The Ambiguous Ishmael

– Ishmael and Hagar –

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elements Against Ishmael :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elements in Favor of Ishmael:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s now conclude.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

iiiCourse of Moïse Mouton. 7 December 2019

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

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

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

viiHebrew-French Dictionary by Sander and Trenel, Paris 1859

viiiGn 16.13

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

xGn 16, 14

xi Gn 25.11

xiiiGn 18.13

xivGn 18.15

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

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

xviiGn 24, 62

A Voice Cries Out in the Desert

— Henri Meschonnic–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hence a sharp alternative:

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

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

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

The issue deserves attention.

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

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

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

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

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

These are indeed crucial points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To live is to react…

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

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

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

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

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

Rosenzweig puts it this way:

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

Difficult to make more synthetic and more exclusive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So? What is the rigjht reading?

 » A voice cries out in the desert »?

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

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

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

Meschonnic concludes his development with a shock formula :

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

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

However, the rhythm is not enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

« Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

iiHenri Meschonnic. « Pour en finir avec le mot « Shoah » », Le Monde, dated February 20-21, 2005. cf.,1193.html

iii: Henri Meschonnic. « Pour en finir avec le mot « Shoah » », Le Monde, dated February 20-21, 2005. cf.,1193.html

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xxii« הִנֵּה אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה (Is 40:10)

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

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

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

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

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

The Irony of the Bráhman

-Friedrich Max Müller-

One day, according to the Bhagavadgītā (भगवद्गीता), the Supreme Lord came down to reveal to a man named Arjuna, the « most secret wisdom », the « secret of secrets », the « purest knowledge », a « knowledge, queen among all sciences ».

In a few decisive words, human reason was then stripped of everything and reduced to begging. Human nature was compared to « dust », but, more inexplicably, it was also promised to a very high destiny, a putative glory, though still infinitely distant, embryonic, potential. Faced with these impassable mysteries, she was invited to scrutinize endlessly her own background, and her own end.

« This entire universe is penetrated by Me, in My unmanifested form. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them. At the same time, nothing that is created is in Me. See My supernatural power! I sustain all beings, I am everywhere present, and yet, I remain the very source of all creation.»i

We also learn from Bhagavadgītā that the supreme God may descend in person into this world, taking on human form. « Fools denigrate Me when I come down to this world in human form. They know nothing of My spiritual and absolute nature, nor of My total supremacy.»ii

It is not without interest to recall here that the Hebrew Bible, for its part, repeatedly expressed a strangely similar idea. Thus, three « men », posing as « envoys » of the Lord, came to meet Abraham under the oak tree of Mamre. One of them, called YHVH in the Genesis text, spoke to Abraham face to face.

In the Veda, the supreme God is infinitely high, transcendent, absolute, but He is also tolerant. He recognizes that multiple modes of belief can coexist. There are men for whom God is the supreme, original Person. There are those who prostrate themselves before God with love and devotion. There are those who worship Him as the One, and others who worship Him in Immanence, in His presence among the infinite diversity of beings and things, and there are still others who see Him in the Universal. iii

In the Veda, the supreme God is at once unique, absolute, transcendent, immanent, universal; He is All in all.

« But I am the rite and the sacrifice, the oblation to the ancestors, the grass and the mantra. I am the butter, and the fire, and the offering. Of this universe, I am the father, the mother, the support and the grandfather, I am the object of knowledge, the purifier and the syllable OM. I am also the Ṛg, the Sāma and the Yajur. I am the goal, the support, the teacher, the witness, the abode, the refuge and the dearest friend, I am the creation and the annihilation, the basis of all things, the place of rest and the eternal seed (…) I am immortality, and death personified. Being and non-being, both are in Me, O Arjuna ». iv

In his third lecturev on Vedanta given in London in 1894, Max Müller recalled that the Supreme Spirit, the bráhman, ( ब्रह्मन्, a name of the neutral gender, with the tonic accent on the verbal root BRAH-, taken to the full degree – ‘guṇa’) said: « Even those who worship idols worship Me », as reported by Bhagavadgītā.

And Müller added that, within the framework of Vedanta philosophy, the bráhman, this supreme principle, must be distinguished from the brahmán (with the tonic accent on the second syllable), who represents a male agent name meaning « Creator ». According to the Vedanta philosophy, the bráhman could even state of himself: « Even those who worship a personal God in the image of an active creator, or a King of kings, worship Me or, at least, think of Me ».

In this view, the brahmán (the Creator) would be, in reality, only a manifestation of the bráhman (the Supreme Principle). The bráhman also seems to hint here, not without a certain irony, that one could perfectly well support the opposite position, and that would not bother Him…

Here again, with the famous opening of the first verse of Genesis: Bereshit bara Elohim (Gen 1:1), Judaism professed an intuition strangely comparable.

This verse could be read, according to some commentators of the Bereshit Rabbah:  » ‘Be-rechit’ created the Elohim«  (i.e.  » ‘In the principle‘ created the Gods »).

Other commentators even proposed to understand: « With the Most Precious, *** created the Gods ».

I note here by means of the three asterisks the ineffability of the Name of the Supreme Principle (unnamed but implied).

Combining these interpretations, one could understand the first verse of Genesis (berechit bara elohim) in this way:

« The Principle, withthe ‘Most Precious’, created the Elohim. »

The Principle is not named but implied.

The particle be- in the expression be-rechit can mean ‘with’.

One of the possible meanings of the word rechit can be ‘primal fruit’ or ‘most precious’.

For the comparatist, these possibilities (however slight) of convergence between traditions as different as Vedic and Hebrew, are sources of endless meditation and tonic inspiration…

One of the greatest commentator on Vedic heritage, Ādi Śaṅkara (आदि शङ्कर ) explained: « When bráhman is defined in the Upanishads only in negative terms, excluding all differences in name and form due to non-science, it is the superior [bráhman]. But when it is defined in terms such as: « the intelligence whose body is spirit and light, distinguished by a special name and form, solely for the purpose of worship » (Chand., III, 14, 2), it is the other, the lower brahmán. » vi

If this is so, Max Müller commented, the text that says that bráhman has no second (Chand., VI, 2, 1) seems to be contradicted.

But, « No, answers Śaṅkara, because all this is only the illusion of name and form caused by non-science. In reality the two brahman are one and the same brahman, oneconceivable, the other inconceivable, one phenomenal, the other absolutely real ». vii

The distinction made by Śaṅkara is clear. But in the Upanishads, the line of demarcation between the bráhman (supreme) and the brahmán (creator) is not always so clear.

When Śaṅkara interprets the many passages of the Upanishads that describe the return of the human soul after death to ‘brahman‘ (without the tonic accent being distinguished), Sankara always interprets it as the inferior brahmán.

Müller explained: « This soul, as Śaṅkara strongly says, ‘becomes Brahman by being Brahman’viii, that is, by knowing him, by knowing what he is and has always been. Put aside the non-science and light bursts forth, and in that light the human self and the divine self shine in their eternal unity. From this point of view of the highest reality, there is no difference between the Supreme Brahman and the individual self or Ātman (Ved. Sutras, I, 4, p. 339). The body, with all the conditions, or upadhis,towhich it is subordinated, may continue for some time, even after the light of knowledge has appeared, but death will come and bring immediate freedom and absolute bliss; while those who, through their good works, are admitted to the heavenly paradise, must wait there until they obtain supreme enlightenment, and are only then restored to their true nature, their true freedom, that is, their true unity with Brahman. » ix

Of the true Brahman, the Upanishads still say of Him: « Verily, friend, this imperishable Being is neither coarse nor fine, neither short nor long, neither red (like fire) nor fluid (like water). He is without shadow, without darkness, without air, without ether, without bonds, without eyes, without eyes, without ears, without speech, without spirit, without light, without breath, without mouth, without measure, He has neither inside nor outside ».

And this series of negations, or rather abstractions, continues until all the petals are stripped off, and only the chalice, the pollen, the inconceivable Brahman, the Self of the world, remains.

« He sees, but is not seen; He hears, but is not heard; He perceives, but is not perceived; moreover, there is in the world only Brahman who sees, hears, perceives, or knows. » x

Since He is the only one to ‘see’, the metaphysical term that would best suit this Being would be ‘light’.

But this does not mean that Brahman is, in itself, « light », but only that the whole light, in all its manifestations, is in Brahman.

This light is notably the Conscious Light, which is another name for knowledge, or consciousness. Müller evokes the Mundaka Upanishad: « ‘It is the light of lights; when it shines, the sun does not shine, nor the moon nor the stars, nor lightning, much less fire. When Brahman shines, everything shines with Him: His light illuminates the world. Conscious light represents, as best as possible, Brahman’s knowledge, and it is known that Thomas Aquinas also called God the intelligent sun (Sol intelligibilis). For, although all purely human attributes are taken away from Brahman, knowledge, though a knowledge without external objects, is left to Him.»xi

The ‘light’ of ‘knowledge’ or ‘wisdom’ seems to be the only anthropomorphic metaphor that almost all religions dare to apply to the Supreme Being as the least inadequate.

In doing so, these religions, such as Vedic, Hebrew, Buddhist or Christian, often forget what the narrow limits of human knowledge or wisdom are, even at their highest level of perfection, and how unworthy of Divinity these metaphors are in reality.

There is indeed in all knowledge as in all human wisdom an essentially passive element.

This ‘passivity’ is perfectly incompatible with the Divinity… At least, in principle.

One cannot help but notice in several religions the idea of a sort of (active) passivity of the supreme Divinity, who takes the initiative to withdraw from being and the world, for the sake of His creature.

Several examples are worth mentioning here, by order of their appearance on world stage.

-The Supreme Creator, Prajāpati, प्रजापति, literally « Father and Lord of creatures », felt « emptied » right after creating all worlds and beings.

-Similarly, the Son of the only God felt his « emptiness » (kenosis, from the Greek kenos, empty, opposing pleos, full) and his « abandonment » by God just before his death.

-In the Jewish Kabbalah, God also consented to His own « contraction » (tsimtsum) in order to leave a little bit of being to His creation.

In this implicit, hidden, subterranean analogy between the passivity of human wisdom and the divine recess, there may be room for a form of tragic, sublime and overwhelming irony.

The paradox is that this analogy and irony, then, would also allow the infinitesimal human ‘wisdom’ to approach in small steps one of the deepest aspects of the mystery.


iBhagavadgītā 9.4-5

iiBhagavadgītā 9.11

iii« Others, who cultivate knowledge, worship Me either as the unique existence, or in the diversity of beings and things, or in My universal form. « Bhagavadgītā 9,15

ivBhagavadgītā 9.16-19

vF. Max Müller. Introduction to the Vedanta philosophy. Three lectures given at the Royal Institute in March 1894. Translated from English by Léon Sorg. Ed. Ernest Leroux, Paris 1899.

viF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p.39

viiF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p.39-40

viiiIt should probably be specified here, thanks to the tonic accents: « The soul becomes Brahman by being Brahman. « But one could also write, it seems to me, by analogy with the ‘procession’ of the divine persons that Christian theology has formalized: « The spirit becomes Brahman by being Brahman. »

ixF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p. 41

xF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p. 44

xiF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p. 45

Foi et Loi

– Le rabbin Chaoul, disciple du rabbin Gamaliel –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quoi? — La grâce.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

iii Rm 4, 13-14

ivRm 3,20

vRm 4,15

viRm 3,28-29

viiRm 4, 16

viiiRm 7,12

ixRm 6,14

xRm 10,12

xiRm 9, 32-33

xiiIs 8,14

xiiiIs 28,16

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

xvIs 65,1

xviIs 65,2

xviiRm 10, 19-21

xviiiRm 11,25

xixRm 11, 26-29

xxRm 11,33

Three Beginnings

« Genesis »

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

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

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

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

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

Ἐν ἀρχῇ. En arkhè.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

« At the principle there was a choice. »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.

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

Usually Gn 1.1 is translated as :

« In the beginning God created heaven and earth ».

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hence the proposed translation of Gn 1.1 :

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

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

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

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר

Va-yomer Elohim yéhi ‘or vé yéhi ‘or.

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

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

וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם

Va-yqra’ Elohim la-‘or yom

« And Elohim called the light ‘day’. »

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

« All that YHVH has said » (Ex 24:7).

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

« For YHVH has spoken » (Is 1:2).

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

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

Here are a few examples:

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

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

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

The Spirit, once created, desired to manifest itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– when the seers began to name everything.

Excellence, the purest, the profoundly hidden

in their hearts, they revealed it through their love.

The Seers shaped the Word by the Spirit,

passing it through a sieve, like wheat being sifted.

Friends recognized the friendship they had for each other,

and a sign of good omen sealed their word.

Through sacrifice, they followed the way of the Word,

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

– they proclaimed it and communicated it to the multitude.

Together, the Seven Singers sing it. »vii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


iCf. The Greek Etymological Dictionary of Chantraine

iiBuck-Petersen, Reverse index 686-687

iiiCf. Lampe, Lexicon, Kittel, Theological Words.

ivRV X.71

vSB II, 2,4,4

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

vii RV X, 71, 1-3.

viii SB X 5, 3, 1-5

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

x Water plays an essential role in the Vedic sacrifice.

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

The God « Ka » (« Who? »)

« Raimundo Panikkar »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

« What God shall we adore with our oblation ? »

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

Hence this possible translation :

To the God ‘Who?’

1. In the beginning appeared the Golden Germ.

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

The support of Earth and this Heaven.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

2. He, who gives life force and endurance,

He, whose commandments are laws for the Gods,

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

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

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

Of everything that lives, breathes and sleeps,

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

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

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

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

His arms embrace the four quarters of the sky.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

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

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

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

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

6. Towards Him, trembling, forces crushed,

Subjected to his glory, raise their eyes.

Through Him, the sun of dawn projects its light.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

7. When came the mighty waters, carrying

The Universal Germ from which Fire springs,

The One Spirit of God was born to be.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

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

Pregnant with the life forces engendering the Sacrifice,

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

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

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

O Heavenly Father, we ask You to keep us,

O Father of the ample and divine Waters!

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

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

You alone penetrate all that is born,

This sacrifice that we offer you, we desire it,

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And since then, it was His name. »v

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

L’Or de Verlaine, — métaphore de l’Unique

« Paul Verlaine »

De ses phrases courtes, dures, gorgées

de sang, de sève et de clichés,

dressées sans façon, sans trêve,

vers des cieux de rimes-rêves,

et de cris étranglés,

de pleurs d’orages,

fulgurent des idées,

spermes et glus dans la nuit,

et de l’or par millions, dans la fosse aux lions.

Voilà Verlaine en son tombeau.

Son couteau de mots le blessent vers son aine,

et son âme zèbre son rein beau.

S’envolent-ils d’Arthur vers Paul ou au-delà,

ces « millions d’oiseaux d’or »?

Cet or, cet Ô, prometteur de « futures vigueurs » ?

Le poète dit vrai,

qui donne sa vie pour ses visions,

et distribue à tous son or et ses raisons.

Ah ! La lumière d’or ! Pure de mots, elle arrose toutes choses.

Ah ! La terre et la mer et le ciel, purs encor

Et jeunes, qu’arrosait une lumière d’or i

On la trouve en Hellas, dans son ciel.

Et sous tes cieux dorés et clairs, Hellas antique,

De Sparte la sévère à la rieuse Attique ii

Et dans la bouche des poètes combattants.

……..Et le Laërtiade

Dompta, parole d’or qui charme et persuade,

Les esprits et les cœurs, et les âmes toujours iii.

Car l’or c’est le style,

Je suis l’Empire à la fin de la décadence,

Qui regarde passer les grands Barbares blancs

En composant des acrostiches indolents

D’un style d’or où la langueur du soleil danse.iv

L’or enferme des parfums, des harems, et couvre de son toit tout désir.

Mon désir créait sous des toits en or,

Parmi les parfums, au son des musiques,

Des harems sans fin, paradis physiques ! v

Il y a de l’or dans un nom même,


Mais cet or de son seul est-il vrai ?

Redresse et peins à neuf tous les arcs triomphaux :

Brûle un encens ranci sur tes autels d’or faux ;vi

Ou seulement mordoré ?

Couvre-toi de tapis mordorés, mur jauni ;

Pousse à Dieu ton cantique, ô chantre rajeuni.vii

L’or n’est vrai que s’il est en vie.

Soudain, tournant vers moi son regard émouvant :

« Quel fut ton plus beau jour ? » fit sa voix d’or vivant.viii

Ou caché dans la caresse du cheveu,

Ah ! les oarystis ! les premières maîtresses !

L’or des cheveux, l’azur des yeux, la fleur des chairs ix

ou l’eau de la chevelure,

Et de toi j’aime toute chose

De la chevelure, fontaine

D’ébène ou d’or (et dis, ô pose-

Les sur mon cœur) aux pieds de reine.x

Car si le cheveu coule, il est aussi de feu.

Avec ses cheveux d’or épars comme du feu,

Assise, et ses grands yeux d’azur tristes un peu xi.

L’or est aussi dans les cils.

Et mon âme palpite au bout de tes cils d’or…

A propos, croyez-vous que Chloris m’aime encor ? xii

Ou lové dans les yeux aimés.

Je chanterai tes yeux d’or et d’onyx

Purs de toutes ombres,

Puis le Léthé de ton sein, puis le Styx

De tes cheveux sombres. xiii

Ou sonnant dans son cœur.

Mais dans ton cher cœur d’or, me dis-tu, mon enfant,

La fauve passion va sonnant l’oliphant !… xiv

Même si c’est un parfait cliché, le poète n’en a curexv.

Cœur d’or, comme l’on dit, âme de diamant xvi

Car il le sait, l’or luit dans l’oeil des vagabonds,

(les amoureux de l’éternel, des vieux morts, et des dieux).

Leurs jambes pour toutes montures,

Pour tout bien l’or de leurs regards. xvii

L’or, c’est sûr, aime les pauvres et les poètes.

Et l’or fou qui sied aux pauvres glorieux,

Aux poètes fiers comme les gueux d’Espagne xviii.

Mais pour le Pauvre l’or est vain.

La sale vanité de l’or qu’on a, l’envie

D’en avoir mais pas pour le Pauvre, cette vie xix.

On trouve de l’or partout.

Dans le ciel du sommeil,

L’or dilaté d’un ciel sans bornes

Berce de parfums et de chants,

Chers endormis, vos sommeils mornes ! xx

Et dans les cieux tout court.

Emportant son trophée à travers les cieux d’or!xxi

Ou encore dans la mer,

L’atmosphère est de perle et la mer d’or fané.xxii

Ou dans les nuages.

Ces clochers, cette tour, ces autres, sur l’or blême

Des nuages à l’ouest réverbérant l’or dur xxiii

Et dans les étoiles.

Tournez, tournez ! Le ciel en velours

D’astres en or se vêt lentement.xxiv

Dans le soleil lui-même,

Que lui fait l’astre d’or, que lui fait la charmille xxv,

surtout lorsqu’il paraît,

Car voici le soleil d’or. — xxvi

Mais le soleil même peut être dépassé par l’aimée.

Le soleil luisait haut dans le ciel calme et lisse,

Et dans ses cheveux blonds c’étaient des rayons d’or. xxvii

Ou par le noir de son propre soir,

Les yeux noirs, les cheveux noirs et le velours noir

Vont contrastant, parmi l’or somptueux d’un soir. xxviii

quand il semble à l’agonie,

Et le soleil couchant, quand dans l’or il s’effondre,

Pleure du sang de n’ouïr plus, les soirs d’été,

Monter vers lui l’air sombre et gai répercuté.xxix

mais où il trouve enfin sa fin:

Le couchant d’or et d’améthyste

S’éteint et brunit par degré. xxx

Le plus bel or, c’est l’aurore.

De fauve l’Orient devient rose, et l’argent

Des astres va bleuir dans l’azur qui se dore

L’alouette a volé stridente : c’est l’aurore ! xxxi

L’or illumine et voile le lit du (futur) mort.

Des rideaux de draps d’or roides comme des murs xxxii

Il est le compagnon de l’Inspiration, comme

L’Ange des vieux tableaux avec des ors au fond. xxxiii

L’or est partout. Il faut le dire.

L’or sur les humbles abîmes. xxxiv

Il est aussi là où il n’est pas.

Monsieur, vous raillez mieux encor

Que vous n’aimez, et parlez d’or;

Mais taisons-nous, si bon vous semble ? xxxv

Ou dans l’envol frivole d’un

papillon de pourpre et d’or. xxxvi

Ou parmi la moisson.

L’or des pailles s’effondre au vol siffleur des faux xxxvii

Ou dans le bruit clair d’un cuivre,

La note d’or que fait entendre

Un cor dans le lointain des bois xxxviii

ou le son tendre d’une voix.

Mon oreille avide d’entendre

Les notes d’or de sa voix tendre. xxxix

L’or et le tendre aiment bien se marier ensemble.

Et de noces d’or et du tendre xl

On trouve l’or aussi sous le sang de la cuirasse.

Voix de l’Orgueil ; un cri puissant, comme d’un cor.

Des étoiles de sang sur des cuirasses d’or xli

L’or est souvent lié au sang,

Ton sang qui s’amasse

En une fleur d’or xlii,

à la myrrhe, à l’encens,

La myrrhe, l’or et l’encens

Sont des présents moins aimables

Que de plus humbles présents

Offerts aux Yeux adorables.xliii

et avec la soie

Dans un palais, soie et or, dans Ecbatane,

De beaux démons, des satans adolescents, xliv

Ainsi qu’avec l’ombre,

D’arbres au vent et de poussière d’ombre et d’or.xlv

avec le feu,

Avec de l’or, du bronze et du feu dans la voix xlvi

et la bataille,

C’est le contact, c’est le conflit

Dans le sens, pur alors, qu’on lit

Sur l’or lucide des batailles.

Fi des faciles compromis! xlvii

L’or est liquide.

L’or fond et coule à flots et le marbre éclate xlviii

Il coule dans le sexe,

Et tumultueuse et folle et sa bouche

Plonge sous l’or blond, dans les ombres grises; xlix

— ici évasive allusion, mais là nommé vase:

À ton étreinte, bras très frais, souple et dur flanc,

Et l’or mystérieux du vase pour l’extase. l

L’or est doux.

Son âme en blanc linceul, par l’espace éclairci

D’une douce clarté d’or blond qui flue et vibre

Monte au plafond ouvert désormais à l’air libre

Et d’une ascension lente va vers les cieux. li

L’or, l’or, toujours l’or, et encore de l’or.

La Gueule parle: « L’or, et puis encore l’or,

Toujours l’or, et la viande, et les vins, et la viande,

Et l’or pour les vins fins et la viande, on demande

Un trou sans fond pour l’or toujours et l’or encor ! »

La Panse dit : « À moi la chute du trésor !

La viande, et les vins fins, et l’or, toute provende,

A moi ! Dégringolez dans l’outre toute grande

Ouverte du seigneur Nabuchodonosor ! lii

Qu’est-ce que l’or, enfin?

C’est le temps.

A ce mien passé d’or vanné représenté

Par un Génie en l’air, misère et liberté liii

C’est l’âme.

On fut jeune et on l’est encor,

Cœur de diamant, âme d’or

Pur et dur, un trésor à prendreliv

L’Or c’est l’Unique.


iVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Prologue

iiVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Prologue

iiiVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Prologue

ivVerlaine. Jadis et naguère. Langueur

vVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Résignation

viVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Nevermore

viiVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Nevermore

viiiVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Nevermore

ixVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Voeu

xVerlaine, Chair, Chanson pour elle.

xiVerlaine. Cellulairement. Amoureuse du diable.

xiiVerlaine. Jadis et naguère. Les uns et les autres. Scène 8

xiiiVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Sérénade

xivVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Lassitude

xvVerlaine use à l’occasion de clichés, sans trop de modération, mais pour s’en détacher aussitôt, en une pirouette. Voici quelques exemples de clichés choisis (« franc comme l’or », « rouler sur l’or », « le veau d’or », « le silence d’or »), et de leurs envols ultérieurs:

 » (…) franche

Comme l’or, comme un bel oiseau sur une branche ».

Bonheur, Œuvres complètes, Tome II.

« Tu nageais dans l’argent et tu roulais sur l’or,

Et, pour te faire heureuse et belle mieux encor,

Une passion vraie et forte t’avait prise,

Qui t’exalta longtemps comme un bon vin qui grise. »

Élégies, Œuvres complètes, Tome III.

« Vous voulez tuer le veau gras

Et qu’un sonnet signe la trêve.

Très bien, le voici, mais mon rêve

Serait, pour sortir d’embarras

Et nous bien décharger les bras

De la manière la plus brève,

— Tel un lourd fardeau qu’on enlève—

Que ce veau fût d’or et très gras. »

Dédicaces, A Léon Vanier, Œuvres complètes, Tome III.

« Le bruit de ton aiguille et celui de ma plume

Sont le silence d’or dont on parla d’argent.

