The Metaphors of Monotheism in India, Israel and the West


The philosopher must travel among the nations, following the example of Pythagoras.

« Pythagoras went to Babylon, Egypt, all over Persia, learning from the Magi and priests; it is reported that he also got along with the Brahmins. »i

No people, no culture, no religion has a monopoly on knowledge. Under the appearance of their multiplicities, we must seek a deeper, original unity.

In the Vedas, Agni is « God of Fire ». Fire is an image. It’s only one of his names. Agni is the Divine in many other aspects, which its names designate: « Agni, you are Indra, the dispenser of good; you are the adorable Viṣṇu, praised by many; you are Brahmānaspati… you are all wisdom. Agni you are the royal Varuṇa, observer of the sacred vows, you are the adorable Mitra, the destroyer. »

Agni embodies the infinite multiplicity and profound unity of the Divine. Agni is in the same time innumerable, and the only God.

The religion of the Vedas has the appearance of a polytheism, through the myriadic accumulation of God’s names. But it is also a monotheism in its essential intuition.

The Vedas sing, chant, invoke and cry out the Divine, – in all its forms. This Divine is always Word, – in all its forms. « By the Song and beside it, he produces the Cry; by the Cry, the Hymn; by means of the triple invocation, the Word. »ii

Agni is the divine Fire, which illuminates, it is also the libation of the Soma, which crackles. He is one, and the other, and their union. Through Sacrifice, Fire and Soma unite. Fire and Soma contribute to their union, this union of which Agni is the divine name.

The same questions are still running through humanity.

« Where is the breath, the blood, the breath of the earth? Who went to ask who knows? « asks Ṛg Veda.iii

Later, and further west, the Lord asked Job: « Where were you when I founded the earth? Speak if your knowledge is enlightened. Who set the measures, would you know, or who stretched the line on her? (…) Tell us, if you know all this. On which side does the light dwell, and where does the darkness dwell? » iv

There is an instinctive familiarity, a brotherhood of tone, an intuitive resemblance, between a thousand years apart.

The ancient Hebrews, dedicated to the intuition of the One, also sought and celebrated His various names. Is this not analogy with the multiple names and Vedic attributes of the Divinity, whose essence is unique?

When God « shouts » three times his name to Moses’ address « YHVH, YHVH, EL » (יְהוָה יְהוָה, אֵל), there is one God who pronounces a triple Name. Three screams for three names. What does the first YHVH say? What does the second YHVH mean? What does the third name, EL, express?

Christianity will respond a thousand years after Moses to these questions with other metaphors (the Father, the Son, the Spirit).

A thousand years before Moses, verses from Ṛg Veda already evoked the three divine names of a single God: « Three Hairy shines in turn: one sows itself in the Saṃvatsara; one considers the Whole by means of the Powers; and another one sees the crossing, but not the color. »v

The three « Hairy » are in fact the only God, Agni, whose hair is of flame.vi

The first « Hairy » is sown in the Soma, as a primordial, unborn germ. The second « Hairy » considers the Whole thanks to the Soma, which contains the powers and forces. The third « Hairy » is the dark being of Agni (the Agni « aja », – « unborn »), a darkness that God « passes through » when he passes from the dark to the bright, from night to light.

For the poet’s eye and ear, this ‘triplicity’ is not a coincidence. Millennia pass, ideas remain. Agni spreads the fire of his bushy and shiny « hair » three times, to signify his creative power, wisdom and revelation. From the burning bush, Yahweh shouts his three names to Moses to make sure he is heard.

The figure of a God « one » who shows Himself as a « three », seems to be an anthropological constant. The same strange, contradictory and fundamental metaphor links Aryan and Vedic India, Semitic and Jewish Israel, and Greek-Latin and Christian West.

iEusèbe de Césarée. Préparation évangélique, 4,15

iiṚg Veda I, 164,24.

iiiṚg Veda I, 164,4.

ivJob, 38, 4-19

vṚg Veda I, 164,44.

viOne of the attributes of Apollo, Xantokomès (Ξανθόκομης), also makes him a God« with « fire-red hair »

YHVH told Adonai: « Sit on my right »


Man does not speak. It is the word that « speaks ». Man is not the master, he is only the instrument.

