Les quatre états de la conscience


« Je dors mais mon cœur veille » (Ct 5,2).

Le Cantique des cantiques a fait couler beaucoup d’encre, et suscité de multiples interprétations.

Parmi elles, beaucoup me chaut (du verbe chaloir) la figure de la Sulamite comme métaphore de la conscience, face à son propre mystère, et face à son Créateur.

« Je dors mais mon cœur veille ». Ani yéchnah, vé libbi ‘er.i

Quand la conscience est assoupie, une autre forme de conscience, — dont nous n’avons pas clairement conscience –, semble veiller encore.

Comment, et pourquoi? Existe-t-il d’autres formes de ‘conscience’ encore, dont nous n’aurions pas conscience, et qui par exemple opéreraient lors du sommeil profond?

Quand notre conscience active est apparemment « endormie », reste en éveil une conscience dans la nuit, qui semble résider dans le « cœur », et qui « veille » sur le sommeil de la conscience du jour. Cette conscience sise dans le « cœur » n’est pas de l’ordre du mental, puisqu’en l’occurrence le mental dort. Relève-t-elle alors de l’intuition, de la psyché, de l’âme, ou de quelque autre entité spirituelle?

Que signifie d’ailleurs le ‘cœur’ (levav, en hébreu, lev en chaldéen), particulièrement dans le contexte biblique?

Le dictionnaire offre une large gamme de sens.ii

A les examiner attentivement, il apparaît clairement que le cœur est lui-même bien plus profond et plus complexe qu’on ne saurait l’exprimer, et que son essence ne saurait être rendue par quelque acception que ce soit. Non seulement une formule singulière ne saurait le définir, mais toutes celles que l’on peut lui attribuer ouvrent incessamment de nouvelles pistes à la recherche.

Si le cœur veille sur la conscience qui sommeille, on peut en induire en principe la possible mise en parallèle de la conscience classique avec d’autres modalités plus cachées et plus diversifiées de conscience. D’autres formes de conscience, plus subtiles, peuvent habiter souterrainement le même moi…

Pour fixer les idées, et entamer le débat, je distinguerai ici cinq formes possibles de conscience.

Mais comme la conscience est un phénomène éminemment complexe, il pourrait y en avoir bien davantage. Des dizaines de niveaux de conscience pourraient être envisagés a priori.

On pourrait même postuler l’hypothèse d’une infinité de niveaux de conscience, si l’on se représente que la conscience divine est infiniment repliée sur elle-même, ou, ce qui revient au même, qu’elle se déplie infiniment elle-même dans l’infini de sa puissance. Dans ses plis, elle cache ce qu’elle fut (en puissance), et dans ses replis elle donne de la lumière à ce qu’elle est en train de devenir (en acte).

Les cinq formes possibles de conscience que j’énonce ici représentent diverses manières de conjuguer conscience et inconscient, ou au contraire de les séparer:

1.Il y a la conscience qui sent, pense, raisonne, cogite, veut, et qu’on appellera ‘conscience consciente’.

2.Il y a la conscience du ‘cœur’, pour reprendre l’image du Cantique des cantiques. Elle semble sub-consciente et elle ne se révèle que lorsque la ‘conscience consciente’ s’assoupit, montrant alors qu’elle veille, sur notre sommeil, nos rêves, et nos aspirations.

3.Il y a, comme l’enseignent Freud et Jung, chacun à sa manière, un inconscient (personnel) dont on a bien conscience qu’il existe en effet, sans avoir exactement conscience de la profondeur et de la nature de son contenu.

A propos de l’inconscient personnel, la ‘conscience consciente’ et la ‘conscience du cœur’ se forment une conscience sous-jacente, implicite, latente, et peu informée, en fait, de la réalité de l’inconscient cosmique.

4. Il y a dans cet ‘inconscient cosmique’, infini en soi, plusieurs niveaux de profondeurs et d’obscurité. On y trouve par exemple le ça, le Soi, et les archétypes de l’inconscient dit « collectif », auxquels on pourrait ajouter tous les archétypes du vivant non-humain, et même, pourquoi pas les archétypes du non-vivant animé (comme les virus, les prions, ou les particules élémentaires…).

Cet inconscient infini est pour partie ‘conscient’ du Soi. Cette conscience du Soi représente une quatrième forme de conscience.

5. Mais, et c’est là une hypothèse, il y a aussi une part infinie de l’inconscient cosmique qui reste ‘inconsciente’ du Soi.

Notons que ces cinq catégories hybrident de façon spécifique conscience et inconscient. Elles sont seulement indicatives, et elles seraient propres à de nouvelles hybridations, et dépassements, sur d’autres bases, restant à découvrir.

On pourrait d’ailleurs, comme on l’a dit, imaginer que Dieu Lui-même dispose d’une infinité de niveaux de conscience.

Pourquoi parler d’une infinité de niveaux et non pas d’une seule conscience (divine) puisque le Dieu unique est un Dieu Un?

Dans le contexte du judaïsme, pourtant peu suspect de renoncer facilement au principe du Dieu Un, la Cabale juive n’hésite pas à poser dix Sefirot, comme autant d’émanations du Dieu Un, susceptibles de le « représenter » dans le monde ici-bas, d’une manière plus singularisée.

Si le Dieu du monothéisme juif se fait représenter par dix Sefirot, et si la Torah enseigne que le Dieu unique est apparu à Abraham sous la forme de trois « hommes », on pourrait formuler l’idée que, après tout, certaines synthèses supérieures sont peut-être possibles entre monothéisme et polythéisme.

Les théologies de l’Un et du Multiple, de la transcendance ou de l’immanence, sont-elles irréconciliables? En apparence oui.

En réalité, il se pourrait que l’Un ne soit pas réellement « un », comme le disait déjà Damascios, citant Platon: « L’Un, s’Il est, n’est même pas un. »iii

L’Un, qu’il soit platonicien, plotinien ou hébraïque, dans sa pure transcendance, ne peut certes pas être limité par un attribut quantitatif, comme l’idée toute arithmétique de « l’un ». Et s’il n’est pas numériquement « un », c’est que le concept infiniment riche de « l’Un » inclut et intègre nécessairement le multiple dans son unitéiv.

Plutôt que d’employer la formule de « l’Un », Damascios préfère d’ailleurs l’expression grecque ‘panté aporêton, qui peut se traduire comme « l’absolument indicible ». Elle rend compte de l’idée de Platon selon laquelle l’Un est inconnaissable (agnostôn) et indicible (arrêton).v

Si la Divinité est « absolument indicible », peut-être n’est-Elle pas entièrement dicible pour Elle-même, et à Elle-même?

Elle serait donc en partie inconsciente d’Elle-même.

Certes il faudrait alors, provisoirement, renoncer au dogme de l’omniscience divine, et reporter la mise en acte de cette omniscience à quelque fin des Temps, éminemment reculée…

Mais ce dogme est fortement problématique, de toutes façons.

En effet si Dieu était effectivement absolument omniscient et omnipotent, Il aurait alors les moyens de prévenir dès avant la Création l’existence de tout Mal. Ce qu’Il n’a pas fait. C’est donc, soit qu’Il n’est pas Omniscient et Omnipotent, soit qu’Il n’est pas Bon.

Dans les deux cas, il y a place pour un Inconscient divin…

Autrement dit, et par contraste, il se pourrait que dans l’infinité en puissance de la Divinité, il y ait bien, latente, une infinité de niveaux de conscience et d’inconscient.

Mais revenons aux cinq niveaux de conscience que je décrivais un peu plus haut.

Dans la tradition védique, on trouve explicitement énoncés quatre niveaux de conscience, présentés comme les quatre états de l’Ātman, ou du Soi.

La Divinité, une et suprême, que les Upaniṣad appellent le brahman, se présente elle-même ainsi:

« Je suis le Voyant, pur, et par nature, Je ne change pas. Par nature, il n’y a pas d’objet pour Moi, étant l’Infini, complètement plein, de face, à travers, en haut, en bas et dans toutes les directions. Je suis non-né, et Je réside en Moi-même. »vi

Puis la Divinité décrit les trois niveaux de conscience des créatures rationnelles et humaines (éveil, rêve, sommeil profond) et indique qu’ils sont absolument incapables d’entrer en rapport avec Elle-même de manière signifiante.

Elle oppose en fait ces trois niveaux de la conscience humaine à un quatrième niveau de la conscience, qui correspond à la sienne propre, et qu’elle nomme elliptiquement « le Quatrième ».

« Que ce soit dans l’état de sommeil profond, d’éveil ou bien de rêve, aucune perception trompeuse n’apparaît dans ce monde-ci, qui puisse Me concerner. Comme ces trois états de conscience n’ont aucune existence, ni autonome ni dépendante, Je suis toujours le Quatrièmevii, le Voyant et le non-duel. »viii

Ces quatre états de la conscience sont finement explicités par la Māṇḍūkya-Upaniṣad.

« Car le brahman est ce Tout. Le brahman est ce Soi (ātman), et ce Soi a quatre quarts.

L’état de veille, connaissant ce qui est extérieur, ayant sept membres, dix-neuf bouches, faisant l’expérience du grossier, est Vaiśvānara « l’universel »ix — le premier quart.

L’état de rêve, connaissant ce qui est intérieur, ayant sept membres, dix-neuf bouches, faisant l’expérience du subtil, est Taijasa « le lumineux » — deuxième quart.

Lorsque, endormi, on ne désire aucun désir, on ne voit aucun rêve, c’est le sommeil profond. L’état de sommeil profond est un, il est un seul bloc de connaissance car, fait de félicité, il fait l’expérience de la félicité. Il est la bouche de la conscience, il est le connaissant (prājña) — troisième quart.

C’est lui le Seigneur de tout, lui le connaisseur de tout, lui le maître intérieur; il est la matrice de tout, car l’origine et la fin des êtres.

Ni connaissant ce qui est intérieur, ni connaissant ce qui est extérieur, ni connaissant l’un et l’autre ensemble, ni bloc de connaissance, ni connaissant ni non-connaissant, ni visible, ni lié à l’action, insaisissable, indéfinissable, impensable, innommable, essence de la connaissance du Soi unique, ce en quoi le monde se résorbe, tout de paix, bienveillant, non duel — on le considère comme le Quatrième. C’est lui, le Soi qu’il faut discerner. »x

Le « Quatrième » (état de conscience). En sanskrit: turīya. On voit qu’il ne se définit que par une série de négations, mais aussi deux affirmations positives: il est « tout de paix » et « bienveillant ».

Il est intéressant de s’arrêter un instant sur la racine du mot turīya (तुरीय): TṜ (तॄ) dont le sens est « traverser ». Louis Renouxi estime qu’elle révèle l’essence du mot « quatrième » (turīya), qu’il faut comprendre comme « ce qui traverse, ce qui est ou ce qui conduit au-delà ».

On ne peut résister au plaisir de rapprocher cette racine sanskrite TṜ (तॄ) de la racine hébraïque ‘abar (עבר) qui a le même sens: « passer, aller au travers, traverser; aller au-delà, franchir, dépasser », et qui est aussi la racine même du mot « hébreu »…

Comme on a vu, la Sulamite est consciente de deux états, celui de la veille et celui du sommeil, pendant lequel c’est le cœur qui veille.

Mais que se passe-t-il, pourrait-on demander, quand la Sulamite n’est même plus consciente que son cœur veille?

Que se passe-t-il pour elle quand elle entre dans le « sommeil profond »?

Un autre commentaire de Śaṅkara permet de cerner cette notion de sommeil profond, et ce qu’elle implique.

« Lorsque l’on pense: ‘Je n’ai rien vu du tout dans l’état de sommeil profond’, on ne dénie pas sa propre Vision, on nie seulement ses propres notions. »xii

Autrement dit, on ne nie pas sa capacité à voir, qui reste intacte dans le sommeil profond, on constate seulement qu’il n’y a alors rien à voir, du moins apparemment.

En effet on peut arguer qu’il reste à voir dans le sommeil profond qu’il n’y a rien à y voir, et aussi qu’il reste à observer la conscience en train de prendre conscience de sa singulière nature, qui est de continuer d’exister, alors qu’elle est censée n’être plus consciente d’elle-même, ce qui est un paradoxe, admettons-le, pour une « Pure Conscience »…

La Pure Conscience continue d’exister, bien qu’elle n’ait (momentanément) rien à considérer, mais comment prend-elle conscience de sa pure existence, sans avoir le moyen de l’exercer sur quelque réalité « visible »?

« Personne ne voit rien dans l’état de sommeil profond, mais ceci ne veut pas dire que dans le sommeil profond, la Pure Conscience cesse d’exister. C’est seulement parce qu’il n’y a aucun objet visible que rien n’est vu dans le sommeil profond, et non pas parce que la Pure Conscience cesse d’être. C’est grâce à la Pure Conscience que l’on peut dénier alors l’existence d’objets visibles. »xiii

Les Écritures (védiques) affirment « l’existence de la Conscience et son immuabilité, disant que telle personne atteint sa propre ‘illumination’xiv et que ‘il n’y a pas de disparition de la vision pour le voyant, à cause de son indestructibilité’xv, déclarant la périssabilité des notions. Ainsi les Écritures elles-mêmes séparent les notions de l’Éveil. »xvi

La tradition védique, on le voit, a longuement théorisé ces quatre états de la conscience: la veille, le rêve, le sommeil profond, et ce qu’elle appelle le « quatrième » [état], à savoir l’Éveil.

Il y a là une sorte d’échelle de Jacob de la conscience, avec quatre niveaux successifs.

Ceci n’épuise pas le tout du mystère.

On subodore que chacun de ces niveaux de conscience développe en lui-même des profondeurs propres.

Reprenant l’image de la conscience dont la Sulamite nous offre l’image inoubliable, on en vient à imaginer d’autres ordres de complexité encore.

Chaque niveau de conscience possède sa richesse propre, qui est développable horizontalement, en quelque sorte, et pas seulement verticalement, par intrication avec des niveaux supérieurs.

Pour aider à percevoir ces phénomènes d’intrication entre l’horizontal et le vertical, l’hébreu biblique peut fournir de précieuses indications, comme langue mémorielle, au moins autant que le sanskrit, langue sacrée, chacune avec son génie propre.

Partons du mot « veille »,עֵר, ‘er, employé par la Sulamite.

Ce mot vient du verbe hébreu עוּר, ‘iwer, « être éveillé, veiller, se réveiller ». Cette racine verbale possède un autre sens, particulièrement remarquable dans le contexte où nous nous situons: « aveugler, rendre aveugle ».

Tout se passe comme si « être éveillé » équivalait à une sorte de cécité.

Lorsque l’on cherche dans le texte biblique toutes les racines verbales associées d’une façon ou une autre à l’idée de ‘veille’, on en trouve principalement cinq:

עוּר (iwer) « être éveillé, se réveiller »

צפה (tsafah) « voir, regarder, surveiller, épier, observer, espérer »xvii

שָׁקֵד (chaqed) « veiller »xviii

נָצַר (natsar) « garder, veiller avec soin, observer avec fidélité, conserver (la Loi) »xix

שָׁמַר(chamar) »garder, surveiller, protéger ».xx

Ces cinq racines représentent une espèce de spectrographie de la gamme des sortes de conscience que le génie hébraïque porte en lui, et qui peuvent se caractériser selon les thèmes suivants:

S’ÉVEILLER – DORMIR (La conscience dort ou s’éveille).

VOIR – ESPÉRER (La conscience voit, ou bien elle pressent, et si elle ne voit pas, elle espère).

VEILLER – PRÉVENIR (La conscience veille toujours, et elle peut de ce fait annoncer l’avenir au bénéfice de ce qui en elle dort encore).

GARDER – CONSERVER (La conscience conserve la mémoire. On peut ajouter qu’elle « crée » aussi le présent, car « conserver » = « créer » selon la 3ème Méditation métaphysique de Descartesxxi).

SURVEILLER – PROTÉGER (La conscience garde du mal et elle protège).

Philosophiquement, on en déduit ces caractérisations:

La conscience est une figure de la naissance et de la mort.

La conscience est intuition — de la réalité, ou des possibles.

La conscience (prémonitoire) relie l’avenir au présent.

La conscience (inductrice) noue mémoire et création.

La conscience protège l’homme du monde et de lui-même.

Sans la conscience, donc:

Pas de différence entre la vie et la mort; entre la réalité et le possible.

Pas de liens entre l’avenir et le présent; entre la mémoire et l’invention.

Pas de séparation entre l’homme et le monde, l’homme et le mal.

Autrement dit: l’inconscient relie la vie et la mort; la réalité et le possible; il sépare l’avenir du présent; et la création de la mémoire. Il assimile l’homme au monde et au mal.

Plus profondément encore, on voit que dans la conscience, comme dans l’inconscient, il y a à la fois une forme de séparation entre ce qui relève de la ‘séparation’ et ce qui ressort du ‘lien’, et une forme de continuité entre ce qui relève de la ‘séparation’ et ce qui ressort de la ‘continuité’.

Ceci peut être subsumé par l’idée d’intrication, non pas quantique, mais métaphysique.

Autrement dit:

Toute forme de conscience possède une part d’inconscient, et réciproquement.

Ceci s’applique aussi à la conscience divine, et à l’inconscient cosmique.

______________________

iCt 5,2 :אֲנִי יְשֵׁנָה, וְלִבִּי עֵר

ii On relève dans le Sander-Trenel les acceptions suivantes: a) Le cœur comme incarnant la vie elle-même. « Vos cœurs vivront dans l’éternité » (Ps. 22,27). b)Le cœur comme siège des sens et des passions (joie, tristesse, confiance, mépris, amertume, colère, dureté), et surtout de l’amour. « (Aime Dieu) de tout ton cœur. » (…be-kal levev-ḥa, Dt 6,5). c) Le cœur comme siège des sentiments moraux. Un cœur ‘pur’, ‘fidèle’, ‘droit’, ‘simple’, ‘profond’, ‘impénétrable’, ‘fier’, ou au ‘contraire’, ‘pervers’, ‘corrompu’, ‘hypocrite’, ‘double’. d) Le cœur comme siège de la volonté et du jugement.

iiiDamascius dit que selon Platon « l’Un s’il est, n’est même pas un; et s’il n’est pas, aucun discours ne lui conviendra, de sorte que de lui il n’y a même aucune négation (apophasis), ni aucun nom, de sorte que l’Un est incomplètement inconnaissable (agnostôn) et indicible (arrêton) ». Damascius Pr. t.1, p.9, 3-8 . Cf. Platon, Parménide 141 e 10-12 , 142 a

ivDe tout ceci on pourrait aussi tirer l’idée que Dieu est un infini en puissance, non un infini en acte (comme le pensait Descartes). Si Dieu était un infini en acte, alors il n’y aurait aucune place en Lui pour du fini (ou du non-infini) ou encore pour de l’être en puissance, puisque tout en Lui serait infini et en acte. La kénose consisterait alors pour Dieu à se vider de son actualité infinie, pour laisser en dehors de Lui une possibilité d’existence à des créatures finies, toujours en puissance de se transformer.

vPlaton, Parménide 141 e 10-12 , 142 a

vi« I am Seeing, pure and by nature changeless. There is by nature no object for me. Beeing the Infinite, completely filled in front, across, up, down, and in every direction, I am unborn, abiding in Myself. » Śaṅkara. A Thousand Teachings,traduit du sanskrit en anglais par Sengaku Mayeda. University of Tokyo Press, 1979. I, ch. 10, « Seeing », p.123 §2

viiLe commentaire de Śaṅkara explique ce terme de cette façon: « The ātman in the waking state is called vaiśvānara (Upad I, 17,65), that in the dreaming state taijasa (Upad I,15,24), and that in the state of deep sleep prājña(Upad I, 15,25).These three kinds of ātman are not the true Ātman. The true Ātman transcends all these three, and It is called Turīya (Upad I, 10,4). »

viii« Whether in the state of deep sleep or of waking or of dreaming, no delusive perception appears to pertain to Me in this world. As those [three states] have no existence, self-dependent or other-dependent, I am always the Fourth, the Seeing and the non-dual. » Ibid.§4

ixIl est Vaiśvānara « car il mène diversement tous les êtres (viśnara) à leur bonheur » (MaUB 3)

xMāṇḍūkya- Upaniṣad. 2-7. Trad. du sanskrit par Alyette Degrâces. Les Upaniṣad, Ed. Fayard, 2014, p. 506-508

xi L. Renou. »Sur la notion de Brahman ». in L’Inde fondamentale, 1978, p.86

xiiŚaṅkara. A Thousand Teachings,traduit du sanskrit en anglais par Sengaku Mayeda. University of Tokyo Press, 1979. I, ch. 18, §97, p.182

xiiiŚaṅkara. A Thousand Teachings,traduit du sanskrit en anglais par Sengaku Mayeda. University of Tokyo Press, 1979. Introduction, p.45.

xiv« En vérité, cet Homme, le Puruṣa, a deux états: ce monde-ci et l’autre monde. L’état de rêve, un troisième, en est la jonction. Se tenant dans cet état de jonction, il voit les deux états, ce monde-ci et l’autre monde. Et quelle que soit l’approche par laquelle il advient dans l’autre monde, par cette approche il est entré et il voit l’un et l’autre, les maux et les joies. Quand il rêve, il reprend le matériel de ce monde en son entier, il le détruit par lui-même, il le crée par lui-même. Il rêve par son propre rayonnement, par sa propre lumière. En ce lieu, l’Homme devient sa propre lumière. » Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4,3,9 (Trad. du sanskrit par Alette Degrâces)

xvBṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4,3,23. Trad. du sanskrit par Alette Degrâces, in op.cit. p.288

xviŚaṅkara. A Thousand Teachings,traduit du sanskrit en anglais par Sengaku Mayeda. University of Tokyo Press, 1979. I, ch. 18, §98, p.182. J’ai employé ici le mot « Éveil » pour traduire le mot anglais « Awareness » employé par S. Mayeda.

xvii« Les yeux sur les nations, il veille » Ps 66,7

xviii« Voici, je vais veiller sur eux pour leur malheur » Jr 44,27

« Alors le Seigneur a veillé sur ces malheurs » Bar 2,9

« Je répondis, je vois une branche de veilleur » Jr 1,11

« YHVH a veillé à la calamité, il l’a fait venir sur nous » וַיִּשְׁקֹד יְהוָה עַל-הָרָעָה Dan 9,14

« je veille et je suis comme un oiseau seul sur un toit » Ps 102,8

« le gardien veille en vain » Ps 127,1

« je veille contre eux (pour leur faire du mal) » Jr 44,27

 » tous ceux qui veillent pour commettre l’iniquité » Is 29,20

« Tu as bien vu que je veille sur ma parole pour l’accomplir » Jr 1,12

 שָׁקֵד signifie aussi « amandier » (un arbre qui fleurit tôt dans l’année et donc veille à la venue du printemps)

xix « Plus que toute chose veille sur ton cœur » Pr 4,23

« toi qui veilles sur les hommes (notzer ha-adamah) » Job 7,20

« Veille sur ton âme (v-notzer nafchekh) » Pr 24,12

xx« Garde avec soin ton âme (vou-chmor nafchekh méor) » Dt 4,9

« Prenez garde à vos âmes (tichamrou b-nafchoutéikhem) » Jr 17,21

« Veilleur où en est la nuit? veilleur où en est la nuit?

 שֹׁמֵר מַה-מִּלַּיְלָה chomer ma mi-laïlah ? שֹׁמֵר מַה-מִּלֵּיל chomer ma mi-leïl? » Is 21,11

« Tu veillais avec sollicitude sur mon souffle, ( שָׁמְרָה רוּחִי, chamrah rouḥi) » Job 10,12

« Ces jours où Dieu veillait sur moi, (אֱלוֹהַּ יִשְׁמְרֵנִי , Eloha yichmréni)« Job 29,2

xxi« Car tout le temps de ma vie peut être divisé en une infinité de parties, chacune desquelles ne dépend en aucune façon des autres; et ainsi, de ce qu’un peu auparavant j’ai été, il ne s’ensuit pas que je doive maintenant être, si ce n’est qu’en ce moment quelque cause me produise et me crée, pour ainsi dire, derechef, c’est-à-dire me conserve. » Descartes. Méditations métaphysiques. 3ème Méditation. GF Flammarion, 2009, p.134-135

The Ambiguous Ishmael


– Ishmael and Hagar –

The important differences of interpretation of Ishmael’s role in the transmission of the Abrahamic inheritance, according to Judaism and Islam, focused in particular on the question of the identity of the son of Abraham who was taken to the sacrifice on Mount Moriah. For the Jews, it is unquestionably Isaac, as Genesis indicates. Muslims claim that it was Ishmael. However, the Koran does not name the son chosen for the sacrifice. In fact, Sura 36 indirectly suggests that this son was Isaac, contrary to later reinterpretations of later Islamic traditions.

It may be that, contrary to the historical importance of this controversy, this is not really an essential question, since Ishmael appears as a sort of inverted double of Isaac, and the linked destinies of these two half-brothers seem to compose (together) an allegorical and even anagogical figure – that of the ‘Sacrificed’, a figure of man ‘sacrificed’ in the service of a divine project that is entirely beyond him.

The conflict between the divine project and human views appears immediately when one compares the relatively banal and natural circumstances of the conception of Abram’s child (resulting from his desire to ensure his descent ii, a desire favored by his wife Sarai), with the particularly improbable and exceptional circumstances of the conception of the child of Abraham and Sarah.

One can then sense the tragic nature of the destiny of Ishmael, the first-born (and beloved) son of Abraham, but whose ‘legitimacy’ cannot be compared to that of his half-brother, born thirteen years later. But in what way is it Ishmael’s ‘fault’ that he was not ‘chosen’ as the son of Abraham to embody the Covenant? Was he ‘chosen’ only to embody the arbitrary dispossession of a mysterious ‘filiation’, of a nature other than genetic, in order to signify to the multitudes of generations to come a certain aspect of the divine mystery?

This leads us to reflect on the respective roles of the two mothers (Hagar and Sarah) in the correlated destiny of Ishmael and Isaac, and invites us to deepen the analysis of the personalities of the two mothers in order to get a better idea of those of the two sons.

The figure of Ishmael is both tragic and ambiguous. I will attempt here to trace its contours by citing a few ‘features’ both for and against, by seeking to raise a part of the mystery, and to penetrate the ambiguity of the paradigm of election, which can mean that « the election of some implies the setting aside of others », or on the contrary, that « election is not a rejection of the other ».iii

Elements Against Ishmael :

a) Ishmael, a young man, « plays » with Isaac, a barely weaned child, provoking the wrath of Sarah. This key scene is reported in Genesis 21:9: « Sarah saw the son of Hagar mocked him (Isaac). » The Hebrew word מְצַחֵק lends itself to several interpretations. It comes from the root צָחַק, in the verbal form Piel. The meanings of the verb seem at first glance relatively insignificant:

Qal :To laugh, rto ejoice. As in : Gen 18,12 « Sara laughs (secretly) ». Gen 21:6 « Whoever hears of it will rejoice with me.

Piël : To play, to joke, to laugh. As in Gen 19:14 « But it seemed that he was joking, that he said it in jest. » Ex 32:6 « They stood up to play, or to dance ». Judge 16:25 « That he might play, or sing, before them ». Gen 26:8 « Isaac played or joked with his wife. Gen 39:14 « To play with us, to insult us ».

However, Rashi’s meanings of the word in the context of Gen 21:9 are much more serious: ‘idolatry’, ‘immorality’, and even ‘murder’. « Ridicule: this is idolatry. Thus, ‘they rose up to have fun’ (Ex 32:6). Another explanation: This is immorality. Thus ‘for my own amusement’ (Gen 39:17). Another explanation: this is murder. So ‘let these young men stand up and enjoy themselves before us’ (2 Sam 2:14). Ishmael was arguing with Isaac about the inheritance. I am the elder, he said, and I will take double share. They went out into the field and Ishmael took his bow and shot arrows at him. Just as in: he who plays the foolish game of brandons and arrows, and says: but I am having fun! (Prov 26:18-19).»