Ah ! cessons de nous plaindre, insensés que nous fûmes,

Et travaillons tranquillement au nez des gens ! »

Vers sans rimes, Œuvres complètes, Tome III.

xviVerlaine. Cellulairement. Amoureuse du diable.

xviiVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Grotesques

xviiiVerlaine. Jadis et naguère. Sonnets et autres vers

xixVerlaine. Amour. Angélus de midi

xxVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Sub urbe

xxiVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Epilogue

xxiiVerlaine. Amour. Bournemouth

xxiiiVerlaine. Sagesse. XIX

xxivVerlaine. Romances sans paroles. Bruxelles. Chevaux de bois.

xxvVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Monsieur Prudhomme

xxviVerlaine. La bonne chanson. Avant que tu ne t’en ailles

xxviiVerlaine. Romances sans paroles. Beams

xxviiiVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. César Borgia

xxixVerlaine, Épigrammes, 11, Œuvres complètes, Tome III.

xxxVerlaine. Jadis et naguère. Les loups

xxxiVerlaine. Jadis et naguère. Les vaincus

xxxiiVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. La mort de Philippe II

xxxiiiVerlaine. Poèmes saturniens. Epilogue

xxxivVerlaine. Romances sans paroles. Bruxelles. Simples fresques.

xxxvVerlaine. Fêtes galantes. Les indolents.

xxxviVerlaine. Fêtes galantes. L’amour par terre

xxxviiVerlaine. Sagesse. XX

xxxviiiVerlaine. La bonne chanson. VIII

xxxixVerlaine. La bonne chanson. XI

xlVerlaine. Sagesse. Ecoutez la chanson bien douce.

xliVerlaine. Sagesse. XIX

xliiVerlaine. Sagesse. Du fond du grabat

xliiiVerlaine. Liturgies intimes. Rois

xlivVerlaine. Jadis et naguère. Crimen amoris

xlvVerlaine. Sagesse. Parisien, mon frère à jamais étonné

xlviVerlaine. Amour. Bournemouth

xlviiVerlaine. Épigrammes, 10, Œuvres complètes, Tome III.

xlviiiVerlaine. Jadis et naguère. Les vaincus

xlixVerlaine. Parallèlement. Pensionnaires

lVerlaine. Prologue supprimé à un livre « d’invectives ».Œuvres complètes, Tome II.

liVerlaine. Jadis et naguère. La grâce

liiVerlaine. Amour. Sonnet héroïque

liiiVerlaine. Dédicaces. A Armand Sinval, Œuvres complètes, Tome III.

livVerlaine. Épigrammes, Œuvres complètes, Tome III, p.236.

Metaphysics of Fungi and Tares

« Richard Gordon Wasson and Albert Hofmann »

An innate sense of ‘mystery’ has always been one of the defining features of the human condition. The appearance of this trait, a long time ago, – say a few thousand centuries ago –, coincided, one must assume, with an obscure and progressive emergence of the consciousness itself, – mixed with a certain consciousness of the presence of the unconscious, – or of what was still lying unknown, hidden behing the veil of consciousness.

These two phenomena, the intuition of the mystery and the intuition of the unconscious, also opened the way to the progressive bursting of the consciousness of the Ego itself, – and of the ‘Self’.

The appearance of consciousness itself has undoubtedly been particularly favored by the repetition (encouraged by rituals) of many individual, acute, unprecedented, ‘proto-mystical’ experiences, – some of them with literally unspeakable implications, and whose essence was to reveal unexpectedly some of the depths of the Self, to some ‘initiated’ minds.

The accumulation of these experiences, by countless successive generations, not only by individuals but also by tribal groups during collective trances, suggests that these ecstatic states of consciousness must have been described and shared according to socialized forms (proto-religions, cult rites, initiation ceremonies).

The progressive experience of self-awareness and the proto-mystical experience are in fact indissolubly linked and reinforce each other. Both must have been made possible and encouraged by clusters of favorable conditions (environment, surroundings, climate, fauna, flora).

Moreover, through the effect of epigenesis, they must have had an impact on the neuronal, synaptic, neurochemical evolution of the brain (in hominids, then in humans), producing an organic and psychic terrain more and more adapted to a continuous increase in ‘levels of consciousness’.

For innumerable generations, and during multiple trance experiences, whether deliberate or hazardous, prepared or undergone, provoked during religious rites, or melting like lightning following personal discoveries, the mental ground of Homo brains never stops sowing, then sprouting, as if under the action of a psychic yeast intimately mixed with the neuronal dough.

Powerful proto-mystical experiments accelerated the neurochemical and neuro-synaptic adaptation of the brains of Paleolithic man, and thus revealed the incalculable immensity and radical unspeakability of the underlying, immanent, deep-seated ‘mysteries’.

These mysteries manifestly dwelled not only in the brain itself, and in a human consciousness that seemed to be barely awake, but also all around, in Nature, in the vast world of Cosmos, and beyond the Cosmos itself, deep in the Night of Origins.

Mysteries seemed to be hiding, not only in the ‘Self’, but also in the ‘Other’ , in the ‘Everywhere’ and in the ‘Elsewhere’.

The neuronal, synaptic and neurochemical evolution was, and still is, obviously, the essential condition for a mental, psychic and spiritual evolution.

This evolution was accelerated by increasingly powerful and complex feedback loops, intertwining the sudden physiological modifications available, and the ‘neuro-systemic’, cultural and psychic effects that they could cause in individuals, by genetic propagation within human groups, and by catalyzing the potential exploration of unfathomable, unresolved, abyssmal depths.

We can safely postulate the existence of an immanent and constantly evolving epigenetic link between the evolution of the brain’s structure, the network of its neurons, synapses and neurotransmitters, their inhibitory and agonizing factors, and its increasing capacity to support proto-mystical, spiritual and religious experiences.

What is a proto-mystical experience?

There are undoubtedly many of them… But to fix the ideas, we can evoke the experience reported by many shamans of an exit from the body (‘ecstasy’ or ESPs), followed by the perception of a great lightning bolt, then accompanied by surreal visions, coupled with an acute development of Self-consciousness, and the inner spectacle created by the simultaneous excitement of all parts of the brain.

Let us imagine a Homo erectus, hunter-gatherer in some region of Eurasia, who consumes, by chance or by tradition, such and such a mushroom, among the dozens of species possessing psychotropic properties, in his living environment. Suddenly, a ‘great flash of consciousness’ invades and stuns him, following the simultaneous stimulation of a massive quantity of neurotransmitters affecting the functioning of his neurons and his cerebral synapses. In a few moments, there is a radical difference between his usual state of ‘consciousness’ (or ‘subconsciousness’) and the suddenly occurring state of ‘over-consciousness’. The novelty and the incredible vigor of the experience will mark him for life.

He will now have the certainty of having lived a moment of double consciousness, a moment when his usual consciousness was as if transcended by an overconsciousness. In him, a true ‘dimorphism’ of consciousness has been powerfully revealed, which is not without comparison with the daily dimorphism of wakefulness and sleep, and the ontological dimorphism of life and death, two categories undoubtedly perfectly perceptible by Homo erectus’ brain.

Let us add that, since ancient times, probably dating back to the beginning of the Paleolithic, more than three million years ago, hunter-gatherers of the Homo genus must already have known the use of psycho-active plants, and consumed them regularly. Long before the appearance of Homo, many animal species (such as reindeer, monkeys, elephants, mouflons or felines…) also knew their effects themselvesi.

Their daily example was to intrigue and disturb humans living in close symbiosis with them, and, if only to increase their hunting performance, to incite them to imitate the so strange behavior of animals putting themselves in danger by indulging in the grip of psychoactive substances – otherwise (and this in itself is an additional mystery) widespread in the surrounding nature, and throughout the world …

There are still about a hundred species of psychoactive fungi in North America today, and the vast territories of Eurasia must have had at least as many in the Paleolithic, – although nowadays there are only about ten species of fungi with hallucinogenic properties.

Paleolithic Homo was thus daily confronted with the testimony of animals undergoing the effect of psychoactive substances, regularly renewing the experience of their ingestion, affecting their ‘normal’ behavior, and thus putting themselves in danger of being killed by hunters on the lookout, quick to seize their advantage.

There is no doubt that Homo has imitated these animals ‘delighted’, ‘drugged’, ‘stunned’ by powerful substances, and ‘wandering’ in their own dreams. Wanting to understand their indifference to danger, Homo ingested the same berries or mushrooms, if only to ‘feel’ in turn what these so familiar prey could ‘feel’, which, against all odds, then offered themselves easily to their flints and arrows…

Even today, in regions ranging from northern Europe to far-eastern Siberia, reindeer still consume a lot of fly-agarics during their migrations – just like the shamans who live on the same territories.

This is certainly not a coincidence.

In Siberia, the reindeer and the hunter-breeder both live, one could say, in close symbiosis with the Amanita muscaria fungus.

The same molecules of Amanita muscaria (muscimoleii, and ibotenoque acid) that affect man and beast so intensely, how can they be produced by such seemingly elementary life forms, by ‘simple’ fungi? And moreover, why do these fungi produce these molecules, for what purpose?

This is a mystery worthy of consideration, for it is a phenomenon that objectively – and mystically – links the fungus and the brain, lightning and light, animal and human, heaven and earth, by means of a few molecules, common and active, though belonging to different kingdoms?

It is a well-documented fact that in all continents of the world, in Eurasia, America, Africa, Oceania, and since time immemorial, shamans have been consuming psychoactive substances that facilitate the entry into trance, – a trance accompanied by deep psychological effects, such as the experience of ‘divine visions’.

How can we imagine that these incredible experiences can be so mysteriously ‘shared’, if only by analogy, with animals? How can it be explained that these powerful effects, so universal, are simply due to the consumption of humble mushrooms, and that the active ingredients are one or two types of molecules acting on neurotransmitters?

R. Gordon Wasson, in his book Divine Mushroom of Immortality iii, has skillfully documented the universality of these phenomena, and he did not hesitate to establish a link between these ‘original’, shamanic practices and the consumption of Vedic Soma (from the 3rd millennium BC), whose ancient hymns of Ṛg Veda accurately describe the rites, and celebrate the divine essence, – occupying the heart of the Vedic sacrifice.iv

During several thousand years, shamanism naturally continued to be part of the sacred rites and initiation ceremonies of the wandering peoples who migrated from the North of Eurasia to the « South »,

In the course of time, Amanita muscaria has probably had to be replaced by other plants, endemically available in the various geographical environments crossed, but with similar psychotropic effects.

These migrating peoples referred to themselves as āryas, a word meaning ‘nobles’ or ‘lords’. This very old Sanskrit term, used since the 3rd millennium BC, has nowadays become sulphurous, since its misuse by Nazi ideologues.

These peoples spoke Indo-European languages, and were slowly but surely moving from Northern Europe to India and Iran, but also to the Near and Middle East, via Southern Russia. Some of them passed through the Caspian and Aral Sea, through Bactria and Margiana (as the remains of the ‘Oxus civilization’ attest), through Afghanistan, and finally settled permanently in the Indus Valley or on the Iranian highlands.

Others went to the Black Sea, Thrace, Macedonia, present-day Greece and to Phrygia, Ionia (present-day Turkey) and the Near East.

Arriving in Greece, the Hellenic branch of these Indo-European peoples did not forget the ancient shamanic beliefs. The mysteries of Eleusis and the other mystery religions of ancient Greece can be interpreted as ancient Hellenized shamanic ceremonies, during which the ingestion of beverages with psychotropic propertiesv induced mystical visions.

At the time of the Great Mysteries of Eleusis, this beverage, kykeon, made from goat’s milk, mint and spices, probably also contained as active ingredient a parasitic fungus, the rye spur, or an endophytic fungus living in symbiosis with herbs such as Lolium temulentum, better known in English as ‘ryegrass’ or ‘tares’. Rye ergot naturally produces a psychoactive alkaloid, lysergic acid, from which LSD is

Albert Hofmann, famous for synthesizing LSD, wrote in The Road to Eleusis that the priests of Eleusis had to treat the rye spur Claviceps purpurea by simply dissolving it in water, thus extracting the active alkaloids, ergonovine and methylergonovine. Hofmann suggested an alternative hypothesis, namely that kykeon could be prepared using another species of rye spur, Claviceps paspali, which grows on wild herbs such as Paspalum distichum, and whose ‘psychedelic’ effects are even more intense, and indeed similar to those of the Aztec ololiuhqui plant, endemic to the Western Hemisphere.

Our mind, in a state of awakening, is constantly torn between two very different (and complementary) forms of consciousness, one turned towards the external world, that of physical sensations and action, and the other turned towards the internal world, reflection and unconscious feelings.

There are, of course, varying degrees of intensity for these two types of ‘consciousness’, external and internal. Dreaming with your eyes open is not the same as ‘dreaming’ under the influence of fly agaric, peyote or any of the many hallucinogenic plants containing psilocybin.

Upon ingestion of these powerful psychoactive principles, these two forms of consciousness seem to be simultaneously excited to the last degree, and may even alternate very quickly. They ‘merge’ and enter into ‘resonance’ at the same time.

On the one hand, the sensations felt by the body are taken to extremes, because they are not relayed by the nervous system, but are produced directly in the very center of the brain.

On the other hand, mental, psychic, or intellectual effects are also extremely powerful, because countless neurons can be stimulated or inhibited simultaneously. Under the sudden effect of psychoactive molecules, the action of inhibitory neurotransmitters (such as GABA) is massively increased. The action potential of post-synaptic neurons or glial cells is just as suddenly, and sharply, diminished.

This massive inhibition of post-synaptic neurons translates, subjectively, into a kind of radical decoupling between the usual level of consciousness, that of the consciousness of the external reality, and an entirely different level of consciousness, ‘internal’, completely detached from the surrounding reality, but by this very fact, also more easily sucked into a psychic, independent universe, which C.G. Jung calls the ‘Self’, and to which innumerable traditions refer under various names.

The set of complex neurochemical processes that occur in the brain at these times can be summarized as follows.

Psychoactive molecules (such as psilocybin) are structurally very close to organic compounds (indolesvii) that occur naturally in the brain. They suddenly put the entire brain in a state of almost absolute isolation from the immediately nearby world of external sensations.

The usual consciousness is suddenly deprived of any access to its own world, and the brain is almost instantaneously plunged into a universe infinitely rich in forms, movements, and especially ‘levels of consciousness’ absolutely unequalled with those of daily consciousness.

But there is even more surprising…

According to research by Dr. Joel Elkes at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, a person’s subjective awareness under the influence of psilocybin can ‘alternate’ between two states – an ‘external’ state of consciousness and an ‘internal’ state of consciousness.

The alternation of the two states of consciousness is commonly observed, and it can even be provoked simply when the subject opens and closes his or her eyes…

We can therefore hypothesize that the original emergence of consciousness, in hominids and developed even more in Paleolithic man, may have resulted from an analogous phenomenon of ‘resonance’ between these two types of consciousness, a resonance that was itself strongly accentuated when psychoactive substances were ingested.

The back and forth between an ‘external’ consciousness (based on the world of perception and action) and an ‘internal’ consciousness, ‘inhibited’ in relation to the external world, but consequently ‘uninhibited’ in relation to the ‘surreal’ or ‘meta-physical’ world, also reinforces the ‘brain-antenna’ hypothesis proposed by William James.

Psilocybin, in this case, would make the consciousness ‘blink’ between two fundamental, totally different states, and by the same token, it would make the very subject capable of these two kinds of consciousness appear as overhanging, a subject capable of navigating between several worlds, and several states of consciousness…

In the tares hides the spur of (divine) drunkenness…

« As the people slept, the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and departed. When the grass had grown and yielded fruit, then the tares also appeared. « viii

Should it be uprooted? No. « Lest you pick up the tares and uproot the wheat with it. Let the two grow together until the harvest. And at harvest time, I will say to the reapers, ‘Gather the tares first and bind it into bundles to consume it; but the wheat will be gathered into my granary. « ix

The interpretation is rather clear, on the one hand. The tares must remain in the wheat until the ‘harvest’. It is also obscure, on the other hand, for the tares must be burned, and then it is as an image of the fire that consumes the spirit and opens a world of visions.

And there is the parable of the leaven, which is ‘hidden’ in the flour, but of which a tiny quantity ferments the whole doughx

The leaven ferments and makes the dough ‘rise’. In the same way the rye spur, the tares, ferment the spirit, and raise it in the higher worlds…

Spirits can just burn in the way of tares.

Or they may become infinitely drunk with the divine.

They can then understand within themselves how consciousness came to be, through the humble and radiant power of plants, the potency of grass linked to the potency of cosmos, uniting the secret depths of roots and what may be beyond the heights of heavens…


iDavid Linden, The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. Penguin Books, 2011

iiMuscimole is structurally close to a major neurotransmitter of the central nervous system: GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), whose effects it mimics. Muscimole is a powerful agonist of GABA type A receptors. Muscimole is hallucinogenic at doses of 10 to 15 mg.

iiiRichard Gordon Wasson, Soma : Divine Mushroom of Immortality, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Inc, 1968

ivThe article Amanite fly killers of Wikipedia quotes that anthropologist Peter T. Furst’s Hallucinogens and Culture, (1976) survey analyzed the elements that may or may not identify fly killers as Vedic Soma, and (cautiously) concluded in favor of this hypothesis.

vPeter Webster, Daniel M. Perrine, Carl A. P. Ruck,  » Mixing the Kykeon  » [archive], 2000.

vi In their book The Road to Eleusis, R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann and Carl A. P. Ruck estimate that hierophant priests used the rye ergot Claviceps purpurea, available in abundance around Eleusis.

viiHeterocyclic aromatic organic compounds.

viiiMt 13, 25-26

ixMt 13, 29-30

xMk 4, 33-34

God and Shadow

Modify the article

« Van Gogh. Starry Night »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The. One. The One.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manu, – the ancestor of mankind.

Manu, – the Adam of the Veda, therefore!

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

נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ

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

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

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

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ

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

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

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

This is worth thinking about.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

vMt 4 ;16

viAccording to a later tradition, that of Mahābhārata.

viiGen 1 :26

viiiGen 1 :27

The Law of the Universal Attraction of Consciousnesses

« Isaac Newton »

In a previous article, The Dreamers’ Paradise, we invited you to meditate on the double nature of the plant, which is rooted below, or in the stomach, for the materialists, or on the contrary above, in the philosophy of the Veda. In both cases, the plant and its roots sum up their respective visions of the world.

Hylozoismi, which is not very Vedic but intrinsically modern, sees life as « springing » from matter itself, which is still a metaphor. The « source » can be seen to be, in a way, analogous to the « root ». In everything, always and everywhere, life supposes the immanent presence of the same internal and autonomous principle of generation, source or root, which animates all things.

No less modern, and rather more so, materialism, is by definition eminently immanent. It denies a priori any idea of soul in life, and it kills (in the bud) any idea of spirit within matter. Its aim is to assimilate, to digest in the material stomach any idea of the spirit, or of its essence, which amounts to the same thing.

Kant, on the other hand, is not at all modern. He asserts that an immaterial world exists. This immensely vast world includes all created intelligences, reasonable beings, but also the sentient consciousnesses (of all animals), and finally all the principles of life, whatever they may be, and which are found everywhere in nature, for example in plants.

Among the « created intelligences » some are related to matter. We know this, because we experience it in ourselves, and it is they who, through this special alliance, form « persons ».

Other « created intelligences » are not bound to matter. They may remain isolated, or they may be linked to other spirits, or they may be more or less closely associated with other entities, having an intermediate status between matter and spirit.

All these immaterial natures (the intelligences, the consciousnesses, the principles) exert their (immaterial) influence in the corporeal world, according to ways and means which remain incomprehensible.

Among them, there are all the so-called « reasonable » beings, whether they are present on earth or lying, presumably, elsewhere in the universe. Because of the use of their reason, whose end it is, they are not destined to remain separate (from matter). Reason is another name for an immanent, ordering and regulating principle, which reasonable beings (i.e. beings in which reason is immanent) use to animate the (irrational) fabric of matter, and constitute it as a « living » entity.

We can suppose that the so-called reasonable beings maintain with the other created intelligences various exchanges or communications, in accordance with their respective natures.

These communications are then not limited by bodies, nor by the usual constraints of material life. They transcend them. Nor do they weaken with distance in space or time, nor do they disappear when death occurs.

According to these general views, the human soul, which is a particular case of these immaterial and reasonable natures, should therefore be regarded as already linked, in the present life, to both worlds, the immaterial and the corporeal.

The singular soul is bound to a particular body, which makes it an absolutely unique person. It clearly perceives the material influence of the corporeal world. As it is also part of the spirit world, it also feels the influences of the immaterial natures, and can perceive, in certain cases, their immaterial effluvia.

At death, as soon as the bodily connection has ceased, the soul continues to be in impalpable community with the spiritual natures.

Undoubtedly, it should then, being at last separated from the body, be better able to form a clearer intuition of its own nature, and to reveal it, in an appropriate manner, to its inner consciousness.ii

On the other hand, it is probable that the other spiritual natures, those which are not « incarnate », cannot be immediately conscious of any sensible impression of the bodily world, because they are not bound in any way to matter.

Not having a body of their own, they cannot be conscious of the material universe or perceive it, lacking the necessary organs. But they can exert a subtle influence on the souls of men, because they have a nature similar to their own.

The two can even maintain a reciprocal and real trade, capable of progress and enrichment.

However, the images and representations formed by spirits that still depend on the corporeal world cannot be communicated to beings that are purely spiritual.

Conversely, the conceptions and notions of the latter, which are intuitive representations corresponding to the immaterial universe, cannot pass as such into the clear consciousness of man.

Let us add that the ideas and representations of purely spiritual beings and of human spirits are undoubtedly not of the same kind, and are therefore very difficult to transmit and to share as such, without having been digested first.iii

Among the ideas or representations which can set the human mind radically in motion, stimulate in it an acute desire for metamorphosis, and begin its transformation into a « new man », the most powerful ones can appear to it quite unheard of, inexplicable, perfectly capable even of « submerging » or « drowning » it.

Where do they come from?

From an immaterial world, that of the Muses, these inspirers reputed to come to the rescue of creators and disarmed spirits?

As phenomena, they also seem to be able to emerge spontaneously from the deepest interior of man himself.

The most elevated of them have a priori no connection with the personal utility or with the immediate, practical, individual needs of the men who receive them.

But perhaps they have some use for distant, theoretical, universal needs, which concern the whole universe?

They are moreover capable of transporting themselves again, leaving the sphere of consciousness assigned to a particular person, by a kind of contagion, of contamination, extending outwards, far beyond what one can imagine.

They go far, touching in the passage of their noumenal and numinous power other reasonable beings that they affect in their turn.

There are thus two types of spiritual forces, some centripetal, where self-interest absolutely dominates, and others, centrifugal, which reveal themselves when the soul is somehow pushed out of itself and attracted to others.iv

The lines of force and influence that our minds are capable of receiving or conceiving do not, therefore, simply converge in each of us, to be confined to them.

There are also forces that can move powerfully outside of us, outside of our own intimate space, and sometimes in spite of us, – to reach other people, other minds.

And even caress the confines.

From this, we deduce that irresistible impulses can carry the strong man away from self-interest, even to the ultimate sacrifice.

The strong law of justice, and the somewhat less imperious law of generosity and benevolence, which do not fail to show themselves universally in human nature, can carry one or the other, according to the circumstances, and according to the specific tessitura of such or such spirits, conditioned by their deep aspirations, suddenly revealed.

It is thus that in the apparently most intimate motives, we find ourselves depending in fact on universal laws, of which we are not even a little conscious.

But the result is also, in the world of all thinking natures, the possibility of a general unity and communion obeying all spiritual laws, and by this effect, preparing new degrees of metamorphosis.

Newton called ‘gravitation’ the tendency of all material bodies to come together. He treated this gravitation as a real effect of a universal activity of matter, to which he gave the name of « attraction ».

In a similar way, one could imagine the phenomenon of thoughts and ideas getting into thinking natures, then revealing themselves to be sharable, communicable, as the consequence of a universal force, a form of « attraction » by which spiritual natures influence each other.

We could name this power, the « law of the universal attraction of the consciousnesses ».

Pushing the metaphor, the force of moral feeling could well be then only the dependence felt by the individual will towards the general will, and the consequence of the exchanges of universal actions and reactions, which the immaterial world uses to tend in its way to unity.v

The human soul, in this life, occupies its full place among the spiritual substances of the universe, just as, according to the laws of universal attraction, matter spread over the immensity of space never ceases to be bound by bonds of mutual attraction, and the elementary particles themselves, far from remaining confined to a narrow granularity, fill the whole universe with their quantum potentials of field.

When the links between the soul and the corporeal world are broken by death, it can be assumed that another life in another (spiritual) world would be the natural consequence of the countless links already maintained in this life.

The present and the future would thus be formed as of one piece, and would compose a continuous whole, both in the order of nature and in the order of the

If this is the case with the spiritual world and the role that our spirit plays in it, it is no longer surprising that the universal communion of spirits is an ordinary phenomenon, and far more widespread than is generally admitted.

