« Let us make man in our image, after our likeness » (Gen. 1:26).
What exactly do these words refer to? What is this divine « image »? What is this Godhead’s « likeness »?
Hebrew has a dozen different terms that express or connote the idea of image. But in this verse, it is the word tselem (צֶלֶם) that is used. Its primary meaning is « shadow, darkness ». It is only in a figurative sense that tselem means « image, figure, idol ».
As for the idea of « likeness » or « resemblance », it is expressed in this verse by the word demouth (דְמוּת). The root of this word comes from the verb damah (דָּמָה), « to resemble, to be similar ».
From this same verbal root derives the word dam (דָּם), « blood »; and figuratively « murder, crime ». Another derived meaning is « resemblance », probably because people of the same blood can have similar traits.
There are several other words, quite close etymologically to damah, that are worth mentioning here, for their potential resonances: דֻּמָּה , dummah, « destruction »; דְּמִי, demi, « destruction, annihilation »; דֳּמִּי, dami, « silence, rest » ; דָּמַע, dama, « to shed tears ».
There is also the word dimyon, whichmeans « demon », and which seems very close to the Greek daimon (δαίμων). Is this a coincidence? Perhaps the Hebrew term was borrowed from the Greek daimon, and transformed into dimyon? Or was it the other way around? I would tend for the former option. It is a fact that the word daimonwas used by Homer to mean « divine power ». Moreover, the Greek word daimon etymologically comes from the verb daiomai, « to share, to divide ». Its initial meaning, taken from this verb, is « the power to attribute », hence « divinity, destiny ».
One can usefully compare the same shift in meaning with the old Persian baga and the Sanskrit bogu, « god », which give in Avestic baga-, « part, destiny » and in Sanskrit, bhaga, « part, destiny, master ».
Taking into account all these resonances, I’d like to propose alternatives translations of Genesis 1:26:
« Let us make man out of our shadow (tselem), and out of our tears (dama). »
Or , more philosophically:
« Let us make man out of our darkness (tselem), and out of our annihilation (dummah). »
New questions would then arise:
What does that (divine) darkness refer to? What does this (divine) annihilation really mean ?
A short answer: darkness (´tselem´) is a metaphor of the (divine) unconscious, and annihilation (´dummah´) is a metaphor of the (divine) sacrifice.
The sun was created on the fourth day of Genesis. Before the sun was created, what did the first « mornings » and « evenings » look like? In what sense was a “dawn” without a morning sunbeam? An “evening” without twilight?
Genesis speaks of « evenings » and « mornings »i, but not of « nights », except at the very beginning. « God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”ii
Why? Perhaps to suggest that the « Night » cannot be entirely given over to « Darkness ». Or because the Night, being absolutely devoid of any « light », cannot have an existence of its own. Nights = Darkness = Nothingness?
There is another possibility. The Night does exist, but the angels of light cannot have « knowledge » of it. Being made of light, they are incompatible with night. Therefore they cannot talk about it, let alone pass on its existence to posterity.
This is the reason why one passes, immediately, from evening to morning. « There was an evening, there was a morning”iii.
Another question arises, that of the nature of the « day ». Since the sun had not yet been created, perhaps we should imagine that « day » implied another source of light, for example an « intelligible light », or metaphorically, the presence of « angels of light », as opposed to « night », which would shelter the « angels of darkness »?
In any case, before the sun was born, there were three days – three mornings and three evenings – that benefited from a non-solar light and a quality of shadow that was intermediate and not at all nocturnal.
When the angels « knew » the creation (waters, heavens, lands, seas, trees, grasses…) in the first three days, they did not « see » it, nor did they get attached to it. They would have run the risk of sinking into the darkness of the night, which they did not « see », and for good reason.
In those evenings and mornings, they could also « know » the light of the spirit.
Only the “night angels” could remain in the night, this “night” which Genesis avoids naming six timesiv.
Nothing can be said about this night and this occultation of the spirit. Besides, the Bible does not even mention the word itself, as has already been said.
What is certain is that during the first three days there were no lights other than those of the spirit. Nor were there any nights other than those of the spirit.
During these three days and nights, creation received the original, founding memory of this pure light and this deep darkness.
We can also derive these words (mornings, evenings, days, nights) into other metaphors: the « mornings » of consciousness, the « nights » of the soul, – as S. Augustine who wrote about the « knowledge of the morning » and the « knowledge of the evening »v.
S. Thomas Aquinas also took up these expressions and applied them to the « knowledge of the angel »: « And as in a normal day morning is the beginning of the day, and evening is the end of the day, [St. Augustine] calls morning knowledge the knowledge of the primordial being of things, a knowledge which relates to things according to the way they are in the Word; whereas he calls evening knowledge the knowledge of the created being as existing in its own nature.” vi
Philosophically, according to Thomistic interpretation, ‘morning’ is a figurative way of designating the principle of things, their essential idea, their form. And the « evening » then represents what follows from this essence subjected to the vicissitudes of existence, which results from the interaction of the principle, the idea, the form, with the world, reality or matter.
“Morning knowledge” is a knowledge of the primordial being of things, a knowledge of their essence. “Evening knowledge” represents the knowledge of things as they exist in their own nature, in the consciousness of themselves.
Let us take an example. A tiger, an eagle or a tuna, live their own lives, in the forest, the sky or the sea. Perhaps one day we will be able to write about the unique experience of a particular tiger, a particular eagle or a particular tuna. We will have taken care to arm them with sensors from their birth, and to scrupulously record all the biological data and their encephalograms every millisecond of their existence. In a sense, we will be able to « know » their entire history with a luxury of detail. But what does « knowing » mean in this context? Over time, we will surely acquire the essence of their vision of the world, their grammars, their vocabularies, as a result of systematic, tedious and scholarly work. But will we ever discover the Dasein of a particular animal, the being of this tiger, this tuna or this eagle?