« By whom is spoken the word that is said? The eye and the ear, what God splints them? For he is the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind, the word of the word and also the breath of the breath, the eye of the eye.  » – (Kena-Upanişad, 1, 1-2)

During the Vedic sacrifice, it is not the priest who speaks, despite the appearance, it is the God.

God is the spirit in the spirit, the breath in the breath.

God alone is truly « speaking word ». Brahman alone inhabits the words. Only he remains in all the cries, songs, psalmodies, throughout the sacrifice.

The idea of the God « Word » is not specific to the Vedas. It is found in other traditions.

The Bible, which appeared long after the Vedas, also presents a God who creates and makes people exist through his Word alone.

The Vedas and the Bible have a common vision. God is Word, and from this Word emanates a creative Word. From this creative Word is born (among others) Man, – speaking creature.

The Hebrew tradition proclaims the absolute oneness of God. But it also recognizes a second cause: a Word that is detached from God, that comes from his Mouth, and that acts in the world by its own power.

In support, the prophet Moses and the psalmist David.

Moses speaks explicitly of a Lord who splits himself, – or of two « Lords » who are both « YHVH », the first sending the second punishing men:  » Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;  » (Gen. 19:24)

The Hebrew text is as follows:

וַיהוָה, הִמְטִיר עַל-סְדֹם וְעַל-עֲמֹרָה–גָּפְרִית וָאֵשׁ:  מֵאֵת יְהוָה, מִן-הַשָּׁמָיִם

We note the repetition of the YHVH tetragram as an initial agent of the action ( וַיהוָה), and as an active partner (מֵאֵת יְהוָה). We also notice the use of the expression מֵאֵת יְהוָה, « from YHVH » which indicates a kind of detachment, of movement.

Literally: YHVH rains fire and brimstone, and YHVH himself comes « from » YHVH, who is in the « highest heaven ».

We find this divine duplication elsewhere. King David chanted:

« The Lord (YHVH) said to my Lord (Adonai): Seat on my right ».i

How can we understand that the Lord (Adonai) sits at the right hand of the Lord (YHVH)?

Isn’t YHVH also Adonai? What does the figure of the Lord (Adonai) « sitting at the right hand » of the Lord (YHVH) represent? Who is this Lord (Adonai), who also slaughters kings, does justice to the nations, and is « a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek »?

David says again:

« By the word of YHVH the heavens were made, by the breath of his mouth, all their army. »ii

What does David mean by evoking the mouth of God, His breath and His word? Are God’s Mouth, Word and Breath « united » in divine oneness, or are they « distinct »? Or are they both united and distinct?

What specific action do Word and Breath have respectively on the world, what singular meanings do they have for man?

David offers a first answer. He presents the Word as an « envoy », healing those who need YHVH:

« He sent his Word, and he healed them. « iii

The divine Word, as presented in the Vedas, has an astonishing structural analogy, it seems, with the divine Word in the Bible.

Two great spiritual traditions, different in many other respects, very distant geographically and in time, come together to affirm that God speaks, that His Word is divine, and that It heals and saves men.

Yet, there is another unanswered question ;

The Word heals. But what does the Breath do?

iPs. 110 (109) -1

iiPs 33(32) -6

iiiPs 106(107)-20

Deus and humus


Christianity offers the opportunity to ask a question that has no place in Judaism or Islam.

Why does such a high, transcendent God, creator of the worlds, king of the universe, stoop so low, dying crucified, under the spitting and mocking of some of his creatures? Why does he humiliate himself by incarnating himself? What does the Deus have to do with humus?