The extraordinary, in fact, lies much more in the absolute singularity of psychic phenomena affecting such and such a singular, individual person, than in their very existence, which seems to be widespread throughout the universe.


i Philosophical doctrine which maintains that matter is endowed with life by itself.

iiCf. Kant. Dreams of a man who sees spirits, – explained by dreams of metaphysics. (1766). Translated by J. Tissot. Ed. Ladrange, Paris, 1863, p.21

iiiIbid. p.22

ivIbid. p.23

vIbid. p.23-24

viIbid. p.26

Separate Wisdom

« Heraclitus. Johannes Moreelsee, 1630 »

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

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

Here are two representative examples of quite alternative translations:

« What is wise is separate from all things. »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fragment 50 opens another perspective:

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

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

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

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

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

« Wise is One, All, Being ».

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

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

In another interpretation, that of H. Gomperz :

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

Clémence Ramnoux suggests yet another interpretation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ambiguity? Darkness ? Double meaning ? Hidden sense ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hiphil form has a causative, active nuance:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

she can distance herself, elect or exclude.

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

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

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

Wisdom as ‘mystery’ and ‘secret’;

Wisdom as ‘companion of the Creator’;

Wisdom as ‘person to dialogue with’;

and Wisdom as ‘faculty of the mind’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

« Doesn’t Wisdom call? « (Pr 8,1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


i Fragment B 108

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


xiIbid.pp. 248-249

xiiIbid.p. 249

Le Grand Cairn et l’esprit éruptif

« Le Grand Cairn de Barnenez. Photo Philippe Quéau »

Le Grand Cairn de Barnenez domine la baie de Morlaix, dans le Finistère.

Composé de moellons de dolérite et de dalles de granite, il a été construit entre 4500 et 3900 ans avant J.-C., soit bien avant les premières Pyramides d’Égypte.

Il mesure 75m de long et 28m de large. C’est le plus grand mausolée d’Europe.

En son sein, onze chambres funéraires.

Certaines de leurs dalles sont gravées.

Des zigzags. Un signe en U. Un ‘arc’. Des triangles isocèles.

Et une figure rectangulaire, — dite ‘à la chevelure rayonnante’.

Cette métaphore, employée par les guides, et qui se veut accrocheuse, est-elle pertinente? Non, presque certainement pas.

Que signifiait donc ce symbole unique, gravé il y a plus de six millénaires?

Ces courbes arquées, dressées vers un ailleurs, les unes d’un côté, au nombre de huit, les autres d’un autre côté, au nombre de six, sortent en souple gerbe de l’arête d’un cadre vide.

Ce ne sont à l’évidence pas des cils, des poils, des cheveux, — ni des blés ou des branches.

Elles ont une beauté simplissime et archétypale, qui évoque pour moi le plein jaillissement de l’esprit, saisi par les puissances chamaniques.

Ce sont les lignes d’un champ d’énergie, neuro-magnétique, ou plutôt neuropsychique. Elles figurent quatorze lianes qui relient, comme par une éruption de sève, un flux de suc, le rectangle désormais vide du corps abandonné par la conscience, et l’infini mystère qui emplit le cairn et l’univers.

Brief Angelology

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burning Hurqalyâ

« Henry Corbin »

In matters of religion, one of the common errors is to want to choose with whom one can talk, and to exclude from one’s field of vision extreme ideologues, stubborn minds, closed mentalities. This is human.

It is incomparably easier to begin detailed debates or circumstantial glosses if there is already an a priori agreement on the substance. This avoids infinite misunderstandings and deadlocked dead ends. Who thinks it possible, indeed, to ever agree, on any point whatsoever, with such and such an ultra tendency of such and such a monotheistic religion?

It’s human, and it’s easier, but, on the other hand, the ultras of all acabits, irreconcilably ‘other’, absolutely ‘foreign’ to any dialectic, remain in the landscape. They continue, and for a long time, to be part of the problem to be solved, even if they don’t seem to be part of the solution. Precisely because they have nothing in common with the proponents of the very idea of ‘dialogue’, they can be interesting to observe, and must be, in every respect, if one considers the long-term destiny of a small Humankind, standing on its dewclaws, on the surface of a drop of mud, lost in the cosmic night.

Nevertheless, it is infinitely easier to speak to ‘open’ minds when trying to cross cultural, traditional or religious barriers.

« The conditions of the Christian-Islamic dialogue change completely if the interlocutor is not legal Islam but spiritual Islam, whether it is Sufism or Shî’ite Gnosis. » i

Henry Corbin was an exceptional personality. But he admitted that he did not want to waste his time with the ‘legitarians’. This is understandable. And yet, they are basically the key lock. If world peace and universal understanding are to be achieved, ‘spiritualists’ and ‘legitarians’ must find, whatever the difficulties to be overcome, a common ground…

Dialogue with the ‘other’ begins with mastering the other’s language.

In theory, we should be able to understand all of them, or at least decipher them, particularly these chosen languages, chosen for conveying this or that sacred message.

Sanskrit, for example, should be part of the minimal baggage of any researcher interested in a comparative anthropology of the religious fact through time. It is the oldest and most complex language, which still testifies to the wonders of the human spirit, trying to approach mysteries that are seemingly beyond its reach.

I hasten to add (biblical) Hebrew, which is much simpler, grammatically speaking, but full of a subtle delicacy that can be seen in the play on words, the etymological shifts, the radical drifts, the subliminal evocations, and the breadth of the semantic fields, allowing for the most daring and creative interpretations.

Koranic Arabic is also a necessary acquisition. The Koran is a book with a very ‘literary’ and sophisticated writing that no translation can really render, as it requires immersion in the musicality of classical Arabic, now a dead language. Puns and alliterations abound, as in Hebrew, another Semitic language.

The famous Louis Massignon sought in good faith « how to bring back to a common base the textual study of the two cultures, Arabic and Greco-Latin »ii.

For our part, we would also like to be able to bring the study of Vedic, Egyptian, Sumerian, Assyrian, Zoroastrian and Avestic cultures, at least in theory if not in practice, to a « common base ».

And, still in theory, one should particularly have solid notions of Ancient Egyptian (very useful if one wants to understand the distant foundations of the ancient ‘mosaic’ religion), and Avesta (indispensable to get an idea of the progressive, ‘harmonic’, transitioniii in ancient Iran from Zoroastrianism and Mazdeism to Muslim Shî’ism).

In the absence of these indispensable add-ons, one can minimally rely on a few genius smugglers. Henry Corbin is an incomparable pedagogue of Shî’ite Islam. Who else but him could have allowed the discovery of a concept like the one of Ḥûrqalyâ?

Ḥûrqalyâ is the land of visions, the place where mind and body become one, explains Henry Corbin. « Each one of us, volens nolens, is the author of events in ‘Ḥûrqalyâ‘, whether they abort or bear fruit in its paradise or its hell. We believe we are contemplating the past and the unchanging, as we consume our own future. » iv

His explanation of Ḥûrqalyâ is rather short and somewhat obscure. We would like to know more.

Looking in the famous Kazimirsky dictionaryv, I discovered the meaning of the verbal root حرق (ḥaraqa): « To be burned, to burn. To set on fire, to ignite; to burn with great fire. To burn each other (or to sleep with a woman). To reduce to ashes. »

It is also the word used to designate migrants who ‘burn’ their identity papers.

With different vocalizations of the same verbal root, the semantic spectrum of the resulting nouns widens considerably:

ḥirq « the tallest branch of the male palm tree, which fertilizes the flowers of a female palm tree »;

ḥourq « avarice »;

ḥaraq « fire, flame, burn »;

ḥariq « which loses its hair; which produces violent lightning (cloud); « fire;

ḥourqa « burning heat in the intestines »;

al- ḥâriq « the tooth (of a ferocious beast) »;

ḥâriqa « burning (said to be a very sensual woman in the carnal trade) »;

ḥâroûqa « very sensual woman », or in the plural: »who cuts (swords) »;

ḥirâq « who destroys, who consumes »; « who burns the path, who runs very fast (horse) »;

ḥourrâq « burning firebrand »;

ḥârraqa « vessel to be set on fire ».

You get the idea…

But in the context that interests us here, it is the noun حَرْقً (ḥarq), used by mystics, that we must highlight. It means « the state of burning », that is, an intermediate state between برق (barq), which is only the « lightning of the manifestations of God », and الطمس فى الذات, al-tams fi-l-dhat, « annihilation in the ‘that’, in the divine essence »vi.

The etymology of the word ḥûrqalyâ, shows that it means a state that lies between the lightning flash and the ash or annihilation .

Let us return to the glossary proposed by Corbin.

« A whole region of Hûrqalyâ is populated, post mortem, byour imperatives and our vows, that is to say, by what makes the very meaning of our acts of understanding as well as our behaviors. As well as all the underlying metaphysics is that of an incessant recurrence of Creation (tajaddod), it is not a metaphysics of the Ens or the Esse, but of the Estovii, ofbe !’ in the imperative. But the event is put to the imperative only because it is itself the iterative form of the being for which it is promoted to the reality of event. » viii

We learn here that Creation is a continuous act, a continuous iteration, an imperative to be, a ‘be!’ infinitely repeated, implying a ‘become!’ no less perpetual.

Esto! Or the unceasing burning of the moment, that is to say of the presence (to oneself, or in oneself ?).

Perhaps we can read in these ever-changing, ever-challenging moments « the mystery of the primordial Theophany, of the revelation of the divine Being, who can only reveal himself to himself in another self, but can only recognize himself as other, and recognize this other as himself only because he is God in himself. » ix

Another image, often used in the Psalms, is that of clothing. It is necessary to reach this state where the body is no more than a ‘garment’ that one can freely undress or put on, because it is really the other in oneself that is the true garment of oneself.


iHenry Corbin. Heavenly earth and resurrection body. From Mazdean Iran to Shî’ite Iran. Ed. The boat of the sun. Buchet/Chastel. 1960. p.12

ii Louis Massignon. Lettres d’humanité tome II, 1943, p.137

iiiAccording to the expression of H. Corbin. op.cit. p. 111

ivHenry Corbin. Heavenly earth and resurrection body. From Mazdean Iran to Shî’ite Iran. Ed. The boat of the sun. Buchet/Chastel. 1960. p.13

vA. de Biberstein Kazimirski. Arab-French dictionary. Volume I. Ed Al Bouraq. Beirut. 2004, pp. 411-412.

vi The mystical meaning of the word tams is precisely the annihilation of the individuality of man’s attributes in the attributes of God. The word dhat means « that » and, in context, the very essence of God.

viiIn Latin: ens = « being », esse = « to be », esto = « Be! »

viiiHenry Corbin. Heavenly earth and resurrection body. From Mazdean Iran to Shî’ite Iran. Ed. The boat of the sun. Buchet/Chastel. 1960. p.16

ixHenry Corbin. Heavenly earth and resurrection body. From Mazdean Iran to Shî’ite Iran. Ed. The boat of the sun. Buchet/Chastel. 1960. p.111

Les Neurosciences face à la Conscience, 2: Leur Aube et Rimbaud

« Rimbaud »

C’est par une citation de William James que le Professeur Stanislas Dehaene commença la Leçon inaugurale qu’il donna au Collège de France, le jeudi 27 avril 2006 :

« ‘La psychologie est la science de la vie mentale.’ Par ces quelques mots, dès 1890, William James, cernait le domaine de ce qui est devenu, aujourd’hui, la psychologie cognitive. »i

Puis il esquissa son propre et ambitieux programme de recherche : « Tenter d’énoncer des lois générales de la pensée », – sans négliger d’en reconnaître aussitôt les limites, quant au cœur même du problème:

« La psychologie cognitive laisse provisoirement de côté deux questions difficiles : le cerveau humain dispose-t-il de ressources suffisantes à sa propre description ? Cette entreprise d’auto-description des lois du cerveau par lui-même n’est-elle pas intrinsèquement limitée, voire contradictoire ou tautologique ? »ii

Selon Dehaene lui-même, la psychologie cognitive a eu tendance dans les dernières décennies à se focaliser sur les détails de quelques phénomènes plus que sur l’architecture générale de la cognition.

Pour corriger ce tropisme dommageable, fort peu prometteur pour l’avenir de la profession, Dehaene suggère de concentrer désormais les efforts sur les sources possibles des « lois générales de la cognition ».

Il y en a trois grandes classes à considérer.

D’abord, il y a les lois physiques, chimiques et biologiques. La pensée découle évidemment de la biologie du cerveau. Dans L’Homme neuronal, Jean-Pierre Changeux a défini le cerveau de l’homme comme « une formidable machine chimique où l’on retrouve les mêmes mécanismes moléculaires à l’œuvre chez la mouche drosophile ou le poisson torpille »iii.

Il nous avait semblé être parti à la recherche de ce qui rend Homo sapiens unique parmi les espèces animales, et voilà qu’on compare sa conscience à celle de la mouche ou du poisson torpille (lequel dégage il est vrai de sacrées secousses électriques et ‘réverbérantes’ !)…

Ensuite, il y a les lois de la psychologie que l’on pourrait qualifier de lois ‘algorithmiques’. Il s’agit là d’une référence au champ entier des sciences de la computation inauguré par les travaux d’Alan Turing et de John von Neumann, puis de Noam Chomsky ou David Marr. Dehaene s’y réfère avec une sorte de gourmandise, et a cette formule, peut-être un peu trop réductrice : « Le cerveau humain, superbe exemple de système de traitement de l’information »…

Selon les théories de la ‘computation’, les ‘lois algorithmiques’ obéissent nécessairement à des contraintes universelles. Elles sont donc valables pour les ordinateurs, les mouches drosophiles et les cerveaux, humains ou non. La psychologie cognitive doit donc s’appuyer sur ce formalisme universel pour tenter d’inférer les algorithmes de la pensée.

Sans doute ‘conscient’ du risque d’une assimilation, peut-être trop rapide et inopportune, des cerveaux humains à de simples puces électroniques, fussent-elles particulièrement ‘performantes’, Dehaene fustige certains de ses collègues, les psychologues fonctionnalistes, qui ont « négligé l’architecture du cerveau. Tout indique que celle-ci ne ressemble en rien à celle d’un ordinateur classique. »iv

Et dans un élan, Dehaene, soudain lyrique, s’enthousiasme : «  C’est une étonnante machine comprenant de multiples niveaux d’architecture enchâssés et massivement parallèles. Avec cent mille millions de processeurs, un million de milliards de connections, cette structure reste sans équivalent en informatique, et ce serait une erreur profonde de penser que la métaphore de l’ordinateur puisse s’y appliquer sans modifications. »v

En conséquence, il faut refuser la « dichotomie réductrice » entre le « matériel » biologique, et le « logiciel » de la psychologie du cerveau, dichotomie que Dehaene juge « totalement inadéquate ».

En réalité, tout le corps est associé à l’acte de penser, et tout y ‘conspire’ : « Tous les niveaux d’organisation, depuis la molécule jusqu’aux interactions sociales, conspirent pour déterminer notre fonctionnement mental. Il n’y a donc pas de compartimentation étanche entre biologie et psychologie. »vi

Le fait que ces fort divers niveaux d’organisation soient si étroitement imbriqués chez Homo sapiens explique sans doute que le cerveau et le phénomène de la conscience atteignent des niveaux de complexité sans équivalent.

Mais c’est aussi cette complexité même qui peut inviter à prédire que le cerveau sera capable de se comprendre lui-même, un jour peut-être, quoique cela puisse d’emblée paraître (philosophiquement) paradoxal.

Citant la boutade de Lyall Watson : « Si notre cerveau était simple, nous serions encore trop simples pour le comprendre », Dehaene déclare avec optimisme : « C’est précisément parce que notre cerveau est assez complexe que nous avons une petite chance de le comprendre ! »

Mais, à mon humble avis, on est tout à fait en droit de partir d’une intuition contraire, et de postuler que la conscience est par essence, et par construction, abyssale : plus on tente de plonger en son mystère, plus on découvre son infinie profondeur.

L’avenir tranchera peut-être entre ces deux intuitions opposées.

Qu’il me soit permis cependant d’ouvrir encore une autre piste en évoquant la capacité de la conscience à toujours se dépasser elle-même. C’est peut-être là, précisément, son essence, – se dépasser toujours.

Mais une telle affirmation est de type métaphysique, et sort donc du champ de la psychologie cognitive…

Comme la psychologie cognitive est, à l’évidence, dans l’incapacité d’attaquer directement le problème métaphysique de l’existence de la conscience, et plus encore celui de l’essence de chacune des consciences singulières dont chaque être humain dispose en propre, elle préfère s’adonner à des recherches beaucoup plus étroites, plus ciblées.

Il semble par exemple plus facile aux psychologues de la cognition de se focaliser sur certains concepts, certes abstraits, mais qui se prêtent à des protocoles expérimentaux bien concrets, tels que celui de nombre.

Le nourrisson lui-même n’a-t-il pas vraisemblablement une sorte de proto-intuition du 1 (sa bouche s’unissant au sein), ou du 2 (les yeux de sa mère) ?

En tout état de cause, formuler des hypothèses sur la manière dont on prend conscience des premiers nombres naturels dès l’âge le plus tendre, semble a priori plus aisé que d’investiguer la présence effective ou putative d’archétypes universels, tant dans la conscience individuelle que dans l’inconscient dit ‘collectif’.

Il n’est sans doute pas très commode non plus pour le psychologue cognitif de se mettre dans son laboratoire en quête de consciences ‘altérées’ ou ‘magnifiées’ sous l’influence du numineux, lors de cérémonies sacrées, de transes chamaniques ou à la suite d’expériences mystiques, pouvant aller, si l’on en croit l’histoire des religions, jusqu’à la vision prophétique, ou même jusqu’à la métamorphose ultime de la conscience par sa fusion dans le sein de la divinité même…

Il semble plus facile de se concentrer sur un problème bien balisé, permettant des expériences ‘cognitives’ aisément duplicables, comme autour du concept de ‘nombre’.

D’autant que ce concept semble suffisamment universel pour être aussi accessible à la ‘conscience’ de nombreuses espèces animales, ce qui offre un intérêt pratique évidentvii.

De nombreuses d’expériences ont montré que l’estimation, la comparaison, et le calcul de quantités numériques sont à la portée, non seulement de primates non humains, mais également des rongeurs, des oiseaux, des dauphins, et de certains reptiles. S. Dehaene en tire une leçon de portée générale.

« Ainsi, l’intuition approximative du nombre, mais aussi des autres grandes catégories kantiennes que sont l’espace et le temps, est répandue dans le monde animal, sans doute parce qu’elle est essentielle à la survie – pas une espèce qui n’ait besoin d’évaluer les sources et les quantités de nourriture ou, dans le cas des espèces sociales, le nombre et la qualité de ses alliés ou de ses ennemis. »viii

Il va de soi de ramener la conscience du nombre chez l’homme au niveau de la conscience (supposée) du nombre chez l’animal, du primate ou du rongeur, au motif que ce concept de nombre est essentiel à sa survie.

Cette assimilation de la conscience humaine et de la conscience animale, ne serait-ce que partielle, soulève plusieurs objections.

Alors même que la psychologie cognitive n’a pas seulement commencé de pénétrer le mystère de la conscience humaine, qui pourtant nous est naturellement accessible, dans une certaine mesure, par introspection, comment pourrait-elle sérieusement envisager de pénétrer la conscience d’espèces animales différentes de l’Homme, comme celle du Gorille, du singe Paresseux ou du Rat des villes ?

D’un autre côté, l’existence (même hypothétique) d’archétypes collectifs, et d’idées universellement répandues à propos du numineux et du sacré, tend à faire penser que ces concepts de niveau élevé sont peut-être, d’une certaine façon, tout aussi « essentiels à la survie », darwinienne et à long terme, d’Homo Sapiens, quoique d’un autre point de vue.

La psychologie et l’anthropologie cognitives se targuent de pouvoir dégager, par-delà la variabilité des langues et des cultures, des structures mentales universelles. Parmi ces structures universelles, celles liées au nombre semblent en apparence plus immédiatement accessibles que, par exemple, celles liées au numineux ou au sentiment du sacré.

L’intérêt des psychologues cognitifs pour les expérimentations faites à partir des nombres naturels se justifie sans doute par la facilité avec laquelle on peut créer des protocoles expérimentaux riches de résultats (quantitatifs).

Mais, pour montrer aussi clairement que possible l’abîme conceptuel et méthodologique entre un psychologue cognitif comme S. Dehaene et un psychologue des profondeurs comme C.G. Jung, je voudrais résumer des résultats obtenus par ce dernier, qui indiquent avec force combien, précisément, les structures attachées aux nombres et certaines structures touchant au numineux se répondent et se rejoignent dans un monde ‘commun’, d’essence supérieure, que Jung appelle unus mundus.

Jung a formulé dans son ouvrage Explication de la nature et psyché, l’idée que l’exploration des archétypes des nombres naturels devrait permettre de pénétrer plus avant dans le domaine de cette réalité unitaire de la psyché et de la matière, dont il entrevoyait toute la complexité.

« J’ai le sentiment que le nombre est une clé du mystère, puisqu’il est autant découvert qu’inventé. Il est quantité aussi bien que signification ; sur ce dernier point, je citerai les quantités arithmétiques de l’archétype fondamental de ce qu’on nomme le ‘Soi’ (monade, microcosme, etc.) et ses variantes du quatre, le 3 + 1 et le 4 + 1, qui sont historiquement et empiriquement bien illustrés par des documents. »ix

Sa disciple, Marie-Louis von Franz, a continué les recherches de Jung dans ce domaine. Son livre Nombre et tempsx fournit une abondante source documentaire, anthropologique et ethnographique, et explore la profondeur immémoriale des liens entre le nombre et le sacré.

Elle s’appuie largement sur les travaux antérieurs de Jung, et apporte des notations fort intéressantes, par exemple sur les archétypes du 2 (dualité, opposition, séparation), du 3 (trinité) ou du 4 (quaternion, mandalas).

« Entendu comme dynamisme psychique, l’archétype de la dualité se tient à l’arrière-plan des opérations de répétition et de division. C’est pourquoi le mot signifiant ‘deux’ est apparenté, dans certaines langues primitives, à celui de ‘fendre’, et dans d’autres, à ceux de ‘suivre’ et d’ ‘accompagner’. »xi

Historiquement, c’est à Pythagore que l’on doit d’avoir égalé symboliquement le ‘deux’ à la matière, par opposition à l’esprit qui est représenté par l’‘un’.

Cela incite M.-L. Von Franz à rapprocher conceptuellement le Un et le Deux dans un processus d’engendrement de celui-ci par celui-là:

« Le double aspect de l’Un comme Totalité-Unité et unité de compte (MonotesHenotes) contient déjà virtuellement le deux. C’est pourquoi l’Un primordial était déjà, en ce qui concerne son contenu (par exemple dans la spéculation gnostique des nombres), caractérisé comme ‘Père-Mère, ‘Silence-Force’ divins. Cf. A Gnostic Coptic Treatise, édité par C.A. Baynes, Cambridge, 1933 (…) Le deux était rattaché à Eve, c’est pourquoi le diable la tenta la première. Il existe ainsi une parenté secrète entre la dualité, le diable et la femme, et le quatre, que l’on peut déduire du deux, a également reçu une valeur négative, en tant que ‘païen’. Le deux est même le diable en personne. Ce principe diabolique de dualité a tenté d’édifier une création opposée à Dieu, luttant contre l’ordre trinitaire du monde. (…) On peut voir une variante de la même idée archétypique dans la théorie cosmogonique de Pascual Jordan, d’après laquelle l’univers serait sorti d’une paire de neutrons. Cf. B. Bavink, Weltschöpfung in Mythos und Religion, Philosophie und Naturwissenschaft, Bâle 1951, pp. 80, 102. »xii

Comment alors la psychologie cognitive peut-elle sérieusement envisager de traiter du concept de nombre, fût-il simplement « naturel », sans prendre en compte également les concepts archétypiques d’une tout autre portée symbolique que sont les idées de l’Un, du dualisme, de la trinité ou des quaternions ?

Pour des psychologues dits ‘cognitifs’, faire l’impasse sur tout ce qui dépasse le plan immédiat de la connaissance claire, revient à ignorer a priori la présence sous-jacente dans la conscience de pensées inconscientes sans concept, et de pensées conscientes pouvant émerger à l’improviste de l’inconscient…

Un autre exemple fera peut-être voir, mieux encore, le fossé, l’abîme même, entre l’approche de la psychologie cognitive et celle de la psychologie des profondeurs.

La psychologie cognitive fait notoirement grand usage des lois de Weber et de Fechner.

Il est intéressant d’en mesurer toute la portée ‘quantitative’, du point de vue expérimental, dans l’observation des réponses à des stimuli sensoriels, mais aussi d’évoquer certaines de leurs implications ‘qualitatives’, si l’on était tenté de les généraliser à d’autres aspects de la conscience, moins sensoriels qu’intuitifs ou conceptuels.

Selon la loi de Weber, plus les grandeurs des stimuli sensoriels augmentent, plus les sensations qu’ils provoquent deviennent imprécises. Autrement dit, plus les nombres qui traduisent les stimulations sensorielles sont grands, plus leur estimation subjective (par la conscience) devient approximative.

