into the Sacrifice, and the Sacrifice is entirely, essentially, Vāc, — « Word ».

But in the eastern region, in Magadha and Bihar, south of the Ganges, the Deity remains ‘silent’.

Moreover, in northeast India, Buddhism, born in the 6th century B.C., is concerned only with meaning, and feels no need to divinize the « Word ».

These very different attitudes can be compared, it seems to me, to the way in which the so-called « religions of the Book » also deal with the « Word ».

The « word » of the Torah is swarming, bushy, contradictory. It requires, as history has shown, generations of rabbis, commentators and Talmudists to search for all its possible meanings, in the permanent feeling of the incompleteness of its ultimate understanding. Interpretation has no end, and cannot have an end.

The Christian Gospels also have their variations and their obscurities. They were composed some time after the events they recount, by four very different men, of different culture and origin: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

As human works, the Gospels have not been « revealed » by God, but only « written » by men, who were also witnesses. In contrast, at least if we follow the Jewish tradition, the Torah has been (supposedly) directly revealed to Moses by God Himself.

For Christianity, the « Word » is then not « incarnated » in a « Book » (the Gospels). The « Word » is incarnated in Jesus.

Islam respects the very letter of the Qur’an, « uncreated », fully « descended » into the ear of the Prophet. Illiterate, Muhammad, however, was its faithful mediator, transmitting the words of the angel of God, spoken in Arabic, to those of his disciples who were able to note them down.

Let us summarize. For some, the « Word » is Silence, or Breath, or Sacrifice. For others, the « Word » is Law. For others, the « Word » is Christ. For others, the « Word » is a ‘Descent‘.

How can such variations be explained? National « Genius »? Historical and cultural circumstances? Chances of the times?

Perhaps one day, in a world where culture and « religion » will have become truly global, and where the mind will have reached a very high level of consciousness, in the majority of humans, the « Word » will present itself in still other forms, in still other appearances?

For the moment, let us jealously preserve the magic and power of the vast, rich and diverse religious heritage, coming from East and West.

Let us consider its fundamental elevation, its common aspiration, and let us really begin its churning.

________

i Cf. Lokamanya Bâl Gangâdhar Tilak, Orion ou Recherche sur l’antiquité des Védas, French translation by Claire et Jean Rémy, éditions Edidit & Archè, Milan et Paris, 1989



The Endless Moves of the Unconscious


All human languages are animated by a secret spirit, an immanent soul. Over the millennia, they have developed within them their own potency, even without the participating knowledge of the fleeting peoples who speak them. In the case of ancient languages, such as Sanskrit, Egyptian, Avestic, Hebrew (biblical), Greek (Homeric), Latin, or Arabic, this spirit, soul, and other powers are still at work, many centuries after their apogee, albeit often in a hidden form. The keen, patient observer can still try to find the breath, the strength, the fire, well in evidence in ancient, famous pages or left buried in neglected works. One may sometimes succeed, unexpectedly, to find pearls, and then contemplate their special aura, their glowing, sui generis energy.

The innumerable speakers of these languages, all of them appearing late and disappearing early in their long history, could be compared to ephemeral insects, foraging briefly in the forest of fragrant, independent and fertile language flowers, before disappearing, some without having produced the slightest verbal honey, others having been able by chance to distill some rare juice, some suave sense, from time to time.

From this follows, quite logically, what must be called the phenomenal independence of languages in relation to the men who speak and think them.

Men often seem to be only parasites of their language. It is the languages that « speak » the people, more than the people speak them. Turgot said: « Languages are not the work of a reason present to itself.”

The uncertain origin and the intrinsic ‘mystery’ of languages go back to the most ancient ages, far beyond the limited horizon that history, anthropology and even linguistics are generally content with.

Languages are some kind of angels of history. They haunt the unconscious of men, and like zealous messengers, they help them to become aware of a profound mystery, that of the manifestation of the spirit in the world and in man.

The essence of a language, its DNA, is its grammar. Grammar incorporates the soul of the language, and it structures its spirit, without being able to understand its own genius. Grammatical DNA is not enough to explain the origin of the genius of language. It is also necessary to take the full measure of the slow work of epigenesis, and the sculpture of time.

