About the Metaphors of Clothing and Nudity


After the Fall, Adam and Eve, deprived of their ‘garment of glory’, discovered that they were naked.

Before that, they were clothed with the light of divine glory.

Double light, double splendor, that of being in glory, and that of glory clothing oneself.

That is why, later on, Job and Justice (or Righteousness) could be said to « clothe » each other:

“I clothed myself with Justice and she clothed herself with me”i.

Isaiah speaks of a ‘garment’ that saves and delivers: « For He has clothed me with a garment of salvation and wrapped me in a cloak of deliverance.»ii

The Jewish cabal of the Middle Ages associated the idea of ‘clothing’ with the Shekinah and the Torah.

« The Torah of Creation (torah da beria) is the garment of the Presence (chekinah). And if man had not been created, the Presence would have been left unclothed, like a poor man. Therefore, whoever commits a fault, it is as if he stripped the Presence of her adornment, and this is what Adam’s punishment consisted of. »iii

The Torah herself unfolds like a veil, she is covered with black darkness, and she is clothed with white light.

« See: darkness is the blackness of the Torah [the written lines] and light is the white of the Torah [what is between the lines].”iv

It is by the splendor of her light, by what can be read between the lines, that she is dressed, more than by what she hides.

The Torah can be read, whether in darkness or in light, but the Presence does not reveal or unveil herself. If naked, she would be the figure of exile itself.

« For that is what exile (galout) is, it is the unveiling of the nakedness of the Presence, which is expressed in the verse, ‘Because of your outbursts, your mother has been repudiated’. (Is 50:1) Because of the unveiling of the nakedness Israel has been exiled and the Presence has also been exiled: the Presence is naked.»v

Christianity, too, has considered the metaphor of a garment of salvation and glory.

When one is baptized, one « puts on Christ »vi.

Reciprocally, Christ put on humanity like a garment (« induere hominem »), as wrote St. Augustinevii. Christ was clothed in the divine form (forma dei), and he annihilated himself « taking the form of the servant (forma servi)viii » in order to « clothe man ». « Have you forgotten that it was written about Christ Jesus that before he was clothed with humanity (‘hominem fuisset indutus‘) he was in forma deiix?

Death is a second nudity, after the nudity resulting from the Adamic fall. But baptism is a new garment, which announces and prepares « the garment of immortality ». « Baptism has erased death from the flesh; that which is mortal has dissipated into the garment of immortality ».x

From all this, seems to emerge the idea that Human nature is fundamentally « naked ».

And this very nudity is stripped off, like a used clothe, at the time of death.

For the Greeks whom nudity hardly frightened, and whose beauty they much valued, the body is ‘the clothing of the soul’.

Contrary to Jewish and Christian thinkers, Greek philosophers « impatiently await the moment when the soul puts off this garment to show herself in her nakedness »xi.

But for Paul, nudity symbolizes death. « When death robs us, we become naked in righteousness; in this robbery by death the laying off of the garment, which began at baptism, is finally accomplished. »xii

However, death is the occasion to put on a new « garment », a new « tent », a « heavenly dwelling »xiii.

It is this new garment that represents true ‘life’, a life beyond ‘death’. What is this new garment? It is the spirit.

We will put on this ‘spirit’, at deathxiv.

Paul does not seek death, he wants life. He does not wish just a soul, bound to a mortal body. He wishes to possess something higher than the soul – and for him what is higher than the soul is the spirit, the pneuma.

In this sense, the garment is for Paul an overcoming of the primitive dualism between body and soul, between being clothed and being naked.

The metaphor of the garment thus becomes an expression of the supernatural, of the revelation of a divine reality that transcends the experiences of man’s life.

The water of baptism was already a kind of garment.

Yet we have to put on a second garment, – of glory, more radiant than the one worn by Adam and Eve in paradise.

It will « make the mortal element disappear in the garment of immortality.»xv

This ‘garment’ does not hide and cover, but reveals, illuminates, shines. It is made of glory, light, splendor.

In the beginning, when the Presence appeared, dressed in her splendor, then Word, Thought and Creation came on the great stage of the world. « He wrapped Himself in splendor – the supreme Right of Thought – to create the heavens. In that splendor, the beginning of all light, He created the heavens.» xvi

A passage from the Midrach Rabba evokes this moment of creative splendor, ‘the beginning of all light’, and of all thought:

« Tell me where was the light created? He replied, ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, wrapped himself in it as in a garment, and illuminated the whole world from one end to the other with all its glory. Then he added with a sigh: ‘There is a verse that says it explicitly: ‘You are clothed in splendor and majesty. You are clothed in light’xviixviii

In the first chapter of Genesis, which recounts the first moments of creation, the word ‘light’, אוֹר, ‘or’, is mentioned five times in three of the opening verses (Gen 1:3-5).