Quant à la loi de Fechner, elle stipule que des stimuli d’intensité croissante produisent des effets ressentis qui croissent eux aussi, mais selon une courbe logarithmique, c’est-à-dire qu’ils croissent relativement de moins en moins. Autrement dit, les effets ressentis sont exponentiellement plus faibles que les stimuli, au fur et à mesure que ces derniers augmentent.

Ces lois ne tombent pas du ciel. Elles sont en quelque sorte câblées dans le système neuronal.

Étudier la psychologie cognitive des nombres permet de le prouver, selon S. Dehaene.

Il existerait des « neurones détecteurs de nombres », codant par exemple pour détecter quatre ou cinq objets en même temps. La modélisation explicite de leur fonctionnement montre que, plus les nombres sont grands, plus leur code neural est variable. Selon ce modèle, on peut estimer que le système neuronal alloue d’autant moins de neurones que les nombres augmentent. C’est là, inscrite dans l’architecture neuronale, une première approximation des lois de Weber-Fechner.

Ces lois s’appliquent en principe à des stimuli sensoriels, et à leurs effets psycho-physiologiques induits.

Mais on pourrait, me semble-t-il, concevoir de les appliquer aussi à des stimuli non sensoriels, qui relèveraient par exemple du sentiment, de la cognition, ou de l’intuition…

Pour que cette généralisation soit validée, il faudrait vérifier si des stimuli émotionnels, cognitifs, intuitifs, de plus en plus forts, provoquent des réponses croissantes, elles aussi, mais selon un rythme lui-même progressivement décroissant, par exemple selon les courbes logarithmiques prévues par Fechner.

Est-ce que des doses toujours croissantes de stimuli émotionnels, intellectuels, affectifs, cognitifs affecteraient la psyché, en suivant de telles courbes, de plus en plus aplaties ?

Est-ce que des ‘stimulations’ relatives à des symboles, à des archétypes, à des mythes, ou même à des idées morales, philosophiques, suivraient elles aussi les lois de Weber et de Fechner quant à leur impact sur la psyché individuelle?

Si les lois de Weber-Fechner étaient ainsi généralisables, et s’appliquaient non seulement aux stimuli sensoriels, mais aussi aux stimuli émotionnels, affectifs ou cognitifs, cela aurait d’innombrables et étonnantes conséquences… dont certaines parfaitement contre-intuitives.

Si des chocs émotionnels et affectifs successifs frappaient de façon croissante la conscience, celle-ci ne serait-elle pas de plus en plus émoussée, finissant par réagir proportionnellement de moins en moins ?

Si des idées ou des concepts étaient présentées à la conscience sous une forme de plus en plus ambitieuse, de plus en plus percutante, les lois (généralisées) de Weber et Fechner ne se traduiraient-elles par par des réactions de plus en dubitatives ou même « blasées » de consciences progressivement et logarithmiquement lassées ou même anesthésiées par trop de stimulations ou d’émotions successives ?

Si les lois de Weber et Fechner s’avéraient généralisables aux fonctions les plus hautes ou les plus subtiles de la conscience humaine, et tout indique que cela pourrait en effet être le cas, alors ce serait là une contrainte structurelle extrêmement forte imposée à la conscience humaine, quant à sa capacité de réagir adéquatement et proportionnellement aux idées les plus nouvelles, aux amours les plus violents, aux sentiments les plus élevés, aux intuitions les plus foudroyantes.

Cela expliquerait aussi une sorte de médiocrité générale de la conscience moyenne, progressivement inhibée par sa programmation structurelle, neuronale, synaptique, afin de ressentir de moins en moins des chocs émotionnels, affectifs ou intellectuels de plus en plus élevés.

Cela expliquerait aussi, incidemment, pourquoi les génies de la pensée, les grands amoureux, les mystiques capables des plus grandes révélations, sont si rares.

Plus une idée est grande, folle, immense, géniale, divine même, plus la loi de Fechner tend à la réduire, à la comprimer, à la formater, à la castrer, pour qu’elle reste dans le cadre de ce que la conscience ‘moyenne’ est capable d’encaisser.

Cela est sans doute normal. Les lois de Weber et Fechner sont, elles aussi, nécessaires à la survie de l’espèce. Elles fonctionnent comme une sorte de soupape de sécurité ou de coupe-circuit destiné précisément à empêcher des courts-circuits qui endommagerait le système synaptique et neuronal…

Mais est-ce que ces lois s’appliquent vraiment aux fonctions supérieures de la conscience ?

Et s’appliquent-elles à toutes les consciences, uniformément ?

N’y a-t-il pas d’exception ?

Certaines consciences, peut-être plus douées, ou mieux préparées, ne sont-elles pas justement d’autant plus capables de s’ouvrir à la nouveauté absolue, à la surprise radicale, à la brûlure intolérable, à la vision explosive, à l’intuition déchirante, à la révélation écrasante, que celles-ci sont d’autant plus absolues, radicales, intolérables, explosives, déchirantes, écrasantes ?

Un exemple célèbre de postulation a priori d’une découverte restant encore à faire, en physique, est celui de Wolfgang Pauli prédisant dès 1930 l’existence du neutrino, lequel ne sera détecté qu’en 1956.

De façon analogue, il y a beaucoup de pures vues de l’esprit, dans les domaines spirituels, artistiques ou philosophique, qui n’ont été confirmées que bien longtemps après avoir été conçues.

Nombreuses, dans l’histoire humaine, les voix qui parlent dans le désert, avant d’être un jour entendues…

J’évoquais plus haut les « neurones détecteurs de nombres ».

Existe-t-il des « neurones détecteurs de visions et d’illuminations », des « neurones de la révélation », des neurones détecteurs de l’inouï, du jamais vu ?

Si oui, plus la vision ou l’intuition est puissante (comme celle du prophète illuminé par la révélation), moins le nombre des neurones qui lui est alloué est grand, ou bien moindre est leur réaction relative, si la loi de Weber-Fechner s’applique.

Et si la loi de Weber-Fechner s’applique effectivement aux visions mystiques, que pourrait-on en déduire quant à la nature de celles-ci?

Je répondrai d’emblée que cela prouve seulement qu’on n’aurait encore rien « vu ».

Dans un cerveau à la Fechner, les plus grands génies humains, les prophètes inoubliables, les poètes éruptifs, les inventeurs de mondes, ne seraient jamais que des consciences vite éblouies, et vite aveuglées, par des éclats qui les clouent.

Mais ce genre de question n’intéresse sans doute pas S. Dehaene.

Sa description des neurones détecteurs, ceux qui expliquent la structure neuronale sous-jacente expliquant les lois de Weber et Fechner, m’a donné une idée inattendue.

« Toutes les tâches qui évoquent un sens de la quantité – addition, soustraction, comparaison, mais aussi simple vision d’un chiffre ou dénombrement d’un nuage de points – activent un réseau reproductible de régions, au premier rang desquelles figure le fond du sillon intrapariétal. Cette localisation s’accorde avec les connaissances des neurologues. Dès les années 1920, deux médecins allemands, Henschen et Gerstmann, sur la base de l’observation des nombreux blessés de la première guerre mondiale, avaient montré que les lésions pariétales gauches entraînent une acalculie : le patient ne parvient plus à réaliser des opérations aussi simples que sept moins deux ou trois plus cinq. »xiii

Méditant sur l’idée des liens profonds, subtils, entre le concept de nombre et les représentations du numineux, ainsi que sur le rôle du sillon intrapariétal dans la représentation des nombres, m’est venue en tête la question suivante :

– Le concept d’unité du divin, ou celui de ‘Trinité’ sont-ils ‘activés’ au fond du sillon intrapariétal ?

Les idées du monothéisme et de la structure trinitaire du Dieu Un ne sont-elles pas en effet liées à la conscience de nombres très particuliers, le 1 ou le 3 ?

Ces nombres ne sont-ils pas à la fois de simples nombres naturels, si j’ose dire, mais aussi les symboles numineux des plus haut dogmes religieux ?

Et de là, ma pensée s’est envolée vers les ‘millions d’oiseaux d’or’ qui palpitent au cœur d’un célèbre poème de Rimbaud.

Si le 1 et le 3 se trouvent au fond du sillon intrapariétal, où sont les ‘millions d’oiseaux d’or’ rimbaldiens ?

Élargissons la perspective.

Dans quelles régions du cerveau se trouve ce que le poète « voit »?

Et dans quelles régions se trouvent ce qu’il a « vu » ?

Dans sa lettre du 15 mai 1871 à Paul Demeny, Rimbaud a exposé son programme poétique en quelques phrases elliptiques: « Je dis qu’il faut être voyant, se faire voyant. Le poète se fait voyant par un long, immense et raisonné dérèglement de tous les sens ». Ainsi, « il arrive à l’inconnu, et quand, affolé, il finirait par perdre l’intelligence de ses visions, il les a vues ».

Oui Rimbaud voit, et surtout il a vu. Il en témoigne explicitement dans Le Bateau ivre :

Je sais les cieux crevant en éclairs, et les trombes
Et les ressacs et les courants : je sais le soir,
L’Aube exaltée ainsi qu’un peuple de colombes,
Et j’ai vu quelquefois ce que l’homme a cru voir !

J’ai vu le soleil bas, taché d’horreurs mystiques,
Illuminant de longs figements violets,
Pareils à des acteurs de drames très-antiques
Les flots roulant au loin leurs frissons de volets !

J’ai rêvé la nuit verte aux neiges éblouies
Baiser montant aux yeux des mers avec lenteurs,
La circulation des sèves inouïes,
Et l’éveil jaune et bleu des phosphores chanteurs !

J’ai vu des archipels sidéraux ! et des îles
Dont les cieux délirants sont ouverts au vogueur :
— Est-ce en ces nuits sans fonds que tu dors et t’exiles,
Million d’oiseaux d’or, ô future Vigueur ? —


Je ne peux m’empêcher, arrivé à ce point, de souligner que Jean-Pierre Changeux lui aussi a « vu », du moins s’il faut en croire Stanislas Dehaene.

Qu’est-ce que Changeux a vu, que Rimbaud n’a pas vu ?

« L’élucidation progressive des réseaux de la décision mentale donne ainsi corps à la vision de Jean-Pierre Changeux qui, dans sa leçon inaugurale, soulignait qu’‘une compatibilité totale de principe existe entre le déterminisme le plus absolu et l’apparente imprévisibilité d’un comportement’. ‘Toute Pensée émet un Coup de Dés’, disait déjà Mallarmé. Conformément au projet défini dans L’Homme neuronal, la variabilité et l’illusoire libre-arbitre des décisions humaines se rattachent à des mécanismes neuronaux simples dont la dynamique gouverne notre comportement. La psychologie naïve se demande comment nous prenons des décisions ; la nouvelle théorie indique comment des décisions se prennent en nous, par brisure de symétrie dans un réseau stochastique et métastable. Dans cette théorie, les lois psychologiques de la chronométrie mentale se déduisent de la physique statistique de réseaux neuronaux, et ceux-ci implémentent, en première approximation, l’algorithme de prise de décision de Turing. »xiv

Changeux, et Dehaene après lui, ont « vu » que « les décisions se prennent en nous, par brisure de symétrie dans un réseau stochastique et métastable »…

Ah ! On comprend beaucoup mieux Rimbaud, dès lors !

Mais, vrai, j’ai trop pleuré ! Les Aubes sont navrantes.
Toute lune est atroce et tout soleil amer :
L’âcre amour m’a gonflé de torpeurs enivrantes
Ô que ma quille éclate ! Ô que j’aille à la mer !

Dans un soudain orage neuronal, la quille du poète a-t-elle éclaté par brisure de symétrie ?

Sa décision d’aller à la mer fût-elle programmée par un réseau stochastique et métastable ?

Tout est possible.

Mais je trouve les aubes ‘cognitives’ beaucoup plus navrantes que les poétiques…


iS. Dehaene. Vers une science de la vie mentale. Leçon inaugurale au Collège de France. cf. Vers une science de la vie mentale – Collège de France (


iiiCité par S. Dehaene, ibid.




viiCf. les travaux d’ Otto Koehler dans les années 1950.


ixC.G. Jung, Letters II, Londres, 1976, pp.399-400, cité par ML von Franz in op.cit.

xMarie-Louise von Franz. Nombre et Temps. La Fontaine de pierre. 2012

xiMarie-Louise von Franz. Nombre et Temps. La Fontaine de pierre. 2012, p.102

xiiMarie-Louise von Franz. Nombre et Temps. La Fontaine de pierre. 2012, p.103-104, note 18

xiiiS. Dehaene. Vers une science de la vie mentale. Leçon inaugurale au Collège de France.

xivS. Dehaene. Vers une science de la vie mentale. Leçon inaugurale au Collège de France.

Quoting ‘In our Synagogue’

« Franz Kafka »

Miguel de Cervantes, Franz Kafka, Karl Kraus, Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem are linked by a strong, subtle and flexible taste for quotation.

They are not the only ones. This list of five authors could of course be extended indefinitely, and include even more famous names.

Cervantes has been said to probably be a « crypto-Marrano », and Kafka, Kraus, Benjamin and Scholem may be labelled as ‘German Jews’, in particular because they have in common the use (and a masterly command) of the German language.

I say that Cervantes was ‘probably’ a « crypto-Marrano » because we know in fact very little about himi, and I use the expression ‘German Jew’ because it is how Gershom Scholem wanted to define Walter Benjamin – rather than ‘Judeo-Germanii‘ , meaning that he had kept the distance of a foreigner, of an alien, of an exiled, vis-à-vis Germany. This distance was probably also shared by Kafka, Kraus and Scholem himself…

What are the links of these five characters with quotation ?

They all considered it as a process of sanctification.

We shall begin with a quotation from Gershom Scholem, himself quoting a short judgment of Walter Benjamin, which the latter made concerning Karl Kraus : « Walter Benjamin finds in the ‘Jewish certainty’ that language is ‘the theater of the sanctification of the name’.» iii

Scholem’s quotation is in reality rather truncated, and also probably wrong on one very important point: the absence of an initial capital N in the word ‘name’. It should in my opinion be spelled ‘Name’, we will see why in a moment.

It is interesting to compare this particular Scholem’s quotation with Rainer Rochlitz’s more faithful and complete version of Benjamin’s original text:

« For the cosmic to-and-fro by which Stefan George ‘divinizes the body and incarnates God’, language is nothing but Jacob’s ladder made of ten thousand rungs of words. In Kraus, on the contrary, language has got rid of all hieratic elements. It is neither a means of prophecy nor of domination. As a place of sacralization of the name, it is opposed, by this Jewish certainty, to the theurgy of the ‘verbal body’.»iv

Given the context, it seems to me that the ‘name’ in question here is actually ‘the Name’, which is the term used by pious Jews to designate God (ha-Chem).

In the original German, by the way, the word ‘name’ (Name) has always an initial capital, as all German nouns have.

Moreover, the capital letter should have remained in the English translation to reflect the subject matter, namely the question of the relationship between language, the ‘theurgy of the Word’ and the incarnation of God (through His ‘Name’).

The ‘theurgy of the Word’ is presented here as an antagonist to what is the object of ‘Jewish certainty’, namely the ‘sacralization’ or ‘sanctification’ of the Name, as the only possible ‘incarnation’ of God.

We see that we are entering directly into the heart of an immensely complex subject, — that of the role of language as an instrument more or less suitable for ensuring the preservation of (Jewish) certainties and affirming the inexpressibility of God, including through His Name (or Names).

Walter Benjamin’s main interest in Karl Kraus is not about the way Judaism deals with the names of God, but about the more general, difficult relationship between (human) language and (divine) justice.

« It has been said of Kraus that he had to ‘defeat Judaism in himself’, that he had ‘passed from Judaism to freedom’, and that in him, too, justice and language condition each other; this is the best refutation of these theses. Worshipping the image of divine justice as language – at the very heart of the German language – is the authentically Judaic somersault by means of which he tries to escape the grip of the devil. »v

Let me underline in this text of Benjamin the expression « the authentically Judaic somersault » and the use of the word « devil ». In a moment, we will find them again in two (essential) texts by Kafkavi. This is certainly not by chance.

But before addressing these points, let us return to Kraus, as interpreted and quoted by Benjamin.

« It is the substance of the law, not its effects, that Kraus indicts. He accuses the law of high treason in relation to justice. More precisely, he denounces the high betrayal of the concept with regard to the verb to which it owes its existence: homicide with premeditation on the imagination, because the imagination dies as soon as a single letter is missing; it is in its honor that he sang his most poignant lament, his Elegy for the death of a phoneme. For above the jurisdiction [Rechtsprechung] there is the spelling [Rechtschreibung], and woe to the former if the latter is damaged. » vii

Yes, spelling is of paramount, theological, and even metaphysical importance…! One might perhaps get an idea of this from the following sequence of rabbinic quotations about a verse from Isaiah whose interpretation of its spelling reveals something essential.

(Indeed essential : nothing less than the creation of this very world as well as that of the world to come may be due to the difference between two Hebrew letters , ה (He) and י (Yod).)

Here is the rabbinic quotation :

« To these words Rabbi Youdan the Nassi cried out: ‘Woe, they have left us [those who knew how to answer], we can no longer find them! I once asked Rabbi Eleazar, and it was not your answer that he gave me, but this one: ‘With YH (be-yah) YHVH shaped the world. (Is. 26:4): The Holy One blessed be He created His world with two letters [Yod (י ) and He (ה)]. Now we cannot know whether this world was created with the ה, and the world to come with the י , or whether this world was created with the י , and the world to come with the ה. From what Rabbi Abahou said in the name of Rabbi Yoḥanan – be-hibaram is be-Hé baram – we learn that this world was created with ה (…) The world to come was created with י : like the י which is bent, the fallen ones in the times to come will have their waists bent and their faces darkened, according to the words: ‘Man’s pride shall be brought down’ (Is. (Is. 2:17) and ‘all false gods will disappear’ (Is. 2:18). « viii

This text explains quite well why « above the jurisdiction [Rechtsprechung] there isthe spelling [Rechtschreibung], and woe to the former if the latter is harmed »….

It is a matter of finding and recognizing the « origin » under the spelling, the letter or the phoneme.

Walter Benjamin comments further on Kraus’ text: « ‘You came from the origin, the origin which is the goal’, these are the words that God addresses, as a comfort and a promise, to ‘the dying man’. This is what Kraus is referring to here. »ix

And he then explains: « The theater of this philosophical scene of recognition in Kraus’s work is lyric poetry, and its language is rhyme: ‘The word that never denies the origin’ and which, like beatitude has its origin at the end of time, has its origin at the end of the verse. The rhyme: two loves carrying the devil to earth. »x

For rhyme is love, love of the word for the word, and love of the verb for the Verb.

« No one has more perfectly dissociated the language from the mind, no one has linked it more closely to Eros, than Kraus did in his maxim: ‘The closer you look at a word, the further it looks at you.’ This is an example of platonic love of language. The only closeness the word cannot escape is rhyme. The primitive, erotic relationship between proximity and distance is expressed in Kraus’ language as rhyme and name. Rhyme – the language goes back to the world of the creature; name – it raises any creature up to it. » xi

Here we are back to the ‘name’. Or, rather, to the ‘Name’.

This ‘Name’ that only angels may ‘quote’.

« In the quotation that saves and punishes, language appears as the matrix of justice. The quotation calls the word by its name, tears it out of its context by destroying it, but in so doing also recalls it to its origin. The word is thus sounded, coherent, within the framework of a new text; it cannot be said that it does not rhyme with anything. As a rhyme, it gathers in its aura what is similar; as a name it is solitary and inexpressive. In front of language, the two domains – origin and destruction – are justified by the quotation. And conversely, language is only completed where they interpenetrate: in the quotation. In it is reflected the language of the angels, in which all words, taken from the idyllic context of meaning, are transformed into epigraphs of the Book of Creation. » xii

Can these lines be considered « philosophical »?

According to Scholem, certainly not…

He clearly states that Walter Benjamin chose the « exodus from philosophy ».

This striking formula is not without evoking some subliminal but foundational reminiscences, including the very Exodus of the Hebrew people out of Egypt .

But what would be an exodus from philosophy? And to go where? Poetry? Theology?

Scholem had in fact borrowed this formula from Margareth Susman, who saw it as an appropriate way to describe the shift from (philosophical) idealism to theology or existentialism in the first decades of the last century.

In Benjamin’s case, would the « Promised Land » be that of Theology?

Scholem gives as an example of Benjamin’s ‘exodus’ his text, ‘Origin of German Baroque Drama’, in which he set out to show how (German) aesthetic ideas were linked ‘most intimately’ xiii with theological categories.

Incidentally, it is noteworthy that Carl Schmitt, at the same time, but from a radically different point of view, it goes without saying, did the same thing in the political and legal fields, as summarized in his famous thesis: « All of the concepts that permeate modern state theory are secularized theological concepts »xiv.

Why did Benjamin want to go on an exodus? Did he want to follow Kafka’s example? Gershom Scholem thinks so. He states that Benjamin « knew that we possess in Kafka the Theologia negativa of a Judaism (…) He saw in the exegeses so frequent in Kafka a precipitate of the tradition of the Torah reflecting itself. Of Don Quixote’s twelve-line exegesis, [Benjamin] said that it was the most accomplished text we have of Kafka’s.» xv

In fact, rather than an exegesis of Don Quixote, this text by Kafka, which is indeed very short, is rather an exegesis of Sancho Pança. Entitled « The Truth about Sancho Pança », which denotes, admittedly, a radical change of point of view, we learn that this apparently secondary character, but in reality essential, « thanks to a host of stories of brigands and novels of chivalry (…), managed so well to distract his demon in him – to whom he later gave the name of Don Quixote – that he committed the craziest acts without restraint, acts which, however, due to the lack of a predetermined object that should precisely have been Sancho Pança, caused no harm to anyone. Motivated perhaps by a sense of responsibility, Sancho Pança, who was a free man, stoically followed Don Quixote in his divagations, which provided him until the end with an entertainment full of usefulness and grandeur. » xvi

Are really these twelve lines, « the most accomplished text we have of Kafka »?

Is Don Quixote, Sancho Pança’s inner ‘demon’?

Is Sancho Pança, a free man, stoically preserving the craziest divagations of his own ‘demon’?

Why not? Anything is possible!

However, Kafka’s works do not lack other ‘accomplished’ passages. If one had to choose one, one would be more embarrassed than Benjamin, no doubt.

I would personally choose « In Our Synagogue« .xvii It is a text of about four pages, which begins like this: « In our synagogue lives an animal about the size of a marten. Sometimes you can see it very well, because up to a distance of about two meters, it tolerates the approach of men. » xviii

It is a text of superior irony, with a slightly sarcastic tone, undeniably Kafkaesque, – but for a good cause.

Kafka wants to describe the color of the « animal » which is « light blue green », but in reality, « its actual color is unknown ». At most, however, he can say that « its visible color comes from the dust and mortar that has become entangled in its hair » and « which is reminiscent of the whitewash inside the synagogue, only it is a little lighter. » xix

He also takes care to describe its behavior: « Apart from its fearful character, it is an extraordinarily calm and sedentary animal; if we did not frighten it so often, it is hardly likely that it would change place, its preferred home is the grid of the women’s compartment. « xx

It frightens the women, but « the reason why they fear it is obscure ». It is true that « at first glance it looks terrifying, » but it is not long before « we realize that all this terror is harmless. « 

Above all, it stays away from people.

Then begins, if I may say so, the part that might be called exegesis.

« Its personal misfortune probably lies in the fact that this building is a synagogue, that is to say, a periodically very lively place. If we could get along with it, we could console it by telling it that the community of our small mountain town is diminishing year by year. xxi

Fortunately for it, « it is not impossible that in some time the synagogue will be transformed into a barn or something similar and that the animal will finally know the rest it so painfully misses. » xxii

Then the factual analysis of the « animal »’s behaviour becomes more precise, insistent, explicit.

« It is true that only women fear it, men have long been indifferent to it, one generation has shown it to the other, we have seen it continuously, and in the end we no longer look at it (…) Without women, we would hardly remember its existence. »xxiii

There is no doubt, in ly opinion, that this ‘animal’ is a metaphorical figure. It is not for me to reveal the exact being it probably represents, but it is enough to follow Kafka’s indications.

« It’s already a very old animal, it doesn’t hesitate to make the most daring leap, which, by the way, it never misses, it has turned in the void and here it is already continuing its way. » xxiv

What does this animal want? « No doubt it would rather live hidden, as it does at times when there are no services, probably in some wall hole that we have not yet discovered. » xxv

Kafka then gives more and more precise elements. « If it has a preference for heights, it is naturally because it feels safer there (…) but it is not always there, sometimes it goes a little lower towards the men; the curtain of the Ark of the Covenant is held by a shiny copper bar that seems to attract it, it is not uncommon for it to slip in there, but it always remains quiet. » xxvi

Criticism then is becoming more biting.

« Hasn’t it been living for many years completely on its own? Men don’t care about its presence (…) And of course, divine service with all its fuss can be very frightening for the animal, but it is always repeated. » xxvii

Perhaps the most astonishing thing is the fear that the animal seems to be permanently seized with.

