Double Meanings and Triple Names (The Cases of Veda and the Sheqel ha-Qodesh)


Classical Sanskrit is a language which allows a lot of verbal games (śleṣa), and double entendres. This semantic duplicity is not simply linguistic. It has its source in the Veda itself, which gives it a much deeper meaning.

« The ‘double meaning’ is the most remarkable process of the Vedic style (…) The objective is to veil the expression, to attenuate direct intelligibility, in short to create ambiguity. This is what the presence of so many obscure words contributes to, so many others that are likely to have (sometimes, simultaneously) a friendly side, a hostile side. » i

The vocabulary of Ṛg Veda is full of ambiguous words and puns.

For example, the word arí means « friend; faithful, zealous, pious » but also « greedy, envious; hostile, enemy ». The word jána refers to the men of the tribe or clan, but the derived word jánya means « stranger ».

On the puns side, let us quote śáva which means both « force » and « corpse », and the phonetic proximity invites us to attribute it to God Śiva, giving it these two meanings. A representation of Śiva at the Ethnographic Museum in Berlin shows him lying on his back, blue and dead, and a goddess with a fierce appearance, multiple arms, a ravenous mouth, ecstatic eyes, makes love to him, to gather the divine seed.

Particularly rich in contrary meanings are the words that apply to the sphere of the sacred.

Thus the root vṛj- has two opposite senses. On the one hand, it means « to overthrow » (the wicked), on the other hand « to attract to oneself » (the Divinity) as Louis Renouii notes. Huet’s Sanskrit dictionary proposes two pallets of meanings for this root: « to bend, to twist; to tear out, to pick, to take away, to exclude, to alienate » and « to choose, to select; to reserve for oneself », which we can see that they can be applied in two antagonistic intentions: rejection or appropriation.

The keyword devá plays a central role, but its meaning is particularly ambiguous. Its primary meaning is « brilliant », « being of light », « divine ». But in RV I,32,12, devá designates Vṛta, the « hidden », the god Agni hid himself as « the one who took human form »iii. And in later texts the word devá is clearly used to refer to ‘demons’iv.

This ambiguity is accentuated when it is prefixed like in ādeva or ádeva: « The word ādeva is different: sometimes it is a doublet of ádeva – ‘impious’ – which is even juxtaposed with in RV VI 49:15; sometimes the word means ‘turned towards the gods’. It is significant that two terms of almost opposite meanings have merged into one and the same form. » v

This phonetic ambiguity of the word is not only ‘significant’, but it seems to me that it allows to detect a crypto-theology of the negative God, of the God « hidden » in his own negation…

The ambiguity installed at this level indicates the Vedic propensity to reduce (by phonetic shifts and approximations) the a priori radical gap between God and Non-God.

The closeness and ambiguity of the meanings makes it possible to link, by metonymy, the clear negation of God (ádeva) and what could be described as God’s ‘procession’ towards Himself (ādeva).

The Sanskrit language thus more or less consciously stages the potential reversibility or dialectical equivalence between the word ádeva (« without God » or « Non-God ») and the word ādeva which, on the contrary, underlines the idea of a momentum or movement of God « towards » God, as in this formula of a hymn addressed to Agni: ā devam ādevaṃ, « God turned towards God », or « God devoted to God » (RV VI, 4,1) .

This analysis is confirmed by the very clear case of the notion of Asura, which combines in a single word two extreme opposite meanings, that of « supreme deity » and that of « enemy of the deva« vi.

The ambiguity of the words reflects on the Gods by name. Agni is the very type of the beneficent deity, but he is also evoked as durmati (foolish) in a passage from RV VII, 1,22. Elsewhere he is accused of constant deceit (RV V,19,4). The God Soma plays a prominent role in all Vedic rites of sacrifice, but he is also described as deceitful (RV IX 61,30), and there are several instances of a demonized Soma identified at Vṛtra. vii

What interpretation should be given to these opposing and concurrent meanings?

Louis Renou opts for the magic idea. « The reversibility of acts as well as formulas is a feature of magical thinking. One puts deities into action against deities, a sacrifice against one’s sacrifice, a word against one’s word ». (MS II, 1,7) »viii.

