The True Homeland of Moses


The issue of migration will seal the future of the world. Politically, indeed, but also metaphysically.

Future migration due to wars and environmental upheavals is likely to take on « apocalyptic » dimensions in the next decades. In the true sense of the word « apocalypse », they will « reveal » the intrinsic fragility of humanity.

More profoundly, migration and wandering open up the question of the very essence of man, of his true end. Is man essentially a stranger to others? Is he also a stranger to himself? Is man constantly wandering, waiting to find his own meaning?

« All those whom Moses calls wise are described as resident strangers. Their souls are never a colony established out of heaven; but they are accustomed to travel in earthly nature to satisfy their longing to see and know.  » wrote Philo of Alexandriai..

Philo, a Jewish philosopher, a Hellenist, lived on the borders of three continents, in a mixed society, in crisis, in a troubled epoch, shortly before the appearance of Christianity. He had an acute view of the « foreigner », being confronted with this reality, daily.

In his book « On the Confusion of Tongues », he notes that Abraham himself had said to the guardians of the dead: « I am a stranger and a guest in your house”ii.

The metaphor of the « stranger » can be applied to the « inner host », inhabiting the body without having been invited, like a tumour, a cancer, or a virus.

This metaphor can also apply to the soul, which no longer recognizes herself.

The wise man, for his part, knows he is a stranger in all lands, and that he will always be wandering.

« The wise man lives as if on a foreign earth in his own sensitive body, — while he is as if in his homeland among the intelligible virtues, which are something no different from divine words. Moses on his side said, ‘I am but a wanderer in a strange land’iiiiv

Should we take this statement of Moses literally or figuratively?

In the literal sense: Egypt, Sinai, would only be foreign lands, where he would wander while waiting to find his true homeland. We know that he did not enter the Promised Land, on earth, after the Exodus had come to its term.

In the figurative sense: His true homeland, his residence, is among the virtues, the intelligible, the divine words. We learn by this that the Exodus might have been the means for him to effectively reach it.

iDe Confusione Linguarum §77

ii Gen. 23,4, quoted in De Confusione Linguarum §79

iiiEx. 2,22

ivDe Confusione Linguarum §81-82

The Tango of Abraham.


 

Three men met Abraham at noon in the plains of Mamre, in Genesis chapter 18. But only two angels met Lot, later that same evening in Sodom.

Why three men at noon, then two angels in the evening?

One interpretation by Philo of Alexandria is worth mentioning,

« When the three had appeared, why did the Scripture say, « The two angels came to Sodom in the evening »? (Gen. 19,1). Three appear to Abraham and at noon, but to Lot, two and in the evening. Scripture makes known the difference in the profound sense that there is between the perfect being and the one who progresses, namely the perfect has the impression of a triad, of full nature, continuous, with nothing missing, without emptiness, entirely perfect, but this [not-so-perfect] one has the impression of a dyad that has separation, void and emptiness. One welcomed the Father who is in the middle and is served by the first two powers, while the other welcomed the serving powers without the Father, because he was too weak to see and understand the middle one, king of powers. One is illuminated by a very bright light, the noon light, without shadow, while the other is illuminated by a changing light, at the limits of night and day, because evening has been shared as an intermediate space: it is neither the end of the day nor the beginning of the night.»i

Philo’s interpretation (« The three angels are the Father, served by the first two powers ») is rather embarrassing from the point of view of a strictly monotheistic position, such as that generally professed by Judaism.

On the other hand, it is compatible, at least metaphorically, with the Trinitarian interpretation of Christianity. Philo was born in 25 BC, and lived in Alexandria, then in a state of turmoil, open to neo-Pythagorean and neo-Platonic ideas, and other influences, from Chaldea or Persia.

More than a thousand years after Philo of Alexandria, the famous Rashi of Troyes provided a very different explanation for these variations.

