Is a « beautiful girl », whose beauty is « without soul », really beautiful?
Kant thought about this interesting question.
« Even of a girl, it can be said that she is pretty, conversational and good-looking, but soulless. What is meant here by soul? The soul, in the aesthetic sense, refers to the principle that, in the mind, brings life.» i
For Kant, here, the soul is an aesthetic principle, a principle of life. Beauty is nothing if it does not live in some way, from the fire of an inner principle.
Beauty is really nothing without what makes it live, without what animates it, without the soul herself.
But if the soul brings life, how do we see the effect of her power? By the radiance alone of beauty? Or by some other signs?
Can the soul live, and even live to the highest possible degree, without astonishing or striking those who are close to her, who even brush past her, without seeing her? Or, even worse, by those who see her but then despise her?
« He had no beauty or glamour to attract attention, and his appearance had nothing to seduce us. » ii
These words of the prophet Isaiah describe the « Servant », a paradoxical figure, not of a triumphant Messiah, but of God’s chosen one, who is the « light of the nations »iii and who « will establish righteousness on earthiv.
A few centuries after Isaiah, Christians interpreted the « Servant » as a prefiguration of Christ.
The Servant is not beautiful, he has no radiance. In front of him, one even veils one’s face, because of the contempt he inspires.
But as Isaiah says, the Servant is in reality the king of Israel, the light of the nations, the man in whom God has put His spirit, and in whom the soul of God delightsv.
« Object of contempt, abandoned by men, man of pain, familiar with suffering, like someone before whom one hides one’s face, despised, we do not care. Yet it was our suffering that he bore and our pain that he was burdened with. And we considered him punished, struck by God and humiliated. » vi
The Servant, – the Messiah, has neither beauty nor radiance. He has nothing to seduce, but the soul of God delights in him.
A beautiful woman, without soul. And the Servant, without beauty, whose soul is loved by God.
Would soul and beauty have nothing to do with each other?
In the Talmud, several passages deal with beauty; others with the soul; rarely with both.
Some rabbis took pride in their own, personal beauty.
R. Johanan Bar Napheba boasted: « I am a remnant of the splendors of Jerusalem ». vii
His beauty was indeed famous. It must have been all the more striking because his face was « hairless ».viii
And, in fact, this beauty aroused love, to the point of triggering unexpected transports.
« One day, R. Johanan was bathing in the Jordan River. Rech Lakich saw him and jumped into the river to join him.
– You should devote your strength to the Torah, » said R. Johanan.
– Your beauty would suit a woman better, » replied Rech Lakich.
– If you change your life, I’ll give you my sister in marriage, who is much more beautiful than I am. » ix
At least this R. Johanan was looked at and admired ! The same cannot be said of Abraham’s wife. She was beautiful, as we know, because the Pharaoh had coveted her. But Abraham did not even bother to look at her…
« I had made a covenant with my eyes, and I would not have looked at a virgin (Job, 31:1): Job would not have looked at a woman who was not his, says Rabbah, but Abraham did not even look at his own wife, since it is written, « Behold, I know that you are a beautiful woman (Gen. 12:11): until then he did not know it. » x
From another point of view, if someone is really beautiful, it can be detrimental, even deadly.
The very handsome rabbi R. Johanan reported: « From the river Echel to Rabath stretches the valley of Dura, and among the Israelites whom Nebuchadnezzar exiled there were young men whose radiant beauty eclipsed the sun. Their very sight alone made the women of Chaldea sick with desire. They confessed it to their husbands. The husbands informed the king who had them executed. But the women continued to languish. So the king had the bodies of young men crushed.» xi
In those days, the rabbis themselves did not hide their appreciation of the beauty of women :
« Rabbi Simon b. Gamaliel was on the steps of the Temple Hill when he saw a pagan woman of great beauty. How great are your works, O LORD! (Ps. 104:24) he exclaimed. Likewise, when R. Akiba saw Turnus Rufus’ wifexii, he spat, laughed, and wept. He spat because she came from a stinking drop; he laughed because she was destined to convert and become his wife; and he wept [thinking] that such beauty would one day be under the earth. » xiii
That Rabbi Akiba dreamt of converting and seducing the wife of the Roman governor of Judea can be attributed to militant proselytizing.
