Why did YHVH Attack Moses, Seeking to Kill him?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is yet another angle to this story.

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

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

Let’s try our own interpretation.

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

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

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

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

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

iEx. 4, 24-26

Seeing God and Dying


Maimonides often uses words in a double sense, – positive and negative, real and metaphorical, tool and weapon. In a passage dedicated to the different ways of ‘seeing’ God, he thus questioned the meaning of the verse: ‘And they saw God, and ate and drank’ (Ex. 24:11):

« It has been said: ‘And Moses hid his face, because he feared to look to God’ (Ex. 3:6), – where we must also consider what the literal meaning indicates; namely, that he was afraid to look at the shining light (of the burning bush), – not that the eyes could perceive the divinity [that it be exalted and exalted above all imperfection!]. Moses deserved praise for this, and the Most High poured out his goodness and favor upon him so much that in the following it could be said of him: ‘And he beholds the figure of God’ (Num. 12:8); for the doctors say that this was a reward for having first ‘hidden his face so as not to look toward God’ (Berakhot 7a). But as for « the chosen ones among the children of Israel » (Ex. 24:11), they acted hastily, giving free rein to their thoughts; they perceived (the divinity) but in an imperfect way. Therefore it is said of them: ‘And they saw the God of Israel, and under his feet, etc.’ (ibid. v. 10), and it was not enough to simply say, ‘And they saw the God of Israel’, for the whole sentence is intended only to criticize their vision, not to describe how they saw. Thus, all that was done was to criticize the form in which they had perceived (God) and which was tainted with corporeality, which was the necessary result of the haste they had put into it before they had perfected themselves. (…) When the ‘chosen among the children of Israel’ made false steps in their perception, their actions were also disturbed thereby, and they inclined towards bodily things by the vice of their perception; therefore the Scripture says: ‘And they saw God, and ate and drank’ (Ex. 24:11) ».i

Maimonides does not deny that the ‘chosen among the children of Israel’ saw God. But he asserts that this vision was tainted by ‘corporeality’, by the discreet metonymy that occurs in counterpoint. Would men who had just ‘seen God’ begin, without transition, to ‘eat and drink’?

Maimonides is not interested in what the ‘chosen among the children of Israel’ could ‘see’ or ‘not see’. He does not seek to criticize their claim to have ‘seen’. He is only interested in the fact that they ‘saw, ate and drank’ in the same movement, which implies a form of homogeneity, integration, analogy, between three very different actions. ‘Eating’ and ‘drinking’ cast a retrospective shadow over ‘seeing’ in this context. Maimonides does not deny the ‘seeing’, he merely devalues it, materializing it, trivializing it, laminating it.

There are other possible criticisms, much more radical.

In his commentary on the same verses, Rashi says: « They have looked and they have contemplated, and for this they have deserved mortal punishment. » He adds that the Holy One, Blessed be He, waited for the day of the dedication of the Tabernacle, and then a fire from the Lord burned them and devoured them at the end of the camp.

In an additional commentary to this commentary by Rashi (in the 1987 edition edited by E. Munk), we read: « They sought to be able to glimpse at least a quick glance at the Godhead, in a sort of hidden glimpse of the Godhead. »

Was it a deep contemplation or a quick glimpse? It doesn’t matter. The same punishment awaits those who have even cast a glance at this transcendental phenomenon: death by lightning strikes, – not on the spot [so as not to spoil the reception of the Torah, says Maimonides], but a little later, after the feast of the Tabernacle, and out of sight of the people, at the end of the camp. A true execution, coldly prepared, in the Mossad style, if I dare say so.

But, if it was a question for God to give a good lesson to his people, why not strike those guilty of ‘vision’ in front of everyone, to better strike the minds?

We need to go deeper into this question.

What was the greatest fault of the « chosen among the children of Israel »? To have « seen » the Divinity? Or to have « seen » it by stealth? Or to have « seen » it, – and then to have « eaten and drunk » it?

The answer varies according to the comments, as can be judged from Maimonides and Rashi.

We know that Moses himself, and several ‘chosen ones among the sons of Israel’ were able to ‘see’ God and not die on the spot. This is an important point. It is said in the Torah that one cannot see God without dying. So it is still possible, it seems, to see the Divinity and to survive, at least for a while.

If we put aside the case of Moses, we learn that the other « seers » were punished a little later. One can always imagine that those who had glimpsed the Divinity (supposing that they had indeed been able to look at it in secret, – which Maimonides denies, but which Rashi acknowledges), the ‘seers’ could have been saved, if they had prayed, or if they had meditated on their vision, wondering why they had only seen the « feet » of the Divinity.

Or should they have just avoided ‘eating and drinking’ right after they ‘saw’?

Or should they have repented instead, having given in to the understandable desire to take a look at such an extraordinary phenomenon as a « shining light »?

What can we learn from this? We learn that ‘seeing God’ does not necessarily imply ‘dying’, despite the warnings of the Torah.

It is ‘seeing God’, then ‘eating and drinking’, that implies dying.

iMaïmonides. Guide of the Perplexed. III. §5, pp.37-38. Ed. Verdier. 1979

The Elsewhere God


 

There are some things it is better to keep quiet about. Whatever we may say, we risk approximation, error, provocation, offense, – or even, more bitingly, the silent smile of the wise men, if there are any.

The psalmist says, addressing Elohim:

לְךָ דֻמִיָּה תְהִלָּה lekha doumiâ tehilâ. » For you, silence is praise »i.

In order to think, it is better to remain silent: « Think in your heart, on your bed make silence.»ii

Silence must be kept, but one can still write. About the highest mysteries, writing is in the same time compass and bearing, mast and mainsail. A wind of inspiration will then come, maybe.

Maimonides himself did not hesitate to face, in writing, the ocean of mysteries. In writing, he even tried to define the essence of true wisdom, and thus that of God.

« The word ‘Hokhma in the Hebrew language has four meanings »iii, he wrote. ‘Hokhma refers to the understanding of philosophical truths that have as their goal the perception of God. It can also be said of the possession of any art or industry. It applies to the acquisition of moral virtues. Finally, it is applied in the sense of finesse and cunning.

Vast spectrum of possible meanings, then. Or structural ambiguity?

« It may be that the word ‘Hokhma in the Hebrew language has (originally) the meaning of ‘finesse’ and ‘application of thought’, so that this finesse or sagacity will have as its object sometimes the acquisition of intellectual qualities, sometimes that of moral qualities, sometimes that of a practical art, sometimes malice and wickedness.”iv

Who can be said to be « wise » then?

« He who is instructed in the whole Law, and who knows its true meaning, is called ‘hakham in two respects, because it embraces both intellectual and moral qualities.”

Maimonides then quotes on Aristotlev and the ancient philosophers to define « four species of perfections ».

The first kind of ‘perfection’ is particularly prized by most men but is really of little value. It is material possession. Mountains of gold and silver are to be possessed, they offer only a passing enjoyment, and at the bottom of the imagination.

The second is the perfection of the body, the physical constitution, beauty, health. This is certainly not nothing, but has little impact on the health of the soul itself.

The third kind of perfection consists in moral qualities. This is a definite advantage from the point of view of the essence of the soul. But moral qualities are not an end in themselves. They serve only as a preparation for some other, higher purpose.

The fourth sort of perfection is true human perfection. It consists in being able to conceive ideas about the great metaphysical questions. This is the true end of man. « It is through it that he obtains immortality, »vi Maimonides said.

Jeremiah had also expressed himself on this subject, in his own style: « Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, nor the strong man glory in his strength, nor the rich man glory in his riches; but whoever wishes to glory, let him find glory in this: to have understanding and to know me, for I am YHVH.”vii

Wisdom is knowledge, – the knowledge of the Lord.

But how to get to know that specific knowledge?

Jeremiah has an answer:

« I am YHVH, who exercises goodness, justice and righteousness in the earth. Yes, this is what I delight in, says YHVH!” viii 

This means that the essence of God is known by His actions, which should be taken as a model. There are three fundamental ones: חֶסֶד , hesed (goodness), מִשְׁפָּט , michpat (law), and ָּצְדָקָה , tsedaka (justice).

Maimonides comments: « He [Jeremiah] then adds another essential idea, saying – ‘on earth’ –, and this idea is the pillar of religion”ix.

Since this idea comes at the very end of the Guide for the Perplexed, it can probably be thought to be its final conclusion.

That simple, conclusive, remark leaves open an immense field of new research. What would be the essence of God, not just on earth, but elsewhere?

And would the answer to that question, if we knew it, be possibly the pillar of another kind of religion?

i Ps. 65,2

ii Ps. 4,5

iiiMaïmonides. Guide of the Perplexed. III. §54, pp.629. Ed. Verdier. 1979.

ivIbid. p.630

vL’Éthique à Nicomaque. 1,8 et sq.

viMaïmonides. Guide of the Perplexed. III. §54, pp.633. Ed. Verdier. 1979.

vii Jer. 9, 22-23

viiiJér. 9,23

ixMaïmonide.Le Guide des égarés. 3ème partie. §54, pp.635. Ed. Verdier. 1979

Biblical Love


« Ben Bag Bag said: Turn her over and over, for all is in her; search her, grow old and weary into her, and from her do not move, for there is nothing better for you than heri

In this short piece of advice, one can be struck by the deliberate ambiguity, the soft insinuation with which Ben Bag Bag introduces and cultivates the allusion – a metaphor for high-flying teaching.

The original meaning is clear. The figure « in which » to « wear out » is the Torah.

Already, the Song of Songs had accustomed us to the idea that erotic metaphors, even the most daring ones, could be applied to translate the highest and deepest spiritual realities.

Rambam (Maimonides) commented on Ben Bag Bag: « He says about the Torah: examine it in every sense and meditate on it, for everything is in it. And he adds, ‘Examine her’ (תחזי), for if you look at her with the eye of understanding, you will see the truth in her, as the Aramaic formula ‘and she lives’ is translated into Aramaic by וחזא. Then he says: ‘Grow old and use yourself into her’, that is to say, work into her until the end of old age and do not leave her for anything else. »

The Torah is like a woman, – a woman whom one loves for life, until old age, and « into whom » one must turn, return, wear out, and never leave.

Is such a metaphor permissible? To the wise, everything is possible. It is up to the commentator not to attempt the deeper intention. The metaphor of faithful, conjugal, lifelong, consecrated love is not a bad one. The associated images are transformed, then magnified, by their very slippage.

The same Pirqe Abot, michnah 4 of chapter 2, teaches: « He said: Fulfill His desire as if it were yours, so that He may fulfill your desire as if it were His own. Suspend your desire in front of His, then He will suspend the desire of others in front of yours. »

Rachi comments:  » ‘Fulfill His desire as if it were your own,’ even when you fulfill your desire, do it in the name of Heaven. ‘That he may fulfill your desire as though it were His own’, so that from Heaven you may be given well and abundantly. ‘Suspend your desire in the face of his’: compare the harm of the commandment with his wages; ‘then he will suspend the desire of others’, who stand against you to harm you. »

Biblical Hebrew is a crude language, where things are said directly, without detours. For example, the verb ‘to love’ רׇחַם is used like this: « I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. » The same word, in its substantive form, means: « womb, sex, breast, entrails », and also, « vulture, filthy bird » (- this name was given because of the vulture’s love for its young).

The word ‘desire’, רָצוֹן ratson, also means « complacency, contentment, pleasure, favour, joy, pleasure, grace ». The arc of the senses here runs from the most material to the most spiritual.

These words are like Jacob’s ladder, which one can use to climb to the highest Heavens or descend to the bottom of the abyss.

iPirqe Avot. Michna 5,22.

A Very Lousy Bargain With God


The prophet Isaiah was sawed in half with a wood saw by order of Manasseh, king of Judah. It was Belkira, also a prophet in Jerusalem, who had accused him.

What was the accusation? Isaiah had called Jerusalem « Sodom, » and had foretold that it would be devastated along with the other cities of Judah.

He also prophesied that the sons of Judah and Benjamin would go into captivity, and that king Manasseh would be put in a cage with iron chains.

Belkira claimed that Isaiah hated Israel and Judah.

But the most serious accusation was that Isaiah had dared to say: « I see further than the prophet Moses ».

Moses had said: « No man shall see the LORD and live. »

Isaiah had contradicted him: « I have seen the LORD, and behold, I am alive. »

Isaiah had told his vision in detail to Hezekiah, king of Judah and father of Manasseh, and to several prophets, including Micah.

Let’s summarize it here. An angel took Isaiah up to the firmament and then to the first six heavens. Finally he reached the seventh heaven. There he saw « someone standing, whose glory was greater than all else, a great and marvelous glory ». The angel said to him: « This is the Lord of all the glory that you have seen ». Isaiah also saw another glorious being, similar to the first. He asked, « Who is this one? ». The angel answered, “Worship him, for this is the angel of the Holy Spirit, who has spoken in you and in the other righteous ones.”

That was just foreplay.

Isaiah continued.

“And my Lord, with the angel of the Spirit, came to me, and said: ‘Behold, thou hast been given to see the LORD; and for thy sake this power is given to the angel that is with thee.’ And I saw that my Lord worshipped, and the angel of the Spirit, and they both glorified the LORD together.”i

Isaiah also claimed to have seen the LORD, Yahweh-God, in the year of the death of King Uzziah (~740). « I saw the LORD sitting on a great and high throne (…) ». And he cried out in anguish: « Woe is me, I am lost! For I am a man of unclean lips, I dwell among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts.”ii

The price to pay for this vision was relatively small. A seraphim flew to Isaiah, and touched his mouth with an ember caught with pliers.

It was only later that he finally had to pay with his life for this vision of God: his body was sawed in half.

When Isaiah saw God, the Lord said to him, « Go and tell this people, ‘Listen, listen, and do not understand; look, look, and do not discern’. Make the heart of this people heavy, make their ears hard, swallow up their eyes. »iii

Two lessons can be drawn from these texts.

Firstly, Isaiah sees God face to face in all his glory, but does not die, contrary to what Moses said.

Secondly, though all this divine glory is clearly revealed to Isaiah, it only entrusted him with a rather disappointing and illogical message to deliver on his return to earth.

God sends Isaiah back to his people with a warning that is inaudible, incomprehensible, and above all paradoxical, contradictory. He must tell the people to ‘listen’ to him, but at the same time make them hard of hearing, and incapable to understand.

He must tell them to ‘look’ and  and make their eyes glaze over.

Isaiah did not call into question the rather lousy mission he had been given.

Why so much glory given to Isaiah, and at the same time so much severity for the people?

As a matter of strong contrast, let us recall what happened to Ezra.

Ezra also had a vision.

The angels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel placed him on a « cloud of flames » and took him to the seventh heaven. But when he got there, unlike Isaiah, Ezra saw only « the back of the Lord, » noting, « I have not deserved to see anything else. »

In front of the Lord’s back, Ezra tried to intervene on behalf of men. He told him without delay and spontaneously: « Lord, spare sinners!”

Then began a rather long quarrel between God and Ezra.

Ezra said, « How righteous are you, how almighty are you, how merciful are you, and how worthy are you? « 

He also asked what will happen on Judgment day.

The Lord answered, « The Moon will become blood on the last day, and the sun will flow in its blood. »

This prompted Ezra to reply, « In what has heaven sinned? « 

The Lord replied, « This heaven looks down upon the wickedness of mankind. »

Ezra wanted to plead the cause of men once again.

He attacked on a sensitive point, the election.

Ezra: « By the life of the Lord! I am going to plead for good against you because of all the men who have no place among the chosen ones! »

The Lord: « But you will be chosen with my prophets! »

Ezra: « Sinners, who shaped them? »

The Lord: « It’s me. »

Ezra: “If I too, like sinners, was created by you, then it is better to lose myself than the whole world!»iv

Here is a great prophet, Isaiah, who had the great privilege, denied even to Moses, of seeing the glory of God without dying, and who returns to earth with the mission to weigh down the hearts of his people, to make them deaf and blind.

And here is another prophet, Ezra, who could only see the « back of the Lord », but who did not hesitate to plead the cause of men on several occasions, and who said he was ready to renounce his election and to lose himself in exchange for the salvation of the world.

How should this be interpreted?

The Lord agreed to do men a favor, and said to Ezra: « Let sinners rest from their labors from the ninth hour of the Sabbath eve until the second day of the week; but on the other days let them be punished in return for their sins. »

From Friday afternoon until Monday midnight, three and a half days of grace.

One half of the week filled with grace. Half of the time then.

A good result for a prophet admitted to see only the « back of God ».

Think what Isaiah might have gotten if he had only tried to bargain with God.

