A Voice Cries Out in the Desert


— Henri Meschonnic–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hence a sharp alternative:

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

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

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

The issue deserves attention.

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

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

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

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

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

These are indeed crucial points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To live is to react…

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

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

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

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

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

Rosenzweig puts it this way:

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

Difficult to make more synthetic and more exclusive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So? What is the rigjht reading?

 » A voice cries out in the desert »?

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

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

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

Meschonnic concludes his development with a shock formula :

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

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

However, the rhythm is not enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

« Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xxii« הִנֵּה אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה (Is 40:10)

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

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

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

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

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

Virus Metaphysics


-Coronavirus-

The Latin word virus, of the neutral gender, has no plural. This word initially meant « juice » but also « sperm », « venom », « poison », « pungency », and « bitterness ».

The Greek word for virus is ῑός, « venom », but also « rust ».

The etymologyi of these two words goes back to the Sanskrit word विष viṣa, which means, in the neutral gender: « poison, venom ». But the root of this Sanskrit word, viṣ-,basically means « to be active, to act, to do, to accomplish »ii. It thus had originally no negative connotation. It rather implied an idea of action, efficiency, accomplishment. The word विष viṣa, when in the masculine gender, means « servant » (implying the idea of being « active, zealous »).

One may learn from these etymological roots a useful lesson.

As one knows, when viruses infect living beings, they transmit to their genome some bits of their RNA, for example in the form of plasmids.

The COVID-19 pandemic is actually infecting a huge percentage of the entire human race, which will now share fragments of this widely distributed and constantly mutating ‘genetic heritage’.

The virus and its variants are then partly contributing to the overall, on-going mutation of human genome, and are also forcing humankind to be « active and zealous », in order to politically mutate and adapt its global ‘governance’ to reach a level of efficiency that should be higher, hopefully, than the genetic efficiency of the virus itself.

What is happening before our eyes can be undersood as a real-time ‘mutation’ affecting potentially the whole of humanity, genetically, but also politically, and even metaphysically, I would try to argue.

On a metaphorical level, this global pandemic could be compared to a form of incarnation (etymologically, a ‘penetration into the flesh’, an ’embodiment’).

The plasmids that we may inherit from the COVID-19 embody not just an ‘infection’ but also a metaphysical metaphor at work, — that of a continuous, immanent process of symbiotic incarnationof the « inanimate-unconscious » viral reign into the « animate-conscious » human species.

While using the word ‘incarnation’, a quote comes to my mind:

« The true history of the world seems to be that of the progressive incarnation of the divinity »iii.

It is certainly not my intention to compare the putative incarnation of the « divinity » in world ‘true history’ to a slow viral infection, but this metaphor offers some food for thought.

It links in a single knot the « inanimate-unconscious » viral reign, the « animate-conscious » human species, and the « animate-unconscious » divine reign.

The ‘progressive incarnation’ of the virus has its own way and timeline. Likewise the ‘progressive incarnation’ of the divinity. The word incarnation, in both cases, reveals an analogous process at work, in the respective natures of the divinity, the humankind and the allegedly ‘inanimate’, material world.

Undoubtedly, at a given moment, for some reasons of Her own, the Divinity has, in a way, resolved to come out of Herself, if only to allow Her own ‘Creation’ to exist, more or less independently from Her.

Was the eternal « confinement » of the Divinity no longer suitable, at one point? Did Her absolute, compact, total perfection appear to Her somewhat incomplete, notwithstanding Her apparent completeness?

One may conjecture that the Divinity got out of Herself, in order to break the tautology of her Being alone, the repetition of the Sublime, the circularity of the Supreme, the loneliness of the Holiness.

Before the world was even created, what did the Godhead do? She was, one may assume, bathed in an holy, infinite Unconscious. For what is called ‘consciousness’, and of which Man is so proud, is really a term that is not worthy of the supreme Divinity.

The Divinity is so infinite that She cannot know Herself like a mere ‘consciousness’ would. If the Divinity fully knew Herself in such a conscious way, then She would in some subtle manner be limited by this very ‘knowledge’ of Herself, by this projected ‘consciousness’ of Herself that would infringe on Her absolute freedom. This limitation is not conceivable in a divine context.

The Divinity must be beyond any form of consciousness. In other words, She is ‘unconscious’ of Her own, absolute infinity.

To put it another way, before the world or time was created, the Divinity did not yet know the scope of Her own Wisdom, let alone the sound of Her own Word, which had never been uttered (since there was really no ear up there and then to hear).

This is expressed in the Kabbalah’s image of the Divine Wisdom as standing ‘near’, besides the Divinity. There is not identity, but a separation.

In the unconsciousness (of the infinity of Her own Wisdom), the Divinity stood in a state of absolute timelessness.

She stood as a living Entity.

Ignoring Death.

Ignoring Darkness.

This ‘ignorance’ hid the mystery of Her unconsciousness from the Light of Her otherwise absolute knowledge.

________

iSee Alfred Ernout and Antoine Meillet. Etymological dictionary of the Latin language. Klincksieck, Paris, 2001, p.740, and cf. Pierre Chantraine. Etymological Dictionary of the Greek Language. Klincksieck, Paris, 1977, p.466.

iiGérard Huet. Sanskrit-French dictionary. 2013. p. 559

iiiC.G. Jung. The Divine in man. Albin Michel. 1999, p.134

Three Beginnings


« Genesis »

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

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

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

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

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

Ἐν ἀρχῇ. En arkhè.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

« At the principle there was a choice. »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.

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

Usually Gn 1.1 is translated as :

« In the beginning God created heaven and earth ».

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hence the proposed translation of Gn 1.1 :

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

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

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

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר

Va-yomer Elohim yéhi ‘or vé yéhi ‘or.

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

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

וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם

Va-yqra’ Elohim la-‘or yom

« And Elohim called the light ‘day’. »

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

« All that YHVH has said » (Ex 24:7).

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

« For YHVH has spoken » (Is 1:2).

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

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

Here are a few examples:

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

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

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

The Spirit, once created, desired to manifest itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– when the seers began to name everything.

Excellence, the purest, the profoundly hidden

in their hearts, they revealed it through their love.

The Seers shaped the Word by the Spirit,

passing it through a sieve, like wheat being sifted.

Friends recognized the friendship they had for each other,

and a sign of good omen sealed their word.

Through sacrifice, they followed the way of the Word,

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

– they proclaimed it and communicated it to the multitude.

Together, the Seven Singers sing it. »vii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________

iCf. The Greek Etymological Dictionary of Chantraine

iiBuck-Petersen, Reverse index 686-687

iiiCf. Lampe, Lexicon, Kittel, Theological Words.

ivRV X.71

vSB II, 2,4,4

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

vii RV X, 71, 1-3.

viii SB X 5, 3, 1-5

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

x Water plays an essential role in the Vedic sacrifice.

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

Elijah From the Stars


« Elijah »

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

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

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

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

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

Can we connect these two poles, seemingly opposite?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can a human brain understand God transcending Himself!

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

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

But reason wants to reason and tries to understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It frees man, at last.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Won’t her cannon thunder again?

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

And what about tomorrow?

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

Or in six hundred million years?

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

________________

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

iiCt 8.6

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

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

Two « Sons » : Bar and Ben


« Michel d’Anastasio. Calligraphie hébraïque »

There are two words in Hebrew for the idea of filiation : ben בן and bar בר.

These two words mean « son », but with very different shades of nuances, due to their respective roots. Their etymologies open surprising perspectives…

The word ben comes from the verb banah בָּנָה, « to build, to construct, to found, to form », which connotes the idea of a progressive emergence, an edification, a construction, necessarily taking a certain amount of time.

The word bar comes from the verb bara‘ בָּרַא, « to create, to draw from nothing, to give birth » and in a second sense « to choose ». The idea of filiation is here associated with a timeless or instantaneous creation, that may be congruent with a divine origin. Thus the verb bara’ is used in the first verse of Genesis, Berechit bara’ Elohim . « In the beginning created God… ».

In a figurative sense, bar also means « chosen, preferred », connotating choice, election or dilection.

What does the difference between ben and bar teach us?

There is a first level of reading: with bar, the idea of filiation begins with a ‘creation’, appearing from nothingness (bara’), but with ben, it rather implies a long work of ‘construction’, and ‘foundation’ (banah).

On the one hand, bar evokes the atemporality (or timelessness) of a transcendence (coming from nothingness), and by opposition, ben implies the necessary temporality of immanence.

In the biblical text, these words, (banah and bara’, ben and bar) so common, so familiar, are like two opposite doors, opening on very different paths.

Doors, or rather trapdoors, under which profound abysses are revealed.

Let’s start with creation. Berechit bara’.

The word bar has its own depth, its subtle ambiguities. Its primary meaning is ‘son‘, but it may mean son of man, son of Elohim, or son of the Gods.

« What! My son! What! Son of my guts! « (Prov. 31:2)

The Book of Daniel uses the expression בַר-אֱלָהִין , bar-elohim, literally « son of the Gods » (Dan 3:25). In this case, bar-elohim refers to an « angel ».

But bar seems to be able to also mean « Son of God ».The psalmist exclaims, « Worship the Lord with fear » (Ps 2:11), and immediately afterwards David cries out, « Nachku bar », « Kiss the Son » (Ps 2:12).

Who is this ‘Son’ (bar) to be kissed or embraced ? He indeed has a special status, since he is refered to by David, just after the name YHVH, and in the same elan of praise.

According to some, this ‘Son’ is to be understood as ‘the king’, and according to others, it refers to ‘purity’.

Why the ‘king’? Why ‘purity’?

Because bar comes from the verb bara’, one of whose original meanings is « to choose ». Bar also means ‘chosen, elected, preferred’.

In Psalm 2, the word bar may well mean the ‘Chosen One’, the ‘Anointed’ (mashiah, or ‘messiah’) of the Lord.

By derivation, bar also means ‘pure, serene, spotless’, as in bar-levav, ‘pure in heart’ (Ps. 24:4) or ‘the commandments of YHVH are pure (bara)’ (Ps. 19:9).

So, what does ‘nachqou bar’ really mean ? « Kiss the Son », « kiss the king », « kiss the Chosen One », « kiss the Anointed One », « kiss the Messiah », or even « embrace purity »?

Who will tell?

Let us note here that Christians could interpret this particular bar (in Ps 2:12) as a prefiguration of Christ (the name ‘Christ’ comes from the Greek christos which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word mashiah, ‘anointed’).

As for ben, like I said, this noun derives from the verb banah, that we find used in various ways (to build, to form, to found):

« I built this house for you to live in. « (1 Kings 8:13)

« The Lord God formed a woman from the rib. « (Gen 2:22)

« By building your high places » (Ez 16:31).

« He founded Nineveh » (Gn 10:11).

Solomon played with the word and its ambivalence (to build/ a son), as he made his speech for the inauguration of the Temple. He recalled that it was indeed David’s idea to build (banah) a temple in honor of God, but that the Lord had said to him, « Yet it is not you who will build (tibneh) this temple, it is your son (bin or ben), he who is to be born of you, who will build (ibneh) this temple in my honor. « (1 Kings 8:19)

Solomon was to be the son (ben) who would build (ibneh) the Temple.

Noah also built an altar (Gen 8:20). Here too, one can detect a play on words with even deeper implications than those associated with the construction of the Temple.

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

The interpretation is not obvious, but if one believes a good specialist, one can understand this:

« The Righteous One ‘builds’ the Shekhina because He connects it to the Central Column of the divine pleroma, the Sefira Tiferet, called ‘son’. This masculine sefira is the way by which the Shekhina receives the ontic influx that constitutes her being. »ii

The Shekhina represents the divine « presence ». It is the ‘feminine’ dimension of the divine pleroma. And even, according to some daring interpretations proposed by the Kabbalah, the Shekhina is the « spouse » of God, as we have seen in a previous article.

The Kabbalah uses the image of the union of the masculine (the Central Column) and feminine (the Abode) to signify the role of the Just in the ‘construction’ of the Divine Presence (the Shekhina).

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

Ben. Son. Construction. Column. Male organ.

And from there, the possible theurgic action of the righteous man, ‘edifying’ the Shekhina.

We see that bar and ben offer two paths linking the divine and the human. One path (bar) is a descending one, that of choice, of election, of the Anointed One, of the Messiah.

The other path (ben) rises like a column in the temple, like a work of righteousness, erected upright, toward the Shekhina.

_____________

iZohar Hadach, Tiqounim Hadachim. Ed. Margaliot, Jerusalem, 1978, fol. 117C cited by Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. Verdier. Lagrasse 1993, p. 591

iiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. Verdier. Lagrasse 1993, p. 591

iiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. Verdier. Lagrasse 1993, p. 593

The God named « I, I, Him »


« Old Rabbi. Rembrandt »

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

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

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

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

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

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

רְאוּ עַתָּה, כִּי אֲנִי הוּא

reou ‘attah, ki ani ani hu’.