Or was it just a parable?
Why did Rabbi Akiba mourn the beauty of this pagan?
Shouldn’t the beauty of her « converted » soul have obliterated forever the beauty of her body, destined moreover to be buried some day?
iEmmanuel Kant. Criticism of the faculty of judgment.
« All men are either Jews or Hellenes; either they are driven by ascetic impulses which lead them to reject all pictorial representation and to sacrifice to sublimation, or they are distinguished by their serenity, their expansive naturalness and their realistic spirit, » wrote Heinrich Heinei.
The over-schematic and somewhat outrageous nature of this statement may surprise in the mouth of the « last of the Romantic poets ».
But, according to Jan Assmann, Heine here would only symbolize the opposition between two human types, each of them holding on to two world visions, one valuing the spirit, without seeking a direct relationship with material reality, and the other valuing above all the senses and the concrete world.
In any case, when Heinrich Heine wrote these words at the beginning of the 19th century, this clear-cut opposition between « Hebraism » and « Hellenism » could be seen as a kind of commonplace “cliché” in the Weltanschauung then active in Germany.
Other considerations fueled this polarization. A kind of fresh wind seemed to be blowing on the European intellectual scene following the recent discovery of Sanskrit, followed by the realization of the historical depth of the Vedic heritage, and the exhumation of evidence of a linguistic filiation between the ‘Indo-European’ languages.
All this supported the thesis of the existence of multi-millennia migrations covering vast territories, notably from Northern Europe to Central Asia, India and Iran.
There was a passionate search for a common European origin, described in Germany as ‘Indo-Germanic’ and in France or Britain as ‘Indo-European’, taking advantage as much as possible of the lessons of comparative linguistics, the psychology of peoples and various mythical, religious and cultural sources.
Heine considered the opposition between « Semitic » and « Aryan » culture as essential. For him, it was a question not only of opposing « Aryans » and « Semites », but of perceiving « a more general opposition that concerned ‘all men’, the opposition between the mind, which is not directly related to the world or distant from it, and the senses, which are linked to the world. The first inclination, says Heine (rather simplistically, I must say), men get it from the Jews, the second, they inherited it from the Greeks, so that henceforth two souls live in the same bosom, a Jewish soul and a Greek soul, one taking precedence over the other depending on the case.» ii
A century later, Freud thought something comparable, according to Jan Assmann. « For him, too, the specifically Jewish contribution to human history lay in the drive toward what he called « progress in the life of the spirit. This progress is to the psychic history of humanity what Freud calls ‘sublimation’ in the individual psychic life.”iii
For Freud, the monotheistic invention consisted « in a refusal of magic and mysticism, in encouraging progress in the life of the spirit, and in encouraging sublimation ». It was a process by which « the people, animated by the possession of truth, penetrated by the consciousness of election, came to set great store by intellectual things and to emphasize ethics »iv.
This would be the great contribution of « Judaism » to the history of the world.
At the same time, however, Freud developed a particularly daring and provocative thesis about the « invention » of monotheism. According to him, Moses was not a Hebrew, he was Egyptian; moreover, and most importantly, he did not die in the land of Moab, as the Bible reports, but was in fact murdered by his own people.
Freud’s argument is based on the unmistakably Egyptian name ‘Moses’, the legend of his childhood, and Moses’ « difficult speech, » an indication that he was not proficient in Hebrew. Indeed, he could communicate only through Aaron. In addition, there are some revealing quotations, according to Freud: « What will I do for this people? A little more and they will stone me! « (Ex. 17:4) and : « The whole community was talking about [Moses and Aaron] stoning them. » (Numbers 14:10).
