"I am the Lord your God"

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Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) - "The Vision after Sermon" (1888)

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) - "The Vision after Sermon" (1888)

The Concept of the Kingdom of God (IX)

Versiunea în limba română


Annex 3

The expression "I am the Lord your God" is repeated dozens of times in different contexts in the Old Testament, consistently understood as a declaration through which God asserts authority over humans, an authority infused into the nature of the Commandments: "55. For the Israelites are my servants; they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus: 25). In the following, I will explore the liberating understanding of the phrase "I am the Lord your God."

Being contrary to the direct meaning, the liberating understanding is hard to grasp unless we consider God as a "savior," as He presents Himself: "6. 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage'" (Deuteronomy: 5). If He is a liberator, then enslavement is compared to freedom. He declares that we are "slaves to freedom." But what can and cannot be affirmed about the God of Scripture?

A. Divine Tattoo

The Torah and Jesus can be viewed as divine interventions in the human world, ignoring the Jewish and Christian specifics, the different meanings corresponding to these concepts in their respective traditions. In both cases, they behave as revelations of the sacred entity they share. The fact that they are hierophanies of the same kind gathers them together in the verse "17. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John: 1). From an unused perspective, the discursive pair in this verse is not formed by Moses and Jesus (as Moses is presented as wholly human), but by the Law and Jesus, who share a divine (and human) nature.

But possible associations on the God-Law-Word-Jesus relationship are not limited to that. In Romans: 7, the Apostle Paul identifies "νόμος" (nomos/Law) with "λόγος" (logos/Word): "6. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter." That Paul dissociates Jesus from the Law doesn't prevent the Gospel of John from establishing the identity between the Word and Jesus Christ: "14. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John: 1). Moreover, the chapter had begun with the famous verse "1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John: 1), equating the Word with God.

In a hypothetical (ritual, undesirable) flattening and schematization of the profound discourse aura around each of the four notions, the resulting equation intersects:

- Jesus and the Word;

- The Word and the Law;

- The Law and God;

- God and the Word;

- Jesus and God.

One conclusion of this thinking scheme highlights that Jesus is accredited as the personification of the Law (See also Book Two, Chapter 3 - "Legal contortions in front of God/2. Il Sfumato del Nuovo Testamento"). This "systematization" of how the four words circulate in the New Testament receives further confirmation, from the Jewish side of the Abrahamic parade, through the late midrash related by Moshe Idel: "Before the creation of the world, there were no hides for the parchment on which the Torah was to be written because there were no animals. So, on what was the Torah written? On the arm of the Holy One, Blessed be He, with black fire [against a surface of] white fire" (1).

A. Tora presents itself as a tattoo on the skin of God - an image confirming the overlap between Law and God, obtained by schematizing the four notions in the New Testament and giving an intuitively meaningful relationship between sign and sacred (See also Chapter 1 - C. "Extremes: idolatry and iconoclasm").

B. Texture and Scripture

Those thirsty for certainties about God have two complementary options: 1) reality and 2) the text.

B.1. Reality

The existence of billions of believers, the books they consider holy, the cultural monument erected by exegesis-these are generally accepted as undeniable. No one can normally dispute the existence of churches, clergy, rituals, and their influence on history. Their existence is undeniable to the extent that reality (or what we call "reality") is undeniable (of course, any certainty is questionable). Thus, as indisputable manifestations, what's the point of doubting God, even if He were called "Nothing," so as not to be "Something"? Karl Marx said that the dispute over the existence or non-existence of God is simply a waste of time. That seems to be the case. "What matters is that billions of people relate to Him as an omnipresent third party, a witness in the believer's own conscience, in interpersonal and group relationships, a normative and governing reference that needs only faith to exist, even as 'Nothing.' Reality provides a whole list of certainties, in opposition to theological and philosophical debates about the nature and/or supernature of God, unveiled in the fantastical sphere of language that can afford anything, including its own annulment.

B.1.1. Philosophical Intervention

While theology takes care to place God beyond language and reason, i.e., beyond the tools of debate, onto-theological debate has limited, if not null, relevance. Philosophy can deal with many things in connection with God, but God Himself is an improper subject for philosophy. However, some philosophers of the last century have tried to express the lack of perception of God's texture, providing asylum for the theses of apophatic theology.

- For example, Jacques Derrida says: "I am sure that true believers know this better than others because they experience permanent atheism. And I know that great mystics experience it. They experience the death of God or the disappearance of God, God being called 'non-existent': 'I pray to someone who does not exist.'" Even Levinas says somewhere that he is, in a way, an atheist because he does not understand God as an existing being. God is not an absolute being" (2).

- However, Emmanuel Levinas is not quite as firm as Derrida presents him because he admits the possibility of knowledge of God: "God-whatever its ultimate meaning, and in a certain sense, empty-appears to human consciousness (and especially in Jewish experience) 'clothed' in values, and this clothing is not alien to its nature or its supernature" (3). For the beautiful assertion at the end of the quote ("and this clothing is not alien to its nature or supernature"), Levinas failed to explain the basis-he, in fact, exists only if Levinas wants him to be so.