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

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

וְאֵין אֱלֹהִים, עִמָּדִי

v’éin elohim ‘imadi

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

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

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

ἴδετε ἴδετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι

idete, idete, oti ego eimi

« See, see, that I am ».

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

The second part of the verse gives :

καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν θεὸς πλὴν ἐμοῦ-

kai ouk estin theos plén emou.

« and there is no God but Me. »

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

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

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

Rashi comments on this verse as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This translation by the French Rabbinate raises several questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What lesson can we get out of it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But grammatically, this interpretation stands up.

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

__________________

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

iiDt 32, 39

The God named: ‘Whoever He Is’


.

« Aeschylus »

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

« ‘Zeus’, whoever He is,

if this name is acceptable to Him,

I will invoke Him thus.

All things considered,

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

that can really make me feel better

the weight of my vain thoughts.

The one who was once great,

overflowing with audacity and ready for any fight,

no longer even passes for having existed.

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

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

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

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

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

Ζεύς, ὅστις ποτ´’ ἐστίν,

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


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

τριακτῆρος οἴχεται τυχών.

Ζῆνα δέ τις προφρόνως ἐπινίκια κλάζων

τεύξεται φρενῶν φρενῶν τὸ πᾶν,

τὸν φρονεῖν βροτοὺς ὁδώσαντα,

τὸν πάθει πάθει μάθος θέντα κυρίως ἔχειν.

A few precisions :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to understand this interpretation?

Is it faithful to the profound thought of Aeschylus?

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

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

and immediately afterwards :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It remains to walk into the « thinking »…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Cratylus, Plato writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Euripides, in the Trojans, makes Hecuba say:

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

whoever you are, impenetrable essence,

Zeus, inflexible law of things or intelligence of man,

I revere you, for your secret path

brings to justice the acts of mortals. » viii

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

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

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

Whoever You are, inaccessible to knowledge,

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

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

You lead all human things to justice. »

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

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

Which path?

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

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

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

___________________

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

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

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

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

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

viCf. my blog on this subject : https://metaxu.org/2021/06/14/les-figures-de-la-conscience-dans-liliade-2-les-phrenes/

viiPlato. Cratyle. 400 d. Translation Leon Robin. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Gallimard, 1950. p. 635-636

viiiEuripides. Les Troyennes. v. 884-888. Translated by Marie Delcourt-Curvers. La Pléiade. Gallimard. 1962. p. 747

Berechit Bara Elohim and the Zohar


« Zohar »

The Book of Creation (« Sefer Yetsirah ») explains that the ten Sefirot Belimah (literally: the ten « numbers of non-being ») are « spheres of existence out of nothingness ». They have appeared as « an endless flash of light, » and « the Word of God circulates continuously within them, constantly coming and going, like a whirlwind. »i.

All of these details are valuable, but should not in fact be disclosed at all in public. The Book of Creation intimates this compelling order: « Ten Sefirot Belimah: Hold back your mouth from speaking about it and your heart from thinking about it, and if your heart is carried away, return to the place where it says, ‘And the Haioth go and return, for that is why the covenant was made’ (Ezekiel 6:14). » ii

I will not « hold my mouth » : I will quote the very texts of those who talk about it, think about it, go to it and come back to it over and over again.

For example, Henry Corbin, in a text written as an introduction to the Book of Metaphysical Penetrations by Mollâ Sadrâ Shîrâzi, the most famous Iranian philosopher at the time of the brilliant Safavid court of Isfahan, and a contemporary of Descartes and Leibniz in Europe, wonders in his turn about the essence of sefirot, and raises the question of their ineffability.

« The quiddity or divine essence, what God or the One is in his being, is found outside the structure of the ten sefirot, which, although they derive from it, do not carry it within them at all. The ten sefirot are ‘without His quiddity’ (beli mahuto, בלי מהותו), such is the teaching of the sentence in the Book of Creation. (…) But a completely different exegesis of the same sentence from the Book of Creation is advanced in the Sicle of the Sanctuary. For this new exegesis, the word belimah does not mean beli mahout (without essence) but refers to the inexpressible character of the sefirot whose mouth must ‘refrain itself (belom) from speaking' ». iii

So, the question is : are sefirot « without divine essence », as the Book of Creation seems to say?

Or are sefirot really divine, and therefore « unspeakable »?

Or are they only « that which cannot be spoken of », according to the restrictive opinion of Moses de Leon (1240-1305), who is the author of the Sicle of the Sanctuary?

It seems to me that Moses de Leo, also apocryphal author of the famous Zohar, occupies a position on this subject that is difficult to defend, given all the speculations and revelations that abound in his main work…

Moreover, if one « cannot speak » of the sefirot, nor « think » about them, how can one then attribute any value whatsoever to the venerable Sefer Yetsirah (whose origin is attributed to Abraham himself, – but whose writing is dated historically between the 3rd and 6th century A.D.)?

On the other hand, – an argument of authority it is true, but not without relevance -, it should be emphasized that the Sicle of the Sanctuary is nevertheless « a little young » compared to the Sefer Yestsirah, which is at least a millennium older.

In view of these objections, let us consider that we can continue to evoke here (albeit cautiously) the sefirot, and try to reflect on them.

The sefirot, what are they? Are they of divine essence or are they pure nothingness?

The Zohar clearly states :

« Ten Sefirot Belimah: It is the breath (Ruah) of the spirit of the Living God for eternity. The Word or creative power, the Spirit and the Word are what we call the Holy Spirit. » iv

Finding expressions such as the « Word » or the « Holy Spirit » in one of the oldest philosophical texts of Judaism (elaborated between the 3rd and 6th centuries A.D.), may evoke strangely similar wordings, used in Christian Gospels.

There is, at least, a possibility of beginning a fruitful debate on the nature of the divine « emanations », to use the concept of atsilut – אצילות, used by Moses de Leon, and on the possible analogy of these « emanations » with the divine « processions » of the Father, Son and Spirit, as described by Christian theology?

What I would like to discuss here is how the Zohar links the « triple names » of God with what Moses de Leon calls the divine « emanations ».

The Zohar repeatedly quotes several combinations of God’s « names », which form « triplets ».

In addition, it also deals with the divine « emanations » of which the sefirot seems an archetype, as well as expressions such as the « Breath » of God or his « Seed ».

Do the « divine emanations » and the « triple names » of God have some deep, structural, hidden relationship, and if so, what does this teach us?

The « triple names » of God.

In Scripture, there are several instances of what might be called the « triple names » of God, that is, formulas consisting of three words that form a unitary whole, an indissoluble verbal covenant to designate God:

-Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh (Ex. 3:14) (« I am he who is »)

-YHVH Elohenou YHVH (Deut. 6:4) (« YHVH, Our God, YHVH »)

To these « trinitarian » formulas, the Zohar adds for example:

Berechit Bara Elohim (Gen 1:1) (« In the beginning created Elohim »)

Bringing these different « triplets » together, the Zohar establishes the idea that the names contained in each of these « triplets » are individually insufficient to account for the divine essence. Only the union of the three names in each of these formulations is supposed to be able to approach the mystery. But, taken individually, one by one, the names « YHVH », or « Ehyeh », or « Elohim », do not reach the ultimate level of comprehension. It is as if only the dynamic « procession » of the relationships between the names « within » each triplet could account for the mystery of God’s « Name ».

On the other hand, the Zohar suggests a kind of structural identity between the « triple names » just mentioned. Thus, by comparing term by term the verses Ex. 3:14 and Dt. 6:4, one can assume a kind of identity between YHVH and « Ehyeh ». And, based on the supposed analogy between Dt 6:4 and Gen 1:1, we can also identify the name « YHVH » with the names « Berechit » and « Elohim ».

Finally, if we pursue this structuralist logic, a word that could a priori be a « simple conjunction » with a grammatical vocation (the word « asher« ) acquires (according to the Zohar) the status of « divine noun », or divine hypostasis, as does the verb « bara« .

Let’s look at these points.

The Zohar formulates these structural analogies as follows:

« This is the meaning of the verse (Dt. 6:4): ‘Listen, Israel, YHVH, Elohenu, YHVH is one’. These three divine names designate the three scales of the divine essence expressed in the first verse of Genesis: ‘Berechit bara Elohim eth-ha-shamaim’, ‘Berechit’ designates the first mysterious hypostasis; ‘bara’ indicates the mystery of creation; ‘Elohim’ designates the mysterious hypostasis which is the basis of all creation; ‘eth-ha-shamaim’ designates the generating essence. The hypostasisElohim’ forms the link between the two others, the fecundating and the generating, which are never separated and form one whole. » v

We see that the Zohar thus distinguishes, from the first verse of the Torah, two « triplets » of divine names, somehow embedded in each other: ‘Berechit bara Elohim’ on the one hand, and ‘Bara Elohim eth-ha-shamaym’ on the other.

We also deduce that the second « triplet » is somehow « engendered » (in the sense of « generative grammars ») by the first « triplet », thanks to the special role played by the name ‘Elohim’.

The generative theory of the divine « triplets » also allows us to better understand the profound structure of the famous verse ‘Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh’ (Ex. 3:14) (« I am he who is »), and moreover allows us to establish a link with the theory of the divine emanations of the Zohar.

Let’s look at this point.

The Seed of God: ‘Asher’ and ‘Elohim’.

The « Seed » of God is evoked metaphorically or directly in several texts of Scripture as well as in the Zohar. It has various names: Isaiah calls it ‘Zera’ (זֶרָע: ‘seed’, ‘seed’, ‘race’)vi. The Zohar calls it « Zohar » (זֹהַר: glow, brightness, light), but also « Asher » (אֲשֶׁר: « that » or « who » – that is, as we have seen, the grammatical particle that can be used as a relative pronoun, conjunction or adverb), as the following two passages indicate:

« The word glow’ (Zohar) refers to the spark that the Mysterious One caused when he struck the void and which is the origin of the universe, which is a palace built for the glory of the Mysterious One. This spark constitutes in a way the sacred seed of the world. This mystery is expressed in the words of Scripture (Is. 6:13): ‘And the seed to which it owes its existence is sacred.’ Thus the word ‘glow’ (Zohar) refers to the seed He sowed for His glory, since the purpose of creation is the glorification of God. Like a mollusk from which purple is extracted and clothed in its shell, the divine seed is surrounded by the material that serves as its palace, built for the glory of God and the good of the world. This palace from which the divine seed has surrounded itself is called « Elohim » (Lord). This is the mystical meaning of the words: ‘With the Beginning He created Elohim’, that is, with the help of the ‘light’ (Zohar), the origin of all the Verbs (Maamaroth), God created ‘Elohim’ (Lord) ». vii

But a few lines later, the Zohar assigns to the word « Zohar » two more meanings, that of « Mysterious » and that of « Beginning ». Therefore, since the word « Zohar » is no longer available as a metaphor for the divine « Seed », the Zohar uses the word « Asher » (אֲשֶׁר: « that » or « who ») to designate the latter, but also the word « Elohim », which derives from it by synonymous engendering and following a kind of « literal » pirouette, as shown in this passage:

« By the word glow’ (Zohar), Scripture refers to the Mysterious called ‘Berechit’ (Beginning), because it is the beginning of all things. When Moses asked God what His name was, God replied (Ex. 3:14): « Ehyeh asher Ehyeh » (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה , I am He who is). The sacred name ‘Ehyeh’ appears on both sides, while the name ‘Elohim’ forms the crown, since it appears in the middle; for ‘Asher’ is synonymous with ‘Elohim’, whereas the nameAsher’ is formed from the sameletters that make up the wordRoch’ (head, crown). ‘Asher’, which is the same asElohim’, is derived from ‘Berechit’. As long as the divine spark was enclosed in the sublime palace, that is to say, before it manifested itself,it did not form any peculiarity that could be designated in the divine essenceby anyname; the Whole was One, under the name ‘Roch’. Butwhen God created, with the help of the sacred seed (‘Asher’), the palace of matter, ‘Asher’ took shape in the divine essence; only then did ‘Asher’ take, in the divine essence, the shape of a crown head (‘Roch’), being situated in the middle (‘Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh’). Now, the word ‘Berechit’ contains the word ‘Roch’, synonymous with ‘Asher’;it forms the words ‘Roch’ and ‘Baït’, i.e. ‘Roch’ enclosed in a palace (‘Baït’). viiiThe words: ‘Berechit Bara Elohim’ thus mean : When ‘Roch’, synonymous with ‘Asher’,wasused as divine seed in the palace of matter, ‘Elohim’ was created; that is to say, Elohim took shape in the essence of God. ix

Let’s summarize what we just learned from the Zohar.

The divine « Seed » receives, according to its authors, the following names: Zera‘, Zohar, Asher, Roch (‘seed, glow, who, head’).

The « Seed » is deposited in the middle of the « palace ».

The Palace-Semen together are called ‘Beginning’ (Berechit).

And this ‘Beginning’ ‘created’ ‘Elohim’.

And all this is presented in the first verse of the Torah.

How can we fail to see in this thesis of the Zohar a structural analogy between « Elohim » and the Christian concept of « Son of God »?