Anything that touches the sacred can be turned upside down, or overturned.

The sacred is at the same time the source of the greatest goods but also of panic terror, by all that it keeps of mortal dread.

If we turn to the specialist in comparative myth analysis that was C. G. Jung, another interpretation emerges, that of the « conjunction of opposites », which is « synonymous with unconsciousness ».

« The conjuctio oppositorum occupied the speculation of the alchemists in the form of the chymic marriage, and also that of the Kabbalists in the image of Tipheret and Malchut, of God and the Shekinah, not to mention the marriage of the Lamb. » ix

Jung also makes the link with the Gnostic conception of a God ‘devoid of consciousness’ (anennoetos theos). The idea of the agnosia of God psychologically means that God is assimilated to the ‘numinosity of the unconscious’, which is reflected in the Vedic philosophy of Ātman and Puruṣa in the East as well as in that of Master Eckhart in the West.

« The idea that the creator god is not conscious, but that perhaps he is dreaming is also found in the literature of India:

Who could probe it, who will say

Where was he born and where did he come from?

The gods came out of him here.

Who says where they come from?

He who produced the creation

Who contemplates it in the very high light of the sky,

Who did or did not do it,

He knows it! – Or does he not know it? » x

Similarly, Master Eckhart’s theology implies « a ‘divinity’ of which no property can be asserted except that of unity and being, it ‘becomes’, it is not yet Lord of oneself, and it represents an absolute coincidence of opposites. But its simple nature is formless of forms, without becoming of becoming, without being of beings. A conjunction of opposites is synonymous with unconsciousness, because consciousness supposes a discrimination as well as a relation between subject and object. The possibility of consciousness ceases where there is not yet ‘another’. » xi

Can we be satisfied with the Gnostic (or Jungian) idea of the unconscious God? Isn’t it a contradiction for Gnosis (which wants to be supremely ‘knowledge’) to take for God an unconscious God?

Jung’s allusion to the Jewish Kabbalah allows me to return to the ambiguities in biblical Hebrew. This ambiguity is particularly evident in the ‘names of God’. God is supposed to be the One par excellence, but in the Torah there are formally ten names of God: Ehyeh, Yah, Eloha, YHVH, El, Elohim, Elohe Israel, Zevahot, Adonai, Chaddai. xii

This multiplicity of names hides in it an additional profusion of meanings deeply hidden in each of them. Moses de Leon, thus comments on the first name mentioned, Ehyeh:

« The first name: Ehyeh (‘I will be’). It is the secret of the proper Name and it is the name of unity, unique among all His names. The secret of this name is that it is the first of the names of the Holy One blessed be He. And in truth, the secret of the first name is hidden and concealed without any unveiling; therefore, it is the secret of ‘I will be’ because it persists in its being in the secret of mysterious depth until the Secret of Wisdom arises, from which there is unfolding of everything. » xiii

A beginning of explanation is perhaps given by the comment of Moses de Leon about the second name :

« The secret of the second name is Yah. A great principle is that Wisdom is the beginning of the name emerging from the secret of Clear Air, and it is he, yes he, who is destined to be revealed according to the secret of ‘For I will be’. They said:  » ‘I will be’ is a name that is not known and revealed, ‘For I will be’. « Although the secret of Yah [YH] is that it is half of the name [the name YHVH], nevertheless it is the fullness of all, in that it is the principle of all existence, the principle of all essences. » xiv

Judaism uncompromisingly affirms the absolute unity of God and ridicules the Christian idea of the ‘divine Trinity’, but it does not, however, refrain from some incursions into this very territory:

« Why should the Sefirot be ten and not three, in accordance with the secret of Unity that lies in three? You have already treated and discussed the secret of Unity and dissected the secret of : YHVH, our God, YHVH’ (Deut 6:4). You have dealt with the secret of His unity, blessed be His name, concerning these three names, as well as the secret of His Holiness according to the riddle of the three holinesses: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ (Is 6:3).