These five quotations symbolically evoke the five books of the Torah according to the interpretation of the Midrach Rabbahxix. « God said, ‘Let there be light’xx » corresponds to Genesis. « And the light was » xxi refers to Exodus. « God saw that the light was good »xxii represents the Leviticus. « And God separated the light from the darkness » xxiii points to the Numbers. « God called the light day » xxiv refers to Deuteronomy.

Curiously, in the first chapter of his own Gospel, St. John mimics this repetition, with fifteen evocations of the ‘light’.

He uses seven times the word ‘light’, phôs (ϕῶς), in the first verses.

« Life was the light of men. » (Jn 1:4)

« The light shines in the darkness. » (Jn 1:5)

« He came to serve as a witness, to bear witness to the light. » (Jn 1:7)

« He was not the light, but he appeared to bear witness to the light. » (Jn 1:8)

« This light was the true light, which, when it comes into the world, enlightens every man. » (Jn 1:9)

Then, John evokes ‘light’ again eight more times, in a pronominal, personal or possessive form (in Greek αύτόν), or as the implicit subject of active verbs.

« She was (ἦν) in the world, and the world was made by her (αύτοῦ), and the world did not know her (αύτόν). » (Jn 1:10)

« She came to her family’s house, and her family did not receive her (αύτόν). » (Jn 1:11)

« But to all who have received her (αύτόν), to those who believe in her (αύτοῦ) name, she has given the power to become children of God. » (Jn 1:12)

What does such an accumulation of repetitions mean?

The light is one, but her shimmers, her glitters, her sparkles, her scintillation are legion.

Light, Or, is unique, but her true meaning is always in potency.

A passage from the Zohar sheds some light (if I may say) on this question, just by replacing the word ‘light’ with another question:

« When the abyssal light unfolded, her clarity gave hold to questioning, although it was still beyond the reach of all that is below. That is why she was called in an interrogative way, she was called Who. » xxv

We also read in Isaiah:

« Lift up your eyes to the heights, and see Who created this. » xxvi

מִי-בָרָא אֵלֶּה

Mi bara’ ellèh.

‘Who’ and ‘that’, these words are in a way ‘naked’, begging for a meaning.

« The words were elusive, for it was impossible to question the ultimate. Wisdom was composed of nothingness, she was so closed and so deep that she could not resist questioning, but no one could grasp anything of her.”xxvii

She was naked, – made of nothing.

She was clothed, – with splendor.

________________________

iJob 29.14

iiIs 61.10

iiiThe Zohar. Genesis. My translation from the French translation by Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier. 1981. 23b p. 133

ivIbid. p. 133

vIbid. 27b p. 156

viGa 3.27 . See also Col 3,9; Ep 4,22; Rom 13,14.

viiAugustine. De diversis quaestionibus. 83 q. 73 (PL 40, 84)

viiiAugustine. De diversis quaestionibus. 83 q. 73, 2 (PL 40, 85)

ixAugustine. De anima et eius origine IV, 15 (21) CSEL 60, p. 402

xSaint Basile. Letter to Palladium. PG 32. 1033 b. Quoted by Erik Peterson. On the margins of theology. Cerf. 2015, p.41

xiErik Peterson. On the margins of theology. Cerf. 2015, p. 30

xiiErik Peterson. On the margins of theology. Cerf. 2015, p.56

xiii2 Co 5.1-2

xiv2 Co 5, 3

xvErik Peterson. On the margins of theology. Cerf. 2015, p.57

xviThe Zohar. Genesis. Ed. Verdier. 1981. 15b p. 96

xvii Ps 104:1-2

xviiiMidrash Rabba, 3.4

xixMidrash Rabba, 3.5

xxGn 1.3

xxiGn 1.3

xxiiGn 1.4

xxiiiGn 1.4

xxivGn 1.5

xxvThe Zohar. Genesis. My translation from the French translation by Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier. 1981. 30a p. 170

xxviIs 40.26

xxviiThe Zohar. Genesis. My translation from the French translation by Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier. 1981. 30a p. 170

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

One Day, Death Will Die


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

i

Death be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadfull ; for, thou art not soe,

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

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

From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,

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

And soonest our best men with thee doe go,

Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.

