Unspeakable words


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

Our languages tell us that we are enigmas to ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

i In Hebrew : ‘אָז תִּרְאִי וְנָהַרְתְּ ‘

Anything May Yet Happen


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord « regretted » and then « grieved ».

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

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

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

Rashi comments on this verse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

iPhilo. De Gigantibus. 1,48

iiPhilo. De Gigantibus. 1,53

iiiGen 6, 6-7

The « Highest » and the « Lowest »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us take the example of a curious verse:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God thus addresses Moses in this way:

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

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

Philo offers this reassuring comment:

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

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

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

This is a kind of « communion ».

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

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

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

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

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

The Highest may also descend into the Lowest.

iPhilo. De Gigantibus. 1,22

Nudity and Mystery


There are four kinds of nudity in the Bible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The nakedness of drunken Noah presents another risk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four metaphors of the weakness of human consciousness.

Logos and Glial Cells


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Difficult to stay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, in my opinion, other conclusions may emerge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iiPhilo. De Monarchia. II, 218

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

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

vJean Riéville, op.cit.

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

YHVH’s Temounah


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The King James translation of Num 12:8 gives :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prophecy and Ecstasy


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

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

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

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

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

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

iPhilo, De Somn. 1. 146

Eternal Birth


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iPlato. Symposium.

iiPhilo. De Monarch. I, 5-7

iiiEx 33, 18-23

ivJer. 14,1

vJer. 15,17

viEz. 1,3

viiEz. 3,12

viiiEz. 3,14

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

A Jewish Trinity


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

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

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

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

A biblical image may help to understand the issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crown, Wisdom, Intelligence.

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

No End to Interpretation


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shadows of God


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In all three cases God manifests Himself through His Word.

Three brands of monotheism came out to celebrate these manifestations.

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

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

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

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

iEx 31,2

iiLegum Allegoriae, 96

iiiNum. 12,6-8

Finding Knowledge in Death


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

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

And in the second chapter of Genesis we read:

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

What does this difference in vocabulary teach us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iPhilo of Alexandria, Legum Allegoriae, 55

iiIbid., 31

iiiIbid., 88

ivIbid., 90

vIbid., 100

viIbid., 105

viiIbid., 106

Unspeakable Suns


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iGn. 1, 5

iiGn. 1, 8

iiiGn. 1, 13

Bitter Angels of History


Klee’s painting, Angelus novus, has a catchy title. It gives the painting an air of mystery. Angels, however, are so many, there are billions of them, on every pinhead, it is said. Every boson, every prion even, could have its own angel. In this immense crowd, how can we distinguish between « new » and « old » angels?

Are not angels, by nature, essentially timeless, pure spirits?

Klee’s angel is curiously static, even motionless. There is no sensation of movement, either backwards or forwards. No wind seems to be blowing.

His « wings » are raised as if for an invocation, not for a flight. And if he were to take off, it would be upwards rather than forward. His « fingers », or « feathers », are pointing upwards, like isosceles triangles. His eyes look sideways, fleeing the gaze of the painter and the spectator. His hair looks like pages of manuscripts, rolled by time. No wind disturbs them. The angel has a vaguely leonine face, a strong, sensual, U-shaped jaw, accompanied by a double chin, also U-shaped. His nose is like another tiny face, whose eyes would be his nostrils. His teeth are wide apart, sharp, almost sickly. It even seems that several are missing.

This ailing, stunted angel has only three fingers on his feet. He points them down, like a chicken hanging in a butcher shop.

Walter Benjamin made this comment, expressly metaphorical: “There is a painting by Klee entitled Angelus novus. It depicts an angel who seems to have the intention of moving away from what his gaze seems to be riveted to. His eyes are wide open, his mouth open, his wings spread. This is what the angel of History must necessarily look like. His face is turned towards the past. Where a sequence of events appears before us, he sees only one and only one catastrophe, which keeps piling up ruins upon ruins and throwing them at his feet. He would like to linger, awaken the dead and gather the defeated. But a storm blows from heaven, so strong that the angel can no longer close its wings. This storm is pushing him incessantly towards the future, to which he turns his back, while ruins pile up as far as heaven before him. This storm is what we call progress.”i

It seems to me that Benjamin has completely re-invented the Klee painting, for his own purposes. No storm, no accumulated progress, no past catastrophe, seem – in my opinion – to accompany the young angel of Klee.

Why, moreover, should History have only one ‘Angel’? And, if it were so, why should this Angel of History be ‘new’, when History is not?

Angelology is a very imperfect science, like History, it seems.

Isaiah said: “The angels of peace shall weep bitterly.”ii

In the Book of Daniel, we read that an archangel appeared and said: “The Prince of the Persians resisted me for twenty-one days.”iii According to a classical interpretation, this archangel was Gabriel, and the « Prince of the Persians » was the angel in charge of guarding the Persian kingdom.

S. Jerome added that Daniel prayed for the liberation of his people. But the Angel-Prince of the Persian kingdom opposed his prayers, while the archangel Gabriel presented them to God.

S. Thomas Aquinas commented the commentary: “This resistance was possible because a prince of the demons wanted to drag the Jews brought to Persia into sin, which was an obstacle to Daniel’s prayer interceding for this people.”iv

Isn’t this here a quite convincing indication, based on the Scriptures, that there are definitely several angels playing a role in History, and that, moreover, they are sometimes brought to fight each other, according to the interests of the moment?

According to several sources (Maimonides, the Kabbalah, the Zohar, the Soda Raza, the Maseketh Atziluth) angels belong to various orders and classes, such as the Principalities (hence the name « Prince » that we have just met for the angel of Persia), the Powers, the Virtues, the Dominations. Even better known are the Cherubim and Seraphim. Isaiah says in chapter 6 that he saw several Seraphim with six wings « crying out to one another ». Ezechiel speaks of Cherubim he had a vison of, and according to him, each of them had four faces and four wings.v

The Kabbalists propose ten classes of Angels in the Zohar: the Erelim, the Ishim, the Beni Elohim, the Malakim, the Hashmalim, the Tarshishim, the Shinanim, the Cherubim, the Ophanim and the Seraphim.

Maimonides also proposes ten classes of angels, but he arranges them in a different order, and groups them into two large classes, the « permanent » and the « perishable ».

Judah ha-Levi (1085-1140), a 12th century Jewish theologian, distinguished between « eternal » angels and angels created at a given time.

Where, then, should we place Klee’s Angelus novus, that « new » angel whom Benjamin calls the « Angel of History »? Is he permanent or perishable? Eternal or momentary?

If Benjamin and Klee are right, we should believe that History is guarded just by one ‘new angel’, who therefore must be probably perishable and momentary.

But if they are wrong, History is guarded not by one, but by many angels, and they may be eternal, imperishable.

They then may also cry out to each other like seraphim with multiple wings, and in the confused battles of the angels furiously mixed up, over the centuries, progress might be hard to perceive.

There is one thing, however, that we can be assured of: the most beautiful, the most brilliant of these seraphim (though not the most powerful apparently), – these angels of « peace » keep crying out, bitterly.

iWalter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History. 1940

iiIs. 33, 7

iiiDan. 10,13

ivSumma Theologiae I, Q. 113 a.8

vEz. 10,14-22

The Lion and the Ashes


« If a lion could speak we could not understand him », wrote Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations.

This remark is worthy of consideration… and of generalization. What if it were a tuna, — or a rattlesnake nest, or a flight of starlings? Or a pile of dust, a block of granite, a cluster of galaxies? Or a prion, a plasmid, a proton? An angel, a seraphim, — or even God?

If God would speak, now, could we understand Him, more than a virus?

Is there any serious chance, after all, that we could just figure out, or somewhat understand, in any way, what is not human?