« Is it the memory of long-gone times or the foreboding of times to come? »xxviii

Perhaps both at the same time, so much the animal seems to know its world.

Then comes the final stunt.

« Many years ago, they say, we would have really tried to evict the animal. »xxix

A very serious accusation, of course. It may be true, unfortunately, but it is even more likely to be a pure invention. What is known is that the case has been carefully studied by the rabbinic hierarchy.

« However, there is evidence that it was examined from the point of view of religious jurisdiction whether such an animal could be tolerated in the house of God. The opinion of various famous rabbis was sought, and opinions were divided, the majority being in favor of expulsion and re-consecration of the temple.»xxx

This opinion seems undoubtedly impeccable from a legal point of view, but materially inapplicable .

« In fact, it was impossible to seize the animal, therefore impossible to expel it. For only if one had been able to seize it and transport it away from there, could one have had the approximate certainty of being rid of it. » xxxi

What do we learn from this quotation ?

I will answer with yet another quote and a prophecy.

« The intellectual nature of man is a simple matrix of ideas, a receptivity limited by the life of his own activity, so that the spirit of man as well as the feminine nature is capable of giving birth to the truth, but needs to be fertilized in order to come to the act. Man, as a member of two regions, needs both to reach maturity. » xxxii

Just as the most important prophecies once were only quotations, I believe that a relevant quotation can be understood as a prophecy.

Every real prophecy is an attempt at fecundation. The deposit of a fecundating word, like a living germ coming to intrude into the matrix of the spirit, – or like a marten in a synagogue…

Be it in the matrix of a woman, in the spirit of a man or in a synagogue, what really matters is that there is somewhere, a place in the heights, where some intruding « animal » (in the literal sense, a « living » being) must be tamed, and whose fears must be calmed, in view of the times yet to come.


i Michel de Castillo writes about Cervantes: « He was suspected, he is still suspected, of having suspicious origins. He has even written specious books, full of cabalistic interpretations. Some of his words have been read in Hebrew, given biblical allusions, even though we are at least certain of one thing: if he is of Marrano origin, Cervantes did not know a word of Hebrew. « Dictionnaire amoureux de l‘Espagne, « Cervantes (Miguel de) », p. 163.

iiGershom Scholem. Benjamin and his angel. Trad. Philippe Ivernel. Ed. Rivages, Paris, 1995, p.15

iiiGershom Scholem. Benjamin and his angel. Trad. Philippe Ivernel. Ed. Rivages, Paris, 1995, p. 69.

ivWalter Benjamin. Karl Kraus. Works II, Translated from German by Rainer Rochlitz. Gallimard, 2000, p. 262.

vWalter Benjamin. Karl Kraus. Works II, Translated from German by Rainer Rochlitz. Gallimard, 2000, pp. 248-249.

viIn Kafka’s text ‘In Our Synagogue’, about an animal that serves as a metaphor for God, we find this very beautiful description of a divine somersault: « It is already a very old animal, it does not hesitate to make the most daring leap, which moreover it never misses, it has turned in the void and here it is already continuing its path. « Kafka. In our synagogue. Complete Works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.663.

As for the word ‘demon’, we find it in another text by Kafka: « Sancho Pança, thanks to a host of stories of brigands and novels of chivalry (…), managed so well to distract his demon – to whom he later gave the name Don Quixote – from him. « Kafka. The truth about Sancho Pança. Complete Works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.541.

viiWalter Benjamin. Karl Kraus. Works II, Translated from German by Rainer Rochlitz. Gallimard, 2000, p. 249.

viiiMidrach Rabba, Volume I, Genesis Rabba. Ch. XII § 10, translated from Hebrew by Bernard Maruani and Albert Cohen-Arazi. Ed. Verdier, 1987, p. 155. See also On Some Secrets of the Tetragrammaton YHVH).

ixWalter Benjamin. Karl Kraus. Works II, Translated from German by Rainer Rochlitz. Gallimard, 2000, p. 263.

xWalter Benjamin. Karl Kraus. Works II, Translated from German by Rainer Rochlitz. Gallimard, 2000, p. 263.

xiWalter Benjamin. Karl Kraus. Works II, Translated from German by Rainer Rochlitz. Gallimard, 2000, pp. 265-266.

xiiWalter Benjamin. Karl Kraus. Works II, Translated from German by Rainer Rochlitz. Gallimard, 2000, pp. 267-268.

xiiiGershom Scholem. Benjamin and his angel. Trad. Philippe Ivernel. Ed. Rivages, Paris, 1995, p. 49.

xivCarl Schmitt, Politische Theologie, ch. 3

xvGershom Scholem. Benjamin and his angel. Trad. Philippe Ivernel. Ed. Rivages, Paris, 1995, p. 72.

xviKafka. The truth about Sancho Pança. Complete Works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.541.

xviiKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.662-665.

xviiiKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.662.

xixKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.662.

xxKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.662.

xxiKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.663.

xxiiKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.663.

xxiiiKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.663.

xxivKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.663.

xxvKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.664.

xxviKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.664.

xxviiKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.664.

xxviiiKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.665.

xxixKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.665.

xxxKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.665.

xxxiKafka. In our synagogue. Complete works II. Ed. Gallimard. 1980, p.665.

xxxiiFranz Joseph Molitor. Philosophy of tradition. Trad . Xavier Duris. Ed. Debécourt, Paris, 1837, p. vi-vij

Swarming Souls

« Hannah Arendt »

God indeed is one, – but His forces and His powers (i.e. His elohim and His sefirot) are more than multiple, according to the Jewish Kabbalah.

This idea unites without contradiction monotheistic and polytheistic intuitions.

In contrast, one cannot say that man is really one, – nor the world or the cosmos for that matter. But neither can we say that their abundant multiplicities are a substitute for unity.

Men and worlds are certainly diverse, divided, mixed, undefined and indefinable.

But this diversity, this division, this mixing, this indefinition, are relative. They find their limits, if only in time and space. Men, like worlds, are indefinite, but certainly not infinite.

In the apparent profusion of innumerable beings and the even more abundant moments that compose them, forms of singularities emerge, for a time. Here and there appear strange quarks, galactic clusters, people and consciousnesses…

But are these singularities units? To put it another way, are these singularities as ‘one’ as God is said to be ‘one’?

Busy, unconscious and composite crowds swarm at all times in every and each one man. They are molecular, chromosomal, microbial, neuronal, synaptic, parasitic crowds, you name it.

What will remain of them at the end of time?

If man thinks he will ever be one, death always takes charge, in the end, of testing this dubious sense of unitive dream.

Conversely, if man is not one, if he is other than one, what is he in reality?

Several hypotheses are worth considering.

  1. Man is a diachronic being.

The immanent multiplicity is revealed, over long periods of time, by the accumulation of the diversity. What we were fetus, will we lose it as we die ?  Or will we not rather summarize it?

Does the flower of youth lose only its petals and its radiance in the shadows of maturity, or in the night of agony, or does it not rather reveal its subtle, invisible and irradiant perfumes?

Let’s change metaphors.

If man was a kind of vast library, which book would summarize him best? Or could we only pick out a few scattered ‘good excerpts’? Or, even, shouldn’t we be satisfied with a single chosen line, at the corner of a forgotten paragraph, or a hallucinated word, to finally express his supposed unity, his only essential meaning?

2. Man is a synchronic being.

Just as a (infinite) mathematical curve can be summarized at each of its points by the (itself infinite) set of its derivatives, so one could suppose that at any moment of his life, the being of man could contain the (apparently infinite) set of his virtualities in the making. Always still in epigenesis, man is neither his sex nor his brain, neither his spleen nor his pancreas, neither his heart nor his blood, neither his very soul nor his faulty memory, but all this simultaneously.

Reason is road, cunning and cog, and blood is place and sense. The soul animates, and elevates, she borders on drunkenness, but often sleeps in the darkness of memories. In the lymph bathes the light of hope. Saliva drowns the suns of taste, the breath tempers the twilights of consciousness.

3. Man is a distributed (or swarming) being.

A more fantastic hypothesis assumes a ‘self’ which doubts itself. It is equivalent to the idea that any ‘I’ could be defined by the sum of all the ‘you’ encountered throughout life, as well as by the sum of all the ‘us’ felt, and even the anonymous crowd of all the ‘them’ surrounding the ‘I’, be they effective or only conceived. The human ‘I’ is still alone, singular, but mainly made of indissoluble pluralities, external multitudes, and produced by entire societies, and immemorial histories.

Whether man is diachronic, synchronic, distributed, swarming, or all of them in turn, or all of them simultaneously, winds down to being the same. It is at the time of death that the ‘I’ gets to know what he really is: either ‘nothing’, just ‘nothing’, or some entity allowed to continue ‘being’ in an yet unknown, sublimated form.

There is no point in arguing about this sort of conjecture, nobody knows the end of the story, but we will all know that end, when the evening comes.

To conclude with an opening, I would like to quote a fragment from the pre-Socratic philosopher Gorgias :

« There is nothing obvious about being because it doesn’t appear [dokein]. To appear is weak, since it does not succeed in being. »i

To put it another way, perhaps more clearly, and to fit this ancient and lively thought into a long perspective :

« The way in which God has been thought of for centuries no longer convinces anyone; if something is already dead, it can only be the traditional way of thinking about God. What is really dead is the fundamental distinction between the sensory domain and the supra-sensory domain. »ii

Really dead ?

Then we need to follow up with an essential intuition of Nietzsche, which Martin Heidegger (quoted by Hannah Arendt) re-ormulated as follows:

« The destruction of the supra-sensible also suppresses the purely sensible, and thus the difference between the two.»iii

If the supra-sensible and the sensible are, in the final analysis, no different, then there is also no essential difference between transcendence and immanence.

And, consequently, there is no essential difference between the Creator (either immanent or transcendant) and the Creation…


iDie Fragmente des Vorsokratiker. Vol. II, B 26. Hermann Diels and Walther Kranz, 1959. Quoted by Hannah Arendt. The life of the spirit. Thought. The will. Translated by Lucienne Lotringer. PUF, 1981, p.45

iiHannah Arendt. The life of the spirit. The thought. The will. Translation by Lucienne Lotringer. PUF, 1981, p.28

iiiMartin Heidegger. Paths that lead nowhere. Trad. W. Brokmeier. Paris 1962, p.173. Quoted by Hannah Arendt. The life of the spirit. Thought. The will. Translated by Lucienne Lotringer. PUF, 1981, p.29

Elijah From the Stars

« Elijah »

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

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

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

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

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

Can we connect these two poles, seemingly opposite?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can a human brain understand God transcending Himself!

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

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

But reason wants to reason and tries to understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It frees man, at last.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Won’t her cannon thunder again?

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

And what about tomorrow?

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

Or in six hundred million years?

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


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

iiCt 8.6

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

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

Archéologie du Divin et Récits universels

« Le Sôma et le Féminin Sacré »

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

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

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

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

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

La Parole.

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

La Pensée

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Le Sacrifice

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


viA.V. X,8. Ibid.

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

The Dangers of Christianity and the Dangers of Judaism

« Franz Rosenzweig »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why not? Is God not His own Spirit?

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

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

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

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

Judaism will not compromise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about the theophanies found in the Torah?

What about God’s dialogues with the Prophets?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The life, the truth, the way. The Anointed One from Nazareth, the Christian Messiah, had already designated himself by these three words, identifying them with his own Person.

Shrinkage, narrowness, suffocation.

Dispersion, expansion, paganization.

Let the millennia flow, let the eons bloom.

What will the world be like in three hundred billion years? Will it be Jewish? Christian? Buddhist? Nihilist? Gnostic? Or will the world be All Other?

Will we one day see the birth of a non-Galilean Messiah or a non-Anointed Anointed One, far away in galaxies at the unimagined borders of the known universes, revealing in clear language a meta-Law as luminous as a thousand billion nebulae assembled in one single point?

Or is it the very message of the Scriptures that, by some miracle, will be repeated, word for word, letter for letter, breath for breath, in all the multiverse, crossing without damage the attraction and translation of multiple black holes and vertiginous wormholes?

The path before us is infinitely, obviously, open.

We only know that at the very end there will be life – not death.

What kind of life? We don’t know.

We know that with life, there will also be truth.

Truth and life are indissolubly linked, as are transcendence and immanence.

« What is truth? » asked Pilatus once, famously.

One could also ask : « What is life? »

Since transcendence is so infinitely above the human mind, how can one dare to ask even these kinds of questions?

That’s exactly the point.

Daring to ask these questions is already, in a way, beginning to answer them.

I have no doubt that in six hundred million years, or thirty-three billion years, some truth will still be there to be grasp, – if there are still, of course, eyes to see, or ears to hear.


iFranz Rosenzweig. The Star of Redemption. Alexandre Derczanski and Jean-Louis Schlegel, Seuil , 1882, p.474.

iiFranz Rosenzweig. The Star of Redemption. Alexandre Derczanski and Jean-Louis Schlegel, Seuil , 1882, p.474.

iiiFranz Rosenzweig. The Star of Redemption. Alexandre Derczanski and Jean-Louis Schlegel, Seuil , 1882, p.478.

ivFranz Rosenzweig. The Star of Redemption. Alexandre Derczanski and Jean-Louis Schlegel, Seuil , 1882, p.476.

vFranz Rosenzweig. The Star of Redemption. Alexandre Derczanski and Jean-Louis Schlegel, Seuil , 1882, p.479-480.

viFranz Rosenzweig. The Star of Redemption. Alexandre Derczanski and Jean-Louis Schlegel, Seuil, 1882, p. 490.

Two « Sons » : Bar and Ben

« Michel d’Anastasio. Calligraphie hébraïque »

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

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

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

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

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

What does the difference between ben and bar teach us?

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with creation. Berechit bara’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the ‘king’? Why ‘purity’?

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

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

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

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

Who will tell?

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

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

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

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

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

« He founded Nineveh » (Gn 10:11).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben. Son. Construction. Column. Male organ.

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

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

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


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

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

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

Making God and Giving Him Life – in Kabbalah and other Theurgic Conceptions

« Mains de bénédiction »

God needs men, even more than men need God.

The theurgic, creative power of men has always manifested itself through the ages.

Religious anthropology bears witness to this.

« No doubt, without the Gods, men could not live. But on the other hand, the Gods would die if they were not worshipped (…) What the worshipper really gives to his God is not the food he puts on the altar, nor the blood that flows from his veins: that is his thought. Between the deity and his worshippers there is an exchange of good offices which condition each other. »i

The Vedic sacrifice is one of the most ancient human rite from which derives the essence of Prajāpati, the supreme God, the Creator of the worlds.

« There are rites without gods, and there are rites from which gods derive ».ii

Unexpectingly, Charles Mopsik, in his study of the Jewish kabbalah, subtitled The Rites that Make God, affirms the « flagrant similarity » of these ancient theurgical beliefs with the Jewish motif of the creative power of the rite.

Mopsik readily admits that « the existence of a theme in Judaism, according to which man must ‘make God’, may seem incredible.»iii

Examples of Jewish kabbalistic theurgy abound, involving, for example, man’s ‘shaping’ of God, or his participation in the ‘creation’ of the Name or the Shabbath. Mopsik evokes a midrash quoted by R. Bahya ben Acher, according to which « the man who keeps the Shabbath from below, ‘it is as if he were doing it from above’, in other words ‘gave existence’, ‘fashioned the Sabbath from above. »iv

The expression ‘to make God’, which Charles Mopsik uses in the subtitle of his book, can be compared to the expression ‘to make the Shabbath’ (in the sense of ‘to create the Shabbath’) as it is curiously expressed in the Torah (« The sons of Israel will keep the Shabbath to make the Shabbath » (Ex 31,16)), as well as in the Clementine Homilies, a Judeo-Christian text that presents God as the Shabbath par excellencev, which implies that ‘to make the Shabbath’ is ‘to make God’…

Since its very ancient ‘magical’ origins, theurgy implies a direct relationship between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’ or ‘making’. The Kabbalah takes up this idea, and develops it:

« You must know that the commandment is a light, and he who does it below affirms (ma’amid) and does (‘osseh) that which is above. Therefore, when man practices a commandment, that commandment is light.»vi

In this quotation, the word ‘light’ is to be understood as an allusive way of saying ‘God’, comments Mopsik, who adds: « Observances have a sui generis efficacy and shape the God of the man who puts them into practice.»

Many other rabbis, such as Moses de Leon (the author of the Zohar), Joseph Gikatila, Joseph of Hamadan, Méir ibn Gabbay, or Joseph Caro, affirm the power of « the theurgic instituting action » or « theo-poietic ».

The Zohar explains :

« ‘If you follow my ordinances, if you keep my commandments, when you do them, etc.' ». (Lev 26:3) What does ‘When you do them’ mean? Since the text already says, « If you follow and keep, » what is the meaning of « When you do them »? Verily, whoever does the commandments of the Torah and walks in its ways, so to speak, it is as if he makes Him on high (‘avyd leyh le’ila), the Holy One blessed be He who says, ‘It is as if he makes Me’ (‘assa-ny). In this connection Rabbi Simeon said, ‘David made the Name’. » vii

« David made the Name » ! This is yet another theurgical expression, and not the least, since the Name, the Holy Name, is in reality God Himself !

‘Making God’, ‘Making the Shabbath’, ‘Making the Name’, all these theurgic expressions are equivalent, and the authors of the Kabbalah adopt them alternately.

From a critical point of view, it remains to be seen whether the kabbalistic interpretations of these theurgies are in any case semantically and grammatically acceptable. It also remains to be ascertained whether they are not rather the result of deliberately tendentious readings, purposefully diverting the obvious meaning of the Texts. But even if this were precisely the case, there would still remain the stubborn, inescapable fact that the Jewish Kabbalists wanted to find the theurgic idea in the Torah .

Given the importance of what is at stake, it is worth delving deeper into the meaning of the expression « Making the Name », and the way in which the Kabbalists understood it, – and then commented on it again and again over the centuries …

The original occurrence of this particular expression is found in the second book of Samuel (II Sam 8,13). It is a particularly warlike verse, whose usual translation gives a factual, neutral interpretation, very far in truth from the theurgic interpretation:

« When he returned from defeating Syria, David again made a name for himself by defeating eighteen thousand men in the Valley of Salt. »

David « made a name for himself », i.e. a « reputation », a « glory », in the usual sense of the word שֵׁם, chem.

The massoretic text of this verse gives :

וַיַּעַשׂ דָּוִד, שֵׁם

Va ya’ass Daoud shem

« To make a name for oneself, a reputation » seems to be the correct translation, in the context of a warlord’s glorious victory. Biblical Hebrew dictionaries confirm that this meaning is widespread.

Yet this was not the interpretation chosen by the Kabbalists.

They prefer to read: « David made the Name« , i.e. « made God« , as Rabbi Simeon says, quoted by the Zohar.

In this context, Charles Mopsik proposes a perfectly extraordinary interpretation of the expression « making God ». This interpretation (taken from the Zohar) is that « to make God » is equivalent to the fact that God constitutes His divine fullness by conjugating (in the original sense of the word!) « His masculine and feminine dimensions ».

If we follow Mopsik, « making God » for the Zohar would be the equivalent of « making love » for both male and female parts of God?

More precisely, as we will see, it would be the idea of YHVH’s loving encounter with His alter ego, Adonaï?

A brilliant idea, – or an absolute scandal (from the point of view of Jewish ‘monotheism’)?

Here’s how Charles Mopsik puts it:

« The ‘Holy Name’ is defined as the close union of the two polar powers of the divine pleroma, masculine and feminine: the sefira Tiferet (Beauty) and the sefira Malkhut (Royalty), to which the words Law and Right refer (…) The theo-poietic action is accomplished through the unifying action of the practice of the commandments that cause the junction of the sefirot Tiferet and Malkhut, the Male and Female from Above. These are thus united ‘one to the other’, the ‘Holy Name’ which represents the integrity of the divine pleroma in its two great poles YHVH (the sefira Tiferet) and Adonay (the sefira Malkhut). For the Zohar, ‘To make God’ therefore means to constitute the divine fullness [or pleroma] by uniting its masculine and feminine dimensions. » viii

In another passage of the Zohar, it is the (loving) conjunction of God with the Shekhina, which is proposed as an equivalence or ‘explanation’ of the expressions « making God » or « making the Name »:

« Rabbi Judah reports a verse: ‘It is time to act for YHVH, they have violated the Torah’ (Ps.119,126). What does ‘the time to act for YHVH’ mean? (…) ‘Time’ refers to the Community of Israel (the Shekhinah), as it is said: ‘He does not enter the sanctuary at all times’ (Lev 16:2). Why [is it called] ‘time’? Because there is a ‘time’ and a moment for all things, to draw near, to be enlightened, to unite as it should be, as it is written: ‘And I pray to you, YHVH, the favourable time’ (Ps 69:14), ‘to act for YHVH’ [‘to make YHVH’] as it is written: ‘David made the Name’ (II Sam 8:13), for whoever devotes himself to the Torah, it is as if he were making and repairing the ‘Time’ [the Shekhinah], to join him to the Holy One blessed be He. » ix

After « making God », « making YHVH », « making the Name », here is another theurgical form: « making Time », that is to say « bringing together » the Holy One blessed be He and the Shekhina…

A midrach quoted by R. Abraham ben Ḥananel de Esquira teaches this word attributed to God Himself: « Whoever fulfills My commandments, I count him as if they had made Me. » x

Mopsik notes here that the meaning of the word ‘theurgy’ as ‘production of the divine’, as given for example in the Liturgy, may therefore mean ‘procreation’, as a model for all the works that are supposed to ‘make God’. xi

This idea is confirmed by the famous Rabbi Menahem Recanati: « The Name has commanded each one of us to write a book of the Torah for himself; the hidden secret is this: it is as if he is making the Name, blessed be He, and all the Torah is the names of the Saint, blessed be He. » xii

In another text, Rabbi Recanati brings together the two formulations ‘to make YHVH’ and ‘to make Me’: « Our masters have said, ‘Whoever does My commandments, I will count him worthy as if he were making Me,’ as it is written, ‘It is time to make YHVH’ (Ps 119:126)xiii.

One can see it, tirelessly, century after century, the rabbis report and repeat the same verse of the psalms, interpreted in a very specific way, relying blindly on its ‘authority’ to dare to formulate dizzying speculations… like the idea of the ‘procreation’ of the divinity, or of its ‘begetting’, in itself and by itself….

The kabbalistic image of ‘procreation’ is actually used by the Zohar to translate the relationship of the Shekhina with the divine pleroma:

« ‘Noah built an altar’ (Gen 8:20). What does ‘Noah built’ mean? In truth, Noah is the righteous man. He ‘built an altar’, that is the Shekhina. His edification (binyam) is a son (ben) who is the Central Column. » xiv

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

In this Genesis verse, we see that the Zohar reads the presence of the Shekhina, represented by the altar of sacrifice, and embodying the feminine part of the divine, and we see that the Zohar also reads the act of « edifying » her, symbolized by the Central Column, that is to say by the ‘Foundation’, or the Yessod, which in the Kabbalah has as its image the male sexual organ, and which thus incarnates the male part of the divine, and bears the name of ‘son’ [of God]…

How can we understand these allusive images? To say it without a veil, the kabbalah does not hesitate to represent here (in a cryptic way) a quasi-marital scene where God ‘gets closer’ to His Queen to love her…

And it is up to ‘Israel’ to ensure the smooth running of this loving encounter, as the following passage indicates:

 » ‘They will make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you’ (Ex 25:8) (…) The Holy One blessed be He asked Israel to bring the Queen called ‘Sanctuary’ to Him (…) For it is written: ‘You shall bring a fire (ichêh, a fire = ichah, a woman) to YHVH’ (Lev 23:8). Therefore it is written, ‘They will make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you’. » xvi

Let’s take an interested look at the verse: « You will approach a fire from YHVH » (Lev 33:8).

The Hebrew text gives :

וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם אִשֶּׁה לַיהוָה

Ve-hiqravttêm ichêh la-YHVH

The word אִשֶּׁה , ichêh, means ‘fire’, but in a very slightly different vocalization, ichah, this same word means ‘woman’. As for the verb ‘to approach’, its root is קרב, qaraba, « to be near, to approach, to move towards » and in the hiphil form, « to present, to offer, to sacrifice ». Interestingly, and even disturbingly, the noun qorban, ‘sacrifice, oblation, gift’ that derives from it, is almost identical to the noun qerben which means ‘womb, entrails, breast’ (of the woman).

One could propose the following equations (or analogies), which the Hebrew language either shows or implies allusively:

Fire = Woman

Approaching = Sacrifice = Entrails (of the woman)

‘Approaching the altar’ = ‘Approaching a woman’ (Do we need to recall here that, in the Hebrew Bible, « to approach a woman » is a euphemism for « making love »?)

The imagination of the Kabbalists does not hesitate to evoke together (in an almost subliminal way) the ‘sacrifice’, the ‘entrails’, the ‘fire’ and the ‘woman’ and to bring them formally ‘closer’ to the Most Holy Name: YHVH.

It should be noted, however, that the Kabbalists’ audacity is only relative here, since the Song of Songs had, long before the Kabbalah, dared to take on even more burning images.