Semitic languages, to take one example, are organized around verbal roots, which are called « triliters » because they are composed of three radical letters. But in fact, these verbs (concave, geminated, weak, imperfect,…) are not really « triliters ». To call them so is only « grammatical fiction », Renan saidi. In reality, triliteral roots can be etymologically reduced to two radical letters, with the third radical letter only adding a marginal nuance.

In Hebrew, the biliteral root פר (PR) carries the idea of separation, cut, break. The addition of a third radical letter following פר modifies this primary meaning, and brings like a bouquet of nuances.

Thus, the verbs : פּרד (parada, to divide), פּרה (paraa, to bear fruit), פּרח (paraha, to bloom, to bud, to burst),ּ פּרט (paratha, to break, to divide), פּרך (parakha, to crumble, to pulverize), פּרם (parama, to tear, to unravel), פּרס (paraça, to break, to divide), פּרע (para’a, to detach from, to excel), פּרץ (paratsa, to break, to shatter), פּרק (paraqa, to tear, to fragment), פּרר (parara, to break, to rape, to tear, to divide), פּרשׂ (parassa, to spread, to unfold), פּרשׁ (parasha, to distinguish, to declare).

The two letters פּ et ר also form a word, פּר, par, a substantive meaning: « young bull, sacrificial victim ». There is here, in my view, an unconscious meaning associated with the idea of separation. A very ancient, original, symbolic meaning, is still remembered in the language: the sacrificial victim is the one which is ‘separated’ from the herd, who is ‘set apart’.

There is more…

Hebrew willingly agrees to swap certain letters that are phonetically close. Thus, פּ (P) may be transmuted with other labials, such as בּ (B) or מ (M). After transmutation, the word פּר, ‘par’, is then transformed into בּר, ‘bar’, by substituting בּ for פּ. Now בּר, ‘bar‘, means ‘son’. The Hebrew thus makes it possible to associate with the idea of ‘son’ another idea, phonetically close, that of ‘sacrificial victim’. This may seem counter-intuitive, or, on the contrary, well correlated with certain very ancient customs (the ‘first born son sacrifice’). This adds another level of understanding to what was almost the fate of Isaac, the son of Abraham, whom the God YHVH asked to be sacrificed.

Just as פּ (P) permuted with בּ (B), so the first sacrificial victim (the son, ‘bar‘) permuted with another sacrificial victim (‘par‘), in this case a ram.

The biliteral root בּר, BR, ‘bar‘, gave several verbs. They are: בּרא (bara‘, ‘to create, to form’; ‘to be fat’), בּרה (baraa, ‘to eat’), בּרח (baraha, ‘to pass through, to flee’), בּרך (barakha, ‘to kneel, to bless’), בּרק (baraq, ‘lightning’), בּרר (barara, ‘to purify, to choose’).

The spectrum of these meanings, while opening the mind to other dimensions, broadens the symbolic understanding of the sacrificial context. Thus the verb bara‘, ‘he created’, is used at the beginning of Genesis, Berechit bara’ Elohim, « In the beginning created God…. ». The act of ‘creating’ (bara‘) the Earth is assimilated to the begetting of a ‘son’ (bar), but also, in a derivative sense, to the act of fattening an animal (‘the fatted calf’) for its future sacrifice. After repetition of the final R, we have the verb barara, which connotes the ideas of election and purification, which correspond to the initial justification of the sacrifice (election) and its final aim (purification). The same root, slightly modified, barakha, denotes the fact of bringing the animal to its knees before slaughtering it, a more practical position for the butcher. Hence, no doubt, the unconscious reason for the late, metonymic shift to the word ‘bless’. Kneeling, a position of humility, awaiting the blessing, evokes the position taken by the animal on the altar of sacrifice.

Hebrew allows yet other permutations with the second radical letter of the word, for example in the case cited, by substituting ר with צ. This gives: פּצה (patsaa, ‘to split, to open wide’), פּצח (patsaha, ‘to burst, to make heard’), פּצל (patsala, ‘to remove the bark, to peel’), פּצם (patsama, ‘to split’), פצע (patsa’a, ‘to wound, to bruise’). All these meanings have some connotation with the slaughter that the sacrifice of the ancient Hebrew religion requires, in marked contrast to the sacrifice of the Vedic religion, which is initiated by the grinding of plants and their mixing with clarified butter.