There is also that chapter of Isaiah in which Freud distinguishes the « repressed » trace of the fate actually reserved for Moses: « An object of contempt, abandoned by men, a man of sorrow, familiar with suffering, like one before whom one hides his face, despised, we took no notice of him. But it was our sufferings that he bore and our pains that he was burdened with. And we saw him as punished, struck by God and humiliated. But he was pierced because of our crimes, crushed because of our faults. « (Is. 53:3-5)
Freud infers from all these clues that Moses was in fact murdered by the Jews after they revolted against the unbearable demands of the Mosaic religion. He adds that the killing of Moses by the Jews marked the end of the system of the primitive horde and polytheism, and thus resulted in the effective and lasting foundation of monotheism.
The murder of the « father », which was – deeply – repressed in Jewish consciousness, became part of an « archaic heritage », which « encompasses not only provisions but also contents, mnemonic traces relating to the life of previous generations. (…) If we admit the preservation of such mnemonic traces in the archaic heritage, we have bridged the gap between individual psychology and the psychology of the masses, we can treat people as the neurotic individual.”v
The repression is not simply cultural or psychological, it affects the long memory of peoples, through « mnemonic traces » that are inscribed in the depths of souls, and perhaps even in the biology of bodies, in their DNA.
The important thing is that it is from this repression that a « decisive progress in the life of the spirit » has been able to emerge, according to Freud. This « decisive progress », triggered by the murder of Moses, was also encouraged by the ban on mosaic images.
« Among the prescriptions of the religion of Moses, there is one that is more meaningful than is at first thought. It is the prohibition to make an image of God, and therefore the obligation to worship a God who cannot be seen. We suppose that on this point Moses surpassed in rigor the religion of Aten; perhaps he only wanted to be consistent – his God had neither name nor face -; perhaps it was a new measure against the illicit practices of magic. But if one admitted this prohibition, it necessarily had to have an in-depth action. It meant, in fact, a withdrawal of the sensory perception in favor of a representation that should be called abstract, a triumph of the life of the mind over the sensory life, strictly speaking a renunciation of impulses with its necessary consequences on the psychological level.”vi
If Judaism represents a « decisive progress » in the life of the spirit, what can we think of the specific contribution of Christianity in this regard?
Further progress in the march of the spirit? Or, on the contrary, regression?
Freud’s judgment of the Christian religion is very negative.
« We have already said that the Christian ceremony of Holy Communion, in which the believer incorporates the Saviour’s flesh and blood, repeats in its content the ancient totemic meal, certainly only in its sense of tenderness, which expresses veneration, not in its aggressive sense ».vii
For him, « this religion constitutes a clear regression in the life of the spirit, since it is marked by a return to magical images and rites, and in particular to the sacrificial rite of the totemic meal during which God himself is consumed by the community of believers.”viii
Freud’s blunt condemnation of Christianity is accompanied by a kind of contempt for the « lower human masses » who have adopted this religion.
« In many respects, the new religion constituted a cultural regression in relation to the old, Jewish religion, as is regularly the case when new, lower-level human masses enter or are admitted somewhere. The Christian religion did not maintain the degree of spiritualization to which Judaism had risen. It was no longer strictly monotheistic, it adopted many of the symbolic rites of the surrounding peoples, it restored the great mother goddess and found room for a large number of polytheistic deities, recognizable under their veils, albeit reduced to a subordinate position. Above all it did not close itself, like the religion of Aten and the Mosaic religion which followed it, to the intrusion of superstitious magic and mystical elements, which were to represent a serious inhibition for the spiritual development of the next two millennia.”ix
If one adopts a viewpoint internal to Christianity, however hurtful Freud’s attacks may be, they do not stand up to analysis. In spite of all the folklore from which popular religiosity is not exempt, Christian theology is clear: there is only one God. The Trinity, difficult to understand, one can admit, for non-Christians as well as for Christians, does not imply « three Gods », but only one God, who gives Himself to be seen and understood in three « Persons ».