In the thinking of the Kabbalists, the expression « to make God » is understood as the result of a « union » of the masculine and feminine dimensions of the divine.

In this allegory, the sefira Yessod connects God and the Community of believers just as the male organ connects the male body to the female body. xvii

Rabbi Matthias Delacroute (Poland, 16th century) comments:

« ‘Time to make YHVH’ (Ps 119:126). Explanation: The Shekhinah called ‘Time’ is to be made by joining her to YHVH after she has been separated from Him because one has broken the rules and transgressed the Law. » xviii

For his part, Rabbi Joseph Caro (1488-1575) understood the same verse as follows: « To join the upper pleroma, masculine and divine, with the lower pleroma, feminine and archangelical, must be the aim of those who practice the commandments (…) The lower pleroma is the Shekhinah, also called the Community of Israel ». xix

It is a question of magnifying the role of the Community of Israel, or that of each individual believer, in the ‘divine work’, in its ‘reparation’, in its increase in ‘power’ or even in its ‘begetting’….

Rabbi Hayim Vital, a contemporary of Joseph Caro, comments on a verse from Isaiah and relates it to another verse from the Psalms in a way that has been judged « extravagant » by literalist exegetesxx.

Isaiah’s verse (Is 49:4) reads, according to R. Hayim Vital: « My work is my God », and he compares it with Psalm 68: « Give power to God » (Ps 68:35), of which he gives the following comment: « My work was my God Himself, God whom I worked, whom I made, whom I repaired ».

Note that this verse (Is 49:4) is usually translated as follows: « My reward is with my God » (ou-féoulati êt Adonaï).

Mopsik comments: « It is not ‘God’ who is the object of the believer’s work, or action, but ‘my God’, that God who is ‘mine’, with whom I have a personal relationship, and in whom I have faith, and who is ‘my’ work. »

And he concludes that this ‘God who is made’, who is ‘worked’, is in reality ‘the feminine aspect of the divinity’.

The Gaon Elijah of Vilna proposed yet another way of understanding and designating the two ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ aspects of the Deity, calling them respectively ‘expansive aspect’ and ‘receiving aspect’:

« The expansive aspect is called havayah (being) [i.e. HVYH, anagram of YHVH…], the receiving aspect of the glorification coming from us is called ‘His Name’. In the measure of Israel’s attachment to God, praising and glorifying Him, the Shekhinah receives the Good of the expanding aspect. (…) The Totality of the offices, praise and glorification, that is called Shekhinah, which is His Name. Indeed, ‘name’ means ‘public renown’ and ‘celebration’ of His Glory, the perception of His Greatness. (…) This is the secret of ‘YHVH is one, and His Name is one’ (Zac 14:9). YHVH is one’ refers to the expansion of His will. ‘His Name is one’ designates the receiving aspect of His praise and attachment. This is the unification of the recitation of the Shemaxxi

According to the Gaon of Vilna, the feminine dimension of God, the Shekhina, is the passive dimension of the manifested God, a dimension that is nourished by the Totality of the praises and glorifications of the believers. The masculine dimension of God is Havayah, the Being.

Charles Mopsik’s presentation on the theurgical interpretations of the Jewish Kabbalah (‘Making God’) does not neglect to recognize that these interpretations are in fact part of a universal history of the religious fact, particularly rich in comparable experiences, especially in the diverse world of ‘paganism’. It is thus necessary to recognize the existence of « homologies that are difficult to dispute between the theurgic conceptions of Hellenized Egyptian hermeticism, late Greco-Roman Neoplatonism, Sufi theology, Neoplatonism and Jewish mystagogy. » xxii

Said in direct terms, this amounts to noting that since the dawn of time, there has been among all ‘pagan’ people this idea that the existence of God depends on men, at least to a certain degree.

It is also striking that ideas seemingly quite foreign to the Jewish religion, such as the idea of a Trinitarian conception of God (notoriously associated with Christianity) has in fact been enunciated in a similar way by some high-flying cabbalists.

Thus the famous Rabbi Moses Hayim Luzzatto had this formula surprisingly comparable (or if one prefers: ‘isomorphic’) to the Trinitarian formula:

« The Holy One, Blessed be He, the Torah and Israel are one. »

But it should also be recalled that this kind of « kabbalistic » conception has attracted virulent criticism within conservative Judaism, criticism which extends to the entire Jewish Kabbalah. Mopsik cites in this connection the outraged reactions of such personalities as Rabbi Elie del Medigo (c. 1460- 1493) or Rabbi Judah Arie of Modena (17th century), and those of equally critical contemporaries such as Gershom Scholem or Martin Buber…

We will not enter into this debate. We prefer here to try to perceive in the theurgic conceptions we have just outlined the clue of an anthropological constant, an archetype, a kind of universal intuition proper to the profound nature of the human spirit.

It is necessary to pay tribute to the revolutionary effort of the Kabbalists, who have shaken with all their might the narrow frames of old and fixed conceptions, in an attempt to answer ever-renewed questions about the essence of the relationship between divinity, the world and humanity, the theos, the cosmos and the anthropos.

This titanic intellectual effort of the Jewish Kabbalah is, moreover, comparable in intensity, it seems to me, to similar efforts made in other religions (such as those of a Thomas Aquinas within the framework of Christianity, around the same period, or those of the great Vedic thinkers, as witnessed by the profound Brahmanas, two millennia before our era).

From the powerful effort of the Kabbalah emerges a specifically Jewish idea of universal value:

« The revealed God is the result of the Law, rather than the origin of the Law. This God is not posed at the Beginning, but proceeds from an interaction between the superabundant flow emanating from the Infinite and the active presence of Man. » xxiii

In a very concise and perhaps more relevant way: « You can’t really know God without acting on Him, » also says Mopsik.

Unlike Gershom Scholem or Martin Buber, who have classified the Kabbalah as « magic » in order to disdain it at its core, Charles Mopsik clearly perceives that it is one of the signs of the infinite richness of human potential in its relationship with the divine. We must pay homage to him for his very broad anthropological vision of the phenomena linked to divine revelation, in all eras and throughout the world.

The spirit blows where it wants. Since the dawn of time, i.e. for tens of thousands of years (the caves of Lascaux or Chauvet bear witness to this), many human minds have tried to explore the unspeakable, without preconceived ideas, and against all a priori constraints.

Closer to us, in the 9th century AD, in Ireland, John Scot Erigenes wrote:

« Because in all that is, the divine nature appears, while by itself it is invisible, it is not incongruous to say that it is made. » xxiv

Two centuries later, the Sufi Ibn Arabi, born in Murcia, died in Damascus, cried out: « If He gave us life and existence through His being, I also give Him life, knowing Him in my heart.» xxv

Theurgy is a timeless idea, with unimaginable implications, and today, unfortunately, this profound idea seems almost incomprehensible in our almost completely de-divinized world.


iE. Durckheim. Elementary forms of religious life. PUF, 1990, p.494-495

iiE. Durckheim. Elementary forms of religious life. PUF, 1990, p. 49

iiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.551


vClementine Homilies, cf. Homily XVII. Verdier 1991, p.324

viR. Ezra de Girona. Liqouté Chikhehah ou-féah. Ferrara, 1556, fol 17b-18a, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.558

viiZohar III 113a

viiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.561-563.

ixZohar, I, 116b, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.568

xR. Abraham ben Ḥananel de Esquira. Sefer Yessod ‘Olam. Ms Moscow-Günzburg 607 Fol 69b, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.589

xiSee Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.591

xiiR. Menahem Recanati. Perouch ‘al ha-Torah. Jerusalem, 1971, fol 23b-c, quoted in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.591

xiiiR. Menahem Recanati. Sefer Ta’amé ha-Mitsvot. London 1962 p.47, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.591

xivZohar Hadach, Tiqounim Hadachim. Ed. Margaliot. Jerusalem, 1978, fol 117c quoted in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.591

xvCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.593

xviR. Joseph de Hamadan. Sefer Tashak. Ed J. Zwelling U.M.I. 1975, p.454-455, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.593

xviiSee Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 604

xviiiR. Matthias Délacroute. Commentary on the Cha’aré Orah. Fol 19b note 3. Quoted in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 604

xixCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 604


xxiGaon Elijah of Vilna. Liqouté ha-Gra. Tefilat Chaharit, Sidour ha-Gra, Jerusalem 1971 p.89, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 610

xxiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 630

xxiiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 639

xxivJean Scot Erigène. De Divisione Naturae. I,453-454B, quoted by Ch. Mopsik, Ibid. p.627

xxvQuoted by H. Corbin. The creative imagination

« Making God »: Kabbalah, Trance and Theurgy.

« Shamanic Trance »

Words are devious. Language is treacherous, and grammars are vicious. Willingly ignorant of these deficiencies, men have been sailing for millennia in oceans of sentences, drifting above the depths of meanings, equipped with broken compasses, falsified sextants, under the fleeting stars.

How accurately, then, can men understand a « divine revelation » when it is made of « words », clothed in their unfathomable depths, their ambiguous abysses?

Error lurks for the wise. The study never ends. Who can pretend to grasp the ultimate meaning of any revelation?

Let us start with a single verse of the Psalms, which opened worlds of interpretation, during millenia.

« It is time to make YHVH » (Ps. 119:126).

« Making YHVH? » Really? Yes, this is the meaning that some Jewish Kabbalists, in Medieval Spain, decided was the true sense conveyed by Ps. 119:126.

Most versions of the Bible, today, give more ‘rational’ translations of Ps. 119:126, such as:

« It is time for the LORD to work »i


« It is time for thee, LORD, to work »ii

Why then, did some medieval rabbis, most of them Kabbalists, chose to deviate from the obvious, traditional meaning carried by the Massoretic text? Why did they dare to flirt with scandal? Were they not aware that they were shocking the Jewish faith, or even just simple common sense, by pretending to « make » YHVH?

Many centuries before the Jewish Kabbalists tried their wits on this particular verse, manuscripts (and interpretations) already differed greatly about its true meaning.

The obvious meaning was indeed: « It is time for God to act ».

Other interpretations prefered : « It is time to act for God », – i.e. men should finally do for God what they had to do.

Has the time come (for the LORD) to act, or has the time come (for men) to act for the LORD?

Forsaking these two possible (and indeed differing) readings, the Kabbalists in early medieval Spain chose yet another interpretation: « It is time [for men] to make God. » iii

Why this audacity, rubbing shoulders with blasphemy, shaving the abyss?

The Hebrew Bible, in the Massoretic version which was developed after the destruction of the Second Temple, and which therefore dates from the first centuries of our era, proposes the following text:

עֵת, לַעֲשׂוֹת לַיהוָה

‘èt la’assot la-YHVH

This can be translated as: « It is time to act for God », if one understands לַיהוָה = for YHVH

But the Kabbalists refused this reading. They seem not to have used the Massoretic text, but other, much older manuscripts which omit the preposition for (לַ).

The word ‘God’ (or more precisely יהוָה, ‘YHVH’) thus becomes the direct object complement of the verb ‘to do, to act’. Hence the translation : ‘It is time to make God’.

The Bible of the French Rabbinate follows the Massoretic version and translates :

« The time has come to act for the Lord ».

The Jerusalem Bible (Ed. Cerf, 1973) translates: « It is time to act, Yahweh ».

In this interpretation, the Psalmist seems to somehow admonish YHVH and gives Him a pressing request to « act ». The translators of the Jerusalem Bible note that the Massoretic text indicates « for Yahweh », which would imply that it is up to man to act for Him. But they do not retain this lesson, and they mention another handwritten (unspecified) source, which seems to have been adopted by S. Jerome, a source which differs from the Massoretic text by the elision of the preposition ל. Hence the adopted translation: « It is time to act, Yahweh », without the word for.

But, again, the lessons vary, depending on how you understand the grammatical role of the word ‘Yahweh’…

S. Jerome’s version (the Vulgate) gives :

Tempus is ut facias Domine.

The word ‘Lord’ is in the vocative (‘Domine!’): the Psalmist calls upon the Lord to ask Him to act. « It is time for You to act, Lord! »

However, in the text of the Clementine Vulgate, finalized in the 16th century by Pope Clement VIII, and which is the basis of the ‘New Vulgate’ (Nova Vulgata) available online on the Vatican website, it reads:

Tempus faciendi Domino

The word ‘Lord’ is in the dative (‘Domino’), and thus plays the role of a complement of attribution. « It is time to act for the Lord ».

The Septuagint (that is, the version of the Bible translated into Greek by seventy-two Jewish scholars gathered in Alexandria around 270 B.C.E.) proposes, for its part

καιρὸς τοῦ ποιῆσαι τῷ κυρίῳ-

Kairos tou poïêsai tô kyriô

Here too the word ‘Lord’ is in the dative, not in the vocative. « It is time to act for the Lord ».

This ancient lesson of the Septuagint (established well before the Massoretic text) does not, however, resolve a residual ambiguity.

One can indeed choose to emphasize the need to act, which is imparted to the Lord Himself:

« For the Lord, the time to act has come ».

But one can just as easily choose to emphasize the need for men to act for the Lord:

« The time has come to act for the Lord ».

In relation to these different nuances, what I’d like to emphasize here is the radically different understanding chosen by the Kabbalists in medieval Spain:

« It is time to make God ».

Rabbi Meir Ibn Gabbay wrote:

« He who fulfills all the commandments, his image and likeness are perfect, and he is like the High Man sitting on the Throne (Ez. 1:26), he is in his image, and the Shekhinah is established with him because he has made all his organs perfect: his body becomes a throne and a dwelling for the figure that corresponds to him. From there you will understand the secret of the verse: « It is time to make YHVH » (Ps. 119:126). You will also understand that the Torah has a living soul (…) It has matter and form, body and soul (…) And know that the soul of the Torah is the Shekhinah, the secret of the last he [ה ], the Torah is its garment (…) The Torah is therefore a body for the Shekhinah, and the Shekhinah is like a soul for her. » iv

Charles Mopsik notes that « this expression [« making God »], roughly stated, can surprise and even scandalize ».

At least, this is an opportunity to question the practices and conceptions of the Jewish Kabbalah in matters of ‘theurgy’.

The word ‘theurgy’ comes from the Latin theurgia, « theurgy, magic operation, evocation of spirits », itself borrowed by Augustine from the Greek θεουργία , « act of divine power », « miracle », « magic operation ». E. des Places defines theurgy as « a kind of binding action on the gods ». In Neoplatonism, « theurgy » means « the act of making God act in oneself », according to the Littré.

E. R. Dodds devotes an appendix of his work The Greeks and the Irrationalv to the theurgy, which he introduces as follows: « The theologoi ‘spoke of the gods’, but [the theourgos] ‘acted upon them’, or perhaps even ‘created them' », this last formula being an allusion to the formula of the famous Byzantine scholar Michel Psellus (11th century): « He who possesses the theurgic virtue is called ‘father of the gods’, because he transforms men into gods (theous all anthropous ergazetai). » vi

In this context, E.R. Dodd cites Jamblichus’ treatise De mysteriis, which he considers ‘irrational’ and a testimony to a ‘culture in decline’: « De mysteriis is a manifesto of irrationalism, an affirmation that the way to salvation is not in human reason but in ritual. It is not thought that links theurgists to the gods: what else would prevent philosophical theorists from enjoying the theurgical union? But this is not the case. Theurgic union is achieved only by the efficacy of ineffable acts performed in the proper way, acts that are beyond understanding, and by the power of ineffable symbols that are understood only by gods… without intellectual effort on our part, signs (sunthêmata) by their own virtue perform their own work’ (De myst. 96.13 Parthey). To the discouraged spirit of the pagans of the fourth century such a message brought seductive comfort. « vii

But the result of these attitudes, privileging ‘rite’ over ‘intellectual effort,’ was « a declining culture, and the slow thrust of that Christian athéotês who all too obviously undermined the very life of Hellenism. Just as vulgar magic is commonly the last resort of the desperate individual, of those who have been lacking in both man and God, so theurgy became the refuge of a desperate ‘intelligentsia’ that already felt the fascination of the abyss. » viii

The modes of operation of the theurgy vary notoriously, covering a vast domain, from magical rites or divination rites to shamanic trances or phenomena of demonic or spiritual ‘possession’.

E.R. Dodds proposes to group them into two main types: those that depend on the use of symbols (symbola) or signs (sunthêmata), and those that require the use of a ‘medium’, in ecstasy. The first type was known as telestikê, and was mainly used for the consecration and animation of magical statues in order to obtain oracles. The making of magical statuettes of gods was not a ‘monopoly of theurgists’. It was based on an ancient and widespread belief of a universal sympatheia ix, linking the images to their original model. The original center of these practices was Egypt.

Dodds cites Hermes Trismegistus’ dialogue with Asclepius (or Aesculapius), which evokes « animated statues, full of meaning and spirit » (statuas animatas sensu et spiritu plenas), which can predict the future, inflict or cure diseases, and imprison the souls of deer or angels, all the theurgic actions summarized by Hermes Trismegistus’ formula: sic deorum fictor est homo, (« this is how man makes gods »)x.

« To make gods »: this expression was there to prefigure, with more than a thousand years of anteriority, the formula put forward later by R. Meir ibn Gabbay and other Kabbalists: « to make YHVH », – although undoubtedly with a different intention. We shall return to this.

In his book The City of God, S. Augustinexi had quoted large excerpts from this famous dialogue between Hermes Trismegistus and Asclepius, including these sentences:

« As the Lord and the Father, God in a word, is the author of the heavenly gods, so man is the author of those gods who reside in temples and delight in the neighborhood of mortals. Thus, humanity, faithful to the memory of its nature and origin, perseveres in this imitation of its divinity. The Father and the Lord made the eternal gods in his likeness, and humanity made its gods in the likeness of man. » xii

And Hermes added: « It is a marvel above all wonder and admiration that man could invent and create a divinity. The disbelief of our ancestors was lost in deep errors about the existence and condition of the gods, forsaking the worship and honors of the true God; thus they found the art of making gods. »

The anger of St. Augustine exploded at this very spot against Hermes. « I don’t know if the demons themselves would confess as much as this man! »

After a long deconstruction of the Hermetic discourse, Augustine concludes by quoting a definitive sentence of the prophet Jeremiah:

« Man makes himself gods (elohim)? No, of course, they are not gods (elohim)! » xiii

Attempting to combat the « sarcasm » of Christian criticism, Jamblichus strove to prove that « idols are divine and filled with the divine presence. « xiv

This art of making divine statues had to survive the end of the « dying pagan world » and find its way into « the repertoire of medieval magicians, » Dodds notesxv.

One could add, without seeing any malice in it, that the idea was also taken up by the Spanish Jewish cabal in the Middle Ages, and later still, by the rabbis who made Golem, such as the Maharal of Prague, nicknamed Yehudah-Leib, or Rabbi Loew…

This is at least the suggestion proposed by E.R. Dodds: « Did the theurgical telestikê suggest to medieval alchemists their attempts to create artificial human beings (« homunculi« )? (…) Curious clues to some historical relationship have recently been put forward by Paul Kraus. (…) He points out that the vast alchemical corpus attributed to Jâbir b. Hayyan (Gebir) not only alludes to Porphyry’s (apocryphal?) Book of the Generation, but also uses neo-Platonic speculations about images. » xvi

The other operational mode of theurgy is trance or mediumnic possession, of which Dodds notes « the obvious analogy with modern spiritism. xvii

I don’t know if the « modern spiritism » that Dodds spoke of in the 1950s is not a little outdated today, but it is certain that the rites of trance and possession, whether they are practiced in Morocco (the Gnaouas), Haiti (Voodoo), Nepal, Mongolia, Mexico, and everywhere else in the world, are still worth studying. One can consult in this respect the beautiful study of Bertrand Hell, Possession and Shamanismxviii, whose cover page quotes the superb answer of the Great Mughal Khan Güyük to Pope Innocent IV in 1246: « For if man is not himself the strength of God, what could he do in this world? »

Many are the skeptics, who doubt the very reality of the trance. The famous Sufi philosopher al-Ghazali, in his 12th century Book of the Proper Use of Hearing and Ecstasy, admits the possibility of « feigned » ecstasy, but he adds that deliberately provoking one’s « rapture » when participating in a cult of possession (dikhr) can nevertheless lead the initiate to a true encounter with the divine. xix

Bertrand Hell argues that simulations and deceptions about ecstasy can open up a fertile field of reflection, as evidenced by the concepts of « para-sincerity » (Jean Poirier), « lived theater » (Michel Leiris) or « true hallucination » (Jean Duvignaud). xx

In the definitions and examples of theurgies we have just gone through, it is a question of « making the divinity act » in itself, or « acting » on the divinity, and much more exceptionally of « creating » it. The only examples of a theurgy that « creates gods » are those evoked by Hermes Trismegistus, who speaks of man as the « maker of gods » (fictor deorum), and by Michel Psellus, with the somewhat allegorical sense of a theurgy that exercises itself on men to « transform them into gods ».

This is why Charles Mopsik’s project to study the notion of theurgy as it was developed in the Jewish cabal has a particularly original character. In this case, in fact, theurgy does not only mean « to make the god act upon man », or « to act upon the god » or « to make man divine », but it takes on the much more absolute, much more radical, and almost blasphemous meaning, particularly from a Jewish point of view, of « creating God », of « making God »xxi.

There is a definite semantic and symbolic leap here. Mopsik does not hesitate to propose this leap in the understanding of theurgy, because it was precisely the radical choice of the Spanish Jewish Kabbalah, for several centuries…


iAccording to the Masoretic Text and the JPS 1917 Edition.

iiKing James Version

iiiCf. the long and learned study devoted to this last interpretation by Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993

ivR. Méir Ibn Gabbay. Derekh Emounah. Jerusalem, 1967, p.30-31, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 371-372.

vE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.279-299

viMichel Psellus. Greek patrology. 122, 721D, « Theurgicam virtutem qui habet pater divinus appellatur, quoniam enim ex hominibus facit deos, illo venit nomine. »

viiE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.284.

viiiE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.284.

ixE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.289

xAsclepius III, 24a, 37a-38a. Corpus Hermeticum. Trad. A.J. Festugière. t. II. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 1973, p.349, quoted by E.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.291.

xiS. Augustine. The City of God. VIII, 23-24

xiiAsclepius, 23.

xiiiJr 16.20

xivPhotius, Bibl. 215. Quoted by E.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the Irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.292

xvE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.292

xviE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.293

xviiE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.294

xviiiBertand Hell, Possession and Shamanism. Les maîtres du désordre, Flammarion, 1999

xixBertand Hell, Possession and Shamanism. Les maîtres du désordre, Flammarion, 1999, p.198

xxBertand Hell, Possession and Shamanism. Les maîtres du désordre, Flammarion, 1999, p.197

xxiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.550.

The God named « I, I, Him »

« Old Rabbi. Rembrandt »

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

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

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

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

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

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

רְאוּ עַתָּה, כִּי אֲנִי הוּא

reou ‘attah, ki ani ani hu’.

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

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

וְאֵין אֱלֹהִים, עִמָּדִי

v’éin elohim ‘imadi

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

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

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

ἴδετε ἴδετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι

idete, idete, oti ego eimi

« See, see, that I am ».

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

The second part of the verse gives :

καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν θεὸς πλὴν ἐμοῦ-

kai ouk estin theos plén emou.

« and there is no God but Me. »

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

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

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

Rashi comments on this verse as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This translation by the French Rabbinate raises several questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What lesson can we get out of it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But grammatically, this interpretation stands up.

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


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

iiDt 32, 39

The « Liquidation » of Christianity

« C.G. Jung »

Two years before his own death, C.G. Jung evoked as a strong possibility the prospect of the « definitive destruction » of the « Christian myth ».

However, psychology could still help « saving » this myth. Through a better understanding of mythology and its role in intrapsychic processes, « it would be possible to arrive at a new understanding of the Christian myth, and especially of its apparently shocking and unreasonable statements. If the Christian myth is not finally to become obsolete, which would mean a liquidation of unpredictable scope, the idea of a more psychologically oriented interpretation is necessary to save the meaning and content of the myth. The danger of definitive destruction is considerable. » i

Christianity, from the beginning, had already been considered « scandal for the Jews and folly for the Greeks »ii. Now, it had even become « shocking » and « unreasonable » for the Swiss and « obsolete » for psychologists.

The fall in religious vocations, the desertion of the faithful and the decline of the denarius were already beginning to be felt at the end of the 1950s of the last century. All this seemed to give some consistency to these Jungian prophecies of the « destruction » and « liquidation » of the « Christian myth » as a logical consequence of its supposed « obsolescence ».

The movement of disaffection with Christianity has not stopped growing over the last six decades, one might add, at least if we look at the indicators already mentioned.

Is the « Christian myth », to use Jung’s expression, now dying, or even « dead »?

And if so, can it still be « resurrected »?

And if it could indeed be resurrected, in what form, and for what purpose?

Like a Saint George slaying the dragon of obsolescence, an obsolescence less flamboyant than sneaky, silent, but swallowing credence, Jung brandishes in his time the victorious spear of psychology, the only one capable, according to him, of reviving the Christian myth.