Lovers of Hebrew, Sanskrit, Greek, or Arabic dictionaries can easily make a thousand discoveries of this nature. They contemplate curiously, then stunned, the shimmering of these ancient languages, sedimenting old meanings by subtle shifts, and feeding on multiple metaphors, for thousands of years.

Unlike Semitic languages, the semantic roots of Chinese or the ancient language of Egypt are monosyllabic, but the rules of agglutination and coagulation of these roots also produce, though in another way, myriads of variations. Other subtleties, other nuances are discovered and unfold in an entirely different grammatical context.

These questions of grammar, roots and settled variations are fascinating, but it must be said that by confining ourselves to them, we never remain but on the surface of things.

We need to go deeper, to understand the very texture of words, their fundamental origin, whose etymology can never be enough. The time travel that etymology allows, always stops too early, in some ‘original’ sense, but that does not exhaust curiosity. Beyond that, only dense mists reign.

It has been rightly pointed out that Arabic is, in essence, a desert language, a language of nomads. All the roots bear witness to this in a lively, raw, poetic way.

In the same way, one should be able to understand why and how the Vedic language, Sanskrit, which is perhaps the richest, most elaborate language that man has ever conceived, is a language that has been almost entirely constructed from roots and philosophical and religious (Vedic) concepts. One only has to consult a dictionary such as Monier-Williams’ to see that the vast majority of Sanskrit words are metaphorically or metonymically linked to what was once a religious, Vedic image, symbol or intuition.

It is necessary to imagine these people, living six, twelve, twenty or forty thousand years ago, some of them possessing an intelligence and a wisdom as penetrating and powerful as those of Homer, Plato, Dante or Kant, but confronted to a very different ‘cultural’ environment.

These enlightened men of Prehistory were the first dreamers, the first thinkers of language. Their brains, avid, deep and slow, wove dense cocoons, from which were born eternal and brief butterflies, still flying in the light of origin, carefree, drawing arabesques, above the abyss, where the unconscious of the world never ceases to move.

_____

i Cf. Ernest Renan. De l’origine du langage. 1848

Seeing the « Hidden » God


Moses wearing a veil

The Hebrew word temounah has three meanings, says Maimonides.

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

Secondly, this word may be used to refer to figures, thoughts or visions that may occur in the imagination: « In thoughts born of nocturnal visions (temounah), etc.”, (Jb. 4:13). This passage from Job ends by using a second time this word: « A figure (temounah), whose features were unknown to me, stood there before my eyes. « (Jb. 4:16). This means, according to Maimonides, that there was a ghost before Job’s eyes while he was sleeping.

Finally, this word may mean the idea perceived by the intelligence. It is in this sense that one can use temounah when speaking of God: « And he beholds the figure (temounah) of the Lord. « (Num. 12:8). Maimonides comments: « That is to say, he contemplates God in his reality.” It is Moses, here, who ‘contemplates’ the reality of God. In another passage, again about Moses, God Himself says: « I speak to him face to face, in a clear appearance and without riddles. It is the image (temounah) of God himself that he contemplates. » (Numbers 12:8).

Maimonides explains: « The doctors say that this was a reward for having first ‘hidden his face so as not to look at God’ (Berakhot 7a) ». Indeed, one text says: « Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look towards God.” (Ex. 3:6)

It is difficult to bring anything new after Maimonides and the doctors. But this word, whose image, vision and idea can be understood through its very amphibology, deserves a special effort.

The word temounah is written תְּמוּנָה (root מוּן ).

The letter taw, the initial of temounah, can be swapped with the other ‘t’ in the Hebrew alphabet, the teth ט, as is allowed in the Hebrew language, which is very lax in this respect. This gives a new word, which can be transcribed as follows: themounah. Curiously enough, the word thamana טָמַן, which is very close to it, means « to hide, to bury ».

One may argue that it’s just a play on words. But the salt of the matter, if one lends any virtue to the implicit evocations of the meaning of the words, is that Moses « hides » (thamana) his face so as not to see the temounah of God.

By hiding (thamana) his own face (temounah), Moses contemplates the figure (temounah) of God, which remains hidden from him (thamana).

What does this teach us?

It teaches us that the divine figure does not show itself, even to a prophet of the calibre of Moses. Rather, it shows that the divine figure stays hidden. But by hiding, it also shows that one can contemplate its absence, which is in fact the beginning of the vision (temounah) of its very essence (temounah).

