Brief Comments on Ten God’s Names


Paulus Ricius, also known as Paulus Israelita, was a humanist and Kabbalist of Jewish origin, converted to Christianity in 1505. He is known for his contributions to « Christian Hebraism » and for his refutation of Jewish arguments against Christianity through Kabbalah. He was one of the architects of the ‘Christian Kabbalah’ . His work Sha’arei Orah – in Latin Portae lucis, the « Gates of Light », was a source of inspiration for comparable projects initiated by scholars such as Conrad Pellicanus or Guillaume Postel.

By consulting Ricius’ Artis Cabalisticae – Hoc est reconditae theologiae et philosophiae scriptorum (1587), as well as De Arcana Dei Providentia and Portae lucis, I found a list of ten names of God that is worth studying.

1. אדנּי Adonai – The Lord

2. אל חי El Hay – The One who Lives

3. Elohim Zabaoth – The God of the Armies

4. Adonai Zabaoth – The Lord of the Armies

5. יהוה YHVH – Yahweh

6. אלהים Elohim – God (literally: The Gods)

7. אל El – God

8. יהֹוִה The YHVH Tetragram, with Elohim’s vocalization:YeHoViH

9. יה Ioh – First and last letter from YHVH

10. אהיה Ehieh – « I am »

The order of these ten names of God is relatively (but not entirely) arbitrary. No hierarchy is possible or relevant in such a matter, one may assume. Let us note that Guillaume Postel, Thomas Aquinas and Paulus Ricius (and many other specialists) offered very different views on the Names to be retained and listed.

As a matter of principle, God’s Names should be considered to have equal value or status.

However, that does not mean that these Names convey the same meaning, the same weight or have the same value.

Almost two centuries after Ricius, Leibniz proposed thirteen names of God, based on God’s own statement to Moses in Ex. 34:6-7 (as already discussed in my blog The other Other) .

It is interesting, I think, to compare Ricius’ list and Leibniz’ one, with their differences, additions, and yawning gaps.

While comparing and weighing both approaches, one has to remember that the count made by Leibniz is indeed arbitrary, and the base for his reasoning quite fragile, though intellectually stimulating.

There is no certainty either that Paulus Ricius’ version of the ten Names may be more accurate.

We should not be too shy entering this field of questioning, either. What is here at stake is to look for some kind of heuristics, akin to serendipity, to help us, poor humans, in mapping our way around a very difficult subject.

For that matter, it may seem relevant to analyze the relationship between the ten names of God and the ten Sefirot, which are divine emanations.

Here is the list of Sefirot as declined in Latin by Paulus Ricius:

Corona. Prudentia. Sapientia. Pulchritudo. Fortitudo. Magnificentia. Fundamentum. Confessio. Victoria. Regnum.

The Hebrew names of Sefirot quoted in the Kabbalah are the following:

Keter (crown), Hokhma (wisdom), Bina (understanding), Hessed (mercy), Gevurah (discipline), Tiferet (beauty), Netzah (victory), Hod (splendour), Yesod (foundation), Malkuth (kingship).

The Sefirot names are organized in a figure, which evokes a kind of human body, very schematic, with corona for head, sapientia and prudentia as two eyes or two ears, fortitudo and magnificentia for both arms, pulchritudo for heart, confessio and victoria for both legs, fundamentum for ‘foundation’ (euphemism for anus) and regnum for sex.

It is certainly worth trying to meditate on possible equivalences or connections between the Sefirot and the ten Names of God, looking for analogies or anagogies :

CoronaKeter may be linked to ‘Adonai’. The Lord wears the only crownthat be. However, who anointed Him? And what this crown is made of? Gold or thorns?

PrudentiaBina may be linked to ‘YHVH’. God is prudent, and understanding. This is why He did not reveal the meaning of His Name, nor its vocalization.

SapientiaHokhma may be linked to ‘El Hay’. Wisdom is always alive in God.

PulchritudoTiferet may be linked to ‘Elohim’. The Scriptures mentions the beauty of the three Men ‘who were God’, meeting Abraham under the oak of Mamre.

FortitudoGevurah may be linked to ‘Adonai Zabaoth’. The ‘Lord of the Armies’ incarnates the essence of forceand discipline.