To start with, do we even understand what it really means to be human?

Pessimism usually prevails in this sort of metaphysical questioning. Leonine grammar is probably simpler than the Greek or the Sanskrit ones.

But these are probably much simpler than a seraphic one.

What is the worldview of the lion ? The crushing of the jaws ? The raw smell of blood, the subtle scent of the steppe?

What about the unfulfilled dreams of the fly, or the vulture, over the corpses? What about the ontological worries of the photon, lost in (relativist) translations?

What about the angel’s sorrow? And what about cherubinic rejoicing?

Isn’t all this, irremediably, out of syntax, out of any human lexicon?

If a million future Champollions tried to decipher, during one million years, the roar of the feline, or to decrypt the vibrato of the lizard, would there be any hope of breaking new grounds? Could we not, one day, find some Rosetta Stone translating equivalences among all the living entities, here on earth, and beyond?

Perhaps one day, we will find such powerful, universal, paradigmatic Babelian stones. Who knows? Who can tell?

Let’s make it simple. We should start by simply trying to understand men and women when they speak, or when they keep silent.

If we could really understand their silence, then perhaps we would better understand things that we still do not understand in the universe, — and perhaps we would get an unhinged glimpse at its core, silent, meaning?

Human speech is continuously made of virtual palimpsests. But these are ignored, — and they stay buried, hidden, impotent, powerless.

Human words have dark or shiny reflections, shimmering with a latent, interior, fire, — sometimes striken by an unexpected, unhoped-for, light of meaning, yet vigorously smouldering under the ashes.

Breath and Word in Veda and Judaism


The Vedic rite of sacrifice required the participation of four kinds of priests, with very different functions.

The Adhvaryu prepared the animals and the altar, lit the fire and performed the actual sacrifice. They took care of all the material and manual part of the operations, during which they were only allowed to whisper a few incantations proper to their sacrificial activity.

The Udgatṛi were responsible for singing the hymns of Sama Veda in the most melodious manner.

The Hotṛi, for their part, had to recite in a loud voice, without singing them, the ancient hymns of the Ṛg Veda while respecting the traditional rules of pronunciation and accentuation. They were supposed to know by heart all the texts of the Veda in order to adapt to all the circumstances of the sacrifices. At the end of the litanies, they uttered a kind of wild cry, called vausat.

Finally, remaining silent throughout, a Brahmin, a referent of the good progress of the sacrifice, guarantor of its effectiveness, supervised the various phases of the ceremony.

These four kinds of priests had, as one can see, a very different relationship to the word of the Veda. The first murmured (or mumbled) it, the second sang it, following a melody, mingled with music, the third proclaimed it, concluding with a shout. Finally, silence was observed by the Brahmin.

These different regimes of vocal expression can be interpreted as so many possible modalities of the relationship of the word to the divine. They accompany and give rhythm to the stages of the sacrifice and its progression.

The chant is a metaphor for the divine fire, the fire of Agni. « Songs fill you and increase you, as the great rivers fill the sea » says a Vedic formula addressed to Agni.

The recitation of Ṛg Veda is a self-weaving narrative. It can be done word for word (pada rhythm), or in a kind of melodic path (krama) according to eight possible varieties, such as the « braid » (jatā rhythm) or the « block » (ghana rhythm).

In the « braid » style, for example, a four-syllable expression abcd was pronounced in a long, repetitive and obsessive litany: ab/ba/abc/cba/bc/cb/bcd/dcb/bcd

When the time came, the recitation finally « burst forth » like thunder. Acme of sacrifice.

The Vedic word appears in all its successive stages a will to connect, an energy of connection. Little by little set in motion, it is entirely oriented towards the construction of links with the Deity, the weaving of close correlations, vocal, musical, rhythmic, semantic.

It is impregnated with the mystery of Deity. It establishes and constitutes by itself a sacred link, in the various regimes of breath, and by their learned progression.

A hymn of Atharvaveda pushes the metaphor of breath and rhythm as far as possible. It makes us understand the nature of the act in progress, which resembles a sacred, mystical union: « More than one who sees has not seen the Word; more than one who hears has not heard it. To the latter, she opened her body as to her husband, a loving woman in rich finery.»

The Vedic Word is at the same time substance, vision, way.

A comparison with the divine Word and Breath in the biblical texts can be interesting.

In Gen 2:7, God breathes a « breath of life » (neshmah נשׁמה) so that man becomes a living being (nephesh נפשׁ ). In Gen 1:2, a « wind » from God blows (rua רוּח). The « wind » is violent and evokes notions of power, strength, active tension. The « breath » of life, on the other hand, can be compared to a breeze, a peaceful and gentle exhalation. Finally, God « speaks », he « says »: « Let there be light! ».

On the subject of the breath and wind of God, Philo of Alexandria comments: « This expression (he breathed) has an even deeper meaning. Indeed three things are required: what blows, what receives, what is blown. What blows is God; what receives is intelligence; what is blown is breath. What is done with these elements? A union of all three occurs. »

Philo poses the deep, intrinsic unity of breath, soul, spirit and speech.

Beyond languages, beyond cultures, from the Veda to the Bible, the analogy of breath transcends worlds. The murmur of the Adhvaryu, the song of Udgatṛi, the word of Hotṛi, and its very cry, form a union, analogous in principle to that of the divine exhalation (neshmah, נשׁמה), the living breath (nephesh, נפשׁ ), and the wind of God (rua, רוּח ).

In all matters, there are those who excel in seeing the differences. Others see especially the similarities. In the Veda and the Bible, the latter will be able to recognize the persistence of a paradigm of speech and breath in seemingly distant contexts.

The Aryan Veda and Semitic Judaism, beyond their multiple differences, share the intuition of the union of word and breath, – which is also a divine prerogative.

All Religions Belong to Us


The « Hidden Jew » is an ancient figure. Joseph and Esther first hid their Jewishness. Esther’s name in Hebrew means « I will hide ». Esther belonged to the harem of King Ahasuerus. She revealed to him that she was a Jew and thus saved her people.

Closer in time, the Marrano Jews also « hid ». Shmuel Trigano affirms that they were « adventurers » and « pioneers who can be counted among the first modern men »i. They were the ferment of Jewish modernity, and thus they were the origin and foundation of modernity itself. Far from betraying their people, they saved them, as it were, by surreptitiously facilitating their acculturation, if we are to believe Trigano’s thesis.

It is a stimulating hypothesis, with broad perspectives. Marranism would not be an escape, a treason, a  » decay « , but would in fact embody the courage and resilience of the Jews, and would pose a larger question, inherent in Judaism from its very origins:

« The Marran experience reveals the existence in Judaism of a potentiality of Marranism, a predisposition to Marranism, unrelated to the fact that it also represents a decay of Judaism. The ambivalence is greater: imposed by force, it also constitutes a high fact of the courage and perseverance of the Jews. The real question is this: is Marranism structurally inherent in Judaism, was it inscribed from the beginning in Judaism? (…) How could Jews have thought that they were becoming even more Jewish by becoming Christians (in fact this is what Jewish Christians have thought since Paul)? »ii

This question undoubtedly has a Judeo-Christian component, but its scope goes beyond the historical framework of Judeo-Christian relations. It goes much further back in time. Above all, it sheds light on a fundamental component of Judaism, its latent tendency towards universalism, as perhaps the Psalmist testifies. « But of Zion, it will be said, every man was born there  » (Ps. 87:5).

Philo, a Jew and philosopher who lived in Alexandria and died about 50 A.D., offers an interesting figure to study in this regard.

Philo had no connection with Christianity, the birth of which he was a contemporary. Of Greek and Jewish culture, he was well acquainted with the Greek philosophers and had a perfect knowledge of the texts of Judaism, which he interpreted in an original way. He was also interested in the religions of the Magi, the Chaldeans and the Zoroastrians.

