Jacob and the Black Seraphim


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ornithology can hardly help here.

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

Alfred de Musset:

« The most desperate are the most beautiful songs,

And I know some immortals who are pure sobs.

When the pelican, tired of a long journey,

In the fog of the evening returns to his reeds,

His hungry little ones run ashore,

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

Already, believing to seize and share their prey,

They run to their father with cries of joy,

Shaking their beaks on their hideous goiter.

He, taking slow steps over a high rock,

From its wing hanging down, sheltering its brood,

A melancholy fisherman, he looks up to the heavens.

Blood flows in long streams from his open chest;

In vain he has of the seas searched the depths;

The ocean was empty and the beach deserted;

For all food he brings his heart.

Dark and silent, lying on the stone,

Sharing his fatherly insides with his sons,

In his sublime love he cradles his pain;

And, watching his bloody teat flow,

On his feast of death he collapses and staggers,

Drunk with lust, tenderness and horror.

But sometimes, in the midst of the divine sacrifice,

Tired of dying in too much agony,

He’s afraid his children will leave him alive;

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

And, hitting his heart with a wild cry,

He pushes into the night such a funeral farewell,

That the birds of the sea desert the shore,

And that the retarded traveler on the beach,

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

(The muse)

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

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

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

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

But the human feasts they serve at their feasts…

Most of them look like pelicans. »

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

Those who seized him were not black seraphim.

Knowing Women


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iCherubim, 42

iiIbid.

iiiIbid.

Many Names and One God


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iPhilo. Q.E. II, 68

iiPhilo. Q.E. II, 68

The Evanescence of Wisdom


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the Greeks got lost along the way.

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

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

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

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

iiIbid.

iiiPorphyry. Philosophie tirée des Oracles (Livre I)

ivIbid.

One Day, Death Will Die


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

i

Death be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadfull ; for, thou art not soe,

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

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

From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,

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

And soonest our best men with thee doe go,

Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.

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

And dost with poyson, warre, and sickness dwell,

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

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

One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,

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

John Donne, Holy Sonnets, X

ii 1 Cor. 15.55

iii Hos. 13,14

iv Is. 25,8

The Pope – a Chinese Woman


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

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

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

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

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

Why did YHVH Attack Moses, Seeking to Kill him?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is yet another angle to this story.

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

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

Let’s try our own interpretation.

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

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

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

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

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

iEx. 4, 24-26

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

Circumcised Ears


Rationalist, materialist minds generally consider the sacred texts of Egypt, China, India, Mesopotamia, Persia, Israel, Chaldea, as esoteric reveries, compiled by counterfeiters to mislead the common public.

For them, treasures such as the Book of the Dead, the texts of the Pyramids, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Zend Avesta, the Tao Te King, the Torah, the Gospels, the Apocalypse, are only vast mystifications, settling down over the centuries, across the continents.

They are the expression of tribal or clan practices, or a desire for temporal and spiritual power. The social illusion they encourage would be fostered by the staging of artificially composed « secrets » that leave a lasting impression on the minds of peoples, generation after generation.

But broader, more open minds, may see all these ancient testimonies, so diverse, but tainted by the same central intuition, as a whole, – coming from the human soul, and not as a collection of heterogeneous attempts, all of them unsuccessful.

History has recorded the failure of some of them, after a few millennia of local supremacy, and the apparent success of some others, for a time more sustainable, seemingly better placed in the universal march.

With a little hindsight and detachment, the total sum of these testimonies seems to be nestled in a common drive, a dark energy, a specific genius.

This drive, this energy, this genius, are not very easy to distinguish today, in a sceptical environment, where miracles are rare, crowds cold, passions exacerbated.

Not easy but not impossible.

One can always walk between the flowers of human thought, smelling their unique scent, sensitive to the continuous rise of sap in their flexible stems.

The word « esotericism » has become malignant. Whoever is interested is considered a marginal in rational society.

But this word also has several divergent, and even contradictory, meanings that may enlighten us, for that matter.

For example, the Jewish Kabbalah is intended to be a revelation or explanation of the « esoteric » meaning of Moses’ Books. It is even doubly esoteric.