By renouncing to see a temounah (an image), one gains access to the temounah of the temounah (the understanding of the essence).

Through this riddle, hopefully, one may start to get access to God’s temounah.

It is also a further indication that God is indeed a hidden God. No wonder it is difficult to talk about His existence (and even more so about His essence) to ‘modern’ people who only want to « see » what is visible.

Varieties of Ecstasy


Ezekiel’s Vision. Raphael

Man is an « intermediary being » between the mortal and the immortal, says Plato. This enigmatic phrase, rather inaudible to modern people, can be understood in several senses,.

One of these is the following. « Intermediary » means that man is in constant motion. He goes up and down, in the same breath. He ascends towards ideas that he does not really understand, and he descends towards matter that he does not understand at all. Inhaling, exhaling. Systole of the spirit, diastole of the soul.

Ancient words still testify to these outward movements of the soul. « Ecstasy », from the Greek ἒκστασις (ekstasis), means firstly « coming out of oneself ». The spirit comes out of the body, and then it is caught up in a movement that takes it beyond the world.

Ekstasis is the opposite of stasis, ‘contemplation’, — which is immobile, stable, and which Aristotle called θεωρία (theoria). The meaning of θεωρία as ‘contemplation, consideration’ is rather late, since it only appears with Plato and Aristotle. Later, in Hellenistic Greek, this word took on the meaning of ‘theory, speculation’ as opposed to ‘practice’.

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

The words ekstasis and theoria have something in common, a certain movement towards the divine. Ekstasis is an exit from the body. Theoria is a journey out of the homeland, to visit the oracle of Delphi.

These are images of the free movement of the soul, in the vertical or horizontal direction. Unlike the theoria, which is a journey in the true sense of the word, ekstasis takes the form of a thought in movement outside the body, crossed by lightning and dazzle, always aware of its weakness, its powerlessness, in an experience which goes far beyond its capacities, and which it knows it has little chance of really grasping, few means of fixing it and sharing it on its return.

The word ekstasis seems to keep the trace of a kind of experience that is difficult to understand for those who have not lived it. When the soul moves to higher lands, generally inaccessible, it encounters phenomena quite different from those of the usual life, life on earth. Above all, it runs an infinitely fast race, in pursuit of something that is constantly ahead of it, that draws it ever further away, to an ever-changing elsewhere, which probably stands at an infinite distance.

Human life cannot know the end of this race. The soul, at least the one that is given the experience of ekstasis, can nevertheless intuitively grasp the possibility of a perpetual search, a striking race towards an elusive reality.

In his commentaries on the experience of ecstasyi, Philo considers that Moses, despite what his famous visionii, reported in the Bible, did not actually have access to a complete understanding of the divine powers.

But Jeremiah, on the other hand, would testify to a much greater penetration of these powers, according to Philo. However, despite all his talent, Philo has difficulty in consolidating this delicate thesis. The texts are difficult and resistant to interpretation.

Philo cautiously suggests extrapolating certain lines from Jeremiah’s text to make it an indication of what may have been an ecstasy. « This is how the word of God was addressed to Jeremiah”iii. This is rather thin, admittedly. But another line allows us to guess God’s hold, God’s domination over Jeremiah: « Dominated by your power, I have lived in isolation »iv.

Other prophets have also declared to have lived in ecstasy, using other metaphors. Ezekiel, for example, says that « the hand of God came »v upon him, or that the spirit « prevailed »vi.

When the ecstasy is at its height, the hand of God weighs more than usual: « And the spirit lifted me up and carried me away, and I went away sad, in the exaltation of my spirit, and the hand of the Lord weighed heavily on me.”vii

In a cynical, materialistic and disillusioned time, like our time, one cannot be content with just words, even prophetic ones, to interest the reader. Facts, experiments, science, rationality are needed.

Let’s start with a ‘technical’ definition of ecstasy according to the CNRTL :

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

This definition evokes enlightenment, identification or union with transcendental realities. This vocabulary is hardly less obscure than the biblical expressions ‘dominion by power’, or ‘hand of God’.

Moreover, this definition cautiously employs what appears to be a series of euphemisms: ‘to be as if transported’, ‘to be removed from the sensitive world’, ‘to discover a kind of enlightenment’, ‘to participate in an experience’.