Since Plato, there has been this idea that the idea of the animal exists from all eternity, but also the idea of the lion, the idea of the dove or the idea of the oyster.
How can we effectively perceive and know the essence of the tiger, the tigerness? The life of a special tiger does not cover all the life possibilities of the animals of the genus Panthera of the Felidae family. In a sense, the special tiger represents a case in point. But in another sense, the individual remains enclosed in its singularity. It can never have lived the total sum of all the experiences of its congeners of all times past and future. It sums up the species, in one way, and it is overwhelmed on all sides by the infinity of possibilities, in another way.
To access the « morning knowledge », one must be able to penetrate the world of essences, of paradigms, of « Logos« . This is not given to everyone.
To access the « evening knowledge », one must be ready to dive into the deep night of creatures. It is not given to everyone either, because one cannot remain there without damage. This is why one must « immediately » arrive in the morning. S. Augustine comments: « But immediately there is a morning (as is true for each of the six days), for the knowledge of the angels does not remain in the ‘created’, but immediately brings it [the created] to the glory and love of the One in whom the creature is known, not as something done, but to be done.”vii
We can see that there are in fact three kinds of knowledge: diurnal knowledge, vesperal knowledge and morning knowledge.
The diurnal knowledge here is that of daylight, but one has yet to further distinguish between a daylight without the “sun” (like in the first three days of Creation), and a daylight bathing in sunlight.
As for the difference between vesperal and matutinal knowledge, it is the same as the difference between knowledge of things already done and knowledge of things yet to be accomplished.
iGn 1,5. Gn 1,8. Gn 1,13. Gn 1,19. Gn 1,23. Gn 1,31
According to Genesis, taken literally, man was created twice.
Genesis, in chapter 1, describes a first creation of « man » called ha-adam. The word ha-adam includes the definite article ha and literally means « the earth », metaphorically « the red » (for the earth is red), and by extension « man ».
In Chapter 2, Genesis describes a second creation of man (ish), accompanied by a creation of woman (isha). These two words are not preceded by the article ha.
The most immediately noticeable differences between the two creations are as follows.
First of all, the names given to the man differ, as we have just seen: ha-adam on the one hand, ish and isha on the other.
Secondly, the verbs used to describe the act of creation are not the same. In the first chapter of Genesis we read: « God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness' » (Gen. 1:26). The Hebrew word for ‘let us make’ is נַעֲשֶׂה from the verb עֲשֶׂה, ‘asah, to do, to act, to work. In the second chapter of Genesis we read: « And the Eternal God planted a garden in Eden toward the east, and there he placed the man whom he had fashioned. « (Gen. 2:8) The Hebrew word for ‘fashioning’ is יָצָר , yatsara, to make, to form, to create.
Thirdly, in Genesis 1, God created man « male and female » (zakhar and nqebah). Man is apparently united in a kind of bi-sexual indifferentiation or created with « two faces », according to Rashi.
In contrast, in Genesis 2, the creation of woman is clearly differentiated. She is created in a specific way and receives the name ‘isha‘, which is given to her by the man. The man, ‘ha-adam‘, then calls himself ‘ish‘, and he calls his wife ‘isha‘, « because she was taken from ‘ish‘ ».
Rashi comments on this verse: « She shall be called isha, because she was taken from ish. Isha (‘woman’) is derived from ish (‘man’). From here we learn that the world was created with the holy language, [since only the Hebrew language connects the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ with a common root]. (Berechith raba 18, 4).”
I don’t know if it can be said with impunity that only the Hebrew language connects the words « man » and « woman » to a common root. English, for example, displays such a link with « man » and « woman ». In Latin, « femina » (woman) would be the feminine counterpart of « homo » (« hemna« ).
But this is a secondary issue. However, it shows that Rashi’s interest is certainly not exercised here on the problem of double creation and on the triple difference between the stories of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2: two nouns (adam/ish), two verbs to describe creation (‘asah/yatsara), and two ways of evoking the difference between genders, in the form ‘male and female’ (zakhar/nqebah) and in the form ‘man and woman’ (ish/isha).
The double narrative of the creation of man and woman could be interpreted as the result of writing by independent authors at different times. These various versions were later collated to form the text of Genesis, which we have at our disposal, and which is traditionally attributed to Moses.
What is important here is not so much the identity of the writers as the possible interpretation of the differences between the two stories.
The two ‘ways’ of creating man are rendered, as has been said, by two Hebrew words, עֲשֶׂה ‘to make’ and יָצָר ‘to form’. What does this difference in vocabulary indicate?
The verb עֲשֶׂה ‘asah (to do) has a range of meanings that help to characterize it more precisely: to prepare, to arrange, to take care of, to establish, to institute, to accomplish, to practice, to observe. These verbs evoke a general idea of realization, accomplishment, with a nuance of perfection.
The verb יָצָר yatsara (to shape, to form) has a second, intransitive meaning: to be narrow, tight, embarrassed, afraid, tormented. It evokes an idea of constraint, that which could be imposed by a form applied to a malleable material.
By relying on lexicon and semantics, one can attempt a symbolic explanation. The first verb (עֲשֶׂה , to do) seems to translate God’s point of view when he created man. He « makes » man, as if he was in his mind a finished, perfect, accomplished idea. The second verb (יָצָר , to form) rather translates, by contrast, the point of view of man receiving the « form » given to him, with all that this implies in terms of constraints, constrictions and limits.
If we venture into a more philosophical terrain, chapter 1 of Genesis seems to present the creation of man as ‘essence’, or in a ‘latent’ form, still ‘hidden’ to some extent in the secret of nature.
Later, when the time came, man also appears to have been created as an existential, natural, visible, and clearly sexually differentiated reality, as chapter 2 reports.