(…) You need to know in the secret of the depths of the question you asked that ‘YHVH, our God, YHVH’ is the secret of three things and how they are one. (…) You will discover it in the secret: ‘Holy, holy, holy’ (Is 6:3) which Jonathan ben Myiel said and translated into Aramaic in this way: ‘Holy in the heavens above, dwelling place of His presence, Holy on earth where He performs His deeds, Holy forever and for all eternity of eternities’. In fact, the procession of holiness takes place in all the worlds according to their descent and their hierarchical position, and yet holiness is one. » xv

The idea of the ‘procession of the three Holies’ is found almost word for word in the pages of the book On the Trinity written by St. Augustine, almost a thousand years before the Sheqel ha-Qodesh of Moses de Leon… But what does it matter! It seems that our time prefers to privilege sharp and radical oppositions rather than to encourage the observation of convergences and similarities.

Let us conclude. The Veda, by its words, shows that the name devá of God can play with its own negation (ádeva), to evoke the « procession » of God « towards God » (ādeva).

A thousand years later, God revealed to Moses His triple name ‘Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh‘. Then, three thousand years after the Ṛg Veda, the Jewish Kabbalah interpreted the mystery of the name Ehyeh, as an ‘I will be’ yet to come – ‘For I will be’. A pungent paradox for radical monotheism, it also affirms the idea of a « procession » of the three « Holinesses » of the One God.

Language, be it Vedic or biblical, far from being a museum of dead words and frozen concepts, has throughout the ages constantly presented the breadth, depth and width of its scope. It charges each word with meanings, sometimes necessarily contrary or contradictory, and then nurtures them with all the power of intention, which is revealed through interpretation.

Words hold in reserve all the energy, wisdom and intelligence of those who relentlessly think of them as being the intermediaries of the absolute unthinkable and unspeakable.

_____________________

iLouis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p.36-37

iiLouis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §16. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p. 58

iiiRV I,32,11

ivLouis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §67. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p. 103

vLouis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §35. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p. 77

viSee Louis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §71. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p. 107

viiExamples cited by Louis Renou. Selected Indian studies. §68. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p.104

viii Louis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §77. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p.112

ixC.G. Jung. Aïon. Trad. Etienne Perrot. M.M. Louzier-Sahler. Albin Michel. 1983, p. 88

xRV X, 129 Strophes 6 and 7. Quoted by C.G. Jung, Aïon. Translated by Etienne Perrot. M.M. Louzier-Sahler. Albin Michel. 1983, p.211

xiC.G. Jung. Aïon. Trad. Etienne Perrot. M.M. Louzier-Sahler. Albin Michel. 1983, p.212

xiiCf. The Gate of the Ten Names that are not erased », in Moses de Leon. Sheqel ha-Qodesh. Translated by Charles Mopsik. Verdier. 1996. pp. 278-287.

xiii« The Gate of the Ten Names that are not erased, » in Moses de Leon. Sheqel ha-Qodesh. Translated by Charles Mopsik. Verdier. 1996. p. 280.

xiv« The Gate of the Ten Names that are not erased, » in Moses de Leon. Sheqel ha-Qodesh. Translated by Charles Mopsik. Verdier. 1996. p. 281-282

xv« The Gate of the Ten Names that are not erased, » in Moses de Leon. Sheqel ha-Qodesh. Translated by Charles Mopsik. Verdier. 1996. pp. 290, 292, 294.

Judaism, Christianity and « their Indissoluble Difference ».


« Jacob Taubes »

Jacob Taubes wrote an article, The controversy between Judaism and Christianity, whose subtitle reads: « Considerations on their indissoluble difference« i, in which he densely summed up what he views as the essence of the « impossible dialogue between « the Synagogue » and « the Church » ».

This non-dialogue has been going on for two millennia, and will only end at the end of time, in all probability.

The popular expression « Judeo-Christian tradition » is often used. But it is meaningless. Above all, it impedes a full understanding of the « fundamental » differences in the « controversial questions concerning the Jewish and Christian religions » that « continue to influence every moment of our lives ». ii

From the outset, Jacob Taubes asserts that no concession on the part of Judaism towards Christianity is possible. The opposition is frontal, radical, absolute, irremediable.

In order for two parties to begin any kind of debate, at the very least, they must recognize each other’s legitimate right to participate in that debate.