It is esoteric in a first sense in so far as it opposes exotericism. In this sense, esotericism is a search for protection. There are ideas, secrets, that must not be disclosed to the crowd.

It would deeply distort its meaning, or project mud, contempt, lazzis, spit, hatred against them.

It is also esoteric in that it deepens the secret. The text is said to contain profound meanings, which only initiation, prepared under strict conditions, can reveal to hand-picked entrants after long trials. Esotericism is not there prudence or protection, but a conscious, characterized method, elite aspiration.

There is yet another form of esotericism.

R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz defines it as follows: « Esoteric teaching is therefore only an « Evocation » and can only be that. Initiation does not reside in the text, whatever it may be, but in the culture of the Intelligence of the Heart. Then nothing is more « occult » or « secret », because the intention of the « Enlightened », the « Prophets » and the « Envoys from Heaven » is never to hide, on the contrary. »i

 

In this sense, esotericism has nothing in common with a desire for secrecy. On the contrary, it is a question of revealing and publishing what several minds can, through a common, sincere effort, discover about the nature of the Spirit.

The Spirit is discovered through the Spirit. It seems to be a flat tautology. But no. Matter is incapable of understanding the mind. The mind is probably better equipped, however, to understand matter. And if matter can merge with itself, only the spirit can take the measure of the infinite depth and understand the height of the Spirit without merging with it, undoubtedly relying on analogies with what it knows about itself.

Mind is, at the very least, a metaphor of Spirit, while matter is never a metaphor of Matter. The material, at most, is only an image, invisible to itself, drowned in the shadows, in its own immanence.

Jewish Kabbalah developed in the European Middle Ages, assuming obvious filiation links with the former Egyptian « Kabbalah », which also has links with the Brahmanic « Kabbalah ». I hasten to concede that the nature of the Jewish mission reflects its specificity in the Jewish Kabbalah. Nevertheless, the links of filiation with older “Kabbalahs” appear to be valuable subjects of reflection for the comparativist.

 

The various « Kabbalahs » of the world, developed in different climates, at times unrelated to each other, are esoteric according to the three meanings proposed above. The most interesting of these meanings is the last. It expresses in action the sincere Intelligence, the Intelligence of the heart, the intuition of the causes, the over-consciousness, the metamorphosis, the ex-stasis, the radial vision of the mythical nucleus, the intelligence of the beginnings and the perception of the ends.

Other metaphors are needed to express what needs to be expressed here.

 

Pharaonic Egypt is no more. But the Book of the Dead still speaks to a few living people. The end of ancient Egypt was only the end of a cycle, not the end of a world.

Osiris and Isis were taken out of their graves and put into museum display cases.

But Osiris, Isis, their son Horus, still produce strange scents, subtle emanations, for the poet, the traveller and the metaphysician.

There are always dreamers in the world to think of the birth of a Child God, a Child of the Spirit. The Spirit never ceases to be born. The fall of the Word into matter is a transparent metaphor.

 

Where does the thought that assails and fertilizes us come from? From a neural imbroglio? From a synaptic chaos?

The deep rotation of the worlds is not finished, other Egypts will still give birth, new Jerusalems too. In the future other countries and cities will appear, made not of land and streets, but of spirit.

The Spirit has not said his last word, for the Word is endless.

In the meantime, it is better to open one’s ears, and to have them circumcised, as once was said.

 

iR. Schwaller de Lubicz. Propos sur ésotérisme et symbole. Ed. Poche. 1990

A Religion for the Future


The Mazdayasna religion appeared in Persia several centuries before Christ. Its followers, worshippers of Mithra, multiplied in Rome under the Caesars, but they failed to make Mazdeism a dominant, significant, world religion. Why is that so?

The Roman armies had strongly helped to spread the cult of Mithra throughout Europe. Mithra was worshipped in Germany in the 2nd century AD. The soldiers of the 15th Legion, the Apollinaris, celebrated its mysteries at Carnuntum on the Danube at the beginning of Vespasian’s reign.

Remains of temples dedicated to Mithra, the Mithraea, have been found in North Africa, in Rome (in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Clement of the Lateran), in Romania, in France (Angers, Nuits-Saint-Georges and other places), in England (London and along Hadrian’s wall).