Rashi’s judgment is extremely derogatory and accusatory. The accusation of ‘immorality’ is a veiled euphemism for ‘pedophilia’ (Isaac is a young child). And all this derived from a special interpretation of the single word tsaḥaq, – the very word that gave Isaac his name… Yet this word comes up strangely often in the context that interests us. Four important biblical characters ‘laugh’ (from the verb tsaḥaq), in Genesis: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Ishmael – except Hagar, who never laughs, but cries. Abraham laughs (or smiles) at the news that he is going to be a father, Sarah laughs inwardly, mocking her old husband, Isaac laughs while wrestling and caressing his wife Rebecca (vi), but only Ishmael, who also laughs while playing, is seriously accused by Rashi of the nature of this laughter, and of this ‘game’.

b) According to the commentators (Berechit Rabbah), Ishmael boasted to Isaac that he had the courage to voluntarily accept circumcision at the age of thirteen, whereas Isaac underwent it passively at the age of eight days.

c) Genesis states that Ishmael is a ‘primrose’, a misanthropic loner, an ‘archer’ who ‘lives in the wilderness’ and who ‘lays his hand on all’.

d) In Gen 17:20 it says that Ishmael « will beget twelve princes. « But Rashi, on this point, asserts that Ishmael in fact only begat ‘clouds’, relying on the Midrash which interprets the word נְשִׂיאִים (nessi’im) as meaning ‘clouds’ and ‘wind’. The word nessi’im can indeed mean either ‘princes’ or ‘clouds’, according to the dictionary (vii). But Rashi, for his own reason, chooses the pejorative meaning, whereas it is God Himself who pronounces this word after having blessed Ishmael.

Elements in Favor of Ishmael:

a) Ishmael suffers several times the effects of Sarah’s hatred and the consequences of Abraham’s injustice (or cowardice), who does not defend him, passively obeys Sarah and remorselessly favors his younger son. This has not escaped the attention of some commentators. Ramban (the Nahmanides) said about sending Hagar and Ishmael back to the desert: « Our mother Sarai was guilty of doing so and Abram of having tolerated it ». On the other hand, Rashi says nothing about this sensitive subject.

Yet Abraham loves and cares for his son Ishmael, but probably not enough to resist the pressures, preferring the younger, in deeds. You don’t need to be a psychoanalyst to guess the deep psychological problems Ishmael is experiencing about not being the ‘preferred’, the ‘chosen’ (by God) to take on the inheritance and the Covenant, – although he is nevertheless ‘loved’ by his father Abraham, – just as Esau, Isaac’s eldest son and beloved, was later robbed of his inheritance (and blessing) by Jacob, because of his mother Rebekah, and despite Isaac’s clearly expressed will.

(b) Ishmael is the son of « an Egyptian handmaid » (Genesis 16:1), but in reality she, Hagar, according to Rashi, is the daughter of the Pharaoh: « Hagar was the daughter of the Pharaoh. When he saw the miracles of which Sarai was the object, he said: Better for my daughter to be the servant in such a house than the mistress in another house. » (Commentary of Genesis 16:1 by Rashi)

One can undoubtedly understand the frustrations of a young man, first-born of Abraham and grandson of the Pharaoh, in front of the bullying inflicted by Sarah.

c) Moreover, Ishmael is subjected throughout his childhood and adolescence to a form of disdain that is truly undeserved. Indeed, Hagar was legally married, by the will of Sarah, and by the desire of Abraham to leave his fortune to an heir of his flesh, and this after the legal deadline of ten years of observation of Sarah’s sterility had elapsed. Ishmael is therefore legally and legitimately the first-born son of Abraham, and of his second wife. But he does not have the actual status, as Sarah jealously watches over him.

d) Ishmael is thrown out twice in the desert, once when his mother is pregnant with him (in theory), and another time when he is seventeen years old (being 13 years old at the time of Isaac’s birth + 4 years corresponding to Isaac’s weaning). In both cases, his mother Hagar had proven encounters with angels, which testifies to a very high spiritual status, which she did not fail to give to her son. Examples of women in the Hebrew Bible having had a divine vision are extremely rare. To my knowledge, in fact, there are none, except for Hagar, who had divine visions on several occasions. Rashi notes of Gen 16:13: « She [Hagar] expresses surprise. Could I have thought that even here in the desert I would see God’s messengers after seeing them in the house of Abraham where I was accustomed to seeing them? The proof that she was accustomed to seeing angels is that Manoë when he first saw the angel said, « Surely we will die » (Jug 13:27). Hagar saw angels four times and was not the least bit afraid. »

But to this, we can add that Hagar is even more remarkable because she is the only person in all the Scriptures who stands out for having given not only one but two new names to God: אֵל רֳאִי , El Ro’ï, « God of Vision »viii , and חַי רֹאִי , Ḥaï Ro’ï, the « Living One of Vision »(ix). She also gave a name to the nearby well, the well of the « Living One of My Vision »: בְּאֵר לַחַי רֹאִי , B’ér la-Ḥaï Ro’ï. x

It is also near this well that Isaac will come to settle, after Abraham’s death, – and especially after God has finally blessed him, which Abraham had always refused to do (xii). One can imagine that Isaac had then, at last, understood the depth of the events which had taken place in this place, and with which he had, in spite of himself, been associated.

In stark contrast to Hagar, Sarah also had a divine vision, albeit a very brief one, when she participated in a conversation between Abraham and God. But God ignored Sarah, addressing Abraham directly, asking him for an explanation of Sarah’s behavior, rather than addressing her (xiii). She intervened in an attempt to justify her behavior because « she was afraid, » but God rebuked her curtly: « No, you laughed.

Making her case worse, she herself later reproached Ishmael for having laughed too, and drove him out for that reason.

e) Ishmael, after these events, remained in the presence of God. According to Genesis 21:20, « God was with this child, and he grew up (…) and became an archer. « Curiously, Rashi does not comment on the fact that « God was with this child. On the other hand, about « he became an archer », Rashi notes proudly: « He was a robber… ».

f) In the desire to see Ishmael die, Sarah twice casts spells on him (the ‘evil eye’), according to Rashi. The first time, to make the child carried by Hagar die, and to provoke his abortionxv, and the second time to make him sick, even though he was hunted with his mother in the desert, thus forcing him to drink much and to consume quickly the meager water resources.

g) At the time of his circumcision, Ishmael is thirteen years old and he obeys Abraham without difficulty (whereas he could have refused, according to Rashi, the latter counts to his advantage). Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael (Gen 16:16). Rashi comments: « This is written in praise of Ishmael. Ishmael will therefore be thirteen years old when he is circumcised, and he will not object. »

h) Ishmael is blessed by God during Abraham’s lifetime, whereas Isaac is blessed by God only after Abraham’s death (who refused to bless him, knowing that he was to beget Esau, according to Rashi).xvi

i) Ishmael, in spite of all the liabilities of his tormented life, was reconciled with Isaac, before the latter married Rebekah. Indeed, when his fiancée Rebekah arrives, Isaac has just returned from a visitexvii to the Well of the Living of My Vision, near which Hagar and Ishmael lived.

Moreover, his father Abraham ended up « regularizing the situation » with his mother Hagar, since he married her after Sarah’s death. Indeed, according to Rashi, « Qeturah is Hagar. Thus, for the second time, Ishmael is « legitimized », which makes it all the more remarkable that he gives precedence to his younger brother at Abraham’s funeral.

(j) Ishmael lets Isaac take the precellence at the burial of their father Abraham, as we know from Gen 25:9: « [Abraham] was buried by Isaac and Ishmael, his sons. « The preferential order of the names testifies to this.

k) The verse Gen 25:17 gives a final positive indication about Ishmael: « The number of years of Ishmael’s life was one hundred thirty-seven years. He expired and died. « Rashi comments on the expression « he expired » in this highly significant way: « This term is used only in connection with the righteous. »

Let’s now conclude.

On the one hand, Islam, which claims to be a ‘purer’, more ‘native’ religion, and in which the figure of Abraham represents a paradigm, that of the ‘Muslim’ entirely ‘submitted’ to the will of God, – recognizes in Isaac and Ishmael two ‘prophets’.

On the other hand, Ishmael is certainly not recognized as a ‘prophet’ in Israel.

These two characters, intimately linked by their destiny (sons of the same father, and what a father!, but not of the same mother), are also, curiously, figures of the ‘sacrifice’, although in different ways, and which need to be interpreted.

The sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah ended with the intervention of an angel, just as the imminent death of Ishmael in the desert near a hidden spring ended after the intervention of an angel.

It seems to me that a revision of the trial once held against Ishmael, at the instigation of Sarah, and sanctioned by his undeserved rejection outside the camp of Abraham, and the case againt Ishmael should be re-opened.

It seems indispensable, and not unrelated to the present state of the world, to repair the injustice that was once done to Ishmael.

_______________

i Qur’an 36:101-113: « So we gave him the good news of a lonely boy. Then when he was old enough to go with him, [Abraham] said, « O my son, I see myself in a dream, immolating you. See what you think of it. He said, « O my dear father, do as you are commanded: you will find me, if it pleases God, among those who endure. And when they both came together and he threw him on his forehead, behold, We called him « Abraham »! You have confirmed the vision. This is how We reward those who do good. Verily that was the manifest trial. And We ransomed him with a bountiful sacrifice. And We perpetuated his name in posterity: « Peace be upon Abraham. Thus do We reward those who do good, for he was of Our believing servants. And We gave him the good news of Isaac as a prophet of the righteous among the righteous. And We blessed him and Isaac. »

This account seems to indicate indirectly that the (unnamed) son who was taken to the place of the sacrifice is, in fact, Isaac, since Isaac’s name is mentioned twice, in verses 112 and 113, immediately after verses 101-106, which describe the scene of the sacrifice, – whereas the name Ishmael, on the other hand, is not mentioned at all on this occasion. Moreover, God seems to want to reward Isaac for his attitude of faith by announcing on this same occasion his future role as a prophet, which the Qur’an never does about Ishmael.

ii Gen 15, 2-4. Let us note that the divine promise immediately instils a certain ambiguity: « But behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This man shall not inherit you, but he who comes out of your loins shall be your heir. If Eliezer [« this one, » to whom the verse refers] is clearly excluded from the inheritance, the word of God does not decide a priori between the children to come, Ishmael and Isaac.

iiiCourse of Moïse Mouton. 7 December 2019

ivTranslation of the French Rabbinate, adapted to Rachi’s commentary. Fondation S. et O. Lévy. Paris, 1988

« v » Hagar raised her voice, and she cried. (Gen 21:16)

viGn 26.8. Rachi comments: « Isaac says to himself, ‘Now I don’t have to worry anymore because nothing has been done to him so far. And he was no longer on guard. Abimelec looked – he saw them together. »

viiHebrew-French Dictionary by Sander and Trenel, Paris 1859

viiiGn 16.13

ixGn 16, 14: Rachi notes that « the word Ro’ï is punctuated Qamets qaton, because it is a noun. He is the God of vision. He sees the humiliation of the humiliated. »

xGn 16, 14

xi Gn 25.11

xiiiGn 18.13

xivGn 18.15

xvRachi comments on Gen 16:5 as follows: « Sarai looked upon Agar’s pregnancy with a bad eye and she had an abortion. That is why the angel said to Hagar, « You are about to conceive » (Gen 16:11). Now she was already pregnant and the angel tells her that she will be pregnant. This proves that the first pregnancy was not successful. »

xviRachi explains that « Abraham was afraid to bless Isaac because he saw that his son would give birth to Esau. »

xviiGn 24, 62

The Divine Wager


— Carl Gustav Jung —

Some Upaniṣad explain that the ultimate goal of the Veda, of its hymns, songs and formulas, is metaphysical knowledge.

What does this knowledge consist of?

Some wise men have said that such knowledge may fit in just one sentence.

Others indicate that it touches on the nature of the world and the nature of the Self.

They state, for example, that « the world is a triad consisting of name, form and action »i, and they add, without contradiction, that it is also « one », and that this One is the Self. Who is the Self, then? It is like the world, in appearance, but above all it possesses immortality. « The Self is one and it is this triad. And it is the Immortal, hidden by reality. In truth the Immortal is breath ; reality is name and form. This breath is here hidden by both of them. » ii

Why do we read ‘both of them’ here, if the world is a ‘triad’?

In the triad of the world, what ‘hides’ is above all the ‘name’ and the ‘form’. Action can hide, in the world, but it can also reveal.

Thus the One ‘acts’, as the sun acts. The divine breath also acts, without word or form. The weight of words differs according to the context…

We will ask again: why this opposition between, on the one hand, ‘name, form, action’, and on the other hand ‘breath’? Why reality on the one hand, and the Immortal on the other? Why this cut, if everything is one? Why is the reality of the world so unreal, so obviously fleeting, so little immortal, and so separated from the One?

Perhaps reality participates in some way in the One, in a way that is difficult to conceive, and therefore participates in the Immortal.

Reality is apparently separated from the One, but it is also said to ‘hide’ It, to ‘cover’ It with the veil of its ‘reality’ and ‘appearance’. It is separated from It, but in another way, it is in contact with It, as a hiding place contains what it hides, as a garment covers a nakedness, as an illusion covers an ignorance, as existence veils the essence.

Hence another question. Why is it all arranged this way? Why these grandiose entities, the Self, the World, Man? And why these separations between the Self, the World and Man, metaphysically disjointed, separated? What rhymes the World and Man, in an adventure that goes beyond them entirely?

What is the purpose of this metaphysical arrangement?

A possible lead opens up with C.G. Jung, who identifies the Self, the Unconscious, – and God.

« As far as the Self is concerned, I could say that it is an equivalent of God ».iiiiv

The crucial idea is that God needs man’s conscience. This is the reason for man’s creation. Jung postulates « the existence of a [supreme] being who is essentially unconscious. Such a model would explain why God created a man with consciousness and why He seeks His purpose in him. On this point the Old Testament, the New Testament and Buddhism agree. Master Eckhart says that ‘God is not happy in His divinity. So He gives birth to Himself in man. This is what happened with Job: the creator sees himself through the eyes of human consciousnessv

What does it (metaphysically) imply that the Self does not have a full awareness of itself, and even that It is much more unconscious than conscious? How can this be explained? The Self is so infinite that It can absolutely not have a full, absolute consciousness of Itself. Consciousness is an attention to oneself, a focus on oneself. It would be contrary to the very idea of consciousness to be ‘conscious’ of infinitely everything, of everything at once, for all the infinitely future times and the infinitely past times.

An integral omniscience, an omni-conscience, is in intrinsic contradiction with the concept of infinity. For if the Self is infinite, it is infinite in act and potency. And yet consciousness is in act. It is the unconscious that is in potency. The conscious Self can realize the infinite in act, at any moment, and everywhere in the World, or in the heart of each man, but It cannot also put into act what unrealized potency still lies in the infinity of possibilities. It cannot be ‘in act’, for example, today, in hearts and minds of the countless generations yet to come, who are still ‘in potency’ to come into existence.

The idea that there is a very important part of the unconscious in the Self, and even a part of the infinite unconscious, is not heretical. Quite the contrary.

The Self does not have a total, absolute, consciousness of Itself, but only a consciousness of what in It is in act. It ‘needs’ to realize its part of the unconscious, which is in potency in It, and which is also in potency in the world, and in Man…

This is the role of reality, the role of the world and its triad ‘name, form, action’. Only ‘reality’ can ‘realize’ that the Self resides in it, and what the Self expects of it. It is this ‘realisation’ that contributes to the emergence of the part of the unconscious, the part of potency, that the Self contains, in germ; in Its infinite unconscious.

The Self has been walking on Its own, from all eternity, and for eternities to come (although this expression may seem odd, and apparently contradictory). In this unfinished ‘adventure’, the Self needs to get out of Its ‘present’, out of Its own ‘presence’ to Itself. It needs to ‘dream’. In short, the Self ‘dreams’ creation, the world and Man, in order to continue to make what is still in potency happen in act.

This is how the Self knows Itself, through the existence of that which is not the Self, but which participates in It. The Self thus learns more about Itself than if It remained alone, mortally alone. Its immortality and infinity come from there, from Its power of renewal, from an absolute renewal since it comes from what is not absolutely the Self, but from what is other to It (for instance the heart of Man).

The world and Man, all this is the dream of the God, that God whom the Veda calls Man, Puruṣa, or the Lord of creatures, Prajāpati, and whom Upaniṣads calls the Self, ātman.

Man is the dream of the God who dreams of what He does not yet know what He will be. This is not ignorance. It is only the open infinite of a future yet to happen.

He also gave His name: « I shall be who I shall be ». vi אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, ehyeh acher ehyeh. If the God who revealed Himself to Moses in this way with a verb in an « imperfective aspect » ‘, it is because the Hebrew language allows one side of the veil to be lifted. God is not yet « perfective », as is the verb that names Him.

Pascal developed the idea of a ‘bet’ that man should make, to win infinity. I would like to suggest that another ‘bet’, this time divine, accompanies the human bet. It is the wager that God made in creating His creation, accepting that non-self coexists with Him, in the time of His dream.

What is the nature of the divine wager? It is the bet that Man, by names, by forms, and by actions, will come to help the divinity to accomplish the realization of the Self, yet to do, yet to create, the Self always in potency.

God dreams that Man will deliver Him from His absence (to Himself).

For this potency, which still sleeps, in a dreamless sleep, in the infinite darkness of His unconscious, is what the God dreams about.

In His own light, He knows no other night than His own.

iB.U. 1.6.1

iiB.U. 1.6.1

iiiC.G. Jung. Letter to Prof. Gebhard Frei.1 3 January 1948. The Divine in Man. Albin Michel.1999. p.191

ivC.G. Jung. Letter to Aniela Jaffé. September 3, 1943. The Divine in Man. Albin Michel.1999. p.185-186

vC.G. Jung. Letter to Rev. Morton Kelsey. .3 May 1958. The Divine in Man. Albin Michel.1999. p.133

viEx 3.14

A Voice Cries Out in the Desert


— Henri Meschonnic–

Henri Meschonnici was a formidable polemicist, and even, in this respect, a « serial killer », according to Michel Deguy. Meschonnic proposed « that we leave the word ‘Shoah’ in the dustbin of history. »ii This word was, according to him, « intolerable », it would represent « a pollution of the mind » and would aggravate a « generalized misunderstanding ». For this Hebrew word, which appears thirteen times in the Bible, refers only to thunderstorm, « a natural phenomenon, simply ». « The scandal is first of all to use a word that designates a natural phenomenon to refer to a barbarity that is all human. » Another scandal would be that Claude Lanzmann appropriated the highly publicized use of the word ‘shoah’, while diverting its meaningiii: « The author of the Shoah is Hitler, Lanzmann is the author of Shoah. » iv

Henri Meschonnic also attacked the « idolatry » of the Kabbalah: « Language is no longer anywhere in the Kabbalah. It is only an illusion, a utopia. It is replaced by the letters of the script taken for hieroglyphics of the world. A cosmism. And a theism. Then, paradoxically, one must recognize the sacred, more than the divine. A form of idolatry. »v

In a similar way, he attacked Leon Askenazi (the famous Rabbi ‘Manitou’), for his word games in the Torah, – this « idolatry that passes for thought »vi.

Idolatry. Idolettrism. Quite a sharp point. But, on the other hand, he tempers a little, hinting that this « idolatry » is also a « utopia »: « Kabbalah is a utopia of language. A utopia of the Jew. Since its indefinite and self-referential allegorisation is supposed to have the following effect: ‘A particular link is thus established between the letter yod, the 10th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which represents the ten Sefirot, and the Jewish people, the Yehudimviiviii

What is this « utopia of the Jew »? A fuse formula summarizes it: Hebrew is the « holy language » par excellence (lechon ha-qodech).

We are here in heavy, very heavy stuff. Meschonnic quotes in support the famous medieval cabalist, Aboulafia, and one of his current thurifer, Elliot Wolfson:

« The cabal will be the exclusive property of the Jewish people, (…) the only nation to have real access to the sacred language of creation, revelation and redemption.»ix

For the comparatist, this type of formula (« the only nation to… », the « sacred language of »,…) seems to be an old cliché, to be found in all latitudes, at all times, in most cultures, so much so that exceptionalism seems really not that exceptional…

More than a thousand years before Abraham, and long before the Torah had even begun to be written down, the Vedic tradition already considered Sanskrit as a « perfect » language. Sanskrit holds its name from the word ‘samskṛta‘ , which means « perfect » in Sanskrit). Moreover, the Vedic tradition considered the entire Vedic corpus as pure, divine revelation.

More recently, for hundreds of millions of believers, the Quran, too, is considered « descended » directly from the Divinity into the Arabic language, which is considered by its locutors a « clear » and « perfect » language.

There is, therefore, obviously on this planet, a certain abundance of « perfect languages » and « divine revelations », seemingly indifferent to their putative concurrents.

What should we conclude from this rush? That these revelations, and these languages, contradict and exclude each other? That only one of them is the true one, the only one « chosen »? Or, should we adopt a more diplomatic formulation, that they all contain some truth? Or, to be more pessimistic, should we suppose that they all somehow lack their intended purpose, whose transcendence escapes them?

What strikes one, in these immense religious and intellectual adventures, which often display, in theory and in practice, ambitions of universal scope, is the paradoxically provincial, navel-gazing, somewhat narrow-minded side of their later commentators. There is no shortage of late voices, coming, a few millennia after the founders, to set themselves up as self-proclaimed defenders, arrogating to themselves the monopoly of exception and election.

In the Babel of languages, Hebrew certainly does not escape the shocking statements about its absolute specificity and its intrinsic superiority over all other languages.

« Divine consonants, human vowels, is the high revelation of Hebrew. »x

The « sanctity » of the Hebrew language is contagious. It extends to the people who speak it.

Hence a sharp alternative:

« The truth that Hebrew is the holy language of a holy people, and the untruth that it is the spoken language of a people like all peoples, seem irreconcilable. » xi

Franz Rosenzweig asked a binary question. There is no way out.

On one side a « holy language » and a « holy people », and on the other side « all peoples » and all other languages, immersed in the no-man’s-land of « untruth » (and un-holiness). Faced with this alternative, what is the answer?

The issue deserves attention.

Franz Rosenzweig seems very sure of his fact: he provides some elements of idiosyncratic argumentation, the scathing lesson of which could perhaps also be of interest to speakers of English, German or Latin – and why not, for good measure, Greek, Arabic or Sanskrit?

« To read Hebrew means: to be ready to gather the entire heritage of the language; to read German, English or Latin, one reaps only the harvest given by the furrows of the language of one season: of one generation. »xii

Franz Rosenzweig does not seem to suspect that the few ‘languages of a season’ he quotes are only the most recent, among a large and immemorial ‘harvest’ of other Indo-European languages, much more original, and some of them with sophisticated grammars, and incidentally with a vocabulary twenty times richer than the biblicalxiii lexicon. Among these languages, Avestic and Sanskrit go back to several millennia before our era, and have both served to compose « sacred » texts (respectively the Avesta and the Veda), which testify to very ancient « revelations », certainly older than the revelation « mosaic ».

It may be argued that Avestic and Sanskrit are nowadays only « dead languages », and that the Avesta or Veda no longer irrigate living times, but only celebrate forgotten Gods…

In contrast, it should also be noted, biblical Hebrew has « risen » again with modern Hebrew, while the Torah continues to live on through the people who bear it and the religions that draw inspiration from it.

These are indeed crucial points.

One could however answer that the Veda religion has not completely disappeared from the world consciousness… or from the depths of the collective unconscious. The history of the Spirit has only just begun. The Vedanta, the Upanishads, Baghavad Gîta, – forever under a bushel? The future, the distant future, will tell.

On the other hand, it can also be argued that the « spirit » of Sanskrit is not really dead, but that it is still very much alive today, and that it is constantly regenerating itself in the vast body of Indo-European languages that are spoken throughout the world, and through their own genius.

The « spirit » of Sanskrit. The « spirit » of Indo-European languages…

Is there a « spirit » of languages? And what does it mean?

Franz Rosenzweig asked this question in a lecture on « the spirit of the Hebrew language ».

« What is the spirit of the German language? Does a language have a ‘spirit’? The answer is: only the language has a spirit. As many languages we know, as many times we are a man. Can you ‘know’ more than one language? Our ‘knowledge’ is just as flat as French ‘savoir‘ (knowledge). We live in one language.» xiv

The word ‘knowledge’, – a ‘flat’ word?

To live is to react…

The French word ‘savoir’ comes from the Latin sapio, sapere, « to have flavor », and figuratively « to have taste, sense, reason ». This Latin word gave in French the words ‘sapience’, ‘saveur’, ‘sève’, ‘sapide’ (and its antonym ‘insipide’). Its etymological origin goes back to the Sanskrit सबर् sabar, « nectar, sap, milk », from which the words Saft in German, sap inEnglish, sapor in Latin also derive.

There is an irony here, a sort of ‘meta-linguistic’ irony, to note that the words ‘flavor’, ‘taste’, are translated ta’am inHebrew, in the plural te’amim.

Now it just so happens that Henri Meschonnic advocated a close attention to the presence in the biblical language of the signs of cantillation, the טְעָמִים, te’amim, supposed to enlighten the deep meaning of the verses by giving them their true rhythm, their melody. « The word, already used by Rabbi Akiva, of te’amim, (…) is the plural of ta’am, which means the taste, in the gustatory sense, the taste of what one has in the mouth.xv In medieval Hebrew, the word also referred to the ratio. It is of capital importance that this word, which designates the junctions-disjunctions, groupings and ungroupings of discourse, with for each ‘accent’ a melodic line, be a word of the body and the mouth. The mouth is what speaks. »xvi

The irony, then, is that the French word ‘savoir’ (which Rosenzweig found ‘flat’) and the Hebrew word te’amim share the same connotations, associating ‘taste’, ‘flavor’ and ‘ratio’...

We quickly return to provincialism and navel-gazing, as we see. One must resolve to understand, once and for all, that outside of Hebrew, there is no salvation. Literally. The Hebrew language holds the divine in it…

Rosenzweig puts it this way:

« The spirit of the Hebrew language is ‘the spirit of God’. (Es ist Geist Gottes). » xvii

Difficult to make more synthetic and more exclusive.

In search of this ‘spirit’ (of the Hebrew language), and interested in the interpretative power attributed to the te’amim, I looked for some possible examples of reference in Meschonnic’s writings.

He particularly emphasizes a verse from Isaiah, usually translated, for centuries, in the Gospels:

« A voice cries out in the desert: prepare a way for the Lord. « (Is. 40:3)

Meschonnic says of this translation: « It is the ‘Christian way’, as James Kugel says. The identification with John the Baptist in Matthew (3:3), Mark (1:3) and John (1:23) depended on it. »

It is true that there is a discrepancy of interpretation between the passages of the Gospels quoted and what we read in the Jerusalem Bible, which gives the following translation:

« A voice cries out, ‘In the desert, make way for the LORD’. »

So? What is the rigjht reading?

 » A voice cries out in the desert »?

Or: « A voice cries out: ‘in the desert etc.' »?

Meschonnic notes that in the Hebrew original, there is a major disjunctive accent (zaqef qatan) after « a screaming voice » (qol qoré):

« So ‘in the desert’ is related to ‘make way’, not about the preceding verb. I translate: ‘A voice cries out in the desert make way for Adonaï’. This text is liked to the exile in Babylon, and calls for a return to Jerusalem. Its meaning is geographical and historical, according to its rhythm in Hebrew. But when cut after ‘desert’, it becomes the Christian and eschatological call. Quite another theology. It is the rhythm that makes, or undoes, the meaning.»xviii

Meschonnic concludes his development with a shock formula :

« Rhythm is not only the Jew of the sign, it is also the Jew of the Jew, and it shares the utopia of the poem by being the utopia of meaning. »xix

The rhythm, the ta’am, is the « Jew of the Jew ». Difficult to find a formulation less goy, and more irrefutable…

However, the rhythm is not enough.

