Anything May Yet Happen

Sometimes inaction or a wait-and-see attitude pays off. For example, it is written: « Moses and the Ark of the Covenant did not move ». Standing still in the middle of the camp was the best thing to do. Tactical caution was called for. Those who rushed to the top of the mountain were soon « cut to pieces » by the Amalekite and the Canaanite.

Far from the factual, from common sense, Philo proposes two unexpected ways of interpreting this verse: « Either the wise man does not separate himself from virtue, or virtue ignores movement, and the good man changes it.”i

Philo’s method is known. He always looks for the allegorical meaning in words, the hidden movement towards symbolic heights. Phrases seem to move, taking on a higher meaning as they pass by.

By this upward movement, the sentence mimics the non-movement (permanence) of virtue, it embodies the non-change (immutability) of the good man.

Philo explains: « The breath of God joins only one category of men, those who strip themselves of all that is in the becoming, of the innermost veil, of the envelope of opinion »ii.

The future is not in the becoming. Nor in opinion.

Aaron speaks, he is skilful with words; Moses remains in silence, he strips himself of any words. With a few words, the biblical sentence makes the silent and immobile contemplation of Moses heard.

This is a general lesson. Thought must free itself from everything that clutters it, make itself « naked ».

When Moses leaves the camp, he will pitch his tent on the mountain. He goes out of the world. That is to say, he establishes himself firmly on his own judgment, so that he can enter the “dark cloud”, the invisible region. He will need this inner immutability in order to face the mysteries, and to bear witness to them afterwards.

Moses is not only an initiate. He is the hierophant of mystical knowledge, a tutor of divine truths, which are neither of heaven nor earth.

There are men who are from the earth, others are from heaven, but others go even further. Those of the earth seek material pleasures and cherish the body. Those from heaven are the artists, the scientists and the humanists.

And then there are those who, like Moses or other Prophets, are not satisfied with the Kingdom of the universe, and are not satisfied with being citizens of the world. They neglect all the senses. They emigrate. They choose the exodus to the Land of immortal and immaterial ideas. They believe that the Earth is not the future of mankind. Neither are the Heavens. Does man have a future, by the way? Isn’t man essentially transitory, fleeting, ephemeral?

Didn’t God say that He wanted to « blot out man”?

“The Lord regretted having created man on earth, and he grieved within himself. And the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth, every man and beast and crawling creature and bird of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them’.”iii

The Lord « regretted » and then « grieved ».

How can God regret what He has done? Is He not supremely wise? Could He not foresee in His foreknowledge what would become of His creation?

And why these two verbs, « to regret » and « to grieve », in succession? Pleonasm? Unnecessary repetition?

Maybe the first verb translates the clarity of the notion, the second conveys the depth of the reflection. One is thinking at rest, the other is thinking on the move. These are two powers of the mind. They allow us to contemplate creatures as they are, but also as being able to become other than they are.

Rashi comments on this verse.

“ ‘He regretted having created’. The Midrach translates: God took solace in the fact that at least He had created man ON EARTH. If He had created him in heaven, he would have led the worlds above in his rebellion. ‘And He grieved in His heart’. The Targum Onkelos translates: Man (subject of the verb) became an object of suffering in the heart of God. It came to God’s mind to inflict punishment on him. Another explanation of the first verb VA-YINA’HEM: ‘he regretted’. In God’s mind, mercy gave way to justice. He wondered: what to do with the man He had created on earth? The verb נחם always means in the Bible: to ask oneself what to do. It means: ‘What is the right thing to do?’ God is not a man to regret (Num 23,19) « .

The dictionary says that the verb נחם means: « to repent, to change one’s feelings, to allow oneself to be bent, to have pity, to forgive ». These nuances of meaning do not apply indifferently to man or to God.

It can apply to the point of view of man, but probably not to the point of view of God, when it is a question of « repenting », « regretting », « changing one’s feelings ». But it can be applied from God’s point of view, if we translate this word as « to have mercy », « to forgive », « to allow oneself to be bent ».

The nuance proposed by Rashi, « to ask oneself what to do », opens up still other paths, which (tellingly) are not quoted in the dictionary, and which are turned towards the future, towards the unforeseen.

Virtue ignores movement, and the good man ignores change, Philo said two thousand years ago. And, a little less than a thousand years ago, Rashi said that God himself could « change his feelings » and « ask himself what to do ».

There is no end to surprises, yet to come. Anything is possible, definitely. Anything may yet happen.

iPhilo. De Gigantibus. 1,48

iiPhilo. De Gigantibus. 1,53

iiiGen 6, 6-7

The « Highest » and the « Lowest »

In Biblical Hebrew, the word « to descend » (יָרַד yarad) offers a curiously vast range of meanings, including distant semantic universes that are brought closer together, some very simple, everyday ones and others touching on very high notions, including the idea of theophany.

The primary meaning of the verb yarad is “to go from top to bottom”:

« She went down to the fountain » (Gen 24:16)

« My beloved went down to his garden. « (Ct 6,2)

« Abram went down to Egypt. « (Gen 12:10)

« Moses came down from Mount Sinai. « (Ex 34:29)

But the idea of a « descent » invites various metaphors. Here are some examples:

« He will come down like rain on the cut grass. « (Ps 72:10)

« Those who go down into the peat. « (Pr 1,12)

« Let them go down alive into the sheol. « (Ps 55:16)

Some of the metaphors associated with “yarada” broaden the meaning, while keeping the general idea.

« The day was going down. « (Jg 19:11)

« They all burst (yoréd, יֹרֵד בַּבֶּכִי) into tears. « (Is 15:3)

« Those who sail (yoredéi, יוֹרְדֵי הַיָּם) on the sea. « (Ps 107:23)

A second group of meanings is formed around meanings such as: « to fall, to perish, to be ruined ».

« You, you will always fall further and further down. « (Deut 28:43)

The Ritual speaks of a sacrifice that « goes up » and « goes down », that is to say that it varies according to the fortune or virtue of the person offering it.

A third group of meanings, built around the Hiphil form of the verb, increases the strength and intensity of the meaning: « To bring down, to humiliate, to precipitate ».

Finally there is the particular group of meanings associated with apparitions of God, the theophanies.

« The Lord will come down (yéréd YHVH,  יֵרֵד יְהוָה )to Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. « (Ex 19:11)

« The mountain of Sinai was all steamy because the Lord had come down (yarad  יָרַד )there in the midst of the flame (ba-éch בָּאֵשׁ). « (Ex 19:18).

« When Moses had entered, the pillar of cloud descended (yéréd יֵרֵד) and stopped at the entrance of the Tent and God spoke with Moses. « (Ex 33:9)

« The Lord of Hosts will come down to do battle on Mount Zion and its heights. »(Is 31:4)

« The Lord came down to earth to see the city and the tower. « (Gen 11:5)

A theophany is obviously an extraordinary phenomenon. Witnesses who are able to report a godly vision and translate it into convincing words can sometimes contradict themselves, increasing the doubt of the skeptics. But they also strengthen the faith of those who see hidden meanings beyond words.

Let us take the example of a curious verse:

« He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under His feet. » (2S 22,10)

A good Cartesian might object: if God comes down with a thick mist under His feet, how can one see Him from below?

Several answers to this rather naive objection are possible. The phenomenon can be observed from several angles. Or the expression « dark clouds » may be open to interpretation. It may mean that God is indeed descending, but with a kind of reticence. Another verse is an allegory of the cloud or mist:

« Ah, may you tear the heavens apart and come down! « (Is 63:19).

Theophany is sometimes followed by considerable physical effects or, conversely, very subtle consequences.

