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:


or this one:


There 2424 such names…

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






and :




We could also try with Hebraic letters such as:






and :


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