The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar proposes the idea of « kenosis » in response to these questions. The « kenosis » of the Son (the God nailed to the cross) is linked to another « kenosis », that of the Father (the « descent » of God to man).

Two thousand years ago, Paul of Tarsus had already strongly marked that this idea of kenosis was a « madness » for the Greeks, and a « scandal » for the Jews.

Why is kenosis scandalous to them? Jewish Tradition admits that there is a certain analogy between God and man, since according to Scripture, man is created in the « image » and « likeness » of God.

If man and God have any « similarity », any « resemblance », it is first and foremost the fact of « being ». Scholastics called this similarity relationship the analogy of being (« analogia entis »).

But does the fact of « being » have the same meaning for God and for man? There is a good chance of misunderstanding this word, with its multiple meanings, and its drawer obscurities.

Objections abound on this subject, even within Christianity. Karl Barth points out that Reform theologians formally deny the analogy of being. Since creation is stained by original sin, there can be no analogy between the being of man and the being of God.

The only accepted analogy, according to these same theologians, is the analogia fidei, the analogy of faith. Only faith can bring us closer to the mystery of being. By means of reason, no knowledge of God is possible. Only a gift of grace makes it possible to « know God ». Philosophy and its representations, ideas or images – like the analogy of being – are in this context powerless, useless.

The God of the Reformation is certainly not a God accessible to philosophers.

However, how can we understand this name of God, revealed to Moses: « I am he who is »?

How can we understand « I am », and « He who is », if no « analogy of being » can make us understand its meaning?

If no analogy of being is admissible in the context of the encounter between God and Moses, it means that the word « being » itself is only an empty word, a false image, which does not reflect the infinite difference in nature between being as it is said by God (« I am he who is ») and being as it is lived by man. We use the same word (« to be »), but for things that have nothing to do with each other. We are in the middle of an illusion, in the middle of a mistake.

But then why bother with this question, if the language is perfectly useless? Why read the Torah if the word « to be » is meaningless?

Why would God tell Moses words that would objectively have no meaning for human understanding? Why would God maintain confusion in this way, by playing on the obvious inability of human language? Is this God a « deceitful » God?

If the word « to be » is devoid of any common sense, does it nevertheless have a real meaning, reserved for the initiated?

If each way of being is only a fleeting image, a partial appearance, a transitory phenomenon, where does the ultimate essence of being stand?

God revealed to Moses to be the being who is « the being who is ». By contrast, it is deduced, man is a being who is not « a being who is »; he is a being, undoubtedly, but he is not « the being who is ». Nor is he a being who is not, because then he would be nothing more than a void, and the question would be resolved. This is clearly not the case. What is it then?

The metaphor of being like a « garment » can put us on a track. Serge Bulgakov dares the idea of a God who undresses himself freely from his Glory, while remaining God in himself.

To what extent can this free disregard for God by Himself go? To infinity? Is there a lower limit below which God can no longer « undress », or infinitely « naked »?

Impotence of metaphors…. What does it mean, « to undress », or « to be naked », for God?

In the absence of a precise answer, we borrow from Paul a Greek word, « kenosis », which means « emptying », to enrich a deficient theological vocabulary. « Kenosis » refers to the fact of a naked God, as delivered in Scripture, but does not explain why, the end or the essence of it.

When God says: « I am the one who is », does he then « undress » himself with the Glory of his « being », by this very word? Or is this word still a glorification?

Does he undress from his glorious « Being » to remain humbly gathered in this simple word, which twice uses the word « to be », which is also part of the miserable lexicon of man?

The word that Moses heard on the mountain has no visible equivalent. The « burning bush » was well visible to him, but it was not the visible image of the divine words (« I am he who is »). At the very least, it can be argued that the « burning bush » is perhaps an image of Glory, of which it is precisely a question of seeing if God can decide to undress himself from it.