In the catastrophic genre: « You went down, and the mountains staggered. « (Is 64:2)

In a more subtle genre, there is the dream, like those of Jacob and Moses.

« The divine messengers went up and down this ladder. « (Gen 28:12). There is the idea of a continuous, processional link between the top and the bottom.

God thus addresses Moses in this way:

« I will come down and speak to you and I will take away part of the spirit that is on you and put it on them. « (Num 11:17)

Is Moses threatened with a possible lobotomy? Should part of his mind be removed to benefit his co-religionists?

Philo offers this reassuring comment:

« Don’t think that the removal was done by entrenchment or separation. It’s like fire: one would light a thousand torches in it, but it remains equal to itself and does not diminish in the least. This is also the nature of science. »i

There is a more important issue. Why does God, who in principle is abundantly endowed with it, need to take some of the spirit of Moses and distribute it like at auction?

God takes a little of Moses’ spirit because Moses possesses a unique spirit, without equal. God recognizes this uniqueness and wants others to benefit from it. God wants to multiply (to clone?) part of Moses’ spirit, to share it with the Hebrews.

This is a kind of « communion ».

God has « come down » to distribute to the people what is unique in Moses.

The semantic analysis of the word yarad projects, as one can see, a wide spectrum of meaning.

This word may mean « fall », « decay », « humiliation », but also the « appearance » of God in glory on the mountain or in the clouds, or may convey the intimate operation of a « communion », linking spirit to spirit.

Thus, the idea of a theophany, expressed in the form of God’s « descent » is not, by construction, immune from possible contamination or slippage, coming from more ordinary, much more human acceptances.

From this observation, of a purely semantic nature, a lesson can be drawn about an aspect of the deepest nature of the divine.

The Highest may also descend into the Lowest.

iPhilo. De Gigantibus. 1,22

Logos and Glial Cells

Originally, the Greek word Logos had two rather simple, distinct meanings: ‘word’ and ‘reason’.

With Plato, the concept of Logos began its extraordinary destiny. The Logos became a Principle. By extension, it was also to represent the whole of intelligible things and ideas, as well as the link that connects all the divine powers, and what founds their unity. Finally, it was to become the Intermediary between man and God.

The Neo-Platonists took up the concept and its rich harvest.

Philo of Alexandria, for example, several centuries after Plato, made the Logos an essential attribute of the God of Israel. In God, the Logos was to incarnate the divine Intelligence, the eternal Thought, the Thought in its eternal potency, the Thought that always thinks, the Thought that can think everything, anything, forever.

For Philo, the Logos could also take a second form, which resided not in God, but in the real world. The Logos was then the Thought in act, the Thought which is realized outside God.

Shortly after Philo, John in turn gave his vision of the Logos, in its Christian interpretation. The Gospel of John says that “in the beginning” the Logos was with God and the Logos was God. And the Logos became “flesh”.

Does this mean that there are three instances of the Logos? The Logos who is God, the Logos who is with Him and the Logos who becomes flesh? Are these verbal nuances, poetic metaphors, or metaphysical realities?

In Philo’s theology, the Logos is double: Intelligence in potency, and also Intelligence in act.

In Christian theology, one may say that there are three kind of Logos, who personify themselves respectively as Father, Son, Spirit.

For the philosopher who always seeks for structures, it is possible to discern a general outline in these various interpretations.

The Logos comes out in three ways, according to what it “is”, to what it “thinks” and to what it “says”.

In theory, Being, Thinking and Saying do converge. But who knows?

These three states are also fundamental states of the human being. And Philo goes quite far in his ternary theory of the Logos, in spite of the putative difficulty that monotheism opposes when one wants to reconcile the unity of God and the multiplication of His appearances.

One way of overcoming this difficulty is to posit that the Logos is the set of all ideas which are ‘living’ in God. All the things that exist in the universe are deemed to derive from an original “idea”, from a « seal ». The Logos is the general seal whose imprint is on the whole universe.i

Divine ideas “act like seals, which when they are brought close to the wax, produce countless imprints without themselves being affected in any way, always remaining the same.”ii

Unlike the Logos of John, the Logos of Philo is not a divine person. It is only the ‘Organ’ of God. It is both His Reason and His Word, — which are manifested in His Creation.

Philo multiplies metaphors, analogies, images, applying them to the divine, human and natural realms. The Logos is creation, word, conception, flow, radiation, dilatation. According to yet another image, the Logos governs, as God reigns.

Philo’s thought about the Logos is quite complex. A 19th century commentatoriii judged that a tremendous confusion was in fact at the basis of Philo’s system, because he indiscriminately mixed up Logos (Word), Pneuma (Spirit), Sophia (Wisdom) and Episteme (Knowledge).

All the difficulty comes down to a simple question: what can one really infer a priori from the nature of the divine Spirit?

Difficult to stay.

Maybe one could start by saying that, in the divine Spirit, no distinction can really be made between what « contains » and what is « contained ».

Consequently, for instance for Philo, the Logos is at the same time the Author of the Law and the Law itself, the Spirit and the Letter.iv

The Logos is the Law, and is also the One who announces it, who reveals it.

The Wisdom of God is the source of the Logos, and it is also the Logos itself. In the same way, the Spirit of God is the source of all the intelligible beings, and it is also their total sum.

Everything which constitutes the Logos is divine, and everything which is divine, apart from the essence of God, is the Logos.

The Logos is, in all the universe, the image of the divine brought to unity. He is also the intermediary between this unity and God.

These difficult ideas have in fact been described by some hasty commentators as a « philosophical hodgepodge », adding that they showed a « lack of rigor »v on Philo’s part.

But, in my opinion, other conclusions may emerge.

On the one hand, Philo and John, independently of each other, and at about the same time in History, about two thousand years ago, just before the destruction of the Second Temple, clarified the contours of a “theophany” of the Logos, with some clear differences but also deep common structures.

On the other hand, what is still striking today is the extraordinary resilience of the concept of Logos, throughout history.

The Logos of the Stoics, the Platonic Noos, the Angel of the Eternal, the Word of YHVH, the Judeo-Alexandrine Logos, the Word made flesh, the Messiah of the first Christian Church, all these noetic figures are more similar in their absolute analogies than in their relative differences.

For the various sectarians of monotheism, however, the main difficulty lies in reconciling the idea of the unity of God with the reality of his multiple emanations, such as the Law (the Torah), or His Wisdom (okhma).

On a more philosophical level, the real difficulty is to think a Thought that exists as an absolute Being, but which also unfolds as a living, free, creative Being, in the Universe, and which finally reveals itself as the revealed Word, in the world.

Today, the « moderns » willingly deny the existence of the Logos, or of the Noos.

The Spirit, as it manifests itself in each one of us, is said by the “moderns” to arise only from biochemical mechanisms, synaptic connections, epigenetic processes, in the midst of glial cells.

The brain would multiply cellular and neuronal networks, and even « viral » ones. By their proliferation, the mechanical miracle of the Spirit coming to consciousness would appear.

But it is only a relative miracle, since we are assured that the “singularity” is close. And tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, it is affirmed, we will pass from deep learning AI to the synthesis of artificial consciousness…

However, another line of research seems possible, in theory.

It is a hypothesis that Kant already put forward, in a slightly provocative way.

“Our body is only the fundamental phenomenon to which, in its present state (in life), the entire power of sensibility and thus all thought is related. Separation from the body is the end of this sensitive use of one’s faculty of knowledge and the beginning of intellectual use. The body would therefore not be the cause of thought, but a merely restrictive condition of thought, and, consequently, it should be considered, without doubt, as an instrument of the sensible and animal end, but, by that very fact, as an obstacle to pure and spiritual life.”vi

Pursuing this line of research, purely intuitive it is true, one could conjecture that the brain, the human body, but also all peoples and Humanity as a whole could figure, in their own way, as immense metaphysical antennas, singular or collective, whose primary mission would be to capture the minute and diffuse signs of a supra-worldly Wisdom, of a creative Intelligence.