To take a cross-comparison, one could infer that Judaism is not « strictly monotheistic » either, if one recalls that the Scriptures attest that « three men » (who were YHVH) appeared to Abraham under the oak tree of Mamre (Gen 18:1-3), or that the Word of God was « incarnated » in the six hundred thousand signs of the Torah, or that God left in the world His own « Shekhinah » .
From the point of view of Christianity, everything happens as if Isaiah chapter 53, which Freud applied to Moses, could also be applied to the figure of Jesus.
It is the absolutely paradoxical and scandalous idea (from the point of view of Judaism) that the Messiah could appear not as a triumphant man, crushing the Romans, but as « an object of contempt, abandoned by men, a man of sorrow, familiar with suffering, like someone before whom one hides one’s face, despised. »
But what is, now, the most scandalous thing for the Jewish conscience?
Is it Freud’s hypothesis that Isaiah’s words about a « man of sorrow », « despised », indicate that the Jews murdered Moses?
Or is it that these same Isaiah’s words announce the Christian thesis that the Messiah had to die like a slave, under the lazzis and spittle?
If Freud is wrong and Moses was not murdered by the Jews, it cannot be denied that a certain Jesus was indeed put to death under Pontius Pilate. And then one may be struck by the resonance of these words uttered by Isaiah seven centuries before: « Now it is our sufferings that he bore and our sorrows that he was burdened with. And we considered him punished, struck by God and humiliated. But he was pierced because of our crimes, crushed because of our faults. « (Is. 53:4-5)
There is obviously no proof, from the Jewish point of view, that these words of Isaiah apply to Jesus, — or to Moses.
If Isaiah’s words do not apply to Moses (in retrospect) nor to Jesus (prophetically), who do they apply to? Are they only general, abstract formulas, without historical content? Or do they refer to some future Messiah? Then, how many more millennia must Isaiah’s voice wait before it reaches its truth?
History, we know, has only just begun.
Human phylum, if it does not throw itself unexpectedly into nothingness, taking with it its planet of origin, still has (roughly) a few tens of millions of years of phylogenetic « development » ahead of it.
To accomplish what?
One may answer: to rise ever more in consciousness.
Or to accomplish still unimaginable « decisive progress »…
With time, the millennia will pass.
Will Isaiah’s words pass?
What is mankind already capable of?
What will be the nature of the « decisive progress » of the human spirit, which has yet to be accomplished, and which still holds itself in the potency to become?
It is necessary to prepare for it. We must always set to work, in the dark, in what seems like a desert of stone, salt and sand.
For example, it would be, it seems to me, a kind of « decisive » progress to “see” in the figure of Moses « put to death » by his own people, and in that of Christ « put on the cross », the very figure of the Sacrifice.
The original Sacrifice, granted from before the creation of the world by the Creator God, the « Lord of Creatures » (that One and Supreme God whom the Veda already called « Prajāpati » six thousand years ago).
It would also, it seems to me, be another kind of « decisive » progress to begin to sense some of the anthropological consequences of the original « Sacrifice » of the supreme God, the « Lord of Creatures ».
Among them, the future of the « religions » on the surface of such a small, negligible planet (Earth): their necessary movement of convergence towards a religion of Humanity and of the World, a religion of the conscience of the Sacrifice of God, a religion of the conscience of Man, in the emptiness of the Cosmos.
iHeinrich Heine. Ludwig Börne. Le Cerf. Paris, 1993
iiJan Assmann. Le prix du monothéisme. Flammarion, Paris 2007, p. 142
The biblical name Bezaleeli literally means « in the shadow of God ». Philo offers this interpretation: “The ‘shadow of God’ is the Logos. Just as God is the model of His own Image, which He has here called ‘shadow’, so the Image becomes the model of other things, as He showed at the beginning of the Law (Gen. 1:27) (…) The Image was reproduced after God, and man after the Image, who thus took on the role of model.”ii
Man then is only the shadow of a shadow, the image of an image, or the dream of a dream. For the word shadow evokes the dream, the dream, according to Philo, who quotes the verse: « God will make Himself known unto him in a vision, that is, in a shadow, and not in all light » (Num. 12:6).