He sought higher syntheses, new ways, more adapted to the forms of  » globalization  » whose progress he observed in his time.

Philo was certainly not a hidden Jew. But what kind of Judaism was he representing? What kind of profound thought, of irrepressible aspiration, was he the bearer?

Philo, two thousand years ago, like the Spanish and Portuguese marranes five centuries ago, represented a paradoxical Judaism. They seem to be moving away from it somewhat, or temporarily , but only to return to it later, in a deeper way. They seem to betray it on the surface, but it is by the effect of a fidelity of their own, perhaps more essential to its true spirit. By taking some distance, by linking themselves to the world, they build bridges, establish links with nations, with non-Jews, and open up the possibility of other syntheses.

Ignored by the Synagogue, Philo professed opinions that might seem unorthodox. It was, moreover, the Christian philosophers and theologians of the first centuries who preserved Philo’s writings, and who found a posteriori in his thought enough to nourish their own reflections.

What was the real state of Judaism just before the destruction of the Second Temple? There were many varieties of Judaism at that time: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc., not to mention the diasporas, more or less Hellenized.

There was undoubtedly a difference in perspective between the Jews of Jerusalem, who prayed every day in the Temple, not knowing that its end was imminent, and the Jews of the Diaspora, whose freedom of thought and belief, if we take Philo as a reference, was undoubtedly greater than in Jerusalem.

Let us judge by this text:

« God and Wisdom are the father and mother of the world, » Philo wrote in De Ebrietate, « but the spirit cannot bear such parents whose graces are far greater than those it can receive; therefore it will have as its father the right Logos and as its mother the education more appropriate to its weakness. »

Philo clarifies the scope of the metaphor: « The Logos is image and eldest son. Sophia is the spouse of God, whom God makes fruitful and who generates the world. »

It is not difficult to imagine the reaction of the Doctors of the Law to these remarks. It is also easy to understand why the Judeo-Christians found in Philo a valuable ally.

In a passage from his Cherubim (43-53), Philo evokes Sophia or Wisdom, the bride of God, and at the same time a Virgin, or Nature without defilement, and « Virginity » itself. Union with God makes the soul a virgin. The Logos is both father and husband of the soul.

This idea of a “virgin-mother-wife” is found almost everywhere in various traditions of antiquity, especially among the Orphics. The symbolic fusion between the wife and the daughter of God corresponds to the assimilation between Artemis and Athena among the latter. Korah, a virgin, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, unites with Zeus, and is the life-giving source of the world. She is the object of the mysteries of Eleusis. In the Osirid tradition, Osiris is the ‘principle’, Isis the ‘receptacle’ and Horus the ‘product’, which is translated philosophically by the triad: ‘Intelligible, matter, sensible’.

Was Philo an orthodox Jew? It is doubtful. Then who was he? One could say that he was, in anticipation, a sort of « Marrano » Jew, mutatis mutandis, converted by force of circumstance to spiritual globalization…

Schmuel Trigano writes in the conclusion of his work: « The double identity of the modern Jew could well be akin to the Marrano score. »

He generalized « Marranism » and made it a general model of the identity of modern man. « Marranism was the laboratory of Jewish modernity, even among those Jews who escaped Marranism. Let us go further: Marranism was the very model of all political modernity. »iii

What does Marranism testify to? The deep ambivalence of a worldview based on messianic consciousness. « Messianic consciousness encourages the Jew to live the life of this world while waiting for the world to come and thus to develop a cantilevered attitude towards this world. »

This feeling of strangeness in the world is particularly acute for anyone with an acute awareness of the implications of the coming of the Messiah.

But, paradoxically, it is in no way specific to Judaism.

Buddhism views this world as an appearance. This has also been the feeling of the shamans since the dawn of time. The feeling of strangeness in the world is so universal, that it must be taken as a fundamental trait of the most original religious feeling .

Man’s heart is hidden. It is for itself a mystery, that the world and its wonders come close without ever reaching it.

The « Marrano » man, doubly torn between his interior and exterior, as a man and as a persecuted person, discovered that modernity, through the State, could strive to systematically break down the interior of the self. But he also learned over time the means to resist alienation, the necessary wiles, the ability to thwart the games of political power, over very long periods of time.

We must not forget this lesson. At a time when the most « democratic » nations are actively preparing the means of mass surveillance, intrusive to the last degree, at a time when the prodromes of new barbarities are rising on a planetary scale, we will need this ancient lesson of duplicity in order to survive.

In order to prepare a better, universal, wise, humane world, we must follow the lesson of Philo: navigate among religions and nations, thoughts and languages, not as if we belonged to them, but as if they belonged to us.

iShmuel Trigano. « Le Juif caché. Marranisme et modernité », Pardès, 2000

iiIbid.

iiiIbid.

Lonely trances and shared dreams


All religions have their bearings, their symbols. Their numbers. One for an absolute monotheism, three for a Trinitarian monotheism. For religions of the divine immanence, a few million or even billions. For others still, intermediaries, it will be seven or twelve.

The poet, who is neither rabbi nor pope or imam, may rather choose four or six.

How can one be sure of seeing clearly in these floating, lofty domains?

« There are four worlds (apart from the natural world and the alienated world). Only one appears at a time. These worlds categorically exclude the normal world, and they exclude each other. Each of them has a clear, unique correspondence with a place in your body, which is taken to another energy level, and receives instantaneous replenishment, rejuvenation and warming. »i

The human body has several specific points, which are nodes of passage, zones of convergence. At these points special bridges are initiated, connecting to these four worlds.

This is not here a question of shakra. The poet is elsewhere, dilated, honest, entrenched. He does not orientalize, he does not indianize. He pays with his person, takes risks, and puts himself in danger.

Michaux took drugs like a taxi.

How can you visit the stars when the meter’s running?

How to do what has never been done, how to know what has never been learned, how to tell what can’t be told?

It’s not given to everyone.

But Michaux knew. He knew how to keep a cool head when the brain melts.

Michaux goes, far, high, and he always comes back, from his tours in the turbulent, from his jaunts in the dilated, the incompressible. Others would have perished, gone mad. But not him. He thickens his blood, marks his tracks, accumulates a whole memory, which he comes to put down on paper.

Laying it down? With the hurricane?

« There are still two other « beyond », equally exclusive, closed, where one only enters thanks to a kind of cyclone, and to arrive at a world that is itself a cyclone, but the centre of a cyclone, where it is liveable and where even it is Life par excellence. You get there by transport, by trance. »ii

The cyclone: a weather phenomenon whose characteristic is the whirlwind.

Life: an organic phenomenon whose image is the spiral, popularized by DNA and kundalini.

Trance: a psychological phenomenon whose trajectory is the parabola, or perhaps the ellipse. These mathematical figures are indeed figures of speech.

But what is trance itself the figure of?

Trance is probably a figure of tension towards transcendence; a tense pole, an extended life, a wisdom heard.

« The insignificance of the constructions of the mind appears. Contemplation without mixture. One no longer thinks about affiliations, designations, determinations, one does without them; the wind has passed over them, a psychic wind that undoes them before they are born, before determinations, categories are born. »iii

It is sarcastic finding about the impotence of the mind. The mind is meaningless in its turns, detours and categories.

Weather report again: a « wind » passes over, undoing what has not yet been born. In exchange, without mixing, « contemplation ».

Undoing rather than doing, the poet’s lot on the hunt.

« Every man is a « yes » with many « no ». After the unheard-of and in some way unnatural acceptances, one must expect returns of « no », while something continues to act, which cannot be erased, nor can it go back, living on the sly of the Unforgettable. Ongoing evolution… »iv

Man is a « yes » with « no », – and maybe with « maybe ». But surely he is something else again, which neither « yes » nor « no » can grasp, and « perhaps » even less so. It is that « something » that continues to act. That « something » that is stolen, that is forgotten, that is alive.