The greatest human geniuses would not find their ideas simply by the grace of unexpected crossings of some of their synapses, assisted by ionic exchanges. They would also be somehow « inspired » by the emanations of immense clouds of thinking thoughts, in which all living things are mysteriously immersed from the beginning.

In this hypothesis, who is really thinking then? Just synapses? Or the infinite, eternal choir of wise beings? Who will tell?

Who will say who really thinks, when I think, and when I think that I am?

I am thinking a thought that is born, that lives, and that becomes. I am thinking that thought, which never ceases to let itself think, – and from there, intuitively, I pass to the thought of a thought that would immediately precede and dispense with all thoughts; a thought that would never dispense with thinking, eternally.

Who will say why I pass to this very thought, immediate, eternal? Another shot of ionised synapses, by chance excited, finding their way among a hundred billion neurons (approximately), and twice as many glial cells?

iPhilo. De Mundi I, 5. De Prof. I, 547

iiPhilo. De Monarchia. II, 218

iiiCf. Jean Riéville. La doctrine du Logos dans le 4ème évangile et dans les œuvres de Philon. 1881

ivPhilo, De Migr. Abrah. I, 440-456

vJean Riéville, op.cit.

viEmmanuel Kant. Critique de la raison pure. Trad. A. Tremesaygues et B. Pacaud. PUF . 8ème édition, Paris, 1975, p.529.

Eternal Birth

Man is an “intermediate being”, said Plato, “between the mortal and the immortal”i. This obscure expression can be understood in several senses.

Man is constantly on the move. He goes up and down. He ascends towards ideas he doesn’t quite understand, and he descends towards the matter he has forgotten and which reminds him of her. Systole and diastole of the soul. Breathing of the body, inhalation, exhalation of the spirit.

The ancients had formed words that can help to understand these opposite movements. The Greek word ἒκστασις (extasis), means « coming out of oneself ». In « ecstasy », the spirit « comes out » of the body, it is caught in a movement that carries it away. Ecstasy has nothing to do with what is called « contemplation », which is immobile, stable, and which Aristotle called θεωρία (theoria).

The meaning of the word θεωρία as « contemplation, consideration » is rather late, since it only appears with Plato and Aristotle. Later, in Hellenistic Greek, the word took on the meaning of « theory, speculation », as opposed to « practice ».

But originally, θεωρία meant « sending delegates to a religious festival, religious embassy, being a theorist ». The « theorist » was the person going on a trip to consult the oracle, or to attend a religious ceremony. A « theory » was a religious delegation going to a holy place.

Ecstasy is an exit from the body. The theoria is a journey out of the homeland, to visit the oracle of Delphi. These words therefore have one thing in common, that of a certain movement towards the divine.

They are images of the possible movement of the soul, vertically or horizontally, as ascent or approach. Unlike the theoria, which denotes a journey of the body in the literal sense, ecstasy takes the form of a thought in movement outside the body, traversed by lightning and dazzle, always aware of its weakness, its powerlessness, in an experience which is beyond it, and which it knows it has little chance of really grasping, little means of fixing it in order to share it on its return.

The word ecstasy is the minimal trace of a kind of experience that is difficult to understand for those who have not lived it. It is not simply a matter of « ascending » to higher or even divine realities. When the soul moves into these generally inaccessible regions, she encounters phenomena that are absolutely dissimilar to anything she has ever observed on earth, in her usual life. She runs an infinitely fast race, in pursuit of something that is always ahead of her, and which draws her further and further away, into an ever-changing elsewhere, and which projects her to an infinite distance of what she has ever experienced.

Human life cannot know the end of this incredible race. The soul, which is given the experience of ecstasy, understands by experience the possibility of such a search. She will always remain marked by her ‘election’, by the gift given to her of a striking flight towards a reality that is forever elusive.

It is interesting to question the texts that report ecstasies that have had the effect of changing the course of history, and to analyze their differences.

In his comments on the experience of ecstasyii, Philo considers that Moses, despite the fame and the power of his visioniii, did not have access to the full understanding of the divine powers.

Philo then sought in the vision of Jeremiah, with more success, the traces of a greater penetration of these powers.

Moving forward in these fields is a random and delicate undertaking. The texts are difficult, they resist interpretation.

“This is how the word of God was addressed to Jeremiah”iv.

This is a restrained way of giving an account of what was, one might think, originally an ecstasy. Reading these lines, one can guess at its hold.

“Dominated by your power, I lived in isolation.”v

Other prophets expressed the marks of their ecstasy in other metaphors. Ezekiel says that « the hand of God came »vi upon him, or that the spirit « prevailed ».vii

When ecstasy is at its height, the hand of God weighs more than usual:

“And the spirit lifted me up and carried me away, and I went away sorrowful in the exaltation of my spirit, and the hand of the Lord weighed heavily on me.”viii

The definition of ‘ecstasy’ according to the National Center for Textual and Lexical Resource (CNRTL) is as follows:

“A particular state in which a person, as if transported out of himself, is removed from the modalities of the sensible world by discovering through a kind of illumination certain revelations of the intelligible world, or by participating in the experience of an identification, of a union with a transcendent, essential reality.”

This definition speaks of enlightenment, identification or union with transcendental realities. But what do these words really cover?

According to other testimonies, ecstasy, of mystical essence, seems infinitely more dynamic, more transforming. It draws its principle and its energy from the intuition of the divine infinite and from participation in its movement.

Ecstasy is more a race than a stasis, more a dazzle than an illumination.

Bergson, the philosopher of movement, paradoxically gives a rather static, ‘arrested’ image of ecstasy: “The soul ceases to turn on herself (…). She stops, as if she were listening to a voice calling out to her. (…) Then comes an immensity of joy, an ecstasy in which she is absorbed or a rapture which she undergoes: God is there, and it is in her. No more mystery. Problems fade away, obscurities dissipate; it is an illumination.”ix

It is not known whether Bergson knows from real personal experience what he is talking about.

One only has to pay attention to the testimonies of Blaise Pascal or S. John of the Cross, to guess that ecstasy cannot be so luminously static. Taken to such an elevation, ecstasy has a fiery power that carries away all certainty, all security, and even all illumination.

Ecstasy dazzles like a primal dive into the center of Light. And the worlds, all the worlds, are then only like tiny quantum hairs emanating from a divine Black Hole.

It is difficult to explain in audible words, in palpable images, the infinite rapture of the soul, when she is given to see her own, eternal, birth.

iPlato. Symposium.

iiPhilo. De Monarch. I, 5-7

iiiEx 33, 18-23

ivJer. 14,1

vJer. 15,17

viEz. 1,3

viiEz. 3,12

viiiEz. 3,14

ix H. Bergson, Deux sources, 1932, p. 243.

All Religions Belong to Us

The « Hidden Jew » is an ancient figure. Joseph and Esther first hid their Jewishness. Esther’s name in Hebrew means « I will hide ». Esther belonged to the harem of King Ahasuerus. She revealed to him that she was a Jew and thus saved her people.

Closer in time, the Marrano Jews also « hid ». Shmuel Trigano affirms that they were « adventurers » and « pioneers who can be counted among the first modern men »i. They were the ferment of Jewish modernity, and thus they were the origin and foundation of modernity itself. Far from betraying their people, they saved them, as it were, by surreptitiously facilitating their acculturation, if we are to believe Trigano’s thesis.

