The World Garden


Towards the end of the 19th century, Europe believed it dominated the world, through its techniques, empires and colonies. But the poet Mallarmé was already feeling desperate for the crisis of the mind. He noted, bitterly, that “mankind had not created new myths”, and that, for the field that most concerned him, “the dramatic art of our time, vast, sublime, almost religious, is yet to be found.”i

Mallarmé said he was in search of the « pure myth », of « the Figure that None is” (la Figure que Nul n’est ). He believed it was possible to find such a myth, by summoning « the immortal, innate delicacies and magnificences which are unbeknownst to all in the contest of a mute assistance.”ii

He took as his theoretical model, as a perfect paradigm, for this improbable and yet to be found myth, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and its obscure depth.

Mallarmé saw in Orpheus the creative power, solar energy, and « the idea of the morning with its short-lived beauty ». He recalled that the name Orpheus comes from the Sanskrit Ribhu, the « sun », a name that the Vedas often use to describe the divine, in its various forms. Eurydice, whose name is close to that of Europe, or Euryphassa, means, according to Mallarmé, « the vast gush of dawn in the sky ». The serpent that bites Eurydice and kills her is nothing more than the serpent of darkness that puts an end to the twilight.

The descent from Orpheus to the Underworld is therefore an image of the passage from day to night. “The pilgrimage of Orpheus represents the journey that, during the hours of the night, the Sun passed by to accomplish, in order to bring back, in the morning, the Dawn, whose disappearance it causes by its dazzling splendour.”iii

In this interpretation, the myth of Orpheus probably originally refers to the voyage of Ra in the sacred boat, celebrated by ancient Egypt.

But it must also be recognized that the myth of Orpheus is not meteorological, and that it says something other than the dissolution of the dawn by the morning ray.

Isn’t Orpheus the poet par excellence, in charge of the mystery itself? Mallarmé knows it well, who saw no higher task than poetry.

« Poetry is the expression, through human language brought back to its essential rhythm, of the mysterious meaning of the aspects of existence: it endows our stay with authenticity and is the only spiritual task.”iv

Mallarmé had a religious soul. He had a great dream, that of finding the origin of the Dream. This is evidenced by this text published after his death in an obituary:

« The Theatre is the confrontation of the Dream with the crowd and the disclosure of the Book, which drew its origin and is restored there. I believe that it will remain the great Human Festival; and what is dying is its counterfeiting and lying.”v

Incorrigible optimist, I also believe in the great Human Festival yet to be seen, but we may have to wait. Before its lights and beams, how many more dark periods will humanity have to endure?

What is striking about Mallarmé’s formula is that it establishes in its cryptic way, it seems to me, and this long before Freud’s iconoclastic theories, a hidden link between Egypt and Israel, between Akhenaten and Moses.

I am incited to see in Moses a man of the great World Theatre, a man who admirably and courageously confronted the « crowd », to impose his Dream (and finally to make Akhenaten’s One God live) and deliver his Book.

But, by contrast, it also brings to light the flagrant absence of a Myth today.

Admittedly, some religions, including the three monotheisms, and Buddhism, hold the upper hand from the point of view of international agit-prop, but it would no doubt be an insult to them to consider them as pure « myths ». Having no taste for vain martyrdom, I will not go looking for any leads in this direction, refusing in advance to confront the zealots and other guardians of the sacred dens.

If the myth of Orpheus prefigures in its own way the descent into the Christic underworld, if Akhenaten is the tutelary figure of the Mosaic God, they are also proof by induction of the power of ideas through the ages.

One key question remains: What myth does the whole of modernity, globalized modernity, strangled in a cramped and overpopulated, violent and oh so unequal planet, now need?

The bottom line is that modern religions (which have lost almost all connection with the original meaning of ancient religions) are part of the problem much more than the solution.

Ancient peoples knew that the Gods have many names, but that the mystery remains unique – and this long before Moses decided to export to the Sinai, with the success we know, the « counter-religion » that Akhenaten had failed to impose in Egypt.

A new world myth, tomorrow, will have to put an end to common hatred, general exclusion, and the idolatry of difference. It will also have to go beyond what Jan Assmann calls the « Mosaic Distinction »vi.

The new world myth, tomorrow, will have to blossom into a World Dream, for everyone to see, to hear, to taste, to feel, to smell, – and to imagine.

The World Dream will not be renewed dreams of modern Babel towers, but the Dream of an Adamic ziggurat, – ochre of consciousness, red with human humus. Red, not of blood, but of the flesh and the breathe of the primal Adam.

For the future of Mankind may well be hidden, like a remembrance of its lost paradise, in a new World Garden.

iS. Mallarmé. Œuvres complètes. 1956, p. 717

iiS. Mallarmé. Œuvres complètes. 1956, p. 545

iiiS. Mallarmé. Œuvres complètes. 1956, p. 1240,

ivS. Mallarmé. Propos sur la poésie. 1953, p. 134

vRevue Encyclopédique. Art. C. Mauclair. 5 novembre 1898. p. 963

viJan Assmann. Moses The Egyptian.