Decidedly, even a purely ‘monotheistic’ theology needs « emanations » to live in the « world ».

iBook of Creation, 1.5

iiBook of Creation, 1.7

iiiHenry Corbin. The vocabulary of being. Preface to the Book of Metaphysical Penetrations. Molla Sadra Shiraz. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse. 1988, p. 50

ivBook of Creation, 1.8

vZohar 1, 15b

viIs. 6.13

viiZohar, 1.15a

viiiThe two consonants of Baït, B and T frame the two consonants of Rosh, R and SH, in the word BeReSHiT.

ixZohar, 1.15a-15b

How the Elohim Were Begotten


« Gershom Scholem »

Let’s begin with this verse from the Psalmist: « The foundation of your word is truth »i. In the original Hebrew: רֹאשׁ-דְּבָרְךָ אֱמֶת, roch devar-ka emét.

Another translation gives: « Truth, the principle of your word! » ii

In yet another translation, the word רֹאשׁ, roch, is translated as « essence »: « Truth is the essence of your word. »iii

The words used here, « foundation », « principle », « essence » are quite abstract. They belong to the philosophical language, and they seem somewhat removed from the spirit of ancient Hebrew, an eminently concrete, realistic language.

Originally, the word רֹאשׁ, roch means: 1) head, person, man. Then, by derivation, metonymy or metaphor: 2) head, top, point, main thing; 3) sum, number, troop; 4) beginning, the first; 5) a poisonous plant (the hemlock, or poppy), poison, venom, gall.

It is from the 4th meaning of roch that the word reshit, « beginning », derives, this word which one finds precisely at the very beginning of the Torah: Be-rechit, « in the beginning ».

If one wanted to render exactly all the connotations of the word רֹאשׁ, rosh in the verse of Psalm 119, one would have to resolve to translate it into a sum of formulations, – a swarm of meanings:

-At the head of your word, the truth.

-The tip of your word is truth.

-The sum of your word is truth.

-Truth is the beginning of your word.

-The truth is the venom of your word.

Each of these formulas is clearly unsatisfactory, but as a whole they open up new questions and new perspectives.

For example, if truth is « at the head » of the word, or in its « tip », or in its « beginning », does this mean that in all the « rest » of the word there is something other than truth?

If it is the « sum » of the word that is the « truth », does this imply that each of the parts of the « word » does not really contain it?

How can we understand that the word (of God) can contain a « venom »?

The more modern translations that have been cited (« foundation, principle, essence ») seem to escape these difficulties of interpretation. They immediately give the verse a veneer of depth and a kind of philosophical allure.

But this « abstract » veneer and this « philosophical » appearance are undoubtedly the indications of a real deviation from the original meaning, intended by the Psalmist, which was to be much more « concrete ».

If one wants to remain faithful to the genius of ancient Hebrew, the essence of the word roch must rather be sought in one of its main derivative, the word rechit (« beginning »).

This word is indeed part of the description of a key moment of Creation, the « Beginning », and it derives a special prestige from it.

This eminent moment is described by Zohar 1:15a in a surprisingly vivid way, in a passage full of dark light, particularly delicate to « translate », even for the best specialists and the most learned rabbis who have worked on it.

One may judge the difficulty from four very different translations of this strange text which will now be presented.

Gershom Scholem offers :

« In the beginning, when the King’s will began to act, he drew signs in the divine aura. A dark flame gushes forth from the most intimate depths of the mystery of the Infinite, the En-Sof; like a mist that gives form to what has no form, it is enclosed in the ring of this aura, it appears neither white, nor black, nor red, nor green, without any color. But when it began to grow in height and spread, it produced radiant colors. For in the innermost center of this flame, a spring gushes forth, whose flames spill over everything below, hidden in the mysterious secrets of the En-Sof. The source gushes forth, and yet it does not gush forth completely, through the ethereal aura that surrounds it. It was absolutely unrecognizable until, under the shock of this spurt, a higher point then hidden would have shone. Beyond this point, nothing can be known or understood and that is why it is called Rechit, meaning « beginning », the first word of creation. » iv

What is this « point » called Rechit? Gershom Scholem indicates that for the Zohar (whose paternity he attributes to Moses de León) and for the majority of Kabbalist writers, this primordial « point », this « beginning » is identified with the divine « Wisdom », Hokhmah.

Before proposing his own translation-interpretation of this difficult passage of the Zohar, Charles Mopsikv cites two other translation-interpretations, that of R. Siméon Labi of Tripoli and that of R. Moses Cordovero, both dating from the 16th century:

R. Simeon Labi :

« In the head, the King’s word carved signs in the highest transparency. A spark of darkness came out of the middle of the enclosure, from the head of the Ein-Sof; attached to the Golem (or initial formless matter), planted in the ring (…) This source is enclosed in the middle of the enclosure until, thanks to the jostling force of its breakthrough, a point, the supreme enclosure, is illuminated. After this point one knows nothing more, that is why it is called Rechit (beginning), first word. » vi

R. Moses Cordovero :

« At the moment before the King said, in his supreme zenith, he engraved a sign. An obscure (or eminent) flame gushes out inside the most enclosed, which started from the confines of the Infinite, forms in the Golem planted in the center of the ring (…) In the center of the Flame a spring gushes out from which the colors took their hue when it reached the bottom. The enclosure of the Enigma of the Infinite tried to pierce, but did not pierce its surrounding air and remained unknown until, by the power of its breakthrough, a point was illuminated, the supreme enclosure. Above this point nothing is knowable, so it is called Rechit, beginning, first of all words. » vii

Having thus prepared the ground with three different versions, and benefiting from their respective contributions, Charles Mopsik proposes his own translation, which is also jargonous and amphigorous, but which is not without opening up new reflexive possibilities:

« From the outset, the King’s resolution left the trace of his withdrawal in supreme transparency. An obscure flame springs from the quivering of the Infinite in its confinement. Like a form in the formless, inscribed on the seal. Neither white, nor black, nor red, nor green, nor of any color. When he then set the commensurable, he brought out colors that illuminated the confinement. And from the flame a spring gushed forth, downstream from which the hues of these colors appeared. Enclosure in the Confinement, quivering of the Infinite, the source pierces and does not pierce the air that surrounds it and it remains unknowable. Until by the insistence of its piercing, it brings to light a tenuous point, supreme confinement. From there this point is the unknown, so it is called the ‘beginning’, the first of all. » viii

It should be noted at the outset that Mopsik clearly distinguishes himself from other translators, from the very first sentence, by proposing that the King « leave the trace of his withdrawal in supreme transparency », rather than « engrave or carve signs ».

He justifies this bold choice in this way:

« What led us to prefer the expression ‘to leave the trace of its withdrawal’ to ‘to inscribe signs’ comes from the fact that the verb galaf or galif is rarely found in the Midrach, and when it appears, it is associated with the idea of inscribing in hollow, of opening the matrix. Thus it is this term that is used when God visited Sarah and then Rikvah who were barren (see Gen 47.2 , Gen 53.5 and Gen 63.5).

It is therefore likely that Zohar uses these connotations of generation and fertilization. Moreover, the passage in question was later interpreted by the school of Louria as an evocation of the Tsimtsum, or withdrawal of the divine.»ix

In Mopsik’s interpretation, therefore, in the beginning, God « opens the matrix », then withdraws from it, but nevertheless « leaves a trace of his withdrawal ».

Which « matrix » is it?

According to the Zohar, this ‘matrix’ is Wisdom (Hokhmah).

Indeed, a little further on, the Zohar gives these relatively cryptic, yet enlightening explanations:

« Until now, this has been the secret of ‘YHVH Elohim YHVH’. These three names correspond to the divine secret contained in the verse ‘In the beginning created Elohim’ (Berechit bara Elohim). Thus, the expression ‘In the beginning’ is an ancient secret, namely: Wisdom (Hokhmah) is called ‘Beginning’. The word ‘created’ also alludes to a hidden secret, from which everything develops. » x

Let’s summarize what we just learned:

Wisdom (Hokmah) is also called ‘Beginning’ (Rechit).

The « matrix » that God « opens » at the « Beginning », before « withdrawing » from it, is that of Wisdom. According to Charles Mopsik, the metaphors that the Zohar uses to describe this moment evoke « generation » and « fecundation ».

The Zohar, decidedly well-informed, still delivers these precisions:

« With this Beginning, the Hidden and Unknown One created the Temple (or Palace), and this Temple is called by the name ‘Elohim’. This is the secret of the words: ‘In the beginning created Elohim. xi

The great secret, unspeakable, spreads out clearly in the Zohar:

The One unites himself with Wisdom (whose other name is ‘Beginning’), then withdraws from it, while leaving his trace. From this union of the One and the Beginning is born the Temple (also called ‘Elohim’).

According to the Zohar, the first verse of the Torah ‘Be-rechit bara Elohim’ should be understood as follows: « With the Beginning, [the One, the Hidden One] created the Elohim (Lords).

Jewish ‘monotheism’ is definitely full of surprises…

From the Beginning, the Trinity of the One, Wisdom and Elohim is revealed.

The Elohim are generated by Wisdom, impregnated by the One…

_________________

iPs. 119:160

iiThe Jerusalem Bible. Ed. du Cerf, Paris, 1996

iiiGershom G. Scholem, in The Name of God and Kabbalistic Theory of Language. Alia. 2018, p.11

ivZohar 1.15a. Quoted by Gershom G. Scholem, Les grands courants de la mystique juive. Translation from English by Marie-Madeleine Davy. Ed. Payot, Paris, 2014, p.320

vCharles Mopsik. The Zohar. Ed. Verdier. 1981, p.482

viR. Simeon Labi de Tripoli in Ketem Paz Biour ha Milot (Enlightenment of Words), 1570, quoted by Charles Mopsik in op.cit. p.482

viiR. Moïse Cordovero, Or Yakar, Quoted by Charles Mopsik in op.cit. p.483

viiiTranslation by Charles Mopsik. The Zohar. Ed. Verdier. 1981, p.484

ixCharles Mopsik. The Zohar. Ed. Verdier. 1981, p.484

xZohar 1.15b

xiZohar 1.15a

The Soul of Oblivion


« The Archimedes Palimpsest »

The souls of peoples are revealed by what they collectively « forget », much more than by what they remember, what they dwell on and what they seemingly proclaim to the world.

Proof of this is the word oblivion itself, which in several languages seems to indicate in one stroke a vibrant part of the collective unconscious, emerging as if by accident, an indication of obscure depths…

The Latins use the word oblivio for ‘oblivion‘. It is a metaphor borrowed from writing over what has been erased: in the ‘palimpsests’ (from the Greek: « what one scratches to write again »), the copyists erased (or ‘obliterated’) the old text to write a new one.

The Greeks use the word λαθέσθαι, lathesthai, ‘to forget’, and λήθη, lethe, ‘forgetting’ , hence the famous Lethe, the river of the Underworld, which is known to make souls forgetful. These words derive from λανθάνω, lanthanô, whose first meaning is ‘to be hidden’. Greek ‘oblivion’ is therefore not a fatal erasure, but only a kind of withdrawal, of putting under the bushel, under a veil. Words with a priori positive connotations: ἀληθής, alethes, « true » or ἀλήθεια, aletheia, « truth, reality », are constructed with the privative alpha ἀ-, thus as negations. Truth or reality are not understood in ancient Greek as a dazzling evidence, but as a « not-hidden » or a « not-forgotten », then requiring a kind of work of extraction.

Arabic has the word نَسِيَ nassiya, whose first meaning is « to abandon, to neglect » and by derivation « to forget ». Nomadism cannot be encumbered, and on the long road of travel, many things are left behind, become negligible, and without regret, ‘forgotten’.

Sanskrit expresses the verb ‘to forget’ in many ways. One of them uses the pre-verb vi-: विस्मरति , vismarati, literally meaning « to come out of memory ». Another verb मृष्यते , mrisyate is built using the root मृष mṛṣ , whose primary meaning is ‘to forgive’. Forgetting is a grace given to the other, and even to the enemy…

The English and German languages use very similar words, to forget and vergessen, which are also built with preverbs (for and ver) connoting omission or failure, and comparable in this respect to Vi- Sanskrit. The English to get derives from the old Nordic geta and the Gothic bigitan, (‘to find’). German ver-gessen derives from the same root: *ghed-, ‘to take, to seize’. In both languages, ‘to forget’ therefore originally means ‘to divest oneself of’, ‘to throw away’, in an active sense, rather than just ‘lose’ or ‘misplace’. There is a kind of violence here.

In Hebrew, ‘to forget’ is שָׁכַח shakhah, as in « He will not forget the covenant of your fathers » (Deut. 4:31) or « And you forget me, declares the Lord God » (Ez. 22:12). But it is quite surprising that, with a slightly different vocalization, the verb שְׁכַח shekhah, has an almost exactly opposite meaning. Indeed, if שָׁכַח means « to forget », שְׁכַח means « to find » as in « I found a man » (Dan. 2,25) or « They were no longer found » (Dan. 2,35).

Curious ambivalence!