If we place the same verse (Is 40:3) in the immediate context of the first ten verses of the « second » Isaiah (Is 40:1-10), we suddenly see a rich density of possible meanings, proliferating, allusive, elusive, carried by voices, words, utterances, cries, repetitions, variations, ellipses, obscurities and openings.

A textual criticism, aimed at semantics, syntax, allegories and anagogy, would encourage a multiplication of questions – far beyond what the ta’am ta’am is.

Why is God twice named « our God » (אלֹהֵינוּ Elohei-nou) xxin Is 40:3 and Is 40:8, and twice named « your God » (אֱלֹהֵיכֶם Elohei-khem)xxi in Is 40:1 and Is 40:9?

Is « ours » also « yours », or is it not?

Why is God named ‘YHVH’ five times in Isaiah 40:2, Isaiah 40:3, Isaiah 40:5 (twice), and Isaiah 40:7, but only once ‘YHVH Adonai’ in Isaiah 40:10xxii? In other words, why is God here named six times ‘YHVH’, and once ‘Adonai’?

In what way do the expression « all flesh » כָל-בָּשָׂר khol-bachar, in Is 40:5, and the expression « all flesh » כָּל-הַבָּשָׂר kol-ha-bachar, in Is 40:6, differ? xxiii

Why is the article defined in one case and not in the other?

Could it be that the expression « all flesh will see it » וְרָאוּ כָל-בָּשָׂר vé-raou khol-bachar, implies a universality (total, inclusive) of the vision of the glory of YHVH, – « all flesh » then meaning « all creatures made of flesh »?

Whereas the expression « all flesh, – grass », כָּל-הַבָּשָׂר חָצִיר kol-ha-bachar ḥatsir, only implies that « everything » in the flesh is like « grass »?

Why do two voices, undefined, come from unnamed mouths (Is 40:3 and Is 40:6), – when the spoken word is from « the mouth of YHVH », כִּי פִּי יְהוָה דִּבֵּר, ki pi YHVH dibber (Is 40:5), and « the word of our God »,וּדְבַר-אֱלֹהֵינוּ devar Elohenou, (Is 40:8), are they duly and by name attributed to God?

Why does the first of these two (undefined) voices shout :

« A voice cries out: ‘In the desert, make way for YHVH; in the wilderness, make a straight road for our God’. »(Isaiah 40:3)

Why does the second, undefined voice first say: ‘Cry out’, – before saying what to cry out?

« A voice said, ‘Cry out’, and I said, ‘What shall I cry out?’ – ‘All flesh is grass and all its grace is like the flower of the field. « (Isaiah 40:6)

To whom does « your God » address himself when Isaiah says :

« Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ, עַמִּי–יֹאמַר, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (Is 40,1)

Who is speaking here? Who ‘says’ what ‘your God’ says?

Who exactly is « my people »? Is « my people » the people of ‘your God’ or the people of ‘our God’?

In other words, is « my people » just « grass »? xxiv

Or is it only « the people », which is « grass »?

Last but not least, who is consoling whom, on whose behalf?

____________

iHenri Meschonnic (1932-2009), essayist, linguist, poet, translator.

iiHenri Meschonnic. « Pour en finir avec le mot « Shoah » », Le Monde, dated February 20-21, 2005. cf. https://www.larevuedesressources.org/pour-en-finir-avec-le-mot-shoah,1193.html

iii: Henri Meschonnic. « Pour en finir avec le mot « Shoah » », Le Monde, dated February 20-21, 2005. cf. https://www.larevuedesressources.org/pour-en-finir-avec-le-mot-shoah,1193.html

iv Claude Lanzmann writes: « I fought to impose ‘Shoah’ without knowing that I was thus proceeding to a radical act of nomination, since almost immediately the title of the film became, in many languages, the very name of the event in its absolute singularity. The film was immediately eponymous, people everywhere began to say « the Shoah ». The identification between the film and what it represents goes so far that daring people speak of me as « the author of the Shoah, » to which I can only reply: « No, I’m « Shoah », the Shoah is Hitler. » Le Monde, February 26, 2005

vHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.127

viHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.132

viiH. Meschonnic quotes here Elliot R. Wolfson. Abraham Aboulafia cabalist and prophet. Hermeneutics, theosophy and theurgy. Trad. J.F. Sené. Ed. de l’Eclat, 1999, p.123.

viiiHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.128

ixElliot R. Wolfson. Abraham Aboulafia cabalist and prophet. Hermeneutics, Theosophy and Theurgy. Trad. J.F. Sené. Ed. de l’Eclat, 1999, p. 57, quoted by H. Meschonnic, op. cit. p. 128.

xRaymond Abelio. In a soul and a body. Gallimard, 1973, p.259. Quoted by Henri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.137

xiFranz Rosenzweig. New Hebrew ? On the occasion of the translation of Spinoza’s Ethics. Collected Writings III p. 725. Cité par Henri Meschonnic. L’utopie du Juif. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.138

xiiFranz Rosenzweig. « Neo-Hebrew » in L’écriture, le verbe et autres essais. p.28. Quoted by Henri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.138

xiiiTo get an idea of this, just compare the Sanskrit-English dictionary by Monier Monier-Williams and the Hebrew-English dictionary by Brown-Driver-Briggs, both considered as references in the study of Sanskrit and Biblical Hebrew.

xivFranz Rosenzweig. « On the Spirit of the Hebrew Language. – es a language have a ‘spirit’ ? The answer is: only the language has spirit. As many languages as one can, so much one can be human. Can one ‘know’ more than one language ? Our ‘can’ is as shallow as the French ‘savoir’. One lives in a language. « Collected Writings III p. 719. Cité par Henri Meschonnic. L’utopie du Juif. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.139-140

xvMeschonnic notes that in Arabic, mat’am means « resaturant ».

xviHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.147-148

xviiFranz Rosenzweig. « Vom Geist der hebräische Sprache. « Gesammelte Schriften III p. 721. Quoted by Henri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p. 140

xviiiHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p. 165

xixHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p. 171

xx« A way cries out: ‘In the desert, make way for YHVH; in the steppe, smooth a road for our God. « קוֹל קוֹרֵא–בַבַּמִּדְבָּר, פַּנּוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה; יַשְּׁרוּ, בָּעֲרָבָה, מְסִלָּה, לֵאלֹהֵינוּ (Is 40,3)

« The grass withers, the flower withers, but the word of our God endures forever. « יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר, נָבֵל צִיץ; וּדְבַר-אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יָקוּם לְעוֹלָם (Is 40,8)

xxi« Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ, עַמִּי–יֹאמַר, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (Is 40,1)

« Lift up your voice, fear not, say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!' » הָרִימִי, אַל-תִּירָאִי, אִמְרִי לְעָרֵי יְהוּדָה, הִנֵּה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (Is 40,9)

xxii« הִנֵּה אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה (Is 40:10)

xxiii« Then the glory of YHVH will be revealed and all flesh will see it, together, for the mouth of YHVH has spoken. »

וְנִגְלָה, כְּבוֹד יְהוָה; וְרָאוּ כָל-בָּשָׂר יַחְדָּו, כִּי פִּי יְהוָה דִּבֵּר (Is 40,5)

« A voice said, ‘Cry out’, and I said, ‘What shall I cry out?’ – ‘All flesh is grass and all its grace is like the flower of the field. « קוֹל אֹמֵר קְרָא, וְאָמַר מָה אֶקְרָא; כָּל-הַבָּשָׂר חָצִיר, וְכָל-חַסְדּוֹ כְּצִיץ הַשָּׂדֶה (Is 40,6)

xxiv« The grass withers, the flower withers, when the breath of YHVH passes over them; yes, the people are grass. »

יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר נָבֵל צִיץ, כִּי רוּחַ יְהוָה נָשְׁבָה בּוֹ; אָכֵן חָצִיר, הָעָם (Is 40,7)

Foi et Loi


– Le rabbin Chaoul, disciple du rabbin Gamaliel –

A un moment crucial de l’Exode, juste après que Moïse lui eut lu le « livre de l’Alliance », le peuple d’Israël, tout entier rassemblé, prononça d’une voix ces paroles : נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע na’assèh vé-nichma’, « Nous ferons et nous entendrons » (Ex 24,7).

Quelque temps auparavant, le peuple avait déjà utilisé, seule, l’expression: vé-nichma’, « Nous entendrons » (Ex 20,15).

Elohim venait de dire les « Dix Paroles » au mont Sinaï, au milieu des tonnerres, des feux et des fumées. Pris de peur, le peuple avait demandé à Moïse de servir désormais d’intermédiaire : « Toi, parle-nous et nous entendrons, mais qu’Elohim ne nous parle plus car nous en mourrions. » (Ex 20,15).

Peu après, le peuple avait clamé d’une voix l’autre expression : na’assèh, « Nous ferons » (Ex 24,3).

Moïse était revenu vers le peuple, après sa rencontre solitaire avec YHVH, et il lui avait transmis « toutes les paroles de YHVH » : כָּל-דִּבְרֵי יְהוָה kol dibri Adonaï.

« Et tout le peuple (כָּל-הָעָם, kol ha-’am) cria d’une seule voix (קוֹל אֶחָד , qol éḥad), et ils dirent : toutes les paroles que YHVH a dites (kol ha-devarim acher dibber Adonaï), nous ferons (נַעֲשֶׂה , na’asseh) » (Ex 24,3).

Lorsque le peuple d’Israël fut confronté directement, une première fois, aux paroles de YHVH, il demanda la médiation de Moïse pour pouvoir les entendre. Et lorsqu’il les entendit une deuxième fois, Moïse lui ayant communiqué oralement toutes les paroles de YHVH, le peuple dit qu’il ferait.

C’est seulement lorsque Moïse mit toutes ces paroles divines par écrit (Ex 24,4), constituant ainsi le livre de l’Alliance, סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית , sefer ha-brit, que le peuple s’écria : na’asséh vé-nichma’, « nous ferons et nous entendrons » (Ex 24,7).

« Nous entendrons », d’abord, « nous ferons », ensuite, « nous ferons et nous entendrons » enfin…

Le verset Ex 24,7 fait partie de ceux qui condense et résume le mieux l’essence de la foi juive, – de laquelle on dit souvent qu’elle prône une orthopraxie plutôt qu’une orthodoxie. Autrement dit, le judaïsme se caractériserait d’abord par la fidélité envers la pratique.

Ce verset est l’un des plus scrutés par les générations successives de commentateurs, sans doute parce qu’il donne apparemment la précellence au verbe עָשָׂה, ‘assah « faire, accomplir » sur le verbe שָׁמַע, chama’ « entendre, comprendre, obéir », – ce dernier verbe n‘étant pas d’ailleurs dénué d’une certaine ambiguïté sémantique.

L’ordre choisi pour énoncer les deux verbes peut être interprété comme privilégiant le ‘faire’ (l’accomplissement de la Loi) sur son ‘écoute’ ou sa ‘compréhension’, qui s’en déduirait donc a posteriori.

Abraham ibn Ezra (1089-1164), célèbre commentateur du Moyen âge, a livré quatre explications possibles de l’ordre d’énonciation de ces deux verbesi.

-La mise en pratique de la loi écrite doit s’accompagner de sa répétition orale : ‘nous ferons’ tout ce qui est écrit et ‘nous écouterons’ en permanence la loi prononcée de notre bouche, pour ne pas l’oublier.

-Autre explication: ‘nous ferons’ les commandements plantés dans notre cœur, et ‘nous écouterons’ les commandements reçus de la tradition.

-Autre explication: ‘nous ferons’ tous les commandements qui nous ont été ordonnés jusqu’à présent, et ‘nous écouterons’ tous les commandements futurs.

-Autre explication: ‘nous ferons’ les commandements positifs, et ‘nous écouterons’ les commandements négatifs.

Ces quatre interprétations ouvrent des pistes fort différentes, et qui vont bien au-delà du primat du ‘faire’ sur le ‘comprendre’. Elles jouent sur les diverses dialectiques de la mémoire écrite et de la mémoire orale, des injonctions venant du cœur et de la tradition, des lois déjà données et de celles à venir, et encore sur la différence entre lois positives, à ‘faire’, et négatives, à ‘ne pas faire’.

Abraham ibn Ezra ouvrit encore une autre question, aux répercussions profondes: faut-il donner un poids équivalent à toutes les lois ? Autrement dit, faut-il considérer que le serment de ‘faire’ et ‘entendre’ (ou ‘comprendre’) s’applique à l’intégralité des lois mosaïques, ou bien faut-il séparer ces dernières en plusieurs catégories, notamment celles qu’il faut ‘faire’, et celles qu’il faut ‘entendre’ (ou ‘comprendre’) ?

Une lignée de commentateurs relève à ce sujet une différence de nature entre les lois (michpatim) qu’ils jugent ‘rationnelles’ et les commandements (ḥouqim), considérés comme ‘irrationnels’ ou du moins ‘difficiles à comprendre’. A ces derniers appartiennent par exemple les lois sur la pureté, la référence à la vache rousse, l’interdiction de mêler la laine et le lin dans un habit, etc.

D’autres commentateurs, y compris des auteurs contemporains comme Yeshayahou Leibowitz, ne font pas acception de ces nuances entre divers types de lois. Ils considèrent que si la religion juive peut en effet être considérée comme ritualiste, le système des commandements pratiques (les mitsvot) ne relève pas d’une logique déterminée. Les mitsvot doivent simplement être respectés en tant que tels, pour eux-mêmes, de façon totalement désintéressée, sans y mettre l’attachement ‘affectif’ ou même ‘idolâtrique’ que la Kabbale ou les courants de pensée équivalents, ainsi qu’une certaine piété populaire, leur accordent. L’essence du système des mitsvot ne doit pas se chercher dans ses détails ou dans son improbable logique. Ce système doit être accepté comme tel, et ‘compris’ comme un tout. Sa légitimité réside surtout dans le fait qu’il a été jadis reçu par les fidèles, qui ont choisi, génération après génération, de reproduire la manière de vivre qui lui est associée, et qui est transmise par la loi orale.

« La spécificité du judaïsme ne se situe pas dans un système de mitsvot et règles établies a priori, mais dans le fait qu’il adopte ce système. […] On peut donc dire que le judaïsme historique n’existe que dans la mesure où il impose au fidèle un certain mode de vie quotidien, même si sa traduction dans les actes découle directement de la tradition orale, qui émane elle-même de la perception et de la connaissance d’hommes qui ont choisi de vivre selon la Torah – et de ce fait, elle est loin d’être un code rigide. […] Les mitsvot pratiques sont le judaïsme et le judaïsme n’existe pas sans elles ».ii

Ajoutons que des commentateurs ont suggéré que les Anciens n’ont en fait vu et ‘compris’ qu’une partie seulement de la vérité qui leur a été révélée. C’est pourquoi s’il faut faire ce qu’édicte la loi écrite, il faut aussi toujours à nouveau écouter la loi orale, et la comprendre, dans son essence plurielle, vivante, évolutive.

La loi écrite et la loi orale ont un point commun, elles demandent à être entendues et comprises. ‘Entendre’ et ‘comprendre’ se dénotent par un même verbe en hébreu, chama’, verbe qui doit lui-même être entendu et compris à son propre niveau de profondeur, qui est plus abyssal que ce que l’on imagine a priori.

La formule na’asséh vé-nichma’ exprime en apparence seulement la primauté du faire sur le comprendre, mais aussi, dans sa spontanéité et sa compacité, un lien consubstantiel entre la foi et la Loi.

Par foi, le peuple juif s’engage dans la Loi, – en action et en esprit.

Il y a encore autre chose à en dire, selon le rabbin Chaoul, disciple du rabbin Gamaliel.

Chaoul, aussi connu sous le nom de Paul, niait la primauté des actes (les mitsvot) sur la foi. Il se référait à la promesse faite à Abraham, plus ancienne que celle faite à Moïse, et surtout plus universelle, puisque adressée à travers Abraham à sa descendance et à l’ensemble des Nations  :
« En effet, ce n’est pas par la loi que l’héritage du monde a été promis à Abraham ou à sa postérité, c’est par la justice de la foi. Car, si les héritiers le sont par la loi, la foi est vaine, et la promesse est anéantie ».iii

L’interprétation de Chaoul était radicale, révolutionnaire, — et aux yeux des Juifs ses contemporains, tant pharisiens que sadducéens, elle fleurait l’hérésie.

A quoi sert exactement la Loi ? La Loi est un joug et un fardeau. Elle est si difficile que personne n’est en mesure de la suivre intégralement, ce qui implique qu’elle est toujours occasion de susciter la colère de Dieu, puisqu’il est impossible de la respecter, tant formellement qu’en esprit.

La Loi est trop lourde pour l’homme. Elle ne fait que l’écraser de son poids. Elle le rend pécheur, sans cesse.

« Par la pratique de la Loi, personne ne deviendra juste devant Dieu. En effet, la Loi fait seulement connaître le péché. »iv

C’était là, d’ailleurs, reprendre une ancienne leçon du Psalmiste : « N’entre pas en jugement avec Ton serviteur, nul vivant n’est justifié devant Toi » (Ps 143,2). Ou encore: « Si tu retiens les fautes, Adonaï, Seigneur, qui subsistera ? » (Ps 130,3)

Il y avait aussi ce paradoxe. Les nations, qui n’ont pas reçu la Loi, ne peuvent être jugées coupables de la transgresser.

« Car la Loi aboutit à la colère de Dieu, mais là où il n’y a pas de Loi, il n’y a pas non plus de transgression. »v

C’était une question d’une portée universelle. La foi seule peut-elle servir à justifier l’homme qui n’a pas reçu la Loi?

« En effet, nous estimons que l’homme est justifié par la foi, sans la pratique de la Loi.  Ou bien, Dieu serait-il seulement le Dieu des Juifs ? N’est-il pas aussi le Dieu des nations ? Bien sûr, il est aussi le Dieu des nations.»vi

Dieu est en effet le Dieu des nations, du moins si l’on se réfère à la promesse jadis faite à Abraham.

« Voilà pourquoi on devient héritier par la foi : c’est une grâce, et la promesse demeure ferme pour tous les descendants d’Abraham, non pour ceux qui se rattachent à la Loi seulement, mais pour ceux qui se rattachent aussi à la foi d’Abraham, lui qui est notre père à tous. »vii

Il ne s’agit pas de renoncer à la Loi, mais d’invoquer à la fois la Loi (écrite par Moïse) et la foi, bien plus originelle, d’Abraham.

La Loi, certes, est ce qu’il y a de plus haut : « Ainsi, la Loi est sainte ; le commandement est saint, juste et bon ».viii

Mais cette sainteté, cette justice et cette bonté se situent bien au-delà des capacités de l’Homme.

De plus, si la Loi est ce qu’il y a de plus saint, de plus juste et de meilleur, il y a quelque chose d’encore plus saint, de plus juste et de bien meilleur…

Quoi? — La grâce.

« Vous n’êtes plus sujets de la Loi, vous êtes sujets de la grâce de Dieu ».ix

La Loi doit-elle être remplacée par la grâce ? Non. Les deux sont indissolublement liées. De même, d’ailleurs, que le sort des Juifs et des Nations.

« Ainsi, entre les Juifs et les païens, il n’y a pas de différence : tous ont le même Seigneur, généreux envers tous ceux qui l’invoquent ».x

Des païens qui ne cherchaient pas à devenir des justes ont obtenu de le devenir, par la foi. Israël qui a gardé et qui cherche à observer la Loi, pour devenir « juste », n’y est pas toujours parvenu, apparemment. Il y avait une pierre d’achoppement…

« Au lieu de compter sur la foi, ils comptaient sur les œuvres. Ils ont buté sur la pierre d’achoppement dont il est dit dans l’Écriture : Voici que je pose en Sion une pierre d’achoppement, un roc qui fait trébucher. Celui qui met en lui sa foi ne connaîtra pas la honte ».xi

Isaïe avait déjà prophétisé que YHVH serait « un piège, un rocher qui fait tomber, une pierre d’achoppement pour les deux maisons d’Israël, un filet et un piège pour les habitants de Jérusalem. »xii

Mais Isaïe avait aussi parlé d’une autre pierre que le Seigneur allait poser en Sion, non pas une pierre d’achoppement cette fois, mais une pierre de fondation.

« Ainsi parle le Seigneur YHVY : Voici que je vais poser en Sion une pierre, une pierre de granite, pierre angulaire, précieuse, pierre de fondation bien assise : celui qui s’y fie ne sera pas ébranlé. »xiii

Ces deux pierres, l’une d’achoppement, l’autre de fondation, ne sont-elles pas comme deux métaphores? Qui en révélera le sens?

Le rabbin Chaoul, disciple du rabbin Gamaliel, admira « l’audace » d’Isaïe admonestant Israël. Cela lui donna peut-être le désir d’être « audacieux », lui aussi, par une autre provocation bien dans sa façon:

« Je pose encore la question : Israël n’aurait-il pas compris ? Moïse, le premier, dit : Je vais vous rendre jaloux par une nation qui n’en est pas une, par une nation stupide je vais vous exaspérer.xiv Et Isaïe a l’audace de dire : ‘Je me suis laissé trouver par ceux qui ne me cherchaient pas, je me suis manifesté à ceux qui ne me demandaient rien’xv, tandis qu’il dit à l’adresse d’Israël : ‘Tout le jour j’ai tendu les mains vers un peuple désobéissant et rebelle’xvi. »xvii

Dans son audace, Chaoul a l’intuition d’un mystère plus profond.

« C’est ainsi qu’Israël tout entier sera sauvé, comme dit l’Écriture : De Sion viendra le libérateur, il fera disparaître les impiétés du milieu de Jacob. Certes, par rapport à l’Évangile, ils sont des adversaires, et cela, à cause de vous ; mais ils sont, selon l’Élection, des bien-aimés, et cela, à cause de leurs pères. Les dons gratuits de Dieu et son appel sont sans repentance. »xix

Ce mystère scelle la communauté de destin entre les Juifs et la totalité des Nations.xviii

Les Juifs et les Nations, un jour, proclameront d’une voix commune l’abasourdissante, insondable et impénétrable vérité:

« Quelle profondeur la sagesse et la connaissance de Dieu ! Ses décisions sont insondables, ses chemins sont impénétrables ! »xx

_________________

ihttp://www.akadem.org/medias/documents/Naasse-venichma-Doc4.pdf

iiY. Leibowitz, Judaïsme, peuple juif et État d’Israël, Paris, Jean-Claude Lattès, 1985. Cité in Sylvie Anne Goldberg, « Na‘assé vé-nishma. Nous ferons et nous entendrons ». De la croyance dans le judaïsme. P. Gisel, S. Margel (éds), Le Croire au cœur des sociétés et des cultures, Bibliothèque des Sciences Religieuses, Turnhout, Brepols, 2011, p. 43-63

iii Rm 4, 13-14

ivRm 3,20

vRm 4,15

viRm 3,28-29

viiRm 4, 16

viiiRm 7,12

ixRm 6,14

xRm 10,12

xiRm 9, 32-33

xiiIs 8,14

xiiiIs 28,16

xivDt 32,21 : « Ils m’ont rendu jaloux avec un néant de dieu  (בְלֹא-אֵל, littéralement « avec un non-dieu ») , ils m’ont irrité par leurs êtres de rien (בְּהַבְלֵיהֶם ) ; eh bien ! Moi, je les rendrai jaloux avec un néant de peuple (בְּלֹא-עָם) , je les irriterai avec une nation stupide  (בְּגוֹי נָבָל) . »

xvIs 65,1

xviIs 65,2

xviiRm 10, 19-21

xviiiRm 11,25

xixRm 11, 26-29

xxRm 11,33

Three Beginnings


« Genesis »

The anthropology of the ‘beginning’ is quite rich. A brief review of three traditions, Vedic, Jewish and Christian, here cited in the order of their historical arrival on the world stage, may help to compare their respective myths of ‘beginning’ and understand their implications.

1. The Gospel of John introduced the Greek idea of logos, ‘in the beginning’.

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ὁ λόγος.

« In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ». (Jn 1:1)

It is certainly worth digging a little deeper into the meaning of the two words ἀρχῇ (arkhè) and λόγος (logos), given their importance here.

Ἐν ἀρχῇ. En arkhè.

What is the real (deep) meaning of this expression?

Should one translate by « In the beginning »? Or « In the Principle »? Or something else?

The original meaning of the verb arkho, arkhein, commonly used since Homer, is ‘to take the initiative, to begin’. In the active sense, the word means ‘to command’.i With the preverb en-, the verb en-arkhomai means ‘to begin the sacrifice’, and later ‘to exercise magistracy’. The notion of sacrifice is very present in the cloud of meanings associated with this word. Kat-arkho : ‘to begin a sacrifice’. Pros-arkho, ‘to offer a gift’. Ex-arkho means ‘to begin, to sing (a song)’. Hup-arkho, ‘to begin, to be in the beginning’, hence ‘to be fundamental, to exist’, and finally ‘to be’.

Many compounds use as first term the word arkhè, meaning either ‘who starts’ or ‘who commands’. The oldest meaning is ‘who takes the initiative of’. There is the Homeric meaning of arkhé-kakos, ‘who is at the origin of evils’. The derived word arkhosgave rise to the formation of a very large number of compounds (more than 150 have been recordedii), of which Chantraine notes that they all refer to the notion of leading, of command, — and not to the notion of beginning.

The feminine noun arkhe, which is the word used in the Gospel of John, can mean ‘beginning’, but philosophers use it to designate ‘principles’, ‘first elements’ (Anaximander is the first to use it in this sense), or to mean ‘power, sovereignty’.

Chantraine concludes that the meanings of arkhè whicharerelated to the notions of ‘taking the initiative’, of ‘starting’, are the oldest, but that meanings that express the idea of ‘command’ also are very old, since they already appear in Homer. In all the derivations and subsequent compositions, it is the notion of ‘commanding’ that dominates, including in a religious sense: ‘to make the first gesture, to take the initiative (of sacrifice)’.

One may conjecture from all this, that the Johannine expression ‘en arkhèdoes not contain the deep idea of an ‘absolute beginning’. Rather, it may refer to the idea of a (divine) sacrificial initiative or inauguration (of the divine ‘sacrifice’), which presupposes not an absolute, temporal beginning, but rather an intemporal, divine decision, and the pre-existence of a whole background necessary for the conception and execution of this divine, inaugural and atemporal ‘sacrifice’.

Now, what about λόγος, logos ? How to translate this word with the right nuance? Does logos mean here ‘verb’ ? ‘Word’ ? ‘Reason’ ? ‘Speech’ ?

The word logos comes from the Greek verb lego, legein, whose original meaning is ‘to gather, to choose’, at least in the ways Homer uses this word in the Iliad. This value is preserved with the verbal compounds using the preverbs dia– or ek– (dia-legeinor ek-legein,‘to sort, to choose’), epi-legein ‘to choose, to pay attention to’, sul-legeintogather’. Legeinsometimes means ‘to enumerate’ in the Odyssey, and ‘to utter insults’, or ‘to chat, to discourse’ in the Iliad. This is how the use of lego, legein in the sense of ‘to tell, to say’ appeared, a use that competes with other Greek verbs that also have the meaning of ‘to say’: agoreuo, phèmi.

The noun logos is very ancient and can be found in the Iliad and Odyssey with the meaning of ‘speech, word’, and in Ionic and Attic dialects with meanings such as ‘narrative, account, consideration, explanation, reasoning, reason’, – as opposed to ‘reality’ (ergon). Then, much later, logos has come to mean ‘immanent reason’, and in Christian theology, it started to mean the second person of the Trinity, or even God.iii

Usually Jn 1:1 is translated, as we know : ‘In the beginning was the Word’. But if one wants to remain faithful to the most original meaning of these words, en arkhè and logos, one may choose to translate this verse in quite a different way.

I propose (not as a provocation, but for a brain-storming purpose) to tranlate :

« At the principle there was a choice. »

Read: « At the principle » — [of the divine sacrifice] — « there was a [divine] choice ».