MagnificentiaHod may be linked to ‘Elohim Zabaoth’. How could the ‘God of the Hosts’ not embody magnificence in all its glory?

FundamentumYesod may be linked to ‘Ioh’. The Name Ioh incarnates the foundation of divinity, with its two fundamental letters.

ConfessioHessed may be linked to ‘Yehovih’. How can you get mercy without at least requesting it, by confessing your sins? The Tetragram YHVH intertwined with the vowels of Elohim is analogous to mercy penetrating the heart.

VictoriaNetzah may be linked to ‘El’. Only El, at the end of times, — or at the ‘extreme’ summit of His eternity –, will be victorious.

RegnumMalkuth may be linked to ‘Ehieh’. By saying « I am whom I will be », God establishes His reign once for all, for the present and the future.

Of course Kabbalah literature is rich in temptatives to link the sefirot to different Names of God.

For instance, just to give a glimpse of possible, acceptable, variations on the same theme, one may quote the following series of associations, that I found in the online literature on the subject.

I would like to note in passing that, after having forged the associations listed above, I discovered that two associations (out of ten) were similar in the list quoted below. I mention this only to show the power (and the limitations) of heuristic serendipity in this obscure arcane.

RegnumMalkuth linked to Adonaï ha Aretz, The Lord of the Earth.

FundamentumYesod linked to ‘Shaddaï El Haï (The Omnipotent Living God).

Magnificentia – Hod linked to Elohim Zabaoth (The God of Armies), — like we did (see above).

VictoriaNetzah linked to ‘YHVH Zabaoth (YHVH of the Hosts).

PulchritudoTiferet linked to ‘Aloah‘ (The Divinity).

FortitudoGevurah linked to ‘Elohim Gibor’ (The Strong God).

ConfessioHessed linked to ‘El‘ (God).

PrudentiaBina linked to ‘YHVH‘, — just like we did (see above).

SapientiaHokhma linked to ‘Iah‘ (another vocalization of the short Name ‘YH’)

CoronaKeter linked to ‘Eyeh‘ (‘I am’).

What can we learn from this sort of exercise?

We learn that all divine Names are ‘ living’ metaphors, which means that they ‘live’ and the may ‘die’.

But all these metaphors, in a way, are also (metaphorically) ‘gravid’, ‘pregnant’ with other, unheard of, new Names, yet to be born out of the most profound depths of language and of our souls.

Careful! Logic is misleading


« The most characteristic feature of the mystery is the fact that it is announced everywhere »i.

It is announced, but not revealed.

It is presented, but not disclosed. It is reported, but not visible.

« What is hidden is what is revealed »ii

I assume that « what is hidden » points not to the invisible but to the ineffable.

What is revealed is ineffable.

Between myth and mysticism, there are as many differences as there are between the invisible and the unspeakable.

Buried caches, deep caves, dark cellars, distant Hades, these are the founding places of the myth. Esoteric thinkers promise the vision of these secret places to the initiate, when the time comes.

Mysticism goes beyond myth in this: it claims to reveal nothing of the « mystery », which remains unspeakable, inexpressible, incommunicable. What mysticism teaches is not what cannot be said, but what testifies to it, what by signs takes the place of it.

« The god whose oracle is in Delphi does not reveal, does not hide, but gives a sign. « iii (Heraclitus)

You have to get used to thinking like crabs, to drifting towards the sea, running sideways, going sideways. Think by allusions, by paradoxes. « God exists, but not by existence. He lives, but not by life. He knows, but not by science » iv (Leibniz).

Words, syntax, grammars, are teeming with false leads. The researcher must look for other stars, to cross the unknown seas of the world.

Logic itself and its laws are misleading. It is better to follow Leibniz: « The more we succeed in abstracting ourselves from demonstrating God, the more we progress in His knowledge. »v

iS. John Chrysostom

ii Ignatius of Antioch, Ad. Eph. 19,1

iii Heraclitus, Frag. 93.

ivCf. Observations de Leibniz sur le livre du Rabbin Moïse Maïmonide intitulé le Guide des Égarés. §C57

v Ibid. §C59

The other ‘Other’


In his Observations on Rabbi Moses Maimonides’ book entitled The Guide for the Perplexedi Leibniz refers to two other « Tetragrams », one of twelve letters and the other of forty-two. But he remains elliptical on how a four-letter Tetragram, to put it pleonastically, can expand like this into many more letters.