The fact of forgetting seems to carry in germ the possibility of ‘finding’, or conversely, the fact of ‘finding’ implies, in the word itself, the imminence of forgetting…

« To forget »…

What does this word really mean?

To erase (Latin) ? To hide (Greek) ? To abandon (Arabic) ? To forgive (Sanskrit) ? To throw away (Anglo-German)? To find (Hebrew) ?

Peoples are like diamonds, reflecting clean and changing shards… Their languages express much less what they think they feel, than what they are in fact blind to, what they remain astonishingly mute about, and forgetful deep down inside…

The name « Israel »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which interpretation seems the best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the first difference of « placement ».

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____________

iHos 12, 3-5

iiGen 25, 25-26

iiiGn 25.31

ivGn 27.12

vGen 27, 13

viGen 27, 19

viiGen 27, 24

viiiGen 27, 29

ixGen 27, 36

xGn 32.25

xiGen 32, 26

xiiGn 32, 27-29

xiiiGn 35, 10

xivGen 35, 14

xvGn 32, 30

xviGen 32, 31

Memory and Manhood


« Kouros d’Anavyssos – (vers -530) »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

Shadow and Tears


« Adam’s Creation » Michelangelo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or , more philosophically:

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

New questions would then arise:

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

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

Visions and Consciousness


« Peter’s Vision » Gordon Wilson

Where is the Garden of Eden?

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

Where is the Underworld?

In Sion, says Rabbi Ismael’s school. ii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Heavens ? But which one?

Augustine indeed distinguishes three different Heavens.vi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter had yet to acknowledge that role.

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

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

He became conscious only when the angel left him.

______________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

viiiAct. 10, 10-20

ixAct. 10, 28

xAct, 12.7

xiAct, 12.9

xiiAct, 12, 10-11

Divine Splinters


Orpheus and Euridyce

In ancient Greek dictionaries, just right after the name Orpheus, one may find the word orphne (ὄρφνη), « darkness ». From a semantic point of view, orphne can be applied to the underworld, the « dark » world. Orpheus, also descended into the Underworld, and was plunged into orphne.

Orpheus was « orphic » par excellence. He sought revelation. He ventured without hesitation into the lair of death, and he came out of it alive – not without the fundamental failure that we know well. But later, the shadows caught up with him. A screaming pack of Thracian women tore him apart, member to member.

Only his severed head escaped the furious melee, rolled ashore. The waves swept him across the sea, and Orpheus‘ head was still singing.

He had defeated death, and passed over the sea.

The myth of Orpheus symbolizes the search for the true Life, the one that lies beyond the realm of Death.

The philosopher Empedocles testifies to the same dream: « For I was once a boy and a girl, and a plant and a bird and a fish that found its way out of the sea.”1

In tablets dating from the 6th century BC, found in Olbia, north of the Black Sea, several characteristic expressions of Orphism, such as bios-thanatos-bios, have been deciphered. This triad, bios-thanatos-bios, « life-death-life », is at the center of orphism.

Orpheus, a contemporary of Pythagoras, chose, contrary to the latter, to live outside of « politics ». He refused the « city » and its system of values. He turned towards the elsewhere, the beyond. « The Orphics are marginal, wanderers and especially ‘renouncers‘ », explains Marcel Detiennei.

Aristophanes stated that the teaching of Orpheus rested on two points: not making blood flow, and discovering »initiation ».

The Greek word for initiation to the Mysteries is teletè (τελετή). This word is related to telos, « completion, term, realization ». But teletè has a very precise meaning in the context of Orphism. Among the Orphic mysteries, perhaps the most important is that of the killing of the god-child, Dionysus, devoured by the Titans, – except for his heart, swallowed by Zeus, becoming the germ of his rebirth within the divine body.

Several interpretations circulate. According to Clement of Alexandria, Zeus entrusted Apollo with the task of collecting and burying the scattered pieces of Dionysus’ corpse on Mount Parnassus.

According to the neo-Platonic gnosis, the Mysteries refer to the recomposition, the reunification of the dismembered body of God.

The death of Orpheus is mysteriously analogous to the more original death of the god Dionysus, which probably derives from much older traditions, such as those of the ancient Egyptians, who worshipped Osiris, who was also torn to pieces, scattered throughout Egypt, and finally resurrected.

For the comparatist, it is difficult to resist yet another analogy, that of the sharing of Christ’s « body » and « blood, » which his disciples « ate » and « drank » at the Last Supper just before his death. A scene that has been repeated in every Mass since then, at the time of « communion ».

There is a significant difference, however, between the death of Christ and that of Osiris, Dionysus or Orpheus. Contrary to the custom that governed the fate of those condemned to death, the body of Christ on the cross was not « broken » or « dismembered, » but only pierced with a spear. The preservation of the unity of his body had been foretold by the Scriptures (« He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken », Psalm 34:20).

No physical dispersion of the body of Christ at his death, but a symbolic sharing at Communion, like that of the bread and wine, metaphors of flesh and blood, presented at the Last Supper, symbols of a unity, essentially indivisible, universally shareable.

This makes all the more salient the search for the divine unity apparently lost by Osiris or Dionysus, but found again thanks to the analogous care of Isis, Zeus, or Apollo.

Beyond the incommensurable divergences, a paradigm common to the ancient religions of Egypt and Greece and to Christianity emerges.

The God, one in essence, is dismembered, dispersed, really or symbolically, and then, by one means or another, finds Himself unified again.

One, divided, multiplied, dispersed, and again One.

Again One, after having been scattered throughout the worlds.

So many worlds: so many infinitesimal shards within the divine unity.

__________________

1Empedocles F. 117

iMarcel Detienne. Les dieux d’Orphée. Gallimard. 2007

Godhead’s Wisdom


Athena’s Birth from Zeus’ Head.

What was it that Empedocles did refuse to reveal? Why didn’t he tell what he was « forbidden to say »? What was he afraid of, – this famous sage from Agrigento, this statesman, this gyrovague shaman and prophet? Why this pusillanimity on the part of someone who, according to legend, was not afraid to end up throwing himself alive into the furnace of Etna?

Empedocles wrote:

« I ask only what ephemeral humans are allowed to hear. Take over the reins of the chariot under the auspices of Piety. The desire for the brilliant flowers of glory, which I could gather from mortals, will not make me say what is forbidden… Have courage and climb the summits of science; consider with all your strength the manifest side of everything, but do not believe in your eyes more than in your ears.”i

Empedocles encourages us to « climb the summits of science » …

The Greek original text says: καὶ τὸτε δὴ σοφίης ἐπ’ ἄίκροισι θοάζειν, that translates literally: « to impetuously climb to the summits (ἐπ’ ἄίκροισι, ep’aikroisi) of wisdom (σοφίης sophias) ».

But what are really these « summits of wisdom »? Why this plural form? Shouldn’t there be just one and only one « summit of wisdom », in the proximity of the highest divinity?

In another fragment, Empedocles speaks again of « summits », using another Greek word, κορυφή, koruphe, which also means « summit, top »:

« Κορυφὰς ἑτέρας ἑτέρηισι προσάπτων

μύθων μὴ τελέειν ἀτραπὸν μίαν.”ii

Jean Bollack thus translated this fragment (into French):

« Joignant les cimes l’une à l’autre,

Ne pas dire un seul chemin de mots. »iii, i.e.:

« Joining the summits one to the other,

Not to say a single path of words.”

John Burnet and Auguste Reymond translated (in French):

« Marchant de sommet en sommet,

ne pas parcourir un sentier seulement jusqu’à la fin… »iv i.e.:

« Walking from summit to summit,

not to walk a path only to the end…”

Paul Tannery adopted another interpretation, translating Κορυφὰς as « beginnings »:

« Rattachant toujours différemment de nouveaux débuts de mes paroles,

et ne suivant pas dans mon discours une route unique… »v

« Always attaching new and different beginnings to my words,

and not following in my speech a single road…”

I wonder: does the apparent obscurity of this fragment justify so wide differences in its interpretation?

We are indeed invited to consider, to dig, to deepen the matter.

According to the Bailly Greek dictionary, κορυφή (koruphe), means « summit« , figuratively, the « zenith » (speaking of the sun), and metaphorically: « crowning« , or « completion« .

Chantraine’s etymological dictionary notes other, more abstract nuances of meaning for κορυφή : « the sum, the essential, the best« . The related verb, κορυφῶ koruphô, somewhat clarifies the range of meanings: « to complete, to accomplish; to rise, to lift, to inflate« .

The Liddell-Scott dictionary gives a quite complete review of possible meanings of κορυφή: « head, top; crown, top of the head [of a man or god], peak of a mountain, summit, top, the zenith; apex of a cone, extremity, tip; and metaphorically: the sum [of all his words], the true sense [of legends]; height, excellence of .., i.e. the choicest, best. »

Liddell-Scott also proposes this rather down-to earth and matter-of-fact interpretation of the fragment 24: « springing from peak to peak« , i.e. « treating a subject disconnectedly ».

But as we see, the word κορυφή may apply to human, geological, tectonic, solar or rhetorical issues…

What is be the right interpretation of κορυφή and the ‘movement’ it implies, for the fragment 24 of Empedocles?

Peaking? Springing? Topping? Summing? Crowning? Completing? Elevating? Erecting? Ascending?

Etymologically and originally, the word κορυφή relates to κόρυς, « helmet« . Chantraine notes incidentally that the toponym « Corinth » (Κόρινθος) also relates to this same etymology.

The primary meaning of κορυφή, therefore, has nothing to do with mountains or peaks. It refers etymologically to the « summit » of the body, the « head ». More precisely, it refers to the head when « helmeted », – the head of a man or a woman (or a God) equipped as a warrior. This etymology is well in accordance with the long, mythological memory of the Greeks. Pythagorasvi famously said that Athena was « begotten », all-armed, with her helmet, « from the head » of Zeus, in Greek: κορυφἆ-γενής (korupha-genes).

If we admit that the wise and deep Empedocles did not use metaphors lightly, in one of his most celebrated fragments, we may infer that the « summits », here, are not just mineral mountains that one would jump over, or subjects of conversation, which one would want to spring from.

In a Greek, philosophical context, the « summit » may well be understood as a metaphor for the « head of Zeus », the head of the Most High God. Since a plural is used (Κορυφὰς, ‘summits’), one may also assume that it is an allusion to another Godhead, that of the divine « Wisdom » (a.k.a. Athena), who was born from Zeus’ « head ».

Another important word in fragment 24 is the verb προσάπτω, prosapto.

Bollack translates this verb as « to join, » Burnet as « to walk, » Tannery as « to attach”, Liddell-Scott as « to spring »…

How diverse these scholars’ interpretations!… Joining the summits one to the other… Walking from summit to summit… Attaching new beginnings to a narration… Springing from peak to peak, as for changing subjects…

In my view, all these learned translations are either too literal or too metaphorical. And unsatisfactory.

It seems to me necessary to seek something else, more related to the crux of the philosophical matter, something related to a figurative « God Head », or a « Godhead »… The word koruphe refers metaphorically to something ‘extreme’, — also deemed the ‘best’ and the ‘essential’. The Heads (koruphas) could well allude to the two main Greek Godheads, — the Most High God (Zeus) and his divine Wisdom (Athena).

More precisely, I think the fragment may point to the decisive moment when Zeus begets his own Wisdom, springing from his head, all armed….

The verb προσάπτω has several meanings, which can guide our search: « to procure, to give; to attach oneself to; to join; to touch, to graze » (Bailly).

Based on these meanings, I propose this translation of the first line of fragment 24:

« Joining the [God] Heads, one to the other ».

The second verb used in fragment 24 (line 2) is τελέειν, teleein: « To accomplish, to perform, to realize; to cause, to produce, to procure; to complete, to finish; to pay; (and, in a religious context) to bring to perfection, to perform the ceremony of initiation, to initiate into the mysteries (of Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom) » (Bailly).

Could the great Empedocles have been satisfied with just a banal idea such as « not following a single road », or « not following a path to the end », or even, in a more contorted way, something about « not saying a single path of words »?

I don’t think so. Neither Bollack, Burnet, nor Tannery seem, in their translations, to have imagined and even less captured a potential mystical or transcendent meaning.

I think, though, that there might lie the gist of this Fragment.

Let’s remember that Empedocles was a very original, very devout and quite deviant Pythagorean. He was also influenced by the Orphism then in full bloom in Agrigento .

This is why I prefer to believe that neither the ‘road’, nor the ‘path’ quoted in the Fragment 24, are thought to be ‘unique’.

For a thinker like Empedocles, there must be undoubtedly other ways, not just a ‘single path’…

The verb τελέειν also has, in fact, meanings oriented towards the mystical heights, such as: « to attain perfection, to accomplish initiation, to initiate to the mysteries (of divine Wisdom) ».

As for the word μύθων (the genitive of mythos), used in line 2 of Fragment 24, , it may mean « word, speech », but originally it meant: « legend, fable, myth ».