Maybe, being captivated by his vision of God’s glory did not prepare him to engage God into a serious bargaining….

i The Ascension of Isaiah, 9, 27-40

ii Is. 6, 1-5

iii Is. 6,9-10

ivVision of Esdras, 87-89a

The true name of God (from Enlil and Ilu to El, Ilah and Allah)


On the plain of words, a worn-out ziggurat casts its shadow – the world of ideas is deeper than memory. Who measures its angles? Who discerns its diagonals? Who calculates the effect of rain and dust on it? Who can see the hollow that time leaves in it?

Towards the end of the 3rd millennium B.C., in Sumer, a poem celebrated the sovereign God, the God of gods. Enlil, his name Sumerian name, is its oldest written name, ever.

« Enlil! His authority is far-reaching,

His word is sublime, holy!

What he decides is imprescriptible.

He assigns forever the destiny of beings.

His eyes scan the entire earth.

His radiance penetrates to the farthest reaches of the land.

When the venerable Enlil takes his place in majesty..,

On his sacred and sublime throne,

When he exercises his powers as Lord and King in perfection,

The other gods spontaneously prostrate themselves before him and obey his orders without question.

He is the great and powerful ruler who dominates Heaven and Earth,

Who knows everything and understands everything.»i

A millennium later, a prayer in the Akkadian language was composed for the supreme God. His Akkadian name was Marduk.

« Lord Marduk, O supreme God, of unsurpassed intelligence..,

When you go to war, the heavens falter,

When you raise your voice, the sea is disturbed.

When you brandish your sword, the gods turn around.

Not a single one can resist your furious shock.

Fearful Lord, in the Assembly of the Gods, there is none like you! »ii

The language of the Sumerians does not belong to any known language family. As for the language of the Akkadians, which included Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic peoples, it was Semitic.

Sumerians and Akkadians began to mix in Mesopotamia from the 4th millennium BC. Jean Bottéroiii notes that the Akkadians arrived in the north and centre of Mesopotamia, whereas the Sumerians were already present in the south.

The mixing of these peoples took place gradually. A common cultural capital was formed over time.

The Sumerians were « the most active and inventive, » according to Jean Bottéro. They were the ones who invented writing, around ~3000. Sumerian is therefore the oldest language ever written.

From the 2nd millennium BC, the Sumerians were « absorbed » by the Semites. Akkadian remains the only spoken language, but the Sumerian language, a language of culture, liturgy and scholarship, does not disappear and continues to be written.

There is an enormous amount of documentation about this period. More than 500,000 documents written in Sumerian make it possible to study the religious world of these peoples, their prayers, hymns, rituals and myths.

In this mass of documents, there is no dogmatic, normative text. There are no « holy writings », no « revealed text ».

Yet religion permeated life. The sacred penetrated daily life.

In this multitude of assembled peoples, no one claimed the monopoly of a cognitive election, the supremacy of knowledge.

These peoples, these myriads, of diverse origins, shared together a sense of the sacred, an intuition of mystery.

In Babylonia, beliefs were humble, and the high priests remained modest in their formulas:

« The thoughts of the gods are as far from us as the depths of heaven.

It is impossible for us to penetrate them,

No one can understand them! »iv

To represent the idea of the divine in the Sumerian language, the cuneiform sign used was an eight-pointed star:

(pronunciation: dingir).

In Akkadian, this representation was simplified and stylized as follows:

(pronunciation: ilu).

 

This original Ilu later became El (God) among the Hebrews and Ilah (the Divinity) among the Arabs, who took the proper name of Allah, literally al Ilah: « the God ».

God, therefore, was written for the first time in Sumerian, Enlil, in four corner strokes, forming two crosses together, or a star.

Then the Akkadian, Semitic language, wrote it Ilu, in three cuneiform strokes, forming a cross or a star – with six branches.

i Source : A. Kalkenstein, Sumerischr Götterlieder

ii Source : E. Ebeling, Die Akkadische Gebetserie « Handerhebung »

iii Cf. J.Bottéro, Mésopotamie. L’écriture, la raison et les dieux. Folio. Paris, 1997

iv Source : W.G. Lambert. Babylonian Wisdom Literature. Cit. in J. Bottéro, Mésopotamie. L’écriture, la raison et les dieux. Folio. Paris, 1997

The True Meaning of Exile


« Light, intelligence and wisdom ». These three words are used together several times in the Book of Daniel. The queen, wife of King Balthazar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, praises Daniel’s « extraordinary spirit » as follows: « There is a man in your kingdom in whom dwells the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father there was in him light and understanding and wisdom like that of the gods. « (Dan. 5:11).

Then Balthazar called him and said: « Are you Daniel, of the people of the deportation of Judah, brought from Judah by my father the king? I have heard that the spirit of the gods resides in you and that in you is light, intelligence and extraordinary wisdom. « (Dan. 5:13-14)

Daniel had already experienced a glorious hour in Babylon when he had explained the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, and revealed their « secret », their « mystery ».

The Hebrew word for « secret » and « mystery » is רָז (raz). This word is of Persian origin, and it is only found in the Bible in the Book of Daniel alone. It is also found later in the Qumran texts. It may be used in various contextsi.

Nebuchadnezzar had defeated the kingdom of Judah and destroyed the temple of Jerusalem in ~587. However Daniel brought him to resignation by revealing “the mystery”.

The mystery takes on its full value, its true meaning, only when it is brought to light, when it is « revealed », as in the verse: « It is he who reveals the deep and hidden things. »(Dan. 2:22).

The Hebrew verb used for « reveal » is גָלָה (galah) which means: « To discover, to appear, to reveal, to make known ». But in a derived sense, it means: « To emigrate, to be taken into captivity, to be exiled, to be banished. » In the niphal form, “To be uncovered, to be naked; to reveal oneself, to be announced.”

For example, « Have the gates of death been opened to you? « (Job 38:17), « There God revealed himself to him. « (Gen. 35:7), « The glory of God will be manifested. « (Is. 40:5).

It is the « revelation » that constitutes the deep substance of the secret, its inner fabric, much more than the secret itself, which is only the external appearance. A secret forever buried in the depths of time would be like a seed that would never germinate.

And, in Hebrew, “to reveal” evokes another series of meanings, revolving around emigration, exile, banishment. A penetration of the secret, an entry into the mystery, evokes a departure to a foreign land, or even a deportation, like an exile to Babylon…

A child of exile, a deportee from Judah, « reveals » his own « secret » to the king who « exiled » his people, – and by doing so, who « discovered » Judah, who made it « appear ».

Irony and depth of words, which say more than they are meant to say.

The word גָלָה (galah), which means « to reveal » and « to emigrate », also reaches a sublime form of mystery. By linking « revelation » and « emigration », it deepens a mystery whose meaning it does not reveal.

i« Then the mystery (רָז ) was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. « (Dan. 2:19)

« He who reveals depths and secrets (רָז ) knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.  » (Dan. 2:22)

« The mystery (רָז ) that the king pursues, wise men, soothsayers, magicians and exorcists have not been able to discover it to the king. « (Dan. 2:27)

« But there is a God in heaven who reveals the mysteries (רָז ) and who has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what is to happen at the end of days. Your dream and the visions of your head on your bed, here they are. « (Dan. 2:28)

« This mystery (רָז ) has been revealed to me, and I have no more wisdom than anyone else, for the sole purpose of letting the king know its meaning. « (Dan. 2:30)

« And the king said to Daniel: « Truly your god is the God of gods, and the master of kings, the revelator of mysteries (רָז ), since you were able to reveal the mystery (רָז ).  » (Dan. 2:47)

Provincial Minds for a Skimpy Planet


Philo of Alexandria attempted a synthesis of the Greek, Jewish, Egyptian and Babylonian worlds. He navigated freely between these heterogeneous, trenchant, distinct, cultures, religions and philosophies. He took advantage of their strengths, their originality. He is one of the first to have succeeded in overcoming and transcending their idiosyncrasies. It was a premonitory effort, two thousand years ago, to think globally.

Philo was also a master of contradictions. In this, he can be a model for the troubled, contracted, stifling, reactionary periods we have entered.

On the one hand, Philo can be characterized as a neo-Platonic philosopher. He takes up and develops the concept of Logos as the « axis » of the world (ἔξίς). « It is a Logos, the Logos of the eternal God, who is the most resistant and solid support of the universe. « (De Plantat. 10).

Founding axis, ground of being, the Logos is at the same time principle of change, the divine word, an intelligible being, and the immemorial Wisdom. Neither begotten like men, nor un-begotten like God, the Logos is the « intermediate being » par excellence.

On the other hand, Philo affirms that God remains superior to any idea that might be formulated about Him. He declares that God is « better than virtue, better than science, better than good in itself » (De Opifico, m.8). Nothing is like God and God is like nothing (De Somn. I, 73). In this he takes up the point of view formulated by Deutero-Isaiah (Is 48:18-25, 46:5-9, 44,7).

God has nothing in common with the world, He has withdrawn totally from it, and yet His presence still penetrates it, and even fills it completely, in spite of this absence.

So, is God the Logos or a silent and absent God? Or both?

One could seek an answer by thinking over the variations of the nature of the created world, and over the various combinations of divine presence and absence.

Philo distinguishes two kinds of creation: the ideal man – which God « made » (ἐποίήσεν), and the earthly man – which God “fashioned” (ἒπλασεν). What is the difference? The ideal man is a pure creation, a divine, immaterial form. The earthly man is ‘fashioned’ plastically (it is the same etymological root) from matter (the raw mud).

The mud, the matter, are only intermediaries. Terrestrial man is therefore a mixture of presence and absence, of matter and intelligence. « The best part of the soul that is called intelligence and reason (νοῦς καί λόγος) is a breath (pneuma), a divine character imprint, an image of God. « (Quod. Det. Pot. Ins. 82-84)

Through these puns and ad hoc mixes of concepts, Philo postulates the existence of various degrees of creation. Not everything has been created by God ex nihilo, in one go: there are second or third creations, delegated to a gradation of intermediate beings.

On the one hand, God, and on the other hand, various levels of reality, such as the Logos, the ideal Man, the Adamic, earthly, Man.

Only the best beings are born both of God and through him. The other beings are born not of and through him, but through intermediaries who belong to a level of reality inferior to the divine reality.

Such a world, mixed, complex, a mixture of mud and soul, divine and earthly, is the most universal religious and philosophical idea possible in a time of transition.

This idea was widely spread in Philo’s time through mystery cults.

Mystery has always been part of the very essence of the religious phenomenon, in all traditions, in all cultures. In Egypt, Greece, Rome, Chaldea, mystery cults were observed in Egypt, Greece, Rome, Chaldea, which had sacred, hidden words. Initiation allowed progressive access to this secret knowledge, which was supposed to contain divine truths.

The mystery was spread everywhere, emphatic, putative.

For Philo, the Torah itself was a deep « mystery ». This is why he begged Moses to help and guide him, to initiate him: « O Hierophant, speak to me, guide me, and do not cease anointing until, leading us to the brilliance of the hidden words, you show us its invisible beauties. « (De Somn. II, 164).

The « hidden words » are the « shadow » of God (Leg Alleg. III, 96). They are His Logos. They come from an impalpable world, an intermediary between the sensible and the divine.

The Logos is also a means of approaching God, a vehicle of supplication. The Logos is the great Advocate, the Paraclete. He is the High Priest who prays for the whole world, of which he is clothed as of a garment (Vita Mos. 134).

The idea of an « intermediary » Logos, a divine Word and an intercessor of men before God, was already expressed, I would like to emphasize, in the RigVeda, in the plains of the Ganges more than two thousand years before the time of Moses. In the Veda, the Word, Vāc (वाच्), is the divine revelation, and it is also the Intermediary that changes our ears into eyes.

This ancient and timeless idea is also found in Egypt and Greece. « Hermes is the Logos whom the gods sent down to us from heaven (…) Hermes is an angel because we know the will of the gods according to the ideas given to us in the Logos, » explains Lucius Annaeus Cornutus in his Abstract of the Traditions of Greek Theology, written in the 1st century A.D.

Hermes was begotten by Zeus called Cornutus. Similarly, in Philo, the Logos is « the elder son of God », while the world is « the younger son of God ». In this respect Philo bases himself on the distinction made in the Egyptian myth of the two Horuses, the two sons of the supreme God Osiris, the elder Horus who symbolizes the world of ideas, the world of the intelligible, and the younger Horus who symbolically embodies the sensible world, the created world.

Plutarch writes in his De Isis et Osiris: « Osiris is the Logos of Heaven and Hades ». Under the name of Anubis, he is the Logos of things above. Under the name of Hermanoubis, he refers partly to the things above and partly to the things below. This Logos is also the mysterious « sacred word » that the Goddess Isis transmits to the Initiates.

Osiris, Hermes and the Logos belong to different traditions but point to a common intuition. Between the Most High and the Most Low there is an intermediate domain, the world of the Word, the Spirit, the Breath.

In the Vedas, this intermediate and divine realm is also that of sacrifice. Likewise, in Christianity, Jesus is both the Logos and the sacrificed God.

What can we conclude today from these resemblances, these analogies?

Obviously, the religious phenomenon is an essential, structuring component of the human spirit. But what is striking is that quite precise ideas, « technical », if I may say so, like that of a world « in between » God and man, have flourished in many forms, in all latitudes, and for several millennia.

One of the most promising avenues of « dialogue among cultures » would be to explore the similarities, analogies and resemblances between religions.

Since the resounding irruption of modernity on the world stage, a central disconnection has occurred between rationalists, sceptics and materialists on the one hand, and religious, mystical and idealist minds on the other.

This global, worldwide split is in itself a fundamental anthropological fact. Why is this? Because it threatens the anthropological idea itself. The idea of Man is being attacked in the heart, and as a result it is Man himself who is dying. Philosophers like Michel Foucault have even announced that this Man is already dead.

Man may not be quite dead yet, but he is dying, because he no longer understands who he is. He lies there, seriously wounded, almost decapitated by the axe of schizophrenia.

The modern era is indeed ultra-materialistic, and at the same time religious feeling remains deep in the human psyche.

Lay people, agnostics, indifferent people populate the real world today, and at the same time, religious, mystics and fundamentalists occupy seemingly irreconcilable ideal worlds.

Religious extremism, in its very excesses, nevertheless bears witness to a search for meaning, which cannot be reduced to the death drive or hatred of the other.

Is a meta-religion, a meta-philosophy, of worldwide scope and value, possible today? That is a vain wish, a crazy idea, a void dream, one might answer.

Yet, two thousand years ago, two Jews, Philo and Jesus, independently and separately testified to possible solutions, and built grandiose bridges between opposing abysses.

And, without knowing it, no doubt, they were thus reviving, in their own way, very old ideas that had already irrigated the minds of great predecessors several millennia before.

Today, two thousand years after these two seers, who carries this powerful heritage in the modern world?

No one. We have entered a time of narrowedness of mind, a very provincial time indeed, for a very skimpy planet.

Pe’or – a Very Modern Idol


According to the Talmud of Jerusalem, a Jew,  named Sabbathai of Ulama, one day entered the temple of Pe’or, then « fulfilled a need and wiped himself on Pe’or’s face. All who heard of it praised the man for this deed and said: « Never has anyone ever acted as well as he did.»i

What to think of this curious scene? The Talmud seems to regard it as a great deed, an act of courage showing the contempt of an Israelite for the idols of the Moabites. A Jew, defecates on the idol, wipes himself on the idol’s nose, and receives praise from his fellow believers.

In reality, no blasphemy, no transgression happened then: the cult of Pe’or consisted precisely in doing this sort of rite. Rashi explains it very well: « PE’OR. Named so because people undressed (פוערין ) in front of him and relieved themselves: that is what his cult consisted of. »

One may infer from that indication that the Talmud’s comment (« No one has ever acted as well as he did ») could not come in fact from other Jews, supposed to be gleefully approving of Sabbathaï desecrating the idol.

How could law-abiding Jews approve of a Jew who would have just strictly followed the rites of a pagan cult in the temple of Pe’or?

It is more likely that the praise for Sabbathai came rather from the Moabites themselves, being surprised (and maybe flattered) to see an Israelite following the rites of worship of Pe’or, and even adding a final touch of perfection, a remarkable pirouette.

The name Pe’or comes from the verbal root ָפָּעַר which in Hebrew means « to open one’s mouth wide ». The god Peor, a.k.a Ba’al Pe’or, (and better known in the West as Belphegor), was the « god of openness ». Whether this openness is that of the mouth or that of the anus is of secondary importance. It could just as well be a reference to the opening mouth of the Earth or of Hell.