Pieces of black diamonds, placed on the white sheet of paper, vibrate in variations, with colours and shadows.

One can live through a trance alone. But many can think in shared dreams.

iHenri Michaux Les Grandes Épreuves de l’Esprit. Gallimard, Paris, 1986.

iiIbid.

iiiIbid.

ivIbid.

The True Insider


We can rely on Michaux, he won’t give in. He’s resisting.

He has a plastic soul. The afterlife appears to him, disappears, then reappears, – he reports.

He knows a lot about the afterlife. Appeared, bearing, acute, powerful, acid, placid, allied, folded, ridden day and night, brushing against the abysses, eluding the peaks.

On returning, for a long time we look for an image, an echo. We never find it, to tell the truth. But tracks open up, in obscure verses, in tense words, in opaque silences, in heard allusions.

Decades go by. By ricochet, I perceive a faint voice perhaps, a resonance in a few lines of Michaux.

« For the girl from the mountain

secret, reserved

the apparition was a person,

a goddess? »

He then gives a straight answer to his own question:

« especially light,

only light

as light it remained ».i

The next verse makes another string sing.

« Simultaneously

as the soil on the slopes of an erupting volcano is torn away…

the general unclipping inside and around it took place.

singular entrenchment, unknown

incomparable

……….. »

The suspension points in the text are original. But why this unusual word: ‘unclipping’?

From some obsolete corset, does it evoke strapped breasts that are suddenly released? How to apply this word inside the soul?

The poet takes his risk. He tells what he may not have seen, but has guessed. He goes down narrow paths, he the celebrated poet, turning his back on the Paris of avenues, of lights. He even dares to use capital letters:

« In the young and pure face, the initiated gaze…

Mirror of Knowledge

contemplation of the True, ignored by others. »ii

The True! Knowledge! Mirror ! No wonder Sartre and sarcastic others ignored him royally, that Michaux.

Today, there’s so much inaudibility that everything is so unpredictable. That’s what we can no longer expect, – the predictable, the True! Knowledge!

Luckily Michaux still talks to us about the True, as a true Insider.

iHenri Michaux. Text dedicated to Lokenath Bhattacharya. Gallimard, Paris, 1986.

iiIbid.

Outside Neuroscience


« The divine in the heart of man! Summon him, it exists. Abandon it, it disappears. »i

This is a very old idea. It’s found in Mencius(孟子), and also in Confucius (孔夫子).

In Chinese, the word for « divine » is 神, shen. This word can also mean “soul, spirit, mysterious, alive”, and is also used to designate God. « Heart » is 心, xīn. It is a “radical”. A “root” sign. An ancient “key” for the writing system. For unlearned eyes: 心 represents three tears around a blade. Or three showers in the mountain. Or three gushing drops.

The heart 心 is liquid. It melts into the divine 神. The divine 神 swims, frolics in the heart心.

By « summoning » 神, man has the power to make 神 « exist ». Man then stands at the border between heaven and earth, and he can bridge the gap – according to the wise man.

Yang Xiong, in a compact, incomparable style, explains:

« The question is about the divine 神.

– The heart – 心.

– What do you mean?

– Immersing itself in the sky, it becomes heaven. If it is immersed in the earth, it becomes earth. Heaven and earth are unfathomable, divine clarity, and yet the heart plunges into them as if it is going to probe them. »ii

What is « heart », then?

An explanation is given in Taixuan (« Great Mystery »), in a commentary on the tetragram « Feed ». « The heart hidden in the depths, beauty of the sacred root. Divination: the heart hidden in the depths, the divine is not elsewhere. »iii

This sort of insight comes from quite ancient times.

Nowadays, neuroscience, which prides itself on asking the question of the origin of consciousness, talks about the “brain”. Never about the “heart”. And about the brain, neuroscience is interested in its « inside », never its « outside ».

« While working on the brain, I discovered that contemporary biology challenges us to develop a new approach to meaning that never breaks with matter and thus offers precisely no outside. »iv

Catherine Malabou claims to be a materialistic philosopher, and proudly asserts herself as one of the few « professional philosophers » interested in neuroscience. Hence a slightly arrogant tone:

« The brain is the organ of the senses, since all cognitive operations originate in it. I aim at the impossibility of transgressing biological matter.”v

The impossibility of “transgression” is total, absolute. It leads logically to “the impossibility to make a distinction between biological and spiritual life.”vi

Then, for neuroscience, nowadays, the wisdom of the prophets, the dream of Jacob, the visions of Dante, the inspiration of the poets, the intuitions of the greatest scientists, are only biological artifacts, made possible by a few synapses assembled by chance, transmitting arbitrary sparks, emanating from neuronal cells, suitably arranged.

God, art, love, alpha and omega, all of these originate in « biological matter » according to the new catechism of neuroscience.

One day this new dogma may be refuted, by new findings from fundamental research.

For the time being, let us evoke, against « the impossibility of transgressing biological matter », another paradigm: the possibility of spiritually connecting our own brain, and potentially all brains, to the transcendental world, the one that people like Abraham, Moses, Confucius, Plato, have had the opportunity to take a glimpse of.

This hypothesis deserves to be studied in depth. It even has already a name: the « theory of transmission », proposed by William Jamesvii. The brain is not only an organ of thought production. It is also an organ of « transmission », through which we are all linked to the transcendental world. In transmission theory, ideas do not necessarily have to be produced, they already exist in the transcendental world. All that is needed to perceive them is an unusual lowering of the threshold of sensitivity of the brain, to let them pass and reach our consciousness.viii

The materialist paradigm, hyper-dominant nowadays in neuroscience and in the philosophies that blindly follow this trend, is based on the assumption that the brain is hermetically sealed in on itself, and that nothing ever reaches it from « outside », except physical “sensations” of course. Never the slightest idea or intuition, never any dream or vision, coming from outside the brain, can interrupt the internal soliloquies fomented by its myriad synapses.

In reality, other paradigms than the materialist one are possible.

For example, the brain may indeed « produce » thoughts by itself, but it may also receive, bursting in from « outside », dreams and images, flashes of light, intuitions and revelations.

This, I believe, is what will (paradoxically) make AI the greatest metaphysical adventure of humanity. AI is like the caravels of Columbus. While really missing Indies, AI will allow us to discover some abstract paths to synthetic and improbable Americas, non-biological worlds, only accessible to the internal logic of searching paradigms…

By analogy, we may then start to give credit to our own over-sensitive brain, potentially able to explore the immense world that only the heart 心 can sense.

iYang Xiong , Fayan (« Master Words»). Chap. 5, « Questions about the divine ».

iiYang Xiong , Fayan (« Master Words»). Chap. 5, « Questions about the divine ».

iiiYang Xiong (53 BC – 18 AD).Taixuan, 太玄 (« Great Mystery »)

ivCatherine Malabou. Que faire de notre cerveau ? Bayard, Paris 2011, p.31

vIbid.p.31

viIbid.p.33

viiWilliam James. Human Immortality : Two Supposed Objections to the Doctrine. The Ingersoll Lecture, 1897

viiiIbid. « On the transmission-theory, they [the ideas] don’t have to be ‘produced,’ — they exist ready-made in the transcendental world, and all that is needed is an abnormal lowering of the brain-threshold to let them through. » 

The “Seer” and the “Hearer”


Philo of Alexandria lived two thousand years ago, at the center of a dense web of exchanges and ideas, in a city where Africa, Asia and Europe meet. He is the author of a scholarly, hybrid and, according to him, inspired work.