Regarding Gen 18,2, Rashi comments: « AND THERE ARE THREE MEN. God sent angels in human form. One to announce the good news about Sara. One to destroy Sodom. One to heal Abraham. Because the same messenger does not accomplish two missions at the same time. »

Regarding Gen 19,1, Rashi notes: « BOTH. One to destroy Sodom and one to save Lot. It was the latter who had come to heal Abraham. The third one who had come to tell Sara about the birth of her son, once his mission was fulfilled, left. – THE ANGELS. Before (Gen 18,2) they are called MEN. When the Shekhina was with them, they were called men. Another explanation: previously, with Abraham, whose strength was great and who was used to angels as much as to men, they were called men. While with Lot they are called angels. »

There is a common point between Philo and Rashi; they agree that Abraham was perfect, strong, and that Lot was weak. They both deduce from this that seeing the Shekhina among men is a sign of strength, and seeing angels (in the absence of the Shekhina?) is a sign of weakness.

Other questions then arise.

Why did the angel who had announced the next birth of a son to Abraham and Sarah go away once his mission was accomplished, leaving his two companions to continue to Sodom and Gomorrah?

In other words, why was the angel responsible for destroying Sodom and Gomorrah present at Mamre’s meeting, when it was a matter of announcing a birth, and according to Rashi, completing Abraham’s healing?

Was the presence of the exterminating angel necessary in order to listen to Abraham’s arguments in favour of the inhabitants of the two cities threatened with destruction?

Abraham argued at length to intercede on behalf of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18, 23-33). Was this plea addressed to the exterminating angel, to the third « man » present in Mamre?

However, this exterminating angel is also called by the proper name of God (YHVH). This is how the text calls him during his exchanges with Abraham.

Let’s summarize.

On one side there are three men, in charge of three different missions (a birth announcement, a healing and an extermination). These three men are in fact three angels, but in reality they are all together one and the same God, named YHVH several times in the Genesis text. YHVH expresses itself in the 1st person singular, as being the Lord, the Eternal YHVH.

The three men speak successively, the first to announce the coming birth, the second to speak to himself, in a way as an aside (« Shall I hide from Abraham what I am going to do? » Gen. 18:17), and the third to discuss the next extermination with Abraham.

Then Lord YHVH « goes away », when he has finished speaking with Abraham (Gen. 18:33). Immediately afterwards (Gen. 19:1), « The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening ».

It seems that the following conclusions can be drawn from this.

God was present, as Shekhina, among the three men visiting Abraham, in Mamre, and then all along the road to the gates of Sodom. Then God departs, and there are only the two angels left, one to exterminate the cities, the other to save Lot and his family. God left just before the extermination.

This chapter of Genesis reports exchanges of words between God, Abraham, and even Sarah, but also a whole body language, a ballet of movements, running, prostrations, steps, standing.

It is interesting to analyze this staging, the scenography of the movements of God and Abraham during this day.

Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent, he looked up, and « he saw three men standing beside him; as soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them and bowed down to the ground.  » (Gen. 18:2)

How is it that Abraham runs to men who « stood by him »?

This must be seen as a spiritual meaning. Abraham sits and sees three men standing. They are close to him, but he, Abraham, is far from them. So he has to get up, to get up to their level, and he has to start running, to get closer to them, as much as they have already approached him.

All this is not to be understood on a material, physical level, but on a spiritual, metaphysical level.

Then Abraham « hurries to the tent » (18:6). Then « he ran to the flock » (18:7). Shortly afterwards, when they ate, « he stood up » (18:8). Then, « having risen, the men departed from there and came in sight of Sodom. Abraham walked with them to bring them back. » (18, 16). There follows a kind of soliloquy of God. Finally, the team finished its march: « The men left from there and went to Sodom. YHVH was still standing before Abraham. » (18, 22)

Before Sodom, there is a long exchange between God and Abraham, who tries to intercede on behalf of the inhabitants of the city, in the name of the « righteous » who are within it. Then God goes away. And Abraham returned home (18:33).