S. Augustine devoted Part VI of his book, Genesisin the literal sense, to this difficult question. He proposes to consider that God first created all things ‘simultaneously’, as it is written: ‘He who lives for eternity created everything at the same time. « (Ecclesiasticus, 18,1) The Vulgate version says: « inaeternum, creavit omnia simul« . This word ‘simul‘ seems to mean a ‘simultaneous’ creation of all things.
It should be noted in passing that neither Jews nor Protestants consider this book of Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach) to belong to the biblical canon.
For its part, the Septuagint translates from Hebrew into Greek this verse from Ecclesiasticus: » o zon eis ton aiôna ektisen ta panta koinè « . (« He who lives for eternity has created everything together. »)
This is another interpretation.
So shall we retain ‘together’ (as the Greek koinè says) or ‘simultaneously’ (according to the Latin simul)? It could be said that it amounts to the same thing. However it follows from this difference that Augustine’s quotation from Sirach 18:1 is debatable, especially when it is used to distinguish between the creation of man in chapter 1 of Genesis and his second creation in chapter 2.
According to Augustine, God in the beginning created all things ‘in their causes’, or ‘in potency’. In other words, God in chapter 1 creates the idea, essence or principle of all things and everything in nature, including man. « If I say that man in that first creation where God created all things simultaneously, not only was he not a man in the perfection of adulthood, but was not even a child, – not only was he not a child, but was not even an embryo in his mother’s womb, but was not even the visible seed of man, it will be believed that he was nothing at all.”
Augustine then asks: what were Adam and Eve like at the time of the first creation? « I will answer: invisibly, potentially, in their causes, as future things are made that are not yet.”
Augustine takes the side of the thesis of the double creation of man, firstly in his ‘causal reason’, ‘in potency’, and secondly, ‘in act’, in an effective ‘existence’ which is prolonged throughout history.
This is also true of the soul of every man. The soul is not created before the body, but after it. It does not pre-exist it. When it is created, it is created as a ‘living soul’. It is only in a second stage that this ‘living soul’ may (or may not) become ‘life-giving spirit’.
Augustine quotes Paul on this subject: « If there is an animal body, there is also a spiritual body. It is in this sense that it is written: The first man, Adam, was made a living soul, the last Adam, the ‘newest Adam’ (novissimusAdam), was a life-giving spirit. But it is not what is spiritual that was made first, it is what is animal; what is spiritual comes next. The first man, who came from the earth, is earthly; the second man, who came from heaven, is heavenly. Such is the earthly, such are also the earthly; and such is the heavenly, such are also the heavenly. And just as we have put on the image of the earthly, so shall we also put on the image of him who is of heaven.”
And Augustine adds: « What more can I say? We therefore bear the image of the heavenly man from now on by faith, sure that we will obtain in the resurrection what we believe: as for the image of the earthly man, we have clothed it from the origin of the human race. »
This basically amounts to suggesting the hypothesis of a third ‘creation’ that could affect man: after adam, ish or isha, there is the ‘last Adam‘, man as ‘life-giving spirit’.
From all of this, we will retain a real intuition of the possible metamorphoses of man, certainly not reduced to a fixed form, but called upon to considerably surpass himself.
It is interesting, at this point, to note that Philo of Alexandria offers a very different explanation of the double creation.
Philo explains that in the beginning God « places » (וַיָּשֶׂם שָׁם ) in the Garden of Eden a « fashioned » man (‘The Eternal God planted a garden in Eden towards the east and placed the man he had fashioned in it’). Gen. 2:8). A little later he ‘established’ (וַיַּנִּח ) a man to be the worker and the guardian (‘The Eternal-God therefore took the man and established him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it’. Gen. 2:15).
According to Philo, the man who cultivates the garden and cares for it is not the « fashioned » man, but « the man [that God] has made« . And Philo says: « [God] receives this one, but drives out the other.”i
Philo had already made a distinction between the heavenly man and the earthly man, by the same verbal means. « The heavenly man was not fashioned, but made in the image of God, and the earthly man is a being fashioned, but not begotten by the Maker.”ii
If we follow Philo, we must understand that God drove the ‘fashioned‘ man out of the garden, after having placed him there, and then established the ‘made‘ man there. The man whom God ‘fashioned‘ was ‘placed‘ in the garden, but it seems that he was not considered worthy to cultivate and keep it.
Moreover, in the text of Genesis there is no evidence to support Philo’s thesis of a cross between a ‘fashioned’ man and a ‘made’ man.
Philo specifies: « The man whom God made differs, as I have said, from the man who was fashioned: the fashioned man is the earthly intelligence; the made man is the immaterial intelligence.”iii
Philo’s interpretation, as we can see, is metaphorical. It must be understood that there are not two kinds of men, but that there are rather two kinds of intelligence in man.
« Adam is the earthly and corruptible intelligence, for the man in the image is not earthly but heavenly. We must seek why, giving all other things their names, he did not give himself his own (…) The intelligence that is in each one of us can understand other beings, but it is incapable of knowing itself, as the eye sees without seeing itself »iv.
The ‘earthly’ intelligence can think of all beings, but it cannot understand itself.
God has therefore also ‘made‘ a man of ‘heavenly’ intelligence, but he does not seem to have had a happier hand, since he disobeyed the command not to eat of the fruit of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.
But was this tree of ‘the knowledge of good and evil’ really in the Garden of Eden? Philo doubts it. For if God says, « But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it », then « this tree was not in the garden »v.
« You shall not eat of it.” This should not be interpreted as a prohibition, but as a simple prediction of an all-knowing God.
This can be explained by the nature of things, Philo argues. The tree could have been present in « substance », but not in « potency »…
The man ‘in the image’ could have eaten the substance of a fruit of this tree. But he did not digest all its latent potency, and therefore he did not benefit from it in any real way.
There is yet another possible interpretation. Knowledge is not found in life. It is found only in potency, not in life, but in death.
The day in which one eats from the fruit of the tree of knowledge is also the day of death, the day in which the prediction is fulfilled: « Thou shalt die of death » מוֹת תָּמוּת (Gen. 2:17).