In fact, Isaiah uses the word pe’or in an infernal, hellish, context: « Therefore the Sheol expands its throat and opens its mouth ( וּפָעֲרָה פִיהָ) inordinately.»ii

Another word, very close phonetically (פָּצַה), means « to split, to open wide », and in a metaphorical sense « to unchain, to deliver ». The Psalmist uses it in this way: « Deliver me, save me.»iii

Ba’al Pé’or, god of « openness », is a god over whom one could defecate “religiously”. That was a metaphor for deliverance…

One may say, rather counter-intuitively, that Ba’al Pé’or also prefigured, beyond what could be considered the apparent nothingness of idols, and their laughable inanity, a more disturbing idea:  that of a Godhead ultimately despised and humiliated, – by the defecation of human excrements.

A very modern idea.

iQuoted in Georges Sorel, in Le système historique de Renan, Paris, Ed. G. Jacques, 1906

ii Is. 5, 14

iii Ps. 144,7

Just Hit the Road לֶך 


 

There are many ideas running around, nowadays.

There is the idea that there are no more ideas, no more « great narratives« .

There is the idea that everything is rigged, that a conspiracy has been hatched by a few people against all.

There is the idea that progress is doomed.

There is the idea that the coming catastrophe is just ‘fake news’, or just part of an ideology.

There is the idea that anything can happen, and there is the idea that there is no hope, that the void is opening up, just ahead.

Every age harbours the new prophets that it deserves. Günther Anders has famously proclaimed the « obsolescence of man », – and that the absence of a future has already begun.

We must go way beyond that sort of ideas and that sort of prophecies.

Where to find the spirit, the courage, the vision, the inspiration?

Immense the total treasure of values, ideas, beliefs, faiths, symbols, paradigms, this ocean bequeathed by humanity to the generations of the day.

The oldest religions, the philosophies of the past, are not museums, fragmented dreams, now lost. Within them lies the memory of a common world, a dream of the future.

The Divine is in that which was born; the Divine is in that which is born; the Divine is in that which will be born.

A few chosen words from beyond the ages, and the spirit may be set ablaze. The soul may be filled with fulgurations, with assailing prescience.

Power is in the air, in the mother, the father, the son, the daughter.

It is in the Gods, and in all men. In all that is born, in all that will be born.

One thousand years before Moses’ times, the poets of the Rig Veda claimed:

The God who does not grow old stands in the bush. Driven by the wind, He clings to the bushes with tongues of fire, with a thunder.”i

Sounds familiar?

Was then Moses in his own way a Vedic seer? Probably.

The greatest minds always meet at the very top. And when they do, the greatest of the greatest do come down from up there, they do go back down, among us, to continue to go further on.

Go for yourself (לֶךְלְךָ lekh lekha), out of your country, out of your birthplace and your father’s house, to the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation. I will bless you, I will make your name glorious, and you will be blessed. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who reproach you, and through you will be blessed all the families of the earth.”ii

Rashi commented this famous text. When you’re always on the road, from one camp to another, you run three risks: you have fewer children, you have less money, you have less fame. That’s why Abram received three blessings: the promise of children, confidence in prosperity, and the assurance of fame.

The figure of Abram leaving Haran is a metaphor for what lies ahead. It is also a prophecy. We too must leave Haran.

The word haran originally means « the hollow ».

We too are in « the hollow », that is, a void of ideas, a lack of hope.

It is time, like Abram once did, to get out of this hollow, to hit the road, to seek new paths for new generations, yet to come.

The word haran can be interpreted in different ways. Philo wrote that haran means « the cavities of the soul and the sensations of the body ». It is these « cavities » that one must leave. “Adopt an alien mentality with regard to these realities, let none of them imprison you, stand above all. Look after yourself.”iii

Philo adds: « But also leave the expired word, what we have called the dwelling of the father, so as not to be seduced by the beauties of words and terms, and find yourself finally separated from the authentic beauty that lies in the things that the words meant. (…) He who tends toward being rather than appearing will have to cling to these realities, and leave the dwelling of words.”iv

Abram-Abraham has left Haran. On the way, he separated from his traveling companion, Lot: « Separate yourself from me!  » he said to himv.

Philo comments: « You must emigrate, in search of your father’s land, that of the sacred Logos, who is also in a sense the father of the ascetics; this land is Wisdom.”vi

Philo, an Alexandrian Jew, wrote in Greek. He used the word Logos as an equivalent for “Wisdom”, – and he notes: « The Logos stands the highest, close besides God, and is called Samuel (‘who hears God’). »

Migration’ is indeed a very old human metaphor, with deep philosophical and mystical undertones.

One may still have to dig up one or two things about it.

Go, for yourself (לֶךְלְךָ lekh lekha)”. Leave the ‘hollow’. Stand above all, that is. Look after the Logos.

The Logos. Or the ‘Word’, as they say.

A ‘migrant’ is always in quest of good metaphors for a world yet to come. Always in quest of true metaphors yet to be spoken.

Metaphor’. A Greek word, meaning: “displacement”.

Hence the stinging and deep irony of Philo’s metaphor:

Leave the dwelling of words.”

Leave the words. Leave the metaphors. Just leave.

Just hit the road, Man.

Lekh לֶךְ

i R.V. I.58.2-4

iiGen. 12, 1-3

iiiPhilo. De Migratione Abrahami. 14,7

iv Ibid. 14,12

v Gen. 13,9

vi Ibid. 14,12

The sudden rapture of Enoch


 

It was very brutal, very sudden. « Enoch walked with God, and then he was no more, for God took him away. »i A real trick. The construction of the sentence is straightforward, without nuance. If we translate word for word: « Enoch walked with God (in the text: ‘to the Gods’: et-ha-Elohim,  אֶתהָאֱלֹהִים ), then, ‘nothing more of him, vé-éïnénou, וְאֵינֶנּוּ ‘, because God (Elohim) took him away (or: seized him), ki-laqa oto Elohim  כִּילָקַח אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים

The expression used to render the key moment of Enoch’s disappearance (‘nothing more of him’ – éïnénou) evokes a kind of nothingness, an ‘absence’ instantaneously substituting for the ‘presence’ of Enoch, for his walking in ‘presence of God’, during three centuries.

Rachi comments as follows: « Enoch was a righteous man, but weak in conscience and easy to turn to evil. So God hastened to take him out of this world before his time. That is why the text expresses itself differently when it speaks of his death, and says: AND HE WAS NO LONGER in this world to complete his years. »

Therefore, Rashi does not believe that Enoch was taken up to Heaven in the manner of Elijah, like in a ‘rapture’. According to Rashi it is only a metaphor, a vigorous one admittedly, but which only translates the death of a « just », who was also a little « weak ».

I find that Rashi’s commentary falls rather short of the text.

Why demean Enoch by calling him a « weak man and easy to incite to evil »? Enoch is a « just » man. This is no small thing. Moreover, « he walks with God ». This is not a sign of weakness. Secondly, why does Rashi say that God « hastened to take him out of this world before his time, » when Enoch had already been walking with God ( וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ חֲנוֹךְ, אֶתהָאֱלֹהִים ) for three hundred yearsii?

If we add the years that Enoch lived before giving birth to Methuselah, Enoch lived a total of three hundred and sixty five yearsiiiThat is a long time before God decided to “hasten”...

A thousand years before Rashi, Philo of Alexandria had proposed a completely different interpretation. « Enoch was pleasing to God, and ‘they could not find him’ (Gen. 5:24). Where would one have looked to find this Good? What seas would one have crossed? On what islands, on what continents? Among the Barbarians, or among the Greeks? Aren’t there not even today initiates in the mysteries of philosophy who say that wisdom is without existence, since the wise man does not exist either? So it is said that ‘he could not be found’, that way of being which was pleasing to God, in the sense that while it exists well, it is hidden from view, and that it is hidden from us where it is, since it is also said that God took it away ».iv

Philo goes from the figure of Enoch to that of Good. Where to find the Good? Where to find Wisdom? Just because we can’t find them, doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly disappeared, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Philo sees in the text an incitement to take flight towards high ideas. Probably an influence of Pythagoras and Plato. A form of encounter, the spirit of Israel and that of Greece.

After Philo and Rashi, what can we still see in this passage of Genesis?

The name Enoch (חֲנוֹךְ ) gives a clue. It means « the initiate », « the one who is dedicated ». The word anukah has the same root. Long before it meant the feast of the same name, which commemorates the victories of the Maccabees, this word had the generic meaning of « inauguration », of « dedication »: the dedication of the altar (Num. 7:11) or the inauguration of the temple (Ps. 30:1).

Enoch was a living « dedication ». He had « dedicated » himself to God. He was a “walking” sacrifice (like Isaac, walking to the place of his sacrifice).

Enoch had given his own life as a sacrifice. God was pleased with him, and God walked « with him ». Then, one day, suddenly, God took him away.

Why that day, precisely, and not before or after?

I think that Enoch was taken away on the day he was 365 years old. He had spent 65 years until he became the father of Methuselah, and 300 more years of walking in the presence of God. A life of 365 years, that is, a year of years.v

A « year of years » is a good metaphor to signify the perfection of time accomplished, the sum of the life of a righteous man.

But why was Enoch ‘suddenly’ no longer seen?

When God takes hold of a soul, it is not done in a picosecond or a femtosecond or even as one might say, ‘immediately’.

It is done in a time without time, infinitely short in the beginning, and infinitely long, immediately afterwards.

i Gen. 5, 24

ii Gen. 5,22

iiiGen. 5, 21-23

iv Mutatione Nominum, 34-38

vGen. 5, 21-23

The True Homeland of Moses


The issue of migration will seal the future of the world. Politically, indeed, but also metaphysically.

Future migration due to wars and environmental upheavals is likely to take on « apocalyptic » dimensions in the next decades. In the true sense of the word « apocalypse », they will « reveal » the intrinsic fragility of humanity.

More profoundly, migration and wandering open up the question of the very essence of man, of his true end. Is man essentially a stranger to others? Is he also a stranger to himself? Is man constantly wandering, waiting to find his own meaning?

« All those whom Moses calls wise are described as resident strangers. Their souls are never a colony established out of heaven; but they are accustomed to travel in earthly nature to satisfy their longing to see and know.  » wrote Philo of Alexandriai..

Philo, a Jewish philosopher, a Hellenist, lived on the borders of three continents, in a mixed society, in crisis, in a troubled epoch, shortly before the appearance of Christianity. He had an acute view of the « foreigner », being confronted with this reality, daily.

In his book « On the Confusion of Tongues », he notes that Abraham himself had said to the guardians of the dead: « I am a stranger and a guest in your house”ii.

The metaphor of the « stranger » can be applied to the « inner host », inhabiting the body without having been invited, like a tumour, a cancer, or a virus.

This metaphor can also apply to the soul, which no longer recognizes herself.

The wise man, for his part, knows he is a stranger in all lands, and that he will always be wandering.

« The wise man lives as if on a foreign earth in his own sensitive body, — while he is as if in his homeland among the intelligible virtues, which are something no different from divine words. Moses on his side said, ‘I am but a wanderer in a strange land’iiiiv

Should we take this statement of Moses literally or figuratively?

In the literal sense: Egypt, Sinai, would only be foreign lands, where he would wander while waiting to find his true homeland. We know that he did not enter the Promised Land, on earth, after the Exodus had come to its term.

In the figurative sense: His true homeland, his residence, is among the virtues, the intelligible, the divine words. We learn by this that the Exodus might have been the means for him to effectively reach it.

iDe Confusione Linguarum §77

ii Gen. 23,4, quoted in De Confusione Linguarum §79

iiiEx. 2,22

ivDe Confusione Linguarum §81-82

Counting the Visions of Haggar


Haggar, Sara’s servant, conceived – at Sara’s request – a son with Abraham. Haggar was then expelled into the desert by Sara who resented bitterness from her triumphant pregnancy.
The name « Haggar » means « emigration ». Pregnant and on the run, she met an angel near a well in the desert. It was not her first encounter with an angel.
According to Rashi, Haggar had already seen angels four times in Abraham’s dwelling. He also points out that « she had never had the slightest fear of them », because « she was used to seeing them ».
Haggar’s meeting with the angel near the well gave rise to a curious scene. There was a mysterious encounter between Haggar and the Lord, implying at least two successive, different, « visions ».
She proclaimed the name of the Lord [YHVH] who had spoken to her: ‘You are the God [EL] of my vision [Roÿ], because, she said, did I not see, right here, after I saw?’ That is why the well was called ‘Beer-la-Haÿ-Roÿ[the ‘Well of the Living One of My Vision’]; it is located between Kadesh and Bered.”i
It is said that Haggar « proclaimed the name of the Lord [YHVH]« , but in fact she did not pronounce this very name, YHVH, which is, as we know, unpronounceable. She used instead a new metaphor that she had just coined: « El Roÿ » (literally ‘God of my Vision’).
She thus gave a (pronouncable) name to the (unspeakable) vision she just had.
From the name given to the well, that was conserved by the tradition, we infer that, a little while after having ‘called the Lord’, Haggar called the Lord a second time with yet another name: « Haÿ Roÿ » (‘The Living One of My Vision’). It is this second name that she used to name the well.
Haggar coined two different names, just as she had two successive visions.
In the text of Genesis, Haggar used the word « vision » twice and the expression « I saw » also twice.
She revealed that she had another vision ‘after she saw’: « Didn’t I see, right here, after I saw? ».
The first name she gave to the Lord is very original. She is the only person in the whole Bible who uses this name: « El Roÿ » (‘God of My Vision’).
The second name is even more original: « Haÿ Roÿ » (‘the Living One of My Vision’).
Here is a servant girl expelled away in the desert by her mistress. She then has two visions, and she invents two new names for God!
The name she gives to the second vision is « The Living One ». This vision is indeed very alive, it is « living », it does not disappear like a dream, it lives deeply in her soul, as the child moves in her womb.
The text, taken literally, indicates that Haggar had two successive visions. But Rashi takes the analysis further, in his commentary on Gen 16, 9:
« THE ANGEL OF THE LORD SAID TO HIM. For every saying, another angel had been sent to her. This is why for each saying, the word AN ANGEL OF THE LORD [ מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה ] is repeated.»
Then according to Rashi, fourangels of the Lord’ spoke with Haggar, who therefore had four visions corresponding to four different angels.

If we add the four other visions that she already had in Abraham’s dwelling, also according to Rashi, Haggar had at least eight visions in her life.

I say ‘at least’, because around twenty years later, Haggar had yet another spiritual encounter: an angel called her from the heaven, when she was in danger of dying after having been expelled, once more, from Abraham’s dwelling, as reported in Gen 21,17.
The last angel who spoke to Haggar, near the Well of the Living One of My Vision’, had said :
« You shall bear a son, you shall call him Ishmael, because God has heard your affliction. »ii
Ishmael can indeed be translated as « God has heard ».
Haggar saw a vision and heard a divine voice, and God also « heard » Haggar. But why doesn’t the text say that God « saw » her affliction?
Here is a possible interpretation: in fact God does « hear » and « see » Haggar, but He does not “see” her separately from her unborn son. He « sees » the mother together with her son, the former pregnant with the latter, and He « sees » no immediate reason for affliction. Rather, God « sees » in her the vigorous thrust of a life yet to come, growing in her womb as a seed, and her future joy.
Haggar’s affliction has nothing to do with her pregnancy, it has everything to do with the humiliation imposed on her by Sara. It is this humiliation that God « heard ».
But then, why did the angel who spoke the second time say to her: « Go back to your mistress and humiliate yourself under her hand.” ?
Why does God, who « heard » Haggar’s affliction and humiliation, ask her to return to Abraham’s dwelling, for a further life of humiliation?
God reserves great glory for the afflicted, the humble, the humiliated. And as a price for a life of humiliation, Haggar « saw » the Most High, the Almighty, at least eight times. Many more times than Sara, it seems.

iGn 16, 13-14

ii Gen. 16, 11

The Tango of Abraham.


 

Three men met Abraham at noon in the plains of Mamre, in Genesis chapter 18. But only two angels met Lot, later that same evening in Sodom.

Why three men at noon, then two angels in the evening?

One interpretation by Philo of Alexandria is worth mentioning,

« When the three had appeared, why did the Scripture say, « The two angels came to Sodom in the evening »? (Gen. 19,1). Three appear to Abraham and at noon, but to Lot, two and in the evening. Scripture makes known the difference in the profound sense that there is between the perfect being and the one who progresses, namely the perfect has the impression of a triad, of full nature, continuous, with nothing missing, without emptiness, entirely perfect, but this [not-so-perfect] one has the impression of a dyad that has separation, void and emptiness. One welcomed the Father who is in the middle and is served by the first two powers, while the other welcomed the serving powers without the Father, because he was too weak to see and understand the middle one, king of powers. One is illuminated by a very bright light, the noon light, without shadow, while the other is illuminated by a changing light, at the limits of night and day, because evening has been shared as an intermediate space: it is neither the end of the day nor the beginning of the night.»i

Philo’s interpretation (« The three angels are the Father, served by the first two powers ») is rather embarrassing from the point of view of a strictly monotheistic position, such as that generally professed by Judaism.