"Supernature," which Levinas attributes to God, echoes the concept of "superexistence" in the philosophy of John Scotus Eriugena (810 - 877): "God is more than existence." Eriugena applied the third mode of expression imagined by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (5th century), who, to navigate the strait between "God is wise" and "God is not wise," slipped through "God is more than wise." About this "third way," Karen Armstrong writes: "[...] it wasn't about a linguistic trick but about a discipline that, by juxtaposing two mutually exclusive propositions, helps us cultivate a sense of mystery, represented by the very word we use, 'God,' since He cannot be limited to a purely human concept" (4). The procedure is similar to that of the Holy Trinity, where each Person is wholly God, and together they are One God, deliberately illogical, it is said, violating the logical law of identity.

When the certainty of God's existence is evoked in the process of communication, onto-theology is forced to resort to language artifices, including tautologies (such as God Himself recommending Himself through "Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh"), paradoxes, or at least self-contradictions. As long as these expressions serve a purpose other than communicating the unintelligible thing they say by themselves, they can be understood as landmarks beyond which reason can advance. However, they are not devoid of linguistic artifice, which evades an onto-theological assertion.

The appeal to linguistic artifice is a rational, metadiscursive decision for reason to mark its own territory, delimiting it from "mysteries" and predominantly soulful experiences (which, in fact, cultivate an unnatural internal dissociation).

B.2. The Text

Some people, more pretentious, to assure themselves of the existence of divinity, would prefer a hand-to-hand struggle with an angel, like the one painted in Paul Gauguin's "Vision After the Sermon," or at least face-to-face encounters, as reported in Moses' tent after descending from Mount Horeb. For personal confrontation, they have the Holy Scripture at their disposal, and from it at least the Pentateuch, which is recognized by both Jews (and Samaritans) and Christians as a revealed text.

However, the postulation of the holiness of the text is not necessarily convincing for atheists. According to Kabbalah, what is convincing is the study of the Scripture, where not faith is necessary but good faith: "You do not respect Me, and you do not study the Torah: you can not respect Me, but you must study the Torah, for in its light, you will find Me."

For the process of thought and understanding, these landmarks scattered through language artifices have an uncertain status. Linguistic artifices are not part of discourse, although they use sememes. They do not transfer experiences corresponding to language meanings but limit discourse. They could be called "discursive enclosures," which could be treated bivalently, as:

a) alien to meaning (possibly similar to the presumed externality we call "reality");

b) as sememes of a text.

The integration of "discursive enclosures" - linguistic artifices - into the text opens up some possibilities for "direct contact" with the non-human because it allows linguistic speculation about what is not an idea (of course, we are in the realm of the non-rational).

One of the luckiest such speculations takes advantage of the common Latin etymology of the words "text" (5) and "texture" (6), both derived from "texere" - "to weave, to unite, to fit together." According to the "Online Etymology Dictionary," in medieval Latin, "textus" meant "Holy Scriptures, text, treatise," while "texture" meant "cloth, texture, structure."

It's fortunate.

The text is discursive, the texture is quasi-objectual, and both derive from "fitting together" in the weave. The Scripture's text can be duplicated, but its texture is ineffable, born of the soul, considered sacred, and cannot be copied.

The etymological coincidence between "Holy Scriptures" and "texture" suggests an onto-theological scriptural perspective. The idea that the Torah has the "texture of God": "And then what was the Torah written on? On the arm of the Holy One, blessed be He, with black fire upon [the surface of] white fire" (See A. Divine Tattoo). Somewhat, this idea is less toxic than substituting God with the working class and, in any case, intellectually engages us in experiential situations (corresponding to the discipline referred to by Karen Armstrong, that "helps us cultivate a sense of mystery"). The topic was touched upon in "The Circularity of the Pentateuch: Do we descend into the Bible or from it?/Characters in their own book."