But Christianity finally prevailed over Mazdeism, though only from the 4th century onwards, when it became the official religion of the Empire under Theodosius.

The origins of the Mithra cult go back to the earliest times. The epic of Gilgamesh (2500 BC) refers to the sacrifice of the Primordial Bull, which is also depicted in the cult of Mithra with the Tauroctonus Mithra. A scene in the British Museum shows that three ears of wheat come out of the bull’s slit throat, – not streams of blood. At the same time, a crayfish grabs the Taurus’ testicles.

These metaphors may now be obscure. It is the nature of sacred symbols to demand the light of initiation.

The name of the God Mithra is of Chaldeo-Iranian origin, and clearly has links with that of the God Mitra, celebrated in the Vedic religion, and who is the god of Light and Truth.

Mithraism is a very ancient religion, with distant roots, but eventually died out in Rome, at the time of the decline of the Empire, and was replaced by a more recent religion. Why?

Mithraism had reached its peak in the 3rd century AD, but the barbaric invasions in 275 caused the loss of Dacia, between the Carpathians and the Danube, and the temples of Mazdeism were destroyed.

Destruction and defeat were not good publicity for a cult celebrating the Invincible Sun (Sol Invictus) that Aurelian had just added (in the year 273) to the divinities of the Mithraic rites. The Sun was still shining, but now its bright light reminded everyone that it had allowed the Barbarians to win, without taking sides with its worshippers.

When Constantine converted to Christianity in 312, the ‘sun’ had such bad press that no one dared to observe it at dawn or dusk. Sailors were even reluctant to look up at the stars, it is reported.

Another explanation, according to Franz Cumont (The mysteries of Mithra, 1903), is that the priests of Mithra, the Magi, formed a very exclusive caste, very jealous of its hereditary secrets, and concerned to keep them carefully hidden, away from the eyes of the profane. The secret knowledge of the mysteries of their religion gave them a high awareness of their moral superiority. They considered themselves to be the representatives of the chosen nation, destined to ensure the final victory of the religion of the invincible God.

The complete revelation of sacred beliefs was reserved for a few privileged and hand-picked individuals. The small fry was allowed to pass through a few degrees of initiation, but never went very far in penetrating the ultimate secrets.

Of course, all this could impress simple people. The occult lives on the prestige of the mystery, but dissolves in the public light. When the mystery no longer fascinates, everything quickly falls into disinheritance.

Ideas that have fascinated people for millennia can collapse in a few years, – but there may still be gestures, symbols, truly immemorial.

In the Mazdean cult, the officiant consecrated the bread and juice of Haoma (this intoxicating drink similar to Vedic Soma), and consumed them during the sacrifice. The Mithraic cult did the same, replacing Haoma with wine. This is naturally reminiscent of the actions followed during the Jewish Sabbath ritual and Christian communion.

In fact, there are many symbolic analogies between Mithraism and the religion that was to supplant it, Christianity. Let it be judged:

The cult of Mithra is a monotheism. The initiation includes a « baptism » by immersion. The faithful are called « Brothers ». There is a « communion » with bread and wine. Sunday, the day of the Sun, is the sacred day. The « birth » of the Sun is celebrated on December 25. Moral rules advocate abstinence, asceticism, continence. There is a Heaven, populated by beatified souls, and a Hell with its demons. Good is opposed to evil. The initial source of religion comes from a primordial revelation, preserved from age to age. One remembers an ancient, major, Flood. The soul is immortal. There will be a final judgment, after the resurrection of the dead, followed by a final conflagration of the Universe.

Mithra is the « Mediator », the intermediary between the heavenly Father (the God Ahura Mazda of Avestic Persia) and men. Mithra is a Sun of Justice, just as Christ is the Light of the world.

All these striking analogies point to a promising avenue of research. The great religions that still dominate the world today are new compositions, nourished by images, ideas and symbols several thousand years old, and constantly crushed, reused and revisited. There is no pure religion. They are all mixed, crossed by reminiscences, trans-pollinated by layers of cultures and multi-directional imports.

This observation should encourage humility, distance and criticism. It invites to broaden one’s mind.