It is a stimulating hypothesis, with broad perspectives. Marranism would not be an escape, a treason, a  » decay « , but would in fact embody the courage and resilience of the Jews, and would pose a larger question, inherent in Judaism from its very origins:

« The Marran experience reveals the existence in Judaism of a potentiality of Marranism, a predisposition to Marranism, unrelated to the fact that it also represents a decay of Judaism. The ambivalence is greater: imposed by force, it also constitutes a high fact of the courage and perseverance of the Jews. The real question is this: is Marranism structurally inherent in Judaism, was it inscribed from the beginning in Judaism? (…) How could Jews have thought that they were becoming even more Jewish by becoming Christians (in fact this is what Jewish Christians have thought since Paul)? »ii

This question undoubtedly has a Judeo-Christian component, but its scope goes beyond the historical framework of Judeo-Christian relations. It goes much further back in time. Above all, it sheds light on a fundamental component of Judaism, its latent tendency towards universalism, as perhaps the Psalmist testifies. « But of Zion, it will be said, every man was born there  » (Ps. 87:5).

Philo, a Jew and philosopher who lived in Alexandria and died about 50 A.D., offers an interesting figure to study in this regard.

Philo had no connection with Christianity, the birth of which he was a contemporary. Of Greek and Jewish culture, he was well acquainted with the Greek philosophers and had a perfect knowledge of the texts of Judaism, which he interpreted in an original way. He was also interested in the religions of the Magi, the Chaldeans and the Zoroastrians.

He sought higher syntheses, new ways, more adapted to the forms of  » globalization  » whose progress he observed in his time.

Philo was certainly not a hidden Jew. But what kind of Judaism was he representing? What kind of profound thought, of irrepressible aspiration, was he the bearer?

Philo, two thousand years ago, like the Spanish and Portuguese marranes five centuries ago, represented a paradoxical Judaism. They seem to be moving away from it somewhat, or temporarily , but only to return to it later, in a deeper way. They seem to betray it on the surface, but it is by the effect of a fidelity of their own, perhaps more essential to its true spirit. By taking some distance, by linking themselves to the world, they build bridges, establish links with nations, with non-Jews, and open up the possibility of other syntheses.

Ignored by the Synagogue, Philo professed opinions that might seem unorthodox. It was, moreover, the Christian philosophers and theologians of the first centuries who preserved Philo’s writings, and who found a posteriori in his thought enough to nourish their own reflections.

What was the real state of Judaism just before the destruction of the Second Temple? There were many varieties of Judaism at that time: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc., not to mention the diasporas, more or less Hellenized.

There was undoubtedly a difference in perspective between the Jews of Jerusalem, who prayed every day in the Temple, not knowing that its end was imminent, and the Jews of the Diaspora, whose freedom of thought and belief, if we take Philo as a reference, was undoubtedly greater than in Jerusalem.

Let us judge by this text:

« God and Wisdom are the father and mother of the world, » Philo wrote in De Ebrietate, « but the spirit cannot bear such parents whose graces are far greater than those it can receive; therefore it will have as its father the right Logos and as its mother the education more appropriate to its weakness. »

Philo clarifies the scope of the metaphor: « The Logos is image and eldest son. Sophia is the spouse of God, whom God makes fruitful and who generates the world. »

It is not difficult to imagine the reaction of the Doctors of the Law to these remarks. It is also easy to understand why the Judeo-Christians found in Philo a valuable ally.

In a passage from his Cherubim (43-53), Philo evokes Sophia or Wisdom, the bride of God, and at the same time a Virgin, or Nature without defilement, and « Virginity » itself. Union with God makes the soul a virgin. The Logos is both father and husband of the soul.

This idea of a “virgin-mother-wife” is found almost everywhere in various traditions of antiquity, especially among the Orphics. The symbolic fusion between the wife and the daughter of God corresponds to the assimilation between Artemis and Athena among the latter. Korah, a virgin, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, unites with Zeus, and is the life-giving source of the world. She is the object of the mysteries of Eleusis. In the Osirid tradition, Osiris is the ‘principle’, Isis the ‘receptacle’ and Horus the ‘product’, which is translated philosophically by the triad: ‘Intelligible, matter, sensible’.

Was Philo an orthodox Jew? It is doubtful. Then who was he? One could say that he was, in anticipation, a sort of « Marrano » Jew, mutatis mutandis, converted by force of circumstance to spiritual globalization…

Schmuel Trigano writes in the conclusion of his work: « The double identity of the modern Jew could well be akin to the Marrano score. »

He generalized « Marranism » and made it a general model of the identity of modern man. « Marranism was the laboratory of Jewish modernity, even among those Jews who escaped Marranism. Let us go further: Marranism was the very model of all political modernity. »iii

What does Marranism testify to? The deep ambivalence of a worldview based on messianic consciousness. « Messianic consciousness encourages the Jew to live the life of this world while waiting for the world to come and thus to develop a cantilevered attitude towards this world. »

This feeling of strangeness in the world is particularly acute for anyone with an acute awareness of the implications of the coming of the Messiah.

But, paradoxically, it is in no way specific to Judaism.

Buddhism views this world as an appearance. This has also been the feeling of the shamans since the dawn of time. The feeling of strangeness in the world is so universal, that it must be taken as a fundamental trait of the most original religious feeling .

Man’s heart is hidden. It is for itself a mystery, that the world and its wonders come close without ever reaching it.

The « Marrano » man, doubly torn between his interior and exterior, as a man and as a persecuted person, discovered that modernity, through the State, could strive to systematically break down the interior of the self. But he also learned over time the means to resist alienation, the necessary wiles, the ability to thwart the games of political power, over very long periods of time.

We must not forget this lesson. At a time when the most « democratic » nations are actively preparing the means of mass surveillance, intrusive to the last degree, at a time when the prodromes of new barbarities are rising on a planetary scale, we will need this ancient lesson of duplicity in order to survive.

In order to prepare a better, universal, wise, humane world, we must follow the lesson of Philo: navigate among religions and nations, thoughts and languages, not as if we belonged to them, but as if they belonged to us.

iShmuel Trigano. « Le Juif caché. Marranisme et modernité », Pardès, 2000



Provincial Minds for a Skimpy Planet

Philo of Alexandria attempted a synthesis of the Greek, Jewish, Egyptian and Babylonian worlds. He navigated freely between these heterogeneous, trenchant, distinct, cultures, religions and philosophies. He took advantage of their strengths, their originality. He is one of the first to have succeeded in overcoming and transcending their idiosyncrasies. It was a premonitory effort, two thousand years ago, to think globally.

Philo was also a master of contradictions. In this, he can be a model for the troubled, contracted, stifling, reactionary periods we have entered.

On the one hand, Philo can be characterized as a neo-Platonic philosopher. He takes up and develops the concept of Logos as the « axis » of the world (ἔξίς). « It is a Logos, the Logos of the eternal God, who is the most resistant and solid support of the universe. « (De Plantat. 10).

Founding axis, ground of being, the Logos is at the same time principle of change, the divine word, an intelligible being, and the immemorial Wisdom. Neither begotten like men, nor un-begotten like God, the Logos is the « intermediate being » par excellence.

On the other hand, Philo affirms that God remains superior to any idea that might be formulated about Him. He declares that God is « better than virtue, better than science, better than good in itself » (De Opifico, m.8). Nothing is like God and God is like nothing (De Somn. I, 73). In this he takes up the point of view formulated by Deutero-Isaiah (Is 48:18-25, 46:5-9, 44,7).