« Sometimes I would come to work as if I were empty, and suddenly I was full, ideas would fall invisible from the heavens, spread out inside me like a shower. Under this divine inspiration, I was so excited that I no longer recognized anything, neither the place where I was, nor those who were there, nor what I was saying or writing. But on the other hand I was in full awareness of the richness of interpretation, the joy of light, of very penetrating views, of the most manifest energy in everything that had to be done, and all this had as much effect on me as the clearest eye evidence would have had on my eyes. »i

You either see or you don’t. The seer sees.

In the old days in Israel, when people went to consult God, they said, « Come, let us go to the seer. For he who is called the prophet today was once called the seer. « (1 Sam 9:9).

The “seer”. הָרֹאֶה . Ha-ro’eh.

After his fight in the dark night, without seeing his opponent, Jacob wanted to hear the name of the one he was fighting, or at least the sound of his voice. The ear, allied with the eye. Hearing united with seeing. But no name was revealed to him except his own. It was his own name, his real name, that he then learned. Only then, presumably, he « saw » after he « heard ».

Through the wisdom contained in his name, he was finally able to « see ». See what?

« It is necessary to make you emigrate, in search of your father’s land, the land of the sacred word, the land of the father of those who practice virtue. This land is wisdom. »ii

Wisdom is a land, which is a light, – a light that sees, a light that sees itself, a light that sees us. It is splendour. The sun is a very weak metaphor for it.

Above all, like the sun, wisdom brings life.

Philo, the wise Alexandrian, wanted to « see », like the ancients:

« If the voice of mortals is addressed to the ear, the oracles tell us that the words of God are, like light, things ‘seen’. It is said, ‘All the People saw the voice’ (Ex. 20:15) instead of ‘heard the voice’. For indeed there was no shaking of the air due to the organs of the mouth and tongue; there was the splendour of virtue, identical to the source of reason. The same revelation is found in this other form: ‘You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven’ (Ex. 20:18), instead of ‘you have heard’, always for the same reason. There are occasions when Moses distinguishes between what is heard and what is seen, hearing and sight. ‘You heard the sound of words, and saw no form but a voice’ (Deut. 4:12). »iii

Seeing the voice! Seeing the word! Rather than « hearing it »…

The senses are not separate. They are together. The taste is tasted and the sight is illuminated. We admire the robe of the grand cru, we smell its bouquet before savouring it. The touch, the caresses, you can enjoy them with your eyes closed, and seeing the hand magnifies them, afterward, as a bonus.

Seeing ‘voices’, hearing their roar or their sweetness, tasting their gall or their honey, feeling their breath, their air.

But what about the divine Voice? Does it have a smell? A taste? Does it touch or graze?

If we are to believe Tradition, only the splendour of the Voice seemed to be revealed – and for the People, it was inaudible. It was only visible.

One may « see » the Voice. And when one has « seen » it, the most difficult thing remains: « hearing » it.

iPhilo, De migratione Abrahami, 35

iiDe migr. Abr., 28

iiiDe Migr. Abr., 47

Jacob and the Black Seraphim


Just hours before he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to his death in Drancy, Max Jacob wrote « The Spring ». Here is my tentative translation:

“In front of this golden dust of the sun, on the horizon of the plain, in front of this silver dust of the willows around the marshes, in front of this buzzing of different insects, cut by the jack dominated by the horror of an airplane, in front of this dust of sporadic flowers, the crow folds up its voluptuous velvet and silk wings, gathers, greets deeply and looking in its chest for the pelican cry which was that of the dying Christ. And I, letting my head roll in tears, crying with joy in my elbow, as a gnome and a crippled old man, I cry out: ‘My God, I am a pantheist and you are unspeakable’. »

The dust may be a testimony to the unity of the world. The voluptuousness of the velvet incites contemplation. The cry of the pelican and the cry of Christ are drowned in terror. It is war. Max Jacob, alias Leon David, alias Morven the Gaelic, converted to Christianity, and wearing the Jewish star, crippled and pantheistic, gave himself over to tears and joy.

In the Middle Ages the pelican was a symbol of Christian sacrifice. Many writers and poets have borrowed and exhausted this metaphor.

Lautréamont: « When the savage pelican resolves to give his breast to be devoured by his young, having as his witness only the one who knew how to create such love, in order to shame men, even though the sacrifice is great, this act is understandable » (Songs of Maldororor, 1869).

Léon Bloy: « Each one of us is saved by the redeeming pelican who can save even notaries! But he saves you very-particularly, because the heart of Jesus needed a painter and no painter came forward. By dint of love and faith, you have been judged worthy to glimpse the red pelican, the pelican that bleeds for his little ones » (Diary, 1906).

Wikipedia says, more technically: « The pelican is usually silent, but in nesting colonies, chicks will throw plaintive growls to ask for food. Adults may emit hoarse cries during courtship. »

The nailed Christ, hanging by his outstretched arms, his suffocating chest, close to asphyxiation, must not have shouted very loudly. Was his moan « plaintive » or « hoarse »?

Ornithology can hardly help here.

The poet’s images, their rhizomes, proliferate and interfere, generation after generation, like memories and prophecies.

Alfred de Musset:

« The most desperate are the most beautiful songs,

And I know some immortals who are pure sobs.

When the pelican, tired of a long journey,

In the fog of the evening returns to his reeds,

His hungry little ones run ashore,

As they watched him fall over the water in the distance…

Already, believing to seize and share their prey,

They run to their father with cries of joy,

Shaking their beaks on their hideous goiter.

He, taking slow steps over a high rock,

From its wing hanging down, sheltering its brood,

A melancholy fisherman, he looks up to the heavens.

Blood flows in long streams from his open chest;

In vain he has of the seas searched the depths;

The ocean was empty and the beach deserted;

For all food he brings his heart.

Dark and silent, lying on the stone,

Sharing his fatherly insides with his sons,

In his sublime love he cradles his pain;

And, watching his bloody teat flow,

On his feast of death he collapses and staggers,

Drunk with lust, tenderness and horror.

But sometimes, in the midst of the divine sacrifice,

Tired of dying in too much agony,

He’s afraid his children will leave him alive;

So he rises up, opens his wing to the wind,

And, hitting his heart with a wild cry,

He pushes into the night such a funeral farewell,

That the birds of the sea desert the shore,

And that the retarded traveler on the beach,

Feeling the passing of death, commends himself to God. »

(The muse)

The pelican offers his flesh for its brood in a kind of a Christic, final sacrifice and utters a « wild cry ».

Musset is a poet, and by anticipation, he foresees the sure end of poets, who are also some sort of pelicans:

« Poet, this is how the great poets do it…

They let those who live for a time cheer themselves up;

But the human feasts they serve at their feasts…

Most of them look like pelicans. »

The poet Jacob the Gaelic also had a foreboding of the end, which was near.

Those who seized him were not black seraphim.

Knowing Women


Adam « knew » Eve, and she conceived Cain, then Abel and Seth. But the Bible never says that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Moses « knew » their wives, notes Philo of Alexandria. Why not? Was it out of prudishness?

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses were wise men. But, according to Philo, the « woman » can be understood as an image that represents the senses, the sensations. For a wise man, « knowing the woman » may be interpreted, counter-intuitively, as the capacity to put sensations at a distance. Lovers of wisdom and those who seek true knowledge must “repudiate” their senses, not to succumb to their seductions. To truly « know », one must « know » the senses, not to be satisfied with them, but to question them, to put them at a distance.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses have their « virtues » for « wife ». Sarah, Abraham’s wife, is « princess and guide », Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, embodies « perseverance », according to Philo. Jacob’s wife, Leah, represents « the virtue of endurance » and Sipporah, Moses’ wife, is the image of « the virtue that ascends from earth to heaven ».

Let’s take the reasoning a little further. Can we then say that these wise men « knew » their « virtue »?