In truth, this quotation from Philo is a bit approximate.
The King James version says, more faithfully: “If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.”
In fact, in the original Hebrew, we read not the word « shadow » (tsal), but « dream » (halom).
If one renders the translation with this word, the verse reads:
« Listen to my words. If he were only your prophet, I, the LORD, would manifest myself to him in a vision, I would speak with him in a dream. But no: Moses is my servant; he is the most devoted of all my house. I speak to him face to face, in a clear apparition and without riddles; it is the very image of God that he contemplates. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant, against Moses? »iii
Even to a ‘prophet’, God may manifest Himself in ambiguous and fragile ways: through a vision or a dream.
But to Moses, God appeared face to face, clearly, ‘without riddles’. And Moses contemplated God as an « image ».
He had the great privilege of seeing God face to face, but in reality he saw only His image. This image, this « shadow », was the Logos of God, if we are to follow Philo.
Evidently, here, the Platonic theories of the Logos had percolated and sowed some seeds in the mind of a great Jewish thinker.
Born in Alexandria just before our era, Philo appears in history shortly before a certain Yĕhōshúa of Galilea, who was later destined to be granted the name of the divine Logos by his followers.
From Moses to Jesus, one can see some continuity and some difference. Moses talks face to face with the Logos of God, i.e. His « image », or His « shadow ». Jesus also talks face to face with God, but he is himself called Logos.
What is the difference? Maybe a difference in the degree of ‘incarnation’ of the Divine Spirit.
The prophets usually are given visions and dreams. To Moses, was given the image and vision of the Logos. To Jesus was given to be the Logos.
And to the Prophet Muhammad what was given? He was given the Qur’an. As the prophet was notoriously illiterate, this text was first dictated to him in oral form, by an angel. Some scribes then took it upon themselves to transcribe the revealed text for posterity.
Can we say that the Qur’an is an instance of the divine Logos? Admittedly, the Qur’an and the Logos are both different instances of the Word of God.
So what is the (ontological) difference between the experience of Moses, that of Jesus and that of Muhammad?
In all three cases God manifests Himself through His Word.
Three brands of monotheism came out to celebrate these manifestations.
The Jews conserve the ‘words’ that God spoke to Moses. They believe that the Logos can be embodied in the vision that Moses saw, and in the Law that he heard.
The Christians believe that the Logos can incarnate Himself in a Messiah, called « Son of God », and that the (divine) Word is « the Son of God ».
The Muslims believe that the « Uncreated Qur’an » is the Word of God.
In reality, nothing may prevent the Logos to ‘descend’ and ‘incarnate’ in this world, wherever and whenever He or She wishes to do so.
transmit knowledge acquired beyond the ages. From one to the other,
you always go up higher, as far as possible, like the salmon in the
Thanks to Clement of
Alexandria, in the 2nd century, twenty-two fragments of Heraclitus
(fragments 14 to 36 according to the numbering of Diels-Kranz) were
saved from oblivion, out of a total of one hundred and thirty-eight.
« Rangers in the
night, the Magi, the priests of Bakkhos, the priestesses of the
presses, the traffickers of mysteries practiced among men. »
A few words, and a
At night, magic,
bacchae, lenes, mysts, and of course the god Bakkhos.
The Fragment 15
describes one of these mysterious and nocturnal ceremonies: « For
if it were not in honour of Dionysus that they processioned and sang
the shameful phallic anthem, they would act in the most blatant way.