Nowadays, the fanaticism, the blindness, the tensions abound among the vociferous supporters of religions A, B, C, or D.

But one may desire to dive into the depths of ancient souls, into the abysses of time, and feel the slow pulsations of vital, rich, immemorial blood beating through human veins.

By listening to these hidden rhythms, one may then conjecture that the religion of the future will, though not without some contradictions, be humble, close, warm, distanced, critical, broad, elevated and profound.

N. , Death and the West


N. is no one in particular. N. is everyone. He/she is the peasant of the Nile, the builder of pyramids, the daughter of Pharaoh, the soldier of his army. Or Pharaoh himself.

Everyone must go through this: the door of death.

N. just died. He/she is placed in the presence of God. He/she speaks and addresses Him.

« Tribute to you who has come, God Atum, creator of the gods. Tribute to you, King of the Gods, who makes your ‘tuau’ shine with your beauty.

Tribute to you who come in your splendors, around your disc. »

At the same time, the prayer of the officiants accompanying the ceremony rises:

« O Sun, Lord of light, emerged from the East, shines on the face of the deceased N.!

May the soul of the deceased N. be at your side in your boat as you cross Heaven (…)

Your perfume is not known. And incomparable is your splendor. »i

The « Great Egyptian Papyrus » of the Vatican Library gives an idea of how the dead are introduced before God, to plead their cause and be admitted to divine transformation.

The funeral ritual of the ancient Egyptians was highly sophisticated. Traces of the prayers accompanying each phase of the « manifestation to day », and of the « luminous transformation of the soul » have been kept.

Emmanuel de Rougé translated in 1864 an Egyptian Funeral Ritual that includes more than a hundred chapters. Each one corresponds to a prayer adapted to a particular action in favour of the soul of the deceased. Together they form a subtle gradation, reflecting the stages of the soul’s journey into death:

« Take the form of the divine sparrowhawk » (Ch. 78), « Take the form of God » (Ch. 80), « Open the place where Thoth is and become a luminous spirit in Ker-Neter » (Ch. 96), « Sit among the great gods » (Ch. 104), « Receiving happiness in the dwelling of Ptah » (Ch. 106), « Advancing into the manifestation of the gate of the gods of the West, among the servants of Ra, knowing the spirits of the West » (Ch. 107), « Knowing the spirits of the East » (Ch. 109).

Ker-Neter is the Sheol, Atum or Tem is the Sun of the Night, Ra is the Sun of the Day.

Egyptology, an evolutionary science, has proposed guiding ideas for finding one’s way in this ancient world:

1) Every soul is admitted before the supreme God, and can plead his/her cause.

2) The deceased N. is called to be admitted to « cross Heaven » in the company of the God Atum himself.

3) The deceased N. can undertake a long spiritual journey involving more than a hundred distinct and successive stages.

4) Achieving the « happiness of Ptah’s dwelling place » is only one of these many steps, and it is not the highest. The final stages include the knowledge of the spirits of the West, then the knowledge of the spirits of the East.

In essence, the religion of ancient Egypt is generous, open to all. It promises after death a great journey of the soul, described with great detail in advance, for the benefit of the living.

In contrast, subsequent religions, which appeared more than two or three thousand years later, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have really little to say about what awaits the soul after death.

In contrast, and in the face of this void, poets from different periods, such as Homer, Virgil or Dante, wanted to fill the latent demand.

Today, « modernity » has no use for these old aspirations, these pictorial descriptions. Death is no longer a dream.

But fifty-five centuries ago, the future dead dreamed of « knowing the spirits of the West and the East ».

i Il grande papiro egizio della Biblioteca Vaticana, édité par Orazio Marucchi, Rome 1888

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’?

A Jewish Osiris


The God Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth, who then cut him into pieces, which he distributed throughout Egypt. The papyrus Jumilhac says that the head was in Abydos, the jaws in Upper Egypt, the intestines in Pithom, the lungs in Behemet Delta, the phallus in Mendes, both legs in Iakémet, the fingers in the 13th and 14th nomes, an arm in the 20th nome and the heart in Athribis Delta.