In this strange verse the word « death » is used twice. Why is this?
« There is a double death, that of man, and the death proper to the soul; that of man is the separation of soul and body; that of the soul is the loss of virtue and the acquisition of vice. (…) And perhaps this second death is opposed to the first: this one is a division of the compound of body and soul; the other, on the contrary, is a meeting of the two where the inferior, the body, dominates and the superior, the soul, is dominated.”vi
Philo quotes fragment 62 of Heraclitus: « We live by their death, we are dead to their life.”vii He believes that Heraclitus was « right to follow the doctrine of Moses in this ». As a good Neoplatonist, Philo also takes up Plato’s famous thesis of the body as the ‘tomb of the soul’.
« That is to say that at present, when we live, the soul is dead and buried in the body as in a tomb, but by our death, the soul lives from the life that is proper to it, and is delivered from evil and the corpse that was bound to it, the body.”viii
There is nevertheless a notable difference between the vision of Genesis and that of the Greek philosophers.
Genesis says: « You shall die of death! «
Heraclitus has a very different formula: « The life of some is the death of others, the death of some, the life of others.”
The translation of this famous verse is not easy. Here are a few attempts:
« There was no being, there was no non-being at that time. « (Renou)
« Nothing existed then, neither being nor non-being. « (Müller)
« Nothing existed then, neither visible nor invisible. « (Langlois)
« Then even nothingness was not, nor existence. « (Basham)
« Not the non-existent existed, nor did the existent then » (Art. Nasadiya Sukta. Wikipedia).
“Then was not non-existent nor existent.” (Griffith)
How to render with words what was before words? How to say a « being » that « is » before « being » and also, moreover, before « non-being »? How to describe the existence of what existed before existence and before non-existence?
We also begin to think by analogy: how can we hope to think what is obviously beyond what is thinkable? How can we think possible even to try to think the unthinkable?
How can we know whether words like sát, ásat, āsīt, mono- or bi-syllabic messengers, which have reached us intact over the millennia, and which benefit from the semantic precision of Sanskrit, still live a real, meaningful, authentic life?
The Nasadiya Sukta anthem is at least 4000 years old. Long before it was memorized in writing in the Veda corpus, it was probably transmitted from generation to generation by a faithful oral tradition. Its verses are pure intellectual delight, so much so that they stand slightly, far above the void, beyond common sense, a frail bridge, a labile trace, between worlds :
Louis Renou translates these two verses as follows:
« There was no being, there was no non-being at that time. There was no space or firmament beyond. What was moving? Where, under whose guard? Was there deep water, bottomless water?
Neither death was at that time, nor undead, no sign distinguishing night from day. The One breathed breathlessly, moved by himself: nothing else existed beyond.”ii
“Then was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it. What covered in, and where? And what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?
Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day’s and night’s divider. That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever.”iii
Max Müller :
« Nothing existed then, neither being nor non-being; the bright sky was not yet, nor the broad canvas of the firmament stretched out above it. By what was everything wrapped, protected, hidden? Was it by the unfathomable depths of the waters?
There was no death, no immortality. There was no distinction between day and night. The One Being breathed alone, taking no breath, and since then there has been nothing but Him. “iv
Alexandre Langlois :
« Nothing existed then, neither visible nor invisible. Point of upper region; point of air; point of sky. Where was this envelope (of the world)? In which bed was the wave contained? Where were these impenetrable depths (of air)?
There was no death, no immortality. Nothing announced day or night. He alone breathed, forming no breath, enclosed within himself. He alone existed.”v
From these various versions, it appears that the translators share a certain consensus on the following points:
Before there was nothing, there was « the One », also called « Him ».
Before the world was, the One existed, alone, and He breathed – without breath.
The Rig Veda claimed that « the One is », long before the time came of any Genesis, long before a « wind of God » came over the waters.
The following verses then take flight, using words and images that may evoke memories of the Genesis in the Bible (- which appeared later than the Veda by at least two millennia, it should be noted):
« Originally darkness covered darkness, everything we see was just an indistinct wave. Enclosed in the void, the One, accessing the Being, was then born by the power of heat.
Desire developed first, which was the first seed of thought; searching thoughtfully in their souls, the wise men found in non-being the bond of being.
Their line was stretched diagonally: what was the top, what was the bottom? There were seed bearers, there were virtues: below was spontaneous energy, above was the Gift.”vi
“Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness this All was indiscriminated chaos. All that existed then was void and formless: by the great power of Warmth was born that Unit.
There after rose Desire in the beginning. Desire, the primal seed and germ of spirit. Sages, who searched with their heart’s thought discovered the existent’s kinship in the non-existent.
Tranversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and what below it? There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder.”vii
« The seed, which was still hidden in its envelope, suddenly sprang up in the intense heat.Then love, the new source of the spirit, joined it for the first time.
Yes, the poets, meditating in their hearts, discovered this link between created things and what was uncreated. Does this spark that gushes out everywhere, that penetrates everything, come from the earth or the sky?
Then the seeds of life were sown and great forces appeared, nature below, power and will above.”viii
« In the beginning the darkness was shrouded in darkness; the water was without impulse. Everything was confused. The Being rested in the midst of this chaos, and this great All was born by the force of his piety.
In the beginning Love was in him, and from his spirit the first seed sprang forth. The wise men (of creation), through the work of intelligence, succeeded in forming the union of the real being and the apparent being.
The ray of these (wise men) went forth, extending upwards and downwards. They were great, (these wise men); they were full of a fruitful seed, (such as a fire whose flame) rises above the hearth that feeds it.”ix
Note that, for some translators, in the beginning « darkness envelops darkness ». Others prefer to read here a metaphor, that of the « seed », hidden in its « envelope ».
Is it necessary to give a meaning, an interpretation to the « darkness », or is it better to let it bathe in its own mystery?