Explanation: The divine Entity which proceeded, ‘in the beginning’, did not Itself begin to be at the time of this ‘beginning’. It was necessarily already there, before any being andbefore any beginning, in order toinitiate and make the ‘beginning’ and the ‘being’ possible. The ‘beginning’ is thus only relative, since the divine Entity was and is always before and any beginning and any time, out of time and any beginning.

Also, let’s argue that the expression ‘en arkhe‘ in Jn 1:1 rather refers to the idea and initiative of a ‘primordial sacrifice‘ or a primal ‘initiation’, — of which the Greek language keeps a deep memory in the verb arkhein, whencompounded with the preverb en-: en-arkhomai, ‘to initiate the sacrifice’, a composition very close to the Johannine formula en arkhe.

As for the choice of the word ‘choice‘ to translate logos, it is justified by the long memory of the meanings of the word logos. The word logos only meant ‘word’ at a very late period, and when it finally meant that, this was in competition with other Greek words with the same meaning of ‘to say’, or ‘to speak’, such as phèmi, or agoreuo. as already said.

In reality, the original meaning of the verb lego, legein,is not ‘to speak’ or ‘to say’, but revolves around the ideas of ‘gathering’ and ‘choosing’, which are mental operations prior to any speech. The idea of ‘speaking’ is basically only second, it only comes after the ‘choice’ made by the mind to ‘gather’ [its ideas] and ‘distinguish’ or ‘elect’ them [in order to ‘express’ them].

2. About a thousand years before the Gospel of John, the Hebrew tradition tells yet another story of ‘beginning’, not that of the beginning of a ‘Word’ or a ‘Verb’, but that of a unity coupled with a multiplicity in order to initiate ‘creation’.

The first verse of the Torah (Gen 1:1) reads:

בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.

Berechit bara elohim et ha-chamaïm v-et ha-arets.

Usually Gn 1.1 is translated as :

« In the beginning God created heaven and earth ».

The word אֱלֹהִים , elohim, is translated by ‘God’. However, elohim is grammatically a plural (and could be, — grammatically speaking –, translated as  »the Gods »), as the other plural in this verse, ha-chamayim, should be translated bythe heavens’. The fact that the verb bara (created) is in the singular is not a difficulty from this point of view. In the grammar of ancient Semitic languages (to which the grammar of classical Arabic still bears witness today, for it has preserved, more than Hebrew, these ancient grammatical rules) the plurals of non-human animated beings that are subjects of verbs, put these in the 3rd person singular. Elohim is a plural of non-human animated beings, because they are divine.

Another grammatical rule states that when the verb is at the beginning of the sentence, and is followed by the subject, the verb should always be in the singular form, even when the subject is plural.

From these two different grammatical rules, therefore, the verb of which elohim is the subject must be put in the singular (bara).

In other words, the fact that the verb bara is a 3rd person singular does not imply that the subject elohim should grammatically be also a singular.

As for the initial particle, בְּ be, in the expression be-rechit, it has many meanings, including ‘with’, ‘by’, ‘by means of’.

In accordance with several midrachic interpretations found in the Bereshit Rabbah, I propose not to translate be-rechit by ‘in the beginning’, but to suggest quite another translation.

By giving the particle בְּ be- the meaning of ‘with‘ or ‘by, be-rechit may be translatedby: « with [the ‘rechit‘] ».

Again in accordance with several midrachic interpretations, I also suggest giving back to ‘rechitits original meaning of ‘first-fruits‘ (of a harvest), and even giving it in this context not a temporal meaning but a qualitative and superlative one: ‘the most precious‘.

It should be noted, by the way, that these meanings meet well with the idea of ‘sacrifice’ that the Greek word arkhé in theJohannine Gospel contains, as we have just seen.

Hence the proposed translation of Gn 1.1 :

« By [or with] the Most Precious, the Gods [or God] created etc… »

Let us note finally that in this first verse of the Hebrew Bible, there is no mention of ‘speaking’, or ‘saying’ any ‘Verb’ or ‘Word’.

It is only in the 3rd verse of Genesis that God (Elohim) ‘says’ (yomer) something…

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר

Va-yomer Elohim yéhi ‘or vé yéhi ‘or.

Literally: « Elohim says ‘let there be light’, and the light is [and will be]. »

Then in the 5th verse, God (Elohim) ‘calls’ (yqra), i.e. God ‘gives names’.

וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם

Va-yqra’ Elohim la-‘or yom

« And Elohim called the light ‘day’. »

The actual « word » of God will come only much later. The verb דָּבַר davar ‘to speak’ or the noun דָּבָר davar ‘word’ (as applied to YHVH) only appeared long after the ‘beginning’ had begun:

« All that YHVH has said » (Ex 24:7).

« YHVH has fulfilled his word » (1 Kings 8:20).

« For YHVH has spoken » (Is 1:2).

3. Let us now turn to the Vedic tradition, which dates (in its orally transmitted form) to one or two millennia before the Hebrew tradition.

In the Veda, in contrast to Genesis or the Gospel of John, there is not ‘one’ beginning, but several beginnings, operating at different levels, and featuring various actors …

Here are a few examples:

« O Lord of the Word (‘Bṛhaspati’)! This was the beginning of the Word.  » (RV X, 71,1)

« In the beginning, this universe was neither Being nor Non-Being. In the beginning, indeed, this universe existed and did not exist: only the Spirit was there.

The Spirit was, so to speak, neither existing nor non-existent.

The Spirit, once created, desired to manifest itself.

This Spirit then created the Word. « (SB X 5, 3, 1-2)

« Nothing existed here on earth in the beginning; it was covered by death (mṛtyu), by hunger, because hunger is death. She became mental [she became ‘thinking’]: ‘May I have a soul (ātman)‘. »(BU 1,2,1).

Perhaps most strikingly, more than two or three millennia before the Gospel of John, the Veda already employed formulas or metaphors such as: the ‘Lord of the Word’ or ‘the beginning of the Word’.

In Sanskrit, the ‘word’ is वाच् Vāc. In the Veda it is metaphorically called ‘the Great’ (bṛhatī), but it also receives many other metaphors or divine names.

The Word of the Veda, Vāc, ‘was’ before any creation, it pre-existed before any being came to be.

The Word is begotten by and in the Absolute – it is not ‘created’.

The Absolute for its part has no name, because He is before the word. Or, because He is the Word. He is the Word itself, or ‘all the Word’.

How then could He be called by any name? A name is never but a single word: it cannot speak thewhole Word’, – all that has been, is and will be Word.

The Absolute is not named. But one can name the Supreme Creator, the Lord of all creatures, which is one of its manifestations, – like the Word, moreover.

The Ṛg Veda gives it the name प्रजापति Prajāpati,: Lord (pati) of Creation (prajā). It also gives itthe name ब्र्हस्पति Bṛhaspati, which means ‘Lord of the Wordiv, Lord (pati) of the Great (bṛhatī )’.

For Vāc is the ‘greatness’ of Prajāpati: « Then Agni turned to Him with open mouth; and He (Prajāpati) was afraid, and his own greatness separated from Him. Now His very greatness is His Word, and this greatness has separated from Him. »v

The Sanskrit word bṛhat, बृहत् means ‘great, high; vast, abundant; strong, powerful; principal’. Its root ब्र्ह bṛha means‘to increase, to grow; to become strong; to spread’.

The Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad comments: « It is also Bṛhaspati: Bṛhatī [‘the great one’] is indeed the Word, and he is its Lord (pati). « vi

The Word is therefore also at the « beginning » in the Veda, but it precedes it, and makes it possible, because the Word is intimately linked to the (divine) Sacrifice.

The Ṛg Veda explains the link between the supreme Creator, the Word, the Spirit, and the Sacrifice, a link that is unraveled and loosened ‘in the beginning’:

« O Lord of the Word! This was the beginning of the Word,

– when the seers began to name everything.

Excellence, the purest, the profoundly hidden

in their hearts, they revealed it through their love.

The Seers shaped the Word by the Spirit,

passing it through a sieve, like wheat being sifted.

Friends recognized the friendship they had for each other,

and a sign of good omen sealed their word.

Through sacrifice, they followed the way of the Word,

and this Word which they found in them, among them,

– they proclaimed it and communicated it to the multitude.

Together, the Seven Singers sing it. »vii

In the Śatapatha brāhmaṇa which is a later scholarly commentary, the Word is presented as the divine entity that created the « Breath of Life »:

« The Word, when he was created, desired to manifest himself, and to become more explicit, more incarnated. He desired a Self. He concentrated fervently. He acquired substance. These were the 36,000 fires of his own Self, made of the Word, and emerging from the Word. (…) With the Word they sang and with the Word they recited. Whatever rite is practiced in the Sacrifice, the sacrificial rite exists by the Word alone, as the utterance of voices, as fires composed of the Word, generated by the Word (…) The Word created the Breath of Life. »viii

In the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad, one of the oldest upaniṣad, the Vedic Word is staged as born of death, or rather of the soul (ātman)of death.

This Word is the prayer or hymn (ṛc), or ritual recitation (arc, of the same root as ṛc). Through the play of assonances, homophonies and metaphors, it is associated with arca, the‘fire’ and ka, the‘water’ (both essential elements of the sacrifice), and also with ka, the ‘joy’ it brings.

« Nothing existed here on earth in the beginning; it was covered by death (mṛtyu), by hunger, for hunger is deathix. She made herself mental [thinking]: ‘May I have a soul (ātman)‘. She engaged in a ritual recitation [bow, a prayer]. While she was in the ritual recitation the water was bornx. She thought] ‘Truly, while engaged in this ritual recitation (arc), the water [or joy] (ka) came’. This is the name and being (arkatva) of the ritual recitation [or fire] (arka). Water [or joy] (ka) really happens to the one who knows the name and being of the virtual recitation [or fire]. »xi

From these quotations, one sees clearly that, in the Vedic tradition, the Word is not « in the beginning », but he is « the beginning ». The beginning of what? — The beginning of Sacrifice.

The Word ‘begins’ to reveal, he ‘initiates’, but he also hides all that he does not reveal.

What is it that he does not reveal? – He does not reveal all the depth, the abyss of the (divine) Sacrifice.

The Word is a ‘place’ where is made possible an encounter between clarity, light, brilliance (joy) and Man. But the Word also makes heard, through his silence, all the immensity of the abyss, the depth of the darkness, the in-finite before any beginnings.

__________

iCf. The Greek Etymological Dictionary of Chantraine

iiBuck-Petersen, Reverse index 686-687

iiiCf. Lampe, Lexicon, Kittel, Theological Words.

ivRV X.71

vSB II, 2,4,4

vi Cf. BU,1,3,30. This Upaniṣad further explains that the Word is embodied in the Vedas in the Vedic hymn (Ṛc), in theformula of sacrifice (yajus) and in the sacred melody (sāman). Bṛhatī is also the name given to the Vedic verse (ṛc) and the name of the Brahman (in the neutral) is given to the sacrificial formula (yajus). As for the melody (sāman) it is ‘Breath-Speech’: « That is why it is also Bṛhaspati (Ṛc). It is also Bhrahmaṇaspati. The Brahman is indeed the Word and he is the lord (pati) of the [Word]. That is why he is also Bhrahmaṇaspati (= Yajus). He is also the melody (sāman). The melody is truly the Word: ‘He is she, (the Word) and he is Ama (the breath). This is for the name and nature of the melody (sāman). Or because he is equal (sama) to a gnat, equal to a mosquito, equal to an elephant, equal to the three worlds, equal to this all, for this reason he is sāman, melody. It obtains the union with the sāman , theresidence in the same world, the one that knows the sāman. »(BU 1,3,20-22)

vii RV X, 71, 1-3.

viii SB X 5, 3, 1-5

ix A. Degrâces thus comments this sentence: « The question of cause is raised here. If nothing is perceived, nothing exists. Śaṅkara is based on the concepts of covering and being covered: ‘What is covered by the cause is the effect, and both exist before creation… But the cause, by destroying the preceding effect, does not destroy itself. And the fact that one effect occurs by destroying another is not in opposition to the fact that the cause exists before the effect that is produced….Manifestation means reaching the realm of perception… Not being perceived does not mean not existing… There are two forms of covering or occultation in relation to the effect… What is destroyed, produced, existing and non-existing depends on the relation to the manifestation or occultation… The effort consists in removing what covers… Death is the golden embryo in the condition of intelligence, hunger is the attribute of what intelligence is… ». (BAUB 1.2) Alyette Degrâces. The Upaniṣad. Fayard, 2014, p.222, note n° 974.

x Water plays an essential role in the Vedic sacrifice.

xiBU 1,2,1 (My adaptation in English from a French translation by Alyette Degrâces. The upaniṣad. Fayard, 2014, p.222)

The God « Ka » (« Who? »)


« Raimundo Panikkar »

More than two millennia before the times of Melchisedechi and Abraham, other wandering and pious men were already singing the hymns of Ṛg Veda. Passing them on faithfully, generation after generation, they celebrated through hymns and prayers, the mysteries of a Supreme God, a Lord creator of worlds, of all creatures, of all lives.

Intelligence of the divine did just not begin in Ur in Chaldea, nor sacred wisdom in Salem.

They probably already reigned, more than five thousand years ago, among chosen, attentive, dedicated spirits. These men left as a legacy the hymns they sang, in precise and chiselled phrases, evoking the salient mysteries that constantly assailed them:

Of the Creator of all things, what can be said? What is his name?

What is the primary source of « Being »? How to name the primordial « Sun », from which the entire Cosmos emerged?

‘Who’ is the Lord imposing his lordship on all beings, – and on the ‘Being’ itself ? But who is ‘Who’?

What is the role of Man, what is his true part in this Mystery play?

A Vedic hymn, famous among all, summarizes and condenses all these difficult questions into one single one, both limpid and obscure.

It is Hymn X, 121 of Ṛg Veda, often titled « To the Unknown God ».

In the English translation by Ralph T.H. Griffith, this Hymn is entitled « Ka ».ii Ka, in Sanskrit, means « who ? »

This Hymn is dedicated to the God whom the Veda literally calls « Who? »

Griffith translates the exclamation recurring nine times throughout this ten-verses Hymn as follows :

« What God shall we adore with our oblation ? »

But from the point of view of Sanskrit grammar, it is perfectly possible to personify this interrogative pronoun, Ka, as the very name of the Unknown God.

Hence this possible translation :

To the God ‘Who?’

1. In the beginning appeared the Golden Germ.

As soon as he was born, he became the Lord of Being,

The support of Earth and this Heaven.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

2. He, who gives life force and endurance,

He, whose commandments are laws for the Gods,

He, whose shadow is Immortal Life, – and Death.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

3. ‘Who?iii – in His greatness appeared, the only sovereign

Of everything that lives, breathes and sleeps,

He, the Lord of Man and all four-membered creatures.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

4. To Him belongs by right, by His own power,

The snow-covered mountains, the flows of the world and the sea.

His arms embrace the four quarters of the sky.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

5. ‘Who?’ holds the Mighty Heavens and the Earth in safety,

He formed the light, and above it the vast vault of Heaven.

‘Who?’ measured the ether of the intermediate worlds.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

6. Towards Him, trembling, forces crushed,

Subjected to his glory, raise their eyes.

Through Him, the sun of dawn projects its light.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

7. When came the mighty waters, carrying

The Universal Germ from which Fire springs,

The One Spirit of God was born to be.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

8. This Unit, which, in its power, watched over the Waters,

Pregnant with the life forces engendering the Sacrifice,

She is the God of Gods, and there is nothing on Her side.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

9. O Father of the Earth, ruling by immutable laws,

O Heavenly Father, we ask You to keep us,

O Father of the ample and divine Waters!

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

10. O Lord of creaturesiv, Father of all things,

You alone penetrate all that is born,

This sacrifice that we offer you, we desire it,

Give it to us, and may we become lords of oblation!

_________

What is this divine Germ (Hiraṇyagarbha , or ‘Golden Germ’, in Sanskrit), mentioned in verses 1, 7 and 8?

One does not know, but one can sense it. The Divine is not the result of a creation, nor of an evolution, or of a becoming, as if it was not, – then was. The Veda here attempts a breakthrough in the very nature of the divinity, through the image of the ‘germ’, the image of pure life. The idea of a ‘God’ is only valid from the creature’s point of view. The idea of ‘God’ appears only through its relation to the idea of ‘creature’. For Himself, God is not ‘God’, – He must be, in His own eyes, something completely different, which has nothing to do with the pathos of creation and the creature.

One can make the same remark about « Being ». The « Being » appears only when the beings appear. God creates the beings and the Being at the same time. He Himself is beyond Being, since it is through Him that Being comes. And before the beings, before the Being itself, it seems that a divine, mysterious life ‘took place’. Not that it ‘was’, since the Being was not yet, but it ‘lived’, hidden, and then ‘was born’. But from what womb? From what prior, primordial uterus? We do not know. We only know that, in an abyssmal mystery (and not in time or space), an even deeper mystery, a sui generis mystery, grew, in this very depth, which was then to come to being, but without the Mystery itself being revealed by this growth and by this outcoming of being.

The place of origin of the mystery is not known, but the Veda calls it ‘Golden Germ’ (hiraṇyagarbha). This metaphor of a ‘Germ’ implies (logically?) some ovary, some womb, some desire, some life older than all life, and older than the Being itself.

Life came from this Living One, in Whom, by Whom and from Whom, it was given to the Being ; it was then given to be, and it was given thereby to beings, to all beings.

This mysterious process, which the word ‘Germ’ evokes, is also called ‘Sacrifice’, a word that appears in verse 8: Yajña (यज्ञ). The Seed dies to Himself, He sacrifices Himself, so that out of His own Life, life, all lives, may be born.

May God be born to Himself, through His sacrifice… What a strange thing!

By being born, God becomes ‘God’, He becomes the Lord of Being, for the Being, and the Lord of beings. Hymn 121 takes here its mystical flight, and celebrates a God who is the Father of creatures, and who is also always transcendent to the Being, to the world and to his own ‘divinity’ (inasmuch as this divinity allows itself to be seen in its Creation, and allows itself to be grasped in the Unity that it founds).

But who is this God who is so transcendent? Who is this God who hides, behind the appearance of the Origin, below or beyond the very Beginning?

There is no better noun, one might think, than this interrogative pronoun: ‘Who?’. Ka.

This ‘Who?’ , this Ka, does not call for an answer. Rather, it calls for another question, which Man addresses to himself: To whom? To whom must Man, seized by the unheard-of depth of the mystery, in turn offer his own sacrifice?

A haunting litany: « What God shall we adore with our oblation ? » 

It is not that the name of this God is strictly speaking unknown. Verse 10 uses the expression Prajāpati , ‘Lord of creatures’. It is found in other texts, for example in this passage from Taittirīya Saṁhitā :

« Indra, the latest addition to Prajāpati, was named ‘Lord of the Gods’ by his Father, but they did not accept him. Indra asked her Father to give her the splendor that is in the sun, so that she could be ‘Lord of the Gods’. Prajāpati answered her:

– If I give it to you, then who will I be?

– You will be what You say, who? (ka).

And since then, it was His name. »v

But these two names, Prajāpati , or Ka, refer only to something related to creatures, referring either to their Creator, or simply to their ignorance or perplexity.

These names say nothing about the essence of God. This essence is undoubtedly above all intelligibility, and above all essence.

This ka, ‘who?’, in the original Sanskrit text, is actually used in the singular dative form of the pronoun, kasmai (to whom?).

One cannot ask the question ‘who?’ with regard to God, but only ‘to whom? One cannot seek to question his essence, but only to distinguish him among all the other possible objects of worship.

God is mentally unknowable. Except perhaps in that we know that He is ‘sacrifice’. But we know nothing of the essence of His ‘sacrifice’. We can only ‘participate’ in the essence of this divine sacrifice (but not know it), more or less actively, — and this from a better understanding of the essence of our own sacrifice, of our ‘oblation’. Indeed, we are both subject and object of our oblation. In the same way, God is both subject and object of His sacrifice. We can then try to understand, by anagogy, the essence of His sacrifice through the essence of our oblation.

This is what Raimundo Panikkar describes as the ‘Vedic experience’. It is certainly not the personal experience of those Vedic priests and prophets who were chanting their hymns two thousand years before Abraham, but it could be at least a certain experience of the sacred, of which we ‘modern’ or ‘post-modern’ could still feel the breath and the burning.

____________________

iמַלְכֵּי-צֶדֶק , (malkî-ṣedeq) : ‘King of Salem’ and ‘Priest of the Most High (El-Elyôn)’.

iiRalph T.H. Griffith. The Hymns of the Rig Veda. Motilal Banarsidass Publihers. Delhi, 2004, p.628

iiiIn the original Sanskit: , Ka ? « To Whom ? »

iv Prajāpati :  » Lord of creatures « . This expression, so often quoted in the later texts of the Atharva Veda and Brāhmaṇa, is never used in the Ṛg Veda, except in this one place (RV X,121,10). It may therefore have been interpolated later. Or, – more likely in my opinion, it represents here, effectively and spontaneously, the first historically recorded appearance (in the oldest religious tradition in the world that has formally come down to us), or the ‘birth’ of the concept of ‘Lord of Creation’, ‘Lord of creatures’, – Prajāpati .

vTB II, 2, 10, 1-2 quoted by Raimundo Panikkar, The Vedic Experience. Mantramañjarī. Darton, Longman & Todd, London, 1977, p.69

God and Shadow


Modify the article

« Van Gogh. Starry Night »

Billions of suns shimmer in the Night, – and all the gods are silent and shine.

The Night, – the immense abyss sucks it up, breathes this dark shroud of blood, this veil of shadow.

A voice cries out in the dark: « O Abyss, you are the only God. »i

Another voice answers, in an ironic echo: « O unique God, you are Abyss! »

All the suns that I know overflow with shadows, are full of enigmas, pierce the night with irruptions, with intestinal fury, pulverize and volatilize the mysteries.

Their deliriums, their burns, their glimmers, their impulses, fill old divine voids, long already there, pierce black matter, streak with dark mists.

See the divine Athena, wise, simple, sure, solar too, – one comes from afar to pray under the radiance of her aegis, and to recollect (relegere) on the threshold of her altar, on her calm Acropolis.

But her very Soul is only shadow, even if her Intelligence is light.

It is said that the dreams of the wise, the hatreds of the people, the tears, the loves and the gods pass.

I prefer to believe that they slide eternally, into nameless oblivion, an endless drift, but no, they will not pass. On the contrary, they grow, and always multiply. Like God Himself.

This God whom, out of faith or fear, fierce monotheists say they want to « unify » (in words only). They vehemently assign to Him a single attribute, the « one », only the « one », – not the « two », or the « three », or the « π », the pleroma or the infinite.

Those who pronounce His plural, intangible name, Elohim, still read in this plural the « One », the unique, alone, singular « One ».

They also assign the defined article to His name: the Elohim. הָאֱלֹהִים. Ha-Elohimii.

« The » God. In Arabic, too : « Al » Lah. « The » Divinity.

Two grammatical temptations : to ‘unify’ God (as being ‘one’)… and to ‘define’ God (by the article)….

And death is promised, surely, to all others, to those who, they say, « multiply Him, » – in word or thought, by action or omission….

A crucified Muslim, a saint and martyr, at the beginning of the 10th century A.D., famously said:

« Who claims to unify Him, multiplies Him.»iii

He paid with his life for this deep and uncomfortable truth.

Is the God, immensely infinite, so much in need of this din around a ‘unity’ that is tired, but certainly threatened, atomized with clamor (of pride and conquest), crumbled with cries (of hatred and suffering), diluted with harangues (of excommunications and fatwas).

The « One », – image, or even idol, of pure abstraction, worshipping itself, in its solitude.

The. One. The One.

The definite and the indefinite, united in a common embrace, against grammar, logic and meaning, – for if He is « One », if He is only « One », how can one say « the » One, who supposes « an » Other, maybe a less or a more than « one » Other, lurking in His shadow?

Only, perhaps, is the path of negative theology worthwhile here.

Maybe, God is neither one, nor multiple, nor the One, nor the Other, nor defined, nor undefined, but all of that at once.

Only one thing seems to be sure: He is nothing of what they say He is. Nada.

How is it possible to attribute an attribute to Him, if He is unity as such? What blindness! What derision! What pride!

They don’t know what they are doing. They don’t know what they are saying. They don’t think what they think.

But if He is not the One, from a grammatical and ontological viewpoint, what sort of grammar and ontolgy can we use to say what He really is ?

The very idea of the One is not high enough, not wide enough, not deep enough, – for His Présence, His Powers, and His infinite armies (tsebaoth) of shadows, to remain included in it.

To move forward, let’s reflect on the concept of ‘reflection’.

The sun, this unique star (for us), by its infinite images, by its incessant rays, is ‘reflected’ in the slightest of the shadows. Some of these rays even dance within us, with in our souls.

The Veda tradition helps to understand the lesson, adding another perspective.

The God Surya, who is called ‘Sun’, says the Veda, has a face of extreme brilliance, – so extreme that his ‘wife’, the Goddess Saranyu, flees before him because she can no longer face his face.

To keep her escape secret, to hide her absence, she creates a shadow, – a faithful copy of herself – named Chāyā, which she leaves behind, in her place.iv

It should be noted that in Sanskrit Chāyā, छाया, indeed means ‘shadow’. The root of this word is chād, छाद्, ‘to cover, to wrap; to hide, to keep secret’.

The word chāyā is also given by Chantraine’s Dictionary of Greek Etymology as having « a definite kinship » with the Greek word σκιά skia, ‘shadow’, ‘darkness, hidden place’ and also ‘ghost’ (a qualifier designating man’s weakness). Avestic and Persian also have a very similar word, sāya, ‘shadow’. The word skia is found in the Gospel several times, for example:

« This people, sitting in darkness, saw a great light. And upon those who sat in the region and the shadow (skia) of death, the light has risen. »v

The God Surya is deceived by this faithful shadow, which seems to be (in appearance) His own shadow. He, then, unites Himself to her, to Chāyā, to this shadow that is not divine, only human. And He generates with her à son, Manu.vi

Manu, – the ancestor of mankind.

Manu, – the Adam of the Veda, therefore!

According to Genesis, a text that appeared at least a millennium after the hymns of Ṛg Veda were composed (and thus having, one can think, some distance from the most ancient Vedic intuitions), the God (named Elohim) famously said:

נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ

Na’oçéh adam bi-tsalme-nou ki-dimoute-nou

« Let us make Adam in our image (bi-tsalmé-nou) and according to our likeness (ki-demouté-nou)« vii.

Then the text insists, and repeats the word ‘image’ twice more.

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ

Vé-bara Elohim et-ha-adam bi-tsalmou, bi-tsélém Elohim bara otou.

Translated literally: « And Elohim created Adam in his image (bi-tsalmou), in the image (bi-tslem) Elohim created him. »viii

Let us note that the third time, this ‘image’ that Elohim uses to create is not the image of anyone, it is only an ‘image’ with which He creates Adam. Perhaps it is not even an image, then, but only a shadow?

This is worth thinking about.

The Hebrew word צֶלֶם tselem, ‘image’, has the primary meaning: ‘shadows, darkness’, as the verse « Yes, man walks in darkness (be-tselem) » (Ps. 39:7) testifies, and as the word צֵל tsel, meaning ‘shadow’, confirms.

The Vedic God generates « Manu », the Man, with the Shade, Chāyā.

The biblical God creates « Adam » as a « shadow ».

Was there an influence of the Vedic myth on the biblical myth of the creation of man? One cannot say. On the other hand, it is obvious that some fundamental archetypes remain, beyond time and cultures, which are properly human, undoubtedly coming from the dark depths, where many shadows indeed reign.

It is not so surprising, in fact, that one of the deepest archetypes attaches precisely the idea of shadow to the deepest nature of man.

Man, a frail shadow, – and image too, or veil, of an abyss within him, without bottom.