But it’s the same one, Hades or Dionysus, for whom we’re crazy or
reserved about bacchic delusions and orgiastic tributes to the
He sees a link
between madness, delirium, Hades and Dionysus.
associated with drunkenness. We remember the rubicond Bacchus,
bombing under the vine.
Bacchus, the Latin
name of the Greek god Bakkhos, is also Dionysus, whom Heraclitus
likens to Hades, God of the Infernos, God of the Dead.
Dionysus was also
closely associated with Osiris, according to Herodotus in the 5th
century BC. Plutarch went to study the question on the spot, 600
years later, and reported that the Egyptian priests gave the Nile the
name of Osiris, and the sea the name of Typhon. Osiris is the
principle of the wet, of generation, which is compatible with the
phallic cult. Typhoon is the principle of dry and hot, and by
metonymy of the desert and the sea. And Typhon is also the other name
of Seth, Osiris’ murdering brother, whom he cut into pieces.
We see here that the
names of the gods circulate between distant spheres of meaning.
This implies that
they can also be interpreted as the denominations of abstract
Plutarch, who cites
in his book Isis and Osiris references from an even more oriental
horizon, such as Zoroaster, Ormuzd, Ariman or Mitra, testifies to
this mechanism of anagogical abstraction, which the ancient Avestic
and Vedic religions practiced abundantly.
Zoroaster had been
the initiator. In Zoroastrianism, the names of the gods embody ideas,
abstractions. The Greeks were the students of the Chaldeans and the
ancient Persians. Plutarch condenses several centuries of Greek
thought, in a way that evokes Zoroastrian pairs of principles:
« Anaxagoras calls Intelligence the principle of good, and that
of evil, Infinite. Aristotle names the first the form, and the other
Plato, who often expresses himself as if in an enveloped and veiled
manner, gives to these two contrary principles, to one the name of
« always the same » and to the other, that of « sometimes
one, sometimes the other ». »ii
Plutarch is not
fooled by Greek, Egyptian or Persian myths. He knows that they cover
abstract, and perhaps more universal, truths. But he had to be
content with allusions of this kind: « In their sacred hymns in
honour of Osiris, the Egyptians mentioned « He who hides in the
arms of the Sun ». »
As for Typhon, a
deicide and fratricide, Hermes emasculated him, and took his nerves
to make them the strings of his lyre. Myth or abstraction?
Plutarch uses the
etymology (real or imagined) as an ancient method to convey his
ideas: « As for the name Osiris, it comes from the association of
two words: ὄσιοϛ, holy and ἱερός, sacred. There is indeed
a common relationship between the things in Heaven and those in
Hades. The elders called them saints first, and sacred the second. »iii
Osiris, in his very
name, osios-hieros, unites Heaven and Hell, he combines
the holy and the sacred.
The sacred is what
The saint is what
separated him to what is united.
Osiris, victor of
death, unites the most separated worlds there are. It represents the
figure of the Savior, – in Hebrew the « Messiah ».
Taking into account
the anteriority, the Hebrew Messiah and the Christian Christ are late
figures of Osiris.
Osiris, a Christic
metaphor, by anticipation? Or Christ, a distant Osirian reminiscence?
Or a joint
participation in a common fund, an immemorial one?
All religions, all beliefs, play their part in this world.
They are all quite different in a sense, But they all play a role in the current global, political and moral crisis.