Let us also note that some translators relate the birth of the All to « warmth », while others understand that the origin of the world must be attributed to « piety » (of the One). Material minds! Abstract minds! How difficult it is to reconcile them!
So, « piety » or « warmth »? The Sanskrit text uses the word « tapas« : तपस्.
Huet translates « tapas » by « heat, ardour; suffering, torment, mortification, austerities, penance, asceticism », and by extension, « the strength of soul acquired through asceticism ».
Monier-Williams indicates that the tap– root has several meanings: « to burn, to shine, to give heat », but also « to consume, to destroy by fire » or « to suffer, to repent, to torment, to practice austerity, to purify oneself by austerity ».
Two semantic universes emerge here, that of nature (fire, heat, burning) and that of the spirit (suffering, repentance, austerity, purification).
If we take into account the intrinsic dualism attached to the creation of the « Whole » by the « One », the two meanings can be used simultaneously and without contradiction.
An original brilliance and warmth probably accompanied the creation of some inchoate Big Bang. But the Vedic text also underlines another cause, not physical, but metaphysical, of the creation of the world, by opening up to the figurative meaning of the word « tapas« , which evokes « suffering », « repentance », or even « asceticism » that the One would have chosen, in his solitude, to impose on himself, in order to give the world its initial impulse.
This Vedic vision of the suffering of the One is not without analogy with the concept of kenosis, in Christian theology, and with the Christic dimension of the divine sacrifice.
The Judaic concept of tsimtsum (the « contraction » of God) could also be related to the Vedic idea of « tapas« .
From this hymn of the Rig Veda, the presence of a very strong monotheistic feeling is particularly evident. The Veda is fundamentally a « monotheism », since it stages, even before any « Beginning » of the world, the One, the One who is « alone », who breathes « without breath ».
Furthermore, let us also note that this divine One can diffract Himself into a form of divine « trinity ». Dominating darkness, water, emptiness, confusion and chaos, the One Being (the Creator) creates the Whole. The Whole is born of the Being because of his « desire », his « Love », which grows within the « Spirit », or « Intelligence ».x
The idea of the One is intimately associated with that of the Spirit and that of Love (or Desire), which can be interpreted as a trinitarian representation of divine unity.
The last two verses of the Nasadiya Sukta finally tackle head-on the question of origin and its mystery.
« Who knows in truth, who could announce it here: where did this creation come from, where does it come from? The gods are beyond this creative act. Who knows where it emanates from?
This creation, from where it emanates, whether it was made or not, – he who watches over it in the highest heaven probably knows it… or whether he did not know it? “xi
« Who knows these things? Who can say them? Where do beings come from? What is this creation? The Gods were also produced by him. But who knows how he exists?
He who is the first author of this creation, supports it. And who else but him could do so? He who from heaven has his eyes on all this world, knows it alone. Who else would have this science?”xii
“Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born, and whence comes this creation? The Gods are later than this world’s production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?
He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it, whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.”xiii
« Who knows the secret? Who here tells us where this varied creation came from? The Gods themselves came into existence later: who knows where this vast world came from?
Whoever has been the author of all this great creation, whether his will has ordered it or whether his will has been silent, the Most High « Seer » who resides in the highest of the heavens, it is he who knows it, – or perhaps He Himself does not know it? »xiv
The final pun (« Perhaps He Himself does not know it? ») carries, in my opinion, the essence of the intended meaning.
That the Gods, as a whole, are only a part of the creation of the Most High, again confirms the pre-eminence of the One in the Veda.
But how can we understand that the « Seer » may not know whether He Himself is the author of the creation, how can He not know whether it was made – or not made?
One possible interpretation would be that the Whole received an initial impulse of life (the « breath »). But this is not enough. The world is not a mechanism. The Whole, though ‘created’, is not ‘determined’. The Seer is not « Almighty », nor « Omniscient ». He has renounced his omnipotence and omniscience, through assumed asceticism. His suffering must be understood as the consequence of risk taking on the part of the One, the risk of the freedom of the world, the risk involved in the creation of free essences, essentially free beings created freely by a free will.
This essential freedom of the Whole is, in a sense, « an image » of the freedom of the One.
« And the evening and the morning were the first day.”i
« And the evening and the morning were the second day.”ii
« And the evening and the morning were the third day.”iii
However, the sun was not created until the fourth day of the Creation! During the first half of the six days of the Creation, there was no sun, yet there was light and darkness…
What were those « mornings » and « evenings » really like, when the sun was not yet created? Were they only metaphors? Symbols? Images?
One could speculate that these « mornings » (without sun) could be a colourful, metaphoric, way of describing the dawn of things, their principle, their idea, their essence.
And continuing on this train of thoughts, the « evenings » – which came before the « mornings », in the Book of Genesis – could then represent the knowledge that precedes principles, ideas, – the obscure knowledge that precedes the dawn of the understanding, the dawn of the essence of things.
The « evenings » would then confusingly embody all that announces things yet to be created, in advance, all that prepares them in secret, makes them possible and compatible with matter, life, reality.
The « evening knowledge » may represent the knowledge of things as they subsist, latent, in their own nature, immersed in a slowly emerging consciousness, that is still formless.
And when the « morning » comes, then appears the « morning knowledge », the knowledge of the primordial nature of beings, their true, luminous, essence.
A lion, an eagle or a squid, live their own unique life in the steppe, the sky or the sea. Who will tell the unique experience of this particular lion, this singular eagle, this specific squid? Who will bundle them with ‘sensors’ from birth to death, observe their entire life, grasp all their perceptions, understand the full range of their emotions, their fears, their pleasures, and acquire their grammar, their vocabulary?
Plato invented the idea of “the idea”. We may then imagine that there is such a thing as the “idea” of the tiger, its very essence, the “tiger-dom”. But even if we could grasp the essence of the generic tiger, what about the essence of aspecific tiger?