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

And dost with poyson, warre, and sickness dwell,

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

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

One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,

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

John Donne, Holy Sonnets, X

ii 1 Cor. 15.55

iii Hos. 13,14

iv Is. 25,8

The Absurd Reason


The prophet Daniel speaks as a seer: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. » (Dan. 12,2-3)

This saying refers to the « wise » and to the “righteous”. It is not just a question of knowledge, but of justice, of a wisdom that is less human than divine. How to reach it? How to access these high places?

Many are those who doubt their own divinity, those who have never turned their eyes to the splendour of intelligence, of wisdom. There are even more who prefer the mist of the senses, the thickness of the bodies, to the thin acuity of the soul.

How would they achieve the wisdom and justice that Daniel is talking about?

Plato, who was not a prophet, but no less a seer, advises us to meditate unceasingly on death.

“Either in no way can we ever acquire knowledge, or it is for us only once we have passed away.”i

The way to be as close to divine knowledge as possible is to have as little trade as possible with the body. Going to the limit, we deduce that death only is the kingdom of true knowledge. This is the « immense hope » that Socrates joyfully shares with his afflicted friends, shortly before drinking the hemlock.

What is this hope based on? It is based on an idea as anti-modern as possible: « We are divine beings ». How can such a statement be made? “Because, momentarily deprived of our heavenly abode and homeland, that is, as long as we are on earth God’s substitutes, we are constantly tormented by the desire of this heavenly homeland and no earthly pleasure can console in the present exile the human intelligence desiring a better condition.”ii

This immense hope, without reason, is based – it is a paradox – on the sole activity of reason.

Marsilio Ficino gives this explanation:

“The hope of immortality results from a surge of reason, since the soul hopes not only without the help of the senses, but despite their opposition. That is why I find nothing more admirable than this hope, because, while we live incessantly among ephemeral beings, we do not cease to hope.”iii

These unreasonable ideas have been shared by thinkers as diverse as Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, Aglaopheme, Pythagoras, Plato… They have created schools of thought, their disciples have proliferated: Xenocrat, Arcesilas, Carneade, Ammonius, Plotinus, Proclus…

On a philosophical level, Socrates’ argument seems to have a certain scope. Reason says that there are only two hypotheses: either knowledge is not possible at all, or it is only possible after death.

If we decide to ignore the Socratic, resolutely optimistic point of view, absolute horror would therefore resemble this: to see clearly with the eyes of pure reason the absurdity and inanity of a human condition, capable of reason, and capable of drawing from it the most crazy, most absurd hypotheses.

iPhaedo, 66 e

ii Marsilio Ficino, Platonic Theology Book XVI

iiiIbid.

The Veil of Death


Deep mysteries are made of successive veils. Their unveiling never offers a complete revelation. It is a long process – that is a veil in itself.

In his diary on 26-27 November 1906, Tolstoy describes his daughter Macha’s death, which just happened: « Macha died earlier today. Strange thing. I felt neither frightened nor afraid, nor aware that something exceptional was being done (…) I watched her all the time she was dying: with astonishing tranquility. For me – she was a being who unveils herself before my own unveiling. I was following this unveiling, and it was joyful for me. But this unveiling has ceased in the domain that is accessible to me (life), that is, this unveiling has ceased to be visible to me; but what was being unveiled is that. »

The unveiling of death begins in life. Its signs still belong to life, until this singular unveiling is no longer visible to those who do not die, to those who remain in the unveiling of life.

Their lives veil their death. And death continues to reveal what cannot be revealed to those who do not die.

This is what can sometimes be revealed at the death of a loved one, that there is an unveiling of death, which continues in death. Tolstoy attests to this. Capital information, but imponderable. There may be reason to doubt such a fragile testimony, based on tenuous clues. Yet I believe that Tolstoy is a precious, sensitive and credible witness.

The death of those we love is not of the visible order. But it waved, it showed a possible path. Nine months before Macha’s death in February 1906, Tolstoy had already noted: « What is the matter before me? The most important: a good death », and also: « You grow up to death ».

Growing in this way is certainly a metamorphosis, a movement. A movement towards what? On 31 December 1906, Tolstoy replied: « Movement is the awareness of our divine character. »

This movement towards death can be brief or long, sharp or languid, confused or sustained. Only the tempo varies, not the end.

As a man who seems to have experienced the essence of death, Tolstoy notes this strange formula, not without a whiff à la Newton: « The value of life is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from death. »

Fatal attraction of bodies by the dark star. A black hole in the vicinity of which thought is accelerating. Plato said that death is for the soul the deliverance of the body. It remains to meditate on the speed, acceleration and gravity of this deliverance.