Hence this alternative translation of μύθων μὴ τελέειν ἀτραπὸν μίαν (mython mè teleein atrapon mian) :

« Not to be initiated in the one way of the myths »…

Here, it is quite ironic to recall that there was precisely no shortage of myths and legends about Empedocles… He was said to have been taken up directly to heaven by the Gods (his « ascension »), shortly after he had successfully called back to life a dead woman named Panthea (incidentally, this name means « All God »), as Diogenes of Laërtius reportedvii.

Five centuries B.C., Empedocles resurrected “Panthea” (« All God »), and shortly afterwards he ‘ascended’ to Heaven.

One can then assume that the Fragment 24 was in fact quite premonitory, revealing in advance the nature of Empedocles’ vision, the essence of his personal wisdom.

The Fragment 24 announces an alternative to the traditional « way of initiation » by the myths:

« Joining the [God] Heads, one to the other,

Not to be initiated in the only way of the myths. »

Empedocles did not seem to believe that the myths of his time implied a unique way to initiation. There was maybe another « way » to initiation: « joining the Most High Godhead and his Wisdom …

_______

iEmpedocles, Fragment 4d

iiEmpedocles, Fragment 24d

iiiJ. Bollack, Empédocle. Les origines, édition et traduction des fragments et des témoignages, Paris, Éditions de Minuit, 1969

ivJohn Burnet, L’Aurore de la philosophie grecque, texte grec de l’édition Diels, traduction française par Auguste Reymond, 1919, p.245

vPaul Tannery, Pour l’histoire de la science hellène. Ed. Jacques Gabay, 1990, p. 342

viPythagoras. ap Plu., Mor. 2,381 f

viiDiogenes of Laërtius, VIII, 67-69

The Endless Moves of the Unconscious


All human languages are animated by a secret spirit, an immanent soul. Over the millennia, they have developed within them their own potency, even without the participating knowledge of the fleeting peoples who speak them. In the case of ancient languages, such as Sanskrit, Egyptian, Avestic, Hebrew (biblical), Greek (Homeric), Latin, or Arabic, this spirit, soul, and other powers are still at work, many centuries after their apogee, albeit often in a hidden form. The keen, patient observer can still try to find the breath, the strength, the fire, well in evidence in ancient, famous pages or left buried in neglected works. One may sometimes succeed, unexpectedly, to find pearls, and then contemplate their special aura, their glowing, sui generis energy.

The innumerable speakers of these languages, all of them appearing late and disappearing early in their long history, could be compared to ephemeral insects, foraging briefly in the forest of fragrant, independent and fertile language flowers, before disappearing, some without having produced the slightest verbal honey, others having been able by chance to distill some rare juice, some suave sense, from time to time.

From this follows, quite logically, what must be called the phenomenal independence of languages in relation to the men who speak and think them.

Men often seem to be only parasites of their language. It is the languages that « speak » the people, more than the people speak them. Turgot said: « Languages are not the work of a reason present to itself.”

The uncertain origin and the intrinsic ‘mystery’ of languages go back to the most ancient ages, far beyond the limited horizon that history, anthropology and even linguistics are generally content with.

Languages are some kind of angels of history. They haunt the unconscious of men, and like zealous messengers, they help them to become aware of a profound mystery, that of the manifestation of the spirit in the world and in man.

The essence of a language, its DNA, is its grammar. Grammar incorporates the soul of the language, and it structures its spirit, without being able to understand its own genius. Grammatical DNA is not enough to explain the origin of the genius of language. It is also necessary to take the full measure of the slow work of epigenesis, and the sculpture of time.

Semitic languages, to take one example, are organized around verbal roots, which are called « triliters » because they are composed of three radical letters. But in fact, these verbs (concave, geminated, weak, imperfect,…) are not really « triliters ». To call them so is only « grammatical fiction », Renan saidi. In reality, triliteral roots can be etymologically reduced to two radical letters, with the third radical letter only adding a marginal nuance.

In Hebrew, the biliteral root פר (PR) carries the idea of separation, cut, break. The addition of a third radical letter following פר modifies this primary meaning, and brings like a bouquet of nuances.

Thus, the verbs : פּרד (parada, to divide), פּרה (paraa, to bear fruit), פּרח (paraha, to bloom, to bud, to burst),ּ פּרט (paratha, to break, to divide), פּרך (parakha, to crumble, to pulverize), פּרם (parama, to tear, to unravel), פּרס (paraça, to break, to divide), פּרע (para’a, to detach from, to excel), פּרץ (paratsa, to break, to shatter), פּרק (paraqa, to tear, to fragment), פּרר (parara, to break, to rape, to tear, to divide), פּרשׂ (parassa, to spread, to unfold), פּרשׁ (parasha, to distinguish, to declare).

The two letters פּ et ר also form a word, פּר, par, a substantive meaning: « young bull, sacrificial victim ». There is here, in my view, an unconscious meaning associated with the idea of separation. A very ancient, original, symbolic meaning, is still remembered in the language: the sacrificial victim is the one which is ‘separated’ from the herd, who is ‘set apart’.

There is more…

Hebrew willingly agrees to swap certain letters that are phonetically close. Thus, פּ (P) may be transmuted with other labials, such as בּ (B) or מ (M). After transmutation, the word פּר, ‘par’, is then transformed into בּר, ‘bar’, by substituting בּ for פּ. Now בּר, ‘bar‘, means ‘son’. The Hebrew thus makes it possible to associate with the idea of ‘son’ another idea, phonetically close, that of ‘sacrificial victim’. This may seem counter-intuitive, or, on the contrary, well correlated with certain very ancient customs (the ‘first born son sacrifice’). This adds another level of understanding to what was almost the fate of Isaac, the son of Abraham, whom the God YHVH asked to be sacrificed.

Just as פּ (P) permuted with בּ (B), so the first sacrificial victim (the son, ‘bar‘) permuted with another sacrificial victim (‘par‘), in this case a ram.

The biliteral root בּר, BR, ‘bar‘, gave several verbs. They are: בּרא (bara‘, ‘to create, to form’; ‘to be fat’), בּרה (baraa, ‘to eat’), בּרח (baraha, ‘to pass through, to flee’), בּרך (barakha, ‘to kneel, to bless’), בּרק (baraq, ‘lightning’), בּרר (barara, ‘to purify, to choose’).

The spectrum of these meanings, while opening the mind to other dimensions, broadens the symbolic understanding of the sacrificial context. Thus the verb bara‘, ‘he created’, is used at the beginning of Genesis, Berechit bara’ Elohim, « In the beginning created God…. ». The act of ‘creating’ (bara‘) the Earth is assimilated to the begetting of a ‘son’ (bar), but also, in a derivative sense, to the act of fattening an animal (‘the fatted calf’) for its future sacrifice. After repetition of the final R, we have the verb barara, which connotes the ideas of election and purification, which correspond to the initial justification of the sacrifice (election) and its final aim (purification). The same root, slightly modified, barakha, denotes the fact of bringing the animal to its knees before slaughtering it, a more practical position for the butcher. Hence, no doubt, the unconscious reason for the late, metonymic shift to the word ‘bless’. Kneeling, a position of humility, awaiting the blessing, evokes the position taken by the animal on the altar of sacrifice.

Hebrew allows yet other permutations with the second radical letter of the word, for example in the case cited, by substituting ר with צ. This gives: פּצה (patsaa, ‘to split, to open wide’), פּצח (patsaha, ‘to burst, to make heard’), פּצל (patsala, ‘to remove the bark, to peel’), פּצם (patsama, ‘to split’), פצע (patsa’a, ‘to wound, to bruise’). All these meanings have some connotation with the slaughter that the sacrifice of the ancient Hebrew religion requires, in marked contrast to the sacrifice of the Vedic religion, which is initiated by the grinding of plants and their mixing with clarified butter.

Lovers of Hebrew, Sanskrit, Greek, or Arabic dictionaries can easily make a thousand discoveries of this nature. They contemplate curiously, then stunned, the shimmering of these ancient languages, sedimenting old meanings by subtle shifts, and feeding on multiple metaphors, for thousands of years.

Unlike Semitic languages, the semantic roots of Chinese or the ancient language of Egypt are monosyllabic, but the rules of agglutination and coagulation of these roots also produce, though in another way, myriads of variations. Other subtleties, other nuances are discovered and unfold in an entirely different grammatical context.

These questions of grammar, roots and settled variations are fascinating, but it must be said that by confining ourselves to them, we never remain but on the surface of things.

We need to go deeper, to understand the very texture of words, their fundamental origin, whose etymology can never be enough. The time travel that etymology allows, always stops too early, in some ‘original’ sense, but that does not exhaust curiosity. Beyond that, only dense mists reign.

It has been rightly pointed out that Arabic is, in essence, a desert language, a language of nomads. All the roots bear witness to this in a lively, raw, poetic way.

In the same way, one should be able to understand why and how the Vedic language, Sanskrit, which is perhaps the richest, most elaborate language that man has ever conceived, is a language that has been almost entirely constructed from roots and philosophical and religious (Vedic) concepts. One only has to consult a dictionary such as Monier-Williams’ to see that the vast majority of Sanskrit words are metaphorically or metonymically linked to what was once a religious, Vedic image, symbol or intuition.

It is necessary to imagine these people, living six, twelve, twenty or forty thousand years ago, some of them possessing an intelligence and a wisdom as penetrating and powerful as those of Homer, Plato, Dante or Kant, but confronted to a very different ‘cultural’ environment.

These enlightened men of Prehistory were the first dreamers, the first thinkers of language. Their brains, avid, deep and slow, wove dense cocoons, from which were born eternal and brief butterflies, still flying in the light of origin, carefree, drawing arabesques, above the abyss, where the unconscious of the world never ceases to move.

_____

i Cf. Ernest Renan. De l’origine du langage. 1848

Seeing the « Hidden » God


Moses wearing a veil

The Hebrew word temounah has three meanings, says Maimonides.

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

Secondly, this word may be used to refer to figures, thoughts or visions that may occur in the imagination: « In thoughts born of nocturnal visions (temounah), etc.”, (Jb. 4:13). This passage from Job ends by using a second time this word: « A figure (temounah), whose features were unknown to me, stood there before my eyes. « (Jb. 4:16). This means, according to Maimonides, that there was a ghost before Job’s eyes while he was sleeping.

Finally, this word may mean the idea perceived by the intelligence. It is in this sense that one can use temounah when speaking of God: « And he beholds the figure (temounah) of the Lord. « (Num. 12:8). Maimonides comments: « That is to say, he contemplates God in his reality.” It is Moses, here, who ‘contemplates’ the reality of God. In another passage, again about Moses, God Himself says: « I speak to him face to face, in a clear appearance and without riddles. It is the image (temounah) of God himself that he contemplates. » (Numbers 12:8).

Maimonides explains: « The doctors say that this was a reward for having first ‘hidden his face so as not to look at God’ (Berakhot 7a) ». Indeed, one text says: « Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look towards God.” (Ex. 3:6)

It is difficult to bring anything new after Maimonides and the doctors. But this word, whose image, vision and idea can be understood through its very amphibology, deserves a special effort.

The word temounah is written תְּמוּנָה (root מוּן ).

The letter taw, the initial of temounah, can be swapped with the other ‘t’ in the Hebrew alphabet, the teth ט, as is allowed in the Hebrew language, which is very lax in this respect. This gives a new word, which can be transcribed as follows: themounah. Curiously enough, the word thamana טָמַן, which is very close to it, means « to hide, to bury ».

One may argue that it’s just a play on words. But the salt of the matter, if one lends any virtue to the implicit evocations of the meaning of the words, is that Moses « hides » (thamana) his face so as not to see the temounah of God.

By hiding (thamana) his own face (temounah), Moses contemplates the figure (temounah) of God, which remains hidden from him (thamana).

What does this teach us?

It teaches us that the divine figure does not show itself, even to a prophet of the calibre of Moses. Rather, it shows that the divine figure stays hidden. But by hiding, it also shows that one can contemplate its absence, which is in fact the beginning of the vision (temounah) of its very essence (temounah).

By renouncing to see a temounah (an image), one gains access to the temounah of the temounah (the understanding of the essence).

Through this riddle, hopefully, one may start to get access to God’s temounah.

It is also a further indication that God is indeed a hidden God. No wonder it is difficult to talk about His existence (and even more so about His essence) to ‘modern’ people who only want to « see » what is visible.

Creation, Death, Life


According to Genesis, taken literally, man was created twice.

Genesis, in chapter 1, describes a first creation of « man » called ha-adam. The word ha-adam includes the definite article ha and literally means « the earth », metaphorically « the red » (for the earth is red), and by extension « man ».

In Chapter 2, Genesis describes a second creation of man (ish), accompanied by a creation of woman (isha). These two words are not preceded by the article ha.

The most immediately noticeable differences between the two creations are as follows.

First of all, the names given to the man differ, as we have just seen: ha-adam on the one hand, ish and isha on the other.