To access the « morning knowledge » of the tiger, one would also have to be capable of abstraction, to penetrate its essence, to understanding the paradigm at work.
But, even more difficult maybe, one would also have to be a very zealous observer, endowed with empathy, sensitivity, and encyclopedic patience, to claim the « evening knowledge » of this or that particular tiger.
One should ideally strive to be able to grasp at the same time, not only the “tiger-dom” in general, but the unique “tiger-dom” of this or that particular tiger.
In a sense, a specific tiger may well represent its species. But from another perspective, an individual tiger remains deeply immersed in its own, opaque, singularity. It can never represent the sum total of the life experiences of its fellow tigers of past and future times. One tiger virtually sums up the species, one can admit, but is also overwhelmed on all sides by the innumerable lives of other, real tigers.
During the first days of the Genesis, and before the sun was even created, three evenings and three mornings benefited from a non-solar “light”, a “light” without photons, but not without enlightenment, – a non material “light”, but not without “ideas”…
During those first three days and nights, in the absence of the sun, we can infer that were crated many other (unspeakable) “suns” that were never before seen, and many other unheard-of and unspeakable “moons”.
It was very brutal, very sudden. « Enoch walked with God, and then he was no more, for God took him away. »i A real trick. The construction of the sentence is straightforward, without nuance. If we translate word for word: « Enoch walked with God (in the text: ‘to the Gods’: et-ha-Elohim, אֶת–הָאֱלֹהִים), then, ‘nothing more of him, vé-éïnénou, וְאֵינֶנּוּ‘, because God (Elohim) took him away (or: seized him), ki-laqaḥ oto Elohimכִּי–לָקַח אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים .»
The expression used to render the key moment of Enoch’s disappearance (‘nothing more of him’ – éïnénou) evokes a kind of nothingness, an ‘absence’ instantaneouslysubstituting for the ‘presence’ of Enoch, for his walking in ‘presence of God’, during three centuries.
Rachi comments as follows: « Enoch was a righteous man, but weak in conscience and easy to turn to evil. So God hastened to take him out of this world before his time. That is why the text expresses itself differently when it speaks of his death, and says: AND HE WAS NO LONGER in this world to complete his years. »
Therefore, Rashi does not believe that Enoch was taken up to Heaven in the manner of Elijah, like in a ‘rapture’. According to Rashi it is only a metaphor, a vigorous one admittedly, but which only translates the death of a « just », who was also a little « weak ».
I find that Rashi’s commentary falls rather short of the text.
Why demean Enoch by calling him a « weak man and easy to incite to evil »? Enoch is a « just » man. This is no small thing. Moreover, « he walks with God ». This is not a sign of weakness. Secondly, why does Rashi say that God « hastened to take him out of this world before his time, » when Enoch had already been walking with God (וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ חֲנוֹךְ, אֶת–הָאֱלֹהִים ) for three hundred yearsii?
If we add the years that Enoch lived before giving birth to Methuselah, Enoch lived a total of three hundred and sixty five yearsiii…That is a long time before God decided to “hasten”...
A thousand years before Rashi, Philo of Alexandria had proposed a completely different interpretation. « Enoch was pleasing to God, and ‘they could not find him’ (Gen. 5:24). Where would one have looked to find this Good? What seas would one have crossed? On what islands, on what continents? Among the Barbarians, or among the Greeks? Aren’t there not even today initiates in the mysteries of philosophy who say that wisdom is without existence, since the wise man does not exist either? So it is said that ‘he could not be found’, that way of being which was pleasing to God, in the sense that while it exists well, it is hidden from view, and that it is hidden from us where it is, since it is also said that God took it away ».iv
Philo goes from the figure of Enoch to that of Good. Where to find the Good? Where to find Wisdom? Just because we can’t find them, doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly disappeared, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Philo sees in the text an incitement to take flight towards high ideas. Probably an influence of Pythagoras and Plato. A form of encounter, the spirit of Israel and that of Greece.
After Philo and Rashi, what can we still see in this passage of Genesis?
The name Enoch (חֲנוֹךְ) gives a clue. It means « the initiate », « the one who is dedicated ». The word ḥanukah has the same root. Long before it meant the feast of the same name, which commemorates the victories of the Maccabees, this word had the generic meaning of « inauguration », of « dedication »: the dedication of the altar (Num. 7:11) or the inauguration of the temple (Ps. 30:1).
Enoch was a living « dedication ». He had « dedicated » himself to God. He was a “walking” sacrifice (like Isaac, walking to the place of his sacrifice).
Enoch had given his own life as a sacrifice. God was pleased with him, and God walked « with him ». Then, one day, suddenly, God took him away.
Why that day, precisely, and not before or after?
I think that Enoch was taken away on the day he was 365 years old. He had spent 65 years until he became the father of Methuselah, and 300 more years of walking in the presence of God. A life of 365 years, that is, a year of years.v
A « year of years » is a good metaphor to signify the perfection of time accomplished, the sum of the life of a righteous man.
But why was Enoch ‘suddenly’ no longer seen?
When God takes hold of a soul, it is not done in a picosecond or a femtosecond or even as one might say, ‘immediately’.
It is done in a time without time, infinitely short in the beginning, and infinitely long, immediately afterwards.
Three men met Abraham at noon in the plains of Mamre, in Genesis chapter 18. But only two angels met Lot, later that same evening in Sodom.
Why three men at noon, then two angels in the evening?