Can the metaphor of intimate, conjugal union be spun in this context? Philo considers this point and warns that he can only address himself to true initiates on this subject, because the mysteries in question are the « most sacred ».i

The union of a man and a woman obeys the laws of nature, and tends to the generation of children. But it is not in accordance with the order of things that the “virtue”, which can give rise to so many perfections, can be united to a human husband, a mere mortal. Then who can unite with Virtue, in order to impregnate her? – Only the Father of the universe, the uncreated God, says Philo, can give her His seed. Only God conceives and begets with Virtue. Virtue receives the divine seed of the Cause of all things, and begets a child that she presents to the one of her lovers who deserves it most.

Another analogy can be used, says Philo. Thus the most wise Isaac addressed his prayers to God, and Rebekah, who is « perseverance », was made pregnant by the one who received this prayer. On the other hand, Moses who had received Sipporah, « winged and sublime virtue », found that she had conceived from no mortal, without the need of any prior prayer.

Here we reach difficult terrain. These « mysteries », Philo insists again, can only be received by purified, initiated souls. They cannot be shared with the uninitiated. Philo himself was initiated into these higher mysteries by the teachings of Moses and Jeremiah, he reveals.

Philo quotes a verse from Jeremiah, to whom God spoke in these terms: « Did you not call me ‘father’ and ‘husband of your virginity’? ». In fact, nowhere in Jeremiah is this expression found literally. But in Jeremiah 3:4 there is something similar, though much less direct and much less metaphorical: « You cry out to me, ‘O my father, you are the guide of my youth’. « 

Philo seems to have transformed the original expression of Jeremiah (« the guide of my youth ») into a more elevated formula (« the husband of my virginity »). For Philo, Jeremiah thus shows that « God is the incorporeal abode of Ideas, the Father of all things, inasmuch as He created them, and the Bridegroom of Wisdom, inseminating the seed of happiness in good and virgin land for the benefit of the human race ».ii

God can converse only with a good and virgin nature. Hence this reversal: « Men, with the intention of procreating, make a virgin a woman. But God, when He associates with a soul, because she was a woman, He makes her a virgin again. »iii

iCherubim, 42

iiIbid.

iiiIbid.

Many Names and One God


Some say that God is infinitely distant, totally incomprehensible, absolutely different from anything human minds can conceive. So much so, in fact, that this God might just as well not « exist » in the sense that we understand « existence » and its various modalities.

Others think that God creates, speaks, justifies, gratifies, condemns, punishes, saves, in short actually interacts, in various ways, with the world and with human beings.

At first glance, these two lines of thought are contradictory, incompatible.

But there is yet another hypothesis: the possibility of a God who is at once infinitely distant, incomprehensible, and at the same time close to men, speaking to them in their language.

Some texts describe forms of interaction between God and man. In the Book of Exodus, for example, God says to Moses:

« There I will meet thee, and I will speak with thee from the mercy seat between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the Testimony, and I will give thee my commandments for the children of Israel. « (Ex. 25:22)

How can we justify the use of these words: « from », « upon », « between »? Are they not, inasmuch as they indicate positions and places, rather strange for a divine Spirit, who is supposed to be disembodied?

According to Philo of Alexandriai, God thus indicates that He is « above » grace, « above » the powers symbolized by the cherubim, i.e. the power to create and the power to judge. The Divine « speaks » by occupying an intermediate place, in the middle of the ark. The Divine fills this space and leaves nothing empty. God mediates and arbitrates, placing Himself between the sides of the ark that seemed separated, bringing them friendship and harmony, community and peace.

The Ark, the Cherubim, and the Word (or Logos) must be considered together as a whole.

Philo explains: « First, there is the One who is First – even before the One, the Monad, or the Principle. Then there is the Divine Word (the Logos), which is the true seminal substance of all that exists. And from the divine Word flow as from a source, dividing, two powers. One is the power of creation, by which everything was created. It is called « God ». And there is the royal power, by which the Creator governs all things. It is called « Lord ». From these two powers flow all the others. (…) Below these powers is the Ark, which is the symbol of the intelligible world, and which symbolically contains all the things that are in the innermost sanctuary, namely, the incorporeal world, the « testimonies, » the legislative and punitive powers, the propitiatory and beneficent powers, and above them, the royal and creative power that are their sources.

But between them also appears the divine Word (the Logos), and above the Word, the Speaker. And so seven things are enumerated, namely, the intelligible world, then above it, the two powers, punitive and benevolent, then the powers that precede them, creative and royal, closer to the Creator than to what He creates. Above, the sixth, which is the Word. The seventh is the Speaker.»ii

The multiplication of the names of God, of His attributes or His « emanations », is attested to in the text of Exodus just quoted, and is confirmed by Philo’s interpretation.

The idea of a One God to whom multiple names are given (a « God myrionymous », i.e. God « with a thousand names ») was also familiar to the Stoics, as it was to the followers of the cult of Isis or to the followers of the Orphic cults. Among the Greeks, God is at the same time Zeus, the Noos, or « the one with many and diverse names », πολλαίϛ τε έτεραις όνομασιαϛ.

We also find this practice, multiplied beyond all measure, in the Veda.

For example, Agnî has been called by the following names: “God of Fire”. “Messenger of the Gods”. “Guardian of the domestic hearth”. “His mouth receives the offering”. “He purifies, provides abundance and vigour”. “Always young”. “His greatness is boundless”. “He sustains and protects man”. “He has four eyes”. “He has a thousand eyes”. “He transmits the offering to the Gods with his tongue”. “He is the Head of the sky and the umbilicus of the Earth”. “He surpasses all the Gods”. “His child is his rays”. “He had a triple birth”. “He has three abodes”. “He arranges the seasons, he is the son of the waters”. “He produces his own mothers”. “He is called the Benefactor”. “He is born by Night and Dawn in turn”. “He is the son of strength and effort”. “He is the Mortal God ». “Called Archer”. “Identified with Indra, Vishnu, Varuna, Aryaman, Tvachtri”. “His splendor is threefold”. “He knows all the hidden treasures and uncovers them for us”. “He is present everywhere”. “His friendship delights the Gods, everything animate or inanimate”. “He is in the home of the singer, priest and prophet”. “He is in heaven and on earth”. “He is invoked before all the Gods”.

Both the God of Moses and the God Agnî have one thing in common: they have many names. No matter how many, in fact. What is important is that these two Gods, who are both ‘unique’, do not have just one single name. Why is that?

Perhaps no single word, no (however sacred) language, is worthy of bearing the name of God. No spirit, either, is deemed worthy to think about God only through His (many) attributes.

iPhilo. Q.E. II, 68

iiPhilo. Q.E. II, 68

The Evanescence of Wisdom


Ancient ideas will still live on for a long time to come. For centuries, for millennia. But the daily traffic of billions of Internet users, what will remain of it in four thousand years?

People have always been eager to communicate their myths, to transmit their dreams, to share their intuitions. These ideas, these forces, are not those of empires and kingdoms. But they have made it possible to build worlds, to bring movements to life, capable of traversing the history of the centuries.

For a long time to come, ideas will still connect people, as they once did.

Megasthenes went to India in the 4th century B.C. to represent King Seleucus I Nicator, – successor of Alexander the Great. In the third book of his Indica, the Greek ambassador stated: “Really all that our ancients have said about nature is also said by philosophers foreign to Greece, either in India by the Brahmans or in Syria by those called the Jews.”i

Wasn’t that already a ‘globalization’ going on? The obvious recognition of a world wide community of concern? Far from suffering from distance, it was religious and philosophical ideas that traveled the farthest, across borders and languages, systems and prejudices, in these times of openness to all sides.