Immediately after the two angels enter Sodom (19:1).

In these few lines, Abraham sits, then runs to men, to his tent, to the flock, to his tent again, stands up, walks to Sodom, stops, leaves, arrives in front of Sodom, talks with God, sees God go away, and returns home.

How can we explain all these movements by an old man who has just been circumcised, and who is struggling to recover from his wound?

The simple description of physical movements does not seem to be a sufficient explanation. Rather, they indicate a spiritual dynamic. All these movements reflect Abraham’s inner agitation.

A key to understanding is found in verse 18:3: « Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, then do not pass before your servant. »

Abraham is agitated and runs a lot, so that God « does not pass » before him.

Abraham runs because he wants the Lord to stop.

What can we conclude from this?

First, that the divine can take three “figures”: the figure of the One (YHVH), the figure of the Three (« the three men »), and the figure of the Two (« the two angels »).

Then, this text teaches us that the movements of the body are metaphors of the movements of the soul. It’s like tango. It takes two to dance or to talk to each other. Three men plus Abraham make four. But when God and Abraham talk to each other, they are two. And their attitudes, their positions, are linked, as in a dance. Their movements are correlated.

Abraham gets up, runs, prostrates himself, runs again, etc., so that God will stop, stand still, and stay with him…

There is here a lesson (of spiritual tango) to be learned…

i Philo. Quaestiones in Genesium, Livre IV, 30

The 24-letters Names of God


Apocalyptic and esoteric books have a definite taste for the ‘names’ of God and for His multiple ‘attributes’.

These ‘names’ are supposed to embody aspects of the divine essence.

You might think they are immutable by nature, but human language and human-made names are not immutable, by nature, so the names keep changing.

Philo of Alexandria devoted a whole book (De mutatione nominum) precisely to the question of changing names in the Bible.

Examples abound. Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai is renamed Sarah, and Jacob Israel.

In this book, Philo dealt with the important question of the names that God gave to himself.

About the specific name that God revealed to Moses, « I am that I am » (Ex 3,14), Philo has this comment: « It is equivalent to : my nature is to be, not to be said ».

In the original Hebrew, Ex 3,14 reads: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה « Ehyeh asher ehyeh« .

A literal translation might sound like: « I am who I am », — or « I shall be who I shall be », since « ehyeh » is the 1st person of the present-future of the verb to be, — if we want to somewhat preserve the Hebrew idiosyncrasy of the original text.

We could also simply focus on the word ehyeh that doubly expresses the notion of « Being », in two different modalities: « I am ‘I AM’ « .

We could then assume that God’s name might be ‘I AM’, which may be confirmed by the fact that God also said to Moses, just immediately after:

« Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I AM hath sent me unto you. »i

In the Exodus, God clearly affirms a key aspect of his essence through his Name. This essence is « Being ».

In John’s Gospel, another aspect of the essence of God is given: Word, or Logos.

« In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. »ii

But can this Word be His Name?

It does not seem so, at least if we consider what John quotes about Jesus addressing God:

« I have manifested thy name (onoma) unto the men, which thou gavest me out of the world. Thine they were, and thou gavest them to me; and they have kept thy word (logon). « (John 17, 6).

Clearly, here, the Word (Logos) is not the Name (Onoma).

The Name is ‘manifested’. The Word is ‘kept’.

What does that mean?

The Name embodies the very ‘presence’ of God, it « manifests » his presence.

In many texts, the Hebrew word Shekhina is used to celebrate God’s Presence’.

But the Word is something else entirely. It is neither the Name nor the Presence.

What is it then?

It is what was « in the Beginning », — and what was « with God », — and what was « God ».

More complex, admittedly.

Something else entirely than ‘just a Name’.

Logos is not God’s Name, and Logos is not God’s Shekhina.

Jesus also said to God: « And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name (onoma) whom thou hast given me, so that they may be one, as we are. « (John 17, 11)

According to John’s original text (in Greek), Jesus asked God to « keep » the men through His Name (onoma).