Secondly, the verbs used to describe the act of creation are not the same. In the first chapter of Genesis we read: « God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness' » (Gen. 1:26). The Hebrew word for ‘let us make’ is נַעֲשֶׂה from the verb עֲשֶׂה, ‘asah, to do, to act, to work. In the second chapter of Genesis we read: « And the Eternal God planted a garden in Eden toward the east, and there he placed the man whom he had fashioned. « (Gen. 2:8) The Hebrew word for ‘fashioning’ is יָצָר , yatsara, to make, to form, to create.

Thirdly, in Genesis 1, God created man « male and female » (zakhar and nqebah). Man is apparently united in a kind of bi-sexual indifferentiation or created with « two faces », according to Rashi.

In contrast, in Genesis 2, the creation of woman is clearly differentiated. She is created in a specific way and receives the name ‘isha‘, which is given to her by the man. The man, ‘ha-adam‘, then calls himself ‘ish‘, and he calls his wife ‘isha‘, « because she was taken from ‘ish‘ ».

Rashi comments on this verse: « She shall be called isha, because she was taken from ish. Isha (‘woman’) is derived from ish (‘man’). From here we learn that the world was created with the holy language, [since only the Hebrew language connects the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ with a common root]. (Berechith raba 18, 4).”

I don’t know if it can be said with impunity that only the Hebrew language connects the words « man » and « woman » to a common root. English, for example, displays such a link with « man » and « woman ». In Latin, « femina » (woman) would be the feminine counterpart of « homo » (« hemna« ).

But this is a secondary issue. However, it shows that Rashi’s interest is certainly not exercised here on the problem of double creation and on the triple difference between the stories of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2: two nouns (adam/ish), two verbs to describe creation (‘asah/yatsara), and two ways of evoking the difference between genders, in the form ‘male and female’ (zakhar/nqebah) and in the form ‘man and woman’ (ish/isha).

The double narrative of the creation of man and woman could be interpreted as the result of writing by independent authors at different times. These various versions were later collated to form the text of Genesis, which we have at our disposal, and which is traditionally attributed to Moses.

What is important here is not so much the identity of the writers as the possible interpretation of the differences between the two stories.

The two ‘ways’ of creating man are rendered, as has been said, by two Hebrew words, עֲשֶׂה ‘to make’ and יָצָר ‘to form’. What does this difference in vocabulary indicate?

The verb עֲשֶׂה ‘asah (to do) has a range of meanings that help to characterize it more precisely: to prepare, to arrange, to take care of, to establish, to institute, to accomplish, to practice, to observe. These verbs evoke a general idea of realization, accomplishment, with a nuance of perfection.

The verb יָצָר yatsara (to shape, to form) has a second, intransitive meaning: to be narrow, tight, embarrassed, afraid, tormented. It evokes an idea of constraint, that which could be imposed by a form applied to a malleable material.

By relying on lexicon and semantics, one can attempt a symbolic explanation. The first verb (עֲשֶׂה , to do) seems to translate God’s point of view when he created man. He « makes » man, as if he was in his mind a finished, perfect, accomplished idea. The second verb (יָצָר , to form) rather translates, by contrast, the point of view of man receiving the « form » given to him, with all that this implies in terms of constraints, constrictions and limits.

If we venture into a more philosophical terrain, chapter 1 of Genesis seems to present the creation of man as ‘essence’, or in a ‘latent’ form, still ‘hidden’ to some extent in the secret of nature.

Later, when the time came, man also appears to have been created as an existential, natural, visible, and clearly sexually differentiated reality, as chapter 2 reports.

S. Augustine devoted Part VI of his book, Genesis in the literal sense, to this difficult question. He proposes to consider that God first created all things ‘simultaneously’, as it is written: ‘He who lives for eternity created everything at the same time. « (Ecclesiasticus, 18,1) The Vulgate version says: « in aeternum, creavit omnia simul« . This word ‘simul‘ seems to mean a ‘simultaneous’ creation of all things.

It should be noted in passing that neither Jews nor Protestants consider this book of Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach) to belong to the biblical canon.

For its part, the Septuagint translates from Hebrew into Greek this verse from Ecclesiasticus:  » o zon eis ton aiôna ektisen ta panta koinè « . (« He who lives for eternity has created everything together. »)

This is another interpretation.

So shall we retain ‘together’ (as the Greek koinè says) or ‘simultaneously’ (according to the Latin simul)? It could be said that it amounts to the same thing. However it follows from this difference that Augustine’s quotation from Sirach 18:1 is debatable, especially when it is used to distinguish between the creation of man in chapter 1 of Genesis and his second creation in chapter 2.

According to Augustine, God in the beginning created all things ‘in their causes’, or ‘in potency’. In other words, God in chapter 1 creates the idea, essence or principle of all things and everything in nature, including man. « If I say that man in that first creation where God created all things simultaneously, not only was he not a man in the perfection of adulthood, but was not even a child, – not only was he not a child, but was not even an embryo in his mother’s womb, but was not even the visible seed of man, it will be believed that he was nothing at all.”

Augustine then asks: what were Adam and Eve like at the time of the first creation? « I will answer: invisibly, potentially, in their causes, as future things are made that are not yet.”

Augustine takes the side of the thesis of the double creation of man, firstly in his ‘causal reason’, ‘in potency’, and secondly, ‘in act’, in an effective ‘existence’ which is prolonged throughout history.

This is also true of the soul of every man. The soul is not created before the body, but after it. It does not pre-exist it. When it is created, it is created as a ‘living soul’. It is only in a second stage that this ‘living soul’ may (or may not) become ‘life-giving spirit’.

Augustine quotes Paul on this subject: « If there is an animal body, there is also a spiritual body. It is in this sense that it is written: The first man, Adam, was made a living soul, the last Adam, the ‘newest Adam’ (novissimus Adam), was a life-giving spirit. But it is not what is spiritual that was made first, it is what is animal; what is spiritual comes next. The first man, who came from the earth, is earthly; the second man, who came from heaven, is heavenly. Such is the earthly, such are also the earthly; and such is the heavenly, such are also the heavenly. And just as we have put on the image of the earthly, so shall we also put on the image of him who is of heaven.”

And Augustine adds: « What more can I say? We therefore bear the image of the heavenly man from now on by faith, sure that we will obtain in the resurrection what we believe: as for the image of the earthly man, we have clothed it from the origin of the human race. »

This basically amounts to suggesting the hypothesis of a third ‘creation’ that could affect man: after adam, ish or isha, there is the ‘last Adam‘, man as ‘life-giving spirit’.

From all of this, we will retain a real intuition of the possible metamorphoses of man, certainly not reduced to a fixed form, but called upon to considerably surpass himself.

It is interesting, at this point, to note that Philo of Alexandria offers a very different explanation of the double creation.

Philo explains that in the beginning God « places » (וַיָּשֶׂם שָׁם ) in the Garden of Eden a « fashioned » man (‘The Eternal God planted a garden in Eden towards the east and placed the man he had fashioned in it’). Gen. 2:8). A little later he ‘established’ (וַיַּנִּח ) a man to be the worker and the guardian (‘The Eternal-God therefore took the man and established him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it’. Gen. 2:15).

According to Philo, the man who cultivates the garden and cares for it is not the « fashioned » man, but « the man [that God] has made« . And Philo says: « [God] receives this one, but drives out the other.”i

Philo had already made a distinction between the heavenly man and the earthly man, by the same verbal means. « The heavenly man was not fashioned, but made in the image of God, and the earthly man is a being fashioned, but not begotten by the Maker.”ii

If we follow Philo, we must understand that God drove the ‘fashioned‘ man out of the garden, after having placed him there, and then established the ‘made‘ man there. The man whom God ‘fashioned‘ was ‘placed‘ in the garden, but it seems that he was not considered worthy to cultivate and keep it.

Moreover, in the text of Genesis there is no evidence to support Philo’s thesis of a cross between a ‘fashioned’ man and a ‘made’ man.

Philo specifies: « The man whom God made differs, as I have said, from the man who was fashioned: the fashioned man is the earthly intelligence; the made man is the immaterial intelligence.”iii

Philo’s interpretation, as we can see, is metaphorical. It must be understood that there are not two kinds of men, but that there are rather two kinds of intelligence in 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 (…) The intelligence that is in each one of us can understand other beings, but it is incapable of knowing itself, as the eye sees without seeing itself »iv.

The ‘earthly’ intelligence can think of all beings, but it cannot understand itself.

God has therefore also ‘made‘ a man of ‘heavenly’ intelligence, but he does not seem to have had a happier hand, since he disobeyed the command not to eat of the fruit of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.

But was this tree of ‘the knowledge of good and evil’ really in the Garden of Eden? Philo doubts it. For if God says, « But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it », then « this tree was not in the garden »v.

« You shall not eat of it.” This should not be interpreted as a prohibition, but as a simple prediction of an all-knowing God.

This can be explained by the nature of things, Philo argues. The tree could have been present in « substance », but not in « potency »…

The man ‘in the image’ could have eaten the substance of a fruit of this tree. But he did not digest all its latent potency, and therefore he did not benefit from it in any real way.

There is yet another possible interpretation. Knowledge is not found in life. It is found only in potency, not in life, but in death.

The day in which one eats from the fruit of the tree of knowledge is also the day of death, the day in which the prediction is fulfilled: « Thou shalt die of death » מוֹת תָּמוּת (Gen. 2:17).

In this strange verse the word « death » is used twice. Why is this?

« 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 is 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 fragment 62 of Heraclitus: « We live by their death, we are dead to their life.”vii He believes that Heraclitus was « right to follow the doctrine of Moses in this ». As a good Neoplatonist, Philo also takes up Plato’s famous thesis of the body as the ‘tomb of the soul’.

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

There is nevertheless a notable difference between the vision of Genesis and that of the Greek philosophers.

Genesis says: « You shall die of death! « 

Heraclitus has a very different formula: « The life of some is the death of others, the death of some, the life of others.”

In Genesis death is deemed as a double death.

For Heraclitus, death is mixed with life.

Who is right?

iPhilo of Alexandria, Legum Allegoriae, 55

iiIbid., 31

iiiIbid., 88

ivIbid., 90

vIbid., 100

viIbid., 105

vii Philo quoted only a part of fragment 62. He omitted: « Immortals are mortal; mortals are immortal ».

viiiIbid., 106

China Divine


Lizard Fossile

In the Fayan (« Master Words ») of Yang Xiong, written two thousand years ago, the chapter entitled « Questions about the divine » begins laconically:

« The question is about the divine.

– The heart.

– What do you mean by this?

– Immersing itself in the sky, it becomes heaven. Immersed in the earth, it becomes earth. Heaven and earth are divine clarity, unfathomable, and yet the heart plunges into them as if it were going to fathom them.”i

The divine is indefinable, unintelligible. However, the heart does not care. It tries to form an idea of it, by its impetuous and passionate way of searching for it. It knows that it has no chance of grasping it in its essence or in its existence, in heaven or on earth. Yet he does not hesitate, he throws himself into the bottomless abyss, as if he could reach the bottom.

The heart knows that it cannot reach a bottom that is bottomless. But it rushes into the abyss. It drowns in the immensity, and by guessing the immensity, it becomes immense. It immerses itself in the sky and grasps the sky in itself, it enters the earth and everything in it becomes earth, it jumps into mystery, and mysteriously metamorphoses into mystery.

Only by plunging into the abyss does it discover that it becomes an abyss, and that it has always been an abyss, that it is still an abyss, and will be even more so.

All knowledge of the divine begins with the as if it were possible to know this knowledge. The as if carries the faith of the heart forward or backward. The as if carries the heart beyond what it is and beyond what it knows.

Why does the heart bet on the as if?

Yang Xiong explains it in a commentary on the Tài Xuán Jīng (« The canon of the supreme mystery »):

« The heart hidden in the depths, beauty of the sacred root. Divination: the heart hidden in the depths, the divine is not elsewhere.”ii

Compact, unmistakable style.

In Chinese, « divine » is shen, 神. This ambiguous word also means soul, spirit, mystery, alive, and even God.

« Heart » is xīn 心. Three tears around a blade. Three moons on the mountain. Three gods near a tree.

Shen is xīn. Xīn is shen. The heart drowns in the divine. The divine drowns in the heart.

This idea is classical in Confucianism. It is found in the Mengzi, which quotes Confucius, and Yang Xiong takes it up again in this form:

« The divine in the heart of man! Summon it, it exists. Abandon it, it disappears.”iii

It is the idea, therefore, that the holy man makes the divine exist in the world through his action. He stands on the border between heaven and man. Participating in both worlds, he fills the gap between them.

Yet another image:

« The dragon is writhing in the mud. The lizard basks there. Lizard, lizard, how could you understand the dragon’s aspiration?

– Must the dragon have this desire to rise into the sky?

– When it’s time to rise, it rises. When it is time to dive, it dives. There is both rising and diving at the same time.”iv

When it comes to research, no time form basking in the sun. Or in the mud.

iYang Xiong. Master Words. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 2010, Ch.5, 1, p.39

iiIbid. p.39, Note 1

iiiIbid. Ch5, 3, p.40

ivIbid. Ch5, 5, p.40

The Soul of Languages


Ancient papyrus with hieroglyphs

Ancient languages, such as Sanskrit, Egyptian, Avestic, Chinese, Hebrew and Greek, possess a kind of secret spirit, an immanent soul, which makes them develop as living powers, often without the knowledge of the people who speak them, and could be compared to insects foraging in a forest of words, with fragrant, autonomous and fertile scents.