Whether Vedic, Egyptian, Zend, Chaldean, Jewish, Buddhist, Hinduist, Christian, Islamic, all religions have something essential in common: they all have some kind of responsibility for the misfortune of the world.
they say they are « outside » the world, or « inside »
the world, they are responsible for what they say or let say, for
what they do or let do on their behalf.
are part of the world, taking on the most eminent place, that of
judge, master and sage.
could they not be linked to the actions and speeches of their
can we not judge them as much on what they say as on what they don’t
can we not bring their great witnesses to the public arena and ask
their opinion on the state of the world, as we would on election
night or on a day of disaster?
don’t really know where the chain of prophets began or when it will
the seal of the word sealed for eternity? Who will tell?
the Messiah return? Who will see that day?
eschatology come to an end? Who will hear the final Word?
ten thousand years is not enough to lower the pride of the
presumptuous, let us give ourselves a hundred centuries or a million
millennia, just to see what will remain of the dust of words once
tables, once stones, once laws.
of names can be listed, to stimulate memories. How far back do we go?
a few million years, we will see that they all shared their
differences, their aspirations, their visions, their breaths, their
does the « religion » of these prophets have to do with
« entities » now called Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, the United States, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt,
India, Greece, China, France, Germany?
History teach us some day the essence of the difference between the
« religion » of the Khârijites, the Zaydites, the Imâmites,
the Ismaili Shi’ites and the Sunni ‘majority’ of Islam?
was really the origin of the « religion » of the Nizarrians,
and that of Hassan ibn al-Sabbah’s Assassiyoun?
is the « religion » of the Taliban?
questions are pointless, useless, apparently. There are better things
to do, as it seems, such as fighting, killing people, bombing cities,
beheading bodies, murdering children.
religions of the past illuminate the wanderings of the present and
those of the future with a special light, a premonitory aura.
slow epigenesis must be observed.
(implicit, slow) convergence must not be excluded, in the long run,
beyond their differences.
is necessary for understanding the present, as time takes its time.
who still has time to remember?
highlight, with words, curses and targeted blessings, much of the
reveal the fragility, weakness, instability, irreducible fracture of
encourage us to take a long and global perspective, to observe the
events of the day, to understand them, to anticipate their
consequences, and to overcome pain, anxiety, fatigue and the desire
for revenge, the drive for hatred.
more than fifty-five centuries, several religions have been born and
deployed in a limited geographical area, it is worth noting.
privileged area, this node of beliefs and passions, extends from the
Nile Valley to the Ganges basin, via the Tigris and Euphrates, the
Oxus, and the Indus.
changes more slowly than the hearts of mortals….
the Indus and the Oxus, which country best reflects today the past
millennia, the erased glories?
can we forget that Iran and Iraq (like Ireland) take their names from
the ancient Aryas, attesting to the ancient Indo-European ties of
Persia, Elam and Europe?
Aryas, long before they even received their « Aryan » name,
founded two major religions, the Veda in India, and the Zend Avesta
forces! Immaculate memories!
Fabre d’Olivet reports that Diagoras de Melos (5th century BC),
nicknamed « the atheist », a mocking and irreverent
character, discredited the Mysteries by disclosing and ‘explaining’
them. He even went so far as to imitate them in public. He recited
the Orphic Logos, he shamelessly revealed the Mysteries of Eleusis
and those of the Cabires.
will dare to unveil today, like Diagoras, the actual mysteries of the
world to the amazed crowds?
« Religion »
is a prism, a magnifying glass, a telescope and a microscope at the
« Religion »
is above all an anthropological phenomenon.
bring nothing to this debate, or rather ignite it without benefit to
the heart or the mind.
global anthropology of « religion » could possibly reveal
some constants of the human mind.
constants do exist. Thus, the latent, impalpable or fleeting feeling
of « mystery ».
« mystery » is not defined. It escapes any categorization.