God has nothing in common with the world, He has withdrawn totally from it, and yet His presence still penetrates it, and even fills it completely, in spite of this absence.

So, is God the Logos or a silent and absent God? Or both?

One could seek an answer by thinking over the variations of the nature of the created world, and over the various combinations of divine presence and absence.

Philo distinguishes two kinds of creation: the ideal man – which God « made » (ἐποίήσεν), and the earthly man – which God “fashioned” (ἒπλασεν). What is the difference? The ideal man is a pure creation, a divine, immaterial form. The earthly man is ‘fashioned’ plastically (it is the same etymological root) from matter (the raw mud).

The mud, the matter, are only intermediaries. Terrestrial man is therefore a mixture of presence and absence, of matter and intelligence. « The best part of the soul that is called intelligence and reason (νοῦς καί λόγος) is a breath (pneuma), a divine character imprint, an image of God. « (Quod. Det. Pot. Ins. 82-84)

Through these puns and ad hoc mixes of concepts, Philo postulates the existence of various degrees of creation. Not everything has been created by God ex nihilo, in one go: there are second or third creations, delegated to a gradation of intermediate beings.

On the one hand, God, and on the other hand, various levels of reality, such as the Logos, the ideal Man, the Adamic, earthly, Man.

Only the best beings are born both of God and through him. The other beings are born not of and through him, but through intermediaries who belong to a level of reality inferior to the divine reality.

Such a world, mixed, complex, a mixture of mud and soul, divine and earthly, is the most universal religious and philosophical idea possible in a time of transition.

This idea was widely spread in Philo’s time through mystery cults.

Mystery has always been part of the very essence of the religious phenomenon, in all traditions, in all cultures. In Egypt, Greece, Rome, Chaldea, mystery cults were observed in Egypt, Greece, Rome, Chaldea, which had sacred, hidden words. Initiation allowed progressive access to this secret knowledge, which was supposed to contain divine truths.

The mystery was spread everywhere, emphatic, putative.

For Philo, the Torah itself was a deep « mystery ». This is why he begged Moses to help and guide him, to initiate him: « O Hierophant, speak to me, guide me, and do not cease anointing until, leading us to the brilliance of the hidden words, you show us its invisible beauties. « (De Somn. II, 164).

The « hidden words » are the « shadow » of God (Leg Alleg. III, 96). They are His Logos. They come from an impalpable world, an intermediary between the sensible and the divine.

The Logos is also a means of approaching God, a vehicle of supplication. The Logos is the great Advocate, the Paraclete. He is the High Priest who prays for the whole world, of which he is clothed as of a garment (Vita Mos. 134).

The idea of an « intermediary » Logos, a divine Word and an intercessor of men before God, was already expressed, I would like to emphasize, in the RigVeda, in the plains of the Ganges more than two thousand years before the time of Moses. In the Veda, the Word, Vāc (वाच्), is the divine revelation, and it is also the Intermediary that changes our ears into eyes.

This ancient and timeless idea is also found in Egypt and Greece. « Hermes is the Logos whom the gods sent down to us from heaven (…) Hermes is an angel because we know the will of the gods according to the ideas given to us in the Logos, » explains Lucius Annaeus Cornutus in his Abstract of the Traditions of Greek Theology, written in the 1st century A.D.

Hermes was begotten by Zeus called Cornutus. Similarly, in Philo, the Logos is « the elder son of God », while the world is « the younger son of God ». In this respect Philo bases himself on the distinction made in the Egyptian myth of the two Horuses, the two sons of the supreme God Osiris, the elder Horus who symbolizes the world of ideas, the world of the intelligible, and the younger Horus who symbolically embodies the sensible world, the created world.

Plutarch writes in his De Isis et Osiris: « Osiris is the Logos of Heaven and Hades ». Under the name of Anubis, he is the Logos of things above. Under the name of Hermanoubis, he refers partly to the things above and partly to the things below. This Logos is also the mysterious « sacred word » that the Goddess Isis transmits to the Initiates.

Osiris, Hermes and the Logos belong to different traditions but point to a common intuition. Between the Most High and the Most Low there is an intermediate domain, the world of the Word, the Spirit, the Breath.

In the Vedas, this intermediate and divine realm is also that of sacrifice. Likewise, in Christianity, Jesus is both the Logos and the sacrificed God.

What can we conclude today from these resemblances, these analogies?

Obviously, the religious phenomenon is an essential, structuring component of the human spirit. But what is striking is that quite precise ideas, « technical », if I may say so, like that of a world « in between » God and man, have flourished in many forms, in all latitudes, and for several millennia.

One of the most promising avenues of « dialogue among cultures » would be to explore the similarities, analogies and resemblances between religions.

Since the resounding irruption of modernity on the world stage, a central disconnection has occurred between rationalists, sceptics and materialists on the one hand, and religious, mystical and idealist minds on the other.

This global, worldwide split is in itself a fundamental anthropological fact. Why is this? Because it threatens the anthropological idea itself. The idea of Man is being attacked in the heart, and as a result it is Man himself who is dying. Philosophers like Michel Foucault have even announced that this Man is already dead.

Man may not be quite dead yet, but he is dying, because he no longer understands who he is. He lies there, seriously wounded, almost decapitated by the axe of schizophrenia.

The modern era is indeed ultra-materialistic, and at the same time religious feeling remains deep in the human psyche.

Lay people, agnostics, indifferent people populate the real world today, and at the same time, religious, mystics and fundamentalists occupy seemingly irreconcilable ideal worlds.

Religious extremism, in its very excesses, nevertheless bears witness to a search for meaning, which cannot be reduced to the death drive or hatred of the other.

Is a meta-religion, a meta-philosophy, of worldwide scope and value, possible today? That is a vain wish, a crazy idea, a void dream, one might answer.

Yet, two thousand years ago, two Jews, Philo and Jesus, independently and separately testified to possible solutions, and built grandiose bridges between opposing abysses.

And, without knowing it, no doubt, they were thus reviving, in their own way, very old ideas that had already irrigated the minds of great predecessors several millennia before.

Today, two thousand years after these two seers, who carries this powerful heritage in the modern world?

No one. We have entered a time of narrowedness of mind, a very provincial time indeed, for a very skimpy planet.

Just Hit the Road לֶך 


There are many ideas running around, nowadays.

There is the idea that there are no more ideas, no more « great narratives« .

There is the idea that everything is rigged, that a conspiracy has been hatched by a few people against all.

There is the idea that progress is doomed.

There is the idea that the coming catastrophe is just ‘fake news’, or just part of an ideology.

There is the idea that anything can happen, and there is the idea that there is no hope, that the void is opening up, just ahead.

Every age harbours the new prophets that it deserves. Günther Anders has famously proclaimed the « obsolescence of man », – and that the absence of a future has already begun.

We must go way beyond that sort of ideas and that sort of prophecies.

Where to find the spirit, the courage, the vision, the inspiration?

Immense the total treasure of values, ideas, beliefs, faiths, symbols, paradigms, this ocean bequeathed by humanity to the generations of the day.

The oldest religions, the philosophies of the past, are not museums, fragmented dreams, now lost. Within them lies the memory of a common world, a dream of the future.

The Divine is in that which was born; the Divine is in that which is born; the Divine is in that which will be born.

A few chosen words from beyond the ages, and the spirit may be set ablaze. The soul may be filled with fulgurations, with assailing prescience.

Power is in the air, in the mother, the father, the son, the daughter.

It is in the Gods, and in all men. In all that is born, in all that will be born.