Plutarch, who later told the story of Osiris, gave a different distribution. The important thing is that Osiris, a God who died and rose again, embodies the heart of the ancient Egyptians’ belief in the resurrection of the dead and in eternal life.

The idea of a dead and risen God is a paradigm, whose analogy with the figure of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, cannot be overlooked.

Several precious papyrus tell the story of the God Osiris, his many adventures. Murders, tricks, betrayals, magical transformations abound. To read them today, in an era both disenchanted and eager for misguided religious passions, can be conceived as a dive back several millennia, a dive into the dawn of an emerging, deeply religious feeling, in all the meanings of this ambiguous term.

The papyrus Jumilhac, kept in Paris, tells the story of the revenge of Osiris’ son, Anubis, who went after Seth, his father’s killer. Knowing that he was threatened, Seth took the form of Anubis himself, to try to cover his tracks, before taking many other forms.

« Then Imakhumankh walked at the head of the gods who watch over Osiris; he found Demib and cut off his head, so that he was anointed with his [blood]. [Seth] came looking for him, after he had turned into an Anubis (…) Then Isis dismembered Seth with her own teeth, biting him in his back, and Thoth pronounced his spells against him. Re then said: ‘Let this seat be attributed to the « Tired »; look as he regenerated himself! How beautiful it is! And that let Seth be placed under him as a seat. That’s right, because of the harm he did to all the members of Osiris.’ (…)

But Seth fled into the wilderness and made his transformation into the panther of this nome. Anubis, however, seized him, and Thoth said his magic spells against him again. So he fell to the ground in front of him. Anubis bound him by his arms and legs and Seth was consumed in the flame, from head to toe, throughout his body, east of the august room. The smell of his fat having reached the heaven, it spread in this magnificent place, and Re and the gods held it for pleasant. Then Anubis split Seth’s skin, and tore it off, and put his fur on him. (…)

And Seth made his transformation into Anubis, so that the gate-keepers should not be able to recognize him (…) Anubis pursued him with the gods of his retinue, and joined him. But Set, taking on the appearance of a bull, made his form unrecognizable. But Anubis bound him by his arms and legs, and cut off his phallus and testicles. (…)

After that Anubis entered the Ouâbet to check the condition of his father, Osiris, and he found him safe and sound, with firm and fresh flesh. He turned into a falcon, opened his wings behind his father Osiris, and behind the vase that contained the aqueous humors of this God (…) he spread the wings as a falcon to fly, in search of his own eye, and brought it back intact to his master. »

As we see, Seth is constantly transforming himself into anubis, then into a panther, finally into a bull. But Anubis always follows him, with Thot’s help. Then Seth is transformed into Osiris’ « seat » or Anubis’ « fur ». But it is the final transformation that is most pleasing to the supreme God, Re. Seth is consumed in flames and in the smell of fat, and he spreads himself into the magnificent Heaven.

It is interesting to compare the final transformation of Seth into flames and odours with that of Anubis, who takes the form of the falcon. This falcon, Horus, is one of the oldest, most archaic deities in the Egyptian pantheon. In the Osirian context, Horus represents the posthumous son of Osiris and Isis, who flies over his dead father in search of his eye and helps to restore his life.

The papyrus Jumilhac evokes the legend of Horus in chapter XXI, and compares it to a vine.

« As for the vineyard, it is the frame that surrounds the two eyes to protect them; as for the grape, it is the pupil of Horus’ eye; as for the wine that is made, it is Horus’ tears. »i

Wine stands for the tears of the son of the God Osiris, himself likened to a « vine ». How can we not think of this other ‘wine’, the blood of Christ, the sacrificed son of the living God?

iPapyrus Jumilhac. XIV,14,15, Paris. Copy consulted in Bibliothèque Ste Geneviève. Paris. Translation Jacques Vandier.

A Jewish, Greek, Indo-European and Exotic Rabbi


Jews pythagorized a lot in Alexandria, several centuries before the Christian era. Philo and Josephus are excellent examples of Hellenizing Jews, belonging to the high class of this city, and sensitive to ideas flowing from elsewhere. Pharisaism and Essenism, which flourished at the time, can be interpreted as effective outcomes of Pythagorean and Alexandrian Judaism.