____________

iErnest Renan. Memories of childhood and youth. Prayer on the Acropolis. Calmann-Lévy, Paris, 1883, p.72

iiSee Gen 6.2; Ex 1, 17: Ex 20.16; 1Kings 17.18; Job 1.6 and many other examples.

iiiHallâj. The Book of the Word. Translation by Chawki Abdelamir and Philippe Delarbre. Ed. du Rocher, 1996. p.58

ivDoniger, Wendy(1998). « Saranyu/Samjna ». In John Stratton Hawley, Donna Marie Wulff (ed.). Devī: goddesses of India. Motilal Banarsidas. pp. 158-60.

vMt 4 ;16

viAccording to a later tradition, that of Mahābhārata.

viiGen 1 :26

viiiGen 1 :27

La Mort de la Mort


« John Donne »

Dans ses Poèmes saturniens, Verlaine chante la mort de Philippe II avec des rimes dures, bistres, ironiques et sincères.

Voici le moment final:

« Puis le râle des morts hurla dans la poitrine

De l’auguste malade avec des sursauts fous:

Tel l’ouragan passe à travers une ruine.

Et puis, plus rien; et puis, sortant par mille trous,

Ainsi que des serpents frileux de leur repaire,

Sur le corps froid les vers se mêlèrent aux poux.

— Philippe Deux était à la droite du Père. »

____

Innombrables les Poètes ayant chatouillé la Mort de leurs plumes indiscrètes.

Parmi les mieux doués, Donne.

Railleur, Donne provoque la Mort. Il veut l’humilier, l’écraser, et enfin l’annihileri. Il renverse les rôles absolument. C’est lui qui tient la faux désormais. En quelques phrases drues, il fauche la mort et la guerre, le poison et la maladie. La mort n’est plus qu’une esclave soumise au destin et au hasard, au pouvoir et au désespoir ; elle est enchaînée, et il y aura désormais de bien meilleurs sommeils qu’elle, opiacés ou rêveurs.

Au moment où la mort, la « pauvre mort », croit avoir vaincu, un court sommeil seulement nous sépare de l’éternité. Pirouette métaphysique. Grand saut de l’ange au nez du néant.

Le dernier vers du Sonnet de Donne, « And death shall be no more ; death, thou shalt die. », fait penser au mot de Paul: « Ô Mort, où est ta victoire ? »ii.

La formule de Paul évoque elle-même celle du prophète Osée quand il prononça des imprécations contre Ephraïm et les idolâtres de Juda:

« Et je les libérerais du pouvoir du Shéol ? Et je les délivrerais de la mort ? O mort, où est ta peste? Shéol, où est ta destruction? »iii

Il y a quand même une nuance importante entre Paul et Osée. Osée appelait la mort et la puissance du Shéol sur des hommes coupables. Paul annonce l’anéantissement de la mort même.

En cela Paul n’innove pas. Il renvoie à Isaïe, qui fameusement dit:

« Yahvé a fait disparaître la mort à jamais. »iv

Isaïe, Paul, Donne, Verlaine, à travers les siècles, partagent l’idée. La mort doit mourir un jour. Ils en sont sûrs : la mort mourra.

Qui a mieux à dire en la matière que le prophète, l’apôtre, le poète?

Les neurosciences?

___________

i

Death be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadfull ; for, thou art not soe,

For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,

Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.

From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,

Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee doe go,

Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.

Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poyson, warre, and sickness dwell,

And poppie, or charmes can make us sleep as well,

And better then thy stroake ; why swell’st thou then ?

One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,

And death shall be no more ; death, thou shalt die.

(John Donne, Sonnet X)

ii 1 Cor. 15.55

iii Os. 13,14

iv Is. 25,8

Separate Wisdom


« Heraclitus. Johannes Moreelsee, 1630 »

« Wisdom is separate from everything »i said Heraclitus in his concise style.

For a start, I adopt here the translation of G.S. Kirkii. But the quote in the original Greekiii ,’Sophon esti pantôn kekhorismenon’, preserved in Stobaeus’ Anthology, allows several very significant variations, depending on how one understands the word sophon, – which is, grammatically, an adjective, with the neutral meaning: ‘wise’.

Here are two representative examples of quite alternative translations:

« What is wise is separate from all things. »

« To be wise is to be separated from all things. »

Both these interpretations lose the abstract idea of ‘wisdom’, and personalize the word sophon, in a more concrete way, by attributing it to an entity (‘what is wise’), seen as ‘separated from everything’, and therefore outside this world. Another way to personalize is to attribute it to a (wise) ‘being’, which could possibly belong to this world, therefore not separated, – but whose ‘being wise’ would separate it, somehow virtually.

Clémence Ramnoux, for her part, proposes: « Wise things are separated from everything. »

The spectrum of the meanings of sophon is thus very broad:

Wisdom. That which is wise. The Wise Being. The Wise Thing.

The word sophon has no definite article in this fragment, but it has it in other Heraclite fragments. Then, if one adds the definite article to the adjective sophon, it acquires an abstract meaning, and leads to other interpretations, including the idea of ‘Transcendence’, and even the idea of the ‘One’:

« Let us put the article in front of something wise, by identifying it with the One-Thing-Wise, then the formula touches the goal of knowing… a Transcendence! Let it be heard only in the sense of human wisdom, then the formula says that: for men, the way to be wise consists in keeping oneself separate from all or everything. It would be wise to live away from the crowds and their madness. It would be wise to live apart from the vain science of many things. The two are surely not incompatible. Put together, they would reform the ideal meaning of a vita contemplativa: retreat and meditation of the One. « iv

To justify these interpretations, Clémence Ramnoux studies the other occurrences of the word sophon, in fragments 32, 50 and 41 of Heraclitus.

From these comparisons, she draws the assurance that with sophon, Heraclitus wanted to « designate the divine with the words of fragment 32 », and « if not the divine, even better, Something in dignity to refuse this very name. »v

Fragment 32 uses the expression to sophon (‘the Wise One’, or ‘the Wise Being’, which C. Ramnoux renders as ‘the Wise Thing’):

« The Wise Thing (to sophon) alone is one: it wants and does not want to be said with the name of Zeus. »vi

In Greek, one reads : ἓν τὸ σοφὸν μοῦνον λέγεσθαι οὐκ ἐθέλει καὶ ἐθέλει ὄνομα.

Hen to sophon mounon legesthai ouk ethelei kai ethelei Zènos onoma.

By translating word for word: « One, the Wise One, alone, be said: He does not want, and He wants the name of Zeus ».

Fragment 50 opens another perspective:

οὐκ ἐμοῦ, ἀλλὰ τοῦ λόγου ἀκούσαντας ἀκούσαντας σοφόν ἓν πάντα εἶναί

Ouk émou, alla tou logou akousantas homologein sophon estin hen panta einai.

Word for word: « Not me, but the Logos, listening, saying the same, wise is one, all, being. »

Five words follow each other here: sophon estin hen panta einai. Wise, is, one, all, being. There are many ways to link them.

The most direct way of translating would be, using capital letters for emphasis:

« Wise is One, All, Being ».

The German edition by W. Kranz and the English edition by G.S. Kirk translate :

« Listening, not to me, but to the Logos, it is wise (sophon estin) to agree (homologein)vii: everything is One (hen panta eïnaï). »

In another interpretation, that of H. Gomperz :

« Listening not to me, but to the Logos, it is fair to agree that The One-The Wise One knows everything. »

Clémence Ramnoux suggests yet another interpretation:

« Listening not to me, but to the Logos, agreeing to confess the same lesson (everything is one?) is the Wise Thing. « viii

However, she adds a question mark to the expression ‘everything is one’, which shows indeed that a certain doubt is at work here.

In spite of the significant differences of interpretation that we have just seen, what stands out is the idea that to sophon undeniably possesses a magnified status, and that it can be qualified as ‘unique’ and even, implicitly, ‘divine’.

Fragment 41 reinforces the hypothesis of associating the idea of unity with to sophon:

« The wise thing is one thing (hen to sophon): to possess the meaning (epistasthai gnômèn), by virtue of which everything is led through everything. »

By linking the semantic fields of the four fragments, 32, 41, 50, 108, Ramnoux draws two possible interpretations of the essential message that Heraclitus is supposed to transmit: « A simple meaning would be: Wise Thing is One, and she alone. Another meaning would be: Wise Thing is separate from everything. « ix

These fragments, put together, carry a vision, aiming to grasp the ‘Wise Thing’, from different angles.

« That one gathers the fragments thus, and one will believe to reconstitute a recitative on the topic of the Wise Thing. Here is what should be recited all together while learning the same lesson! »x

The real difficulty is to avoid reading Heraclitus with much later, anachronistic representations of the world, starting with those of Plato and Aristotle.

In spite of the pitfalls, it is necessary to try to reconstruct the spirit of the philosophical community in the pre-Socratic era, the nature of its research :

« It is permissible to conjecturalize the way of being: it would consist in separating and reuniting. To separate from whom? Probably: the crowd and its bad masters. To reunite with whom? Probably: the best and the master of the best lesson. Separate from what? The vain science of many things. To find what again? The right way of saying things. It’s a two-way street! The Heracletian ethos does not alienate man from the present thing: on the contrary, it makes him better present, and as in conversation or cohabitation with the thing. (…) A master of discourse puts into words the meaning of things (…) But the authentically archaic way of thinking was probably still different. For a good master, (…) it is appropriate that discourse shows itself with an ambiguous face, hidden meanings, and two-way effects. »xi

According to Ramnoux, Heraclitus’ fundamental intention is to teach man « to stand far and near at the same time: close enough to men and things so as not to alienate himself in the present, far enough so as not to be rolled and tossed around in traffic. With the word as a weapon to defend oneself against the fascination of things, and things as a reference to better feel the full of words. Like a being between two, aiming through the crack at something untraceable, whose quest guarantees, without his knowledge, his freedom! « xii

Ambiguity? Darkness ? Double meaning ? Hidden sense ?

No doubt, but for my part I would like to put the spotlight on the only unambiguous word in fragment 108: kekhorismenon, ‘separate’, applying to a mysterious entity, named « Wise », whose attributes are unity, being and totality.

How can one be ‘separated’ if one has ‘unity’, and ‘totality’?

What does the idea of ‘separation’ really imply in a thought that claims to be thinking about the ‘origins’?

It is with these questions in mind that I set out to search for occurrences of the word ‘separate’ in a very different corpus, that of the biblical text.

The idea of ‘being separate’ is rendered in Biblical Hebrew by three verbs with very different connotations: בָּדַל badal, חָלַק ḥalaq, and פָּרַד pharad.

בָּדַל badal is used in two verbal forms, niphal and hiphil.

The niphal form is used with a passive or reflexive nuance:

1° ‘to separate, to move away’: « Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land » (Esdr 10,11).

2° ‘to be separated, distinguished, chosen’: « Aaron was chosen » (1 Chr. 23:13); ‘to be excluded’: « He shall be excluded from the congregation of those who returned from captivity » ( Esdr. 10:8 ).

The hiphil form has a causative, active nuance:

1° ‘To separate, tear off’: « The veil will separate you » (Ex 26:33); « Let it serve as a separation between the waters and the waters » (Gen 1:6).

2° ‘To know, to distinguish, to discern’: « To be able to distinguish between what is impure and what is pure » (Lev 11:47).

3° ‘To separate, choose; exclude’: « I have separated you from the other peoples » (Lev 20:26); « The Lord has chosen the tribe of Levi. « (Deut 10:8); « The Lord has excluded me from his people » (Is 56:3).

In this sense, ‘to separate’ means ‘to choose’, ‘to distinguish’, ‘to discern’, ‘to elect’ (or ‘to exclude’).

חָלַק ḥalaq brings another range of meanings, around the notions of ‘sharing’ and ‘division’:

1° ‘To share, to give, to give’: « They divided the land » (Jos 14:5); ‘To be divided’: « Their hearts are divided, or have separated from God » (Hosea 10:2).

2° ‘To divide and distribute’: « And at even he divided the prey » (Gen 49:27); « And he distributed to all the people » (2 Sam 6:19); ‘To scatter’: « I will divide them in Jacob » (Gen 49:7), « The face of YHVH has scattered them » (Lam 4:16).

As for the verb פָּרַד pharad, it is used in an intensive or reflexive sense.

1° (Niphal) ‘To separate’: « Separate yourself, I pray you, from me » (Gen 13:9), « He who separates himself (from God) seeks his desires » (Prov 18:1).

2° ‘To spread, to be scattered’: « These spread throughout the islands » (Gen 10:5).

3° ‘To separate’ with intensive or causative nuances (piel): « They separated from their wives » (Hosea 4:14), « A people that remains separated among the nations » (East 3:8); (hiphil) « Jacob separated the lambs » (Gen 30:40); and (hithpael): « all my bones were separated » (Ps 22:15).

To sum up, the biblical meanings attached to the verbs whose sense is ‘to separate’ include the following nuances: ‘to distance, choose, exclude’ but also ‘to know, distinguish, discern’, or ‘to share, distribute’, and ‘to be scattered’ or ‘to spread’.

One can quite easily apply all these nuances to an entity that would be (divine) Wisdom.

Wisdom, in fact, distinguishes, discerns, knows; she can be shared, spread, distributed;

she can distance herself, elect or exclude.

But yet, what is the truly original meaning that applies to Wisdom?

In an attempt to answer, I have consulted all the Bible verses that contain the word ‘wisdom’ (ḥokhma). There are several hundred of them.

I have selected those that are most ‘open’ – containing an implicit invitation to further research – and grouped them into four categories:

Wisdom as ‘mystery’ and ‘secret’;

Wisdom as ‘companion of the Creator’;

Wisdom as ‘person to dialogue with’;

and Wisdom as ‘faculty of the mind’.

For example, here are some verses assimilating wisdom (or Wisdom, with a capital letter) to mystery or secrecy:

« If he would reveal to you the secrets of Wisdom » (Job 11:6).

« But Wisdom, where does she come from? « (Job 28,12)

Do not say, « We have found wisdom » (Job 32:13).

« Be silent and I will teach you wisdom » (Job 33:33).

« In secret you teach me wisdom » (Ps 51:8).

« Then I began to reflect on wisdom » (Qo 2:12).

There are also verses in which Wisdom seems to accompany the Creator in his task:

« He made the heavens with wisdom » (Ps 136:6).

« Spirit of wisdom and understanding » (Is 11:2)

« Establish the world by his wisdom » (Jer 10:12).

« It is that you abandoned the Source of Wisdom! « (Bar 3,12)

« YHVH by wisdom founded the earth » (Pr 3:19).

There are also verses where Wisdom is presented as a person, capable of interacting with men:

« Tell wisdom: you are my sister! « (Pr 7,4)

« Wisdom cries out through the streets » (Pr 1,20)

« Doesn’t Wisdom call? « (Pr 8,1)

Finally, there are the verses where wisdom is considered a faculty of the mind:

« Give me now wisdom and knowledge » (2 Chr 1:10).

« Who gives wisdom to the wise » (Dan 2:21).

« Intelligence and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods » (Dan 5:11).

For good measure I add here some verses from biblical texts, which are not recognized by the Masoretes as part of the Canon of the Scriptures of Judaism, but which belong to the texts recognized by Catholicism – in this case the Book of Wisdom and the text of Sirach (Ben Sirach):

« Wisdom is a spirit friendly to men » (Wis 1:6) [Person].

« What Wisdom is and how he was born, I will reveal it; I will not hide the mysteries from you, but I will follow his footsteps from the beginning of his origin, I will bring his knowledge to light, without departing from the truth. « (Wis 6:22) [Mystery, Secret].

« For more than any movement, wisdom is mobile » (Wis 7:24) [Mystery, Secret].

« With you is Wisdom who knows your works » (Wis 9:9) [Companion of the Creator].

« But first of all wisdom was created » (Sir 1:4) [Companion of the Creator].

« The root of wisdom to whom was it revealed? « (Sir 1:6) [Mystery, Secret].

« Wisdom brings up her children » (Sir 4:11) [Person].

« Hidden Wisdom and Invisible Treasure » (Sir 20,3) [Mystery, Secret].

And finally, here are some excerpts from the New Testament, – especially from Paul’s texts:

« And Wisdom was justified by all his children » (Luke 7:35) [Companion of the Creator].

« It is of a wisdom of God, mysterious, hidden » (1 Cor 2:7) [Mystery, Secret].

« To give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation » (Eph 1:17) [Faculty of the Spirit].

« All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge » (Col 2:3) [Faculty of Spirit].

« Filled with the Spirit and with wisdom » (Act 6:3) [Faculty of the Spirit].

If we return to the intuition of « separate wisdom » as imagined by Heraclitus, we see that it is perfectly compatible with the representations of Wisdom as belonging to the Mystery, as a Companion of the Creator and as a Person]

But where Judaism plays with the idea of a kind of doubling of the divine between the function of the Creator and the role of Wisdom (which is, let us recall, one of the Sefiroth of the Jewish Kabbalah), the metaphysical mysticism of Heraclitus sees only divine Unity and Totality.

It is not the least result of this research, to find in one of the most eminent Greek pre-Socratic thinkers, such an extreme intuition of the transcendence of Wisdom, and of its Unity with the Divine.

Wisdom is par excellence ‘separate’, and is also that which is most ‘one’.…

______________

i Fragment B 108

ii Quoted by Clémence Ramnoux. Heraclitus or the man between things and words. Ed. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 1968, p.247

iii Ἡρακλείτου. ὁκόσων λόγους ἤκουσα, οὐδεὶς ἀφικνεῖται ἐς τοῦτο, ὥστε γινώσκειν ὅτι σοφόν πάντων κεχωρισμένον. (Joannes Stobaeus, Anthologie, III, 1, 174)

iv Clémence Ramnoux. Heraclitus or the man between things and words. Ed. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 1968, p.247

vClémence Ramnoux. Heraclitus or the man between things and words. Ed. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 1968, p.248

vi ἓν τὸ τὸ σοφὸν μοῦνον λέγεσθαι οὐκ ἐθέλει καὶ ἐθέλει ὄνομα.

vii Or, if we play with the word homologein: ‘to say with the same voice’, or ‘to say the same as the Logos‘.

viiiClémence Ramnoux. Heraclitus or the man between things and words. Ed. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 1968, p.243

ixClémence Ramnoux. Heraclitus or the man between things and words. Ed. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 1968, p.248

xIbid.

xiIbid.pp. 248-249

xiiIbid.p. 249

Brief Angelology


Multitudinous angels, created for this purpose, stubbornly remain with the times and beings that already are no more. From the brushing of their wings, sharp like judgments, they make them live, yet in another way. They separate them from what they were not, and from what they could not be. Thus they keep them in their essence, animated by the gentle breath of their wings. By their quiet effervescence, they watch over their infinite sleep, – like the eagle circling above the nest to inspire its eaglets, – like the winds once palpitated in the face of the origins. They are the guardians of the past in agony, warning, for as long as it takes, the fatal coma.

Other angels roam the dark alleys of the future. They spread immense wings like ecstasy, they glide silently over the empty plains of the non-existent. Their powerful flight awakens the black waters, and all that is not yet. Against all odds, from far and wide, crack the shells of unborn times.

With their burning lips they give the beak to the fledglings of the possible.

We must finally evoke the angels of the present. They link (like quantum loops, and subliminal bursts of precognition) the distant past and the improbable future, the countless déjà-vu and the unlimited forthcoming, the immanent causes (dormant like dead saints) and the transcendent potency (radiant like seraphim). They fly and come, as in Jacob’s dream, between the uncertain and the unimaginable…

From these vast landscapes of various angels, which are like myriads of divine synapses, a vesperial mist is exhaled.

It announces in advance the rain to come, penetrating, fertile, and in the rainbow of the sky finally bent, it draps the first rays of dawn, gorged with soul plasma and liquid light.

Elijah From the Stars


« Elijah »

Franz Rosenzweig is a prophet of the 20th century (there are not so many), whose name means ‘branch of roses’. Zebrased with inchoate intuitions, and seraphic brilliance, a short text of him astonishes me by its searing audacity:

« Redemption delivers God, the world and man from the forms and morphisms that Creation has imposed on them. Before and after, there is only the « beyond ». But the in-between, Revelation, is at the same time entirely beyond, for (thanks to it) I am myself, God is God, and the world is world, and absolutely beyond, for I am with God, God is with me, and where is the world? (« I do not desire the earth »). Revelation overcomes death, creates and institutes in its place the redeeming death. He who loves no longer believes in death and believes only in death.» i

The ambiguity of Revelation in relation to the Redemption, but also its invitations to openness, to invention, are staged here.

On the one hand, Revelation is addressed to the man of the earth, to the children of the clay, immersed in worldly immanence, immersed in the closed orbs of their minds.

On the other hand, it affirms the absolute transcendence of the Creator, opening worlds, flaring very backwards towards unheard-of beginnings, and accelerating very forwards towards an unthinkable afterlife.

Can we connect these two poles, seemingly opposite?

For Rosenzweig, Revelation is situated in time, that time which is the proper time of the world, between Creation and Redemption – the two figures, original and eschatological, the two ‘moments’ of the ‘beyond’ of time.

The unique role of Creation is inexplicable if we consider it only as a divine fiat. Why inexplicable? Because such a fiat displays neither its reason nor its why. It is more consistent with the anthropological structure of human experience (and probably with the very structure of the brain) to consider that even God does nothing for nothing.

An ancient answer to this riddle may be found in the Vedic idea of Creation.

In the Veda, Creation is thought as being a sacrifice of God.

Two thousand years later, this sacrifice will be called kenosis by Christians, and even later (in the Kabbalah of the Middle Age) Jews will call it tsimtsum.

The Vedic idea of God’s sacrifice – is incarnated in the sacrifice of Prajāpati, the supreme God, the Creator of the worlds, at the price of His own substance.

It is certainly difficult to conceive of God’s holocaust by (and for) Himself, willingly sacrificing His own glory, His power and His transcendence, – in order to transcend Himself in this very sacrifice.

How can a human brain understand God transcending Himself!

It is difficult, of course, but less difficult than understanding a Creation without origin and without reason, which refers by construction to the absolute impotence of all reason, and to its own absurdity.

With or without reason, with or without sacrifice, Creation obviously represents a ‘beyond’ of our capacity to understand.

But reason wants to reason and tries to understand.

In the hypothesis of God’s sacrifice, what would be the role of Creation in this divine surpassing?

Would God make a covenant with His Creation, ‘giving’ it, by this means, His breath, His life, His freedom, His spirit?

Would God give the responsibility for the World and Mankind to multiply and make this Breath, this Life, this Freedom, this Spirit bear fruit throughout time?

At least there is in this view a kind of logic, though opaque and dense.

The other pole of the cosmic drama – Redemption – is even more ‘beyond’ human intelligence. But let us have a try to understand it.

Redemption « frees God, the world and man from the forms imposed on them by Creation, » Rosenzweig suggests.

Does Redemption deliver God from God Himself? Does it deliver Him from His infinity, if not from His limit? from His transcendence, if not from His immanence? from His righteousness, if not from His goodness?

It is more intuitive to understand that it also liberates the world (i.e. the total universe, the integral Cosmos) from its own limits – its height, width and depth. But does it free it from its immanence?

It frees man, at last.

Does that mean Redemption frees man from his dust and clay?

And from his breath (nechma), which binds him to himself?

And from his shadow (tsel) and his ‘image’ (tselem), which binds him to the light?

And from his blood (dam) and his ‘likeness’ (demout), which structure and bind him (in his DNA itself)?

What does Rosenzweig mean when he says: « Redemption delivers God (…) from the forms that Creation has imposed »?

It is the role of Revelation to teach us that Creation has necessarily imposed certain structures. For example, it imposes the idea that the ‘heavens’ (chammayim) are in essence made of ‘astonishment’, and perhaps even ‘destruction’ (chamam).

But the truth is that we don’t know what ‘to redeem’ means, – apart from showing the existence of a link between Death, the Exodus from the world, and man.

We must try to hear and understand the voice of this new prophet, Rosenzweig.

He says that to believe in Redemption is to believe only in love, that is, to believe « only in death ».

For it has been said that « strong as death is love » (ki-‘azzah kham-mavêt ahabah), as the Song saysii.

Revelation is unique in that it is ‘one’ between two ‘moments’, two ‘beyond’.

It is unique, being ‘below’ between two ‘beyond’.

Being ‘below’ it is not inexpressible, – and being ‘revealed’ it is not as inexpressible as the ‘beyond’ of Creation and Redemption, which can only be grasped through what Revelation wants to say about it.

The Revelation is told, but not by a single oracular jet.

She is not given just at once. She is continuous. She spreads out in time. She is far from being closed, no doubt. No seal has been placed on her moving lips. No prophet can reasonably claim to have sealed her endless source foreveriii.

Time, time itself, constitutes all the space of Revelation, which we know has once begun. But we don’t know when Revelation will end. For now, Revelation is only ‘below’, and will always remain so, – as a voice preparing the way for a ‘beyond’ yet to come.

And besides, what is really known about what has already been ‘revealed’?

Can we be sure at what rate the Revelation is being revealed?

Can we read her deep lines, hear her hidden melodies?

Does she appear in the world only in one go or sporadically, intermittently? With or without breathing pauses?

Won’t her cannon thunder again?

And even if she were « sealed », aren’t the interpretations, the glosses, part of her open breath?

And what about tomorrow?

What will Revelation have to say in six hundred thousand years from now?

Or in six hundred million years?

Will not then a cosmic Moses, a total Abraham, a universal Elijah, chosen from the stars, come in their turn to bring some needed Good News?

________________

iFranz Rosenzweig. The Man and His Work. Collected writings 1. letters and diaries, 2 vol. 1918-1929. The Hague. M.Nijhoft, 1979, p.778, quoted by S. Mosès. Franz Rosenzweig. Sous l’étoile. Ed. Hermann. 2009, p. 91.

iiCt 8.6

iiiThe Torah itself, who can claim to have really read it?

« Although Thorah was quite widespread, the absence of vowel points made it a sealed book. To understand it, one had to follow certain mystical rules. One had to read a lot of words differently than they were written in the text; to attach a particular meaning to certain letters and words, depending on whether one raised or lowered one’s voice; to pause from time to time or link words together precisely where the outward meaning seemed to demand the opposite (…) What was especially difficult in the solemn reading of the Thorah was the form of recitative to be given to the biblical text, according to the modulation proper to each verse. The recitative, with this series of tones that rise and fall in turn, is the expression of the primitive word, full of emphasis and enthusiasm; it is the music of poetry, of that poetry that the ancients called an attribute of the divinity, and which consists in the intuition of the idea under its hypostatic envelope. Such was the native or paradisiacal state, of which only a few dark and momentary glimmers remain today. « J.-F. Molitor. Philosophy of tradition. Trad Xavier Duris. Ed. Debécourt. Paris, 1837. p.10-11

Archéologie du Divin et Récits universels


« Le Sôma et le Féminin Sacré »

La religion naturelle de l’humanité est le chamanisme. Depuis des temps immémoriaux, et sur toute la surface de la Terre, en Sibérie, en Amazonie, en Afrique ou en Laponie, des chamanes de toutes ethnies, langues et cultures, ont mis en lumière la puissance latente du numineux dans la conscience d’Homo Sapiens.

Mais c’est au Ṛg Veda (en devanāgarī : ऋग्वेद) que revient d’incarner sous une forme hautement élaborée et conceptualisée une des traditions spirituelles les plus anciennes de l’humanité. Les livres (ou mandalas) du Ṛg Veda ont d’abord été fidèlement transmis par oral depuis le début du 2ème millénaire avant notre ère, dans la langue savante et raffinée du sanskrit, avant d’être enfin fixés par écrit.

Le passé est l’une des puissances de l’avenir. Par sa position ancienne, unique et originaire, dans la suite des spiritualités humaines, le Ṛg Veda éclaire en partie ce que furent les rêves de l’humanité, jadis, — songes qui continuent de hanter aujourd’hui les âmes non-mortes.