One thousand years before Moses’ times, the poets of the Rig Veda claimed:

The God who does not grow old stands in the bush. Driven by the wind, He clings to the bushes with tongues of fire, with a thunder.”i

Sounds familiar?

Was then Moses in his own way a Vedic seer? Probably.

The greatest minds always meet at the very top. And when they do, the greatest of the greatest do come down from up there, they do go back down, among us, to continue to go further on.

Go for yourself (לֶךְלְךָ lekh lekha), out of your country, out of your birthplace and your father’s house, to the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation. I will bless you, I will make your name glorious, and you will be blessed. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who reproach you, and through you will be blessed all the families of the earth.”ii

Rashi commented this famous text. When you’re always on the road, from one camp to another, you run three risks: you have fewer children, you have less money, you have less fame. That’s why Abram received three blessings: the promise of children, confidence in prosperity, and the assurance of fame.

The figure of Abram leaving Haran is a metaphor for what lies ahead. It is also a prophecy. We too must leave Haran.

The word haran originally means « the hollow ».

We too are in « the hollow », that is, a void of ideas, a lack of hope.

It is time, like Abram once did, to get out of this hollow, to hit the road, to seek new paths for new generations, yet to come.

The word haran can be interpreted in different ways. Philo wrote that haran means « the cavities of the soul and the sensations of the body ». It is these « cavities » that one must leave. “Adopt an alien mentality with regard to these realities, let none of them imprison you, stand above all. Look after yourself.”iii

Philo adds: « But also leave the expired word, what we have called the dwelling of the father, so as not to be seduced by the beauties of words and terms, and find yourself finally separated from the authentic beauty that lies in the things that the words meant. (…) He who tends toward being rather than appearing will have to cling to these realities, and leave the dwelling of words.”iv

Abram-Abraham has left Haran. On the way, he separated from his traveling companion, Lot: « Separate yourself from me!  » he said to himv.

Philo comments: « You must emigrate, in search of your father’s land, that of the sacred Logos, who is also in a sense the father of the ascetics; this land is Wisdom.”vi

Philo, an Alexandrian Jew, wrote in Greek. He used the word Logos as an equivalent for “Wisdom”, – and he notes: « The Logos stands the highest, close besides God, and is called Samuel (‘who hears God’). »

Migration’ is indeed a very old human metaphor, with deep philosophical and mystical undertones.

One may still have to dig up one or two things about it.

Go, for yourself (לֶךְלְךָ lekh lekha)”. Leave the ‘hollow’. Stand above all, that is. Look after the Logos.

The Logos. Or the ‘Word’, as they say.

A ‘migrant’ is always in quest of good metaphors for a world yet to come. Always in quest of true metaphors yet to be spoken.

Metaphor’. A Greek word, meaning: “displacement”.

Hence the stinging and deep irony of Philo’s metaphor:

Leave the dwelling of words.”

Leave the words. Leave the metaphors. Just leave.

Just hit the road, Man.

Lekh לֶךְ

i R.V. I.58.2-4

iiGen. 12, 1-3

iiiPhilo. De Migratione Abrahami. 14,7

iv Ibid. 14,12

v Gen. 13,9

vi Ibid. 14,12

The sudden rapture of Enoch


It was very brutal, very sudden. « Enoch walked with God, and then he was no more, for God took him away. »i A real trick. The construction of the sentence is straightforward, without nuance. If we translate word for word: « Enoch walked with God (in the text: ‘to the Gods’: et-ha-Elohim,  אֶתהָאֱלֹהִים ), then, ‘nothing more of him, vé-éïnénou, וְאֵינֶנּוּ ‘, because God (Elohim) took him away (or: seized him), ki-laqa oto Elohim  כִּילָקַח אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים

The expression used to render the key moment of Enoch’s disappearance (‘nothing more of him’ – éïnénou) evokes a kind of nothingness, an ‘absence’ instantaneously substituting for the ‘presence’ of Enoch, for his walking in ‘presence of God’, during three centuries.

Rachi comments as follows: « Enoch was a righteous man, but weak in conscience and easy to turn to evil. So God hastened to take him out of this world before his time. That is why the text expresses itself differently when it speaks of his death, and says: AND HE WAS NO LONGER in this world to complete his years. »

Therefore, Rashi does not believe that Enoch was taken up to Heaven in the manner of Elijah, like in a ‘rapture’. According to Rashi it is only a metaphor, a vigorous one admittedly, but which only translates the death of a « just », who was also a little « weak ».

I find that Rashi’s commentary falls rather short of the text.

Why demean Enoch by calling him a « weak man and easy to incite to evil »? Enoch is a « just » man. This is no small thing. Moreover, « he walks with God ». This is not a sign of weakness. Secondly, why does Rashi say that God « hastened to take him out of this world before his time, » when Enoch had already been walking with God ( וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ חֲנוֹךְ, אֶתהָאֱלֹהִים ) for three hundred yearsii?

If we add the years that Enoch lived before giving birth to Methuselah, Enoch lived a total of three hundred and sixty five yearsiiiThat is a long time before God decided to “hasten”...

A thousand years before Rashi, Philo of Alexandria had proposed a completely different interpretation. « Enoch was pleasing to God, and ‘they could not find him’ (Gen. 5:24). Where would one have looked to find this Good? What seas would one have crossed? On what islands, on what continents? Among the Barbarians, or among the Greeks? Aren’t there not even today initiates in the mysteries of philosophy who say that wisdom is without existence, since the wise man does not exist either? So it is said that ‘he could not be found’, that way of being which was pleasing to God, in the sense that while it exists well, it is hidden from view, and that it is hidden from us where it is, since it is also said that God took it away ».iv

Philo goes from the figure of Enoch to that of Good. Where to find the Good? Where to find Wisdom? Just because we can’t find them, doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly disappeared, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Philo sees in the text an incitement to take flight towards high ideas. Probably an influence of Pythagoras and Plato. A form of encounter, the spirit of Israel and that of Greece.

After Philo and Rashi, what can we still see in this passage of Genesis?

The name Enoch (חֲנוֹךְ ) gives a clue. It means « the initiate », « the one who is dedicated ». The word anukah has the same root. Long before it meant the feast of the same name, which commemorates the victories of the Maccabees, this word had the generic meaning of « inauguration », of « dedication »: the dedication of the altar (Num. 7:11) or the inauguration of the temple (Ps. 30:1).

Enoch was a living « dedication ». He had « dedicated » himself to God. He was a “walking” sacrifice (like Isaac, walking to the place of his sacrifice).

Enoch had given his own life as a sacrifice. God was pleased with him, and God walked « with him ». Then, one day, suddenly, God took him away.

Why that day, precisely, and not before or after?

I think that Enoch was taken away on the day he was 365 years old. He had spent 65 years until he became the father of Methuselah, and 300 more years of walking in the presence of God. A life of 365 years, that is, a year of years.v

A « year of years » is a good metaphor to signify the perfection of time accomplished, the sum of the life of a righteous man.

But why was Enoch ‘suddenly’ no longer seen?

When God takes hold of a soul, it is not done in a picosecond or a femtosecond or even as one might say, ‘immediately’.

It is done in a time without time, infinitely short in the beginning, and infinitely long, immediately afterwards.

i Gen. 5, 24

ii Gen. 5,22

iiiGen. 5, 21-23

iv Mutatione Nominum, 34-38

vGen. 5, 21-23

A Jewish, Greek, Indo-European and Exotic Rabbi

Jews pythagorized a lot in Alexandria, several centuries before the Christian era. Philo and Josephus are excellent examples of Hellenizing Jews, belonging to the high class of this city, and sensitive to ideas flowing from elsewhere. Pharisaism and Essenism, which flourished at the time, can be interpreted as effective outcomes of Pythagorean and Alexandrian Judaism.