This phenomenal independence of languages from the men who speak and think with them is the sign of a mystery, latent from their genesis. « Languages are not the work of a reason conscious of itself”, wrote Turgoti .

They are the work of another type of ‘reason’, a superior one, which could be compared to the putative reason of language angels, active in the history of the world, haunting the unconscious of peoples, and drawing their substance from them, just as much as from the nature of things.

The essence of a language, its DNA, lies in its grammar. Grammar incorporates the soul of the language. It represents it in all its potency, without limiting its own genius. Grammar is there but it is not enough to explain the genius of the language. The slow work of epigenesis, the work of time on words, escapes it completely.

This epigenesis of the language, how can it be felt? One way is to consider vast sets of interrelated words, and to visit through thought the society they constitute, and the history that made them possible.

Let’s take an example. Semitic languages are organized around verbal roots, which are called « trilitera » because they are composed of three radical letters. But these verbs (concave, geminated, weak, imperfect, …) are not really « triliterated ». To call them so is only « grammatical fiction », Renan assertedii. In reality, triliteral roots can be etymologically reduced to two radical, essential letters, the third radical letter only adding a marginal nuance.

For example, in Hebrew, the two root letters פר (para) translate the idea of ‘separation’, ‘cut’, ‘break’. The addition of a third radical letter following פר then modulates this primary meaning and gives a range of nuances: פרד parada « to separate, to be dispersed », פרח paraha « to erupt, to germinate, to blossom », פרס parasa « to tear, to split », פרע para’a « to reject, to dissolve », פרץ paratsa « to destroy, to cut down, to break », פרק paraqa « to break, to tear », פרס perasa « to break, to share », פרש parasha « to break, to disperse ».

The keyboard of possible variations can be further expanded. The Hebrew language allows the first radical letter פ to be swapped with the beth ב, opening up other semantic horizons: ברא bara « to create, to draw from nothing; to cut, to cut down », ברה bara’a « to choose », ברר barada « to hail », בבח baraha, « to flee, to hunt », ברך barakha, « to bless; to curse, to offend, to blaspheme », ברק baraqa, « to make lightning shine », ברר barara, « to separate, sort; to purify ».

The Hebrew language, which is very flexible, may also allow permutations with the second letter of the verbal root, changing for example the ר by צ or by ז. This gives rise to a new efflorescence of nuances, opening up other semantic avenues:

פצה « to split, to open wide », פצח « to burst, to make heard », פצל « to remove the bark, to peel », פצם « to split, to open in », פצע « to wound, to bruise », בצע « to cut, to break, to delight, to steal », בצר « to cut, to harvest », בזה « to despise, to scorn », בזא « to devastate », בזר « to spread, to distribute », בזק « lightning flash », בתר « to cut, to divide ».

Through oblique shifts, slight additions, literal « mutations » and « permutations » of the alphabetic DNA, we witness the quasi-genetic development of the words of the language and the epigenetic variability of their meanings.

Languages other than Hebrew, such as Sanskrit, Greek or Arabic, also allow a thousand similar discoveries, and offer lexical and semantic shimmering, inviting us to explore the endless sedimentation of the meanings, which has been accumulating and densifying for thousands of years in the unconscious of languages.

In contrast, the Chinese language or the language of ancient Egypt do not seem to have a very elaborate grammar. On the other hand, as they are composed of monosyllabic units of meaning (ideograms, hieroglyphics) whose agglutination and coagulation also produce, in their own way, myriads of variations, we then discover other generative powers, other specific forms generating the necessary proliferation of meaning.

Grammar, lexicography and etymology are sometimes poetic, surprising and lively ways of accessing the unconscious of language. They do not reveal it entirely, however, far from it.

A psychoanalysis of language may reveal its unconscious and help finding the origin of its original impulses.

For example, it is worth noting that the language of the Veda, Sanskrit – perhaps the richest and most elaborate language ever conceived by man – is almost entirely based on a philosophical or religious vocabulary. Almost all entries in the most learned Sanskrit dictionaries refer in one way or another to religious matters. Their network is so dense that almost every word naturally leads back to them.

One is then entitled to ask the question: Is (Vedic) religion the essence of (Sanskrit) language? Or is it the other way round? Does Vedic language contain the essence of Veda?

This question is of course open to generalization: does Hebrew contain the essence of Judaism? And do its letters conceal an inner mystery? Or is it the opposite: is Judaism the truth and the essence of the Hebrew language?

In a given culture, does the conception of the world precede that of language? Or is it the language itself, shaped by centuries and men, which ends up bringing ancient religious foundations to their incandescence?

Or, alternatively, do language and religion have a complex symbiotic relationship that is indistinguishable, but prodigiously fertile – in some cases, or potentially sterile in others? A dreadful dilemma! But how stimulating for the researcher of the future.

One can imagine men, living six or twelve thousand years ago, possessing a penetrating intelligence, and the brilliant imagination of a Dante or a Kant, like native dreamers, contemplating cocoons of meaning, slow caterpillars, or evanescent butterflies, and tempting in their language eternity – by the idea and by the words, in front of the starry night, unaware of their ultimate destiny.

iTurgot. Remarques sur l’origine des langues. Œuvres complètes . Vol. 2. Paris, 1844. p.719

iiErnest Renan. De l’origine du langage. 1848

Yōḥ, Jove, Yah and Yahweh


Mars Ciel ©Philippe Quéau 2020

In the ancient Umbrian language, the word « man » is expressed in two ways: ner– and veiro-, which denote the place occupied in society and the social role. This differentiation is entirely consistent with that observed in the ancient languages of India and Iran: nar– and vīrā.

In Rome, traces of these ancient names can also be found in the vocabulary used in relation to the Gods Mars (Nerio) and Quirinus (Quirites, Viriles), as noted by G. Dumézili.

If there are two distinct words for « man » in these various languages, or to differentiate the god of war (Mars) and the god of peace (Quirinus, – whose name, derived from *covirino– or *co-uirio-, means « the god of all men »), it is perhaps because man is fundamentally double, or dual, and the Gods he gives himself translate this duality?

If man is double, the Gods are triple. The pre-capitoline triad, or « archaic triad » – Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus -, in fact proposes a third God, Jupiter, who dominates the first two.

What does the name Jupiter tell us?

This name is very close, phonetically and semantically, to that of the Vedic God Dyaus Pitar, literally « God the Father », in Sanskrit द्यौष् पिता / Dyauṣ Pitā or द्यौष्पितृ / Dyauṣpitṛ.

The Sanskrit root of Dyaus (« God ») is दिव् div-, « heaven ». The God Dyau is the personified « Heaven-Light ».

The Latin Jupiter therefore means « Father-God ». The short form in Latin is Jove, (genitive Jovis).

The linguistic closeness between Latin, Avestic and Vedic – which is extended in cultural analogies between Rome, Iran and India – is confirmed when referring to the three words « law », « faith » and « divination », – respectively, in Latin: iūs, credo, augur. In the Vedic language, the similarity of these words is striking: yōḥ, ṡṛad-dhā, ōjas. In Avestic (ancient Iranian), the first two terms are yaoš and zraz-dā, also quite similar.

Dumézil states that iūs is a contraction of *ioves-, close to Jove /Jovis. and he adds that this word etymologically refers to Vedic yōḥ (or yos) and Avestic yaoš.

The three words yaoš, yōḥ (or yos) and iūs have the same etymological origin, therefore, but their meanings have subsequently varied significantly.

In Avestic, the word yaoš has three uses, according to Dumézil :

-To sanctify an invisible entity or a mythical state. Thus this verse attributed to Zoroaster: « The religious conscience that I must sanctify [yaoš-dā].”ii

-To consecrate, to perform a ritual act, as in the expression: « The consecrated liquor » [yaoš-dātam zaotram].iii

-To purify what has been soiled.

These concepts (« sanctification », « consecration », « purification ») refer to the three forms of medicine that prevailed at the time: herbal medicine, knife medicine and incantations.

Incidentally, these three forms of medicine are based respectively on the vitality of the plant world and its power of regeneration, on the life forces associated with the blood shed during the « sacrifice », and on the mystical power of prayers and orations.

In the Vedic language, yōḥ (or yos) is associated with prosperity, health, happiness, fortune, but also with the mystical, ritual universe, as the Sanskrit root yaj testifies, « to offer the sacrifice, to honor the divinity, to sanctify a place ».

But in Latin, iūs takes on a more concrete, legal and « verbal » rather than religious meaning. Iūs can be ´said´: « iū-dic« , – hence the word iūdex, justice.

The Romans socialised, personalised, legalised and ‘secularised’ iūs in a way. They make iūs an attribute of everyone. One person’s iūs is equivalent to another person’s iūs, hence the possible confrontations, but also the search for balance and equilibrium, – war or peace.

The idea of « right » (jus) thus comes from a conception of iūs, founded in the original Rome, but itself inherited from a mystical and religious tradition, much older, and coming from a more distant (Indo-Aryan) East. But in Rome it was the juridical spirit of justice that finally prevailed over the mystical and religious spirit.

The idea of justice reached modern times, but what about the spirit carried in three Indo-Aryan languages by the words iūs, yaoš-dā, yōs, originally associated with the root *ioves– ?

One last thing. We will notice that the words yōḥ and Jove, seem to be phonetically and poetically close to two Hebrew names of God: Yah and YHVH (Yahweh).

iG. Dumézil. Idées romaines. 1969

iiYasna 44,9

iiiYast X. 120

The Divine, – Long Before Abraham


More than two millennia B.C., in the middle of the Bronze Age, so-called « Indo-Aryan » peoples were settled in Bactria, between present-day Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. They left traces of a civilisation known as the Oxus civilisation (-2200, -1700). Then they migrated southwards, branching off to the left, towards the Indus plains, or to the right, towards the high plateau of Iran.

These migrant peoples, who had long shared a common culture, then began to differentiate themselves, linguistically and religiously, without losing their fundamental intuitions. This is evidenced by the analogies and differences between their respective languages, Sanskrit and Zend, and their religions, the religion of the Vedas and that of Zend-Avesta.

In the Vedic cult, the sacrifice of the Soma, composed of clarified butter, fermented juice and decoctions of hallucinogenic plants, plays an essential role. The Vedic Soma has its close equivalent in Haoma, in Zend-Avesta. The two words are in fact the same, if we take into account that the Zend language of the ancient Persians puts an aspirated h where the Sanskrit puts an s.

Soma and Haoma have a deep meaning. These liquids are transformed by fire during the sacrifice, and then rise towards the sky. Water, milk, clarified butter are symbols of the cosmic cycles. At the same time, the juice of hallucinogenic plants and their emanations contribute to ecstasy, trance and divination, revealing an intimate link between the chemistry of nature, the powers of the brain and the insight into divine realities.

The divine names are very close, in the Avesta and the Veda. For example, the solar God is called Mitra in Sanskrit and Mithra in Avesta. The symbolism linked to Mitra/Mithra is not limited to identification with the sun. It is the whole cosmic cycle that is targeted.

An Avestic prayer says: « In Mithra, in the rich pastures, I want to sacrifice through Haoma.”i

Mithra, the divine « Sun », reigns over the « pastures » that designate all the expanses of Heaven, and the entire Cosmos. In the celestial « pastures », the clouds are the « cows of the Sun ». They provide the milk of Heaven, the water that makes plants grow and that waters all life on earth. Water, milk and Soma, all liquid, have their common origin in the solar, celestial cows.

The Soma and Haoma cults are inspired by this cycle. The components of the sacred liquid (water, clarified butter, vegetable juices) are carefully mixed in a sacred vase, the samoudra. But the contents of the vase only take on their full meaning through the divine word, the sacred hymn.

« Mortar, vase, Haoma, as well as the words coming out of Ahura-Mazda‘s mouth, these are my best weapons.”ii

Soma and Haoma are destined for the Altar Fire. Fire gives a life of its own to everything it burns. It reveals the nature of things, illuminates them from within by its light, its incandescence.

« Listen to the soul of the earth; contemplate the rays of Fire with devotion.”iii

Fire originally comes from the earth, and its role is to make the link with Heaven, as says the Yaçna.iv

« The earth has won the victory, because it has lit the flame that repels evil.”v

Nothing naturalistic in these images. These ancient religions were not idolatrous, as they were made to believe, with a myopia mixed with profound ignorance. They were penetrated by a cosmic spirituality.

« In the midst of those who honor your flame, I will stand in the way of Truth « vi said the officiant during the sacrifice.

The Fire is stirred by the Wind (which is called Vāyou in Avestic as in Sanskrit). Vāyou is not a simple breath, a breeze, it is the Holy Spirit, the treasure of wisdom.

 » Vāyou raises up pure light and directs it against the dark ones.”vii

Water, Fire, Wind are means of mediation, means to link up with the one God, the « Living » God that the Avesta calls Ahura Mazda.