To understand Jung’s idea of the assimilation of Christianity to a « myth » – and to a myth in the process of becoming obsolete, one must return to what underlies his entire understanding of the world, the existence of the unconscious, and the « creative » character of the psyche.

For Jung, any « representation » is necessarily « psychic ». « When we declare that something exists, it is because we necessarily have a representation of it (…) and ‘representation’ is a psychic act. Nowadays, however, ‘only psychic’ simply means ‘nothing’. Apart from psychology, only contemporary physics has had to recognize that no science can be practiced without the psyche. » iii

This last assertion seems to allude to the opinion of the Copenhagen Schooliv, hard fought by Einstein et al., but an opinion to which the latest conceptual and experimental developments seem to be giving reason today.

Despite such assurances, at the highest theoretical and experimental level of contemporary science, and despite the flattering successes of analytical psychology, C.G. Jung, while at the peak of his brilliant career, seemed bitter about having to fight again and again against the outdated cliché (typical of modern times) that « only psychic » means « nothing ».

No doubt cruelly wounded in the depths of his soul, C.G. Jung may have wanted to take a terrible revenge, by showing that this « nothing » can still, and in a short time, put down one of the most important foundations of European, and even world civilization…

The unconscious exists, it is a certainty for Jung, and for many people. But few have understood the immense power, almost divine, or even divine at all, of this entity.

« No one has noticed, » explains Jung, « that without a reflexive psyche, there is virtually no world, that therefore consciousness represents a second creator, and that cosmogonic myths do not describe the absolute beginning of the world, but rather the birth of consciousness as a second creator ». v

Before Jung: In the beginning God created the earth, etc.

After Jung: The Unconscious Mind created the idea that « God created the earth etc. ».

Myths correspond to psychic developments. They can grow and die, just like the latter. « The archetypes all have a life of their own that unfolds according to a biological model. » vi

This metaphor of the « biological model » must be taken literally, including birth, maturity and death.

« A myth is still a myth, even if some consider it to be the literal revelation of an eternal truth; but it is doomed to death if the living truth it contains ceases to be an object of faith. It is necessary, therefore, to renew one’s life from time to time through reinterpretation. Today Christianity is weakened by the distance that separates it from the spirit of the times, which is changing (…). It needs to re-establish the union or relationship with the atomic age, which represents an unprecedented novelty in history. The myth needs to be told anew in a new spiritual language ». vii

All the nuances of the biological model can be subsumed under a much broader concept of life, a much more global power of meaning, including in particular the idea of resurrection (– an idea, it will be recalled, « scandalous », « crazy » and « shocking »).

If we apply the idea of resurrection in particular to the Christian myth itself, it is possible that the latter in fact escapes its natural, « biological » destiny and its inevitable death, provided that it is subjected to a total « renovation », to an unprecedented reinterpretation, a sine qua non condition for its « resurrection« .

The idea of the « resurrection » of a myth incarnated by a dead Savior, and whose apostles based their faith on the certainty of his own resurrection (as Paul reminds us), is not lacking in salt.

But in order to taste this salt, it would be necessary to be able to reinterpret the resurrection of Christ under the species of a new « resurrection », which is more in accordance with the spirit of the (atomic) time.

The idea of an ‘atomic’ zeitgeist was probably obvious to a psychologist living in the 1950s, after Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the rise of nuclear winter threats made tangible by Cold War arsenals.

Nowadays, the ‘spirit of the time’ of our time is a little less ‘atomic’, it seems, and more ‘climatic’ or ‘planetary’. It is inclined to let itself be influenced by new global threats, those towards which global warming and the foreseeable extinction of entire sections of the biosphere are pointing.

In this new context, what does it mean to « renovate » or « resurrect » the Christian myth of the « resurrection » (as distinct, for example, from the myths of the resurrection of Osiris or Dionysus)?

A first response would be to apply it (quite literally) to the putative resurrection of the millions of animal and plant species now extinct.

But would the idea of an « ecological » Christianity, relying for its own rebirth on the effective resurrection of billions of insects or amphibians, be enough to bring the faithful back to the parishes and to resurrect vocations?

This is doubtful.

It is not that we should not strive to bring back to life the dead species, if this is still humanly (or divinely?) possible. The modern myth that is being constituted before our eyes lets us imagine that one day a few traces of DNA will be enough to recreate disappeared worlds.

Such a re-creation by a few future learned priests, packed into their white coats and their spiritual laboratories, would then in itself be a kind of miracle, capable of melting the hardest, most closed hearts.

But one can also assume that this would still be insufficient to extricate the « Christian myth » from its spiral of obsolescence, in which accumulated millennia seem to lock it up.

But what? Will the resurrection of an immense quantity of fauna and flora, abolished from the surface of the globe, not be like a sort of living symbol of the resurrection of a Savior who died two thousand years ago?

Wouldn’t that be enough to announce to the world, urbi et orbi, that the very idea of resurrection is not dead, but alive again?

No, that would not be enough, one must argue with regret.

How can the resurrection of only half of the Earth’s biodiversity be weighed against the resurrection of the one universal Messiah?

The bids are going up, we can see it.

If Jung is right, the majority of humanity can no longer believe in the very myth of salvation and resurrection (as embodied by Christ in history two thousand years ago).

Why is that? Because this Messiah seems too dated, too local, too Galilean, too Nazarene even.

The story of that Messiah no longer lives on as before.

Why is that? The spirit of the times « has changed ».

And it is not the tales of the agony of the world’s fauna and flora, however moving they may be, that will be able to « convert » minds deprived of any cosmic perspective, and even more so of eschatological vision, to the call of a « renewed » Christian myth.

In the best of cases, the rescue and (momentary?) resurrection of half or even nine-tenths of the Anthropocene could never be more than a short beep on the radar of the long times.

We no longer live in Roman Judea. To be audible today, it would take a little more than the multiplication of a few loaves of bread, the walking on still waters or the resurrection of two or three comatose people; it would even take much more than the resurrection (adapted to the spirit of the time) of a Son of Man, a Son of God, both descended into Hell and ascended into Heaven.

After Season 1, which apparently ended with a sharply declining audience, Christianity’s Season 2, if it is to attract a resolutely planetary audience, must start again on a basis that is surprising for the imagination and fascinating for the intellect.

Reason and faith must be truly overwhelmed, seized, petrified with stupor, and then transported with « enthusiasm » by the new perspectives that want to open up, that must open up.

So one has to change words, worlds, times and perspectives.

The little Galilea must now compete with nebulous Galaxies.

The resurrected Carpenter must square black holes, plane universal constants and sweep away dark energy, like a simple cosmic sawdust.

The once dead Messiah must now truly live again before us, and at once tear all the veils, – the veils of all Temples, of all Ages, of all spirits, in all times, whether in the depths of galactic superclusters, or in the heart of quarks.

Quite an extensive program. But not unfeasable.


iLetter from C.G. Jung to Pastor Tanner Kronbühl (February 12, 1959). In C.G. Jung. The Divine in Man. 1999. p.136

ii1 Co 1,23

iiiLetter from C.G. Jung to Pastor Tanner Kronbühl (February 12, 1959). In C.G. Jung. The Divine in Man. 1999. p.135

ivThe Copenhagen School, led by Niels Bohr, stages the intrinsic role of the « observer » in the experimental definition of the observed « reality ».

vLetter from C.G. Jung to Pastor Tanner Kronbühl (February 12, 1959). In C.G. Jung. The Divine in Man. 1999. p.135

viLetter from C.G. Jung to Reverend David Cox (November 12, 1957). In C.G. Jung. The Divine in Man. 1999. p. 128

viiLetter from C.G. Jung to Reverend David Cox (September 25, 1957). In C.G. Jung. The divine in man. 1999. p. 126

Is God Willing to Exterminate His Own Creation?

Is God an « Exterminator » in potentia?

« The Lord sent death upon Jacob and it came upon Israel. » (Isaiah 9:7)

Death, really? Upon Jacob? And upon Israel? Sent by the Lord Himself ?

The word « death » is in fact used in this verse in the famous translation of the Septuagint, made around 270 B.C. by seventy Jewish scholars in Alexandria at the request of Ptolemy II. The Septuagint (noted LXX) uses the Greek word θάνατον, thanaton, which means « death ».

But in other translations, disregarding this catastrophic lesson of the LXX, Isaiah’s verse is translated much more neutrally as « word ».i

The Jerusalem Bible gives thus: « The Lord hath cast a word into Jacob, it is fallen upon Israel. »

In the original version, Hebrew uses the word דָּבָר , davar, whose primary meaning is « word ».

The dictionary also tells that this same word, דָּבָר , davar, can mean « plague » or « death », as in Exodus 9:3: « A very strong plague » or « a very deadly plague ». Here, the LXX gives θάνατος μέγας, « a great death ». In Hosea 13:14 the word davar means « plagues ».

If the noun דָּבָר , davar, carries this astonishing duality of meaning, the verb דָּבַר , davara, confirms it by adding a nuance of excess. Davara means « to speak, to say; to speak evil, to speak against », but also « to destroy, to exterminate ».

It seems that in Hebrew the sphere of meanings attached to davar and davara is not only potentially full of threats or (verbal) aggression, as in Numbers 12:1 (« Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses ») or in Ps 78:19 (« They spoke against God »), but also full of potential, fatal and deadly action, as in II Chr 22:10 (« She wiped out the whole royal race ») or in Ps 2:5 (« In his wrath he will destroy their mighty ones »).

Davar. Word. Plague. Death.

Davara. To speak. To exterminate.

Such ambivalence, so radical, implies that one can really decide on the meaning, – « word » or « extermination » ? – only by analyzing the broader context in which the word is used.

For example, in the case of Isaiah’s verse: « The Lord sent death upon Jacob and it came upon Israel », it is important to emphasize that the prophet continues to make terrible predictions, even darker:

« The Lord will raise up against them the enemies of Rezin. And he will arm their enemies. Aram on the east, the Philistines on the west, and they will devour Israel with full mouths » (Isaiah 9:10-11).

« So YHVH cut off from Israel head and tail, palm and rush, in one day » (Isaiah 9:13).

« By the wrath of YHVH Sabaoth the earth has been burned and the people are like the prey of fire » (Isaiah 9:18).

The context here clearly gives weight to an interpretation of davar as « death » and « extermination » and not simply as « word ».

The lesson in LXX appears to be correct and faithful to the intended meaning.

Another question then arises.

Is this use of the word davar in Isaiah unique in its kind?

Another prophet, Ezekiel, also reported terrible threats from God against Israel.

« I will make you a desolation, a derision among the nations that are round about you, in the sight of all who pass by » (Ez 5:14).

« I will act in you as I have never acted before and as I will never act again, because of all your abominations » (Ez 5:9).

« You shall be a mockery and a reproach, an example and a stupefaction to the nations around you, when I shall do justice from you in anger and wrath, with furious punishments. I, YHVH, have said » (Ez 5:15).

« And I will put the dead bodies of the Israelites before their filthiness, and I will scatter their bones around your altars. Wherever you dwell, the cities shall be destroyed and the high places laid waste » (Ez 6:5).

We find in Ezekiel the word davar used in the sense of « plague » or « pestilence »:

« Thus says the Lord YHVH: Clap your hands, clap your feet and say, ‘Alas,’ over all the abominations of the house of Israel, which will fall by the sword, by famine and by pestilence (davar). He who is far away will die by the pestilence (davar). He who is near shall fall by the sword. That which has been preserved and spared will starve, for I will quench my fury against them » (Ez 6:11-12).

God is not joking. Davar is not « only » a plague. It is the prospect of an extermination, an annihilation, the final end.

« Thus says the Lord YHVH to the land of Israel: Finished! The end is coming on the four corners of the land. It is now the end for you. I will let go of my anger against you to judge you according to your conduct. (…) Thus says the Lord YHVH: Behold, evil is coming, one evil. The end is coming, the end is coming, it is awakening towards you, and behold, it is coming » (Ez 7:2-5).

Faced with this accumulation of threats of exterminating the people of Israel uttered by the Lord YHVH, an even deeper question arises.

Why does a God who created the worlds, and who has « chosen » Israel, decide to send « death », threatening to ensure the « end » of His Chosen People?

There is a question of simple logic that arises.

Why does an omnipotent and all-knowing God create a world and people that seem, in retrospect, so evil, so perverse, so corrupt, that He decides to send a word of extermination?

If God is omniscient, He should always have known that His creation would eventually provoke His unquenchable fury, shouldn’t he?

If He is omnipotent, why did He not immediately make Israel a people sufficiently satisfying in His eyes to at least avoid the pain of having to send death and extermination a few centuries later?

This is in fact a question that goes beyond the question of the relationship between God and Israel, but touches on the larger problem of the relationship between God and His Creation.

Why is a « Creator »-God also led to become, afterwards, an « Exterminator »-God ?

Why can the « Word » of God mean « Creation », then also mean « Extermination »?

There are only two possible answers.

Either God is indeed omniscient and omnipotent, and then He is necessarily also cruel and perverse, as revealed by His intention to exterminate a people He has (knowingly) created « evil » and « corrupt » so that He can then « exterminate » them.

Either God is not omniscient and He is not omnipotent. But how come ? A possible interpretation is that He renounced, in creating the world, a part of His omniscience and omnipotence. He made a kind of « sacrifice », the sacrifice of His omnipotence and omniscience.

He made this sacrifice in order to raise His creatures to His own level, giving them real freedom, a freedom that in some strange way escapes divine « science » and « knowledge ».

Let us note that this sort of sacrifice was already a deep intuition of the Veda, as represented by the initial, primal, sacrifice of Prajāpati, the supreme God, the Lord of Creatures.

But why does a supreme God, the Creator of the Worlds, decide to sacrifice His omnipotence and omniscience for creatures who, as we can see, end up behaving in such a way that this supreme God, having somehow fallen back to earth, must resolve to send them « death » and promise them the « end »?

There is only one explanation, in my humble opinion.

It is that the Whole [i.e. God + Cosmos + Humanity] is in a mysterious way, more profound, more abysmal, and in a sense infinitely more « divine » than the divinity of a God alone, a God without Cosmos and without Anthropos.

Only the sacrifice of God, the sacrifice of God as not being anymore the sole « Being », in spite of all the risks abundantly described by Isaiah or Ezekiel, makes possible an « increase » of His own divinity, which He will then share with His Creation, and Humankind.

This is a fascinating line of research. It implies that Humanity has a shared but also « divine » responsibility about the future of the world, and to begin with, about the future of this small planet.


iThis debate over the meaning to be given to davar in this particular verse has been the subject of many commentaries. Théodoret de Cyr notes: « It should be noted that the other interpreters have said that it is a « word » and not « death » that has been sent. Nevertheless, their interpretation does not offer any disagreement: they gave the name of « word » to the decision to punish. « Basil adopts λόγον (« word »), and proposes another interpretation than Theodoret: it would be the Divine Word sent to the poorest, symbolized by Jacob. Cyril also gives λόγον, but ends up with the same conculsion as Theodoret: the « word » as the announcement of punishment. See Theodoret of Cyr, Commentaries on Isaiah. Translated by Jean-Noël Guinot. Ed. Cerf. 1982, p.13

Do We Need Anymore (such) Prophets?

« Kafka »

Although they belong to very distant planets, Paul Valéry and Franz Kafka have at least one thing in common. Both had the honor of a celebration of their respective birthday and anniversary by Walter Benjamini .

Why did Benjamin want to give to such different writers such a symbolic tribute?

He was sensitive, I believe, to the fact that they both sought to formulate a kind of a « negative theology » in their work.

For Valéry, this negative theology is embodied in the figure of Monsieur Teste.

Benjamin explains: « Mr. Teste is a personification of the intellect that reminds us a lot of the God that Nicholas of Cusa’s negative theology deals with. All that one can suppose to know about Teste leads to negation. » ii

Kafka, for his part, « has not always escaped the temptations of mysticism »iii according to Benjamin, who quotes Soma Morgenstern on this subject: « There reigns in Kafka, as in all founders of religion, a village atmosphere»iv.

Strange and deliberately provocative sentence, which Benjamin immediately rejects after quoting it: « Kafka also wrote parables, but he was not a founder of religion.» v

Kafka indeed was not a Moses or a Jesus.

But was he at least a little bit of a prophet, or could he pass for the gyrovague apostle of an obscure religion, working modern souls in the depths?

Can we follow Willy Haas who decided to read Kafka’s entire work through a theological prism? « In his great novel The Castle, Kafka represented the higher power, the reign of grace; in his no less great novel The Trial, he represented the lower power, the reign of judgment and damnation. In a third novel, America, he tried to represent, according to a strict equalization, the earth between these two powers … earthly destiny and its difficult demands.»vi

Kafka, painter of the three worlds, the upper, the lower and the in-between?

W. Haas’ opinion also seems « untenable » in Benjamin’s eyes. He is irritated when Haas specifies: « Kafka proceeds […] from Kierkegaard as well as from Pascal, one can well call him the only legitimate descendant of these two thinkers. We find in all three of them the same basic religious theme, cruel and inflexible: man is always wrong before God.»vii

Kafka, – a Judeo-Jansenist thinker?

« No » said Benjamin, the wrathful guardian of the Kafkaesque Temple. But he does not specify how Haas’s interpretation would be at fault.

Could it be that man is always wrong, but not necessarily « before God »? Then in front of whom? In front of himself?

Or would it be that man is not always « wrong », and therefore sometimes right, in front of a Count Westwestviii?

Or could it be that man is really neither right nor wrong, and that God himself is neither wrong nor right about him, because He is already dead, or indifferent, or absent?

One cannot say. Walter Benjamin does not give the definitive answer, the official interpretation of what Kafka thought about these difficult questions. In order to shed light on what seems to be the Kafkaesque position, Benjamin is content to rely on a « fragment of conversation » reported by Max Brod :

« I remember an interview with Kafka where we started from the current Europe and the decline of humanity. We are, he said, nihilistic thoughts, ideas of suicide, which are born in the mind of God. This word immediately reminded me of the Gnostic worldview. But he protested: ‘No, our world is simply an act of bad humor on the part of God, on a bad day’. I replied: ‘So apart from this form in which the world appears to us, there would be hope…’ He smiled: ‘Oh, enough hope, an infinite amount of hope – but not for us’. »ix

Would God then have suicidal thoughts, for example like Stefan Zweig in Petropolis twenty years later, in 1942? But unlike Zweig, God doesn’t seem to have actually « committed suicide », or if He did, it was only by proxy, through men, in some way.

There is yet another interpretation to consider: God could have only « contracted » Himself, as the Kabbalah of Isaac Luria formulates it (with concept of tsimtsum), or « hollowed out » Himself, according to Paul’s expression (concept of kenosis).

Since we are reduced to the imaginary exegesis of a writer who was not a « founder of religion », can we assume the probability that every word that falls out of Franz Kafka’s mouth really counts as revealed speech, that all the tropes or metaphors he has chosen are innocent, and even that what he does not say may have more real weight than what he seems to say?

Kafka indeed did not say that ideas of suicide or nihilistic thoughts born « in the mind of God » actually apply to Himself. These ideas may be born in His mind, but then they live their own lives. And it is men who live and embody these lives, it is men who are (substantially) the nihilistic thoughts or suicidal ideas of God. When God « thinks », His ideas then begin to live without Him, and it is men who live from the life of these ideas of nothingness and death, which God once contemplated in their ‘beginnings’ (bereshit).

Ideas of death, annihilation, self-annihilation, when thought of by God, « live » as absolutely as ideas of eternal life, glory and salvation, – and this despite the contradiction or oxymoron that the abstract idea of a death that « lives » as an idea embodied in real men carries with it.

Thought by God, these ideas of death and nothingness live and take on human form to perpetuate and self-generate.

Is this interpretation of Kafka by himself, as reported by Max Brod, « tenable », or at least not as « untenable » as Willy Haas’ interpretation of his supposed « theology »?

Perhaps it is.

But, as in the long self-reflexive tirades of a K. converted to the immanent metaphysics of the Castle, one could go on and on with the questioning.

Even if it risks being heretical in Benjamin’s eyes!

Perhaps Max Brod did not report with all the desired precision the exact expressions used by Kafka?

Or perhaps Kafka himself did not measure the full significance of the words he uttered in the intimacy of a tête-à-tête with his friend, without suspecting that a century later many of us would be religiously commenting on and interpreting them, like the profound thoughts of a Kabbalist or an eminent jurist of Canon Law?

I don’t know if I myself am a kind of « idea », a « thought » by God, a « suicidal or nihilistic » idea, and if my very existence is due to some divine bad mood.

If I were, I can only note, in the manner of Descartes, that this « idea » does not seem to me particularly clear, vibrant, shining with a thousand fires in me, although it is supposed to have germinated in the spirit of God himself.

I can only observe that my mind, and the ideas it brings to life, still belong to the world of darkness, of twilight, and not to the world of dark night.

It is in this sense that I must clearly separate myself from Paul Valéry, who prophesied:

« Here comes the Twilight of the Vague and the reign of the Inhuman, which will be born of neatness, rigor and purity in human things. »x

Valéry associates (clearly) neatness, rigor and purity with the « Inhuman », – but also, through the logical magic of his metaphor, with the Night.

I may imagine that « the Inhuman » is for Valéry another name of God?

To convince us of this, we can refer to another passage from Tel Quel, in which Valéry admits:

« Our insufficiency of mind is precisely the domain of the powers of chance, gods and destiny. If we had an answer for everything – I mean an exact answer – these powers would not exist.»xi

On the side of the Insufficient Mind, on the side of the Vague and the Twilight, we therefore have « the powers of chance, of gods and of fate », that is to say almost everything that forms the original substance of the world, for most of us.

But on the side of « neatness », « rigor » and « purity », we have « the Inhuman », which will henceforth « reign in human things », for people like Valery.

Farewell to the gods then, they still belonged to the setting evening, which the Latin language properly calls « Occident » (and which the Arabic language calls « Maghreb »).

Now begins the Night, where the Inhuman will reign.

Thank you, Kafka, for the idea of nothingness being born in God and then living in Man.

Thank you, Valery, for the idea of the Inhuman waiting in the Night ahead of us.

In these circumstances, do we need any more prophets ?


iWalter Benjamin. « Paul Valéry. For his sixtieth birthday ». Œuvres complètes t. II, Gallimard, 2000, pp. 322-329 , and « Franz Kafka. For the tenth anniversary of his death ». Ibid. pp. 410-453

iiWalter Benjamin. « Paul Valéry. For his sixtieth birthday ». Œuvres complètes t. II, Gallimard, 2000, p. 325

iiiWalter Benjamin. « Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death ». Ibid. p. 430

ivWalter Benjamin. « Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death ». Ibid. p. 432

vWalter Benjamin. « Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death ». Ibid. p. 432-433

viW. Haas, op.cit., p.175, quoted by W. Benjamin, in op.cit. p.435

viiW. Haas, op. cit., p. 176, quoted by W. Benjamin, in op. cit. p. 436.

viiiI make here an allusion to Count Westwest who is the master of Kafka’s Castle.

ixMax Brod. Der Dichter Franz Kafka. Die Neue Rundschau, 1921, p. 213. Quoted by W. Benjamin in op. cit. p. 417

xPaul Valéry. As is. « Rumbs ». Œuvres t. II. Paris, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de La Pléiade. 1960, p. 621

xiPaul Valéry. As is. « Rumbs ». Œuvres t. II. Paris, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de La Pléiade. 1960, p. 647

Descente et immanence

« Mont Sinaï »

Le verbe hébreu ירד, yarada, est l’un de ces mots paradoxaux, surprenants, mystérieux, de la littérature des Hekhalot (« les Palais »), laquelle traite des ascensions et des descentes célestes. Il a pour premier sens « descendre », et plusieurs sens dérivés : « tomber, déchoir, périr, être ruiné », ou encore « abattre, humilier, précipiter ». Il s’emploie principalement pour décrire les différentes « descentes », « chutes », « déchéances » ou « humiliations » relevant de la condition humaine.

Le paradoxe apparaît lorsque le même verbe sert aussi à décrire les théophanies, qui sont donc en quelque sorte assimilées, par contiguïté, à ce qui pourrait sembler leur exact opposé : la chute, la ruine et la déchéance.

Une succincte collection d’usages de ce mot en fera miroiter le spectre.

« Abram descendit en Égypte »i. « Elle descendit à la fontaine » (Gen. 24,16). « Moïse descendit de la montagne » (Ex. 19,14 ou Ex. 34,29). « Mon bien-aimé est descendu dans son jardin » (Cant. 6,2). « Il descendra comme la pluie sur l’herbe coupée » (Ps. 72,6).

Ce verbe s’emploie aussi métaphoriquement : « Tous fondent en larmes » (Is. 15,5). « Le jour baissait » (Jug. 19,11). « Ceux qui naviguent sur mer » (Ps. 107,23).

Il s’applique à la mort : « Comme ceux qui descendent dans la tombe » (Prov. 1,12). « Qu’ils descendent tout vivants dans le schéol » (Ps. 55,16).

Il peut prendre l’acception de « déchoir » : « Toi, tu décherras toujours plus bas » (Deut. 28,43).