On the other hand, it is compatible, at least metaphorically, with the Trinitarian interpretation of Christianity. Philo was born in 25 BC, and lived in Alexandria, then in a state of turmoil, open to neo-Pythagorean and neo-Platonic ideas, and other influences, from Chaldea or Persia.

More than a thousand years after Philo of Alexandria, the famous Rashi of Troyes provided a very different explanation for these variations.

Regarding Gen 18,2, Rashi comments: « AND THERE ARE THREE MEN. God sent angels in human form. One to announce the good news about Sara. One to destroy Sodom. One to heal Abraham. Because the same messenger does not accomplish two missions at the same time. »

Regarding Gen 19,1, Rashi notes: « BOTH. One to destroy Sodom and one to save Lot. It was the latter who had come to heal Abraham. The third one who had come to tell Sara about the birth of her son, once his mission was fulfilled, left. – THE ANGELS. Before (Gen 18,2) they are called MEN. When the Shekhina was with them, they were called men. Another explanation: previously, with Abraham, whose strength was great and who was used to angels as much as to men, they were called men. While with Lot they are called angels. »

There is a common point between Philo and Rashi; they agree that Abraham was perfect, strong, and that Lot was weak. They both deduce from this that seeing the Shekhina among men is a sign of strength, and seeing angels (in the absence of the Shekhina?) is a sign of weakness.

Other questions then arise.

Why did the angel who had announced the next birth of a son to Abraham and Sarah go away once his mission was accomplished, leaving his two companions to continue to Sodom and Gomorrah?

In other words, why was the angel responsible for destroying Sodom and Gomorrah present at Mamre’s meeting, when it was a matter of announcing a birth, and according to Rashi, completing Abraham’s healing?

Was the presence of the exterminating angel necessary in order to listen to Abraham’s arguments in favour of the inhabitants of the two cities threatened with destruction?

Abraham argued at length to intercede on behalf of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18, 23-33). Was this plea addressed to the exterminating angel, to the third « man » present in Mamre?

However, this exterminating angel is also called by the proper name of God (YHVH). This is how the text calls him during his exchanges with Abraham.

Let’s summarize.

On one side there are three men, in charge of three different missions (a birth announcement, a healing and an extermination). These three men are in fact three angels, but in reality they are all together one and the same God, named YHVH several times in the Genesis text. YHVH expresses itself in the 1st person singular, as being the Lord, the Eternal YHVH.

The three men speak successively, the first to announce the coming birth, the second to speak to himself, in a way as an aside (« Shall I hide from Abraham what I am going to do? » Gen. 18:17), and the third to discuss the next extermination with Abraham.

Then Lord YHVH « goes away », when he has finished speaking with Abraham (Gen. 18:33). Immediately afterwards (Gen. 19:1), « The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening ».

It seems that the following conclusions can be drawn from this.

God was present, as Shekhina, among the three men visiting Abraham, in Mamre, and then all along the road to the gates of Sodom. Then God departs, and there are only the two angels left, one to exterminate the cities, the other to save Lot and his family. God left just before the extermination.

This chapter of Genesis reports exchanges of words between God, Abraham, and even Sarah, but also a whole body language, a ballet of movements, running, prostrations, steps, standing.

It is interesting to analyze this staging, the scenography of the movements of God and Abraham during this day.

Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent, he looked up, and « he saw three men standing beside him; as soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them and bowed down to the ground.  » (Gen. 18:2)

How is it that Abraham runs to men who « stood by him »?

This must be seen as a spiritual meaning. Abraham sits and sees three men standing. They are close to him, but he, Abraham, is far from them. So he has to get up, to get up to their level, and he has to start running, to get closer to them, as much as they have already approached him.

All this is not to be understood on a material, physical level, but on a spiritual, metaphysical level.

Then Abraham « hurries to the tent » (18:6). Then « he ran to the flock » (18:7). Shortly afterwards, when they ate, « he stood up » (18:8). Then, « having risen, the men departed from there and came in sight of Sodom. Abraham walked with them to bring them back. » (18, 16). There follows a kind of soliloquy of God. Finally, the team finished its march: « The men left from there and went to Sodom. YHVH was still standing before Abraham. » (18, 22)

Before Sodom, there is a long exchange between God and Abraham, who tries to intercede on behalf of the inhabitants of the city, in the name of the « righteous » who are within it. Then God goes away. And Abraham returned home (18:33).

Immediately after the two angels enter Sodom (19:1).

In these few lines, Abraham sits, then runs to men, to his tent, to the flock, to his tent again, stands up, walks to Sodom, stops, leaves, arrives in front of Sodom, talks with God, sees God go away, and returns home.

How can we explain all these movements by an old man who has just been circumcised, and who is struggling to recover from his wound?

The simple description of physical movements does not seem to be a sufficient explanation. Rather, they indicate a spiritual dynamic. All these movements reflect Abraham’s inner agitation.

A key to understanding is found in verse 18:3: « Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, then do not pass before your servant. »

Abraham is agitated and runs a lot, so that God « does not pass » before him.

Abraham runs because he wants the Lord to stop.

What can we conclude from this?

First, that the divine can take three “figures”: the figure of the One (YHVH), the figure of the Three (« the three men »), and the figure of the Two (« the two angels »).

Then, this text teaches us that the movements of the body are metaphors of the movements of the soul. It’s like tango. It takes two to dance or to talk to each other. Three men plus Abraham make four. But when God and Abraham talk to each other, they are two. And their attitudes, their positions, are linked, as in a dance. Their movements are correlated.

Abraham gets up, runs, prostrates himself, runs again, etc., so that God will stop, stand still, and stay with him…

There is here a lesson (of spiritual tango) to be learned…

i Philo. Quaestiones in Genesium, Livre IV, 30

The Unique Liqueur


It is often said that the civilization of ancient Egypt was centred on death. Less well known is its deep fondness for love. This is reflected in the Papyrus of Turin, which contains a collection of original love poems.

Three trees successively take the floor to sing of the love of lovers.

It’s the old sycamore tree starting. « My seeds are the image of her teeth, my wearing is like her breasts. I remain at all times, when the sister was wrestling [under my branches] with her brother, drunk with wine and liqueurs, dripping with fine, perfumed oil. Everyone passes – except me, in the orchard (…) »

Then the fig tree opens its mouth and its foliage says: « I come to a mistress – who is certainly a royal like me – and not a slave. I am therefore the servant, prisoner of the beloved; she has made me put in her garden; she has not given me water, but on the day I drink, my stomach is not filled with a common water ».

Finally,  » the young sycamore tree, which she planted with her hand, opens its mouth to speak. Its accents are as sweet as a honeyed liqueur – of excellent honey; its tufts are graceful, flowery, full of berries and seeds – redder than carnelian; its leaves are variegated like agate. Its wood has the colour of green jasper. Its seeds are like tamarisk. His shadow is fresh and windy (…). Let us spend each day in happiness, morning after morning, sitting in my shade (…) If she lifts her veil under me – the sister during her walk, I have my breast closed and do not say what I see – either what they say. « (G. Maspéro, Egyptian Studies, Volume I, 1886).

The Papyrus Harris No. 500 also has preserved a poetic, passionate, powerful, and precise love song:

« Your love penetrates into my womb as the wine spreads in the water, as the perfume amalgamates with the gum, as the milk mixes with the honey; you hurry to run to see your sister as the runner who sees the stallion, as the hawk (…). My sister’s belly is a field of lotus buds, her udder is a ball of perfumes, her forehead is a plate of cypress wood (…) I have no mercy for your love. My wolf’s berry, which generates your intoxication, I will not throw it away so that it may be crushed at the Vigil of the Flood, in Syria with cypress sticks, in Ethiopia with palm branches, in the heights with tamarisk branches, in the plains with forks. I will not listen to the advice of those who want me to reject what I desire (…) »

« Let my sister be during the night as the living spring whose myrtles are similar to Phtah, the water lilies similar to Sokhit, the blue lotuses similar to Aditi, the[pink lotus] similar to Nofritoum (…) My sister’s villa has its basin right in front of the house: the door opens, and my sister leaves angry. Let me become a doorman so that she may give me orders and I may hear her voice (…). »

I find a strikingly similar tone in the verses of the Song of Songs. This famous text was composed around the 5th or 4th century BC, seven or eight centuries after the Egyptian love poems that have just been quoted.

It is difficult not to feel some subliminal correspondences between the Song of songs and the Egyptian poems. Lo!

« Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee. « Ct 1,3

« A bundle of myrrh is my well beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts. « Ct 1,13

« Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green. The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir. « Ct 1:16-17

« Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant? « Ct 3, 6

« Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them. »Ct 4.2

« Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon. A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. » Ct 4,11-12

« I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved. « Ct 5,1

« I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples; dnd the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak. « Ct 7,8-9

One is struck by the frequency of similar words in the Egyptian and Hebrew texts: Sister, breast, spring, garden, perfume, myrrh, cypress, palm tree, teeth, wine, milk, honey, oil, breeze.

These words belong to a cultural and geographical area that extends from the Nile to the Tigris, including Israel… They were part of an age, several thousand years old, when love was perfume, sweetness, taste.

It is an irresistible lesson!

The power of softness! The only liqueur!

The Hidden God


In Judaism, the idea that God is ‘hidden’ is deeply embedded. God transcends all conception. The Holy of Holies is empty.

The prophets repeat:

« Truly You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Savior. » (Is. 45,15)

« Why do You hide Your Face?  » (Ps. 44,24)

But in reality, this notion of a ‘hidden God’ was not specific to Judaism. The ancient Egyptian civilization had had, long before Judaism, a similar conception of a ‘hidden’ Supreme God.

Ra hides Himself in His own appearance. The solar disk is not the God Ra, and it does not even represent the God. The solar disk is only the mysterious veil that hides the God.

This is also true of the other Gods of the Egyptian pantheon, who are in reality only multiple appearances of the one God. « The outer forms which the Egyptians gave to the divinity were only conventional veils, behind which were hidden the splendors of the one God. « , analyses F. Chabas, in his presentation of the Harris Magical Papyrus (1860).

In the language of hieroglyphics, the word « hidden » (occultatus) is rendered by the term ammon . This word derives from amen, « to hide ». In the Harris Papyrus an address to the God Ammon-Râ sums up the mystery: « You are hidden in the great Ammon ».

Ra is ‘hidden’ in Ammon (the ‘hidden’), he is ‘hidden’ in the mystery of his (shining) appearance.

Ra is not the sun, nor is he the Sun-God, as it has been often misinterpreted. The solar disk is only a symbol, a sign. The God hides behind it, behind this abstraction, this pure « disc ».

By reading the prayer of adoration of Ammon-fa-Harmachis (Harris Papyrus IV 1-5), one grows convinced of the abstract, grandiose and transcendent conception that Egyptians had of the God Ammon-Râ.

This elevated conception is very far from the supposed ‘idolatry’ that was later attached to their ancient faith. The Papyrus Harris gives a vivid description of the essence of the Ancient Egyptian faith, flourishing in Upper Egypt, more than two millennia before Abraham’s departure from the city of Ur in Chaldea.

Here are the invocations of a prayer of adoration:

« Hail to you, the One who has been formed.

Vast is His width, it has no limits.

Divine leader with the ability to give birth to Himself.

Uraeus! Great flaming ones!

Supreme virtuous, mysterious of forms.

Mysterious soul, which has made His terrible power.

King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Ammon Ra, Healthy and strong life, created by Himself.

Double horizon, Oriental Hawk, brilliant, illuminating, radiant.

Spirit, more spirit than the gods.

You are hidden in the great Ammon.

You roll around in your transformations into a solar disk.

God Tot-nen, larger than the gods, rejuvenated old man, traveler of the centuries.

Ammon – permanent in all things.

This God began the worlds with His plans. »

The name Uraeus, which is found in this text as an epithet of the God Ra, is a Latinized transposition of the Egyptian original Aarar, which designates the sacred aspic, the royal serpent Uraeus, and whose second meaning is « flames ».

These invocations testify to a very high conception of the divine mystery, more than two thousand years before Abraham. It is important to stress this point, because it leads us to the conclusion that the mysterious, hidden, secret, God is a kind of ‘universal’ paradigm.

Since the depths of time, men of all origins have spent millennia meditating on the mystery, confronting the hidden permanence of the secret divinity, inventing metaphors to evoke an unspeakable, ineffable God.

These initial intuitions, these primeval faiths, may have prepared the later efflorescence of the so-called « monotheism », in its strict sense.

But it is worth trying to go back, ever further, to the origins. The prayers of ancient times, where did they come from? Who designed them? Who was the first to cry:

« Ammon hiding in His place!

Soul that shines in His eye, His holy transformations are not known.

Brilliant are His shapes. His radiance is a veil of light.

Mystery of mysteries! His mystery is not known.

Hail to You, in Goddess Nout!

You really gave birth to the gods.

The breaths of truth are in Your mysterious sanctuary.»

What strikes in these short prayers is their « biblical » simplicity. Humble, simple words to confront with high and deep mysteries…

Premonitions, images, burst forth. The « brightness » of God is only « a veil of light ». This image, of course, leads us to evoke other mystic visions, that of the burning bush by Moses, for example, or that of the shamans, all over the world, since Paleolithic…

Moses, raised at the court of the Pharaohs, may well have borrowed one metaphor or two from the Egyptian culture. No one can claim having a monopoly of access to the mystery. Many years before the time of Moses, and according to the Book of Genesis, Agar, an Egyptian woman, met four times with either God or His Angels, – said Rachi, the great Jewish commentator. Sara, Abraham’s wife and Isaac’s mother, was not endowed with such a feat…

What really matters is that from age to age, exceptional men and women have seen ‘visions’, and that these ‘visions’ have transformed in a deep way their lives and the lives of those who followed them.

For thousands of years, humanity has accumulated a rich intuition of what is hidden beyond all appearances, it has perceived the probable existence of incredible depths beyond the shallowness of reality. Some men and women have at times been able to lift a corner of the veil, and to see, as if through a dream, the unbearable brilliance of an ineffable light.

It is necessary to consider the essence of what was ‘seen’ by these chosen pioneers, the depths of their experience, in the interest of Humankind as a whole. Their collective knowledge constitutes a general, universal, massive, plurimillennial, anthropological fact, anchored (then and now) in a number of living human souls, at the very bottom of the cortex.

But these fundamental experiences have not really succeeded in connecting all men of faith around the Earth. Why? Why, today, such a spectacle of religious hatred, the continuing desolation of endless violence, the proliferation of despair?

How long still will the God stay ‘hidden’?

Moses and Zoroaster. Or: A Descent to the Underworld and into the Virginal Womb


The angels « trembled » when Moses ascended into heaven, writes Baruch Ben Neriah in his Book of Apocalypse. « Those who are near the throne of the Most High trembled when He took Moses near him. He taught him the letters of the Law, showed him the measures of fire, the depths of the abyss and the weight of the winds, the number of raindrops, the end of anger, the multitude of great sufferings and the truth of judgment, the root of wisdom, the treasures of intelligence, the fountain of knowledge, the height of the air, the greatness of Paradise, the consumption of time, the beginning of the day of judgment, the number of offerings, the lands that have not yet come, and the mouth of Gehenna, the place of vengeance, the region of faith and the land of hope. »

The Jewish Encyclopaedia (1906) states that Baruch Ben Neriah was a Jew who mastered Haggadah, Greek mythology and Eastern wisdom. The Apocalypse of Baruch also shows influences from India. This is evidenced by the reference to the Phoenix bird, companion of the sun, an image similar to the role of the Garuda bird, companion of the god Vishnu.

In chapters 11 to 16, the Archangel Michael has a role as mediator between God and men, similar to that of Jesus.

Baruch was undoubtedly exposed to the Gnostic and « oriental » teachings.

In the first centuries of our era, times were indeed favourable for research and the fusion of ideas and contributions from diverse cultures and countries.

Judaism did not escape these influences from elsewhere.

The elements of Moses’ life, which are recorded in the Apocalypse of Baruch, are attested to by other Jewish authors, Philo and Josephus, and before them by the Alexandrian Jew Artanapas.

These elements do not correspond to the biblical model.

They are inspired by the Life of Pythagoras, as reported by the Alexandrian tradition. There is a description of the descent of Moses to the Underworld, which is based on the descent of Pythagoras to Hades. Isidore Lévy makes the following diagnosis in this regard: « These borrowings from the Judaism of Egypt to the successive Romans of Pythagoras do not constitute a superficial fact of transmission of wonderful tales, but reveal a profound influence of the religious system of the Pythagoricians: Alexandrian Judaism, Pharisaism (whose first manifestation does not appear before Herod’s entry on the scene) and Essenism, offer, compared to biblical mosaicism, new characters, signs of the conquest of the Jewish world by the conceptions whose legend of Pythagoras was the narrative expression and the vehicle.»i

The multi-cultural fusion of these kinds of themes is manifested by the strong similarities and analogies between the legends of Pythagoras and Zoroaster, and the legends attached by Jewish literature to Moses, to the « journeys in the Other World » and to the « infernal visions » that were brought back.