However, these really basic conditions are not even fulfilled…

One party does not recognize the other. Christianity means nothing to Judaism. Christianity has absolutely no religious legitimacy for the latter:

« For the Jewish faith, the Christian religion in general and the body of the Christian Church in particular have no religious significance. For the Church, there is a Jewish « mystery, » but the Synagogue knows no « Christian » mystery of any kind. For Jewish belief, the Christian Church cannot have any religious significance; and the division of historical time into a « before Christ » and an « after Christ » cannot be recognized by the Synagogue. Moreover, it cannot even be recognized as something that, though meaningless to the Jewish people, represents a truth to the rest of the world. » iii

The denial of Christianity by Judaism is implacable, definitive. Christianity is not « recognized » by Judaism. It has intrinsically no « religious significance ». This absence of « religious significance » is not limited to the « Jewish people ». Nor does Judaism recognize any religious « significance » for religions from « the rest of the world ».

It is useless to expect from Jacob Taubes scholarly comparisons and fine analyses comparing Jewish and Christian theological elements in order to try to deepen the terms of a common questioning.

A major element of the Christian faith is only « blasphemy » from the Jewish point of view:

« But, from the Jewish point of view, the division into « Father » and « Son » operates a cleavage of the divine being; the Synagogue looked at it, and still looks at it, simply as blasphemy. » iv

In theory, and in good faith, for the sake of the « controversy », Jacob Taubes could have evoked, on this question of the « Father » and the « Son », the troubling passages of the Zohar which deal with the generation of Elohim following the « union » of the One with Wisdom (Hokhmah)v.

Is the « Father-Son-Holy Spirit » Trinity structurally analogous to the Trinity of « the One, Hokhmah and Elohim »?

Does it offer points of comparison with the revelation made to Moses under a formal Trinitarian formula: « Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh » (Ex. 3:14) or with the strange Trinitarian expression of Deuteronomy: « YHVH, Elohenou, YHVH » (Deut. 6:4)?

Maybe so. Maybe not. But this is not the bottom line for Taubes: he is not at all interested in a thorough confrontation of texts and ideas on such opaque and metaphysical subjects.

This lack of interest in comparative hermeneutics is all the more striking because Taubes immediately admits that Judaism, in its long history, has in fact fallen back a great deal on its supposed « rigid monotheism »:

« The recent insistence on rigid monotheism as the defining characteristic of Jewish religious life is contradicted by a fact that contemporary Jewish thinkers tend to dismiss: the centuries-long predominance of the Lurian Kabbalah in Judaism. The Kabbalah has developed theological speculations that can only be compared to Gnostic (and pagan) mythologies. The mythical unity of the divine King and the divine Queen, the speculation on Adam Kadmon, the mythology of the ten sephirot, which are not attributes but manifestations of the divine, of different essences, poses a challenge to any historian of religion who claims to judge what is Jewish and what is not according to the criterion of a « rigid monotheism ». The Jewish religion would not have been able to cope with the explosion of Kabbalistic mythologization if its fundamental and determining characteristic had been a rigid monotheism. » vi

Even more astonishing, Jacob Taubes, after having denied any kind of « religious significance » to Christianity, affirms however that « Christianity is a typically Jewish heresy »:

« Christian history, Jesus’ claim to the title of Messiah and Pauline theology of Christ as the end of the Law are not at all « singular » events for Judaism, but are things that regularly recur in the fundamental Jewish frame (Grundmuster)of religious existence. As I have already said, Christian history does not constitute a « mystery » for the Jewish religion. Christianity represents a « typical » crisis in Jewish history, which expresses a typically Jewish « heresy »: antinomistic messianism – the belief that with the coming of the Messiah, what is decisive for salvation is not the observance of the Law, but faith in the Messiah. » vii

But if Christianity is, for Judaism, a « typically Jewish heresy », does this not recognize it as a form of « significance » in the eyes of Judaism, if only because of its antinomic opposition? The fact that forms of heresy, at least formally analogous to Christianity, may have appeared in a recurring manner within Judaism itself, does not this imply the presence of a subterranean question, always at work, in the darkness of the foundations?