« In the pure light of Heaven, Ahura Mazda exists. »viii

The name of Ahura (the « Living »), calls the supreme Lord. This name is identical to the Sanskrit Asura (we have already seen the equivalence h/s). The root of Asura is asu, “life”.

The Avestic word mazda means « wise ».

« It is you, Ahura Mazda (« the Living Wise One »), whom I have recognized as the primordial principle, the father of the Good Spirit, the source of truth, the author of existence, living eternally in your works.”ix

Clearly, the « Living » is infinitely above all its creatures.

« All luminous bodies, the stars and the Sun, messenger of the day, move in your honor, O Wise One, living and true. »x

I call attention to the alliance of the three words, « wise », « living » and « true », to define the supreme God.

The Vedic priest as well as the Avestic priest addressed God in this way more than four thousand years ago: « To you, O Living and True One, we consecrate this living flame, pure and powerful, the support of the world.”xi

I like to think that the use of these three attributes (« Wise », « Living » and « True »), already defining the essence of the supreme God more than four thousand years ago, is the oldest proven trace of an original theology of monotheism.

It is important to stress that this theology of Life, Wisdom and Truth of a supreme God, unique in His supremacy, precedes the tradition of Abrahamic monotheism by more than a thousand years.

Four millennia later, at the beginning of the 21st century, the world landscape of religions offers us at least three monotheisms, particularly assertorical: Judaism, Christianity, Islam…

« Monotheisms! Monotheisms! », – I would wish wish to apostrophe them, – « A little modesty! Consider with attention and respect the depth of the times that preceded the late emergence of your own dogmas!”

The hidden roots and ancient visions of primeval and deep humanity still show to whoever will see them, our essential, unfailing unity and our unique origin…

iKhorda. Prayer to Mithra.

iiVend. Farg. 19 quoted in Émile Burnouf. Le Vase sacré. 1896

iiiYaçna 30.2

ivYaçna 30.2

vYaçna 32.14

viYaçna 43.9

viiYaçna 53.6

viiiVisp 31.8

ixYaçna 31.8

xYaçna 50.30

xiYaçna 34.4

The « Book » and the « Word ».


The high antiquity of the Zend language, contemporary to the language of the Vedas, is well established. Eugène Burnoufi even considers that it presents certain characteristics of anteriority, which the vocal system testifies to. But this thesis remains controversial. Avestic science was still in its infancy in the 19th century. It was necessary to use conjectures. For example, Burnouf tried to explain the supposed meaning of the name Zarathustra, not without taking risks. According to him, zarath means « yellow » in zend, and uchtra, « camel ». The name of Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianism, would thus mean: « He who has yellow camels »?

Burnouf, with all his young science, thus contradicts Aristotle who, in his Treatise on Magic, says that the word Ζωροάστρην (Zoroaster) means « who sacrifices to the stars ».

It seems that Aristotle was right. Indeed, the old Persian word Uchtra can be related to the Indo-European word ashtar, which gave « astre » in French and « star » in English. And zarath can mean « golden ». Zarathustra would then mean « golden star », which is perhaps more appropriate to the founder of a thriving religion.

These questions of names are not so essential. Whether he is the happy owner of yellow camels, or the incarnation of a star shining like gold, Zoroaster is above all the mythical author of the Zend Avesta, of which the Vendidad and the Yaçna are part.

The name Vendidad is a contraction of Vîdaêvo dâta, « given against demons (dêvas) ».

The Yaçna (« sacrifice with prayers ») is a collection of Avestic prayers.

Here is an extract, quite significant.

« As a worshipper of Mazda [Wisdom], a sectarian of Zoroaster, an enemy of the devils [demons], an observer of the precepts of Ahura [the « Lord »], I pay homage to him who is given here, given against the devils, and to Zoroaster, pure, master of purity, and to the yazna [sacrifice], and to the prayer that makes favorable, and to the blessing of the masters, and to the days, and the hours, and the months, and the seasons, and the years, and to the yazna, and to the prayer that makes favorable, and to the blessing!”

This prayer is addressed to the Lord, Ahura. But it is also addressed to the prayer itself.

In a repetitive, self-referential way, it is a prayer to the yaçna, a ‘prayer praying the prayer’, an invocation to the invocation, a blessing of the blessing. A homage from mediation to mediation.

This stylistic formula, « prayer to prayer », is interesting to analyze.

Let us note from the outset that the Zend Avesta clearly recognises the existence of a supreme God, to whom every prayer is addressed.

« I pray and invoke the great Ormuzd [= Ahura Mazda, the « Lord of Wisdom »], brilliant, radiant with light, very perfect, very excellent, very pure, very strong, very intelligent, who is purest, above all that which is holy, who thinks only of the good, who is a source of pleasure, who gives gifts, who is strong and active, who nourishes, who is sovereignly absorbed in excellence.”ii

But Avestic prayer can also be addressed not only to the supreme God, but also to the mediation that make it possible to reach Him, like the sacred Book itself: « I pray and invoke the Vendidad given to Zoroaster, holy, pure and great.”iii

The prayer is addressed to God and all his manifestations, of which the Book (the Vendidad) is a part.

« I invoke and celebrate you Fire, son of Ormuzd, with all the fires.

I invoke and celebrate the excellent, pure and perfect Word that the Vendidad gave to Zoroaster, the sublime, pure and ancient Law of the Mazdeans.”

It is important to note that it is the Sacred Book (the Vendidad) that gives the divine Word to Zoroaster, and not the other way round. The Zend Avesta sees this Book as sacred and divine, and recognizes it as an actor of divine revelation.

It is tempting to compare this divine status of the Book in the Zend Avesta with the divine status of the Torah in Judaism and the Koran in Islam.

The divine status of sacred texts (Zend Avesta, Torah, Koran) in these monotheisms incites to consider a link between the affirmation of the absolute transcendence of a supreme God and the need for mediation between the divine and the human, – a mediation which must itself be « divine ».

It is interesting to underline, by contrast, the human origin of evangelical testimonies in Christianity. The Gospels were written by men, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. The Gospels are not divine emanations, but human testimonies. They are therefore not of the same essence as the Torah (« revealed » to Moses), or the Koran (« dictated » to Muhammad, who was otherwise illiterate) or the Zend Avesta (« given » to Zoroaster).

In Christianity, on the other hand, it is Christ himself who embodies divine mediation in his person. He, the Anointed One, Christ, the Messiah, incarnates the divine Word, the Verb.

Following this line of thought, one would have to conclude that Christianity is not a « religion of the Book », as the oversimplified formula that usually encompasses the three monotheisms under the same expression would suggest.

This formula certainly suits Judaism and Islam, as it does Zend Avesta. But Christianity is not a religion of the « Book », it is a religion of the « Word ».

iEugène Burnouf, Commentaire sur le Yaçna, l’un des livres religieux des Parses. Ouvrage contenant le texte zend. 1833

iiZend Avesta, I, 2

iiiZend Avesta, I, 2

Hebrew Wind and Chinese Breath


« The earth was tohu and bohu, darkness covered the abyss, a wind of God (וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים , ruah Elohim) was moving over the waters.”i

Tohu means « astonishment, amazement » and bohu means « emptiness, loneliness », explains Rashi, who adds: « Man is seized with amazement and horror in the presence of emptiness.”

Man was amazed and horrified? But how could this be done? Man was only created on the 6th day, when the emptiness had already been partly filled by light, the firmament, the land and the seas, the light fixtures and a multitude of living beings. But this is not necessarily contradictory. It is inferred that Rashi is referring to the « astonishment and horror » that man felt long after the tohu and bohu were created, when man began to reflect on the origins.

However, this reflection has not ceased and is still relevant today.

So there are two kinds of men, if we follow the path indicated by Rashi. Those who feel « amazement and horror » when they think about the hustle and bustle of the origins, and those who are in no way moved by this kind of thinking.

Above the emptiness, above the abyss, above the bohu, « a wind of God » was moving. The word רוּחַ, ruah, is very ambivalent and can mean wind, breath, spirit, soul, depending on the context. Translating here as « a wind » as the Jerusalem Bible does seems to favour a more meteorological or geo-physical approach to these original times. This translation uses the indefinite article (« a wind ») which indicates a certain non-differentiation, a possible multiplicity of other « winds » that God would not have put into action.

The Bible of the French Rabbinate translates ruah Elohim as « the breath of God ». Rashi comments: « The throne of the Divine Majesty stood in the air and hovered on the surface of the waters by the sole force of the breath of the word of the Holy One, and by His order. Like a dove hovering over its nest.”

This comment by Rashi calls for another comment, – from my modest part.

To explain just one word, ruah, Rashi uses four more words. First an expression of three words: « the strength of the breath of the word » of the Holy One, blessed be He, and a fourth word that clarifies its meaning: « by His order ». To this are added two more images, that of the « Throne of the Divine Majesty », and a comparison of the ruah with « the dove hovering over its nest ». The « wind of God » hovering in front of the loneliness of the bohu is thus well surrounded.

It is generally one of the roles of the commentator to multiply the possible outbursts of meaning, and to make promises glimmer. It is apparent from Rashi’s commentary that not only was the ruah not alone in the beginning, but that it bore, so to speak, the Throne of God, in His Majesty, and that it was accompanied by His Word and His Order (i.e. His Power). A curious trinity, for a monotheism that claims to be pure of all kind of trinitarian idolatry.

Now let us change era, and air. Let’s go East.

The same idea of « original breath » is expressed in Chinese by the two caractères元气 , yuánqì. The two ideograms used are: 元 , yuán, origin and 气 , , breath.

The is the vital breath. It is the fundamental principle of life, which animates all beings. After death, the continues to live in the afterlife. The embodies the essence of a universe that is constantly changing. It constantly circulates and connects things and beings.

takes different forms. We can distinguish the original ( yuánqì,元气), the primordial (yuánqì 元氣), the prenatal (jīng 精), the of the mind and the of the soul (shén 神), etc.

Archaeological traces of the character have been found, engraved on turtle shells. It was originally represented by three horizontal bars, supposed to evoke steam or mist. The also appears on a jade jewel dating from the period of the Fighting Kingdoms (-403 to -256), in the form of the sinogram 炁 , composed of the radical 灬, which refers to fire (huǒ 火). During the Han Dynasty (from -206 to 220), is represented by a sinogram combining steam 气 and fire 火.

In the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) the is represented by the sinogram 氣 which refers to the steam emanating from the cooking of rice. It is still used today, and illustrates the material and immaterial nature of the concept. Its key is the pictogram 气 () which represents a cloud.

The lower part of the sinogram is the pictogram 米 (), which represents grains of rice and means « rice ». The character 氣 expresses the idea of rice boiling in the pot.

The sinogram writes as a mixture, immaterial and ethereal (steam), dense and material (rice).

In Genesis, the movement of the divine breath precedes the separation of heaven and earth, and then the creation of living beings; in Chinese cosmology, too, the breath ( 气) precedes the separation of yin and yang, which is itself the origin of the « ten thousand beings » (wànwù 万物), that is to say all beings and indirectly the things that make up the world.

In Chinese thought, is at work in the reign of the living and in the mineral reign. For example, the veins of jade are considered to be organized by just like the veins of the human body. Chinese painting depicts the geological strata of mountains, which are one of the macro-cosmic manifestations of , and the aesthetics of a canvas depends on the capture of this breath.

nourishes thought and spiritual life and has a certain relationship with the divine shén 神, whose deep meaning is etymologically linked to the characters « to say » and « to show, to reveal ». The divine is not in the , that is to say, but the can be used by the divine.

The is ‘breath, wind’, the divine (shén) is ‘word, revelation’.

The divine is not in the ‘wind’ or the ‘breath’, it is in the ‘word’, – far from any materialism of cloudy emanations, or cooking vapors.

Throughout the ages, cultures and languages, the ancient metaphors of wind and breath still inspire us.

Energy comes from the world and brings it to life. But for the Hebrews and the Chinese, the divine is not of the world. The divine is not in the wind.

The Divine, or the Word, may be in the world, but they are not of the world…

iGen. 1,2

Anthropological Trinity


The Veda is about knowledge and vision. The Sanskrit word veda has for its root विद् vid-, as does the Latin word video (“I see”). This is why it is not untimely to say that the Ṛṣi have ‘seen’ the Veda. However, seeing is not enough, we must also hear. « Let us praise the voice, the immortal part of the soul » says Kālidāsa.

In the Veda, the word ‘word’ (vāc) is feminine. And the ‘spirit’ is masculine. This means both can along together and unite intimately, as in this verse from the Satabatha-Brāhmana: “For the spirit and the word, when harnessed together, carry the Sacrifice to the Gods.”i

This Vedic formula combines in the same sentence the Spirit, the Word and the Divine.

A Christian may think of this alliance of words as a kind of Trinity, two thousand years before the Holy Spirit came to the Verb sent by the Lord.

Could it be that some deep, anthropological constant, worthy of being observed, is here revealing itself, in times of profundity?

iS.B. I,4,4,1

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

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