These legends and stories are obviously borrowed in all their details from the « pythagorean katabase » whose adventures Luciano and Virgil described.

Isidore Lévy reviewed it. Moses is led through Eden and Hell. Isaiah is instructed by the Spirit of God on the five regions of Gehenna. Elijah is led by the Angel. The Anonymous of the Darké Teschuba is led by Elijah. Joshua son of Levi is accompanied by the Angels or by Elijah, which reproduces the theme of the Visitor of the Katabase of Pythagoras.

These cross-cultural similarities extend to divine visions and the deep nature of the soul.

In the language of Zend Avesta, which corresponds to the sacred text of the ancient religion of ancient Iran, the « Divine Glory », the very one that Moses saw from behind, is called Hravenô.

James Darmesteter, a specialist in Zend Avesta, reports in detail how the Zoroastrians described the coming of their prophet. This story is not without evoking other virgin births, reported for example in the Christian tradition:

« A ray of Divine Glory, destined through Zoroaster to enlighten the world, descends from near Ormuzd, into the bosom of the young Dughdo, who later married Pourushaspo. Zoroaster’s genius (Frohar) is trapped in a Haoma plant that the Amshaspand carry up a tree that rises on the banks of the Daitya River on Ismuwidjar Mountain. The Haoma picked by Pourushaspo is mixed by himself and Dughdo with milk of miraculous origin, and the liquid is absorbed by Pourushaspo. From the union of the depositary of Divine Glory with the holder of the Frohar, who descended into Haoma, the Prophet was born. The Frohar contained in the Haoma absorbed by Pourushaspo corresponds to the soul entered into the schoenante assimilated by Khamoïs (=Mnésarque, father of Pythagoras), and the Hravenô corresponds to the mysterious Apollonian element »ii.

The spiritual being of Zoroaster has two distinct elements, the Hravenô, which is the most sublime, and even properly divine, part, and the Frohar, an immanent principle contained in the Haoma.

It can be inferred that Hravenô and Frohar correspond respectively to the Greek concepts of Noos and Psychè. « Intelligence » and « Soul ». The Hebrew equivalents would be Nephesh and Ruah.

What do these comparisons show?

It shows the persistence of a continuous intuition, spanning several thousands years and covering a geographical area from the Indus basin to the Nile valley. This intuition seems common to the religions of India, Iran, Israel and Egypt.

What common intuition? That of the « descent » to Earth of a being, « sent » by a God, – differently named according to different languages and different cultures.

i Isidore Lévy. La légende de Pythagore de Grèce en Palestine, 1927

iiJames Darmesteter, Le Zend Avesta, 1892-1893

Going Beyond Migration.


Angels, powers, virtues, dominions, seraphim, cherubim, and many other supernatural envoys and agents of the Jewish or Christian traditions, do not always confine themselves to their supposed rankings, to their orders of precedence, because of their subtle and incessant ascents, their internal movements and connections, and their continuous descents.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar, for instance, sees their endless interpenetration as a metaphor and a possible illustration of the process at work within the Trinity, a process which he names the “conversation”. Each divine Person sees the Face of God in the Other Person, a Face of a God greater than any total understanding, eternally worthy of worship, even for a divine Person. The « Trinitarian conversation » is like an image of the « original prayer ».

This « Trinitarian conversation » could be imagined as a supreme metaphor, far above the entanglement of sephirotic whispers, the murmurs of the zephyrs, the atonal choirs of angels, their distant echoes, their evanescent evocations, their systemic symphonies.

In these elevated and delicate realities, the metaphors we are bound to use are only an invitation to journey. We have to move, always again, always further, we must always “go beyond”.

“To go beyond”in Hebrew: Habar, עָבַר. The English word ‘Hebrew’ was coined precisely from the Hebrew word – habar. Does it still convey its original meaning?

We may generalize this semantic intuition. The destiny of man is that of a never ending migration, possibly continuing, after death, in a future life. Men have been created as eternal migrants, en route for an infinite discovery.

Where does the soul go when she migrates?

We don’t know. But between “being here” and “being gone”, we may think of a continuity. We may dream that there is a way, a path. We may cherish the eventuality of a path leading to some place of unexpected interest, where to look after hidden gates, opening on new horizons.

Of course, this is a « fantastic » idea, in the sense that Plato gave to the word « phantasmos » in the Sophist.

Why consider it? As migrants, on our faces, we bear metaphysical scars. Under the scars, a rift. Under the rift, another face, yet hidden. We migrate within our scars.

Lightning, thunder, zephyrs, whispers. Metaphors invite us to navigate even further, to leave behind the grammatical ports, the security of our roots.

The next mutation will be yet another migration. Man is changing. The self-transformation of the human species is underway. A new language, visionary, is needed, beyond grammar, beyond roots, beyond migration.

The Perfumes of the One


At the beginning of our ‘Common Era’, several « discourses » about the “One” were competing: there was the Jewish “One”, the Greek “One”, the Christian “One”, and possibly a fourth “One”, « that we could call mystical », says Alain Badioui.

What is the Jewish “One”? It is the “One” of the prophet, who demands for signs. It is « a discourse of exception, because the prophetic sign, the miracle, the election, designate transcendence as being beyond the natural totality ».ii

What is the Greek “One”? It is the “One” of the wise, who appropriates « the fixed order of the world », and matches the logos to the being. It is a « cosmic discourse » that places the subject in « the reason of a natural totality ».iii

The Jewish and the Greek discourses on the “One” seem to be in opposition.

“The Greek discourse argues for the cosmic order to adjust to it, while the Jewish discourse argues for the exception to this order to signal divine transcendence.”iv

But in reality, one also could say that they are « two sides of the same mastery figure », says Badiou. This is Paul’s « deep idea ». « In the eyes of the Jew Paul, the weakness of Jewish discourse is that the logic of the exceptional sign applies only to the Greek cosmic totality. The Jew is an exception to the Greek. The first result is that neither of the two discourses can be universal, since each assumes the persistence of the other. And secondly, both discourses have in common the assumption that we are given in the universe the key to salvation, either by direct mastery of the totality (Greek wisdom) or by mastery of the literal tradition and decoding of the signs (Jewish ritualism and prophetism). »v

Neither Greek nor Jewish discourse is « universal ». One is reserved for the « wise », the other for the « chosen ». Paul’s project is to « show that a universal logic of salvation cannot be accommodated by any law, neither that which links thought to the cosmos, nor that which regulates the effects of an exceptional election. It is impossible that the starting point should be the Whole, but just as impossible that it should be an exception to the Whole. Neither the whole nor the sign can be appropriate. We must start from the event itself, which is a-cosmic and illegal, and does not integrate into any totality and is not a sign of anything. »

Paul cuts short. He just starts from the event, unique, improbable, unheard of, incredible, incredible, never seen before. This sole event has nothing to do with the law, and nothing to do with wisdom. What it introduces into the world is absolutely new.

Paul breaks the discourse, the secular and the millennium.

« Therefore it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will destroy the understanding of the intelligent’. Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where’s the fighter of the century? (…) But God chose the foolish things of the world to confuse the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to confuse the strong; God chose the vile things of the world and the most despised, those who are not, to destroy those who are.  » (1 Cor. 1, 17 sq.)

It cannot be denied that Paul’s words are revolutionary, « scandalous » for some, « crazy » for others, undoubtedly subversive.

And then comes the fourth “One”, the mystical “One”. The allusion in Paul is as brief as lightning, veiled, lapidary: « I know a man (…) who heard ineffable words that a man is not allowed to express. » (2 Cor. 12, 1-6)

The ineffable is a brother to the inaudible.

Plutarch reports that there was a statue of Zeus without ears in Crete. « It is not fitting for the sovereign Lord of all things to learn anything from any man, » explains the Greek historian.

The One has no ears. Does he have eyes, a tongue, a nose?

Badiou provides four answers to this question. Two of them are not universal. The third is, because it includes (among others) the mad, the weak, the vile and the despised.

About the fourth One, one can’t say anything.

A special point of view would be to make theses four visions compatible, to connect together these specific opinions, finding their possible hidden coherence.

This ‘special’ point of view could also be the point of view of the One.

How to represent this Unique Point of View?

Maybe we need to change our metaphor, to change vision for smell, colors for fragrances, contemplation for breathing.

The subtle scents of the divine aromas, the sacred perfume elaborated by Egyptian priests gives an idea of it.

This antique perfume, called Kyphi, was composed of sixteen substances: honey, wine, raisins, souchet, resin, myrrh, rosewood, seseli, lentisk, bitumen, fragrant rush, patience, small and large juniper, cardamom, calami.

There were other recipes, which can be found in Galen, Dioscorides, Edfu’s text or Philae’s text.

Effluences. Emanations. Inspiration. Let’s exhale.

Baudelaire takes us further on this path:

« Reader, have you ever breathed

With intoxication and slow greed

That grain of incense that fills a church,

Or a bag of musk?

Deep charm, magical, with which we are ebriated

In the present by the restored past!

So the lover on a beloved body

Remembrance picks the exquisite flower. »

A Mystique of past flowers, and future fruits.

iAlain Badiou. Saint Paul. La fondation de l’universalisme..PUF , 2014

iiIbid.

iiiIbid.

ivIbid.

vIbid.

The Egyptian Messiah


Human chains transmit knowledge acquired beyond the ages. From one to the other, you always go up higher, as far as possible, like the salmon in the stream.

Thanks to Clement of Alexandria, in the 2nd century, twenty-two fragments of Heraclitus (fragments 14 to 36 according to the numbering of Diels-Kranz) were saved from oblivion, out of a total of one hundred and thirty-eight.

« Rangers in the night, the Magi, the priests of Bakkhos, the priestesses of the presses, the traffickers of mysteries practiced among men.  » (Fragment 14)

A few words, and a world appears.

At night, magic, bacchae, lenes, mysts, and of course the god Bakkhos.

The Fragment 15 describes one of these mysterious and nocturnal ceremonies: « For if it were not in honour of Dionysus that they processioned and sang the shameful phallic anthem, they would act in the most blatant way. But it’s the same one, Hades or Dionysus, for whom we’re crazy or delirious.»

Heraclitus seems reserved about bacchic delusions and orgiastic tributes to the phallus.

He sees a link between madness, delirium, Hades and Dionysus.

Bacchus is associated with drunkenness. We remember the rubicond Bacchus, bombing under the vine.

Bacchus, the Latin name of the Greek god Bakkhos, is also Dionysus, whom Heraclitus likens to Hades, God of the Infernos, God of the Dead.

Dionysus was also closely associated with Osiris, according to Herodotus in the 5th century BC. Plutarch went to study the question on the spot, 600 years later, and reported that the Egyptian priests gave the Nile the name of Osiris, and the sea the name of Typhon. Osiris is the principle of the wet, of generation, which is compatible with the phallic cult. Typhoon is the principle of dry and hot, and by metonymy of the desert and the sea. And Typhon is also the other name of Seth, Osiris’ murdering brother, whom he cut into pieces.

We see here that the names of the gods circulate between distant spheres of meaning.

This implies that they can also be interpreted as the denominations of abstract concepts.

Plutarch, who cites in his book Isis and Osiris references from an even more oriental horizon, such as Zoroaster, Ormuzd, Ariman or Mitra, testifies to this mechanism of anagogical abstraction, which the ancient Avestic and Vedic religions practiced abundantly.

Zoroaster had been the initiator. In Zoroastrianism, the names of the gods embody ideas, abstractions. The Greeks were the students of the Chaldeans and the ancient Persians. Plutarch condenses several centuries of Greek thought, in a way that evokes Zoroastrian pairs of principles: « Anaxagoras calls Intelligence the principle of good, and that of evil, Infinite. Aristotle names the first the form, and the other the deprivationi. Plato, who often expresses himself as if in an enveloped and veiled manner, gives to these two contrary principles, to one the name of « always the same » and to the other, that of « sometimes one, sometimes the other ». »ii

Plutarch is not fooled by Greek, Egyptian or Persian myths. He knows that they cover abstract, and perhaps more universal, truths. But he had to be content with allusions of this kind: « In their sacred hymns in honour of Osiris, the Egyptians mentioned « He who hides in the arms of the Sun ». »

As for Typhon, a deicide and fratricide, Hermes emasculated him, and took his nerves to make them the strings of his lyre. Myth or abstraction?

Plutarch uses the etymology (real or imagined) as an ancient method to convey his ideas: « As for the name Osiris, it comes from the association of two words: ὄσιοϛ, holy and ἱερός, sacred. There is indeed a common relationship between the things in Heaven and those in Hades. The elders called them saints first, and sacred the second. »iii

Osiris, in his very name, osios-hieros, unites Heaven and Hell, he combines the holy and the sacred.

The sacred is what is separated.

The saint is what unites us.

Osiris joint separated him to what is united.

Osiris, victor of death, unites the most separated worlds there are. It represents the figure of the Savior, – in Hebrew the « Messiah ».

Taking into account the anteriority, the Hebrew Messiah and the Christian Christ are late figures of Osiris.

Osiris, a Christic metaphor, by anticipation? Or Christ, a distant Osirian reminiscence?

Or a joint participation in a common fund, an immemorial one?

This is a Mystery.

iAristotle, Metaph. 1,5 ; 1,7-8

iiPlato Timaeus 35a

iiiPlutarch, Isis and Osiris.

Ancient Iran’s influence on Judaism


Henry Corbin wrote more than fifty years ago a vibrant tribute to the spirituality and philosophy of Iranian Islam, considered in its historical depth. The Ayatollah regime was not in place at the time. Taking a certain distance from the immediate history, Corbin analyses the difference between Iranian shî’ism and sunnism which generally prevails in Arab countries, in a book dedicated to Sohravardî and the Platonicians of Persia.

« Unlike the majority Sunni Islam, for which, after the mission of the last Prophet, humanity has nothing new to expect, the shî’ism keeps the future open by professing that, even after the coming of the « Seal of the Prophets » something is still to be expected, namely the revelation of the spiritual meaning of the revelations made by the great prophets. (…) But this spiritual intelligence will only be complete at the end of our Aiôn, during the parousia of the twelfth Imâm, the Imâm now hidden and mystical pole of the world. »i

Corbin also reviews the exceptional adventure of a « brilliant young thinker » from northwestern Iran, Shihâboddîn Yahyâ Sohrawardî.

This « brilliant thinker », who died in 1191 in Aleppo, Syria, at the age of thirty-six, as a martyr of his cause, had dedicated his young life to « resurrecting the wisdom of ancient Persia » and « repatriating the Hellenized Magi to Islamic Persia, and this thanks to hermeneutics (ta’wil) whose Islamic spirituality offered him the resources. »ii

Corbin’s works shed light on the ancient pendulum movement between East and West, and their intersecting influences over the centuries.

Sohrawardî wanted to celebrate the wisdom of the Hellenized Magi in Islamic Persia. What this Chaldaic Magic refers to? Greek Philosophy?

In any case, Sohrawardî was taking a certain risk, considering the context of his time. But he was also a visionary, from the point of view of the long history.

And Sohravardî paid for his vision with his life.

More than a millennium earlier, the Jewish, Essenian, Qumran sects had recognized their spiritual debt to Iran.

Almost intact texts, the Qumran manuscripts, have been found in caves near the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956.

Drawing on the texts of Qumran, Guy G. Stroumsa, a Jerusalem-based researcher, raises the question of the influence of Iranian spirituality on Judaism in his book Barbarian Philosophy.

He reports on the words of the famous religious scholar Shaul Shaked: « It may be imagined that contacts between Jews and Iranians helped in formulating a Jewish theology which, though continuing traditional Jewish motifs, came to resemble fairly closely the Iranian view of the world.»iii

It seems to me fruitful, in our troubled, fanatical, over-informed and under-educated times, to recognize the richness of the cross-fertilization accumulated over the centuries, which has structured the spiritual geography of this immense area, ranging from the Greek West to the « near » and « middle » East, via Egypt and Israel.

iH. Corbin, En islam iranien, p. III.

ii Ibid. p.IV

iiiS. Shaked, Qumran and Iran : Further considerations (1972).

Bound to Build the Collective Unconscious of Humanity


Several centuries before Abraham left Ur in Chaldea, the Zend-Avesta religion revered in ancient Iran a ‘Lord of Lords’, a ‘supreme God’, named Ahura Mazda,which translates, in Pehlevi, or Middle Persian, as Ormuzd. Ahura Mazda has also other names, such as Spenta Mainyu, literally: « the Holy Spirit ».