If Glory is a garment, and God undresses himself, what remains to be « seen »? Or to « hear »? A fortiori, if the being is a garment, and the man undresses himself in it, what remains to be shown or said?

Under the garment of the being, what ultimate nakedness is she lying waiting for? Under the divine Glory, what darkness reigns?

Boring questions, no possible answers. And yet we must continue to wander, in search of new paths, as the darkness thickens here.

Noxious darkness invades the brain as soon as we speak, not of the Divinity that is said, or that reveals itself, but of the one that hides or lowers itself.

« The darkness of the abandonment of the Son has its roots in the darkness of the Father » (Adrienne von Speyr).

These similar darknesses may also, in their darkness, carry an infinitely weak glow. The deeper they are, the deeper you dive in them, the more you drown in them, the more they make you hope to find at the bottom of the sea the glow of the unheard-of, the glow of the unthinkable.

An infinitely weak glow at the bottom of infinitely dark darkness is a good metaphor for the infinite.

Any concept or image that can be formed about divine infinity must be renounced immediately. It is necessary to leave (as if by iteration, in the construction of a mathematical infinity) the place to a new enigma, to a new darkness, always deeper, each provisional concept annihilating itself, each proposed image immediately becoming obscured.

In the absence of being able to say anything positive, therefore, we can only try the negative path, the one that one of the best specialists in the field has called the « dark night ».

It is necessary to hypothesize that God is also incarnated, in his own way, in « night » and « powerlessness ». He can be « night » to himself, reveal himself deep darkness and absolute nakedness under the garment of his Glory; admit to himself « absence » at the heart of his Presence.

These are other ways of defining kenosis, other metaphors.

In the 4th century, Hilaire de Poitiers said that the Word of God has a « disposition to annihilation » which consists in « emptying himself within his power ».

This idea is still based on the raw fact of kenosis, as reported in the biblical text.

Let us return to an index, the only one we have of « annihilation » and « emptiness ». Jesus shouted just before he died: « Elôï, Elôï, lema sabachtani? »

Jesus expresses himself in Aramaic, and this phrase is translated as follows: « My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? »

This cry of agony and dereliction is also a notable, though not obvious, reference to the first verse of David’s Psalm 22, which reads in Hebrew as follows (note the difference with Aramaic):

אֵלִי אֵלִי, לָמָה עֲזַבְתָּנִי

« Eli, Eli, lamah, azabthani? ‘’

The spectators who were watching Christ’s agony on Golgotha made a mockery of Christ’s cry: « And now he is calling Elijah to help him! ».

It can be assumed that the dying person misspoke the words, suffocated by the cross, or that his dying breath was too weak for the crowd to hear him clearly. Another hypothesis is that Aramaic was perhaps not well understood by the Roman soldier? Or was the allusion to the verse in David’s psalms perhaps not obvious to the witnesses present?

All these hypotheses are obviously superfluous, inessential; but they refer to a single question that is essential:

Why this cry of abandonment, in the mouth of the « Messiah »?

The abandoned Son, the Father abandoning. At the supreme moment, extreme loneliness. Absolute failure, total nil. Jesus denied, despised, mocked by Man. And abandoned by God.

All this, from beginning to end, even today, incomprehensible, laughable, scandalous: « Madness for the Greeks, scandal for the Jews. »

This madness and scandal are two thousand years old. What can they still mean, under the lazzis, hatred or indifference, for a civilization of reason, order and « lights »?

A moment without how or why


“Synaptic plasticity” is one of the contemporary metaphors of the plasticity of nature and culture. In the past, deities were also plastic. Ovid or Apuleius poetically described their « metamorphoses ». Among the Greeks and Latins, Zeus or Jupiter could take all forms. The idea of the plasticity of God is therefore not new. But among Christians, this idea is pushed as far as possible, with the paradoxical form of « kenosis ».

Madness for the Greeks, scandal for the Jews: Christ is a man and he is also God.