YHVH’s Temounah


The Hebrew word תְּמוּנָה (temounah) has three meanings, according to Maimonides.

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

Then, it may describe imaginary figures and thoughts that may occur in the imagination: « In thoughts born of night visions, etc. »(Jb. 4:13). This passage from Job ends by using the word temounah: « A figure (temounah), whose features were unknown to me, stood there before my eyes. « (Jb. 4:16). This means, says Maimonides, that there was a ghost before Job’s eyes, appearing while he was sleeping.

In its third sense, this word means the idea perceived by the intelligence. It is in this sense, says Maimonides, that one can use temounah when speaking of God, as in this passage: « And he beholds the figure (temounah) of the Lord (YHVH). « (Num. 12:8).

Maimonides comments as follows: “That is to say, he [Moses] contemplates God in his reality.”

In this famous passage, God speaks in the first person singular: “I speak to him [Moses] face to face, in evidence, not in riddles.”

Then, immediately afterwards, God speaks of Himself in the third person: « and he [Moses] sees the form (temounah) of YHVH. »

Maimonides comments: « The doctors say that this was a reward for having first ‘hidden his face so as not to look at God’ (Berakhot 7a) ».

Indeed, during the burning bush episode: “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look towards God” (Ex. 3:6)

But Maimonides is silent on the fact that the Berakhot treatise reports opposing opinions on this subject.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korḥa interprets negatively that Moses first hid his face and then asked God to show him His « glory » (Ex. 33:18). Consequently, God denies him this privilege.

On the contrary, Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani and Rabbi Yonatan believe that Moses’ discretion when God appeared in the burning bush was rewarded in three ways. Firstly, his face « shone » when he came down from the mountain (Ex. 34:29). Secondly, the Israelites « were afraid to approach him » (Ex. 34:30). Thirdly, Moses could « see the form (temounah) of YHVH » (Num. 12:8).

It is difficult to say anything new after the doctors of the Talmud and Maimonides. I will try anyway.

The word תְּמוּנָה (temounah) has as its verbal root מוּן, moun, “to furrow, split; to invent, fabricate, lie”i. The letter taw, initial of temounah, gives the word its substantive form. But if one swaps this taw with the teth of the Hebrew alphabet, one gets the word themounah. And curiously enough, the word thamana, טָמַן, means precisely « to hide, to bury ».

I find it very surprising that Moses “hides” (thamana) his face in order not to see the temounah of God. And that by “hiding” (thamana) his face, he was precisely granted the privilege of seeing YHVH’s temounah…

One may still want to ask: was YHVH’s temounah a figure, a vision or an idea?

Admittedly, the etymological root of the word temounah is not very reassuring, as it evokes invention, fabrication or lies…

We may want to re-read Num 12:6-8 with extra attention:

“If there is a prophet among you, it is in a vision ( בַּמַּרְאָה , ba-mar’ah) that I reveal myself to him, it is in a dream (בַּחֲלוֹם , ba-ḥalom) that I speak to him. It is not so with my servant Moses, all my house is entrusted to him. I speak to him face to face, (פֶּה אֶל-פֶּה , pê êl-pê), in evidence, (מַרְאֶה , mar’êh), not in riddles, and he sees the temounah of YHVH.” (Numbers 12:6-8).

It is said explicitly, here, that Moses is not just like other prophets, and that consequently, God did not reveal Himself to Moses “in a vision” (ba-mar’ah) or “in a dream” (ba-ḥalom).

However God revealed Himself as “mar’êh” and as “temounah”. What do these words really mean?

The word מַרְאֶה , mar’êh, means in fact « vision », but also « mirror ». The first meaning is found in Dan 10:7, « They did not see the vision » and in Ez 8:3, « In visions of God » (בְּמַרְאוֹת אֱלֹהִים , be-mar’ot Elohim). The second meaning is found in Ex 38:8, « with the mirrors of the women ».

Given the context, it seems probable that the meaning found in Daniel and Ezechiel (‘vision’) must prevail here, though this meaning still seem to contradict Num 12:6.

The translation of mar’êh by « evidence » is also a possible option, but there still may be an ambiguity, if the « vision » is seen like in a « mirror ».

The King James translation of Num 12:8 gives :

« With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold. »

That translation does not really help to eradicate a doubt about the real nature of the mar’êh and of the temounah.

So, did Moses “see” YHVH “apparently”, or in a “vision”, or like “in a mirror”, or “in evidence” ?

What we just know is that Moses did not “see” the temounah of YHVH ( תְמֻנַת יְהוָה ), “by a vision” or “in a vision” (ba-mar’ah).

We also know that Moses did not “see” but did “contemplate” (יַבִּיט , yabit) “a vision” (mar’êh), – directly, without the preposition בַּ, i.e. without any intermediary.

Moses contemplated a pure and intelligible idea, perceived by his intelligence, his soul.

iCf. Ernest Klein. A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. Carta Jerusalem & The University of Haifa. 1987