Ahura Mazda reigns unique over all other, lower ranking, divinities, called ‘Gâthâs’.

Ahura Mazda being a supreme God, far beyond human reach or understanding, the prayers of the Zend-Avesta are addressed to the Gâthâs, rather than to Ahura Mazda, though they are only ‘intermediate divinities’, or more exactly ’emanations’ of Ahura Mazda. The Yasna says about the Gâthâs: « All the worlds, the bodies, the bones, the vital forces, the forms, the consciousness, the soul, the Phravaṣi, we offer them all and present them to the Gâthâs, Saints, Lords of time, pure; to the Gâthâs who are for us supporters, protectors, a food of the spirit.»i

In Avestic, which is the ancient Iranian language, Ahura means « lord ». Mazda means « highly learned », according to the eminent Burnouf, who breaks down the word mazda into maz – dâ. Maz is a superlative, and means « to know ». In modern Persian, dânâ means « learned ». There is also an equivalent in Sanskrit: « mêdhas« .

When asked by Zoroaster about the meaning of his Name, Ahura Mazda declared, as reported in the first Yast:

« My name is the Sovereign, my name is the One who knows ».

Zoroaster did not stick to this answer and continued to question Ahura Mazda. He urged him to reveal what is most powerful, most effective against the Spirit of Evil, Aṅra Mainyu (in Pehlevi: Ahriman), and against all the demons.

Ahura Mazda replied that what is most powerful is the names he bears.

And he added:

« My name is the One to be questioned; my second name is the Head of the flock; the Propagator of the law; the excellent Purity; the Good of pure origin; the Intelligence; the One who understands; the Wise; the Growth; the One who increases; the Lord; the One who is most useful; the One who is without suffering; the One who is solid; the One who counts the merits; the One who observes everything; the Helper; the Creator; the All-Knowing (the Mazda) (…). Remember and pronounce these names day and night. I am the Protector, the Creator, the Suspender, the Savior, the Most Holy Celestial Being. My name is the Auxiliary, the Priest, the Lord; I am called the One who sees much, the One who sees far away. My name is the Supervisor, the Creator, the Protector, the Connoisseur. I am called the One who augments; I am called the Dominator, the One who should not be deceived, the One who is not deceived; I am called the Strong, the Pure, the Great; I am called the One who has good science.

Whoever remembers and pronounces these names will escape the attacks of demons. »ii

In passing, we note the obvious analogy of these lines with comparable, but much later, texts of Judaism, and even later texts of Islam.

Avesta has all the characteristics of a revealed religion.

First of all, it was God (Ahura Mazda) who initially revealed himself to the Mazdaites.

Then, the Avesta refers to a great prophet, Zoroaster, who boasts of having served as an intermediary between God and man, and who was the great reformer of Mazdeism. The most recent scientific work shows that Zoroaster lived before Abraham, between 1400 and 1100 BC. He was the prophet who transformed the initial dualism of Mazdaism and the multiplicity of the various Gâthâs into an absolutely transcendental monism, after having discussed it directly with Ahura Mazda.

The interaction between Ahura Mazda and Zoroaster is not without analogy with the encounter between God and Moses, several centuries later.

From this strident comparison we may derive the following rough alternative.

The Materialistic Hypothesis :

The « world from above », the world of the divine, whose variations, analogies and anagogies, similarities and echoes one tries to identify in the long history of religious ideas, simply does not exist. The ‘spiritual’ world is really empty, there is no God, and it is the materialists who are 100% right. So the wars of religion, the sacrifices, the martyrs, the passions of belief, and all the blood shed today, yesterday and tomorrow, are all facets of a sinister farce played by scoundrels or Machiavellian policies at the expense of the unfathomable naivety of peoples, victims of their credulity and superstition.

This farce is continually developed and rewritten over the millennia by the so-called ‘enlightened’, the mad, the deranged, the cynical and the war criminals, all contributing to making this Earth a place without meaning, without past and without future. In this hypothesis, the world would be condemned to self-destruction, moral suicide and absolute violence, as soon as the trickery is finally blown up.

The Spiritual Hypothesis:

The « world from above » does indeed exist, in one way or another, but it escapes our perception, our understanding and intellection. It’s a Mystery, or the Mystery. In this case, there is a good chance that religions that have appeared since the dawn of time, such as Shamanism, the ancient Egyptian religion, Veda, Avesta, Mazdeism, Zoroastrianism, Chaldaic magic, Orphism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, far from being able to claim an elective singularity, are as many instances of various perceptions and intuitions of the divine by man, as many testimonies of the plurality of possible approaches to the Mystery.

Each one of these religions represents a unique and special way of understanding the divine emanation, more or less adapted to the time and the peoples who receive it.

It would then be futile to rank or classify religions among themselves. It would be more productive, particularly from a forward-looking perspective, to examine the systemic relationships between a given era and the way in which religious fact is inscribed, at that moment in history, in the social, cultural, political and economic fabric.

Let us add that the general state of the world today, unfortunately suggests hat none of the religions mentioned above is now in a position to claim a monopoly on the ultimate truth or the final revelation on the fundamental questions that humanity keeps asking itself since millennia.

If such a « world from above », inaccessible to human reason, does in fact exist, it also implies that something extremely important, vital, and also beyond human comprehension, has been at stake for thousands of years at the core of Mankind, with the active but hidden and (most of the time) silent complicity of the Divine.

It should be assumed that since the dawn of humanity there has been a kind of cosmic, sidereal « great game », whose meaning and purpose are clearly beyond our grasp, but in which men are invited to take part, within the limits of their limited means.

Humanity is composed of generations that fleetingly pass through the earth like insects in the light on a summer evening. It is therefore very likely that these successive generations can only apprehend in a deficient way, the unspeakable challenge of this super-natural arrangement.

But it is possible to assume that successive human generations may from time to time generate in their midst enlightened spirits capable of intuitively perceiving, imaginalement (‘imaginally’), as Henry Corbin would say, the grandiose stake of this divine part.

All we can do in an era like ours, where materialism seems to pervade everything, is to refuse to let ourselves be caught up in the trap of preconceived ideas, to refuse sectarianism, dogmatism, the prisons of thought and imagination. We can actively contribute, soul by soul, to the slow, fragile and ungraspable building of the immanent Noosphere, the collective Unconscious of all humanity.

iYasna, ch. 54

iiQuoted by Abel Hovelacque, Avesta, Zoroastre et le mazdéisme. Paris, 1880.

The God of Israel had a Wife


« It is difficult to admit, but it is clear to researchers today that the people of Israel did not stay in Egypt, that they did not wander in the desert, that they did not conquer the Promised Land in a military campaign, that they did not share it among the twelve tribes of Israel. More difficult to digest is the now clear fact that the unified kingdom of David and Solomon, described by the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom. Moreover, it is with a certain unease that we will have to live, when one knows that the Lord, the God of Israel, had a wife, and that the ancient Israelite religion did not adopt monotheism until the end of the monarchical period, and not on Mount Sinai. »

These provocative lines, not devoid of a kind of transgressive jubilation, were published in the Haaretz newspaper, on 29 October 1999 by Israeli archaeologist Zeev Herzog, professor at Tel Aviv University.

Archaeology is a discipline that requires a lot of rigor, both in the treatment of discoveries in the field and in the interpretation that makes them.

It is interesting to analyze the way in which this archaeologist prioritizes his conclusions. What seems to him « the most difficult to digest », among the revelations he is entitled to make, is that the kingdom of David and Solomon was not a « regional power » at that time, but only « a small tribal kingdom ».

Why is this more difficult to « digest » than, for example, the revelation that the account of the Exodus has no historical or archaeological basis? Would the political power of the moment be more important than the symbolic power of the myth and epic guided by Moses?

Or does this imply that the « Great Story » that Israel gives to itself may vary according to time and circumstances?

Now that Israel has at least two hundred nuclear warheads, a huge qualitative and quantitative leap has been made in terms of ‘regional power’ since the days of David and Solomon. On the other hand, with regard to the « Great Story », it remains to be seen whether the progress made since that distant time has been comparable.

As for the very late adoption of monotheism by the people of Israel, around the 8th century BC, the period corresponding to the end of the Kingdom of Israel, it is worth noting that, more than a millennium before, the Aryas of the Indus basin already worshipped a single God, a supreme Creator, Master and Lord of all universes.

In ancient Iran, the Zend Avesta, a religion that derives in part from the Veda, professed the same belief in a good, unique God in the second half of the 2nd millennium BC.

With regard to the alleged « wife of God », it should be pointed out that in the ancient religion of Israel, this « wife » could be just be interpreted as a metaphor, and assimilated to Wisdom (Hokhmah). In another interpretative configuration, this « wife » was Israel itself.

It should also be noted that in the Veda and Zend Avesta, metaphors such as « the spouse of the Divinity » were widely used since very ancient times.

Conceptually, then, it is legitimate to argue that a form of Vedic or Zoroastrian monotheism existed long before Abraham left Ur in the Chaldea.

But it must also be noted that Israel’s faith in one God is still alive today, after three millennia.

The Veda or Zend Avesta have apparently had less success in the long term.

But these religions have left a huge memory, which still irrigates the minds of entire continents today, with Buddhism and Hinduism.

Life is proven by life, like the cake by the eating. This is true of life as of ideas. And the memory of what was « life » also has its own « life », from which we can expect anything to be born, some day.

The ‘God of the Gods’ and the’ Idolaters’


Secrets are to be kept untold, and to remain so. But what about their very existence? The owners of essential (or even divine) secrets, though not allowed to reveal any of their content, sometimes give in to the temptation to allude to the fact that they are the custodians of them.

They cannot and will not reveal anything, of course, but they maybe inclined to leak that they know ‘something’, that could be revealed some day, though it has to remain secret, for the time being.

Of course, this attitude is childish, and dangerous.

Exciting the curiosity of outsiders brings problems, and can turn sour.

If a secret is a secret, then it has to be absolutely kept secret, and its very existence has also to be kept hidden.

Voltaire points out the problem that those claiming big, ‘magical’ secrets may encounter: « Let us see some secret of your art, or agree to be burned with good grace, » he writes in the article « Magic » of his Philosophical Dictionary.

Secrecy, magic and religion have had, over the centuries, chaotic, contradictory and confrontational relationships. Those who openly claimed knowledge of higher levels of understanding, but who refused to share them, were exposed to jealousy, anger, hatred and ultimately violence. They could be accused of fraud or heresy, so much the vaunted knowledge of ultimate secrets could be a source of cleavage, of suspicion.

The famous Magi kings came from Mesopotamia, or present-day Iran, to pay tribute to a newborn child, in Bethlehem, bringing gold, incense and myrrh in their luggage. Undoubtedly, they were also carriers of deep secrets. As Magi, they must have known the mysteries of Mithra, the achievements of the Zoroastrian tradition and maybe some other teachings from further East.

In those days, ideas, mystical traditions and mysteries were traveling fast.

There is no doubt for instance that the Latin word ‘deus’ (god) came all the way from the vedic ‘deva’, which is a Sanskrit word.

According to Franz Cumont, a ‘deva’, in the Veda, is first and foremost, a « being of light », and by a metaphorical extension a « god ». One also finds, in Avestic texts of Zend-Avesta, attributed to Zoroaster, the very similar term of ‘daêva’, but with a very different meaning.

« Daêvas » are not « gods », they are « devils », evil spirits, hostile to the beneficial power of Ahura Mazda, the Good and Almighty God of Zoroastrianism. This inversion of meaning, « gods » (deva) being turned into « devils » (daêva), is striking.

The peoples of ancient Iran borrowed their gods and much of their religion from the neighboring people in the Indus basin, but reversed the meaning of some key words, probably to better distinguish themselves from their original tribes.

Why this need to stand out, to differentiate oneself?

Jan Assman in his book, Moses the Egyptian, points to the fact that the Hebrews reportedly borrowed a number of major ideas from the ancient Egyptian religion, such as monotheism, as well as the practice of sacrifice, but then « inverted » the meaning of some of these fundamental ideas.

Assmann calls this borrowing followed by an inversion, the « Mosaic distinction ».

For example, the ‘Bull’ stands for a sacred representation of the God Apis among Egyptians, and the bull is thus a ‘sacred’ animal, just as in India cows are.

But, following the « Mosaic distinction’, the Hebrews sacrificed without restraint cattle and sheep, which were considered sacred in Egypt.

The Veda and the Zend Avesta keep track of the genesis and decadence of almost forgotten beliefs. These texts form an essential milestone for the understanding of religions that were later developed further west, in the Chaldea, Babylon, Judea-Samaria. The clues are fragile, but there are many avenues for reflection.

For example, the Avestic god Mithra is a « God of the Hosts », which reminds us of the Elohim Tsabaoth of the Hebrews. He is the Husband and Son of a Virgin and Immaculate Mother. Mithra is a Mediator, close to the Logos, the word by which Philo of Alexandria, Jewish and Hellenophone, translates Wisdom (Hokhmah), celebrated by the Hebrew religion, and also close to the Evangelical Logos.

As such, Mithra is the Intermediary between the Almighty Divine Power and the created world. This idea has been taken up by Christianity and Jewish Kabbalah. In the cult of Mithra, sacraments are used, where wine, water and bread are the occasion for a mystical banquet. This is close to the rites of the Jewish Sabbath or Christian Communion.

These few observations indicate that there is no lack of continuity in the wide geographical area from Indus to Oxus, Tigris, Euphrates, Jordan and Nile to Greece and Rome. On this immense arc, fundamental beliefs, first intuitions, sowing seeds among peoples, intersect and meet.

The Vedic Mitra, the Avestic Mithra are figures that announce Orpheus and Dionysus. According to an etymology that borrows its sources from the language of Avesta, Dionysus must be understood as an Avestic name : div-an-aosha, that is: « the God of the drink of immortality ».

The Jews themselves, guardians of the tradition of the one God, bear witness to the antiquity of the belief, common to all the peoples of this vast region, in the God of the Gods. « As our masters note, the Name of the God of the Gods has always been a common tradition among idolaters.»i

The prophet Malachi also said: « For from sunrise to sunset, my Name is great among the nations. »ii

One can assume that ‘monotheism’, whatever the exact meaning given to this relatively recent concept, therefore has a very long history, and extremely old roots.

The intuition of a God of the gods has undoubtedly occupied the minds of men for thousands of years, long before it took on the monotheistic form that we know today.

iRabbi Hayyim de Volozhin. L’âme de la vie

iiMalachie 1, 11

The sacrifice of Puruṣa, the dismemberment of Osiris and the crucifixion of Christ


The Rig Veda is without doubt the most sacred text of ancient India.

It has been translated into several Western languages, but with significant differences of interpretation, that may reveal different worldviews, within the West itself.

Focusing here on one of the most fascinating hymns of the Rig Veda (RV, X, 90), dedicated to Puruṣa (i.e. the Man or the Supreme Being, depending on the interpretations), it is interesting, I think, to try to retrieve these points of view, as they are revealed by how they understand the role of the Supreme God’s ‘Sacrifice’.

A. Langlois, the author of the first French translation of Rig Veda in the beginning of 19th century, translates the first two verses of this Hymn, in this manner:

« 1. Pourousha has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. He kneaded the earth with his ten fingers, and formed a ball of it, above which he dominates.

2. Pourousha, master of immortality, strong of the food he takes, has formed what is, what was, what will be. »i

H. H. Wilson, a professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford (1888) translates:

« 1. Purusha, who has a thousand headsii, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet, investing the earth in all directions, exceeds (it by a space) measuring ten fingers.iii

2. Purusha is verily all this (visible world), all that is, and all that is to be; he is also the lord of immortality; for he mounts beyond (his own condition) for the food (of living beings)iv. »

A famous German scholar, active in the first half of 20th century, Karl Friedrich Geldner, proposes:

« 1. Tausendköffig, tausendaügig, tausendfüssig ist Puruṣa; er bedeckte vollständig die Erde und erhob sich noch zehn Finger hoch darüber. »

2. Puruṣa allein ist diese ganze Welt, die vergangene und die zukünftige, und er ist der Herr Unsterblichkeit (und auch über das), was durch Speise noch weiter wächst. »

Finally, here is another translation of the same verses by the famous French Indianist, Louis Renou:

« 1. The Man has a thousand heads. He has a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. Covering the earth from side to side, he still exceeds it with ten fingers.

2. The Man is none other than this universe, what has passed, what is to come. And he is the master of the immortal domain because he grows beyond food.»v

We see that Renou translates the word पुरुष Puruṣa, as « The Man ».

Langlois, Wilson, Geldner, prefer not to translate the word Puruṣa (or Pourousha in the 19th century spelling), but to keep it as a proper name. Why?

Maybe they thought that this word was too ambivalent or too complex to be rendered by an apparently too simple equivalent like « the Man »?

Huet’s dictionary defines Puruṣa as « Man, male, person; hero ». In a philosophical sense, this word means « humanity ». According to Huet, Puruṣa can also be understood like a proper name, and it then translates into: « the Being; the divine spirit; the macrocosm ».

In effect, the spectrum of Puruṣa’s meanings is quite wide.

In Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit dictionary, which may be the most complete one that we have in the West, we find the following explanation for Puruṣa: « The primaeval man as the soul and original source of the universe; the personal and animating principle in men and other beings, the soul or spirit; the Supreme Being or Soul of the universe. »

Let us now look at verses 6 and 7, which are rather singular.

Renou translatess:

« 6. When the Gods offered the sacrifice with Man as an oblation, spring served as butter, summer as kindling wood, and autumn as an offering.

7. On the litter, they sprinkled the Man – the Sacrifice – who was born at the beginning. Through him the Gods made the sacrifice, as well as the Saints and the Seers. »

Langlois gives:

« 6. When the Devas with Pourousha sacrificed by offering the offering, the butter formed the spring, the wood the summer, the holocaust the autumn.

7. Pourousha thus born became the Sacrifice, accomplished on the (holy) lawn by the Devas, the Sadhyas and the Richis. »

Wilson has:

« 6. When the gods performed the sacrificevi with Purusha as the offering, then Spring was its ghí, Summer the fuel, and Autumn the oblation.

7. They immolated as the victim upon the sacred grass Purusha, born before (creation); with him the deities were Sadhyasvii and those who were Ṛishis sacrificed. »

Geldner gives:

« 6. Als die Götter mit Puruṣa als Opfergabe das Opfergabe vollzogen, da war der Frühling dessen Schmelzbutter, der Sommer das Brennholz, der Herbst die Opfergabe.

7. Ihn besprenten (weihten) sie als das Opfer auf dem Barhis, den am Anfang geborenen Puruṣa. Diesen brachten die Götter, die Sādhya’s und die Ŗși’s sich zum Opfer. »

One can see here a serious divergence of interpretation of verse 6:

Langlois is the only one to place (ambiguously) Pourousha alongside the Devas, the all of them apparently sacrificing together: « the Devas with Pourousha sacrificed by offering the offering ».

On the contrary, Wilson, Renou, Geldner, present Puruṣa as the very object of sacrifice, the unique (and divine) victim of oblation: « the gods performed the sacrifice with Purusha as the offering » or « the Gods offered the sacrifice with Man as an oblation ».

The verse 7 offers another significant difference of interpretation.

For Langlois, « Pourousha thus born became the Sacrifice », as if his birth happened at this moment, and this « (re-)birth » allowed him to « become the Sacrifice ».

For Wilson, Geldner, Renou, Puruṣa is treated like the very material, the essence of the Sacrifice: « They immolated Purusha as the victim upon the sacred grass ». « On the litter, they sprinkled the Man – the Sacrifice – who was born at the beginning. »

In a recent article discussing the « self sacrifice in Vedic ritual » and commenting the same hymn, one can read these lines about Puruṣa’s sacrifice :

« By immolating the Puruṣa, the primordial being, the gods break up the unchecked expansiveness of his vitality and turn it into the articulated order of life and universe ».viii

By immolating Puruṣa, the primordial Being, the gods break the uncontrolled expansion of its vitality, and transform it into the articulated order of life and the universe.

The same article cites verse 6 as particularly significant: « With sacrifice the gods sacrificed sacrifice, these were the first ordinances « ix

What a strange formula! « With the sacrifice, the gods sacrificed the sacrifice. »

This verse presents itself as an enigma, it is an incentive to research.

Man is the sacrifice. The gods sacrifice Man, and in doing so they « sacrifice the sacrifice. »

What is the meaning of this?

This formulation is irresistibly reminiscent of another divine sacrifice, which happened more than two thousand years after the Rig Veda was composed, — the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, « the Son of Man », in order to save Man.

The similarity of the sacrificial structures suggests the hypothesis of a trans-historical permanence of a trans-cultural « myth » or « paradigm », establishing a sacrificial link between God and Man.

However, it is also interesting to underline that this sacrificial structure (in the Veda and in Christian sacrifice), is the exact opposite to the one represented by the sacrifice that the Biblical God asked Abraham to perform with his son Isaac.

Let’s continue with verses 11, 12, 13, 14

Renou translates:

« When they had dismembered the Man, how did they distribute the shares? What happened to his mouth, what happened to his arms? His thighs, his feet, what name do they get?

His mouth became Brāhman, the Warrior was the product of his arms, his thighs were the Artisan, his feet were born the Servant.

The moon was born from his consciousness, from his gaze the sun was born, from his mouth Indra at Agni, from his breath the wind was born.

The air came out of his belly button, from his head the sky moved, from his feet the earth, from his ear the orients. Thus were the worlds settled. »

Through the magic of metaphors, we seem to move from the Indus Valley to the Nile Valley. These verses of the Rig Veda evoke formulas from the Book of the Dead. The dismemberment of Man is reminiscent of the dismemberment of Osiris.

Plutarch reports that after Osiris’ murder by his brother Seth, the latter tore Osiris’ body into fourteen pieces and dispersed them. « His heart was in Athribis, his neck in Letopolis, his spine in Busiris, his head in Memphis and Abydos. And Plutarch concluded: « Osiris rose again as king and judge of the dead. He bears the title of Lord of the Underworld, Lord of Eternity, Sovereign of the Dead. »

The sacrifice of Puruṣa, the killing and dismemberment of Osiris, the crucifixion of Christ and the communion of his Body and Blood, share a deep structural analogy.

It is the idea of a God, primordial, supreme, sacrificed and then dismembered. In India, Egypt and Israel, God is sacrificed on the altar or on the cross, and its « dismemberment » allows universal communion.

iA. Langlois. RV Lecture IV, Section VIII, Hymn V: « 1. Pourousha a mille têtes, mille yeux, mille pieds. Il a pétri la terre de ses dix doigts, et en a formé une boule, au-dessus de laquelle il domine. 2. Pourousha, maître de l’immortalité, fort de la nourriture qu’il prend, a formé ce qui est, ce qui fut, ce qui sera. »

iiWilson comments: « As one with all creatures, Purusha or Viraj may be said to have a thousand, or thousands of heads, eyes, etc., a thousand being put for an infinite number. »

iiiWilson explains in a footnote: « Mahídhara gives the same explanation as Sáyaņa, but adds that it may also mean that the human soul, extending from the navel, takes up its abode in the heart — a doctrine to be found in the Upanishad. Hence Colebrooke renders it ‘stands in the human breast’; compare Burnouf’s version, ‘il occupe dans le corps de l’homme une cavité haute de dix doigts qu’il dépasse encore.’ All, however, that seems intended is that the supreme soul, having animated the universe, is moreover present in man, either in a minute form or of definite dimensions, a doctrine taught in the Upanishads and by the Vedántists. »

ivWilson adds here in a note: « Literally, ‘since he rises beyond by food.’ This may well admit of different explanations. Colebrook has ‘he is that which grows by nourishment’. Muir, ‘that which expands by nourishment.’ Burnouf has, ‘Car c’est lui qui par la nourriture (que prennent les créatures) sort (de l’état de cause) pour se développer (dans le monde)’; which follows Sáyaņa rather closely. Sáyaņa explains annena as práņinám bhogyenánnena nimittabhútena, and lower down adds, ‘Inasmuch as he assumes the condition of the world in order that sentient beings may enjoy the fruit of their acts (práņinám karmaphalabhogáya), that is not his true nature.’ The notion is that the supreme spirit, which in its own state is inert and undiscernible, becomes the visible world, that living beings may reap the fruit of their acts; and inasmuch as they may thereby acquire moksha, or final liberation, the supreme spirit is the lord or distributer of immortality. The word anna, ‘food’, which constitutes the chief difficulty here, is used in the Upanishads in a very vague and mystical sense; see, for example, the Muņḍaka, I. 8 [where it is translated ‘matter’ by Max Müller, Sacred Books of the East, vol. XV, p.28]. »

v In French : « 1. L’Homme a mille têtes. Il a mille yeux, mille pieds. Couvrant la terre de part en part, il la dépasse encore de dix doigts. 2. L’Homme n’est autre que cet univers, ce qui est passé, ce qui est à venir. Et il est le maître du domaine immortel parce qu’il croît au-delà de la nourriture. « 

viAccording to Sáyaņa, the sacrifice here was imaginary, or mental (mánasam).

viiWilson notes: « Sadhya, meaning ‘competent to create’, i.e. Prajápati and the rest ».

viii Cf. Essays on Transformation, Revolution and Permanence in the History of Religions (S. Shaked, D. Shulman, G.G. Stroumsa)

ix Cf. Essays on Transformation, Revolution and Permanence in the History of Religions (S. Shaked, D. Shulman, G.G. Stroumsa)

The 24-letters Names of God


Apocalyptic and esoteric books have a definite taste for the ‘names’ of God and for His multiple ‘attributes’.

These ‘names’ are supposed to embody aspects of the divine essence.

You might think they are immutable by nature, but human language and human-made names are not immutable, by nature, so the names keep changing.

Philo of Alexandria devoted a whole book (De mutatione nominum) precisely to the question of changing names in the Bible.

Examples abound. Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai is renamed Sarah, and Jacob Israel.

In this book, Philo dealt with the important question of the names that God gave to himself.

About the specific name that God revealed to Moses, « I am that I am » (Ex 3,14), Philo has this comment: « It is equivalent to : my nature is to be, not to be said ».

In the original Hebrew, Ex 3,14 reads: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה « Ehyeh asher ehyeh« .

A literal translation might sound like: « I am who I am », — or « I shall be who I shall be », since « ehyeh » is the 1st person of the present-future of the verb to be, — if we want to somewhat preserve the Hebrew idiosyncrasy of the original text.

We could also simply focus on the word ehyeh that doubly expresses the notion of « Being », in two different modalities: « I am ‘I AM’ « .

We could then assume that God’s name might be ‘I AM’, which may be confirmed by the fact that God also said to Moses, just immediately after:

« Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I AM hath sent me unto you. »i

In the Exodus, God clearly affirms a key aspect of his essence through his Name. This essence is « Being ».

In John’s Gospel, another aspect of the essence of God is given: Word, or Logos.

« In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. »ii

But can this Word be His Name?

It does not seem so, at least if we consider what John quotes about Jesus addressing God:

« I have manifested thy name (onoma) unto the men, which thou gavest me out of the world. Thine they were, and thou gavest them to me; and they have kept thy word (logon). « (John 17, 6).

Clearly, here, the Word (Logos) is not the Name (Onoma).

The Name is ‘manifested’. The Word is ‘kept’.

What does that mean?

The Name embodies the very ‘presence’ of God, it « manifests » his presence.

In many texts, the Hebrew word Shekhina is used to celebrate God’s Presence’.

But the Word is something else entirely. It is neither the Name nor the Presence.

What is it then?

It is what was « in the Beginning », — and what was « with God », — and what was « God ».

More complex, admittedly.

Something else entirely than ‘just a Name’.

Logos is not God’s Name, and Logos is not God’s Shekhina.

Jesus also said to God: « And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name (onoma) whom thou hast given me, so that they may be one, as we are. « (John 17, 11)

According to John’s original text (in Greek), Jesus asked God to « keep » the men through His Name (onoma).

Jesus, who is the Logos (Verb), asks God to « keep » men through His Onoma (His Name).

This indicates that Logos and Onoma play indeed a different role.

What are these different roles?

The Logos « is with God » and « is God ». The Onoma is a ‘Name’ and is not God.

The men « keep » the Logos. The Onoma « keep » the men, « so that they may be one ».

The Logos is said to be « one » with God. The Onoma can make the men be « one »with God.

Though obviously not synonymous, ‘Onoma‘, ‘Logos‘ and ‘God’, are however somewhat converging into ‘oneness’.

Let’s add that any ‘Name’ of God has therefore to be considered to have a formidable power.

Any ‘Name’ of God potentially includes all the other Names, those that are revealed and those that will remain ever hidden.

In all likelihood, Hidden Names abound.

To speak metaphorically, there are as many Names as there are angels, and conversely, each angel « bears » one of God’s Names.

The Babylonian Talmud teaches on this subject: « The Archangel Metatron, who is said to bear the Name of God » (« Metatron che-chemo ke-chem rabbo) » (Sanhedrin 38b).

All these (infinite) Names are not just names.They are divine beings, or rather they are figures of the divine Being.

A text belonging to the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, the « Gospel of Truth », composed by Valentine in the 2nd century, specifies it in this way:

« The Name of the Father is the Son. It is He who, in the Principle, gave name to the one who came out of Him, who was Himself and begot Him as Son. He gave Him his own name. (…) The Father. He has the Name, He has the Son. We can see him. But the Name, on the contrary, is invisible, because it alone is the mystery of the Invisible destined to reach the ears which are all filled with it (…) This Name does not belong to words and it is not names that constitute its Name. He’s invisible.»iii

The same idea is expressed in a slightly different way in the Gospel of Philip, also from the Nag Hammadi manuscripts: »‘Jesus‘ is a hidden name, ‘Christ‘ is a manifested name »iv.

But if ‘Jesus’ is a hidden name, how can he be known?

Irenaeus of Lyons gives a possible answer: « Iesous is only the sound of the Name, not its virtue. In fact, the entire Name consists of not only six letters, but thirty. Its exoteric (or pronounceable) composition is IHCOYC [Iesous], while its esoteric composition consists of twenty-four letters.»v

The exoteric name IHCOYC consists of six Greek letters. The full Name contains thirty of them.

Simple arithmetic: 6 (exoteric letters) + 24 (esoteric letters) = 30 letters of the full Name

But Irenaeus of Lyons does not reveal what are the 24 esoteric letters. if he had done so, would they have stayed ‘esoteric’?

It is up to us then, to try figuring them out.

Knowing that the Greek alphabet includes precisely twenty-four letters, the first one being ‘alpha’, the last one being ‘omega’, we could imagine that this esoteric Name is not a fixed name, but that it is constantly woven from the infinity of all their possible combinations, like this one:

βαγεδζηκιθλμονξπρστυφωχψ

or this one:

ΞΟΠΡΥΣΤΨΩΧΦΑΓΒΕΖΔΗΚΘΛΙΜΝ

There 2424 such names…

Here is a selection of names that I like a lot:

ΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞ

and:

ΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏ

and:

ΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧ

and :

ΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙ

and:

ΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔ

We could also try with Hebraic letters such as:

יייייייייייייייייייייייי

and:

שששששששששששששששששששששששש

and:

ןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןן

and :

הההההההההההההההההההההההה

A lot of research ahead of us!

iEx 3,14

iiJn 1,1

iii Quoted by Guy Stroumsa, Ancient Christian Magic : Coptic Texts of Ritual Power. Princeton, 1993.

iv Gospel of Philip 58, 3-4

vIreaneus of Lyons .Adv. Heres.I. 14, 1-9. Trad. A. Rousseau. 1979

Christ’s Laughter on the Cross : Caricature and Religion


In his book Christ‘s Laughter (2006), Guy Stroumsa recalls that the Gnostics of the first centuries of our era represented Christ « laughing » on the cross. What was he laughing at? « At the stupidity of the world, » they said.

In the Gospel of Judas, an apocryphal text composed in the 2nd century, Jesus also laughs.

Another Gnostic text, found in 1978 in the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, the 2nd Treatise of the Great Seth, gives this explanation: « It was another, the one who carried the cross on his shoulder, it was Simon. It was another one who received the crown of thorns. As for me, I rejoiced in the height, above all the domain that belongs to the archons and above the seed of their error, their vain glory, and I mocked their ignorance. »

This explanation is based on the thesis of heresy called docetism. According to this thesis, Jesus would not have really suffered on the cross. His nature being divine and spiritual, his physical body was detached from him, simple appearance, simple clothing. He would have remained « impassive » (impassibilis), nailed to the cross.

The fact that God could laugh at men, kings, peoples and nations was not absolutely new. There is this verse from David’s Psalms: « He who sits in heaven amuses himself, YHVH makes fun of them » (Ps. 2:4): Yochev ba-chammayim yitzhaq.

Yitzhaq. « He laughs. » Abraham gave this very name to Isaac. For Christians, Isaac is a prefiguration of Christ. Isaac, led by his father Abraham who intended to slit his throat, carried the wood necessary for the sacrifice himself, just as Christ carried the wood of his cross.

Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish and Neo-Platonic philosopher born in 25 B.C., evokes the history of Isaac’s miraculous conception, in order to draw, as he often does, an anagogical lesson. His thesis is that Isaac was miraculously born of God himself and Sarah, then a very old woman. Sarah says: « The Lord has made laughter for me » (Gen. 21:6).

Philo comments: « Open your ears, O mysteries, and welcome the most holy initiations: « Laughter » is joy, and the word « he has done » is equivalent to « he will beget » so that these words mean this: the Lord will beget Isaac; for he is the Father of perfect nature, who in souls sows and generates happiness. « Legum Allegoriae III, 219

Christ nailed to the cross laughs, – while derided and ridiculed by the soldiers.

Sara affirms at Isaac’s birth, the birth of « He laughs », that it is the Lord who generated the laughter in her.

Christ dying and laughing, Sarah conceiving « laughter » through the divine operation.

Humanity’s closeness to the divinity can be sensed in nakedness, death, conception.

This is one of the fundamental problems faced by religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. How can we reconcile divine transcendence with historical, material, immanent reality?

If God is absolutely transcendent, how can He generate Isaac in the womb of an old woman?

Isn’t the simple fact of asking the question, based on the letter of the Scriptures, already a « caricature »?

Is not the fact that Jesus is a naked God, who died on the cross, in humiliation and derision, not in itself susceptible to being caricatured in a thousand ways?

The prohibition of the representation of the Prophet Muhammad testifies to the same problem. How can we reconcile the prophet’s humanity with his divine mission? The difficulty of the question seems unrelated to the simplicity of the answer: the outright prohibition of any representation.

Let’s take a step back. Isn’t any critical, distanced, and sometimes even a little ironic question a form of caricature – for those who don’t ask questions, and don’t ask themselves them, either?

When it comes to religion, it is so easy to fall into caricature, or to be accused of it.

Is the (real) Tradition the Talmud, the Kabbalah or the Zohar?


Alphonse-Louis Constant was a French clergyman and a controversial figure of occultism in the 19th century. As the author of an abundant work, he took the pen name Eliphas Levi, or Eliphas-Levi Zahed, which is a translation of his name into Hebrew. In 1862, he published Fables and Symbols, a work in which he analyzed the symbols of Pythagoras, the Apocryphal Gospels, and the Talmud. Here is one of these fables, « The Fakir and the Bramin », and its commentary, which are not unrelated to a certain topicality:

THE FAKIR AND THE BRAMIN.

Carrying an axe in his hand,

A fakir meets a bramin:

– Cursed son of Brama, I can still find you!

I love Eswara!

Confess before me that the master of heaven

Is the best of the gods,

And that I am his prophet,

Or I’ll split your head open!

– Strike, » replied the bramin,

I don’t love a god who makes you inhuman.

The gods do not murder anyone.

Believe or not that mine

Is more forgiving than yours:

But in his name, I forgive you.

SYMBOL – THE FAKIR AND THE BRAMIN.

« When the opposing forces do not balance each other, they destroy each other.

Unfair enthusiasm, religious or otherwise, causes the opposite enthusiasm through its excess.

That is why a famous diplomat was right when he said: ‘Never be zealous’.

That is why the great Master said: ‘Do good to your enemies and you will build fire on their heads’. It was not revenge by occult means that Christ wanted to teach, but the means to resist evil by learned and self-defense. Here is indicated and even revealed one of the greatest secrets of occult philosophy. »

Eliphas Lévi also made an interesting statement on the veil, a difficult subject admittedly, not unrelated to current events.

« Absconde faciem tuam et ora. Veil your face to pray.

This is the use of the Jews, who, in order to pray with more contemplation, wrap their heads in a veil which they call thalith. This veil originates from Egypt and resembles that of Isis. It means

that holy things must be hidden from the profane, and that everyone must only count on God for the secret thoughts of his heart. »

Finally, here is an extract from a small dialogue, quite lively, between an Israelite and Eliphas Levi.

Israelite: I am pleased to see that you are making cheap of the mistakes of Christianity.

Eliphas Levi: Yes, I suppose so, but it’s to defend the truths with more energy.

Israelite: What are the truths of Christianity?

Eliphas Levi: The same as those of the religion of Moses, plus the effective sacraments with faith, hope and charity.

Israelite: Plus idolatry, that is, worship that is due to God alone, given to a man and even to a piece of bread. The priest put in the place of God himself, and condemning the Israelites to hell, that is, the only worshippers of the true God and the heirs of his promise.

Eliphas Levi: No, children of your fathers ! we do not put anything in the place of God himself. Like you, we believe that his divinity is unique, immutable, spiritual and we do not confuse God with his creatures. We worship God in the humanity of Jesus Christ and not this humanity in the place of God.

There is a misunderstanding between you and us that has lasted for centuries and has caused much blood and tears to flow. The so-called Christians who persecuted you were fanatics and unholy people unworthy of the spirit of this Jesus who forgave by dying to those who crucified him and said: Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do (…)

Israelite: I arrest you here and tell you that for us the Kabbalah is not authoritative. We no longer recognize her because she was desecrated and disfigured by the Samaritans and the Eastern Gnostics. Maimonides, one of the greatest lights of the synagogue, sees the Kabbalah as useless and dangerous; he does not want us to deal with it and wants us to stick to the symbol of which he himself formulated the thirteen articles, from the Sepher Torah, the prophets and the Talmud.

Eliphas Levi: Yes, but the Sepher Torah, the prophets and the Talmud are unintelligible without the Kabbalah. I will say more: these sacred books are the Kabbalah itself, written in hieroglyphics, that is, in allegorical images. The Scripture is a closed book without the tradition that explains it and the tradition is the Kabbalah.

Israelite: That’s what I deny, the tradition is the Talmud.

Eliphas Levi: Say that the Talmud is the veil of tradition, the tradition is the Zohar.

Israelite: Could you prove it?

Eliphas Levi: Yes, if you want to have the patience to hear me, because it would take a long time to reason.

Brief Comments on Ten God’s Names


Paulus Ricius, also known as Paulus Israelita, was a humanist and Kabbalist of Jewish origin, converted to Christianity in 1505. He is known for his contributions to « Christian Hebraism » and for his refutation of Jewish arguments against Christianity through Kabbalah. He was one of the architects of the ‘Christian Kabbalah’ . His work Sha’arei Orah – in Latin Portae lucis, the « Gates of Light », was a source of inspiration for comparable projects initiated by scholars such as Conrad Pellicanus or Guillaume Postel.

By consulting Ricius’ Artis Cabalisticae – Hoc est reconditae theologiae et philosophiae scriptorum (1587), as well as De Arcana Dei Providentia and Portae lucis, I found a list of ten names of God that is worth studying.

1. אדנּי Adonai – The Lord

2. אל חי El Hay – The One who Lives

3. Elohim Zabaoth – The God of the Armies

4. Adonai Zabaoth – The Lord of the Armies

5. יהוה YHVH – Yahweh

6. אלהים Elohim – God (literally: The Gods)

7. אל El – God

8. יהֹוִה The YHVH Tetragram, with Elohim’s vocalization:YeHoViH

9. יה Ioh – First and last letter from YHVH

10. אהיה Ehieh – « I am »

The order of these ten names of God is relatively (but not entirely) arbitrary. No hierarchy is possible or relevant in such a matter, one may assume. Let us note that Guillaume Postel, Thomas Aquinas and Paulus Ricius (and many other specialists) offered very different views on the Names to be retained and listed.

As a matter of principle, God’s Names should be considered to have equal value or status.

However, that does not mean that these Names convey the same meaning, the same weight or have the same value.

Almost two centuries after Ricius, Leibniz proposed thirteen names of God, based on God’s own statement to Moses in Ex. 34:6-7 (as already discussed in my blog The other Other) .

It is interesting, I think, to compare Ricius’ list and Leibniz’ one, with their differences, additions, and yawning gaps.

While comparing and weighing both approaches, one has to remember that the count made by Leibniz is indeed arbitrary, and the base for his reasoning quite fragile, though intellectually stimulating.

There is no certainty either that Paulus Ricius’ version of the ten Names may be more accurate.

We should not be too shy entering this field of questioning, either. What is here at stake is to look for some kind of heuristics, akin to serendipity, to help us, poor humans, in mapping our way around a very difficult subject.

For that matter, it may seem relevant to analyze the relationship between the ten names of God and the ten Sefirot, which are divine emanations.

Here is the list of Sefirot as declined in Latin by Paulus Ricius:

Corona. Prudentia. Sapientia. Pulchritudo. Fortitudo. Magnificentia. Fundamentum. Confessio. Victoria. Regnum.

The Hebrew names of Sefirot quoted in the Kabbalah are the following:

Keter (crown), Hokhma (wisdom), Bina (understanding), Hessed (mercy), Gevurah (discipline), Tiferet (beauty), Netzah (victory), Hod (splendour), Yesod (foundation), Malkuth (kingship).

The Sefirot names are organized in a figure, which evokes a kind of human body, very schematic, with corona for head, sapientia and prudentia as two eyes or two ears, fortitudo and magnificentia for both arms, pulchritudo for heart, confessio and victoria for both legs, fundamentum for ‘foundation’ (euphemism for anus) and regnum for sex.

It is certainly worth trying to meditate on possible equivalences or connections between the Sefirot and the ten Names of God, looking for analogies or anagogies :

CoronaKeter may be linked to ‘Adonai’. The Lord wears the only crownthat be. However, who anointed Him? And what this crown is made of? Gold or thorns?

PrudentiaBina may be linked to ‘YHVH’. God is prudent, and understanding. This is why He did not reveal the meaning of His Name, nor its vocalization.

SapientiaHokhma may be linked to ‘El Hay’. Wisdom is always alive in God.

PulchritudoTiferet may be linked to ‘Elohim’. The Scriptures mentions the beauty of the three Men ‘who were God’, meeting Abraham under the oak of Mamre.

FortitudoGevurah may be linked to ‘Adonai Zabaoth’. The ‘Lord of the Armies’ incarnates the essence of forceand discipline.

MagnificentiaHod may be linked to ‘Elohim Zabaoth’. How could the ‘God of the Hosts’ not embody magnificence in all its glory?

FundamentumYesod may be linked to ‘Ioh’. The Name Ioh incarnates the foundation of divinity, with its two fundamental letters.

ConfessioHessed may be linked to ‘Yehovih’. How can you get mercy without at least requesting it, by confessing your sins? The Tetragram YHVH intertwined with the vowels of Elohim is analogous to mercy penetrating the heart.

VictoriaNetzah may be linked to ‘El’. Only El, at the end of times, — or at the ‘extreme’ summit of His eternity –, will be victorious.

RegnumMalkuth may be linked to ‘Ehieh’. By saying « I am whom I will be », God establishes His reign once for all, for the present and the future.

Of course Kabbalah literature is rich in temptatives to link the sefirot to different Names of God.

For instance, just to give a glimpse of possible, acceptable, variations on the same theme, one may quote the following series of associations, that I found in the online literature on the subject.

I would like to note in passing that, after having forged the associations listed above, I discovered that two associations (out of ten) were similar in the list quoted below. I mention this only to show the power (and the limitations) of heuristic serendipity in this obscure arcane.

RegnumMalkuth linked to Adonaï ha Aretz, The Lord of the Earth.

FundamentumYesod linked to ‘Shaddaï El Haï (The Omnipotent Living God).

Magnificentia – Hod linked to Elohim Zabaoth (The God of Armies), — like we did (see above).

VictoriaNetzah linked to ‘YHVH Zabaoth (YHVH of the Hosts).

PulchritudoTiferet linked to ‘Aloah‘ (The Divinity).

FortitudoGevurah linked to ‘Elohim Gibor’ (The Strong God).

ConfessioHessed linked to ‘El‘ (God).

PrudentiaBina linked to ‘YHVH‘, — just like we did (see above).

SapientiaHokhma linked to ‘Iah‘ (another vocalization of the short Name ‘YH’)

CoronaKeter linked to ‘Eyeh‘ (‘I am’).

What can we learn from this sort of exercise?

We learn that all divine Names are ‘ living’ metaphors, which means that they ‘live’ and the may ‘die’.

But all these metaphors, in a way, are also (metaphorically) ‘gravid’, ‘pregnant’ with other, unheard of, new Names, yet to be born out of the most profound depths of language and of our souls.

The Metaphysics of the Lotus


In Biblical Hebrew, some letters of the alphabet can be swapped, i. e. replaced by phonetically close letters.

For example, the ninth letter, Teth, ט, corresponds to the t of the Latin alphabet. Teth means « snake » because of its shape. This letter can be switched with the sibilant ז (z) or צ (ts), and with the letter Taw, ת (th), which is the 22nd and last letter of the alphabet, and which means « writing sign ».

Permutation allows word games, which then generate other word games, giving rise to new meanings or altering those already known.

Let’s give an example.

The word תֵּבֵב, tevah, means « box », but also « ark ».

Noah built a tevah out of gopher wood (Gen 6:14).

And it was in a rush tevah that Moses, a newborn child, was placed (Ex. 2:3).

With the letter צ (ts), tevah gives tsavah, צָבָה, « to gather to fight », and again « to swell up ».

Noah’s Ark, by a slight shift of meaning, can thus embody a general assembly of the life forces fighting the flood. It also evokes a kind of belly that swells, as living beings destined to be saved penetrate into it…

By switching with the letters ז (z) and ט (t) things get tricky. The verb טָבַח tavaha has the meaning « to sacrifice, to kill cattle ». The word טַבָּח tabah means « the one who kills ». The verb זָבַח, zavaha, means « to cut, immolate, sacrifice » and the word זָבַח tavah: « victim, sacrifice ».

By simple permutation, the ark then evokes a huge oblation. We know now that this whole noachical affair turned out well. But the ark could have been shipwrecked. It would have been a disaster, the ultimate sacrifice: all the eggs of life in the same wooden basket.

We can also cut the last and weak letter of the word, ה. Then we get טָב, tav, « good », as in טָבְ אֵל « God is good ».

A rich assortment of meanings, convergent or contrary, through the magic of permutations. Language conducive to innuendoes, or even misunderstandings, depending on the attention, acuity available.

In Latin, it is the word arca that is supposed to translate tevah, and which gave in French « arche ». Arca means first of all « chest, wardrobe ». Hence the adjective arcanus, « hidden, secret », and the name arcanum, « secret », which is found with the French « arcane ».

Arca also means « coffin, prison, cell, cistern, tank ». But, strangely enough, it never means « ark ».

Arca refers to the verb arceo, « to contain, to confine, to retain ». But also: « to keep away, to divert, to spread ». This double meaning can well apply to Noah’s Ark.

Coerceo means « to contain, to repress ». Exerceo: « to tame, to exercise ». The adjective arctus, « locked, tightened, tightened » is part of the same family as is the verb arto, « tighten, press, reduce ».

« The world encloses (coercet) and encloses everything with its embrace (complexus) » said Ciceroi. Complexus is embracing, kissing, embracing. This word means ‘struggle’ as well as ‘love’, the hand-to-hand combat and the carnal embrace.

For anyone interested in the mysteries of the world, it is useful to start with the words that carry them, hide them and transport them.

These words are also like an arch, an arch of meaning, floating and precarious, through the flood of nonsense, or sometimes, a prison or a tomb.

To translate Tevah, the Septuagint translators chose to take a Greek word borrowed itself from Egyptian. They translated tevah by the word κιϐωτός, « cash register, box ». This word refers to κιϐώριον: « water lily flower », but also « cup », and even « tomb ». The word « ciborium » comes from there.

The word chosen by the Septuagint to embody both Noah’s Ark, the cradle of Moses and the Ark of the Covenant, then comes from a very ancient botanical and religious metaphor, the lotus flower (the « Egyptian water lily »).

The seeds of the sacred lotus hold the record for longevity (dormancy). A team of researchers successfully germinated a seed about 1,300 years old from the dry bed of an ancient lake in China.

Some words also germinate long after their dormancy.

In ancient Egypt (3500 BC), the lotus was a symbol of the creation of the world and an allegory of rebirth after death. The lotus flower was worthy to be offered to the God who had overcome death, Osiris.

In India, and also in China, the lotus is considered worthy of offering to the gods.

The lotus grows in the mud, which feeds it. It does not float on the water like the water lily, it emerges clearly out of the water. That is why it is an allegory of the resurrection.

The tevah floats on the flood. The lotus stands really above the water.

Times are changing. We now need a new Noah, and a new ark. This new ark will not just be a tevah (i.e. a big box). It will not just help a (very limited) subset of mankind to « float » in order to survive, like the old Noah’s Ark did.

This new ark will be more like a lotus, and it will help raise all of mankind above the water, like a wind of God did, a long time ago…

i « Mundus omnia complexu suo coercet et continet » (Nat. 2, 48).