He is not the God of the Hosts, but the God in his glory, the Lord on the right hand of the Lord, the Messiah of the end times.

Madness, scandal, is that this God in all his Glory is also a God ignored, humiliated, tortured, mocked, crucified as a stateless slave.

Madness, scandal, is an infinite God, eternal, creator of the worlds, reduced to the state of a human wreck, a pantelante, dying on the wood, in the midst of rotten corpses.

Kenosis, from the Greek kenoein (to empty), reflects this strange idea of the descent to earth of a God emptied of himself and his power.

Who can do more can do less. Hegel did not hesitate to use divine kenosis as a metaphor for a kind of philosophical kenosis. Without fear of any celestial lightning, Hegel put the former at the service of the latter.

Kenosis is a free erasure of divinity in favor of human freedom, and this erasure is part of the divine project. This paradoxical idea of kenosis can also illustrate, according to Hegel, the philosophical process of voluntary self-dispossession, the dispossession of subjectivity.

Divine kenosis signalled the possibility of a space and time of transcendental emptiness. Philosophical kenosis now applies to man himself. Man is no longer a fixed substance, he is a disappearing subject.

To make an image, Hegel multiplies the figures of God’s exit from oneself. The German language is rich in possibilities in this field: Ent-zweiung, Ent-fremdung, Ent-aüsserung. These forms of exteriorization, and even alienation, are not to be taken lightly from a God who fills the world, or who envelops the world with his thoughts and his Word.

By philosophically recycling an eminently theological concept, Hegel wants to « bring to light the kenotic essence of modern subjectivity, » comments Malabou.

Hegel is ready to bend any wood, including cross wood, to support his speculation.

But in what way is « modern subjectivity » kenotic? How does it mimic the divine recess? By its own emptiness?

The emergence of the concept of kenosis on the philosophical level indicates that Christ first became a noetic representation. For Hegel, it represents, it embodies a speculative idea, that of « absolute truth ». « If Christ is to be only an excellent individual, even without sin, and only that, the representation of the speculative idea of absolute truth is denied.

The Christ who died on the cross, descended to the bottom of the abyss, represents « the negativity of God relating to himself ».

God denying himself represents the absolute truth of his own negation. Is this not the figure of a « plastic » God, par excellence?

« Plastic » refers to what can take on a shape, but then resist deformation to a certain extent. In the philosophical context, what is more « plastic » than the mind? νοὖς (noûs), in its passive reception state, is « the sleep of the spirit, which, in power, is everything » says Hegel in his Philosophy of the Mind. Plasticity contaminates everything. If the mind is originally plastic, as its epigenesis shows us, then the very concepts it can express must also be plastic in some way. The mind is characterized by its innate ability to receive forms, but also to give forms. He extends this property to his own form, which he can deform, reform, reform, transform, transform, by epigenesis, by work or by any other appropriate operation.

Thinking, by its very nature, takes itself as an object of thought. This « thought of thought », this noesis noêseos, this notic plasticity, is the philosophical translation of what was originally a primordial neurobiological property. Thinking is a kind of living being, a being independent of the one who thinks it, and who in this own life, takes itself for form and for future transformations. Thinking takes itself and expands itself freely. Hegel uses the word Aufhebung, which can be translated as « divestment ». Aufheben combines the senses of Befreien (to liberate) and Ablegen (to get rid of).

This withdrawal movement is reflexive. It can be applied to itself. There is always the possibility of a succession of the succession, a divestiture of the divestiture. But who is the subject of this second degree succession? Who decides to divest himself of his act of divestment, and to do what with it?

In other words, what can be generated by a moment of true freedom? What can we hope, at best? Another moment of pure freedom, with no connection to any of the above? The establishment of a new causal chain, imposing its own determination until another possible free moment “arrives”, a moment without how or why, and where, for reasons that are not reasons, would another moment of pure freedom follow?

In reality that is a mystery.