Jesus, who is the Logos (Verb), asks God to « keep » men through His Onoma (His Name).

This indicates that Logos and Onoma play indeed a different role.

What are these different roles?

The Logos « is with God » and « is God ». The Onoma is a ‘Name’ and is not God.

The men « keep » the Logos. The Onoma « keep » the men, « so that they may be one ».

The Logos is said to be « one » with God. The Onoma can make the men be « one »with God.

Though obviously not synonymous, ‘Onoma‘, ‘Logos‘ and ‘God’, are however somewhat converging into ‘oneness’.

Let’s add that any ‘Name’ of God has therefore to be considered to have a formidable power.

Any ‘Name’ of God potentially includes all the other Names, those that are revealed and those that will remain ever hidden.

In all likelihood, Hidden Names abound.

To speak metaphorically, there are as many Names as there are angels, and conversely, each angel « bears » one of God’s Names.

The Babylonian Talmud teaches on this subject: « The Archangel Metatron, who is said to bear the Name of God » (« Metatron che-chemo ke-chem rabbo) » (Sanhedrin 38b).

All these (infinite) Names are not just names.They are divine beings, or rather they are figures of the divine Being.

A text belonging to the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, the « Gospel of Truth », composed by Valentine in the 2nd century, specifies it in this way:

« The Name of the Father is the Son. It is He who, in the Principle, gave name to the one who came out of Him, who was Himself and begot Him as Son. He gave Him his own name. (…) The Father. He has the Name, He has the Son. We can see him. But the Name, on the contrary, is invisible, because it alone is the mystery of the Invisible destined to reach the ears which are all filled with it (…) This Name does not belong to words and it is not names that constitute its Name. He’s invisible.»iii

The same idea is expressed in a slightly different way in the Gospel of Philip, also from the Nag Hammadi manuscripts: »‘Jesus‘ is a hidden name, ‘Christ‘ is a manifested name »iv.

But if ‘Jesus’ is a hidden name, how can he be known?

Irenaeus of Lyons gives a possible answer: « Iesous is only the sound of the Name, not its virtue. In fact, the entire Name consists of not only six letters, but thirty. Its exoteric (or pronounceable) composition is IHCOYC [Iesous], while its esoteric composition consists of twenty-four letters.»v

The exoteric name IHCOYC consists of six Greek letters. The full Name contains thirty of them.

Simple arithmetic: 6 (exoteric letters) + 24 (esoteric letters) = 30 letters of the full Name

But Irenaeus of Lyons does not reveal what are the 24 esoteric letters. if he had done so, would they have stayed ‘esoteric’?

It is up to us then, to try figuring them out.

Knowing that the Greek alphabet includes precisely twenty-four letters, the first one being ‘alpha’, the last one being ‘omega’, we could imagine that this esoteric Name is not a fixed name, but that it is constantly woven from the infinity of all their possible combinations, like this one:

βαγεδζηκιθλμονξπρστυφωχψ

or this one:

ΞΟΠΡΥΣΤΨΩΧΦΑΓΒΕΖΔΗΚΘΛΙΜΝ

There 2424 such names…

Here is a selection of names that I like a lot:

ΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞΞ

and:

ΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏΏ

and:

ΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧΧ

and :

ΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙΙ

and:

ΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔΔ

We could also try with Hebraic letters such as:

יייייייייייייייייייייייי

and:

שששששששששששששששששששששששש

and:

ןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןןן

and :

הההההההההההההההההההההההה

A lot of research ahead of us!

iEx 3,14

iiJn 1,1

iii Quoted by Guy Stroumsa, Ancient Christian Magic : Coptic Texts of Ritual Power. Princeton, 1993.

iv Gospel of Philip 58, 3-4

vIreaneus of Lyons .Adv. Heres.I. 14, 1-9. Trad. A. Rousseau. 1979

Christ’s Laughter on the Cross : Caricature and Religion


In his book Christ‘s Laughter (2006), Guy Stroumsa recalls that the Gnostics of the first centuries of our era represented Christ « laughing » on the cross. What was he laughing at? « At the stupidity of the world, » they said.