If we return to the memories of ecstasy bequeathed to us by the prophets, the true ‘experience’ of ecstasy seems infinitely more dynamic, more overwhelming, ‘dominated’ by the immediate, irrefutable intuition of an infinite, transcendent ‘power’.

Bergson, a true modernist, if ever there was one, and philosopher of movement, paradoxically gives a rather static image of ecstasy: « The soul ceases to turn on itself (…). It stops, as if it were listening to a voice calling out to it. (…) Then comes an immensity of joy, an ecstasy in which it is absorbed or a rapture it experiences: God is there, and it is in him. No more mystery. Problems fade away, obscurities dissipate; it is an illumination.”viii

Can ecstasy only be associated with a moment when the soul ‘stops’, when it ‘stops spinning’? Is it not rather carried away without recourse by a fiery power, which suddenly sweeps away all certainty, all security? Bergson certainly falls far short of any essential understanding of ecstasy, perhaps because he has never experienced one.

Who will report today in audible words, in palpable images, the infinite and gentle violence of ecstasy? Who will say in raw terms the light that invades the intelligence, as in love the whole body? Who will explain the narrow bank from which the pulse of death is measured? Who will tell us how to kiss the lips of infinity? Who will grasp in one stroke the face of which time is but a slice, and the world, but a shadow?

______

iPhilon. De Monarch. I, 5-7

iiEx., 33, 18-23

iiiJér. 14,1

ivJér. 15,17

vEz. 1,3

viEz. 3,12

viiEz. 3,14

viiiH. Bergson, Deux sources,1932, p. 243.

Biblical Nudity


The Drunkenness of Noah. Moretto da Brescia.

There are four kinds of nudity in the Bible.

The first kind of nudity: the head uncovered, the face unveiled, or the body dressed in torn clothing.

Moses said to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons: « Do not uncover your heads or tear your clothes, unless you want to die and bring divine wrath upon the whole community. « (Lev. 10:6)

In this episode, sadness and mourning take hold of Aaron and his sons because a divine fire has just fatally burned two other sons. But Moses does not allow them to express their sorrow in the agreed forms (uncovered head, torn clothes).

In another episode, it is the unveiled face of Abraham’s wife that poses a problem, not as such, but because it arouses the Pharaoh’s desire, and incites Abraham to lie to him about his wife whom he presents as his sister.

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

Second kind of nudity: that of the drunk man, who does not have his full conscience. Thus Noah: « He drank of his wine and became drunk, and laid himself bare in the midst of his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and went outside to tell his two brothers. « (Gen. 9:21-22)

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

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

These different sort of nakedness can be interpreted, it seems to me, as various allegories of the Mystery, as various ways of being confronted with it, partially or totally, seeing it without understanding it, or somewhat understanding it, but then being excluded from it.

Not everyone is allowed to “see” the mysteries of heaven and earth. There are several levels of unveiling, reserved for those who have the capacity to face them face to face, according to their own merits.

“Seeing” the nakedness of the mystery is in principle excluded. But there are cases where this is more or less possible, with certain consequences.

If the mystery is laid bare, if it is looked at without a veil, without precaution, this implies taking risks.

The first kind of nudity is an image of the risk taken. Uncovering one’s head or tearing off one’s clothes against time, like Aaron did, can arouse divine anger.

Noah’s nakedness is another parable. One is sometimes led to surreptitiously discover a hidden aspect of the Mystery. Ham accidentally saw his father’s nudity (nudity which is admittedly a figure, a metaphor, of the Mystery). Ham will be punished above all for having immediately ‘revealed’ it to his brothers Shem and Japheth instead of having taken the necessary measures (covering the nudity, protecting the nakedness of the Mystery). It was the latter brothers who then carefully covered it, walking backwards and turning their face, not taking any glance at the scene.

They were to be rewarded later on for having preserved the invisible aura of the Mystery.

The third nudity, the happy nudity of Adam and Eve, is that of the origin. One may see the entire Mystery, without any veil, but the paradox is that one is not aware of its real nature. The whole Mystery is fully disclosed, but everything happens as if there was no awareness of it, as if there was nothing special to see, to understand, as is there was nothing mysterious in fact. Trap of the visible. Laces of un-exercised intelligence. Adam and Eve do not “see” and even less understand the Mystery that surrounds them, and they are not even aware of their own mystery, the mystery of their existence, their own consciousness. The Mystery is present in them, around them, but they know nothing of it.