Leibniz also indicates that Moses received « thirteen prophecies » from Godii. Here is the detail of this revelation, reported in the Exodus, and quoted in full.

« The Lord passed before him and shouted: ‘The Lord, the Lord, God of tenderness and mercy, slow to anger, rich in grace and faithfulness, who keeps his grace to thousands, tolerates fault, transgression and sin, but leaves nothing unpunished, and punishes the sins of fathers on children and grandchildren until the third and fourth generation!’ »iii

So Leibniz’ idea is that there are thirteen prophecies densely concentrated in these two verses. One may conjecture that each ‘prophecy’ seems to be associated with one specific word.

Here they are, as far as I can reconstruct them:

The first ‘prophecy’ is: « YHVH (יהוה) ».

The second one: « YHVH (יהוה) ».

The third: « God » (אל).

The fourth: « Clement » (רחום).

The fifth: « Merciful » (חנון).

The sixth: « Slow to anger (אפים) ».

The seventh: « Full (or rich, רב) » – more precisely, « rich in goodness (חסד) and truth (אמת) ».

The eighth: « He keeps his kindness (or favor, חסד) to thousands ».

The ninth: « He tolerates fault (or crime, עון) ».

The tenth: « And the transgression (or rebellion, פשע) ».

The eleventh: « And sin (חטאה) ».

The twelfth « But he leaves nothing unpunished (לא ינקה) ».

The thirteenth: « And he punishes the sins (עון) of the fathers on the children and on the little children ».

Observations are required, from a critical and heuristic point of view.

First of all, we count as two separate and distinct prophecies, the two statements that Yahweh makes of the name YHVH, and as a third the name EL.

Then each attribute (clement, merciful, slow, full) is counted as a prophecy.

There is the special case of « full of goodness and truth », which is counted as a prophecy. Why not count two? Because the adjective « full » is mentioned only once, and because God wants to make it clear that « goodness » and « truth » are inseparable, and must be counted as « one ».

For the verb « he keeps », let us count a prophecy, since God only keeps his goodness.

For the verb « he tolerates », let us count three prophecies, since God tolerates fault, rebellion and sin.

Finally, let us count two prophecies that refer to punishment.

Then, let us note that God cries out twice his name YHVH, but once his name EL.

He shouts four of his attributes, then he shouts four verbs. The first, to keep, applies to only one thing, kindness, but for the benefit of thousands. The second, to tolerate, applies to three negative things. The third, to leave, is used in a negative, therefore absolute, total way. The fourth, to punish, applies over four generations.

It is surely worth noting that three words are quoted twice: « YHVH », « goodness », and « fault », and that one word is quoted three times in the last verse: « the sons ».

There are also questions about some apparent inconsistencies:

God « tolerates fault » but « he leaves nothing unpunished », which seems contradictory.

Moreover, « he punishes the sins of the fathers on the sons and the sons of the sons », which seems unfair.

Let’s take a closer look at this last point, referring to the dictionary. The verb « to punish«  is in the original Hebrew: פקד. This word has a very rich palette of meanings. Here are some of them: « to seek, to visit, to examine, to remember, to punish, to avenge, to lack something, to deprive, to entrust something to the care of another ».

This verb can be translated to mean that God wants to « punish » and « chastise » children and grandchildren for their fathers’ faults, as it is written:

« And he punishes the sins (עון) of the fathers on the children and on the little children ».

But one could also opt for a broader, more generous translation or interpretation of פקד :

« And he seeks, or he examines, or he remembers, or he entrusts the care the sins of a generation to the care of another. »

Another what? Another generation?

Or might it be another ‘Other’?

Who, then, might be this other « Other » to whom God entrusts the care of future generations?

i Observations de Leibniz sur le livre du Rabbin Moïse Maïmonide intitulé le Guide des Égarés § C62

ii Ibid. § C54

iiiEx. 34,6-7