The Pharisees, the « Separated », indeed constituted a « separate band », they wanted to distinguish themselves from traditional Jews, and even to innovate with regard to the Law. Josephus says that the Pharisees imposed rules on the people that were not enshrined in the Law of Moses.

Death and resurrection occupied the minds a lot, then.

The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead. So did share this belief Rabbi Joshua ben Youssef, better known as Jesus, while still finding Pharisees « hypocrites », and « bleached graves ».

By contrast, the Sadducees, faithful to the letter of the Law, were « Old Believers » and they denied the resurrection.

The core idea of the resurrection was indeed not Jewish. It was widespread in Hellenism, pythagorism, with palingenesis and metempsychosis. All this originated in a more distant East. Iran. India. The vast world had many different views on these difficult subjects.

But the Pharisaic belief in the resurrection was undoubtedly « a decisive innovation, which made Pharisaic and Talmudic Judaism a religion quite different from that of the Law and the Prophets, » wrote Isidore Lévyi.

Pharisaic Judaism has adapted and modified the concepts of resurrection and palingenesis: the resurrection is not as a recurring opportunity offered to migrant souls, but a singular, unique event, which occurs once and for all on the day of Revelation.

As for the Essenes, another sect of Judaism, they are called Hassa’im, the « silent » ones. Josephus describes them as follows: « No scream, no tumult ever defiles the house; everyone in turn is given the floor. To people outside, the silence inside gives the impression of a frightening mystery.»ii

They are also fanatics, » adds Josephus. « They swear not to reveal anything about the members of the cult to strangers, even if they were to be tortured to death.»iii

It was already, let us remember, Pythagoras’ oath: « Rather die than speak », as reported by Diogenes Laertius (VIII, 39). And it also reminds us of Jesus’ obstinate silence before Pilate.

Flavius Josephus summarizes the belief of the Essene sect: « The soul is eternal. Freed from its carnal chain, the soul, as if liberated from a long servitude, joyfully takes off towards the heights.» iv

Other sects still competed with them in this troubled period: the Zadoqites, the Nazarenes, the Dositheans, the disciples of Johanan Ben Zakkai, those of Hillel…

In this world open to the influences of many heterodox cultures, the parallel between the birth of Jesus and that of Pythagoras is worth to be underlined.

There is more. Pythagoras in Crotone refused to be called a son of Apollo, just as Jesus in Capernaum does not want to be known as the son of God. Another similarity: Pythagoras and Jesus knew how to talk to women. Jesus had several of them as unconditional followers, three of whom are named: Mary Magdalene, Mary Mother of James, and Salome. This sole fact is in itself extremely remarkable, if we take into account the context and the time. Only Pythagoras has had a similar behaviour in the past.

Pharisaism, born in Alexandria in the midst of a maelstrom of cultures, religions, political, economic and migratory movements, tried to reconcile the ideas of Moses and Pythagoras. The time aspired to forms of syncretism, to conjunctions of points of view.

If Judaism was then influenced by Pythagorism, how can we not see that Christianity too was influenced by its aura? Long before Jesus, Pythagoras had been known as the God-Man of Samos, while being the son of Mesarch and Parthenis. He embodied on earth the manifestation of Apollo. Through him, shone in Crotone, the torch that saved happiness and wisdom.

I. Levy interprets what he calls « the enigmatic fact of the triumph of Christianity » in this way: « Of the religion which under the Caesars left Palestine, the essential had only been introduced to Jerusalem a century earlier. The Gospel conceals under an oriental garment the belief system which, as we know from the writings of Virgil, Plutarch and many others, from the careers of Apollonius of Tyana and Alexander of Abonutikhos, captured the most diverse spirits on the Greek and Latin shores of the Mediterranean. It seduced the ancient world because it brought it, imbued with the most penetrating exotic charm, a product of Greek thought, heir to an Indo-European past. »v

All this sounds curious in the 21st century, used to the strangest extrapolations, and sensitive to the most improbable reinterpretations, never without putative provocations.

Jesus, a slandered rabbi, condemned as « king of the Jews », now may reappear in the collective consciousness as an « oriental », « exotic » product, an heir to « Greek thought » and to an « Indo-European past ».