The Pharisees, the « Separated », indeed constituted a « separate band », they wanted to distinguish themselves from traditional Jews, and even to innovate with regard to the Law. Josephus says that the Pharisees imposed rules on the people that were not enshrined in the Law of Moses.

Death and resurrection occupied the minds a lot, then.

The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead. So did share this belief Rabbi Joshua ben Youssef, better known as Jesus, while still finding Pharisees « hypocrites », and « bleached graves ».

By contrast, the Sadducees, faithful to the letter of the Law, were « Old Believers » and they denied the resurrection.

The core idea of the resurrection was indeed not Jewish. It was widespread in Hellenism, pythagorism, with palingenesis and metempsychosis. All this originated in a more distant East. Iran. India. The vast world had many different views on these difficult subjects.

But the Pharisaic belief in the resurrection was undoubtedly « a decisive innovation, which made Pharisaic and Talmudic Judaism a religion quite different from that of the Law and the Prophets, » wrote Isidore Lévyi.

Pharisaic Judaism has adapted and modified the concepts of resurrection and palingenesis: the resurrection is not as a recurring opportunity offered to migrant souls, but a singular, unique event, which occurs once and for all on the day of Revelation.

As for the Essenes, another sect of Judaism, they are called Hassa’im, the « silent » ones. Josephus describes them as follows: « No scream, no tumult ever defiles the house; everyone in turn is given the floor. To people outside, the silence inside gives the impression of a frightening mystery.»ii

They are also fanatics, » adds Josephus. « They swear not to reveal anything about the members of the cult to strangers, even if they were to be tortured to death.»iii

It was already, let us remember, Pythagoras’ oath: « Rather die than speak », as reported by Diogenes Laertius (VIII, 39). And it also reminds us of Jesus’ obstinate silence before Pilate.

Flavius Josephus summarizes the belief of the Essene sect: « The soul is eternal. Freed from its carnal chain, the soul, as if liberated from a long servitude, joyfully takes off towards the heights.» iv

Other sects still competed with them in this troubled period: the Zadoqites, the Nazarenes, the Dositheans, the disciples of Johanan Ben Zakkai, those of Hillel…

In this world open to the influences of many heterodox cultures, the parallel between the birth of Jesus and that of Pythagoras is worth to be underlined.

There is more. Pythagoras in Crotone refused to be called a son of Apollo, just as Jesus in Capernaum does not want to be known as the son of God. Another similarity: Pythagoras and Jesus knew how to talk to women. Jesus had several of them as unconditional followers, three of whom are named: Mary Magdalene, Mary Mother of James, and Salome. This sole fact is in itself extremely remarkable, if we take into account the context and the time. Only Pythagoras has had a similar behaviour in the past.

Pharisaism, born in Alexandria in the midst of a maelstrom of cultures, religions, political, economic and migratory movements, tried to reconcile the ideas of Moses and Pythagoras. The time aspired to forms of syncretism, to conjunctions of points of view.

If Judaism was then influenced by Pythagorism, how can we not see that Christianity too was influenced by its aura? Long before Jesus, Pythagoras had been known as the God-Man of Samos, while being the son of Mesarch and Parthenis. He embodied on earth the manifestation of Apollo. Through him, shone in Crotone, the torch that saved happiness and wisdom.

I. Levy interprets what he calls « the enigmatic fact of the triumph of Christianity » in this way: « Of the religion which under the Caesars left Palestine, the essential had only been introduced to Jerusalem a century earlier. The Gospel conceals under an oriental garment the belief system which, as we know from the writings of Virgil, Plutarch and many others, from the careers of Apollonius of Tyana and Alexander of Abonutikhos, captured the most diverse spirits on the Greek and Latin shores of the Mediterranean. It seduced the ancient world because it brought it, imbued with the most penetrating exotic charm, a product of Greek thought, heir to an Indo-European past. »v

All this sounds curious in the 21st century, used to the strangest extrapolations, and sensitive to the most improbable reinterpretations, never without putative provocations.

Jesus, a slandered rabbi, condemned as « king of the Jews », now may reappear in the collective consciousness as an « oriental », « exotic » product, an heir to « Greek thought » and to an « Indo-European past ».

In the Jewish world, trying to survive after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, it was probably not desirable to allow the seeds of heresy to develop. It was necessary to gather minds, after the political, symbolic and moral disaster. Yet Jesus was Jewish, as were the Pharisees, Sadducees or Essenes who occupied the field of Jewish thought at that time. More Jewish than Indo-European, we might say.

It is certainly not indifferent, today, to want to see in Christianity only an « oriental », « exotic », « Greek » and « Indo-European » non-Jewish heresy, rather than the sucker of the Jesse trunk, – that Judaeo-Christians celebrated then.

It might be more significant, from a very long-term perpective, to consider Christianity being, at the same time, and without contradiction, an interesting innovation: a Jewish-Greek-Indo-European and exotic religion, – transcending in its unique way cultures, borders, classes, sects, centuries.

i in La Légende de Pythagore de Grèce en Palestine, 1927

ii Bellum II, VIII, 5, §132

iii Bellum II, VIII, 5, §132

iv Bell. II, VIII, §155-157

vIn Op.cit.

La philosophie des effluves


« Il n’y a pas beaucoup de philosophes juifs », déclare Léo Straussi.

Cette affirmation, pour provocante qu’elle soit, peut être relativisée.

Il est aisé de lancer une poignée de noms…

Le premier d’entre eux peut-être, historiquement parlant, Philon d’Alexandrie, tenta une synthèse entre sa foi juive et la philosophie grecque. Il eut peu d’influence sur le judaïsme de son temps, mais beaucoup plus sur les Pères de l’Église, qui s’en inspirèrent.

Un millénaire plus tard, Moïse Maïmonide s’inspira de la philosophie aristotélicienne pour tenter de concilier foi et ‘raison’. Il fut le célèbre auteur du Mishné Torah, un code de la loi juive, lequel souleva de longues polémiques parmi ses coreligionnaires au 12ème et au 13ème siècle.

Autre célébrité, Baruch Spinoza fut « excommunié«  (חרם herem ) et définitivement « banni » de la communauté juive en 1656, mais il fut admiré par Hegel, Nietzsche...

Au 18ème siècle, Moïse Mendelssohn s’efforça d’appliquer l’esprit de l’Aufklärung au judaïsme et devint l’un des principaux instigateurs des « Lumières juives », l’Haskalah (du mot השכלה, « sagesse », « érudition »).

On peut évoquer aussi Hermann Cohen, un néo-kantien du 19ème siècle, et « un très grand philosophe allemand », selon le mot de Gérard Bensussanii.

Plus proches dans le temps, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig et Emmanuel Lévinas

C‘est à peu près tout.

Il n’y a pas foule, mais on est loin de la pénurie que Léo Strauss se plaisait à souligner.