Eusebius also recalls Numenius of Apamea, who wrote: “After quoting Plato’s testimonies, it will be necessary to go back further and link them to the teachings of Pythagoras, and then appeal to the peoples of renown, conferring their initiations, their dogmas, the religious foundations which they accomplish in agreement with Plato, and all that the Brahmins, the Jews, the Magi and the Egyptians have established.”ii

It is a testimony that India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Israel, and Egypt, together with Greece, were then a fertile arc of thoughts and dreams, an immense, luminous, flow of genius at work.

Megasthenes and Numenius testified to the natural possibility of human minds to correspond, to provide each other with signals, ladders, guides and relays.

The 21st century therefore has no real lesson to teach in this matter. It has electrified and digitalized globalization, making it quasi-immediate, but at the same time quite superficial. We know « in real time » the stock market prices in Shanghai, Frankfurt and New York, as well as the number of corpses found after terrorist attacks and earthquakes. But we know less about the initiation of peoples, their way of evolution, their cultural foundations. Torrents of superfluous details abound. But where are the great visions, the profound prophecies staged?

Porphyry, a good analyst, is quite critical of the capacity of peoples in general. Some of them discover, some other just stray. « The oracle of Apollo has said: Chained with a bronze chain is the steep and arduous road that leads to the Gods; the Barbarians have discovered many paths, but the Greeks went astray; those who barely had it lost it; and the God gave the honor of discoveries to the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Chaldeans, the Assyrians, the Lydians, and the Hebrews.”iii

Porphyry, a neo-Platonic philosopher of the 3rd century AD, recognized the intellectual and spiritual brotherhood of the peoples who lived in these lands, today called Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran. They shared a common march on the « steep and arduous road that leads to the Gods ».

But the Greeks got lost along the way.

Porphyry adds: « Furthermore, Apollo said in another oracle: To the Chaldeans alone is wisdom, and also to the Hebrews, who are holy worshippers of the God-King born of Himself.»iv

Religion is not enough to successfully take the steep and arduous road that leads to the Gods. It must also be done with « wisdom ». The Chaldeans and the Hebrews were the custodians of it, then.

But today, where are the peoples who speak « wisely » in the name of the « God-King born of Himself »?

iQuoted by par Eusebius of Caesarea. Prep. Ev., Book XI

iiIbid.

iiiPorphyry. Philosophie tirée des Oracles (Livre I)

ivIbid.

One Day, Death Will Die


Mocking, John Donne provokes Deathi. He wants to humiliate, crush, annihilate her. He absolutely reverses the roles. He’s the one who’s holding the scythe now. In a few precise sentences, he reaps death and war, poison and disease. Death is nothing more than a slave subject to fate and chance, power and despair; she is chained, and there are far better sleepers than her, opiates or dreamers.

At the moment when death, the « poor death », believes it has conquered, only a short sleep separates us from eternity. Metaphysical pirouette. Great leap of the angel to the nose of nothingness.

The last line of the Sonnet reads « And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.”

This line reminds us of Paul’s formula: « O Death, where is thy victory? »ii.

Paul’s formula itself evokes that of the prophet Hosea when he pronounced curses against Ephraim and the idolaters of Judah: « And I will deliver them from the power of Sheol? And I will deliver them from death? O death, where is your pestilence? Sheol, where is your destruction? »iii

There is, however, an important nuance between Paul and Hosea. Hosea called Death and the power of Sheol over guilty men. Paul announces the annihilation of Death itself.

In this Paul does not innovate. He refers to Isaiah, when Isaiah said: « Yahweh has put an end to death forever. »iv

Isaiah, Hosea, Paul, Donne, through the centuries, share the same idea. One day, Death will die one day. No doubt, death will die.

Who better than a prophet, an apostle, a poet, can take a firm stand on this ultimate issue?

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, Holy Sonnets, X

ii 1 Cor. 15.55

iii Hos. 13,14

iv Is. 25,8

Über-utopia


The spirits of the people have each their own truth, said Hegel. Each people has its role to play, at a given moment in history, and precisely at that moment. After that, they experience decadence and fall, preparing « the passage of the spirit into a new principle, and of universal history into another people.”i.

Hegel distinguishes four epochs, which present various degrees of the incarnation of the spirit of the world, various states of its self-awarenessii.

The first period corresponds to the apogee of the Eastern Empire. The government is a theocracy, the ruler is a supreme priest or a God, legislation comes from religion, and « the individual personality disappears without rights. In this context, the spirit is known as « substance », as « identity », in which individualities are lost. Individuals have no justification as such.

The second epoch corresponds to the Greek Empire, where « a mysterious basis, repressed in a dark reminiscence, in the dark depth of tradition » and an individual spirituality coexist, which « arises in the light of knowledge, becomes measure and clarity through beauty and through free and cheerful morality ». The spirit acquires knowledge of itself, a positive content, which allows the birth of a moral, objective individuality.

The third moment is that of the Roman Empire, where « the separation of private personal consciousness from abstract universality” is accomplished to the point of tearing it apart. t is the moment of the cold and greedy violence of the aristocracy, the corruption of the plebs, the dissolution of society, the universal misfortune and the death of moral life.

Consciousness deepens to an abstract universality, and then contradicts the objectivity of the world deserted by the spirit.

The last epoch is that of the Germanic Empire, where the principle of the unity of the divine and human natures is realized. It is the Nordic principle of the Germanic peoples that has the task of achieving this unity. The contradiction between consciousness and objectivity is resolved. Consciousness is ready to « receive within itself its concrete truth », and to « reconcile itself with objectivity and settle into it ». The mind returns to its primary substance, it knows itself as truth, as thought and as legal reality.

The mission of the German Empire is to overthrow previous empires. It must bring the spirit out of the loss of self, out of the infinite suffering that results from it, « suffering to serve as a support to which the Israelite people were kept ready. »

With the hindsight of history, which judges it differently from philosophy, we can see that Hegel was mistaken about the mission of the « Germanic empire ». This empire did not put an end to the suffering of the universe, nor to that of the « Israelite people ».

We also know that other empires than the Germanic one have settled down today in history. The Soviet and American empires may have believed their time had come at different times in the 20th century. Ephemeral victories, in battles à la Pyrrhus.

What will the next empire be able to meet the Hegelian challenges?

What empire will tomorrow be able to unify the divine and human natures, to put an end to the loss of oneself, to put an end to infinite suffering?

Perhaps it is in fact Hegel’s moment that has passed? Perhaps the dream of uniting the divine and the human, or of putting an end to suffering, has no chance of coming true?

If we bet on Hegel’s prophetic genius, we can try to imagine a thousand-year-old über-empire that will be able to meet these challenges.

The über-empire will be globalized, decentralized, self-organized, self-regulated. Capable of imposing a global über-tax, a system of über-social protection and a guaranteed über-income for all, this new empire will allow freedom of movement and living anywhere on earth. No borders, no passports (replaced by facial recognition). End of all wars (guaranteed by a global security force with all the necessary means). Global labour regime, based on a principle of strict equality across the planet. A system of über-political elections at all levels (local, regional, global), which will elect the « wise men » responsible for guaranteeing the forms of self-regulation necessary in the long term.

The über-empire is undoubtedly a utopia, but not so much more than Hegel’s « German Empire ».

I would even say that it is much less utopian, because one day, as is obvious, in a hundred, a thousand or ten thousand years, it will make itself, in a shrunken planet, asphyxiated by the untenable egoisms of dysfunctional nations.

The European experience shows what does not work in dreams of federal integration. It also shows what needs to be corrected in the institutions. And one day über-Europe will extend to über-Eurasia, when Russia has been civilised and China decentralised … Then the other hemisphere will come around…

There will still be a long way to go before the union of the divine and human natures is achieved. But if we take even one single step to reduce the « infinite suffering » of the peoples of the world, will we not have made a giant leap toward an über-utopia?

iElements of the Philosophy of Right. § 347

iiElements of the Philosophy of Right § 347

The Pope – a Chinese Woman


In his latest book, L’Avenir de Dieu (‘God’s Future’), Jean Delumeau writes that the aggiornamento of the Church will not really be realized until the day the pope is a Chinese woman, married to a black man.

The idea may seem pungent. One day perhaps, Delumeau’s prediction will come true. The Church will then have shown visible signs of its potential universality. But why stop there?

To achieve universality, it would be probably more effective to unite all the world faiths, to synthesize their dogmas, to resolve their millennial schisms, to dissolve the reasons of their incompatibilities, to exclude their exclusions, and for each one of them to recognize their own flaws and errors. More than anything else, it will be necessary for them to prove that universal religions are in a capacity to bring effective peace to the world, to guarantee justice, to put a veil of goodness and benevolence over humankind.

Without goodness, justice and equity, religion is nothing but farce, hypocrisy, talk of clouds.

A « Chinese woman » who became pope would embody a great symbolic leap, no doubt, but the road is long. We will have to walk longer than the time of one leap.

Why did YHVH Attack Moses, Seeking to Kill him?


“The LORD met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a flint, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet; and she said: ‘Surely a bridegroom of blood art thou to me’. So He let him alone. Then she said: ‘A bridegroom of blood in regard of the circumcision’.”i

This text is off-putting, disjointed, enigmatic and raises many questions.

For example, is Zipporah addressing her son or her husband when she pronounces these words: « You are for me a bridegroom of blood »? Both interpretations are possible, and both have been defended by learned commentators.

According to some, Zipporah has just circumcised her son and she calls him « blood husband » because he is bleeding.

According to others, Moses neglected to circumcise his child, which is why God « attacked him » and « sought to kill him”. When Moses was close to death, Zipporah called him « blood husband, » because she had saved him with her son’s blood.

The first interpretation is preferred by the majority of commentators. But it poses a problem. One could ask whether Zipporah is operating a kind of symbolic incest. The mother calls her son twice: « blood husband » and « blood husband because of circumcision ». There would undoubtedly be there, for psychoanalysis, a form of symmetry with the true husband, Moses, who made Zipporah bleed « because of » her defloration.

Moses tore Zipporah’s hymen, as a husband of flesh. Zipporah cut off Eliezer’s foreskin, as a « husband of blood ». A symbolic parallel, heavy with analytical consequences, but also a saving act. Just after Zipporah cut off the foreskin, YHVH released Moses, and it is then that Zipporah clarified: « A husband of blood because of circumcision. »

But why would Zipporah feel the need to « touch » the feet of her son Eliezer with her foreskin?

The second interpretation is perhaps deeper. Zipporah saves her husband’s life by circumcising her son Eliezer in a hurry, while YHVH (or his angel) is about to kill Moses. Then she touches « his feet » with her foreskin. Whose feet? In the second interpretation, they are the « feet » of Moses, and it is to him that she addresses herself. But why the “feet”? Why touch the feet of Moses with his son’s foreskin?

In biblical Hebrew, “feet” are a metaphor often used to signify sex, as in Isaiah 7:20: « He shall shave the head and the hair of the feet ». Zipporah touched the sex of Moses with his son’s foreskin and said to him: « You are a blood husband to me », because it was also his blood that flowed, with the blood of his son. Circumcision is the figure of a new marriage, not with the son (which would be incest), but with Moses, and this in a symbolic sense, the sense of the Covenant, which is physically concluded in the blood of both spouses, as they are united by the blood of Eliezer.

In other words, Zipporah saved the life of Moses (who was uncircumcised) by simulating his circumcision. She touches the sex of Moses with the foreskin of her son, who has just been circumcised, and thus appeases the divine wrath, which was twofold: because the father and the son had not yet been circumcised.

At that very moment, YHVH « let him [Moses] alone ». This translation does not render the richness of the original Hebrew word. The verb used, rafah, has as its first meaning « to heal »; in a second sense, it means « to decline, to weaken, to desist, to release ». Healing is a weakening of the disease. It is worth noting this double meaning. YHVH « releases » Moses, « desists » from him, and thus He « heals » him. He « heals » Moses of his capital fault, and he also « heals » the child who is bleeding, and who might have died as a result of the operation, carried out with a stone in the middle of the desert, without much hygiene, and in an emergency.

There is yet another angle to this story.

Rachi comments: « He deserved to die because of this negligence. A Baraïta teaches us: Rabbi Yosef said: God forbid, Moses was not guilty of negligence. But he thought, « Shall I circumcise the child and set off? Will the child be in danger for three days? Shall I circumcise the child and wait three days? Yet the Holy One Blessed be He, who commanded me: Go, return to Egypt. Why then should he deserve death? Because he had first taken care of his bed at the stage instead of circumcising him without delay. The Talmud in the Nedarim Treaty (32a) says that the angel took the form of a snake, and swallowed him starting from the head to the hips, then rejected him and swallowed him again starting from the feet to the place in question. That’s how Zipporah understood that it was because of the circumcision. »

Rashi presents Moses in the throes of procrastination. Which of God’s commandments should be obeyed first: that of returning to Egypt, or that of circumcising his son? He falls into the fault when he does not immediately take care of the circumcision. But the Nedarim Treaty goes further. It evokes Moses swallowed by a snake. The snake starts at the head and stops at the hips (at the sex), then spits him out and starts again by swallowing him, starting by the feet.

Let’s try our own interpretation.

One can speculate that this « snake » metaphorically represents disease. Moses, uncircumcised, may have been the victim of a genital infection, which resulted in high fevers, with pain extending to the sex. Then, after a remission, the infection would start again from the « feet » (the sex). The kind of fellatio performed by the « snake » is a rather crude metaphor, but « biblical » after all. In any case, the Talmudists thought about it allusively, and felt that this was how Zipporah understood what she had to do.

But if Moses had a genital infection, why did Zipporah operate on her son’s sex rather than on Moses’?

As an unrepentant rationalist, I shall attempt a medical explanation.

Zipporah touched her husband’s sex with her son’s bloody foreskin. The son’s blood contained antibodies, which cured Moses’ genital infection.

Quite a rational solution. Yet it was a (rather irrational) angel who suggested it to Zipporah…

iEx. 4, 24-26

The solitary passer-by


The poet sees the variations, and feels the permanence. The spirit lives by chance and necessity. The one and the other meet sometimes, unexpectedly. On a street corner, often, here or elsewhere. In Russia or India.

« Nothing in all Russian literature equals these lines by Nekrassov: ‘Walking at night in the dark streets, Lonely Friend’, » writes Vasily Rozanov in Solitaria.

Is this comment a simple exercise in admiration? Or is it an open door to a metaphysical world? Who is this « Lonely Friend »? Why do these lines transcend all the rest of Russian literature?

And would the following lines by Rabindranath Tagore also transcend all Indian literature?

« In this deserted street, you are the lonely passer-by.

O my only friend, my old beloved,

The doors of my home are open –

Don’t disappear like a dream.»i

These two texts are different, it goes without saying, but they emanate the same perfume, the same three words: street, solitary, friend.

These words are somewhat opposed. The street is public, and one passes through it, often rapidly, in anonymity or indifference. It is not unusual to meet friends there, by chance. It is rarer to see them disappear like a dream or an apparition.

The Russian poet, and the Indian one, do not describe a scene from real life. It is not really a dream, either. Rather a hallucination, a lightning strike, a revelation?

Who is the solitary passer-by, this Friend, this unique, « old beloved »?

Whoever is a bit of a poet probably will cross paths with her, one day.

iRabindranath Tagore. Gitanjali