In the Jewish world, trying to survive after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, it was probably not desirable to allow the seeds of heresy to develop. It was necessary to gather minds, after the political, symbolic and moral disaster. Yet Jesus was Jewish, as were the Pharisees, Sadducees or Essenes who occupied the field of Jewish thought at that time. More Jewish than Indo-European, we might say.

It is certainly not indifferent, today, to want to see in Christianity only an « oriental », « exotic », « Greek » and « Indo-European » non-Jewish heresy, rather than the sucker of the Jesse trunk, – that Judaeo-Christians celebrated then.

It might be more significant, from a very long-term perpective, to consider Christianity being, at the same time, and without contradiction, an interesting innovation: a Jewish-Greek-Indo-European and exotic religion, – transcending in its unique way cultures, borders, classes, sects, centuries.

i in La Légende de Pythagore de Grèce en Palestine, 1927

ii Bellum II, VIII, 5, §132

iii Bellum II, VIII, 5, §132

iv Bell. II, VIII, §155-157

vIn Op.cit.

How to Found Romes of One’s Liking


Pythagoras, Enoch, Moses, Orpheus, Siosiri, Mithrobarzan, Aeneas, Jesus do have something in common: they all went down to the Underworld, and then came back from it.

Admittedly, they were not very talkative about what they saw there. They were probably required to keep a certain discretion about what they had discovered in the Other World.

But by collating their testimonies, we can draw some general lessons.

All those who have visited the depths of Time share common features. Their birth was miraculous, their intelligence lively and early. One day, they go down to the underworld, make discoveries, return to the world, in an apotheosis, realize very significant achievements, and then they disappear again.

It is tempting to assume that they are conforming, in doing so, to a type, a paradigm. In their apparent diversity, their infernal journeys are essentially similar. All you have to do is mention one, to find them all.

However, perhaps the most poetic of these descents into Hell was that of Aeneas, narrated by Virgil.

It all begins with a visit from Aeneas to Cumae, in the cave of the Sibyl. This high priestess of Phoebes and Hecate exclaimed: « It is time to question the destinies. The God, this is the God!”. Aeneas begins a prayer, while the prophetess still resists the embrace of God: “She struggles in her den like a wild bacchanal, and seeks to shake the Almighty God out of her chest. »

Aeneas insists. He wants to go down to the underworld. He wants to see his father there again. It is indeed an exorbitant privilege, but he has the ability to do so. « I too am of the race of the sovereign Jupiter », he says.

The Sibyl replies that it is in fact easy to descend to the Avern. It is to retrace one’s steps, to go back up to the light from above which is difficult, which is the hard test. There are the mud of the Acheron, the black waters of the Cocyte, the waves of the Styx, the dark Tartarus, the silent night of the Phlegeton with its torrents of flame. These obstacles must be overcome twice, on the way to and on the way back.

Aeneas and Sibyl then sink into the depths of the earth. « They went like shadows by the deserted night, through the darkness and the vast dwellings of Pluto and his kingdom of simulacra. »

After many adventures, Aeneas meets his father Anchises. Contact is not easy. « Three times he tried to surround his neck with his arms; three times, in vain, the shadow ran down his hands like a light breath, like a dream that flies away. »

Aeneas asks him a question. He wants to know why there are so many souls « who yearn again to enter into the thick bonds of the body ». Anchises then starts to explain « all these beautiful secrets » to him.

« And first of all, the sky, the earth, the liquid plains, the luminous globe of the moon, the Titanic star of the sun, are penetrated and enlivened by a spiritual principle: spread in all parts of the world, the spirit makes the whole mass move, and transforms it by mixing with this vast body.”

It is from this principle that men, animals, birds, and monsters of the Ocean are born. All the germs of life owe their vigour to their celestial origin. Despite this, souls know fears, desires, pains, joys, and they remain trapped in their darkness and blind jails, when life leaves them.

It takes thousands of years of suffering and punishment for the soul to, one day, recover its purity, the initial spark of the fire that has been granted to it.

Anchises accurately describes the fate that awaits the descendants of Aeneas and what Rome will become. That’s all said and done.