In the Gospel of Judas, an apocryphal text composed in the 2nd century, Jesus also laughs.

Another Gnostic text, found in 1978 in the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, the 2nd Treatise of the Great Seth, gives this explanation: « It was another, the one who carried the cross on his shoulder, it was Simon. It was another one who received the crown of thorns. As for me, I rejoiced in the height, above all the domain that belongs to the archons and above the seed of their error, their vain glory, and I mocked their ignorance. »

This explanation is based on the thesis of heresy called docetism. According to this thesis, Jesus would not have really suffered on the cross. His nature being divine and spiritual, his physical body was detached from him, simple appearance, simple clothing. He would have remained « impassive » (impassibilis), nailed to the cross.

The fact that God could laugh at men, kings, peoples and nations was not absolutely new. There is this verse from David’s Psalms: « He who sits in heaven amuses himself, YHVH makes fun of them » (Ps. 2:4): Yochev ba-chammayim yitzhaq.

Yitzhaq. « He laughs. » Abraham gave this very name to Isaac. For Christians, Isaac is a prefiguration of Christ. Isaac, led by his father Abraham who intended to slit his throat, carried the wood necessary for the sacrifice himself, just as Christ carried the wood of his cross.

Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish and Neo-Platonic philosopher born in 25 B.C., evokes the history of Isaac’s miraculous conception, in order to draw, as he often does, an anagogical lesson. His thesis is that Isaac was miraculously born of God himself and Sarah, then a very old woman. Sarah says: « The Lord has made laughter for me » (Gen. 21:6).

Philo comments: « Open your ears, O mysteries, and welcome the most holy initiations: « Laughter » is joy, and the word « he has done » is equivalent to « he will beget » so that these words mean this: the Lord will beget Isaac; for he is the Father of perfect nature, who in souls sows and generates happiness. « Legum Allegoriae III, 219

Christ nailed to the cross laughs, – while derided and ridiculed by the soldiers.

Sara affirms at Isaac’s birth, the birth of « He laughs », that it is the Lord who generated the laughter in her.

Christ dying and laughing, Sarah conceiving « laughter » through the divine operation.

Humanity’s closeness to the divinity can be sensed in nakedness, death, conception.

This is one of the fundamental problems faced by religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. How can we reconcile divine transcendence with historical, material, immanent reality?

If God is absolutely transcendent, how can He generate Isaac in the womb of an old woman?

Isn’t the simple fact of asking the question, based on the letter of the Scriptures, already a « caricature »?

Is not the fact that Jesus is a naked God, who died on the cross, in humiliation and derision, not in itself susceptible to being caricatured in a thousand ways?

The prohibition of the representation of the Prophet Muhammad testifies to the same problem. How can we reconcile the prophet’s humanity with his divine mission? The difficulty of the question seems unrelated to the simplicity of the answer: the outright prohibition of any representation.

Let’s take a step back. Isn’t any critical, distanced, and sometimes even a little ironic question a form of caricature – for those who don’t ask questions, and don’t ask themselves them, either?

When it comes to religion, it is so easy to fall into caricature, or to be accused of it.

Teresa’s Ecstasy


Grothendieck has revolutionized the notion of mathematical space, as Einstein did in physics. He invented a new geometry, in which « the arithmetic world and the world of continuous quantities are now one ».

To combine the discontinuous and the continuous, the numbers and the quantities, to make them unite intimately, Grothendieck conceived the metaphor of their « marriages ». This marriage of paper had to be followed by proper consumption, in order to ensure the generation of new mathematical beings.