Yahweh Yasha/God the Savior

The orientation that admits an intersection of understanding between the realms of the words God - Jesus - the Law - the Word alludes to an ineffable texture of spiritual elevation. For those who cannot bear the "Nothing" behind the word God ("Everything," "Supernature," "More than the Wise," "Absence," "Void," etc.), Scripture - which is an indisputable certainty - offers its "texture," whose "consecration" (7) is indisputable. "Consecration" comes from reality and its list of invoked certainties mentioned earlier - the faithful, their books, exegesis, the clergy, the church - but also from everyone's effort to achieve holiness, infinity, perfection, fullness, and splendor. Whether immanent or attributed, but, in any case, elevated from the Earth, the meaning of the world and everyone's role in it is presupposed in the weave of Scripture. The dogmatic experience triggered by reading Scripture evokes the "celestial texture of the text." What is the angel of the Torah called? Is it Elijah, sent by God to descend upon the scholar to enlighten the meanings of the Torah? Or is it Maghid, who does not preexist but comes into being when delving into the study of the Torah to interpret it? The dispute over the name is irrelevant to the meaning of the message and the functions of Scripture. The aspiration to which Scripture responds (whether innate or inspired) can be proposed as the "texture" of God, corresponding to the definition of the concept of "sacred" in Mircea Eliade: an "interruption" of everyday reality, by which something from the profane world signifies or becomes a manifestation of something that transcends this reality. The proposed perspective sheds a special light on the First Commandment of the Orthodox Decalogue (8): "6. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 7. You shall have no other gods before Me'" (Deuteronomy:5). The Commandment is the scriptural basis for refusing to worship the Romanian emperor in the guise of a god - God, Augustus, Caesar (9) - an aspect attested by the inscription on the Roman denarius from the time of Jesus, freeing from any earthly dominion. Moreover, "No one can serve two masters" (Matthew:6:24 and Luke:16:13). We perceive that the Commandment no longer signifies the passage from Egyptian bondage under a personal God but refers to salvation found in the "text" - absolute liberation for the sake of spiritual elevation.

This is not about choosing between two masters but about liberation from any master because the "slave of an aspiration" is a different definition of freedom. The transition from the "house of bondage" to the "house of freedom." This can be the meaning of the verse from Leviticus 25: "39. If your brother becomes impoverished with you so that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to the service of a slave. 40. He shall be with you as a hired servant or a temporary resident; he shall work for you until the Jubilee year. 41. Then he and his children with him shall be released from you, and he shall return to his family and to the property of his fathers. 42. For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves." My servants, meaning Servants of Freedom. Freedom (but not arbitrary), corresponding to the idea of a slave of God, where God can receive the specific name "Yahweh Yasha" (יַהְוֶה יָשַׁע)/"God the Savior" - "Liberator." A slave of God can mean more than a free man; it can mean the sacred status of a free man. With this liberating meaning of the first Commandment of the Decalogue, I articulate it to the central thesis of the Kingdom of God - "Man has the status of a spiritual being" - adding "In complete freedom" as a subordinate thesis and condition. The two theses can be combined into one sentence - "Man has the status of a spiritual being in complete freedom" - but they are two different aspects of a progressing process, waiting to be supported by subordinate norms. Fulfilling the "Kingdom of God" demands economic freedom - a whole chapter ready to be integrated: Shmita and Jubilee, particular cases of Tzedakah.


(1) "Cabala and Interpretation"/page 69/Moshe Idel/Polirom/2004

(2) Film "Absent God - Emmanuel Levinas and the Humanism of the Other"/2014/minute 28:21 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbGaXEqxSvU)

(3) "Nine Talmudic Readings"/Toward the other"/pages 14-15/Emmanuel Levinas/Indiana University Press/BLOOMINGTON & INDIANAPOLIS/1990)

(4) "A History of God"/page 239/Karen Armstrong/Nemira/2009

(5) "Text" = At the end of the 14th century, "the wording of anything written," from Old French "texte," Old North French "tixte" meaning "text, book; Gospels" (12th century), derived from Medieval Latin "textus" meaning "Holy Scriptures, text, treatise," and in late Latin meaning "written account, content, characters used in a document." This formation comes from Latin "textus," which means "style or texture of a work," with the literal sense of "woven work." The Latin term is based on the past participle form of the verb "texere," meaning "to weave, to unite, to fit together, to weave, to build, to fabricate, to construct," derived from the Proto-Indo-European root ^teks- meaning "to weave, to fabricate, to make; to make a frame of twigs or straw." (Online Etymology Dictionary)

(6) "Texture" = At the beginning of the 15th century, "network, structure," from Latin "textura," meaning "a web, texture, structure," derived from the root of the verb "texere" meaning "to weave" (from the Proto-Indo-European root ^teks- meaning "to weave, to fabricate, to make; to make a frame of twigs or straw"). The sense of "structural character" is recorded from the 1650s. (Online Etymology Dictionary)

(7) The etymology of the word "consecration" suggests sanctification as a collective process: "To consecrate," from Latin consecrare/"to make sacred," from con-, com/"together," and sacrare, from sacr-, sacer/"sacred."

(8) Among Jews, the two verses correspond to the first and second Commandments; among Catholics and Lutherans, the first Commandment includes the prohibition of carved images. Among the various Abrahamic confessions, the Commandments are distributed differently, but all include the prohibition "You shall have no other gods before Me"; in an implicit form, it is also present in Surah Al-Baqarah:255 of the Quran: "There is no deity except Him, the Ever-Living, the Sustainer of existence!" (The Quran, page 44/Herald Publishing House/Bucharest/2005).

(9) See "d) Survival under foreign occupation" from "Exiting from under God's guardianship" MAKE/BURSA/August 12-15, 2022.

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