Without transition, the return to light is almost instantaneous. Anchises led Aeneas and Sibyl back to the « bright ivory » gate, which Manes only use to send « illusory ghosts » to the World from above.

It is through this door that Aeneas passes, « cutting as short as possible ».

Aeneas had just succeeded to come back to the World. Then he founded Rome.

Who can claim to have had a similar experience? As I said earlier: Pythagoras, Enoch, Moses, Orpheus, Siosiri, Mithrobarzan, Jesus, all did go to the Underworld, they came back, and then they founded “Romes” of their liking, kingdoms of their kind.

Why is that so?

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

Brain Neurochemistry and Mystic Visions


The birth of Dionysus is worth telling. There is a precise description of it in the Imagines of Philostratus the Elder.

“A cloud of fire, after enveloping the city of Thebes, tears on the palace of Cadmos where Zeus leads a happy life with Semele. Semele dies, and Dionysus is really born under the action of the flame.

We can see the erased image of Semele rising towards the sky, where the Muses will celebrate his arrival with songs. As for Dionysus, he starts from the mother’s womb, thus torn, and shining like a star, he makes the brilliance of the fire pale with his own. The flame opens, sketching around Dionysus the shape of a cave[which is covered with consecrated plants].

The propellers, the berries of ivy, the vines already strong, the stems of which we make the thyrsus cover their contours, and all this vegetation comes out of the ground so willingly, that it grows partly in the middle of the fire. And let us not be surprised that the earth lays on the flames like a crown of plants.”

Philostratus ignores the fact that Semele had wanted to see the face of Zeus, her lover, and that this was the cause of her death. Zeus, kept by a promise he had made to her to fulfill all her desires, was forced to show his face of light and fire when she made the request, knowing that by doing so he would kill her, in spite of himself.

But he didn’t want to let the child she was carrying die, which was also his. Zeus took Dionysus out of his mother’s womb and put him in the great light, in a cloud of fire. However, Dionysus himself was already a being of fire and light. Philostratus describes how Dionysus’ own fire « makes Zeus’ own fire pale ».

It should be noted above all that the divine fire of Dionysus does not consume the sacred bushes that envelop his body at the time of his birth.

In a different context, Moses sees a burning bush, which is not consumed either. The Bible gives little detail on how the bush behaves in flames.

Philostratus, on the other hand, is a little more precise: a « crown of plants » floats above the fire. The metaphor of the crown is reminiscent of an aura, a halo, or the laurels surrounding the hero’s head. Except Dionysus is not a hero, but a God.

The idea of plants burning without burning in a « fire » of divine origin is counter-intuitive.

It is possible that this idea is a hidden metaphor. The inner fire of some plants, such as Cannabis, or other psychotropic plants, is a kind of fire that affects the mind, burns it indeed, but does not (usually) consume it. This inner fire, caused by plants capable of inducing shamanic visions and even divine ecstasies, is one of the oldest ways to contemplate mysteries.

This is one of the most valuable lessons from the experiences reported by shamans in Asia, Africa, or America.

What explains the powerful affinity between psychotropic plants, human brain neurochemistry and these ecstatic, divine visions?

Why is brain chemistry capable of generating a ‘vision’ of God from psychotropic stimuli?

Why is the active ingredient of cannabis, THC (Δ9 – tetrahydrocannabinol), capable, by binding to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, of delivering man to ecstasy, and to the vision of the divine, under certain conditions?

New ways of investigating the brain should be able to be used to detect the brain regions activated during these visions.

There are two main categories of assumptions.

Either the psychotropic mechanism is entirely internal to the brain, depending only on neurobiological processes, which can get out of hand when they are somehow looped around themselves.

Either these neurobiological processes are in reality only a façade, more or less shaped throughout the evolution of the human brain. They hide or reveal, depending on the case, our direct perception of a world that is still mysterious, a parallel world, generally inaccessible to sensitivity and consciousness.

The neurochemical processes disinhibited by THC release the brain, and during ecstasy give it the opportunity to access a meta-world, usually veiled, but very real, existing independently of human consciousness.

In that assumption, the neurochemistry of cannabis does not then generate « visions » by itself; it is only a key that opens the consciousness to a world that is inaccessible, most of the time, to weak human capacities.