« For the expected ‘brides’,’of numbers and greatness’, it was like a decidedly narrow bed, where only one of the future spouses (i.e., the bride) could at least find a place to nestle as best as they could, but never both at the same time! The « new principle » that remained to be found, to consume the marriage promised by favourable fairies, was also that this spacious « bed » that the future spouses were missing, without anyone having only noticed it until then. This « double bed » appeared (as if by a magic wand…) with the idea of topos. » i

Grothendieck, the greatest mathematical thinker of the 20th century, explained a revolutionary breakthrough using a matrimonial metaphor, and all that follows.

Indeed, the metaphor of « marriage » has always been used to translate difficult ideas into philosophical contexts.

Two thousand years ago, the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria used this same metaphor to present the « mystery of the divine generation ». To translate the idea of « divine generation » into Greek, Philo uses the word τελετή (‘telete’).

This mystery is composed of three elements. There are the two initial « causes » of the generation and their final product.

The two causes are God and Wisdom (who is « the bride of God », – remaining « virgin »)ii.

Wisdom is Virginity itself. Philo relies on the authority of the prophet Isaiah, who affirms that God unites himself with Virginity in itself.iii

Philo specifies elsewhere: « God and Wisdom are the father and mother of the world ».iv

In the Christian tradition, there are similar metaphors, derived from Jewish ideas, but transposed into the « union » of Christ and the Church.

A 16th century Christian cabalist, Guillaume Postel, uses the metaphor of the love of the male and female to describe this union:

« For as there is love of the male to the female, by which she is bound, so there is love and bond of the female to the male by which she is bound. This is the mystery of the most wonderful secret of the Church’s authority over God and Heaven, as well as over God and Heaven on Church by which Jesus meant it: Whatever you bind on earth will be bound to Heaven. »v

Teresa of Avila, a contemporary of Guillaume Postel, speaks through experience of « perfect union with God, called spiritual marriage »:

« God and the soul are one, like crystal and the ray of sunlight that penetrates it, like coal and fire, like the light of the stars and the light of the sun (…) To give an idea of what it receives from God in this divine cellar of union, the soul is content to say these words (and I do not see that it could better say to express something of them):

From my Beloved I drank.

For as the wine that we drink spreads and penetrates into all the limbs and veins of the body, so this communication of God spreads to the whole soul (…) The Bride speaks of it in these terms in the book of Songs: ‘My soul has become liquefied as soon as the Bridegroom has spoken’. »vi

Therese of Avila speaks of the Bride « burning with the desire to finally reach the kiss of union with the Bridegroom », quoting the Song of Songs: « There you shall teach me ».

The Song of Songs has incestuous resonances:

« Oh, what a brother to me, breastfed in my mother’s womb! Meeting you outside, I could kiss you, without people despising me. I’ll drive you, I’ll introduce you to my mother’s house, you’ll teach me! I’ll make you drink a fragrant wine, my pomegranate liqueur. »vii

This spicy passage was strangely interpreted by S. François de Sales:

« And these are the tastes that will come, these are the ecstasies, these are the summits of the powers; so that the sacred wife asks for pillows to sleep. »viii

Metaphors! Metaphors! Where do you lead us to?

iRécoltes et Semailles, §2.13 Les topos — ou le lit à deux places

iiPhilo of Alexandria. De Cherubim

iii Is. 66, 6-9

iv De Ebrietate, 30

v Guillaume Postel (1510-1581). Interprétation du Candélabre de Moïse (Venise 1548).« Car comme il y a amour du masle à la femelle, par laquelle elle est liée, aussi y a-t-il amour et lien de la femelle au masle par lequel il est lyé. Cecy est le mistère du très merveilleux secret de l’authorité de l’Eglise sur Dieu et sur le Ciel, comme de Dieu et du Ciel sur icelle par lequel Jésus l’a voulu dire : Ce que vous lierez sur la terre sera lyé au Ciel. »

viTeresa of Avila (1515-1582). The Interior Castle

viiCt 8,1-2

viiiFrançois de Sales. Œuvres complètes. p. 706