Judaism seems indeed to suffer from certain structural « weaknesses », at least according to the opinion of Jacob Taubes :

« The weakness of all modern Jewish theology – and not only modern – is that it fails to designate Halakhah, the Law, as its alpha and omega. Since the period of Emancipation, the Jewish religion has been in crisis because it lost its center when Halakhah lost its central position and binding force in Jewish thought and life. From the moment Halakhah ceases to be the determining force in Jewish life, the door is open to all the anti-halakhic (antinomistic) and disguised Christian assumptions that are prevalent in secularized modern Christian society. » viii

On the one hand, Christianity has no « religious significance », according to Jacob Taubes.

On the other hand, Christianity threatens Halakhah in its very foundation, which is of the order of the Law, and in its « ultimate » principle, justice:

« Halakhah is essentially based on the principle of representation: the intention of man’s heart and soul must be manifested and represented in his daily life. Therefore the Halakhah must become « external » and « legal », it must deal with the details of life because it is only in the details of life that the covenant between God and man can be presented. (…) Halakhah is the Law because justice is the ultimate principle: ecstatic or pseudo-ecstatic religiosity can see in the sobriety of justice only dead legalism and external ceremonialism, just as anarchy can conceive law and order only as tyranny and oppression. » ix

Here we are at the core. For Taubes, Judaism has as its essential foundations Law and Justice, which are radically opposed to the « principle of love »:

« The controversy between the Jewish religion and the Christian religion refers to the eternal conflict between the principle of the Law and the principle of love. The « yoke of the Law » is challenged by the enthusiasm of love. But in the end, only the « justice of the Law » could question the arbitrariness of love. » x

Let’s summarize:

-Judaism does not give any religious significance to Christianity, nor does it recognize any meaning for the « rest of the world ».

-In reality Christianity is only a « Jewish heresy », as there have been so many others.

-Judaism is threatened by Christianity in that it deeply undermines Halakhah in a modern, secularized Christian society.

-The two essential principles of Judaism are the Law and justice.

-The essential principle of Christianity is love, but this principle is « arbitrary », -Judaism must question the « principle of love » through the « justice of the Law ».

Logically, the above points are inconsistent with each other when considered as a whole.

But logic has little to do with this debate, which is not, and probably cannot be « logical ».

Therefore, one has to use something other than logic.

But what? Vision? Intuition? Prophecy?

One reads, right at the very end of the Torah, its very last sentence:

« No prophet like Moses has ever risen in Israel, whom YHVH knew face to face. »xi

Let’s presume that the Torah tells the ultimate truth about this. How could it be otherwise?

Then, maybe, « He » could have risen out of Israel?

The Masters of Israel, from blessed memory, also testified, according to Moses de Leon:

« He has not risen in Israel, but He has risen among the nations of the world.» xii

The Masters cited the example of Balaam. He is a prophet, undeniably, since « God presented Himself (vayiqar) to Balaam » (Num. 23:4), but Balaam still is a « sulphurous » prophet.

However Balaam « stood up » before the end of the Torah. Which leaves open the question of other prophets « standing up » after the Torah was completed…

It is up to us, who belong to the nations of the world, to reflect and meditate on the prophets who may have risen – no longer in Israel, since none could possibly have « risen » in Israel since Moses – but among the « nations of the world ».

And this according to the testimony, not only of the Torah, but of the illustrious Jewish Masters who commented on it.

Vast program!

___________________

iJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009.

iiJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference. « Time is running out. From worship to culture. Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p.101

iiiJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 105

ivJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. . p. 104

vSee my article on this blog: How the Elohim Were Begotten | Metaxu. Le blog de Philippe Quéau.

viJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. . p. 111

viiJacob Taubes. »The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 113

viii« The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 114-115

ix« The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. p. 115

xJacob Taubes. « The controversy between Judaism and Christianity: Considerations on their indissoluble difference ». In « Time is running out. From worship to culture » (« Le temps presse ». Du culte à la culture. ) Ed. du Seuil. Paris, 2009. Seuil. 2009. p. 117

xiDt. 34,10

xiiQuoted by Moses de Leon. The sicle of the Sanctuary (Chequel ha-Qodesh). Translation Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier. 1996. p. 103