De l’étude attentive et comparative de ses versets, il me semble que l’on peut imaginer comment de nouveaux rêves, sans doute nécessaires, émaneront des braises passées, et brûleront d’incandescence l’âme des générations à venir.

Le Ṛg Veda portait déjà des idées métaphysiques de portée universelle, à travers les concepts de Parole, de Pensée, d’Infini, d’Amour, de Sacrifice, et d’Alliance (du Divin et de l’Humain), — et tout cela plusieurs millénaires avant que les monothéismes judaïque et chrétien ne leur donne des formes sinon équivalentes, du moins comparables.

La Parole.

Plus de trois mille ans avant que l’Évangile de Jean ne célèbre la divinité du Verbe (« Au commencement était le Verbe »), la Parole (vāc) était déjà au cœur du Ṛg Veda. Elle y possède une essence divine, et se présente comme une ‘Personne’, non pas celle d’un Messie christique, mais s’incarnant sous les espèces d’une ‘Femme’, aimante. « Plus d’un qui voit n’a pas vu la Parole. Plus d’un qui entend ne l’entend pas. A celui-ci, Elle a ouvert son corps comme à son mari une femme aimante aux riches atours.»iv

La Pensée

Dans le Ṛg Veda, la Pensée (manas) est l’une des hautes métaphores du Divin. D’autres philosophies et religions célébrèrent aussi la Pensée divine, par exemple en tant qu »Intellect’, en tant que ‘Saint-Esprit’ ou encore sous le nom de ‘Binah’ (l’une des sefiroth des Kabbalistes). Mais dans le Ṛg Veda, l’intuition de la Pensée divine possède d’emblée une force originaire, une puissance de création propre au Divin même.

« Celle en qui reposent prières, mélodies et formules, comme les rais au moyeu du char, celle en qui est tissée toute la réflexion des créatures, la Pensée : puisse ce qu’Elle conçoit m’être propice ! »v

L’Infini

Le Ṛg Veda possède l’idée d’un Dieu infini, caché, sur qui l’univers tout entier repose. Ce Dieu a pour nom l’ « Ancien », — ce qui rappelle le nom donné à Dieu par la cabale juive trois mille ans plus tard: l’ « Ancien des jours ».

« Manifeste, il est caché. Antique est son nom. Vaste son concept. Tout cet univers est fondé sur lui. Sur lui repose ce qui se meut et respire. (…) L’Infini est étendu en directions multiples, l’Infini et le fini ont des frontières communes. Le Gardien de la Voûte céleste les parcourt en les séparant, lui qui sait ce qui est passé et ce qui est à venir. (…) Sans désir, sage, immortel, né de soi-même, se rassasiant de sève vitale,, ne souffrant d’aucun manque – il ne craint pas la mort celui qui a reconnu l’Ātman sage, sans vieillesse, toujours jeune. »vi

L’Amour

Dans la Bible hébraïque, le Cantique des Cantiques montre avec un éclat sans pareil que la célébration de l’amour humain peut s’interpréter comme une métaphore vivante et crue de l’amour entre l’âme et Dieu. Cette même idée se trouve déjà dans le Ṛg Veda, qui présente l’amour incandescent de la Divinité et de l’âme humaine.

« Comme la liane tient l’arbre embrassé de part en part, ainsi embrasse-moi, sois mon amante, et ne t’écarte pas de moi ! Comme l’aigle pour s’élancer frappe au sol de ses deux ailes, ainsi je frappe à ton âme, sois mon amante et ne t’écarte point de moi ! Comme le soleil un même jour entoure le ciel et la terre, ainsi j’entoure ton âme. Sois mon amante et ne t’écarte pas de moi ! Désire mon corps, mes pieds, désire mes cuisses ; que tes yeux, tes cheveux, amoureuse, se consument de passion pour moi ! »vii

Cela invite à considérer, me semble-t-il, une question d’ordre anthropologique. La célébration de l’amour comme image de la procession divine dans l’âme humaine, a pu jaillir dans les profondeurs de l’inconscient collectif, dans l’Inde védique, mais aussi dans l’Egypte ancienne, puis dans les Écritures juives et les Prophètes.

Pourquoi, depuis tant de millénaires, une telle convergence des spiritualités originaires?

Le Sacrifice

Dans les temps anciens, les nuits étaient claires. Ce qui frappait l’imagination des hommes, c’était d’abord l’immensité du voile étoilé, la profondeur du cosmos, au-dessus de leurs têtes, mais aussi la complexité des liens qui alliaient ces puissances lumineuses, démesurées et lointaines à leurs chétives et obscures existences.

Bien avant qu’Abraham consente au sacrifice du sang, celui de son fils, remplacé à l’ultime moment par le sang d’un animal innocent, les prêtres védiques sacrifiaient aussi à la divinité, — non par le sang du fils ou du bouc, mais par le lait de la vache.

Dans le sacrifice védique, le beurre fondu (ghṛita) représentait symboliquement le miracle cosmique. Il incarnait l’alliance du soleil, de la nature et de la vie. Le soleil est la source de toute vie dans la nature, il fait pousser l’herbe, laquelle nourrit la vache, qui exsude son suc, le lait, lequel devient ‘beurre’ par l’action de l’homme (qui le baratte). Le beurre, mêlé d’eau pure et de sucs végétaux, et fondant sous l’action de la chaleur, vient couler librement comme sôma sur l’autel du sacrifice. Il s’embrase par le feu sacré, sur la pierre appelée yoni. Cette vive flamme engendre la lumière, et répand une odeur capable de monter aux cieux, concluant symboliquement le cycle. Cérémonie simple et profonde, prenant son origine dans la nuit des temps, et possédant une vision sûre de l’universelle cohésion entre le divin, le cosmos et l’humain.

« De l’océan, la vague de miel a surgi, avec le sôma, elle a revêtu, la forme de l’ambroisie. Voilà le nom secret du Beurre, langue des Dieux, nombril de l’immortel. (…) Disposé en trois parts, les Dieux ont découvert dans la vache le Beurre que les Paṇi avaient caché. Indra engendra une de ces parts, le Soleil la seconde, la troisième on l’a extraite du sage, et préparée par le rite. (…) Elles jaillissent de l’océan de l’Esprit, ces coulées de Beurre cent fois encloses, invisibles à l’ennemi. Je les considère, la verge d’or est en leur milieu. (…) Elles sautent devant Agni, belles et souriantes comme des jeunes femmes au rendez-vous ; les coulées de Beurre caressent les bûches flambantes, le Feu les agrée, satisfait. »i

Il n’est pas inintéressant de noter ici que l’idée d’une sacralité condensée dans le ‘beurre’ a été reprise plus tard en Israël même.

Les Prêtres, les Prophètes et les Rois d’Israël n’ont pas craint de se faire oindre d’une huile sacrée, d’un chrême, concentrant le sens et la puissance. Dans l’huile sainte, l’huile d’onction, convergent aussi, magiquement, le produit du Cosmos, le travail des hommes, et la puissance vivifiante du Dieu.

L’Alliance

L’idée d’un lien entre l’homme et le divin vient d’au-delà des âges. Et parmi les métaphores que l’idée du ‘lien’ rendent désirables, il y a celle du ‘cheveu’. C’est d’ailleurs à la fois une métaphore et une métonymie. Les cheveux sont sur la tête, couvrant le cerveau de l’homme, voltigeant au-dessus de ses pensées. Comment ne pas penser qu’ils peuvent adéquatement figurer autant de liens avec la sphère divine?

Cheveux et poils poussent sans cesse, depuis la naissance, et jusque après la mort. Ils accompagnent la transformation en profondeur du corps, pour la vie, l’amour et la génération. La terre féconde, elle-même, se couvre d’une sorte de chevelure quand la moisson s’annonce. Le génie des anciens voyait dans cette image un ‘lien’ réel entre la nature, l’homme et le divin.

Un hymne du Ṛg Veda allie ces trois mondes dans une seule formule : « Fais pousser l’herbe sur ces trois surfaces, ô Indra, la tête du Père, et le champ que voilà, et mon ventre ! Ce Champ là-bas qui est le nôtre, et mon corps que voici, et la tête du Père, rends tout cela poilu ! »ii

Le cheveu, dans le Ṛg Veda, sert aussi à décrire l’action du divin. Il est l’une des métaphores qui permet de le qualifier indirectement. « Le Chevelu porte le Feu, le Chevelu porte le Sôma, le Chevelu porte les mondes. Le Chevelu porte tout ce qu’on voit du ciel. Le Chevelu s’appelle Lumière. »iii

Que conclure du fait qu’il y a plus de cinq millénaires, le Ṛg Veda incarnait déjà une spiritualité de la Parole, de la Pensée, de l’Infini, de l’Amour, du Sacrifice, de l’Alliance?

L’ancienneté de ces archétypes donne à penser qu’une anthropologie de l’esprit et de la conscience, par-delà les cultures et les âges, est plus que jamais nécessaire, et qu’elle ouvre des perspectives éblouissantes.

Une telle anthropologie de la conscience éclairerait d’une lumière spéciale l’essence même de l’âme humaine, sa puissance universelle, et esquisserait l’étendue putative de ses futures métamorphoses.

Dans notre époque étrécie, sans horizon, sans vision, quelle recherche pourrait être plus féconde?

S’appuyant sur une archéologie comparée du rêve humain, cette recherche future pourrait en particulier s’attacher à imaginer de nouveaux Récits, dont la modernité écrasée, blessée, souffre tant de l’absence.

De nouveaux Grands Récits, qui n’oblitéreraient pas les anciens mythes, mais s’attacheraient à mieux déployer leurs harmoniques impensées, inouïes, ouvriraient sans doute des avenues accélérées, et des chemins de traverse, dans le sens d’une Histoire universelle et sans fin, qui reste à accomplir.

__________________

igVéda IV,58. Trad. Louis Renou. Hymnes et prières du Véda. 1938

iigVéda VIII,91. Trad. Louis Renou. Ibid.

iiigVéda X,136. Trad. Louis Renou. Ibid.

ivgVéda X,71. Trad. Louis Renou. Ibid.

vIbid.

viA.V. X,8. Ibid.

viiA.V. VI,8-9. Ibid.

The Dangers of Christianity and the Dangers of Judaism


« Franz Rosenzweig »

Born in 1886 into an assimilated Jewish family, Franz Rosenzweig decided to convert to Christianity in the 1910s, after numerous discussions with his cousins, Hans and Rudolf Ehrenberg, who had already converted, and with his friend Eugen Rosenstock, also a converted Jew. But he renounced the conversion after attending the Yom Kippur service in a Berlin synagogue in 1913.

Shortly afterwards, he wrote in the trenches of the First World War his masterpiece, The Star of Redemption, which offers a kind of parallelism between Judaism and Christianity.

Parallels that do not meet, except perhaps at the end of Time.

I find Rosenzweig’s essay truly significant for a double distance, for a constitutive split, the outcome of which is difficult to see, unless there is a total change of paradigm – which would perhaps be the real issue, in some future.

Rosenzweig asserts that Christianity faces three « dangers » that it « will never overcome ». These « dangers » are essentially of a conceptual nature: « the spiritualization of the concept of God, the apotheosis granted to the concept of man, the panthetization of the concept of the world ». i

The Christian concept of God, the Christian concept of man, the Christian concept of the world, are wrong and dangerous, according to Rosenzweig, because they imply an attack on the absolute transcendence of God, to which, by contrast, Judaism is supposed to be fundamentally attached.

« Let the Spirit be the guide in all things, and not God; let the Son of Man, and not God, be the Truth; let God one day be in all things, and not above all; these are the dangers. »ii

Rosenzweig cannot accept that the absolutely transcendent God of Judaism can be represented by His « Spirit », even though this Spirit is « holy ».

Why not? Is God not His own Spirit?

No. God’s transcendence is probably so absolute that the use of the word « spirit » is still too anthropomorphic in this context. From the point of view of Judaism, as interpreted by Rosenzweig, to use the word « spirit » as an hypostasis of God is an attack on its absolute transcendence.

But, is not God called in the Torah the « God of spirits » (Num 16:22), because He is the Creator? Could the spirit, as created by God, then be a « substance » which God and man would then have in common? No. This is not acceptable. The very principle of the absolute transcendence of God excludes any idea of a community of substance between the divine and the human, even that of the « spirit ».

Nor can Rosenzweig accept that the absolutely transcendent God of Judaism could be represented here below by a « Son », or horresco referens, could lower Himself to humiliation by consenting to a human « incarnation », to whom He would further delegate, ipso facto, the care and privilege of revealing His Truth to men.

Finally, and a fortiori, Rosenzweig obviously cannot accept that the absolutely transcendent God can condescend to any immanence whatsoever, and in particular by coming into the « world » to dwell « in all ».

Judaism will not compromise.

The absolute transcendence of God, of His revelation, and of Redemption, are infinitely beyond the spirit, infinitely beyond the human, infinitely beyond the world.

Rosenzweig’s attack on Christianity focuses on its supposed « concepts ».

Concepts are positive attempts by the human mind to capture the essence of something.

The dogma of the absolute transcendence of God excludes from the outset any attempt whatsoever to « conceptualize » it, whether through names, attributes or manifestations.

The only acceptable conceptualization is the concept of the impossibility of any conceptualization. The only possible theology is an absolutely negative theology, rigorously and infinitely apophatic.

But then what about the revelation of His Name, made to Moses by God Himself?

What about the theophanies found in the Torah?

What about God’s dialogues with the Prophets?

Or in another vein, what about the granting of a Covenant between God and his People?

What about thewandering of the Shekhina in this world, and her « suffering »?

Or, on yet another level, how to understand the idea that heaven and earth are a « creation » of God, with all that this entails in terms of responsibility for the content of their future and the implications of their inherent potentialities?

Are these not notable exceptions, through word or spirit, to thevery idea of God’s absolute, radicaltranscendence? Are they not in fact so many links, so many consensual interactions between God Himself and all that is so infinitely below Him, – all that is so infinitely nothing?

These questions are not dealt with by Rosenzweig. What is important to him is to reproach Christianity for « exteriorizing itself in the Whole, » for « dispersing its rays » in the march through time, with the spiritualization [of the concept of God], the divinization [of the concept of man] and the mondanization [of transcendence].

But Rosenzweig’s reproaches do not stop there. For good measure, he also criticizes the « dangers » peculiar to Judaism.

Where Christianity sins by « dispersing », by « externalizing » the idea of God, Judaism sins on the contrary by « shrinking », by confinement in « the narrow », by refuge in « a narrow home »iii. To sum up: « The Creator has shrunk to the creator of the Jewish world, Revelation has only taken place in the Jewish heart.» iv

Franz Rosenzweig analyzes the « Jewish dangers » in this manner :

« Thus, in the depths of this Jewish feeling, any split, anything that encompasses Jewish life, has become very narrow and simple. Too simple and too narrow, that is what should be said, and in this narrowness, as many dangers should be fanned as in Christian dilatation. Here it is the concept of God that was in danger: in our midst, it is His World and His Man who seem to be in danger (…) Judaism, which is consumed within, runs the risk of gathering its heat in its own bosom, far from the pagan reality of the world. In Christianity, the dangers were named: spiritualization of God, humanization of God, mondanization of God; here [in Judaism] they are called denial of the world, contempt for the world, suffocation of the world.

Denial of the world, when the Jew, in the proximity of his God, anticipated the Redemption for his own benefit, forgetting that God was Creator and Redeemer, that, as Creator, He conserved the whole world and that in the Revelation He ultimately turned His face to mankind at large.

Contempt for the world, when the Jew felt himself to be a remnant, and thus to be the true man, originally created in the image of God and living in the expectation of the end within this original purity, thus withdrawing from man: yet it was precisely with his hardness, forgetting God, that the Revelation of God’s love had come about, and it was this man who now had to exercise this love in the unlimited work of Redemption.

Choking of the world, finally, when the Jew, in possession of the Law revealed to him and becoming flesh and blood in his spirit, now had the nerve to regulate the being there at every renewed moment and the silent growth of things, even to pretend to judge them.

These three dangers are all necessary consequences of the interiority that turned away from the world, just as the dangers of Christianity were due to the exteriorization of the self turned towards the world. » v

Not being able to resolve to elect a single champion, Rosenzweig concludes that Jews and Christians are in fact working at the same task, and that God cannot deprive Himself of either of them: « He has bound them together in the closest reciprocity. To us [Jews] He has given eternal life by lighting in our hearts the fire of the Star of His truth. He has placed Christians on the eternal path by making them follow the rays of the Star of His truth throughout the centuries to the eternal end.»vi

The life, the truth, the way. The Anointed One from Nazareth, the Christian Messiah, had already designated himself by these three words, identifying them with his own Person.

Shrinkage, narrowness, suffocation.

Dispersion, expansion, paganization.

Let the millennia flow, let the eons bloom.

What will the world be like in three hundred billion years? Will it be Jewish? Christian? Buddhist? Nihilist? Gnostic? Or will the world be All Other?

Will we one day see the birth of a non-Galilean Messiah or a non-Anointed Anointed One, far away in galaxies at the unimagined borders of the known universes, revealing in clear language a meta-Law as luminous as a thousand billion nebulae assembled in one single point?

Or is it the very message of the Scriptures that, by some miracle, will be repeated, word for word, letter for letter, breath for breath, in all the multiverse, crossing without damage the attraction and translation of multiple black holes and vertiginous wormholes?

The path before us is infinitely, obviously, open.

We only know that at the very end there will be life – not death.

What kind of life? We don’t know.

We know that with life, there will also be truth.

Truth and life are indissolubly linked, as are transcendence and immanence.

« What is truth? » asked Pilatus once, famously.

One could also ask : « What is life? »

Since transcendence is so infinitely above the human mind, how can one dare to ask even these kinds of questions?

That’s exactly the point.

Daring to ask these questions is already, in a way, beginning to answer them.

I have no doubt that in six hundred million years, or thirty-three billion years, some truth will still be there to be grasp, – if there are still, of course, eyes to see, or ears to hear.

_________________

iFranz Rosenzweig. The Star of Redemption. Alexandre Derczanski and Jean-Louis Schlegel, Seuil , 1882, p.474.

iiFranz Rosenzweig. The Star of Redemption. Alexandre Derczanski and Jean-Louis Schlegel, Seuil , 1882, p.474.

iiiFranz Rosenzweig. The Star of Redemption. Alexandre Derczanski and Jean-Louis Schlegel, Seuil , 1882, p.478.

ivFranz Rosenzweig. The Star of Redemption. Alexandre Derczanski and Jean-Louis Schlegel, Seuil , 1882, p.476.

vFranz Rosenzweig. The Star of Redemption. Alexandre Derczanski and Jean-Louis Schlegel, Seuil , 1882, p.479-480.

viFranz Rosenzweig. The Star of Redemption. Alexandre Derczanski and Jean-Louis Schlegel, Seuil, 1882, p. 490.

Two « Sons » : Bar and Ben


« Michel d’Anastasio. Calligraphie hébraïque »

There are two words in Hebrew for the idea of filiation : ben בן and bar בר.

These two words mean « son », but with very different shades of nuances, due to their respective roots. Their etymologies open surprising perspectives…

The word ben comes from the verb banah בָּנָה, « to build, to construct, to found, to form », which connotes the idea of a progressive emergence, an edification, a construction, necessarily taking a certain amount of time.

The word bar comes from the verb bara‘ בָּרַא, « to create, to draw from nothing, to give birth » and in a second sense « to choose ». The idea of filiation is here associated with a timeless or instantaneous creation, that may be congruent with a divine origin. Thus the verb bara’ is used in the first verse of Genesis, Berechit bara’ Elohim . « In the beginning created God… ».

In a figurative sense, bar also means « chosen, preferred », connotating choice, election or dilection.

What does the difference between ben and bar teach us?

There is a first level of reading: with bar, the idea of filiation begins with a ‘creation’, appearing from nothingness (bara’), but with ben, it rather implies a long work of ‘construction’, and ‘foundation’ (banah).

On the one hand, bar evokes the atemporality (or timelessness) of a transcendence (coming from nothingness), and by opposition, ben implies the necessary temporality of immanence.

In the biblical text, these words, (banah and bara’, ben and bar) so common, so familiar, are like two opposite doors, opening on very different paths.

Doors, or rather trapdoors, under which profound abysses are revealed.

Let’s start with creation. Berechit bara’.

The word bar has its own depth, its subtle ambiguities. Its primary meaning is ‘son‘, but it may mean son of man, son of Elohim, or son of the Gods.

« What! My son! What! Son of my guts! « (Prov. 31:2)

The Book of Daniel uses the expression בַר-אֱלָהִין , bar-elohim, literally « son of the Gods » (Dan 3:25). In this case, bar-elohim refers to an « angel ».

But bar seems to be able to also mean « Son of God ».The psalmist exclaims, « Worship the Lord with fear » (Ps 2:11), and immediately afterwards David cries out, « Nachku bar », « Kiss the Son » (Ps 2:12).

Who is this ‘Son’ (bar) to be kissed or embraced ? He indeed has a special status, since he is refered to by David, just after the name YHVH, and in the same elan of praise.

According to some, this ‘Son’ is to be understood as ‘the king’, and according to others, it refers to ‘purity’.

Why the ‘king’? Why ‘purity’?

Because bar comes from the verb bara’, one of whose original meanings is « to choose ». Bar also means ‘chosen, elected, preferred’.

In Psalm 2, the word bar may well mean the ‘Chosen One’, the ‘Anointed’ (mashiah, or ‘messiah’) of the Lord.

By derivation, bar also means ‘pure, serene, spotless’, as in bar-levav, ‘pure in heart’ (Ps. 24:4) or ‘the commandments of YHVH are pure (bara)’ (Ps. 19:9).

So, what does ‘nachqou bar’ really mean ? « Kiss the Son », « kiss the king », « kiss the Chosen One », « kiss the Anointed One », « kiss the Messiah », or even « embrace purity »?

Who will tell?

Let us note here that Christians could interpret this particular bar (in Ps 2:12) as a prefiguration of Christ (the name ‘Christ’ comes from the Greek christos which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word mashiah, ‘anointed’).

As for ben, like I said, this noun derives from the verb banah, that we find used in various ways (to build, to form, to found):

« I built this house for you to live in. « (1 Kings 8:13)

« The Lord God formed a woman from the rib. « (Gen 2:22)

« By building your high places » (Ez 16:31).

« He founded Nineveh » (Gn 10:11).

Solomon played with the word and its ambivalence (to build/ a son), as he made his speech for the inauguration of the Temple. He recalled that it was indeed David’s idea to build (banah) a temple in honor of God, but that the Lord had said to him, « Yet it is not you who will build (tibneh) this temple, it is your son (bin or ben), he who is to be born of you, who will build (ibneh) this temple in my honor. « (1 Kings 8:19)

Solomon was to be the son (ben) who would build (ibneh) the Temple.

Noah also built an altar (Gen 8:20). Here too, one can detect a play on words with even deeper implications than those associated with the construction of the Temple.

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

The interpretation is not obvious, but if one believes a good specialist, one can understand this:

« The Righteous One ‘builds’ the Shekhina because He connects it to the Central Column of the divine pleroma, the Sefira Tiferet, called ‘son’. This masculine sefira is the way by which the Shekhina receives the ontic influx that constitutes her being. »ii

The Shekhina represents the divine « presence ». It is the ‘feminine’ dimension of the divine pleroma. And even, according to some daring interpretations proposed by the Kabbalah, the Shekhina is the « spouse » of God, as we have seen in a previous article.

The Kabbalah uses the image of the union of the masculine (the Central Column) and feminine (the Abode) to signify the role of the Just in the ‘construction’ of the Divine Presence (the Shekhina).

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

Ben. Son. Construction. Column. Male organ.

And from there, the possible theurgic action of the righteous man, ‘edifying’ the Shekhina.

We see that bar and ben offer two paths linking the divine and the human. One path (bar) is a descending one, that of choice, of election, of the Anointed One, of the Messiah.

The other path (ben) rises like a column in the temple, like a work of righteousness, erected upright, toward the Shekhina.

_____________

iZohar Hadach, Tiqounim Hadachim. Ed. Margaliot, Jerusalem, 1978, fol. 117C cited by Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. Verdier. Lagrasse 1993, p. 591

iiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. Verdier. Lagrasse 1993, p. 591

iiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. Verdier. Lagrasse 1993, p. 593

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


« Mains de bénédiction »

God needs men, even more than men need God.

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

Religious anthropology bears witness to this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Zohar explains :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The massoretic text of this verse gives :

וַיַּעַשׂ דָּוִד, שֵׁם

Va ya’ass Daoud shem

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

Yet this was not the interpretation chosen by the Kabbalists.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how Charles Mopsik puts it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hebrew text gives :

וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם אִשֶּׁה לַיהוָה

Ve-hiqravttêm ichêh la-YHVH

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

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

Fire = Woman

Approaching = Sacrifice = Entrails (of the woman)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________________

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

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

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

ivIbid.

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

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

viiZohar III 113a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xxIbid.

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

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

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

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

xxvQuoted by H. Corbin. The creative imagination

« Making God »: Kabbalah, Trance and Theurgy.


« Shamanic Trance »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

« It is time for the LORD to work »i

Or:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

עֵת, לַעֲשׂוֹת לַיהוָה

‘èt la’assot la-YHVH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tempus is ut facias Domine.

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

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

Tempus faciendi Domino

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

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

καιρὸς τοῦ ποιῆσαι τῷ κυρίῳ-

Kairos tou poïêsai tô kyriô

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

« It is time to make God ».

Rabbi Meir Ibn Gabbay wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________________

iAccording to the Masoretic Text and the JPS 1917 Edition.

iiKing James Version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xiiAsclepius, 23.

xiiiJr 16.20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The God named « I, I, Him »


« Old Rabbi. Rembrandt »

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

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

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

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

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

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

רְאוּ עַתָּה, כִּי אֲנִי הוּא

reou ‘attah, ki ani ani hu’.

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

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

וְאֵין אֱלֹהִים, עִמָּדִי

v’éin elohim ‘imadi

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

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

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

ἴδετε ἴδετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι

idete, idete, oti ego eimi

« See, see, that I am ».

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

The second part of the verse gives :

καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν θεὸς πλὴν ἐμοῦ-

kai ouk estin theos plén emou.

« and there is no God but Me. »

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

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

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

Rashi comments on this verse as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This translation by the French Rabbinate raises several questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What lesson can we get out of it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But grammatically, this interpretation stands up.

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

__________________

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

iiDt 32, 39

Is God Willing to Exterminate His Own Creation?


Is God an « Exterminator » in potentia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Davar. Word. Plague. Death.

Davara. To speak. To exterminate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another question then arises.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a question of simple logic that arises.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are only two possible answers.

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

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

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

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

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

There is only one explanation, in my humble opinion.

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

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

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

________________

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

Descente et immanence


« Mont Sinaï »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qu’est-ce que cela montre ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________

i Gen 12,10

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


« A Hebrew Grammar »

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

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

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

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

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

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

« In the beginning appears the golden seed of light.

Only He was the born sovereign of the world.

He fills the earth and the sky.

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

He who gives life and strength,

He whose blessing all the gods themselves invoke,

immortality and death are only His shadow!

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

(…)

He whose powerful gaze stretched out over these waters,

that bear strength and engender salvation,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can it be reached? No.

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

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

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

The Zohar indicates indeed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This proto-trinity evokes three attributes of God:

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________________

iRig Veda. 121st Hymn. Book X.

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

iii I, 7, 6, 6

iv XXIV, 4

v XV, 10

vi http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe32/sbe3215.htm#fn_77

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

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

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

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

xiIs 40.26

xiiEx 3.14

xiiiZohar I,1b.

xivZohar I,1b.

xvZohar I,1b.

xviZohar I,1b.

xviiZohar I,1b.

xviiiZohar I,1b-2a

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who could probe it, who will say

Where was he born and where did he come from?

The gods came out of him here.

Who says where they come from?