One interpretation by Philo of Alexandria is worth mentioning,
« When the three had appeared, why did the Scripture say, « The two angels came to Sodom in the evening »? (Gen. 19,1). Three appear to Abraham and at noon, but to Lot, two and in the evening. Scripture makes known the difference in the profound sense that there is between the perfect being and the one who progresses, namely the perfect has the impression of a triad, of full nature, continuous, with nothing missing, without emptiness, entirely perfect, but this [not-so-perfect] one has the impression of a dyad that has separation, void and emptiness. One welcomed the Father who is in the middle and is served by the first two powers, while the other welcomed the serving powers without the Father, because he was too weak to see and understand the middle one, king of powers. One is illuminated by a very bright light, the noon light, without shadow, while the other is illuminated by a changing light, at the limits of night and day, because evening has been shared as an intermediate space: it is neither the end of the day nor the beginning of the night.»i
Philo’s interpretation (« The three angels are the Father, served by the first two powers ») is rather embarrassing from the point of view of a strictly monotheistic position, such as that generally professed by Judaism.
On the other hand, it is compatible, at least metaphorically, with the Trinitarian interpretation of Christianity. Philo was born in 25 BC, and lived in Alexandria, then in a state of turmoil, open to neo-Pythagorean and neo-Platonic ideas, and other influences, from Chaldea or Persia.
More than a thousand years after Philo of Alexandria, the famous Rashi of Troyes provided a very different explanation for these variations.
Regarding Gen 18,2, Rashi comments: « AND THERE ARE THREE MEN. God sent angels in human form. One to announce the good news about Sara. One to destroy Sodom. One to heal Abraham. Because the same messenger does not accomplish two missions at the same time. »
Regarding Gen 19,1, Rashi notes: « BOTH. One to destroy Sodom and one to save Lot. It was the latter who had come to heal Abraham. The third one who had come to tell Sara about the birth of her son, once his mission was fulfilled, left. – THE ANGELS. Before (Gen 18,2) they are called MEN. When the Shekhina was with them, they were called men. Another explanation: previously, with Abraham, whose strength was great and who was used to angels as much as to men, they were called men. While with Lot they are called angels. »
There is a common point between Philo and Rashi; they agree that Abraham was perfect, strong, and that Lot was weak. They both deduce from this that seeing the Shekhina among men is a sign of strength, and seeing angels (in the absence of the Shekhina?) is a sign of weakness.
Other questions then arise.
Why did the angel who had announced the next birth of a son to Abraham and Sarah go away once his mission was accomplished, leaving his two companions to continue to Sodom and Gomorrah?
In other words, why was the angel responsible for destroying Sodom and Gomorrah present at Mamre’s meeting, when it was a matter of announcing a birth, and according to Rashi, completing Abraham’s healing?
Was the presence of the exterminating angel necessary in order to listen to Abraham’s arguments in favour of the inhabitants of the two cities threatened with destruction?
Abraham argued at length to intercede on behalf of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18, 23-33). Was this plea addressed to the exterminating angel, to the third « man » present in Mamre?
However, this exterminating angel is also called by the proper name of God (YHVH). This is how the text calls him during his exchanges with Abraham.
On one side there are three men, in charge of three different missions (a birth announcement, a healing and an extermination). These three men are in fact three angels, but in reality they are all together one and the same God, named YHVH several times in the Genesis text. YHVH expresses itself in the 1st person singular, as being the Lord, the Eternal YHVH.
The three men speak successively, the first to announce the coming birth, the second to speak to himself, in a way as an aside (« Shall I hide from Abraham what I am going to do? » Gen. 18:17), and the third to discuss the next extermination with Abraham.
Then Lord YHVH « goes away », when he has finished speaking with Abraham (Gen. 18:33). Immediately afterwards (Gen. 19:1), « The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening ».
It seems that the following conclusions can be drawn from this.
God was present, as Shekhina, among the three men visiting Abraham, in Mamre, and then all along the road to the gates of Sodom. Then God departs, and there are only the two angels left, one to exterminate the cities, the other to save Lot and his family. God left just before the extermination.
This chapter of Genesis reports exchanges of words between God, Abraham, and even Sarah, but also a whole body language, a ballet of movements, running, prostrations, steps, standing.
It is interesting to analyze this staging, the scenography of the movements of God and Abraham during this day.
Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent, he looked up, and « he saw three men standing beside him; as soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them and bowed down to the ground. » (Gen. 18:2)
How is it that Abraham runs to men who « stood by him »?
This must be seen as a spiritual meaning. Abraham sits and sees three men standing. They are close to him, but he, Abraham, is far from them. So he has to get up, to get up to their level, and he has to start running, to get closer to them, as much as they have already approached him.
All this is not to be understood on a material, physical level, but on a spiritual, metaphysical level.
Then Abraham « hurries to the tent » (18:6). Then « he ran to the flock » (18:7). Shortly afterwards, when they ate, « he stood up » (18:8). Then, « having risen, the men departed from there and came in sight of Sodom. Abraham walked with them to bring them back. » (18, 16). There follows a kind of soliloquy of God. Finally, the team finished its march: « The men left from there and went to Sodom. YHVH was still standing before Abraham. » (18, 22)
Before Sodom, there is a long exchange between God and Abraham, who tries to intercede on behalf of the inhabitants of the city, in the name of the « righteous » who are within it. Then God goes away. And Abraham returned home (18:33).
Immediately after the two angels enter Sodom (19:1).
In these few lines, Abraham sits, then runs to men, to his tent, to the flock, to his tent again, stands up, walks to Sodom, stops, leaves, arrives in front of Sodom, talks with God, sees God go away, and returns home.
How can we explain all these movementsby an old man who has just been circumcised, and who is struggling to recover from his wound?
The simple description of physical movements does not seem to be a sufficient explanation. Rather, they indicate a spiritual dynamic. All these movements reflect Abraham’s inner agitation.
A key to understanding is found in verse 18:3: « Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, then do not pass before your servant. »
Abraham is agitated and runs a lot, so that God « does not pass » before him.
Abraham runs because he wants the Lord to stop.
What can we conclude from this?
First, that the divine can take three “figures”: the figure of the One (YHVH), the figure of the Three (« the three men »), and the figure of the Two (« the two angels »).