But implicitly, indirectly, by multiplying approaches, by varying
angles, by accumulating references, by evoking the memory of peoples,
their sacredness, perhaps we sometimes manage to see the shadow of
its trace, its attenuated effluvium.
is also the idea of a unique, principal, creative divinity. It is
found in various forms, in ancient times, long before Abraham’s time,
before the Zend, even before the Veda.
again is the question of origin and death, the question of knowledge
of what we cannot know.
breath then goes through the pages of the Book of the Dead, the
manuscripts of Nag Hammadi, the hymns of Ṛg Véda or the Gāthās
of Zend Avesta? What breath, even today, runs through the world, in
a time so different from the origins?
breath, it is still possible to perceive it, to breathe its smell.
world of ideas and beliefs, distant, astonishing, serves as a
foundation for today’s world, filled with violence and lies,
populated by « saints » and murderers, wise men and prophets,
fools and crooks, death cries and « divine winds »
today, thinks the world’s destiny?
reading the Upaniṣad, let us also think of the « masters of the
world », the « gnomes » enslaved to the banks, the
political « dwarves » governing the peoples, perched on the
shoulders of centuries?
who are agitated in ignorance consider themselves wise. They run
wildly around like blind people, led by a blind man. »i
is a fact that we often observe, at the highest level, hypocrisy,
lies, baseness, cowardice, and much more rarely wisdom, courage,
it is also a fact that anything can happen, always., at any time.
is possible, on principle. The worst. The best. The mediocre. The
unspeakable. The unheard of.
world is saturated with ideas from all ages. Sometimes, from nowhere,
new forms are born, shimmering above the rubble and catacombs, relics
and hypogoria, crypts and hidden treasures.
will see these incredible visions, yet to appear?
who will be able to « meditate on what is difficult to perceive,
penetrate the secret that is deposited in the hidden place, that
resides in the ancient abyss ».
By proclaiming himself « Messiah »
in 1648, Sabbatai Tsevi created a movement that was both
revolutionary and apocalyptic. He achieved great success, and his
messianic vocation was recognized as such by the Jews of Aleppo and
Smyrna, his hometown, as well as by many Jewish communities in
Eastern Europe, Western Europe and the Middle East.
But, after a beginning as shattering
as it was promising, why did Tsevi then apostasize Judaism and
convert to Islam in 1666?
Gershom Scholem reports in his study
of him that Tsevi was actually seeking, in apostasy, the « mystery
of the Divinity ».
In any case, one cannot fail to
admire his courage and his spirit of transgression. Tsevi converted
spectacularly to Islam, when he was seen as Messiah by a large part
of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora. Why? This is due to a
profound, difficult, but not unimportant idea – even today.
Tsevi believed that his apostasy, as
Messiah, would advance tiqoun (« reparation » or
« reconstruction »), thereby working for the restoration of
A foolish bet, full of good
The tiqoun required broad,
radical, revolutionary gestures.
Moses had brought a Law of Truth
(Torah Emet) and the Koran a Law of Kindness (Torah
Hessed), he said. These two laws had to be reconciled in order to
save the world, as the Psalmist says: « Goodness and truth meet »
It was not necessary to oppose laws
and traditions, but to unite them, to conjoin them. As proof,
Kabbalists argued that the « divine mystery » is symbolically
embodied in the sixth Sefira, Tiferet, which corresponds to
the third letter (ו Vav)
of the Tetragrammaton, which marks the conjunction, in Hebrew grammar
« and »).
Tsevi, well versed in Kabbalah, was
not satisfied with it, however. He thought that the divine mystery
was located far above the Sefirot, even beyond the first principle,
beyond the idea of the First Cause, beyond the inaccessible Ein-sof,
and finally far beyond the very idea of mystery.
The ultimate remains in the holiest
That is why, after having been
influenced by it for a long time, Sabbatai Tsevi finally rejected the
Kabbalah of Luria. He said that « Isaac Louria had built an
admirable tank but had not specified who was driving it ».
The admirable chariot was the
metaphor then accepted to designate the Sefirot of Louria. This
expression also referred to Ezekiel’s famous vision.
The Tsevi question remains relevant
today. Who drives the Sefirot’s chariot?
offers the opportunity to ask a question that has no place in Judaism
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?
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).
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.
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
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
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 »?
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
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
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
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
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):
« Eli, Eli, lamah,
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
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 »?