Il semble que ce dernier ait surtout voulu faire valoir, pour des raisons qui lui sont propres, « la vieille prémisse juive selon laquelle être juif et être philosophe sont deux choses incompatibles », ainsi qu‘il le formule explicitement.iii

Il est intéressant de le voir préciser son point de vue en analysant le cas emblématique de Maïmonide : « Les philosophes sont des hommes qui essaient de rendre compte du Tout en partant de ce qui est toujours accessible à l’homme en tant qu’homme ; Maïmonide part de l’acceptation de la Torah. Un Juif peut utiliser la philosophie et Maïmonide l’utilise de la façon la plus ample; mais, en tant que Juif, il donne son assentiment là où, en tant que philosophe, il suspendrait son assentiment. »iv

Léo Strauss ajoute, catégoriquement, que le livre de Maïmonide, le Guide des égarés, « n’est pas un livre philosophique – un livre écrit par un philosophe pour des philosophes – mais un livre juif : un livre écrit par un Juif pour des Juifs. »v

Le Guide des égarés est en effet entièrement consacré à la Torah et à l’explication du « sens caché » de plusieurs passages. Les plus importants des « secrets » qu’il s’efforce d’élucider sont le Récit du Commencement (le début de la Genèse) et le Récit du Chariot (Ezéchiel ch. 1 à 10). De ces deux « secrets », Maïmonide dit que « le Récit du Commencement est la même chose que la science de la nature et que le Récit du Chariot est la même chose que la science divine (c’est-à-dire la science des êtres incorporels, ou de Dieu et des anges) »vi.

Les chapitres d’Ézéchiel mentionnés par Maïmonide méritent sans aucun doute l’attention et l’étude des plus fins esprits, des âmes effilées. Mais ils ne sont pas à mettre dans toutes les mains. Ézéchiel y raconte avec force détails ses « visions divines ». On imagine volontiers que les sceptiques, les matérialistes, les rationalistes ou les ricaneurs (qu’ils soient juifs ou non) ne font pas partie du lectorat visé.

Qu’on en juge.

« Je regardai, et voici, il vint du septentrion un vent impétueux, une grosse nuée, et une gerbe de feu, qui répandait de tous côtés une lumière éclatante, au centre de laquelle brillait comme de l’airain poli, sortant du milieu du feu. Au centre encore, apparaissaient quatre animaux, dont l’aspect avait une ressemblance humaine. Chacun d’eux avait quatre faces, et chacun avait quatre ailes. Leurs pieds étaient droits, et la plante de leurs pieds était comme celle du pied d’un veau. Ils étincelaient comme de l’airain poli. Ils avaient des mains d’homme sous les ailes à leurs quatre côtés ; et tous les quatre avaient leurs faces et leurs ailes. Leurs ailes étaient jointes l’une à l’autre, ils ne se tournaient point en marchant, mais chacun marchait droit devant soi. Quant à la figure de leurs faces, ils avaient tous une face d’homme, tous quatre une face de lion à droite, tous quatre une face de bœuf à gauche, et tous quatre une face d’aigle. »vii

La vision d’Ézéchiel prend alors un tour renversant, avec l’apparition de la gloire de l’Éternel.

« Je vis encore comme de l’airain poli, comme du feu, au dedans duquel était cet homme, et qui rayonnait tout autour, depuis la forme de ses reins jusqu’en haut, et depuis la forme de ses reins jusqu’en bas, je vis comme du feu, et comme une lumière éclatante, dont il était environné. Tel l’aspect de l’arc qui est dans la nue en un jour de pluie, ainsi était l’aspect de cette lumière éclatante : c’était une image de la gloire de l’Éternel. A cette vue, je tombai sur ma face, et j’entendis la voix de quelqu’un qui parlait. »viii

L’homme au milieu du feu parle à Ézéchiel comme s’il était une « image » de Dieu.

Était-ce le cas? Quel philosophe se risquerait à en juger?

Peut-être que cet « homme » environné de feu était une ‘réalité’? Ou bien ne s’agissait-il que d’une illusion?

Quoi qu’il en soit, il est clair que ce texte et ses possibles interprétations n’entrent pas dans les canons philosophiques habituels.

Faut-il donc suivre Léo Strauss, et admettre en conséquence que Maïmonide n’est pas un « philosophe », mais qu’il a écrit en revanche un « livre juif » pour les Juifs, afin de répondre à des besoins d’éclaircissements propres aux mystères recelés dans les Textes?

Peut-être… Mais le lecteur moderne d’Ézéchiel, qu’il soit juif ou non, qu’il soit philosophe ou non, ne peut manquer de se prendre d’intérêt pour les paraboles qu’il y trouve, et pour leurs implications symboliques.

L’ « homme » au milieu du feu demande à Ézéchiel d’ « avaler » un livre, puis d’aller « vers la maison d’Israël », vers ce peuple qui n’est point pour lui « un peuple ayant un langage obscur, une langue inintelligible », pour lui rapporter les paroles qu’il va lui dire.

Les ressources habituelles de la philosophie semblent peu adaptées pour traiter de ce genre de texte.

Mais le Guide des égarés s’y attaque frontalement, dans un style subtil et charpenté, mobilisant tous les ressorts de la raison, et de la critique, afin d’apporter quelques lumières aux personnes de foi, avancées dans la réflexion, mais saisies de « perplexité » face aux arcanes de telles « visions ».

Le Guide des égarés implique une grande confiance dans les capacités de la raison humaine.

Il laisse entendre que celles-ci sont bien plus grandes, bien plus déliées que tout que ce que les philosophes les plus éminents ou les poètes les plus éclairés ont fait entrevoir, à travers les siècles.

Et ce n’est pas fini. Des âges viendront, sans doute, où la puissance de la pénétration humaine en matière de secrets divins sera, osons le dire, sans comparaison avec ce que Moïse ou Ézéchiel eux-mêmes ont pu léguer à la postérité.

Autrement dit, l’âge des prophètes ne fait que commencer, et celui des philosophes est à peine émergent, à l’échelle des Temps à venir.

L’Histoire humaine est dans son premier âge, vraiment, si l’on en juge par ses balbutiements.

Notre temps tout entier fait encore partie de l’aube, et les grands soleils de l’Esprit n’ont pas révélé à ce jour autre chose qu’un infime éclat de leurs lumières en puissance.

D’un point de vue anatomique et fonctionnel, le cerveau humain offre à la contemplation des mystères bien plus profonds, bien plus obscurs, horresco referens, que les riches et bariolées métaphores d’Ézéchiel.

Le cerveau d’Ézéchiel lui-même a été un jour, il y a quelques siècles, en proie à une « vision ». Il y avait donc à ce moment-là une forme de compatibilité, de connaturalité entre le cerveau du prophète et la vision qu’il rapporte.

On en induit qu’un jour, vraisemblablement, d’autres cerveaux de prophètes ou de visionnaires à venir seront capables de se porter plus loin qu’Ézéchiel lui-même.

De deux choses l’une: soit la « vision » prophétique est une illusion, soit elle possède une réalité propre.

Dans le premier cas, Moïse, Ézéchiel et la longue théorie des « visionnaires » de l’humanité sont des égarés, qui ont emmené leurs suivants dans des chemins d’erreurs, sans retour.

Dans le second cas, il faut admettre que toute « vision » prophétique implique a priori un (autre) monde enveloppant de façon subliminale le « voyant ».

A tout « voyant » il est donné de percevoir dans une certaine mesure la présence du mystère, qui environne de toutes parts l’humanité entière.

Pour reprendre l’intuition de William Jamesix, les cerveaux humains sont analogues à des « antennes », branchées en permanence sur un monde immense, invisible.

D’âges en âges, des chamans, des prophètes et quelques poètes en perçoivent les effluves, les pulsations.

Il reste à bâtir la philosophie de ces effluves.

iLéo Strauss. Maïmonide. 1988, p.300

iiGérard Bensussan. Qu’est-ce que la philosophie juive ? 2003, p.166.

iiiLéo Strauss. Maïmonide. 1988, p.300

ivIbid., p.300

vIbid., p.300

viIbid., p. 304

viiÉzéchiel, 1, 4-10

viiiÉzéchiel, 1, 27-28

ixWilliam James. Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to the Doctrine.1898. Ed. Houghton, Mifflin and Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge.