Philo, in a short, dense passagei, describes the search of the ‘wise man’ who wants to know the secret of the universe, the origin of all things, the ultimate end – the Sovereign Mystery.
Let us reveal at once that this secret can never be reached.
Understanding this is the first step on the road of the ‘wise man’. It is necessary to know that the Mystery is too transcendent, too elusive, too unimaginable to ever be within reach. And yet it is worth continuing the search.
After a while, looking back over the road traveled so far, the walking ‘wise man’ surely knows that he knows almost nothing. At least he knows that, – which is not nothing, really, but indeed is really not much, and even one can say that it is almost absolutely nothing.
But the ‘wise man’ also knows that he has to get back on the road, and continue the search, without delay.
Looking at what still seems like a long way ahead to go before the next stop, he believes he can decipher the scattered signs in the distance. Some tracks. A few fragments.
Tending his ear, he may perceive confused clamors, rare echoes, silent sighs, indistinct words, tenuous, almost inaudible voices.
Raising his eyes, he may distinguish with some difficulty, very high in the nebula, kind of scintillating memories, and a background of faint glimmers, originally immensely distant, far beyond the forgotten ways, and lost nights.
The ‘wise man’ sets off again. He has no more time to lose. This last halt has lasted too long.
He walks with slow steps, eyes open, memory alive. From time to time he comes across thin, quickly outdated clues.
Peaceful, solitary, he reflects on the geometry of his unlimited, illogical walk. The more he advances, it seems, the less he arrives.
But he continues walking, however. In a sense, maybe doing so he does not go backwards, at last.
Towards the front, very far, in the distance, the horizon fades away.
The walker clearly sees only his slow steps, and what is just around him. He also sees that what seems quite close to him constantly slips away from him as he approaches, slowly moving away, into a blind spot.
Only the immeasurably distant, the absolutely separated, the utterly unapproachable, does not leave him, in his slow approach.
The ‘wise man’ in his walk rarely has his joy, his thirst: minute traces, celestial analects, pollens in the wind, inchoate echoes, iridescent sounds, allusive gleams, unearthed nitescences, …
But none of this is enough for him.
Walking again, continuing the search, that alone, in a sense, is enough for him.
Man is an « intermediary being » between the mortal and the immortal, says Plato. This enigmatic phrase, rather inaudible to modern people, can be understood in several senses,.
One of these is the following. « Intermediary » means that man is in constant motion. He goes up and down, in the same breath. He ascends towards ideas that he does not really understand, and he descends towards matter that he does not understand at all. Inhaling, exhaling. Systole of the spirit, diastole of the soul.
Ancient words still testify to these outward movements of the soul. « Ecstasy », from the Greek ἒκστασις (ekstasis), means firstly « coming out of oneself ». The spirit comes out of the body, and then it is caught up in a movement that takes it beyond the world.
Ekstasis is the opposite of stasis, ‘contemplation’, — which is immobile, stable, and which Aristotle called θεωρία (theoria). The meaning of θεωρία as ‘contemplation, consideration’ is rather late, since it only appears with Plato and Aristotle. Later, in Hellenistic Greek, this 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 festival. A ‘theory’ was a religious delegation going to a holy place.
The words ekstasis and theoria have something in common, a certain movement towards the divine. Ekstasis is an exit from the body. Theoria is a journey out of the homeland, to visit the oracle of Delphi.
These are images of the free movement of the soul, in the vertical or horizontal direction. Unlike the theoria, which is a journey in the true sense of the word, ekstasis takes the form of a thought in movement outside the body, crossed by lightning and dazzle, always aware of its weakness, its powerlessness, in an experience which goes far beyond its capacities, and which it knows it has little chance of really grasping, few means of fixing it and sharing it on its return.
The word ekstasis seems to keep the trace of a kind of experience that is difficult to understand for those who have not lived it. When the soul moves to higher lands, generally inaccessible, it encounters phenomena quite different from those of the usual life, life on earth. Above all, it runs an infinitely fast race, in pursuit of something that is constantly ahead of it, that draws it ever further away, to an ever-changing elsewhere, which probably stands at an infinite distance.
Human life cannot know the end of this race. The soul, at least the one that is given the experience of ekstasis, can nevertheless intuitively grasp the possibility of a perpetual search, a striking race towards an elusive reality.
In his commentaries on the experience of ecstasyi, Philo considers that Moses, despite what his famous visionii, reported in the Bible, did not actually have access to a complete understanding of the divine powers.
But Jeremiah, on the other hand, would testify to a much greater penetration of these powers, according to Philo. However, despite all his talent, Philo has difficulty in consolidating this delicate thesis. The texts are difficult and resistant to interpretation.
Philo cautiously suggests extrapolating certain lines from Jeremiah’s text to make it an indication of what may have been an ecstasy. « This is how the word of God was addressed to Jeremiah”iii. This is rather thin, admittedly. But another line allows us to guess God’s hold, God’s domination over Jeremiah: « Dominated by your power, I have lived in isolation »iv.
Other prophets have also declared to have lived in ecstasy, using other metaphors. Ezekiel, for example, says that « the hand of God came »v upon him, or that the spirit « prevailed »vi.
When the 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 sad, in the exaltation of my spirit, and the hand of the Lord weighed heavily on me.”vii
In a cynical, materialistic and disillusioned time, like our time, one cannot be content with just words, even prophetic ones, to interest the reader. Facts, experiments, science, rationality are needed.
Let’s start with a ‘technical’ definition of ecstasy according to the CNRTL :
« A particular state in which a person, finding herself as if transported out of herself, 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 evokes enlightenment, identification or union with transcendental realities. This vocabulary is hardly less obscure than the biblical expressions ‘dominion by power’, or ‘hand of God’.
Moreover, this definition cautiously employs what appears to be a series of euphemisms: ‘to be as if transported’, ‘to be removed from the sensitive world’, ‘to discover a kind of enlightenment’, ‘to participate in an experience’.
If we return to the memories of ecstasy bequeathed to us by the prophets, the true ‘experience’ of ecstasy seems infinitely more dynamic, more overwhelming, ‘dominated’ by the immediate, irrefutable intuition of an infinite, transcendent ‘power’.
Bergson, a true modernist, if ever there was one, and philosopher of movement, paradoxically gives a rather static image of ecstasy: « The soul ceases to turn on itself (…). It stops, as if it were listening to a voice calling out to it. (…) Then comes an immensity of joy, an ecstasy in which it is absorbed or a rapture it experiences: God is there, and it is in him. No more mystery. Problems fade away, obscurities dissipate; it is an illumination.”viii
Can ecstasy only be associated with a moment when the soul ‘stops’, when it ‘stops spinning’? Is it not rather carried away without recourse by a fiery power, which suddenly sweeps away all certainty, all security? Bergson certainly falls far short of any essential understanding of ecstasy, perhaps because he has never experienced one.
Who will report today in audible words, in palpable images, the infinite and gentle violence of ecstasy? Who will say in raw terms the light that invades the intelligence, as in love the whole body? Who will explain the narrow bank from which the pulse of death is measured? Who will tell us how to kiss the lips of infinity? Who will grasp in one stroke the face of which time is but a slice, and the world, but a shadow?
The Greek word logos means « reason » or « discourse, speech ».
In Plato’s philosophy, the Logos is the Principle and the Word. It is also the Whole of all the Intelligible, as well as the link between the divine powers, and what founds their unity. Finally, it is the « intermediary » between man and God.
For Philo of Alexandria, a Neo-Platonist Jew, the Logos takes two forms. In God, the Logos is the divine Intelligence, the Eternal Thought, the Thoughtful Thought. In its second form, the Logos resides in the world, it is the Thought in action, the Thought realized outside God.
Written shortly after Philo’s active years, the Gospel of John says that « in the beginning » there was the Logos who was God, and the Logos who was with God i. There was also the Logos who was made fleshii.
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 became flesh?
In Christian theology, there is only one Logos. Yet the three divine ‘instances’ of the Logos quoted by John have also been personified as Father, Son, Spirit.
For the structuralist philosopher, it is possible to sum up these difficult theses in a pragmatic way. The Logos comes in three forms or aspects: Being, Thinking, Speaking. That what is, that what thinks and that what speaks. These three forms are, moreover, fundamental states, from which everything derives, and with which anybody can find an analogy pointing to the fundamental human condition (existence, intelligence, expression).
Philo, who is both a Jew and a Neoplatonist, goes quite far with the theory of the Logos, despite the inherent difficulty of reconciling the unity of God and the multiplication of His ‘instances’ (that the Kabbalah, much later on, called ‘sefirot‘). For Philo, the Logos is the totality of God’s Ideas. These Ideas act “like seals, which when approached to the wax produce countless imprints without being affected in any way, always remaining the same.”iii
All things that exist in the universe derive from an Idea, a « seal ». The Logos is the general seal whose imprint is the entire universe.iv
Philo’s Logos is not « personified ». The Logos is the Organ of God (both His Reason and His Word) playing a role in the Creation. Philo multiplies metaphors, analogies, drawing from divine, human and natural images. The Logos is creation, engendering, speech, conception, or flow, radiation, dilatation. Using a political image, God « reigns », the Logos « governs ».
Philo’s thinking about the Logos is complex and confusing. A 19th century commentator judged that « a tremendous confusion is at the basis of Philo’s system »v. Allegedly, Philo seems to mix up Logos (Word), Pneuma (Spirit), Sophia (Wisdom) and Epistemus (Knowledge).
Wisdom seems to play the same role in relation to the Logos as the thinking Thought (Spirit) of God plays in relation to the world of the Intelligible. Wisdom is the deep source of this world of the Intelligible, and at the same time it is identical with it.
There is no logical quirk in this paradox. Everything comes from the nature of the divine Spirit, in which no distinction can be made between « container » and « content ».
The Logos is thus both the Author of the Law and the Law itself, the spirit and the letter of its content. The Logos is the Law, and the Logos is also its enunciator, its revelator.vi
The Logos is, in the universe, the Divine brought back to unity. He is also the intermediary between this unity and God. Everything which constitutes the Logos is divine, and everything which is divine, apart from the essence of God, is the Logos.
These ideas, as has been said, have been sometimes described as a « philosophical hodgepodge »; they seem to demonstrate a « lack of rigor »vii on the part of Philo, according to certain harsh judgments.
However, what strikes me is that Philo and John, at about the same historical period, the one immediately preceding the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, and independently of each other, specified the contours of a theophany of the Logos, with clear differences but also deep common structures.
What is even more striking is that, over the centuries, the Logos of the Stoics, the Platonic Noos, the Biblical Angel of the Eternal, the Word of YHVH, the Judeo-Alexandrine Logos, or the ‘Word made flesh‘, the Messiah of the first Christian Church, have succeeded one another. All these figures offer their analogies and differences.
As already said, the main difficulty, however, for a thinker like Philo, was to reconcile the fundamental unity of God, the founding dogma of Judaism, and His multiple, divine emanations, such as the Law (the Torah), or His Wisdom (Hokhma).
On a more philosophical level, the difficulty was to think a Thought that exists as a Being, that also unfolds as a living, free, creative entity, and that finally ´reveals´ herself as the Word — in the world.
There would certainly be an easy (negative) solution to this problem, a solution that « modern » and « nominalist » thinkers, cut off from these philosophical roots, would willingly employ: it would be to simply send the Logos and the Noos, the Angel and the incarnate Wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel back into the dustbin of empty abstractions, of idealistic chimera.
I do not opt for such an easy solution. It seems to me contrary to all the clues accumulated by History.
I believe that the Spirit, as it manifests itself at a very modest level in each one of us, does not come from biochemical mechanisms, from synaptic connections. I believe it is precisely the opposite.
Our brain multiplies cellular and neuronal networks, in order to try to grasp, to capture at our own level, what the Spirit can let us see of its true, inner nature, its fundamental essence.
The brain, the human body, the peoples of different nations and, as such, the whole of humanity are, in their own unique way, immense collective ´antennae´, whose primary mission is to capture the diffuse signs of a creative Intelligence, and build a consciousness out of it.
The greatest human geniuses do not find their founding ideas at the unexpected crossroads of a few synapses, or thanks to haphazard ionic exchanges. Rather, they are « inspired » by a web of thoughtful Thoughts, in which all living things have been immersed since the beginning.
As a clue, I propose this image : When I think, I think that I am; then I think that this thought is part of a Thought that lives, and endless becomes; and I think of this Thought, which never stops thinking, never ceases to think, eternally, the Thought that continues « to be », and that never stops being without thinking, and that never stops thinking without being.
According to Genesis, taken literally, man was created twice.
Genesis, in chapter 1, describes a first creation of « man » called ha-adam. The word ha-adam includes the definite article ha and literally means « the earth », metaphorically « the red » (for the earth is red), and by extension « man ».
In Chapter 2, Genesis describes a second creation of man (ish), accompanied by a creation of woman (isha). These two words are not preceded by the article ha.
The most immediately noticeable differences between the two creations are as follows.
First of all, the names given to the man differ, as we have just seen: ha-adam on the one hand, ish and isha on the other.
Secondly, the verbs used to describe the act of creation are not the same. In the first chapter of Genesis we read: « God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness' » (Gen. 1:26). The Hebrew word for ‘let us make’ is נַעֲשֶׂה from the verb עֲשֶׂה, ‘asah, to do, to act, to work. In the second chapter of Genesis we read: « And the Eternal God planted a garden in Eden toward the east, and there he placed the man whom he had fashioned. « (Gen. 2:8) The Hebrew word for ‘fashioning’ is יָצָר , yatsara, to make, to form, to create.
Thirdly, in Genesis 1, God created man « male and female » (zakhar and nqebah). Man is apparently united in a kind of bi-sexual indifferentiation or created with « two faces », according to Rashi.
In contrast, in Genesis 2, the creation of woman is clearly differentiated. She is created in a specific way and receives the name ‘isha‘, which is given to her by the man. The man, ‘ha-adam‘, then calls himself ‘ish‘, and he calls his wife ‘isha‘, « because she was taken from ‘ish‘ ».
Rashi comments on this verse: « She shall be called isha, because she was taken from ish. Isha (‘woman’) is derived from ish (‘man’). From here we learn that the world was created with the holy language, [since only the Hebrew language connects the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ with a common root]. (Berechith raba 18, 4).”
I don’t know if it can be said with impunity that only the Hebrew language connects the words « man » and « woman » to a common root. English, for example, displays such a link with « man » and « woman ». In Latin, « femina » (woman) would be the feminine counterpart of « homo » (« hemna« ).
But this is a secondary issue. However, it shows that Rashi’s interest is certainly not exercised here on the problem of double creation and on the triple difference between the stories of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2: two nouns (adam/ish), two verbs to describe creation (‘asah/yatsara), and two ways of evoking the difference between genders, in the form ‘male and female’ (zakhar/nqebah) and in the form ‘man and woman’ (ish/isha).
The double narrative of the creation of man and woman could be interpreted as the result of writing by independent authors at different times. These various versions were later collated to form the text of Genesis, which we have at our disposal, and which is traditionally attributed to Moses.
What is important here is not so much the identity of the writers as the possible interpretation of the differences between the two stories.
The two ‘ways’ of creating man are rendered, as has been said, by two Hebrew words, עֲשֶׂה ‘to make’ and יָצָר ‘to form’. What does this difference in vocabulary indicate?
The verb עֲשֶׂה ‘asah (to do) has a range of meanings that help to characterize it more precisely: to prepare, to arrange, to take care of, to establish, to institute, to accomplish, to practice, to observe. These verbs evoke a general idea of realization, accomplishment, with a nuance of perfection.
The verb יָצָר yatsara (to shape, to form) has a second, intransitive meaning: to be narrow, tight, embarrassed, afraid, tormented. It evokes an idea of constraint, that which could be imposed by a form applied to a malleable material.
By relying on lexicon and semantics, one can attempt a symbolic explanation. The first verb (עֲשֶׂה , to do) seems to translate God’s point of view when he created man. He « makes » man, as if he was in his mind a finished, perfect, accomplished idea. The second verb (יָצָר , to form) rather translates, by contrast, the point of view of man receiving the « form » given to him, with all that this implies in terms of constraints, constrictions and limits.
If we venture into a more philosophical terrain, chapter 1 of Genesis seems to present the creation of man as ‘essence’, or in a ‘latent’ form, still ‘hidden’ to some extent in the secret of nature.
Later, when the time came, man also appears to have been created as an existential, natural, visible, and clearly sexually differentiated reality, as chapter 2 reports.
S. Augustine devoted Part VI of his book, Genesisin the literal sense, to this difficult question. He proposes to consider that God first created all things ‘simultaneously’, as it is written: ‘He who lives for eternity created everything at the same time. « (Ecclesiasticus, 18,1) The Vulgate version says: « inaeternum, creavit omnia simul« . This word ‘simul‘ seems to mean a ‘simultaneous’ creation of all things.
It should be noted in passing that neither Jews nor Protestants consider this book of Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach) to belong to the biblical canon.
For its part, the Septuagint translates from Hebrew into Greek this verse from Ecclesiasticus: » o zon eis ton aiôna ektisen ta panta koinè « . (« He who lives for eternity has created everything together. »)
This is another interpretation.
So shall we retain ‘together’ (as the Greek koinè says) or ‘simultaneously’ (according to the Latin simul)? It could be said that it amounts to the same thing. However it follows from this difference that Augustine’s quotation from Sirach 18:1 is debatable, especially when it is used to distinguish between the creation of man in chapter 1 of Genesis and his second creation in chapter 2.
According to Augustine, God in the beginning created all things ‘in their causes’, or ‘in potency’. In other words, God in chapter 1 creates the idea, essence or principle of all things and everything in nature, including man. « If I say that man in that first creation where God created all things simultaneously, not only was he not a man in the perfection of adulthood, but was not even a child, – not only was he not a child, but was not even an embryo in his mother’s womb, but was not even the visible seed of man, it will be believed that he was nothing at all.”
Augustine then asks: what were Adam and Eve like at the time of the first creation? « I will answer: invisibly, potentially, in their causes, as future things are made that are not yet.”
Augustine takes the side of the thesis of the double creation of man, firstly in his ‘causal reason’, ‘in potency’, and secondly, ‘in act’, in an effective ‘existence’ which is prolonged throughout history.
This is also true of the soul of every man. The soul is not created before the body, but after it. It does not pre-exist it. When it is created, it is created as a ‘living soul’. It is only in a second stage that this ‘living soul’ may (or may not) become ‘life-giving spirit’.
Augustine quotes Paul on this subject: « If there is an animal body, there is also a spiritual body. It is in this sense that it is written: The first man, Adam, was made a living soul, the last Adam, the ‘newest Adam’ (novissimusAdam), was a life-giving spirit. But it is not what is spiritual that was made first, it is what is animal; what is spiritual comes next. The first man, who came from the earth, is earthly; the second man, who came from heaven, is heavenly. Such is the earthly, such are also the earthly; and such is the heavenly, such are also the heavenly. And just as we have put on the image of the earthly, so shall we also put on the image of him who is of heaven.”
And Augustine adds: « What more can I say? We therefore bear the image of the heavenly man from now on by faith, sure that we will obtain in the resurrection what we believe: as for the image of the earthly man, we have clothed it from the origin of the human race. »
This basically amounts to suggesting the hypothesis of a third ‘creation’ that could affect man: after adam, ish or isha, there is the ‘last Adam‘, man as ‘life-giving spirit’.
From all of this, we will retain a real intuition of the possible metamorphoses of man, certainly not reduced to a fixed form, but called upon to considerably surpass himself.
It is interesting, at this point, to note that Philo of Alexandria offers a very different explanation of the double creation.
Philo explains that in the beginning God « places » (וַיָּשֶׂם שָׁם ) in the Garden of Eden a « fashioned » man (‘The Eternal God planted a garden in Eden towards the east and placed the man he had fashioned in it’). Gen. 2:8). A little later he ‘established’ (וַיַּנִּח ) a man to be the worker and the guardian (‘The Eternal-God therefore took the man and established him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it’. Gen. 2:15).
According to Philo, the man who cultivates the garden and cares for it is not the « fashioned » man, but « the man [that God] has made« . And Philo says: « [God] receives this one, but drives out the other.”i
Philo had already made a distinction between the heavenly man and the earthly man, by the same verbal means. « The heavenly man was not fashioned, but made in the image of God, and the earthly man is a being fashioned, but not begotten by the Maker.”ii
If we follow Philo, we must understand that God drove the ‘fashioned‘ man out of the garden, after having placed him there, and then established the ‘made‘ man there. The man whom God ‘fashioned‘ was ‘placed‘ in the garden, but it seems that he was not considered worthy to cultivate and keep it.
Moreover, in the text of Genesis there is no evidence to support Philo’s thesis of a cross between a ‘fashioned’ man and a ‘made’ man.
Philo specifies: « The man whom God made differs, as I have said, from the man who was fashioned: the fashioned man is the earthly intelligence; the made man is the immaterial intelligence.”iii
Philo’s interpretation, as we can see, is metaphorical. It must be understood that there are not two kinds of men, but that there are rather two kinds of intelligence in man.
« Adam is the earthly and corruptible intelligence, for the man in the image is not earthly but heavenly. We must seek why, giving all other things their names, he did not give himself his own (…) The intelligence that is in each one of us can understand other beings, but it is incapable of knowing itself, as the eye sees without seeing itself »iv.
The ‘earthly’ intelligence can think of all beings, but it cannot understand itself.
God has therefore also ‘made‘ a man of ‘heavenly’ intelligence, but he does not seem to have had a happier hand, since he disobeyed the command not to eat of the fruit of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.
But was this tree of ‘the knowledge of good and evil’ really in the Garden of Eden? Philo doubts it. For if God says, « But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it », then « this tree was not in the garden »v.
« You shall not eat of it.” This should not be interpreted as a prohibition, but as a simple prediction of an all-knowing God.
This can be explained by the nature of things, Philo argues. The tree could have been present in « substance », but not in « potency »…
The man ‘in the image’ could have eaten the substance of a fruit of this tree. But he did not digest all its latent potency, and therefore he did not benefit from it in any real way.
There is yet another possible interpretation. Knowledge is not found in life. It is found only in potency, not in life, but in death.
The day in which one eats from the fruit of the tree of knowledge is also the day of death, the day in which the prediction is fulfilled: « Thou shalt die of death » מוֹת תָּמוּת (Gen. 2:17).
In this strange verse the word « death » is used twice. Why is this?
« There is a double death, that of man, and the death proper to the soul; that of man is the separation of soul and body; that of the soul is the loss of virtue and the acquisition of vice. (…) And perhaps this second death is opposed to the first: this one is a division of the compound of body and soul; the other, on the contrary, is a meeting of the two where the inferior, the body, dominates and the superior, the soul, is dominated.”vi
Philo quotes fragment 62 of Heraclitus: « We live by their death, we are dead to their life.”vii He believes that Heraclitus was « right to follow the doctrine of Moses in this ». As a good Neoplatonist, Philo also takes up Plato’s famous thesis of the body as the ‘tomb of the soul’.
« That is to say that at present, when we live, the soul is dead and buried in the body as in a tomb, but by our death, the soul lives from the life that is proper to it, and is delivered from evil and the corpse that was bound to it, the body.”viii
There is nevertheless a notable difference between the vision of Genesis and that of the Greek philosophers.
Genesis says: « You shall die of death! «
Heraclitus has a very different formula: « The life of some is the death of others, the death of some, the life of others.”
The Vedic rite of sacrifice required the participation of four kinds of priests, with very specific functions.
The Adhvaryu prepared the altar, lit the fire and performed the actual sacrifice. They took care of all the material and manual aspects of the operations, during which they were only allowed to whisper a few incantations specific to their sacrificial activity.
The Udgatṛi were responsible for singing the hymns of SâmaVeda in the most melodious way.
The Hotṛi, for their part, had to recite in a loud voice, but without singing them, the ancient hymns of Ṛg Veda, respecting the traditional rules of pronunciation and accentuation. They were supposed to know by heart all the texts of the Veda in order to adapt to all the circumstances of the sacrifices. At the end of the litanies, they uttered a kind of wild cry, called vausat.
Finally, remaining silent throughout, an experienced Brahmin, the ultimate reference for the smooth running of the sacrifice and guarantor of its effectiveness, supervised the various phases of the ceremony.
These four kinds of priests had a very different relationship to the word (of the Veda), according to their ranks and skills.
Some murmured it, others sang it, others spoke it loudly, – and finally the most senior among them kept silent.
These different regimes of expression could be interpreted as so many modalities of the relationship of speech to the divine. One could also be content to see in them an image of the different stages of the sacrifice, an indication of its progress.
In the Vedic imagination, murmurs, songs, words, cries, and finally silence fill and increase the divine, like great rivers wind ‘safe to the sea’.
The recitation of Ṛg Veda is an endless narrative, weaving itself, according to various rhythms. One can recite it word for word (pada rhythm), or mime a path (krama) according to eight possible varieties, such as the « braid » (jatā rhythm) or the « block » (ghana rhythm).
In the « braid » (jatā ) style, a four-syllable expression (noted: abcd) became the subject of a long, repetitive and obsessive litany, such as: ab/ba/abc/cba/bc/cb/bcd/dcb/bcd…
When the time came, the recitation would « burst out » (like thunder). Acme of sacrifice.
In all the stages of the sacrifice, there was a will to connect, a linking energy. The Vedic word is entirely occupied with building links with the Deity, weaving close, vocal, musical, rhythmic, semantic correlations.
In essence, it represents the mystery of the Deity. It establishes and constitutes the substance of a link with her, in the various regimes of breath, in their learned progression.
A hymn of the Atharvaveda pushes the metaphor of breath and rhythm as far as possible. It makes us understand the nature of the act in progress, which is similar to a sacred, mystical union.
« More than one who sees has not seen the Word; more than one who hears does not hear it.
To the latter, she has opened her body
like her husband a loving wife in rich attire. »
It is interesting, I think, to compare some of these Vedic concepts to those one can find in Judaism.
In Genesis, there is talk of a « wind » from God (רוּח, ruah), at the origin of the world.i A little later, it is said that God breathed a « breath of life » (נשׁמה neshmah) so that man became a « living being » (נפשׁ nefesh).ii
God’s « wind » evokes the idea of a powerful, strong hurricane. In contrast, the « breath of life » is light as a breeze, a peaceful and gentle exhalation.
But there is also the breath associated with the word of God, which « speaks », which « says ».
Philo of Alexandria thus commented about the « breath » and « wind » of God, : « The expression (He breathed) has an even deeper meaning. Indeed three things are required: what blows, what receives, what is blown. What blows is God; what receives is Intelligence; what is blown is Breath. What is done with these elements? A union of all three occurs.”iii
Breath, soul, spirit and speech, in the end, unite.
Beyond languages, beyond cultures, from the Veda to the Bible, a profound analogy transcends worlds.
The murmurs of the Adhvaryu, the songs of Udgatṛi, the words of Hotṛi, and the very silence of the Brahmin, aim at an union with the divine.
The union of these various breaths (murmured, spoken, sung, silent breaths) is analogous in principle, it seems to me, to the union of the wind (ruah), the soul (neshmah), and the spirit (nefesh).
In the Veda and in the Bible, — across the millennia, the union of the word and the breath, mimics the union of the divine and the human.
A little over two thousand years ago, Philo of Alexandria advocated radical emigration. He did not care about land borders, historical nations, geographical territories. « You must emigrate, in search of your father’s land, the land of the sacred word, the land of the father of those who practice virtue. This land is wisdom. « i
He was looking for access to another world, whose foreboding had come to him in a strange way, and whose presence seemed irrefutable to him. « Sometimes I would come to work as if I were empty, and suddenly I was full, ideas fell invisible from the sky, spread out inside me like a shower. Under this divine inspiration I was so excited that I no longer recognized anything, neither the place where I was, nor those who were there, nor what I was saying or writing.”ii
Philo had been seized several times by divine inspiration, he had « seen » it. « To see », at that time, was « to know ». In the old days in Israel, when people went to God for advice, they would say, « Come, let us go to the seer! For the one we call the prophet today was once called the seer.”iii
After his long fight in the dark night, Jacob too had wanted to « see ». He had wanted to hear the name of the one he had fought, to finally « see » him. But the name he asked for was not revealed to him. He only heard his own name, what was to be his new name. A name given by the one who kept his own name silent. Only then did Jacob « see ». But what did he see? A name? An idea? A future?
All we know is that he heard a voice in the night that gave him his name, his new and true name.