The fourth kind of nudity is shameful nudity. Adam finally knows and sees his own nakedness as it is. The mystery is revealed to the consciousness. The consciousness has knowledge of the existence of the Mystery, but to no avail. The presence of the Mystery is immediately covered, buried in the unconscious, by the consciousness.

Four kind of nudity, four ways of perceiving the Mystery, and four ways blinding oneself to its true nature.

The biblical nudity carries four lessons about the veil and its unveiling.

One has to make an effort to understand the true nature, the true nudity, the true essence of the Mystery.

Not by unveiling it. On the contrary.

The Thinker


The Thinker. Auguste Rodin

The Greek word logos means « reason » or « discourse, speech ».

In Plato’s philosophy, the Logos is the Principle and the Word. It is also the Whole of all the Intelligible, as well as the link between the divine powers, and what founds their unity. Finally, it is the « intermediary » between man and God.

For Philo of Alexandria, a Neo-Platonist Jew, the Logos takes two forms. In God, the Logos is the divine Intelligence, the Eternal Thought, the Thoughtful Thought. In its second form, the Logos resides in the world, it is the Thought in action, the Thought realized outside God.

Written shortly after Philo’s active years, the Gospel of John says that « in the beginning » there was the Logos who was God, and the Logos who was with God i. There was also the Logos who was made fleshii.

Does this mean that there are three instances of the Logos? The Logos who is God, the Logos who is with Him and the Logos who became flesh?

In Christian theology, there is only one Logos. Yet the three divine ‘instances’ of the Logos quoted by John have also been personified as Father, Son, Spirit.

For the structuralist philosopher, it is possible to sum up these difficult theses in a pragmatic way. The Logos comes in three forms or aspects: Being, Thinking, Speaking. That what is, that what thinks and that what speaks. These three forms are, moreover, fundamental states, from which everything derives, and with which anybody can find an analogy pointing to the fundamental human condition (existence, intelligence, expression).

Philo, who is both a Jew and a Neoplatonist, goes quite far with the theory of the Logos, despite the inherent difficulty of reconciling the unity of God and the multiplication of His ‘instances’ (that the Kabbalah, much later on, called ‘sefirot‘). For Philo, the Logos is the totality of God’s Ideas. These Ideas act “like seals, which when approached to the wax produce countless imprints without being affected in any way, always remaining the same.”iii

All things that exist in the universe derive from an Idea, a « seal ». The Logos is the general seal whose imprint is the entire universe.iv

Philo’s Logos is not « personified ». The Logos is the Organ of God (both His Reason and His Word) playing a role in the Creation. Philo multiplies metaphors, analogies, drawing from divine, human and natural images. The Logos is creation, engendering, speech, conception, or flow, radiation, dilatation. Using a political image, God « reigns », the Logos « governs ».

Philo’s thinking about the Logos is complex and confusing. A 19th century commentator judged that « a tremendous confusion is at the basis of Philo’s system »v. Allegedly, Philo seems to mix up Logos (Word), Pneuma (Spirit), Sophia (Wisdom) and Epistemus (Knowledge).

Wisdom seems to play the same role in relation to the Logos as the thinking Thought (Spirit) of God plays in relation to the world of the Intelligible. Wisdom is the deep source of this world of the Intelligible, and at the same time it is identical with it.

There is no logical quirk in this paradox. Everything comes from the nature of the divine Spirit, in which no distinction can be made between « container » and « content ».

The Logos is thus both the Author of the Law and the Law itself, the spirit and the letter of its content. The Logos is the Law, and the Logos is also its enunciator, its revelator.vi

The Logos is, in the universe, the Divine brought back to unity. He is also the intermediary between this unity and God. Everything which constitutes the Logos is divine, and everything which is divine, apart from the essence of God, is the Logos.

These ideas, as has been said, have been sometimes described as a « philosophical hodgepodge »; they seem to demonstrate a « lack of rigor »vii on the part of Philo, according to certain harsh judgments.

However, what strikes me is that Philo and John, at about the same historical period, the one immediately preceding the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, and independently of each other, specified the contours of a theophany of the Logos, with clear differences but also deep common structures.