Le plus intéressant pour notre propos est l’application de ce verbe aux théophanies, aux formes d’apparitions divines.

« Le Seigneur descendra à la vue du peuple entier, sur le mont Sinaï » (Ex. 19,11). « La montagne de Sinaï était toute fumante parce que le Seigneur y était descendu au sein de la flamme » (Ex. 18,18). « La colonne de nuée descendait, s’arrêtait à l’entrée de la Tente, et Dieu s’entretenait avec Moïse. » (Ex. 33,9). « Le Seigneur descendit sur la terre, pour voir la ville et la tour » (Gen. 11,5). « Je descendrai et te parlerai, et je retirerai une partie de l’esprit qui est sur toi pour la faire reposer sur eux » (Nb. 1,17). « Il incline les cieux et descend ; sous ses pieds, une brume épaisse » (2 S. 22,10). « Ah ! Puisses-tu déchirer les cieux et descendre ! » (Is. 63,19). « Tu descendis et les montagnes chancelèrent » (Is. 64,2). « L’Éternel Tsébaoth descendra pour guerroyer sur la montagne de Sion et ses hauteurs. » (Is. 31,4)

Dans tous les cas où Dieu descend dans le monde, il garde, notons-le, une certaine hauteur, ou une certaine distance. Il descend juste assez bas pour être « à la vue du peuple », mais pas plus bas. Il descend sur la montagne, mais « au sein d’une flamme ». Il descend vers la Tente, mais reste « dans une nuée ». Il descend des cieux, mais « une brume épaisse » reste sous ses pieds. Il descend vers Moïse, mais seulement à la distance nécessaire pour lui parler. Il descend sur la montagne de Sion, mais reste sur les « hauteurs ».

Qu’est-ce que cela montre ?

Notons d’abord que ce verbe connotant les idées de descente, de chute, de déchéance, de ruine, d’humiliation, peut être appliqué (métaphoriquement) à Dieu. Chacune des théophanies peut s’interpréter, du point de vue, non de l’homme, mais de Dieu, comme une sorte de « descente » et peut-être de « chute ». C’est une idée implicite mais fortement présente.

Ensuite, on a vu que les descentes décrites dans les textes cités impliquent toujours une certaine distance, une réserve. Dieu descend, mais seulement jusqu’à un certain point.

Enfin, l’idée de la descente de Dieu n’est jamais associée à l’idée de sa remontée. On pourrait objecter le cas du rêve de Jacob. Mais alors ce sont « les messagers divins » qui «  montaient et descendaient le long de l’échelle » (Gen. 28,12). Quant à lui, « l’Éternel apparaissait au sommet » (Gen. 28,13), fort loin donc d’en descendre.

En revanche, Dieu « descend », d’après de nombreux textes. Mais ces mêmes textes ne disent jamais qu’Il « remonte », après être descendu.

De cela, me semble-t-il, on peut déduire que la transcendance divine s’accommode d’une immanence pérenne, persistante. On pourrait même dire, que transcendance et immanence sont consubstantielles.

Il faut le souligner, la « descente » dans l’immanence implique l’acceptation par le Divin d’une forme de « chute », de « déchéance ». En « descendant » parmi les hommes, le Divin s’humilie, – au sens propre comme au sens figuré.

Le latin en témoigne: Homo. Humus. Et en hébreu, adam, qui est le nom générique de l’homme, avant d’être le nom du premier homme, vient du mot adama, la terre, la glaise, la boue, l’humus.


i Gen 12,10

The Grammatical Names of God: ‘Who’, ‘What’ and ‘That’.

« A Hebrew Grammar »

I’d like to compare here the use of various « grammatical » names of God, in the Veda and in the Zohar.

The idea of a « One » God is extremely old. More than four thousand years ago, long before Abraham left Ur in Chaldea, the One God was already celebrated by nomadic peoples transhumant in Transoxiana to settle in the Indus basin, as attested by the Veda, and then, a few centuries later, by the peoples of ancient Iran, as reported by the sacred texts of the Avesta.

But the strangest thing is that these very diverse peoples, belonging to cultures thousands of years and thousands of miles apart, have called God by the interrogative pronoun. They named God by the name « Who ?» and other grammatical variations.

Even more surprisingly, some three thousand five hundred years after this innovation appeared, the Jewish Kabbalah, in the midst of the European Middle Ages, took up this same idea of using the interrogative pronoun as a Name of God, developed it and commented on it in detail in the Zohar.

It seems that there is rich material for a comparative anthropological approach to various religions celebrating the God named « Who? »

The Vedic priests prayed to the one and supreme God, creator of the worlds, Prajāpati, – the « Lord (pati) of creatures (prajā) ». In the Rig Veda, Prajāpati is referred to as (Ka, « who »), in hymn 121 of the 10th Mandala.

« In the beginning appears the golden seed of light.

Only He was the born sovereign of the world.

He fills the earth and the sky.

– To ‘Who? »-God will we offer the sacrifice?

He who gives life and strength,

He whose blessing all the gods themselves invoke,

immortality and death are only His shadow!

– To ‘Who? »-God will we offer the sacrifice?


He whose powerful gaze stretched out over these waters,

that bear strength and engender salvation,

He who, above the gods, was the only God!

– To ‘Who?’-God will we offer the sacrifice? » i

Max Müller asserts the pre-eminence of the Veda in the invention of the pronoun « Who » as a name of God: « The Brâhmans did indeed invent the name Ka of God. The authors of Brahmaṇas have broken so completely with the past that, forgetting the poetic character of the hymns and the poets’ desire for the unknown God, they have promoted an interrogative pronoun to the rank of deityii.

In the Taittirîya-samhitâiii , the Kaushîtaki-brâhmaṇaiv , the Tâṇdya-brâhmaṇav and the Satapatha-brâhmaṇavi , whenever a verse is presented in interrogative form, the authors say that the pronoun Ka which carries the interrogation designates Prajāpati. All hymns in which the interrogative pronoun Ka was found were called Kadvat, i.e., ‘possessing the kad‘, – or ‘possessing the who?

The Brahmans even formed a new adjective for everything associated with the word Ka. Not only the hymns but also the sacrifices offered to the God Ka were referred to as « Kâya »’vii.

The use of the interrogative pronoun Ka to designate God, far from being a kind of limited rhetorical artifice, had become the equivalent of a theological tradition.

Another question arises. If we know that Ka actually refers to Prajāpati, why use (with its burden of uncertainty) an interrogative pronoun, which seems to indicate that one cannot be satisfied with the expected and known answer?

Further west to the highlands of Iran, and half a millennium before the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt, the Yashts, among the oldest hymns of the Avesta, also proclaim this affirmation of the One God about himself: « Ahmi yat ahmi » (« I am who I am »)viii.

God is named this way in Avestic language through the relative pronoun yat, « who », which is another way of grammatically dealing with the uncertainty of God’s real name.

A millennium before Moses, Zarathushtra asked the one God: « Reveal to me Your Name, O Ahura Mazda, Your highest, best, most just, most powerful Name ».

Then Ahura Mazda answered: « My Name is the One, – and it is in ‘question’, O holy Zarathushtra! « »ix .

The Avestic text literally says: « Frakhshtya nâma ahmi« , which can be translated word for word: « He who is in question (Frakhshtya), as for the name (nâma), I am (ahmi)« . x

Curiously enough, long after the Veda and the Avesta, the Hebrew Bible also gives the One God these same « grammatical » names, « Who » or « He Who ».

We find this use of the interrogative pronoun who (מִי , mi ) in the verse from Isaiahxi: מִי-בָרָא אֵלֶּה (mi bara éleh), « Who created that? ».

As for the relative pronoun « who, whom » (אֲשֶׁר , asher), it is staged in a famous passage from Exodusxii: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (ehyeh asher ehyeh), « I am who I am », or more acurately, « I will be who I will be », taking into account the imperfect tense of ‘ehyeh’.

The latter option leaves open the possibility of a future revelation, of another Name yet, or of a divine essence whose essence would have no grammatically formulable essence, but could be rendered only approximately, for example by means of a relative pronoun and a verbal form in the future .

Two millennia after Isaiah, in the midst of the European Middle Ages, the famous book of the Jewish Kabbalah, the Zohar, attributed to Moses de Leon, focused on a detailed study of the name Mi (« Who? ») of God.

One of the tracks that emerges from this interrogation is the intrinsically divine relationship of Mi (Who) to Mâ (What) and to Eleh (That).

« It is written: « In the beginning ». Rabbi Eleazar opened one of his lectures with the following exordium: « Lift up your eyes (Is 40:28) and consider who created this ». « Lift up your eyes up, » to what place? To the place where all eyes are turned. And what is that place? It is the « opening of the eyes ». There you will learn that the mysterious Elder, the eternal object of research, created this. And who is He? – Mi » (= Who). He is the one who is called the « Extremity of Heaven », above, for everything is in his power. And it is because he is the eternal object of research, because he is in a mysterious way and because he does not reveal himself that he is called « Mi » (= Who); and beyond that we must not go deeper. This upper end of the Heaven is called « Mi » (= Who). But there is another end at the bottom, called « Mâ » (= What). What is the difference between the two? The first, mysterious one, called « Mi », is the eternal object of search; and, after man has searched, after he has tried to meditate and to go up from step to step until he reaches the last one, he finally arrives at « Mâ » (= What). What did you learn? What did you understand? What did you look for? Because everything is as mysterious as before. This mystery is alluded to in the words of Scripture: ‘Mâ (= What), I will take you as a witness, Mâ (= What), I will be like you' ». xiii

What are we learning, indeed? What have we understood?

Mi is a Name of God. It is an eternal object of research.

Can it be reached? No.

One can only reach this other noun, which is still only a pronoun, (= What).

You look for « Who » and you reach « What ».

This Mâis not the sought-after Mi, but of Mâ we can say, as Scripture testifies: « Mâ, I will take you as a witness, Mâ, I will be like you. » xiv

The Zohar indicates indeed:

« When the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, a heavenly voice came and said, « Mâ (= What) will give you a testimony, » for I have testified every day from the first days of creation, as it is written, « I take heaven and earth as my witness this day. « And I said, « Mâ will be like you, » that is, He will give you sacred crowns, very much like His own, and make you ruler over the world. » xv

The God whose Name is Mi is not the God whose Name is Mâ, and yet they are one.

And above all, under the Name of , He will one day be the ‘equal’ of anyone who seeks Him in all things, at least according to the Zohar:

« Just as the sacred people no longer enter the holy walls today, so I promise you that I will not enter my dwelling place above until all the troops have entered your walls below. May this be your consolation, for in this form of « What » (Mâ) I will be your equal in all things. » xvi

The man who ‘seeks’ God is placed between Mi and Mâ, in an intermediate position, just as Jacob was once.

« For Mi, the one who is the upper echelon of the mystery and on whom all depends, will heal you and restore you; Mi, the end of heaven from above, and Mâ, the end of heaven from below. And this is Jacob’s inheritance that forms the link between the upper end Mi and the lower end Mâ, for he stands in the midst of them. This is the meaning of the verse: « Mi (= Who) created that » (Is 40:26). » xvii

But that’s not all. Isaiah’s verse has not yet delivered its full weight of meaning. What does « that » mean?

« Rabbi Simeon says, « Eleazar, what does the word ‘Eleh‘ (= That) mean? It cannot refer to the stars and other heavenly bodies, since they are always seen and since the heavenly bodies are created by « Mâ« , as it is written (Ps 33:6): « By the Word of God the heavens were created. » Neither can it refer to secret objects, since the word « Eleh » can only refer to visible things. This mystery had not yet been revealed to me until the day when, as I stood by the sea, the prophet Elijah appeared to me. He said to me, « Rabbi, do you know the meaning of the words, ‘Who (Mi) created that (Eleh)? « 

I answered him, « The word ‘Eleh‘ means the Heavens and the heavenly bodies, and Scripture commands man to contemplate the works of the Holy One, blessed be he, as it is written (Ps 8:4): « When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, etc ». and a little further on (Ibid., 10): « God, our master, how wonderful is your name on all the earth. « 

Elijah replied: Rabbi, this word containing a secret was spoken before the Holy One, blessed be He, and its meaning was revealed in the Heavenly School, here it is: When the Mystery of all Mysteries wished to manifest itself, He first created a point, which became the Divine Thought; then He drew all kinds of images on it, engraved all kinds of figures on it, and finally engraved on it the sacred and mysterious lamp, an image representing the most sacred mystery, a profound work coming out of the Divine Thought. But this was only the beginning of the edifice, existing but not yet existing, hidden in the Name, and at that time called itself only « Mi« . Then, wanting to manifest Himself and be called by His Name, God put on a precious and shining garment and created « Eleh » (That), which was added to His Name.

« Eleh« , added to inverted « mi » [i.e. ‘im’], formed « Elohim« . Thus the word « Elohim » did not exist before « Eleh » was created. It is to this mystery that the culprits who worshipped the golden calf alluded when they cried out (Ex 32:4): « Eleh » is your God, O Israel. » xviii

We learn in this passage from the Zohar that the true essence of the golden calf was neither to be a calf nor to be made of gold. The golden calf was only a pretext to designate « that ».

It was only there to designate the essence of « Eleh » (That), the third instanciation of the divine essence, after that of « Mi » and that of «  » …

As the Zohar indicates, this can be deduced by associating the Name « Mi » (Who?) with the Name « Eleh » (That), which allows us to obtain the Name « Elohim » (God), after inverting mi into im, ...

The Name Mi, the Name and the Name Eleh were not primarily divine nouns, but only pronouns (interrogative, relative, demonstrative).

These divine pronouns, in which lies a powerful part of mystery because of their grammatical nature, also interact between themselves. They refer to each other a part of their deeper meaning. The « Who » calls the « What », and they both also refer to a grammatically immanent « That ».

The grammatical plane of interpretation is rich. But can a more theological reading be attempted? I think so.

These three Divine Names, « Who », « What » and « That », form a kind of proto-trinity, I’d like to suggest.

This proto-trinity evokes three attributes of God:

He is a personal God, since we can ask the question « Who? » about Him.

He is a God who may enter in relation, since relative pronouns (« Whom », « What ») can designate Him.

Finally He is an immanent God, since a demonstrative pronoun (« That ») can evoke Him.

Even if Judaism claims an absolute « unity » of the divine, it cannot help but hatch within itself Trinitarian formulations – here, in grammatical form.

This Trinitarian phenomenology of the divine in Judaism, in the grammatical form it borrows, does not make it any less profound or any less eternally perennial. For if there is indeed an ever-present symbol, always at work, of the original wiring of the human mind, it is grammar…

In a million years, or even in seven hundred million years from now, and whatever idea of the divine will reign then, I guess that there will still be a transhuman or posthuman grammar to evoke the categories of the Who, the What, and the That, and to make them look as aspects or ‘faces’ of the Divine.


iRig Veda. 121st Hymn. Book X.

iiMax Müller. History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature. 1860, p. 433

iii I, 7, 6, 6

iv XXIV, 4

v XV, 10


vii The word Kâya is used in Taittirîya-samhitâ (I, 8, 3, 1) and Vâgasaneyi-samhitâ (XXIV, 15).

viii Max Müller, Theosophy or Psychological Religion. Ed. Longmans, Green. London, 1895, p.52

ix  » My name is the One of whom questions are asked, O Holy Zarathushtra ! ». Quoted by Max Müller, Theosophy or Psychological Religion. Ed. Longmans, Green & Co. London, 1895, p. 55

x Cf. this other translation proposed by Max Müller: « One to be asked by name am I », in Max Müller. Theosophy or Psychological Religion. Longmans, Green & Co. London, 1895, p. 55.

xiIs 40.26

xiiEx 3.14

xiiiZohar I,1b.

xivZohar I,1b.

xvZohar I,1b.

xviZohar I,1b.

xviiZohar I,1b.

xviiiZohar I,1b-2a

Brève Anthropologie de l’Un et du Trois

« Chlomo ben Jehuda Ibn Gabirol »

Les peuples, les cultures, les philosophies, les religions, sous l’apparence de leurs multiplicités, de leurs différences, laissent parfois deviner une unité profonde, plus originaire. Pour la trouver, il faut se mettre en route, comme jadis Pythagore, qui « s’en fut à Babylone, en Égypte, dans toute la Perse, s’instruisant auprès des mages et des prêtres ; on rapporte qu’il s’entendit aussi avec les Brahmanes. »i.

Toujours les mêmes questions traversent l’esprit des hommes.

« Où est le souffle, le sang, la respiration de la terre ? Qui est allé le demander à qui le sait ? » demande le Ṛg Veda. ii

Mille ans plus tard, et plus à l’ouest, YHVH interroge Job : « Où étais-tu quand je fondai la terre ? Parle si ton savoir est éclairé. Qui en fixa les mesures, le saurais-tu, ou qui tendit sur elle le cordeau ?(…) Raconte, si tu sais tout cela. De quel côté habite la lumière, et les ténèbres où résident-elles ?»iii

Il y a là une familiarité instinctive, une ressemblance de ton.

Dans les Védas, Agni est appelé « Dieu du feu ». Mais ce n’est que l’un de ses noms, et le feu n’est qu’une image. Agni est le Divin sous bien d’autres aspects, que d’autres noms désignent: « Agni, tu es Indra, le dispensateur du bien ; tu es l’adorable Viṣṇu, loué par beaucoup ; tu es Brahmānaspati… tu es toute sagesse. Agni tu es le royal Varuṇa, observateur des vœux sacrés, tu es l’adorable Mitra, le destructeur. »

Agni incarne à la fois la multiplicité innombrable et l’unité du Divin.

La religion des Védas peut sembler polythéiste, par l’accumulation myriadique des noms du Dieu. Mais c’est un monothéisme dans son intuition essentielle.

Les Védas chantent, psalmodient, invoquent et crient le Divin, – sous toutes ses formes. Ce Divin s’incarne toujours dans la Parole, – sous toutes ses formes. « Par le Chant et à côté de lui, il produit le Cri; par le Cri, l’Hymne ; au moyen de la triple invocation, la Parole. »iv

Agni est le Feu divin, qui illumine, il est la libation du Soma, qui crépite. Il est l’un, et l’autre, et leur union. Par le sacrifice, Feu et Soma s’unissent. Le Feu et le Soma concourent à leur union, dont Agni est le nom.

Les anciens Hébreux, consacrés à l’intuition de l’Un, recherchaient et louaient ses noms divers, tout comme les multiples noms et les attributs védiques de la Divinité célébraient son essence unique.

Dieu « crie » trois fois son nom à l’adresse de Moïse « YHVH, YHVH, EL » (יְהוָה יְהוָה, אֵל)v. Un Dieu unique prononce un triple nom. Que signifie le premier nom YHVH ? Qu’apporte le second nom YHVH ? Qu’exprime le troisième nom, EL ?

Mille années avant Moïse, des versets du Ṛg Veda évoquaient déjà trois noms divins d’un Dieu unique: « Trois Chevelus brillent à tour de rôle : l’un se sème dans le Saṃvatsara ; l’un considère le Tout au moyen des Puissances ; et d’un autre, on voit la traversée, mais non pas la couleur. »vi

Les trois « Chevelus » représentent le Dieu unique, Agni, dont la chevelure est de flammevii.

Le premier « Chevelu » se sème dans le Soma, en tant que germe primordial, non-né. Le second « Chevelu » considère le Tout grâce au Soma, qui contient les puissances et les forces. Le troisième « Chevelu » est l’être obscur d’Agni (l’Agni « aja », – « non-né »), obscurité que le Dieu « traverse », lorsqu’il passe de l’obscur au brillant, de la nuit à la lumière.

Agni déploie à trois reprises le feu de sa « chevelure » buissonneuse et brillante, pour signifier sa puissance créatrice, sa sagesse et sa révélation.

De l’intérieur du buisson ardent, Yahvé crie trois fois son nom à Moïse.

Le Dieu « Un » se montre sous « trois » aspects dans le Véda, Il s’appelle Lui-même « trois » fois dans la Torah.

La même métaphore, trine, étrange, lie l’un et le trois. Elle relie l’Inde, Israël, et, par l’image trinitaire, l’Occident gréco-latin et chrétien.

Hasard ? Coïncidence ? Le nombre trois paraît désigner une sorte de constante anthropologique, il incarne un archétype, dont la structure profonde dérive de la nature même de l’Un.

Dans La symbolique de l’esprit Jung présente le Trois comme découlant de la tension entre l’Un et l’Autre. « Toute tension d’opposés suscite un déroulement duquel naît le trois. Dans le trois la tension se dénoue, en tant que l’Un perdu réapparaît. L’Un absolu est ‘innombrable’, indéterminable, inconnaissable ; c’est seulement quant il apparaît dans le nombre un qu’il devient connaissable, car ‘l’Autre’ indispensable pour un tel acte fait défaut dans l’état de l’Un. Le trois est donc un déploiement de l’Un qui rend celui-ci connaissable. Le trois est ‘l’Un’ devenu connaissable, qui, s’il ne s’était pas résolu dans l’opposition de ‘l’Un’ et de ‘l’Autre’, serait demeuré dans un état de détermination quelconque. La relation du trois à l’unité peut s’exprimer par un triangle équilatéral : a=b=c, c’est-à-dire par l’identité des trois, le trois étant contenu en totalité dans chacun des trois angles. L’idée intellectuelle du triangle équilatéral est un modèle conceptuel logique de la Trinité. »viii

Un parallèle peut être fait avec la conception chinoise des nombres : « L’Unité ne peut pas valoir Un parce qu’elle est Tout, et d’ailleurs elle ne peut se distinguer de Deux, car c’est en elle que se résorbent tous les aspects contrastants qui s’opposent, mais aussi s’unissent : la Gauche et la Droite, le Haut et le Bas, l’Avant et l’Arrière, le Rond et le Carré, le Yang et le Yin. Tout ensemble Unité et Couple, l’Entier, si on veut lui donner une expression numérique, se trouve dans tous les Impairs, et d’abord dans le 3 (1 plus 2). »ix

Établissant un rapport avec la doctrine alchimique sur la naissance du quatre, et surtout avec la naissance de la conscience, Marie-Louise von Franz dit à propos du trois : « Du un vient le deux, et du deux vient le un comme troisième. Ici également, la ‘progression’ s’accomplit d’une façon rétrograde, en se reportant mentalement à l’unité et en hypostasiant cette dernière en un nouveau contenu de conscience (…). Entendu comme rythme ou dynamisme, le trois introduit un élément de direction dans le rythme oscillatoire du deux, ce qui permet la formation de paramètres spatiaux ou temporels. Ce pas implique l’adjonction d’une conscience qui observe. »x

Si l’Un est seul, il reste inconscient du Tout qu’il contient en puissance, et se coupe plus encore de l’Infini, dont il constitue la base. En tant qu’il est Un, il se prive de l’altérité du Deux, et sans elle, Il ne peut être Tout. En reconnaissant l’Autre comme ce qu’Il n’est pas, l’Un s’ouvre à la différence de fait et d’essence. Et par là, il s’ouvre à la conscience de son identité de son essence et de sa différence.

Le trois est l’Un rendu conscient de l’altérité qui l’unit à l’Autre.

En cela, il est le principe dynamique par excellence.xi

Chlomo ben Jehuda Ibn Gabirol, philosophe et poète juif dans l’Espagne du 11ème siècle, déclare pour sa part, frisant l’hérésie, dans une étrange synthèse judéo-platonico-aristotélicienne : « L’Unité n’est pas la racine de tout, puisque l’Unité n’est qu’une forme et que tout est à la fois forme et matière, mais 3 est la racine de tout, c’est-à-dire que l’unité représente la forme et deux représente la matière. »xii

Si l’on prend un point de vue psychologique sur ces questions, à la suite de Jung et Von Franz, l’on dira que le trois ou la « triade » est un archétype qui habite le préconscient. Le trois réalise symboliquement l’union de l’un avec son opposé interne, le deux, et il représente cette union réalisée dans l’espace-temps des formes et de la matière, c’est-à-dire dans la conscience.

Le Trois incarne la conscience de l’Un.


i Eusèbe de Césarée. Préparation évangélique, 4,15

ii Ṛg Veda I, 164,4.

iiiJob, 38, 4-19

ivṚg Veda I, 164,24.

v Ex. 34,6

vi Ṛg Veda I, 164,44.

vii Notons ici incidemment que l’un des attributs d’Apollon, Xantokomès (Ξανθόκομης), en fait aussi un Dieu « à la chevelure rouge-feu »

viiiC.G. Jung. Essais sur la symbolique de l’esprit. Albin Michel, Paris, 1991, p.157

ixMarcel Granet, La Pensée chinoise, Paris 1968, pp.229,233

xMarie-Louise von Franz, Nombre et temps – Psychologie des profondeurs et physique moderne. Ed. La Fontaine de pierre. 2012, p.117

xiR. Allendy, Le symbolisme des nombres, Paris, 1948. p. 41-43. « Trois est bien le principe dynamique par excellence. » « Trois, dit Balzac, est la formule des mondes créés ». Cité par M.-L. Von Franz, op.cit., p. 117, note 9

xiiIbid. p.43