This voice is a light in the night. A voice of wisdom, no doubt, which sees itself, a splendour, of which the sun would never be but a faint image.
Jacob heard his « name », and he was no longer Jacob. He heard, – and then he « saw ». The important thing was not the name, but that he « saw ».
Philo explains this: « If the voice of mortals is addressed to the hearing, the oracles reveal to us that the words of God are, like light, things seen. It is said, ‘All the people sawthe voice‘ (Ex. 20:15) instead of ‘heard the voice’. For indeed there was no shaking of the air due to the organs of the mouth and tongue; there was the splendor of virtue, identical with the source of reason. The same revelation is found in this other form: ‘You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven’ (Ex. 20:18), instead of ‘you have heard‘, always for the same reason. There are occasions when Moses distinguishes between what is heard and what is seen, hearing and sight. ‘You heard the sound of the words, and you saw no form but a voice’ (Deut. 4:12).”iv
Seeing the voice, hearing the word, the « sound of the word ». These words have a double meaning.
In the original Hebrew we read: « kol debarim atem shome’im » ( קוׄל דְּבָרׅים אַתֶּם שֺׁמְעׅים ), which literally translates as : « you have heard the voice of the words ». This is a veiled indication that the « words » in question are like living beings, since they have a « voice ». This voice is not embodied in « air shaking », but is given to be « seen ». This « voice » inhabits the interior of the words, it makes their immanent nature, their « secret » dimension visible, it reveals an enigmatic background, of which they are the living mirror.
Whether they are Kabbalists, Vedic or Sufi, the mystics all know their own path towards this nature, this secret. Rûmî, John of the Cross or Jacob Boehme have followed this path of discovery as far as possible. Great writers of language, they showed how the language of the gods (or of God) could marry with that of men, and give birth to manifest secrets. Everything that is, everything that is said, everything that is presented to reason, has a background. These mystics have shown, as far as men can do it, that part of the essence of the world is in language, or, better said: « is » language.
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.
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.
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 (Ḥokhma).
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?
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.
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.
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
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 silentand 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.
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 ofan ideology.
There is the idea that anything can happen, and there is the ideathat there is no hope, that the void is opening up, just ahead.
Every age harboursthe 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
Was then Moses in his own way a Vedic seer? Probably.
The greatest minds always meet at the very top. Andwhen 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 (לֶךְ–לְךָlekh 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 haranoriginally 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 thatharan 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 Logosas an equivalent for “Wisdom”, – andhe 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 deepphilosophical and mysticalundertones.
Onemaystill have to dig up one or two things about it.
“Go, for yourself (לֶךְ–לְךָlekh lekha)”. Leave the ‘hollow’. Stand above all, that is. Lookafter theLogos.
TheLogos.Or the‘Word’, as they say.
A ‘migrant’ isalways in quest of good metaphorsfora world yet to come. Always in questof truemetaphors yet to be spoken.
‘Metaphor’. A Greek word, meaning: “displacement”.
Hence the stinging and deep irony of Philo’s metaphor:
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, אֶת–הָאֱלֹהִים), then, ‘nothing more of him, vé-éïnénou, וְאֵינֶנּוּ‘, because God (Elohim) took him away (or: seized him), ki-laqaḥ oto Elohimכִּי–לָקַח 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’ instantaneouslysubstituting 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, אֶת–הָאֱלֹהִים ) 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 yearsiii…That 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 ḥanukah 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.
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
« 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 philosophiegrecque. Il eut peu d’influence sur le judaïsme de son temps, mais beaucoup plussur les Pères de l’Église, qui s’en inspirèrent.
Un millénaire plus tard, MoïseMaïmonides’inspira de la philosophie aristotéliciennepourtenter de concilier foi et ‘raison’. Il fut le célèbre auteur du Mishné Torah, un code de la loi juive, lequelsouleva de longues polémiques parmi ses coreligionnaires au 12ème et au 13ème siècle.
Autre célébrité, Baruch Spinozafut « excommunié« (חרםherem)et définitivement « banni » de la communauté juive en 1656, mais il fut admiré par Hegel, Nietzsche...
Au 18ème siècle, Moïse Mendelssohns’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 motde 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.
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