He who produced the creation

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

Who did or did not do it,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____________________

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

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

iiiRV I,32,11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hearing the Murmur


« Elijah »

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

Why? Because only science is capable of true knowledge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By religion? No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does this « science » work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This feeling can be summarized as follows:

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

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

Let’s look at these two points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here, two things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the true cannot be subjective, exploded, pulverized.

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

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

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

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

We can only hope to find out one day.

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

And we are not necessarily alone in this expectation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He knows nothing of the encounter with the living God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

ii1 Co. 2.12

iiiRm 1, 19

ivRm 1, 21-23

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

vi1 Kg 19, 11-12

viiRom 8, 26-27

viii1 Co 15.47

Judaism, Christianity and « their Indissoluble Difference ».


« Jacob Taubes »

Jacob Taubes wrote an article, The controversy between Judaism and Christianity, whose subtitle reads: « Considerations on their indissoluble difference« i, in which he densely summed up what he views as the essence of the « impossible dialogue between « the Synagogue » and « the Church » ».

This non-dialogue has been going on for two millennia, and will only end at the end of time, in all probability.

The popular expression « Judeo-Christian tradition » is often used. But it is meaningless. Above all, it impedes a full understanding of the « fundamental » differences in the « controversial questions concerning the Jewish and Christian religions » that « continue to influence every moment of our lives ». ii

From the outset, Jacob Taubes asserts that no concession on the part of Judaism towards Christianity is possible. The opposition is frontal, radical, absolute, irremediable.

In order for two parties to begin any kind of debate, at the very least, they must recognize each other’s legitimate right to participate in that debate.

However, these really basic conditions are not even fulfilled…

One party does not recognize the other. Christianity means nothing to Judaism. Christianity has absolutely no religious legitimacy for the latter:

« For the Jewish faith, the Christian religion in general and the body of the Christian Church in particular have no religious significance. For the Church, there is a Jewish « mystery, » but the Synagogue knows no « Christian » mystery of any kind. For Jewish belief, the Christian Church cannot have any religious significance; and the division of historical time into a « before Christ » and an « after Christ » cannot be recognized by the Synagogue. Moreover, it cannot even be recognized as something that, though meaningless to the Jewish people, represents a truth to the rest of the world. » iii

The denial of Christianity by Judaism is implacable, definitive. Christianity is not « recognized » by Judaism. It has intrinsically no « religious significance ». This absence of « religious significance » is not limited to the « Jewish people ». Nor does Judaism recognize any religious « significance » for religions from « the rest of the world ».

It is useless to expect from Jacob Taubes scholarly comparisons and fine analyses comparing Jewish and Christian theological elements in order to try to deepen the terms of a common questioning.

A major element of the Christian faith is only « blasphemy » from the Jewish point of view:

« But, from the Jewish point of view, the division into « Father » and « Son » operates a cleavage of the divine being; the Synagogue looked at it, and still looks at it, simply as blasphemy. » iv

In theory, and in good faith, for the sake of the « controversy », Jacob Taubes could have evoked, on this question of the « Father » and the « Son », the troubling passages of the Zohar which deal with the generation of Elohim following the « union » of the One with Wisdom (Hokhmah)v.

Is the « Father-Son-Holy Spirit » Trinity structurally analogous to the Trinity of « the One, Hokhmah and Elohim »?

Does it offer points of comparison with the revelation made to Moses under a formal Trinitarian formula: « Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh » (Ex. 3:14) or with the strange Trinitarian expression of Deuteronomy: « YHVH, Elohenou, YHVH » (Deut. 6:4)?

Maybe so. Maybe not. But this is not the bottom line for Taubes: he is not at all interested in a thorough confrontation of texts and ideas on such opaque and metaphysical subjects.

This lack of interest in comparative hermeneutics is all the more striking because Taubes immediately admits that Judaism, in its long history, has in fact fallen back a great deal on its supposed « rigid monotheism »:

« The recent insistence on rigid monotheism as the defining characteristic of Jewish religious life is contradicted by a fact that contemporary Jewish thinkers tend to dismiss: the centuries-long predominance of the Lurian Kabbalah in Judaism. The Kabbalah has developed theological speculations that can only be compared to Gnostic (and pagan) mythologies. The mythical unity of the divine King and the divine Queen, the speculation on Adam Kadmon, the mythology of the ten sephirot, which are not attributes but manifestations of the divine, of different essences, poses a challenge to any historian of religion who claims to judge what is Jewish and what is not according to the criterion of a « rigid monotheism ». The Jewish religion would not have been able to cope with the explosion of Kabbalistic mythologization if its fundamental and determining characteristic had been a rigid monotheism. » vi

Even more astonishing, Jacob Taubes, after having denied any kind of « religious significance » to Christianity, affirms however that « Christianity is a typically Jewish heresy »:

« Christian history, Jesus’ claim to the title of Messiah and Pauline theology of Christ as the end of the Law are not at all « singular » events for Judaism, but are things that regularly recur in the fundamental Jewish frame (Grundmuster)of religious existence. As I have already said, Christian history does not constitute a « mystery » for the Jewish religion. Christianity represents a « typical » crisis in Jewish history, which expresses a typically Jewish « heresy »: antinomistic messianism – the belief that with the coming of the Messiah, what is decisive for salvation is not the observance of the Law, but faith in the Messiah. » vii

But if Christianity is, for Judaism, a « typically Jewish heresy », does this not recognize it as a form of « significance » in the eyes of Judaism, if only because of its antinomic opposition? The fact that forms of heresy, at least formally analogous to Christianity, may have appeared in a recurring manner within Judaism itself, does not this imply the presence of a subterranean question, always at work, in the darkness of the foundations?

Judaism seems indeed to suffer from certain structural « weaknesses », at least according to the opinion of Jacob Taubes :

« The weakness of all modern Jewish theology – and not only modern – is that it fails to designate Halakhah, the Law, as its alpha and omega. Since the period of Emancipation, the Jewish religion has been in crisis because it lost its center when Halakhah lost its central position and binding force in Jewish thought and life. From the moment Halakhah ceases to be the determining force in Jewish life, the door is open to all the anti-halakhic (antinomistic) and disguised Christian assumptions that are prevalent in secularized modern Christian society. » viii

On the one hand, Christianity has no « religious significance », according to Jacob Taubes.

On the other hand, Christianity threatens Halakhah in its very foundation, which is of the order of the Law, and in its « ultimate » principle, justice:

« Halakhah is essentially based on the principle of representation: the intention of man’s heart and soul must be manifested and represented in his daily life. Therefore the Halakhah must become « external » and « legal », it must deal with the details of life because it is only in the details of life that the covenant between God and man can be presented. (…) Halakhah is the Law because justice is the ultimate principle: ecstatic or pseudo-ecstatic religiosity can see in the sobriety of justice only dead legalism and external ceremonialism, just as anarchy can conceive law and order only as tyranny and oppression. » ix

Here we are at the core. For Taubes, Judaism has as its essential foundations Law and Justice, which are radically opposed to the « principle of love »:

« The controversy between the Jewish religion and the Christian religion refers to the eternal conflict between the principle of the Law and the principle of love. The « yoke of the Law » is challenged by the enthusiasm of love. But in the end, only the « justice of the Law » could question the arbitrariness of love. » x

Let’s summarize:

-Judaism does not give any religious significance to Christianity, nor does it recognize any meaning for the « rest of the world ».

-In reality Christianity is only a « Jewish heresy », as there have been so many others.

-Judaism is threatened by Christianity in that it deeply undermines Halakhah in a modern, secularized Christian society.

-The two essential principles of Judaism are the Law and justice.

-The essential principle of Christianity is love, but this principle is « arbitrary », -Judaism must question the « principle of love » through the « justice of the Law ».

Logically, the above points are inconsistent with each other when considered as a whole.

But logic has little to do with this debate, which is not, and probably cannot be « logical ».

Therefore, one has to use something other than logic.

But what? Vision? Intuition? Prophecy?

One reads, right at the very end of the Torah, its very last sentence:

« No prophet like Moses has ever risen in Israel, whom YHVH knew face to face. »xi

Let’s presume that the Torah tells the ultimate truth about this. How could it be otherwise?

Then, maybe, « He » could have risen out of Israel?

The Masters of Israel, from blessed memory, also testified, according to Moses de Leon:

« He has not risen in Israel, but He has risen among the nations of the world.» xii

The Masters cited the example of Balaam. He is a prophet, undeniably, since « God presented Himself (vayiqar) to Balaam » (Num. 23:4), but Balaam still is a « sulphurous » prophet.

However Balaam « stood up » before the end of the Torah. Which leaves open the question of other prophets « standing up » after the Torah was completed…

It is up to us, who belong to the nations of the world, to reflect and meditate on the prophets who may have risen – no longer in Israel, since none could possibly have « risen » in Israel since Moses – but among the « nations of the world ».

And this according to the testimony, not only of the Torah, but of the illustrious Jewish Masters who commented on it.

Vast program!

___________________

iJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009.

iiJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference. « Time is running out. From worship to culture. Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p.101

iiiJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 105

ivJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. . p. 104

vSee my article on this blog: How the Elohim Were Begotten | Metaxu. Le blog de Philippe Quéau.

viJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. . p. 111

viiJacob Taubes. »The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 113

viii« The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 114-115

ix« The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 115

xJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. Seuil. 2009. p. 117

xiDt. 34,10

xiiQuoted by Moses de Leon. The sicle of the Sanctuary (Chequel ha-Qodesh). Translation Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier. 1996. p. 103

Berechit Bara Elohim and the Zohar


« Zohar »

The Book of Creation (« Sefer Yetsirah ») explains that the ten Sefirot Belimah (literally: the ten « numbers of non-being ») are « spheres of existence out of nothingness ». They have appeared as « an endless flash of light, » and « the Word of God circulates continuously within them, constantly coming and going, like a whirlwind. »i.

All of these details are valuable, but should not in fact be disclosed at all in public. The Book of Creation intimates this compelling order: « Ten Sefirot Belimah: Hold back your mouth from speaking about it and your heart from thinking about it, and if your heart is carried away, return to the place where it says, ‘And the Haioth go and return, for that is why the covenant was made’ (Ezekiel 6:14). » ii

I will not « hold my mouth » : I will quote the very texts of those who talk about it, think about it, go to it and come back to it over and over again.

For example, Henry Corbin, in a text written as an introduction to the Book of Metaphysical Penetrations by Mollâ Sadrâ Shîrâzi, the most famous Iranian philosopher at the time of the brilliant Safavid court of Isfahan, and a contemporary of Descartes and Leibniz in Europe, wonders in his turn about the essence of sefirot, and raises the question of their ineffability.

« The quiddity or divine essence, what God or the One is in his being, is found outside the structure of the ten sefirot, which, although they derive from it, do not carry it within them at all. The ten sefirot are ‘without His quiddity’ (beli mahuto, בלי מהותו), such is the teaching of the sentence in the Book of Creation. (…) But a completely different exegesis of the same sentence from the Book of Creation is advanced in the Sicle of the Sanctuary. For this new exegesis, the word belimah does not mean beli mahout (without essence) but refers to the inexpressible character of the sefirot whose mouth must ‘refrain itself (belom) from speaking' ». iii

So, the question is : are sefirot « without divine essence », as the Book of Creation seems to say?

Or are sefirot really divine, and therefore « unspeakable »?

Or are they only « that which cannot be spoken of », according to the restrictive opinion of Moses de Leon (1240-1305), who is the author of the Sicle of the Sanctuary?

It seems to me that Moses de Leo, also apocryphal author of the famous Zohar, occupies a position on this subject that is difficult to defend, given all the speculations and revelations that abound in his main work…

Moreover, if one « cannot speak » of the sefirot, nor « think » about them, how can one then attribute any value whatsoever to the venerable Sefer Yetsirah (whose origin is attributed to Abraham himself, – but whose writing is dated historically between the 3rd and 6th century A.D.)?

On the other hand, – an argument of authority it is true, but not without relevance -, it should be emphasized that the Sicle of the Sanctuary is nevertheless « a little young » compared to the Sefer Yestsirah, which is at least a millennium older.

In view of these objections, let us consider that we can continue to evoke here (albeit cautiously) the sefirot, and try to reflect on them.

The sefirot, what are they? Are they of divine essence or are they pure nothingness?

The Zohar clearly states :

« Ten Sefirot Belimah: It is the breath (Ruah) of the spirit of the Living God for eternity. The Word or creative power, the Spirit and the Word are what we call the Holy Spirit. » iv

Finding expressions such as the « Word » or the « Holy Spirit » in one of the oldest philosophical texts of Judaism (elaborated between the 3rd and 6th centuries A.D.), may evoke strangely similar wordings, used in Christian Gospels.

There is, at least, a possibility of beginning a fruitful debate on the nature of the divine « emanations », to use the concept of atsilut – אצילות, used by Moses de Leon, and on the possible analogy of these « emanations » with the divine « processions » of the Father, Son and Spirit, as described by Christian theology?

What I would like to discuss here is how the Zohar links the « triple names » of God with what Moses de Leon calls the divine « emanations ».

The Zohar repeatedly quotes several combinations of God’s « names », which form « triplets ».

In addition, it also deals with the divine « emanations » of which the sefirot seems an archetype, as well as expressions such as the « Breath » of God or his « Seed ».

Do the « divine emanations » and the « triple names » of God have some deep, structural, hidden relationship, and if so, what does this teach us?

The « triple names » of God.

In Scripture, there are several instances of what might be called the « triple names » of God, that is, formulas consisting of three words that form a unitary whole, an indissoluble verbal covenant to designate God:

-Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh (Ex. 3:14) (« I am he who is »)

-YHVH Elohenou YHVH (Deut. 6:4) (« YHVH, Our God, YHVH »)

To these « trinitarian » formulas, the Zohar adds for example:

Berechit Bara Elohim (Gen 1:1) (« In the beginning created Elohim »)

Bringing these different « triplets » together, the Zohar establishes the idea that the names contained in each of these « triplets » are individually insufficient to account for the divine essence. Only the union of the three names in each of these formulations is supposed to be able to approach the mystery. But, taken individually, one by one, the names « YHVH », or « Ehyeh », or « Elohim », do not reach the ultimate level of comprehension. It is as if only the dynamic « procession » of the relationships between the names « within » each triplet could account for the mystery of God’s « Name ».

On the other hand, the Zohar suggests a kind of structural identity between the « triple names » just mentioned. Thus, by comparing term by term the verses Ex. 3:14 and Dt. 6:4, one can assume a kind of identity between YHVH and « Ehyeh ». And, based on the supposed analogy between Dt 6:4 and Gen 1:1, we can also identify the name « YHVH » with the names « Berechit » and « Elohim ».

Finally, if we pursue this structuralist logic, a word that could a priori be a « simple conjunction » with a grammatical vocation (the word « asher« ) acquires (according to the Zohar) the status of « divine noun », or divine hypostasis, as does the verb « bara« .

Let’s look at these points.

The Zohar formulates these structural analogies as follows:

« This is the meaning of the verse (Dt. 6:4): ‘Listen, Israel, YHVH, Elohenu, YHVH is one’. These three divine names designate the three scales of the divine essence expressed in the first verse of Genesis: ‘Berechit bara Elohim eth-ha-shamaim’, ‘Berechit’ designates the first mysterious hypostasis; ‘bara’ indicates the mystery of creation; ‘Elohim’ designates the mysterious hypostasis which is the basis of all creation; ‘eth-ha-shamaim’ designates the generating essence. The hypostasisElohim’ forms the link between the two others, the fecundating and the generating, which are never separated and form one whole. » v

We see that the Zohar thus distinguishes, from the first verse of the Torah, two « triplets » of divine names, somehow embedded in each other: ‘Berechit bara Elohim’ on the one hand, and ‘Bara Elohim eth-ha-shamaym’ on the other.

We also deduce that the second « triplet » is somehow « engendered » (in the sense of « generative grammars ») by the first « triplet », thanks to the special role played by the name ‘Elohim’.

The generative theory of the divine « triplets » also allows us to better understand the profound structure of the famous verse ‘Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh’ (Ex. 3:14) (« I am he who is »), and moreover allows us to establish a link with the theory of the divine emanations of the Zohar.

Let’s look at this point.

The Seed of God: ‘Asher’ and ‘Elohim’.

The « Seed » of God is evoked metaphorically or directly in several texts of Scripture as well as in the Zohar. It has various names: Isaiah calls it ‘Zera’ (זֶרָע: ‘seed’, ‘seed’, ‘race’)vi. The Zohar calls it « Zohar » (זֹהַר: glow, brightness, light), but also « Asher » (אֲשֶׁר: « that » or « who » – that is, as we have seen, the grammatical particle that can be used as a relative pronoun, conjunction or adverb), as the following two passages indicate:

« The word glow’ (Zohar) refers to the spark that the Mysterious One caused when he struck the void and which is the origin of the universe, which is a palace built for the glory of the Mysterious One. This spark constitutes in a way the sacred seed of the world. This mystery is expressed in the words of Scripture (Is. 6:13): ‘And the seed to which it owes its existence is sacred.’ Thus the word ‘glow’ (Zohar) refers to the seed He sowed for His glory, since the purpose of creation is the glorification of God. Like a mollusk from which purple is extracted and clothed in its shell, the divine seed is surrounded by the material that serves as its palace, built for the glory of God and the good of the world. This palace from which the divine seed has surrounded itself is called « Elohim » (Lord). This is the mystical meaning of the words: ‘With the Beginning He created Elohim’, that is, with the help of the ‘light’ (Zohar), the origin of all the Verbs (Maamaroth), God created ‘Elohim’ (Lord) ». vii

But a few lines later, the Zohar assigns to the word « Zohar » two more meanings, that of « Mysterious » and that of « Beginning ». Therefore, since the word « Zohar » is no longer available as a metaphor for the divine « Seed », the Zohar uses the word « Asher » (אֲשֶׁר: « that » or « who ») to designate the latter, but also the word « Elohim », which derives from it by synonymous engendering and following a kind of « literal » pirouette, as shown in this passage:

« By the word glow’ (Zohar), Scripture refers to the Mysterious called ‘Berechit’ (Beginning), because it is the beginning of all things. When Moses asked God what His name was, God replied (Ex. 3:14): « Ehyeh asher Ehyeh » (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה , I am He who is). The sacred name ‘Ehyeh’ appears on both sides, while the name ‘Elohim’ forms the crown, since it appears in the middle; for ‘Asher’ is synonymous with ‘Elohim’, whereas the nameAsher’ is formed from the sameletters that make up the wordRoch’ (head, crown). ‘Asher’, which is the same asElohim’, is derived from ‘Berechit’. As long as the divine spark was enclosed in the sublime palace, that is to say, before it manifested itself,it did not form any peculiarity that could be designated in the divine essenceby anyname; the Whole was One, under the name ‘Roch’. Butwhen God created, with the help of the sacred seed (‘Asher’), the palace of matter, ‘Asher’ took shape in the divine essence; only then did ‘Asher’ take, in the divine essence, the shape of a crown head (‘Roch’), being situated in the middle (‘Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh’). Now, the word ‘Berechit’ contains the word ‘Roch’, synonymous with ‘Asher’;it forms the words ‘Roch’ and ‘Baït’, i.e. ‘Roch’ enclosed in a palace (‘Baït’). viiiThe words: ‘Berechit Bara Elohim’ thus mean : When ‘Roch’, synonymous with ‘Asher’,wasused as divine seed in the palace of matter, ‘Elohim’ was created; that is to say, Elohim took shape in the essence of God. ix

Let’s summarize what we just learned from the Zohar.

The divine « Seed » receives, according to its authors, the following names: Zera‘, Zohar, Asher, Roch (‘seed, glow, who, head’).

The « Seed » is deposited in the middle of the « palace ».

The Palace-Semen together are called ‘Beginning’ (Berechit).

And this ‘Beginning’ ‘created’ ‘Elohim’.

And all this is presented in the first verse of the Torah.

How can we fail to see in this thesis of the Zohar a structural analogy between « Elohim » and the Christian concept of « Son of God »?

Decidedly, even a purely ‘monotheistic’ theology needs « emanations » to live in the « world ».

iBook of Creation, 1.5

iiBook of Creation, 1.7

iiiHenry Corbin. The vocabulary of being. Preface to the Book of Metaphysical Penetrations. Molla Sadra Shiraz. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse. 1988, p. 50

ivBook of Creation, 1.8

vZohar 1, 15b

viIs. 6.13

viiZohar, 1.15a

viiiThe two consonants of Baït, B and T frame the two consonants of Rosh, R and SH, in the word BeReSHiT.

ixZohar, 1.15a-15b

How the Elohim Were Begotten


« Gershom Scholem »

Let’s begin with this verse from the Psalmist: « The foundation of your word is truth »i. In the original Hebrew: רֹאשׁ-דְּבָרְךָ אֱמֶת, roch devar-ka emét.

Another translation gives: « Truth, the principle of your word! » ii

In yet another translation, the word רֹאשׁ, roch, is translated as « essence »: « Truth is the essence of your word. »iii

The words used here, « foundation », « principle », « essence » are quite abstract. They belong to the philosophical language, and they seem somewhat removed from the spirit of ancient Hebrew, an eminently concrete, realistic language.

Originally, the word רֹאשׁ, roch means: 1) head, person, man. Then, by derivation, metonymy or metaphor: 2) head, top, point, main thing; 3) sum, number, troop; 4) beginning, the first; 5) a poisonous plant (the hemlock, or poppy), poison, venom, gall.

It is from the 4th meaning of roch that the word reshit, « beginning », derives, this word which one finds precisely at the very beginning of the Torah: Be-rechit, « in the beginning ».

If one wanted to render exactly all the connotations of the word רֹאשׁ, rosh in the verse of Psalm 119, one would have to resolve to translate it into a sum of formulations, – a swarm of meanings:

-At the head of your word, the truth.

-The tip of your word is truth.

-The sum of your word is truth.

-Truth is the beginning of your word.

-The truth is the venom of your word.

Each of these formulas is clearly unsatisfactory, but as a whole they open up new questions and new perspectives.

For example, if truth is « at the head » of the word, or in its « tip », or in its « beginning », does this mean that in all the « rest » of the word there is something other than truth?

If it is the « sum » of the word that is the « truth », does this imply that each of the parts of the « word » does not really contain it?

How can we understand that the word (of God) can contain a « venom »?

The more modern translations that have been cited (« foundation, principle, essence ») seem to escape these difficulties of interpretation. They immediately give the verse a veneer of depth and a kind of philosophical allure.

But this « abstract » veneer and this « philosophical » appearance are undoubtedly the indications of a real deviation from the original meaning, intended by the Psalmist, which was to be much more « concrete ».

If one wants to remain faithful to the genius of ancient Hebrew, the essence of the word roch must rather be sought in one of its main derivative, the word rechit (« beginning »).

This word is indeed part of the description of a key moment of Creation, the « Beginning », and it derives a special prestige from it.

This eminent moment is described by Zohar 1:15a in a surprisingly vivid way, in a passage full of dark light, particularly delicate to « translate », even for the best specialists and the most learned rabbis who have worked on it.

One may judge the difficulty from four very different translations of this strange text which will now be presented.

Gershom Scholem offers :

« In the beginning, when the King’s will began to act, he drew signs in the divine aura. A dark flame gushes forth from the most intimate depths of the mystery of the Infinite, the En-Sof; like a mist that gives form to what has no form, it is enclosed in the ring of this aura, it appears neither white, nor black, nor red, nor green, without any color. But when it began to grow in height and spread, it produced radiant colors. For in the innermost center of this flame, a spring gushes forth, whose flames spill over everything below, hidden in the mysterious secrets of the En-Sof. The source gushes forth, and yet it does not gush forth completely, through the ethereal aura that surrounds it. It was absolutely unrecognizable until, under the shock of this spurt, a higher point then hidden would have shone. Beyond this point, nothing can be known or understood and that is why it is called Rechit, meaning « beginning », the first word of creation. » iv

What is this « point » called Rechit? Gershom Scholem indicates that for the Zohar (whose paternity he attributes to Moses de León) and for the majority of Kabbalist writers, this primordial « point », this « beginning » is identified with the divine « Wisdom », Hokhmah.

Before proposing his own translation-interpretation of this difficult passage of the Zohar, Charles Mopsikv cites two other translation-interpretations, that of R. Siméon Labi of Tripoli and that of R. Moses Cordovero, both dating from the 16th century:

R. Simeon Labi :

« In the head, the King’s word carved signs in the highest transparency. A spark of darkness came out of the middle of the enclosure, from the head of the Ein-Sof; attached to the Golem (or initial formless matter), planted in the ring (…) This source is enclosed in the middle of the enclosure until, thanks to the jostling force of its breakthrough, a point, the supreme enclosure, is illuminated. After this point one knows nothing more, that is why it is called Rechit (beginning), first word. » vi

R. Moses Cordovero :

« At the moment before the King said, in his supreme zenith, he engraved a sign. An obscure (or eminent) flame gushes out inside the most enclosed, which started from the confines of the Infinite, forms in the Golem planted in the center of the ring (…) In the center of the Flame a spring gushes out from which the colors took their hue when it reached the bottom. The enclosure of the Enigma of the Infinite tried to pierce, but did not pierce its surrounding air and remained unknown until, by the power of its breakthrough, a point was illuminated, the supreme enclosure. Above this point nothing is knowable, so it is called Rechit, beginning, first of all words. » vii

Having thus prepared the ground with three different versions, and benefiting from their respective contributions, Charles Mopsik proposes his own translation, which is also jargonous and amphigorous, but which is not without opening up new reflexive possibilities:

« From the outset, the King’s resolution left the trace of his withdrawal in supreme transparency. An obscure flame springs from the quivering of the Infinite in its confinement. Like a form in the formless, inscribed on the seal. Neither white, nor black, nor red, nor green, nor of any color. When he then set the commensurable, he brought out colors that illuminated the confinement. And from the flame a spring gushed forth, downstream from which the hues of these colors appeared. Enclosure in the Confinement, quivering of the Infinite, the source pierces and does not pierce the air that surrounds it and it remains unknowable. Until by the insistence of its piercing, it brings to light a tenuous point, supreme confinement. From there this point is the unknown, so it is called the ‘beginning’, the first of all. » viii

It should be noted at the outset that Mopsik clearly distinguishes himself from other translators, from the very first sentence, by proposing that the King « leave the trace of his withdrawal in supreme transparency », rather than « engrave or carve signs ».

He justifies this bold choice in this way:

« What led us to prefer the expression ‘to leave the trace of its withdrawal’ to ‘to inscribe signs’ comes from the fact that the verb galaf or galif is rarely found in the Midrach, and when it appears, it is associated with the idea of inscribing in hollow, of opening the matrix. Thus it is this term that is used when God visited Sarah and then Rikvah who were barren (see Gen 47.2 , Gen 53.5 and Gen 63.5).

It is therefore likely that Zohar uses these connotations of generation and fertilization. Moreover, the passage in question was later interpreted by the school of Louria as an evocation of the Tsimtsum, or withdrawal of the divine.»ix

In Mopsik’s interpretation, therefore, in the beginning, God « opens the matrix », then withdraws from it, but nevertheless « leaves a trace of his withdrawal ».

Which « matrix » is it?

According to the Zohar, this ‘matrix’ is Wisdom (Hokhmah).

Indeed, a little further on, the Zohar gives these relatively cryptic, yet enlightening explanations:

« Until now, this has been the secret of ‘YHVH Elohim YHVH’. These three names correspond to the divine secret contained in the verse ‘In the beginning created Elohim’ (Berechit bara Elohim). Thus, the expression ‘In the beginning’ is an ancient secret, namely: Wisdom (Hokhmah) is called ‘Beginning’. The word ‘created’ also alludes to a hidden secret, from which everything develops. » x

Let’s summarize what we just learned:

Wisdom (Hokmah) is also called ‘Beginning’ (Rechit).

The « matrix » that God « opens » at the « Beginning », before « withdrawing » from it, is that of Wisdom. According to Charles Mopsik, the metaphors that the Zohar uses to describe this moment evoke « generation » and « fecundation ».