What is even more striking is that, over the centuries, the Logos of the Stoics, the Platonic Noos, the Biblical Angel of the Eternal, the Word of YHVH, the Judeo-Alexandrine Logos, or the ‘Word made flesh‘, the Messiah of the first Christian Church, have succeeded one another. All these figures offer their analogies and differences.

As already said, the main difficulty, however, for a thinker like Philo, was to reconcile the fundamental unity of God, the founding dogma of Judaism, and His multiple, divine emanations, such as the Law (the Torah), or His Wisdom (Hokhma).

On a more philosophical level, the difficulty was to think a Thought that exists as a Being, that also unfolds as a living, free, creative entity, and that finally ´reveals´ herself as the Word — in the world.

There would certainly be an easy (negative) solution to this problem, a solution that « modern » and « nominalist » thinkers, cut off from these philosophical roots, would willingly employ: it would be to simply send the Logos and the Noos, the Angel and the  incarnate Wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel back into the dustbin of empty abstractions, of idealistic chimera.

I do not opt for such an easy solution. It seems to me contrary to all the clues accumulated by History.

I believe that the Spirit, as it manifests itself at a very modest level in each one of us, does not come from biochemical mechanisms, from synaptic connections. I believe it is precisely the opposite.

Our brain multiplies cellular and neuronal networks, in order to try to grasp, to capture at our own level, what the Spirit can let us see of its true, inner nature, its fundamental essence.

The brain, the human body, the peoples of different nations and, as such, the whole of humanity are, in their own unique way, immense collective ´antennae´, whose primary mission is to capture the diffuse signs of a creative Intelligence, and build a consciousness out of it.

The greatest human geniuses do not find their founding ideas at the unexpected crossroads of a few synapses, or thanks to haphazard ionic exchanges. Rather, they are « inspired » by a web of thoughtful Thoughts, in which all living things have been immersed since the beginning.

As a clue, I propose this image :  When I think, I think that I am; then I think that this thought is part of a Thought that lives, and endless becomes; and I think of this Thought, which never stops thinking, never ceases to think, eternally, the Thought that continues « to be », and that never stops being without thinking, and that never stops thinking without being.

iJn 1,1

iiJn 1,14

iiiPhilo. De Monarchia. II, 218

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

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

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

viiJean Riéville, op.cit.

God’s Shadows


Marc Chagall. Moses and the Burning Bush

Can God have an ‘image’ or a ‘shadow’? According to the Torah, the answer to this question is doubly positive. The idea that God can have an ‘image’ is recorded in Genesis. The text associates ‘image’ (‘tselem‘) and ‘likeness’ (‘demut‘) with Genesis 1:26: בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ , b-tsalmenou ki-demutenou (‘in our image and likeness’), and repeats the word ‘image’ in Genesis 1:27 in two other ways: בְּצַלְמוֹ b-tsalmou (‘in his image’) and בְּצֶם אֱלֹהִים b-tselem elohim (‘in the image of Elohim’).

As for the fact that God may also have a ‘shadow’, this is alluded to in a verse from Exodusi, which quotes the name Betsalel, which literally means ‘in the shadow of God’1. The word צֵל tsel means ‘shadow’. This word has the same root as the word צֶלֶם tselem, which we have just seen means ‘image’. Moreover, tselem also has as its primary meaning: ‘shadow, darkness’, as in this verse: ‘Yes, man walks in darkness’, or ‘he passes like a shadow’ii.

One could therefore, theoretically, question the usual translation of Gen 1:26, and translate it as follows: « Let us make man in our shadow », or « in our darkness ». What is important here is, above all, to see that in Hebrew ‘image’, ‘shadow’ and ‘darkness’ have the same root (צֵל ).

This lexical fact seems highly significant, and when these words are used in relation to God, it is obvious that they cry out: « Interpret us! ».