Then, this text teaches us that the movements of the body are metaphors of the movements of the soul. It’s like tango. It takes two to dance or to talk to each other. Three men plus Abraham make four. But when God and Abraham talk to each other, they are two. And their attitudes, their positions, are linked, as in a dance. Their movements are correlated.
Abraham gets up, runs, prostrates himself, runs again, etc., so that God will stop, stand still, and stay with him…
There is here a lesson (of spiritual tango) to be learned…
thousand years before Abraham, and twelve or fifteen centuries before
the drafting of Genesis, Sanchoniaton cried out: « The Spirit
blows on darkness ».
Phoenicians, a people of merchants and travelers, invented the
alphabet, but they left almost no written record. The only written
monument they have left is a fragment attributed to this
Sanchoniaton, priest of Tyre, according to Philo of Byblos.
Sanchoniaton lived before the Trojan War, and more than 2000 years
name ‘Sanchoniaton‘, according to Ernest Renan, comes
from the Greek word Σαγχων, « who lives ». In ancient
Coptic Koniath means « holy dwelling », or « place
where the archives are kept ». ‘Sanchoniaton’ would therefore
mean « the one who lives with the holy college », or « the
quoted fragment of Sanchoniaton is precious, because it is one of the
few remaining testimonies of a fabulous era, where elite human minds
were able to converge, despite harsh cultural and linguistic
differences, around strong ideas.
In those times, the Veda, the Avesta, the Genesis, the theogonies of Hesiod and the ‘Sanchoniaton’ could appear as different and complementary phases of the same history, and not as separate claims of peoples seeking for themselves an original proeminence.
« sacred fire » was revered among the Egyptians, Greeks,
Hebrews and Persians. The idea of a Unique God was present among the
Hebrews, but also in the Orphic religion, in Mazdaism, in the
religion of Chaldean magic.
Unique God had also already been celebrated by the Veda and the Zend
Avesta, more than a millennium before Abraham left Ur.
to the most recent research on the archaeological field, monotheism
did not settle in Israel until the end of the monarchical period, in
the 8th century BC.
verses of Homer, who lived in the 8th century BC, more than a
thousand years after Sanchoniaton, we find reminiscences of the
universal intuition of the priest of Tyre. Gods abound in the Homeric
work, but their plurality is only an appearance. The most important
thing to understand is that Heaven and Earth are linked, and
connected. The human and the divine merge. Men are descendants of the
gods, and heroes are made of their fabric.
are other traces of the long memory of this region of the world.
Under Ptolemy Philadelphia, Manethu, a priest of Sebennytus, compiled
the history of the thirty-one Egyptian dynasties, from Menes to
Alexander, and traced their origin back to 3630 BC.
according to indications collected in the tombs of Thebes, dates the
institution of the 365-day Egyptian calendar back to 3285 BC.
be estimated that the astronomical knowledge of this ancient period
was therefore already much higher than that of the nomadic peoples
who still counted per lunar month.
The Phoenician of Tyre, Sanchoniaton, lived four thousand years ago. He left as his legacy, for centuries, some fragments, overturning in advance some preconceived ideas about the god Thoth, who would later be identified with Hermes, Mercury, Idrîs and Henoch.
calls him Taut, and gives this brief description: « Taut excites
the Elohim, El’s companions, in battle by singing them war songs. »
also claims that Taut was the son of Misor, in other words Misr or
Misraim, a term used to name the Egyptian colonies of the Black Sea,
the main one being Colchis.
Moreau de Jonnès explains that Taut (or Thôt) received the name of Mercury, ‘Her-Koure’, the Lord of the Koures. « This name derives from Kour, the sun. The Coraitis and Coraixites lived in Colchis. The Kour River, Dioscurias, Gouriel remind us of this generic name. Her-Koure was the God of traffickers and navigators (emblem of the fish), ancestors of the Phoenicians. According to Strabon, the Corybantes (Kouronbant) were native to Colchis. »
Colchis, located on the Black Sea coast, now called Abkhazia, and
recently torn from Georgia, the magnificent villas of the Russian
oligarchs and the silovniki of the FSB flourish today…
of Caesarea reports that the beginning of the ‘Sanchoniaton’ was
translated by Philo as follows: « At the beginning of the world
there was a dark air and the Spirit – or the Breath – was dark, and
there was the Chaos troubled and plunged into the night. »
These words were written a thousand years before the first verses of Genesis.
What did the priest of Tyre really want to say? He said that the Spirit has been blowing on darkness since the beginning of the world, – thus fighting against Chaos and Night. He said that the Spirit was Light, and breathed Light…
pretty good news in our dark, troubled times. Isn’t it?
rain, thunder, lightning are only signs, they denote the Master of
also — the spirit and soul of man, and the love of the Breath for
Book of Genesis says:
« And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים ( Ruah Elohim) moved upon the face of the waters. »ii
« And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (neshmah); and man became a living soul. (נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה nephesh hayah).»iii
Hebrew text uses three different words to mean the « wind »
(ruah) of God, the « breath » (neshmah) of
life, and the living « soul » (nephesh).
we open dictionaries, we notice that the meanings of these words
circulate fluidly between them.
« Breath; wind, air; soul, spirit ».
« Breath of life, soul, spirit. »
« Breath, smell, perfume; life, principle of life; soul, heart,
desire; person ».
is important to underline the intimate union of their meanings. These
three Hebrew words come together in a symphony.
of Alexandria writes in his commentary on Genesis:
expression (« He breathed ») has an even deeper meaning.
Indeed, three things are required: what blows, what receives, what is
blown. What blows is God; what receives is intelligence; what is
blown is the soul. What is being done with these elements? There is a
union of all three. » iv
the wind blows and disperses the dust. Here, the wind gathers the
dust, gives it breath and makes it live.
Veda and the Bible breathe the same breath, the same wind
blows, the same spirit shapes the same knot of life.