The Zohar, decidedly well-informed, still delivers these precisions:

« With this Beginning, the Hidden and Unknown One created the Temple (or Palace), and this Temple is called by the name ‘Elohim’. This is the secret of the words: ‘In the beginning created Elohim. xi

The great secret, unspeakable, spreads out clearly in the Zohar:

The One unites himself with Wisdom (whose other name is ‘Beginning’), then withdraws from it, while leaving his trace. From this union of the One and the Beginning is born the Temple (also called ‘Elohim’).

According to the Zohar, the first verse of the Torah ‘Be-rechit bara Elohim’ should be understood as follows: « With the Beginning, [the One, the Hidden One] created the Elohim (Lords).

Jewish ‘monotheism’ is definitely full of surprises…

From the Beginning, the Trinity of the One, Wisdom and Elohim is revealed.

The Elohim are generated by Wisdom, impregnated by the One…

_________________

iPs. 119:160

iiThe Jerusalem Bible. Ed. du Cerf, Paris, 1996

iiiGershom G. Scholem, in The Name of God and Kabbalistic Theory of Language. Alia. 2018, p.11

ivZohar 1.15a. Quoted by Gershom G. Scholem, Les grands courants de la mystique juive. Translation from English by Marie-Madeleine Davy. Ed. Payot, Paris, 2014, p.320

vCharles Mopsik. The Zohar. Ed. Verdier. 1981, p.482

viR. Simeon Labi de Tripoli in Ketem Paz Biour ha Milot (Enlightenment of Words), 1570, quoted by Charles Mopsik in op.cit. p.482

viiR. Moïse Cordovero, Or Yakar, Quoted by Charles Mopsik in op.cit. p.483

viiiTranslation by Charles Mopsik. The Zohar. Ed. Verdier. 1981, p.484

ixCharles Mopsik. The Zohar. Ed. Verdier. 1981, p.484

xZohar 1.15b

xiZohar 1.15a

La mort et les mots


Souvent les mots ont un double sens presque immédiatement apparent, mais aussi des strates de signification, profondes, cachées.

En sanskrit, la racine यु YU- renvoie à deux espaces sémantiques absolument opposés.  D’un côté, YU- (1) signifie “séparer, éloigner, exclure, protéger de, repousser”. De l’autre, YU- (2) signifie au contraire “ unir, attacher, joindre, lier, attirer, prendre possession de, tenir, adorer, honorer”. Comment expliquer une telle ambivalence, pour une même racine, indépendamment de tout affixes correcteurs?

La radicale divergence des sens ( « séparer » et « unir ») que porte la racine YU- est confirmée par deux racines qui en sont issus, et qui restent d’ailleurs fort proches phonétiquement. YU- (1) est à l’origine de la racine युछ् YUCH-, « partir, quitter, disparaître, errer ». On lui associe le latin juvo.
YU- (2) a produit la racine युज् YUJ-, “joindre, unir, juguler, atteler, harnacher; diriger son esprit, fixer son attention”. YUJ- renvoie au latin jungo.

Une racine, qui semble plus originaire encore, या YĀ-, porte tous les sens associés au mouvement: « aller, marcher, avancer, voyager, s’en aller », mais aussi: « aller vers, entrer, approcher, arriver, atteindre ». On voit que YĀ- couvre la gamme des sens possibles du mouvement, qu’ils soient centrifuges ou centripètes.

Tout se passe comme si le sens vraiment originaire de YĀ- ou de YU- était le fait de se mouvoir, le but de cette motion (partir ou revenir) étant en quelque sorte secondaire. Ainsi l’anglais to go, « aller », ne voit son propre sens précisé que par l’adjonction d’adverbes: to go away, « partir », to go back, « revenir ».

En hébreu, on trouve un cas comparable d’ambivalence, avec סוּר, sour, qui dans une première acception signifie : « s’écarter, se retirer, disparaître ». En voici deux exemples: « Dieu s’est retiré de moi. » (1 Sam. 28.15) « Ils se sont tous écartés de la bonne voie. » (Ps. 14.3) Mais le même verbe signifie aussi : « Quitter un endroit pour s’approcher d’un autre, s’approcher, se tourner vers, venir, entrer ». Par exemple : « Il faut que j’approche et que je voie cette grande vision, et pourquoi le buisson ne se consume point » (Ex. 3.3), « Entre chez moi » (Juges 4.18), « Et le deuil de ceux qui sont étendus voluptueusement approchera » (Amos 6.7).
Quand Moïse  « s’approche » pour mieux voir le buisson ardent, il doit « se détourner » de son chemin. Le verbe porte ces deux sens, celui de l’écart et celui du rapprochement.

Un autre exemple montre toute l’ambiguïté du mot סוּר, sour. Agag, roi d’Amalek, est amené devant Samuel. Agag est gai, joyeux, car il croit avoir échappé à la mort, et il dit : « Certainement, l’amertume de la mort est passée !» (1 Sam. 15.32), traduction la plus courante (Segond, Cahen, Darby). Mais Sander et Trenel traduisent : « L’amertume de la mort approche ». Ces deux traductions en sens contraires portent chacune une part de vérité. Agag avait cru s’en tirer à bon compte. La mort semblait avoir été écartée. Mais l’instant d’après, Samuel le « mit en pièces » : elle était en fait toute proche, imminente.

Ces dualismes, ces ambiguïtés, dans des mots de langues aussi différentes que le sanscrit ou l’hébreu, administrent une leçon large, celée.

Dans un de ses plus célèbres fragments, Héraclite proposait une énigme comparable: 

« La route, montante, descendante, une et même. »
On pourrait résoudre le paradoxe, en l’explicitant, par un mot qui manque: « La route vers la mort, proche ou lointaine, une et même ».

Un autre fragment héraclitéen offre une piste plus oblique:
« Limites de l’âme, tu ne saurais les trouver en poursuivant ton chemin
Si longue que soit la route
Tant est profond le logos qu’elle renferme. »

La proximité ou l’éloignement de la mort n’est pas ce qui importe. Ce n’est pas non plus le chemin suivi, sa longueur, sa montée ou sa descente. Aucune route en réalité ne mène assez loin, car toutes elles restent à la surface du monde.

Quant à la mort, elle se cache sous les mots, tout comme s’y cache le logos.

___________________

Bibliographie

A Hebrew and English lexicon of the Old Testament, W. Gesenius, trad. E. Robinson. Oxford, 1906.
A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, M. Monier-Williams. Oxford, 1899
Dictionnaire Hébreu-Français, N. Ph. Sander et I. Trenel. Paris, 1859.
Diogène Laërce, Vies, IX, 7
Héritage du Sanskrit. Dictionnaire sanskrit-français, G. Huet, 2011
Hippolyte, Réfutation de toutes les hérésies, IX, 10

L’embrasement d’Empédocle


« Empédocle se jetant dans l’Etna »

Le mystique se tait parce qu’il sait qu’il a beaucoup à dire, et qu’il ne sait pas comment le dire, tant son expérience le « dépasse ».

L’ineffabilité de l’expérience et le silence qui s’ensuit ne sont pas de même nature.

Comment dire l’ineffable ?

Qui dira, du silence et de l’expérience, ce qui les dépasse absolument, et les transcende infiniment?

Parménide s’est fait jadis une réputation en identifiant la pensée à l’être.

Mais la pensée n’est pas en mesure de concevoir la nature de ce qui, par nature, lui échappe. Et l’être (pris dans toute sa totalité) n’est certes pas de même nature que la pensée, dont la nature (ou l’essence) n’est que l’une des modalités de l’être.

Pour le dire en style biblique : il y a de nombreuses demeures dans la maison de l’être.

La pensée (consciente) n’habite que l’une des nombreuses « demeures » de l’être, et la « maison » de l’être elle-même est bien plus vaste que tous les rêves pensés, et bien plus haute que ses plus profonds sommeils.

Les deux métaphores de la « demeure » et de la « maison », dans le passage de Jean qui les a rendues célèbres, loin d’asseoir notre mental, de lui donner une sorte d’assurance (foncière), de certitude (immobilière), d’ancrage dans un « lieu » (sédentaire), introduisent immédiatement dans le texte original un ballet tournoyant de mouvements, une valse d’images mobiles, mêlant « départ », « aller », « retour », « chemin », et « passage » :

« Dans la maison de mon Père, il y a beaucoup de demeures ; sinon, est-ce que je vous aurais dit : ‘Je pars vous préparer une place’ ? Quand je serai allé vous la préparer, je reviendrai vous prendre avec moi ; et là où je suis, vous y serez aussi. Pour aller où je m’en vais, vous savez le chemin. » Thomas lui dit : « Seigneur, nous ne savons même pas où tu vas ; comment pourrions-nous savoir le chemin ? » Jésus lui répond : « Moi, je suis le chemin, la vérité et la vie ; personne ne va vers le Père sans passer par moi. »i

S’il y a un « chemin », on est en droit de demander où sont les « demeures », et la « maison ».

A partir de l’Évangile johannique, on pourrait légitimement demander si ces « demeures » ne sont pas plutôt le « chemin » lui-même,– et réciproquement, si « chemin », « vérité » et « vie » ne sont pas nos mouvantes, véritables et vivantes « demeures »?

On voit ici que les métaphores, philosophiques ou théologiques, du « lieu », de la « maison », ou de la « demeure », créent de facto dans l’esprit les idées, nécessairement duales, de « mouvement », de « déplacement », de « cheminement ».

De cela, l’on déduira qu’un « lieu » (en hébreu makom, en latin locus, en grec topos) habité par la pensée biblique (ou par la conscience spirituelle) renvoie à la nécessité d’un « départ », d’un « exode » (« hors d’Égypte »), d’un « passage » (de la « Mer rouge »), ou d’une « fuite » (« en Égypte »)…

Dans les mondes psychiques, le lieu crée le mouvement ; le locus engendre le motus ; le topos génère le tropos… Le makom invite à l’Exode.

Ces métaphores sont intrinsèquement « intriquées ». On ne peut concevoir séparément, les unes sans les autres. Elles se propagent dès lors, liées en groupe, dans l’esprit, et révèlent par là une propriété fondamentale du monde psychique : la solidarité et l’unité fusionnelle de tous les phénomènes qu’il fait naître.

De la ‘mécanique’ de ce monde psychique, de ce monde de métaphores vivantes et connectées, intriquées, on dira qu’elle semble ‘quantique’ : le dualisme des « tropes » du lieu et du mouvement est formellement analogue aux dualités onde/corpuscule ou position/quantité de mouvement de la mécanique quantique…

De cela, l’on déduira aussi que les « lieux » que sont le « monde », le Cosmos tout entier, « l’être » ou « l’âme » de l’homme, ne sont pas simplement des « lieux », mais sont aussi des « chemins ».

On est aussi en droit de comparer les « lieux » et les « cheminements » que sont le monde, le Cosmos et l’Anthropos, avec la nature des « lieux » et des « cheminements » du Theos.

D’où la question : du Theos, quel est le « Lieu » ? Et quel est son « Chemin » ?

Que peut-on conjecturer de ce « Lieu » et de ce « Chemin », du point de vue cosmique et anthropologique ?

Que ce « Lieu » est celui du Très-Haut, appelé Elyon ?

Et donc que ce « Lieu » n’est pas celui du « Très-Bas », du « Très-Humble »?

Que ce « Lieu » n’est présent que dans la « Présence », la seule Chekinah ?

Que ce « Chemin » fourmille de l’infinie voix des commentaires auxquels il donne « lieu » ?

Que ce « Lieu » est à l’Origine, et au Commencement?

Que le « Chemin » suit l’« Esprit » (le « Vent » qui souffle où il veut)?

De ces images théologico-poétiques, on retiendra que la Vie (de l’esprit) est bien plus large, bien plus haute, bien plus profonde que la réalité. On en induira que la Vie n’est certes pas « dans » la Réalité. C’est bien plutôt la Réalité qui est « dans » la Vie.

La Vie dépasse de tous les côtés la pensée, la conscience ou la connaissance, dont il faut voir l’impuissante inadéquation à rendre compte de ce qui les dépasse, et l’incapacité à appréhender la Totalité de ce qui leur échappe.

Il faut prendre toute la mesure des écarts (a priori non réductibles) entre Vie, réalité, conscience et pensée, pour situer ces concepts à leur place, les assigner à leurs « lieux » propres.

C’est seulement alors, quand la Vie, la réalité, la conscience et la pensée occupent leurs « lieux » propres, que l’on peut rêver d’autres chemins, tenter de nouveaux « exodes », hors de ces « lieux ».

Quelles autres voies seraient-elles alors possibles? Quels nouveaux exodes encore impensables, ou encore impensés?

Les maîtres passés mettent en garde : l’expérience mystique, disent-ils, est certainement une « expérience », mais « ce n’est pas une connaissance »ii.

On reste libre d’imaginer qu’une expérience (mystique) des confins des mondes et de leurs au-delà, des hauteurs indicibles, du divin même, donne ipso facto une sorte de connaissance, réelle, irréfutable.

Une telle « connaissance » ne serait pas formelle ou formulable. Ce serait une connaissance tout de même, et en tout cas largement supérieure au babil sans fin des fats, aux rodomontades des cuistres.

L’expérience (mystique) est d’abord une expérience des limites de toute connaissance, et donc, en tant que telle, c’est une connaissance claire, nette, de ce qui dans toute connaissance est foncièrement limitée, et intrinsèquement surpassable.

Ce premier résultat est une excellente entrée en matière, dans les sentiers difficultueux qu’il faut emprunter…

Pour continuer, Raimon Panikkar estime nécessaire de différencier et de cloisonner l’expérience, la réalité, la conscience et la « mystique » :

« J’ai dit que l’expérience n’a pas d’intermédiaires et nous met en contact immédiat avec la réalité, mais au moment où nous devenons conscient de cette expérience, de telle sorte que nous pouvons en parler, alors nous entrons dans le champ de la conscience, et nous abandonnons la mystique. »iii

Mais cette séparation dichotomique entre « conscience » et « mystique » est assez arbitraire, et à mon avis injustifiée, du point de vue du bénéficiaire de l’expérience mystique elle-même.

L’expérience mystique est bien une « expérience », mais une expérience sui generis, hors de tout repère réel, hors de tout « contact immédiat avec la réalité ».

Au moment où l’expérimentateur (mystique) devient « conscient » de son expérience, on ne peut pas dire qu’il entre alors « dans le champ de la conscience », comme le suggère Panikkar.

En effet, il est « conscient » de son expérience ineffable, mais il est aussi « conscient » que cette expérience est et restera ineffable. Il est « conscient » qu’elle est d’ailleurs seulement en train de commencer, et que le voyage qui s’annonce sera périlleux, – et peut-être même sans retour (dans la « conscience » et de son point de vue).

Au moment où l’expérience (mystique) commence, la conscience de ce commencement commence aussi. Mais on ne peut pas appeler cela une simple «entrée dans le champ de la conscience ».

C’est seulement le point de départ. Il reste à affronter l’infini, c’est une longue route, et on ne le sait pas encore. L’expérience va durer longtemps, et pendant tout ce temps, la conscience de l’expérimentateur sera submergée par des flots, des océans, des galaxies liquides, des ultra-cieux et des méta-mondes.

Jamais il ne reprend pied, dans cette noyade par le haut, dans cette brûlure immense, dans cette sublimation de l’être.

Mais à aucun moment, il ne peut se dire à lui-même qu’il entre alors, simplement, « dans le champ de la conscience ».

Tout ce qu’il peut dire, à la rigueur, c’est qu’il entre dans le champ de la conscience de son ineffable inconscience (métaphysique, absolue, et dont il ne sait absolument pas où elle va le mener).

Il est certes nominalement « conscient » (ou plutôt « non totalement inconscient »), et à partir de cette conscience nominale, minimale, il voit qu’il est en réalité presque totalement réduit à l’inconscience fusionnelle avec des forces qui le dépassent, l’écrasent, l’élèvent, le transcendent, et l’illuminent.

Il est donc possible pour le mystique de se trouver dans un état paradoxal où se mêlent intimement et simultanément, quoique avec des proportions variées, l’« expérience » (mystique), la « conscience » (de cette expérience), la « réalité » (qui les « contient » toutes les deux) et l’« inconscient » (qui les « dépasse » toutes les trois).

Cet état si particulier, si exceptionnel, on peut l’appeler la « découverte de l’état originel du Soi ».

Le « Soi ». La tradition védique l’appelle ātman.

Une célèbre Upaniṣad dit à propos du « Soi » qu’il est « le connaisseur de tout, le maître intérieur, l’origine et la fin des êtres » et précise ainsi sa paradoxale essence:

« Ne connaissant ce qui est intérieur, ni connaissant ce qui est extérieur, ni connaissant l’un et l’autre ensemble, ni connaissant leur totalité compacte, ni connaissant ni non-connaissant, ni visible ni inapprochable, insaisissable, indéfinissable, impensable, innommable, essence de la connaissance de l’unique Soi, ce en quoi le monde se fond, en paix, bienveillant, unifié, on l’appelle Turīya [le ‘Quatrième’]. C’est lui, le Soi, qu’il faut percevoir. »iv

Pourquoi l’appelle-t-on le « Quatrième » ?

Parce que cet état vient après le « premier » qui correspond à l’état de veille, après le « deuxième » qui définit l’état de rêve, et après le « troisième » qui désigne l’état de sommeil profond.

Mais comment diable peut-on savoir tout cela, toutes ces choses incroyables, tous ces mystères supérieurs, et les exposer ainsi, sans fards, au public ?

En fait rien n’est vraiment dit, assené. Tout est plutôt non-dit, tout ce qui est dit est présenté d’abord comme une négation. Rien n’est expliqué. Il nous reste à faire le principal du cheminement, et à comprendre de nous-mêmes. Tout repose sur la possible convergence de ce qui est « dit » (on plutôt « non dit ») avec l’intuition et la compréhension intérieure de « celui qui a des oreilles pour entendre ».

Entre des « univers » si éloignés, des « réalités » si difficilement compatibles (la veille, le rêve, le sommeil profond, le Soi), l’humble « conscience » est l’entité médiatrice à qui l’on peut tenter de se fier, pour établir la condition de ce cheminement, de cet entendement.

Mais l’expérience mystique a beaucoup de mal à se laisser réduire au champ étroit de « l’humble conscience ». L’« humble conscience » (en tant que sujet actif du « champ de conscience » de l’individu) ne peut recevoir que quelques rayons de ce soleil éruptif, aveuglant, et fort peu de son énergie outre-humaine, tant une irradiation pleine et totale lui serait fatale.

L’expérience mystique montre, de façon incandescente, que l’Être,dans son essence, n’est pas intelligible. Elle disperse et vaporise la pensée humaine, en myriades d’images sublimées, comme un peu d’eau jetée dans la fournaise du volcan.

Dans le cratère de la fusion mystique, des pans inimaginables de la Totalité bouillonnent et échappent à la conscience humaine, écrasée par son insignifiance.

Empédocle, pour découvrir cette amère et brûlante vérité, paya de sa vie. Suicide philosophique ? Transe extatique ? Fureur gnostique ?

Empédocle s’enflamma d’une illumination soudaine. D’infimes particules, infra-quantiques, ont jailli pour toujours, au moment où il plongea dans la lave. L’Etna dissolut son corps, embrasa son âme et dispersa le reste de son être dans le Cosmos.

Il est probable que quelques-unes de ses particules continuent, aujourd’hui encore, de voyager vers les confins.

Une âme vive, au cœur ardent, aux ailes séraphiques, d’une motilité chérubinique, pourrait vraisemblablement, le cas échéant, se lancer à leur poursuite.

___________________

iJn 14, 2-6

iiCf. par exemple : « The mystical is certainly also an experience, but it is not knowledge. » Raimon Panikkar. The Rythm of Being. The Unbroken Trinity. Ed. Orbis Books. NY. 2013, p. 247

iiiRaimon Panikkar. The Rythm of Being. The Unbroken Trinity. Ed. Orbis Books. NY. 2013, p. 247

ivMaU 7. Trad. Alyette Degrâces (modifiée), Ed. Fayard, 2014, p.507-508.

Black holes and Mystery


M-87 Jet

The photo of a black hole 50 million light-years away, located at the center of the M87 galaxy, has been released to great media fanfare, justifiably so. However the photo is blurry and unassuming. But the most disappointing thing is the absolute emptiness of the journalistic comments accompanying the publication: not a shadow of an evocation of possible philosophical opening, not the slightest beginning of a broader reflection, for example on the possible cosmological links between black holes and the nature of the universe, on the question of the mystery of its origin or its metaphysical « end », which is even more opaque.

It is true that metaphysical questions are nowadays past fashionable occupations, and even highly suspect in the eyes of the scientists and materialists who abound around the world.

The dominant ideology ‘dominates’, and the ‘world civilization’ has clearly lost interest in the Mystery.

The ‘world civilization’ no longer has the desire to contemplate what is entirely beyond her views, and makes her infinitely smaller, deep down.

She prefers to focus on (material) images and (positivist) ideas.

The trend is not new. It has been described many times since the 19th century.

Oswald Spengler, for example, at the beginning of the last century, in the midst of industrial and technical expansion, wrote these critical lines:

« One thing is to know that there are mysteries, that the world is nothing but a unique and impenetrable mystery. An era that loses this faith no longer has a soul. Then begin the arrogant questions, based on the belief that the mystery is nothing more than a temporary unknown, that the spirit of interrogation can decipher. » i

Spengler, it will be said, is now only a sulphurous, discredited author. To quote him is undoubtedly tantamount to taking some risks.

But in his own way, Spengler testifies to a vanished universe and a vision of the world that is not very « modern », where heroes and saints were still venerated (horresco referens):

« The hero despises death, and the saint despises life. » ii

Oswald Spengler, and it was undoubtedly there, among other things, a fatal error, especially committed the indelicacy of pointing out with sharpness the « decline » of the West, while giving the impression of regretting this programmed shipwreck.

Rather than attacking the West alone, it would probably have been better to condemn the decline of the « humankind », and to castigate the progressive decline of humanity as a whole.

That would have been politically more correct, but the proponents of progressivism would have been more enraged than ever with him.

From a strictly philosophical point of view, it is probable that Spengler would in fact have been unable to give flesh and substance to the concept of « humanity » and to expressions such as « the human » or « man per se » – all formulations whose relevance he denied, and whose origin he attributed to the « chatter of philosophers »:

« There is no such thing as « man per se », as the gossip of the philosophers claims, but only men of a certain time, in a certain place, of a certain race, endowed with a personal nature that imposes itself or succumbs in its struggle against a given world, while the universe, in its divine carelessness, remains immutable around it. This struggle is life. » iii

In this « struggle for life », then, does the « man per se » still have a future?

Or is the future only reserved for men of a certain place, a certain race, a certain religion, for fighters imposing themselves on the world?

The question is worth restating in the form of an alternative:

On the one hand, the World Civil War, – men becoming wolves to other men, tribes seeking to ruthlessly impose themselves on other tribes.

On the other side, World Civil Peace, and all men united in the search for mystery.

I opt for future, universal peace, trusting in the words of Joel:

« I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your elders will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on slaves, men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit.»iv

But what relationship, one will ask, between the decline of the West, black holes and the outpouring of the Spirit?

The West is declining because it has admittedly made itself incapable of getting a feel for the presence of the Mystery as such, — the Mystery that is incarnated in many ways, such as black holes or any outpouring of Spirit.

________________________

iOswald Spengler. Historical and philosophical writings. § 43 Ed. Copernicus. Paris. 1979. p.128

iiOswald Spengler. Historical and philosophical writings. § 61 Copernicus Ed. Paris. 1979. p.132

iiiOswald Spengler. Historical and philosophical writings. § 68 Ed. Copernicus. Paris. 1979. p.135

ivJl 3, 1-2

The Oosphere and the Noosphere


« Oospheres »

Marcel Conche writes somewhere, with a kind of cheerful irony: « I like medlar very much. There is nothing to eat. It is the most metaphysical fruit. For metaphysics comes down to the fact that, in any case, we know nothing about anything. » i

For my part I prefer peach, as a fruit. It is very juicy, with tender and tasty flesh. Some have smooth skin, others are fluffy, but all of them have an inviting slit, and a hard core, mobile or adherent. It is, in my humble opinion, a much more metaphysical fruit than the medlar: at the end of the endings, we know that we are going to take some more without getting tired of it, so much the flavor is not forgotten, and so much the mystery of this closed slit and this hard core can only mystify the spirits less able to grasp the immanent transcendence of the peach tree, from its flower to its fruit…

It really is a great mystery that human brains, at least some of them, can open up to metaphysics, that of medlar, or that that flies over the worlds, and reflects on what was before nothing was …

One of the oldest myths in the world dates back at least six thousand years, four thousand years before our era, and three thousand years before Moses. It is the Vedic myth of Prajāpati, a name that means « Father, or Lord of creatures ». Prajāpati was then thought as the supreme God, the One who created the world. But, unlike the biblical God, the creation of the Universe and all creatures, according to the Veda, could only be done through the sacrifice of Prajāpati.

In the beginning, having nothing from which to create the world, since everything was nothingness, Prajāpati had to resort to Himself, dismembering, offering Himself as a sacrifice, and dividing Himself so that from Him could flow the Universe and Life.

The Veda explains the creation of the universe as the Creator’s self-immolation, and designates this sacrifice as « the navel of the Universeii.

« Now the Lord of creatures, after having begotten the living creatures, felt as if He had been emptied. The creatures departed from Him; they did not stay with Him for His joy and sustenance. « iii

The supreme God gives Himself completely, and He suffers the torments of death: « After He begat all that exists, He felt emptied and was afraid of death. » iv

Why this Sacrifice of the Supreme God?

Perhaps because a « greater good » can be expected from it?

Does God (Theos) sacrifice Himself to make possible not only the existence of the Cosmos and Anthropos but also their future « divinization »?

TheTheos sacrifices Himself to extend modes of divinization to other beings than Himself. Thus one sees that the essence of the Sacrifice is entirely in the general becoming. The God sacrifices Himself so that the future can come to be. The God sacrifices Himself entirely, He takes this supreme risk, so that the « Future » and the « Other » can also be?

But then, does that mean that God is not eternal?

He sacrifices His solitary eternity so that He can become a shared, common « becoming ». To eternity, of which He was the sole custodian, He adds Time, the Future, the Process… and therefore Freedom.

He transforms His stable, immobile essence from a being a « First Engine » into a risky, unstable, uncertain process. He voluntarily gives a freedom proper to the Cosmos, as well as to the Anthropos.

God creates the universe with great precision (cf. the incredible finesse with which the « constants » of the Universe have been shaped). However, the universe is not a deterministic mechanics. There is « chance » in it. Let us simply say that there is « freedom ». God threw, whether Einstein likes it or not, an anthropo-cosmic die…

Hence this special mystery, unique to the human brain: how can we presume to know what Prajāpati has concocted before the dawn of time? How do we know that He sacrificed Himself, that He felt emptied, that He was afraid of death? How could the brains of the Veda visionaries conceive of this divine sacrifice and appreciate all its consequences?

There are two possible answers.

Either the Theos allowed this mystery to be « revealed » directly to the souls of certain representatives of Anthropos (such as biblical prophets).

Either there is, more immanently, and more anthropologically, a congruence, a sympathy, an obviousness, which seems to imbue the human brain.

The brains of the Vedic prophets felt internally, intuitively, through a kind of analogy and anagogy, the divine drama at stake. This intuition was undoubtedly based on the observation of phenomena that appeared in the human environment, and which are among the noblest, most striking, most counter-intuitive that can be conceived: sacrifice for love, the gift of one’s life for the survival of those one loves…

In any case, let us conclude that the human brain, through its antennas, its pistils, its « oospheres », is capable of navigating freely in the eternal « noosphere », and that it is given, sometimes, to penetrate its essence…

_______________

iMarcel Conche. Regain. Ed. Hdiffusion. 2018, p.65

ii R.V. I,164.35

iii N.B. III, 9.1.1

iv S.B. X, 4.2.2