Philo, the Jewish and Hellenophone philosopher from Alexandria, proposes this interpretation: « The shadow of God is the Logos. Just as God is the model of His image, which is here called shadow, so the image becomes the model of other things, as is showed at the beginning of the Law (Gen. 1:27) (…) The image was reproduced after God and man after the image, who thus took the role of model.”iii 

Philo, through the use of the Greek word logos, through the role of mediator and model that the Logos plays between God and man, seems to prefigure in some way the Christian thesis of the existence of the divine Logos, as introduced by John: « In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.”iv

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

In the original Hebrew of this verse, we read not ‘shadow’ (tsal), but ‘dream’ (halom). Philo, in his commentary, therefore changed the word ‘dream’ for ‘shadow’. But what is important for us is that Philo establishes that the words ‘vision’, ‘dream’ and ‘shadow’ have similar connotations.

The text, a little further on, reveals a clear opposition between these words (‘vision’, ‘dream’) and the words ‘face-to-face’, ‘appearance’, ‘without riddles’, and ‘image’.

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

God manifests Himself to a simple prophet in ambiguous and fragile ways, through a vision (ba-mar’ah בַבַּמַּרְאָה ) or a dream (bahalom בַּחֲלוֹם ).

But to Moses, God appears ‘face to face’ (pêh el-pêh), ‘in a clear appearance and without riddles’ (v-mar’êh v-lo b-hidot וּמַרְאֶה וְלֹא בְחִידֹת ). In short, Moses contemplates ‘the image of God himself’ (temounah תְּמוּנָה).

Note here the curious repetition of the word mar’ah מַּרְאָה, ‘vision’, with a complete change in its meaning from negative to positive… God says in verse 6: « If he were only your prophet, I, the Lord, would manifest Myself to him in a vision (ba-mar’ah בַּמַּרְאָה ) ». And it is the same word (מַרְאֶה), with another vocalization, which he uses in verse 8: « I speak to him face to face, in a clear apparition (ou-mar’êh וּמַרְאֶה ) ». The online version of Sefarim translates the same word as ‘vision’ in verse 6 and ‘clear appearance’ in verse 8. The ‘vision’ is reserved for the simple prophets, and the ‘clear appearance’ for Moses.

How can this be explained?

Verse 6 says: ba-mar’ah, ‘in a vision’. Verse 8 says: ou-mar’eh, ‘and a vision’. In the first case God manifests himself ‘in‘ a vision. In the second case, God speaks with Moses, not ‘through’ a vision, but making Himself as « a vision ».

Moses has the great privilege of seeing God face to face, he sees the image of God. This image is not simply an image, or a ‘shadow’, because it ‘speaks’, and it is the very Logos of God, according to Philo.

Rashi is somewhat consistent with Philo’s point of view, it seems to me. He comments on this delicate passage as follows: « A vision and not in riddles. ‘Vision’ here means ‘clarity of speech’. I explain my words clearly to him and I don’t hide them in riddles like the ones Ye’hezqèl talks about: ‘Propose a riddle…’. (Ye’hezqèl 17, 2). I might have thought that the ‘vision’ is that of the shekhina. So it is written: ‘You cannot see my face’ (Shemoth 33:20) (Sifri). And he will contemplate the image of Hashem. It is the vision from behind, as it is written: ‘You will see me from behind’ (Shimot 33:23) (Sifri). »

If God only manifests Himself ‘in a vision’, it is because He does not ‘speak’. The important thing is not the vision, the image or the shadow of God, but His word, His Logos, the fact that God « speaks ». Read: פֶּה אֶל-פֶּה אֲדַבֶ-בּוֹ, וּמַרְאֶה pêh al-pêh adaber bo, ou-mar’êh: ‘I speak to him face to face, – a vision’.

It is necessary to understand: ‘I speak to him and I make him see clearly my word (my Logos, my Dabar)’…

Philo, a Hellenophone, probably gives the word Logos some Platonic connotations, which are not a priori present in the Hebrew word Dabar (דָּבָר). But Philo makes the strong gesture of identifying the Logos, the Image (of God) and Dabar.

Philo is also a contemporary of Jesus, whom his disciple John will call a few years later Logos and « Image » of God.

Between the Dabar of Moses and the Logos as Philo, John and Rashi understand it, how can we not see continuities and differences?

The Spirit (or the Word) is more or less incarnated. As in the ‘image’ and the ‘clear appearance’ of the Logos. Or as in being the Logos itself.

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1In Hebrew,  tsal means « shadow » and Tsalel : « shadow of God »

iEx. 31,2

iiPs 39,7

iiiLegum Allegoriae, 96

ivJn 1,1

vNum. 12,6-8