e-list posting, December 1999
[The essay below was first published in the e-list Meta-Reiterations, in December 1999, as part of a discussion of the methods and assumptions of current academic Biblical scholarship. Specifically, Stan Tenen argues against the assumption that the Hebrew Biblical text was edited together over centuries. He offers an alternative thesis, and presents examples of meaning that can be uncovered once the scholarly assumptions of an edited, redacted text are set aside. This alternative way of examining the Biblical text -- as one whole unit, where each letter and word has meaning in its place -- is central to the Meru thesis about the origin and nature of the Hebrew alphabet and the Biblical text. --Cynthia Tenen]
The idea is that the Torah was originally a woven structure -- woven of its letters -- and that the letter-sequences, the weave, specified the stages in particular meditations, letter by letter, and feeling by feeling.
This is a little like the way Arthur Murray used to teach ballroom dancing, by painting footprints on the ballroom floor for the student dancers to step into. I'm suggesting that the sequence of letters in canonized scripture, such as the Hebrew text of Genesis, represents a dance in the mind. This dance is accomplished as a sequence of feelings (without any imagery, without any idols), but the sequence of feelings is remembered as a sequence of hand gestures. Hand gestures are universal, and what's in the hand, and the gesture of the hand, can always be seen in the mind's eye. Blind people make the same gestures as sighted people; anthropologically, gesture language preceded spoken language; children can be taught to communicate (explicitly) with their parents before they can speak phonetically; the most ancient samples of writing include stick-figures making gestures. (I have published references for all of these.) We use our hands to point to what we want (express our will) in the world, and we use pointing directions in our mind's eye to store and retrieve memories. Our hand functions in the world and in the mind, and thus its articulations can serve as a link between the two domains.
If you were alive several thousand years ago, and you came upon, learned, had revealed to you, whatever, a meditation that had integrative and therapeutic value and brought you into a sense of connectedness with life and the Transcendent, and you wanted to record it for posterity, what could you do? Obviously, writing a story doesn't solve the problem. Meditational exercises are notoriously impossible to convey in word-descriptions. You could do what any reasonable person would do today: you could create a special formal language for the purpose of recording meditation. This is what I'm suggesting as the origin of the Hebrew alphabet as a gesture-language.
But recording a series of gestures would be of no interest to the general public. Given that the educated elite is the first to be wiped out in bad times, how could you see to it that your formal record of a meditational dance would survive? Why would persons who could not perform, and who could not appreciate the meditational dance, preserve your record of it?
This is why the Hebrew Bible has to have a clear-text, and why a religion has to have culturally attractive and community-binding rituals. If the clear-text is an attractive or fascinating cultural history, then those reading it would have sufficient reason to maintain it, even if they didn't know of or couldn't perform the meditations. If you read the Hebrew sages, they tell you that the stories -- the clear-text -- only became readable after historical events occurred. Well, if you were choosing a clear-text, wouldn't you choose to say things that were believed to be true? It makes no sense to read the stories of the Bible in a way that makes them oppose history. That would lower their credibility, and consequently their survivability.
It's possible to put a clear-text on the Hebrew letter-sequences, because in fact the text is not believed to have been divided into words, or vowelized, in its original versions. Given the freedom to break the letter-sequences up into words as you please, given the freedom to provide whatever vowelization you please, and given the freedom to translate the same letter-sequences in different ways in different parts of the text, it's not hard to make the sequence of letters into a nearly-readable story.
There are of course embarrassing signs that there's something amiss. For example, the state-of-being verb never appears in any translation, and it doesn't seem to appear in current understanding of the Hebrew, either. But it's there. Every time the present tense of the state-of-being verb appears, it's translated "Lord."
If you simply look at the distribution of letters used in the text, you also notice that something is amiss. For example: the letter Samek appears every 100 or 150-odd letters in Genesis. But there's no Samek at all until 2207 letters in. This is wildly statistically anomalous. If the text were being written as a story, words using Samek would naturally appear over 10 times sooner than they actually do. But the first Samek appears as the 2207th letter, in the word "sobeb," meaning "to encircle;" the shape of the letter is a circle; the function of the letter is analogous to the operational meaning of phi in Greek (now called the "golden proportion"); and 2206.999 is the golden proportion raised to the 16th power. Clearly, the text is not being generated by a storyteller. If that were the case, there'd be a lot more early Sameks, and there'd be no coincidences of letter-count and letter-meaning.
So, the scholarly idea that the _stories_ of the Bible are concocted and edited together from previously believed historical facts, and that they are re-told over and over in different versions, could well be true. And, if this were the case -- sans the letter-level coding -- then the scholars would be right in concluding that the Bible was an edited work of human invention, and in no way revealed or extraordinary. That's the political agenda of either believing or non-believing Jews and Christians who make up religious studies departments and inhabit Jesus seminars and Genesis seminars.
But the scholarly story is not the whole story, even if it contains elements of truth. The use of different God-names, for example, is not evidence of the editing-together of diverse works, when the different names have different functional meaning in a technical context. If you don't know there's a technical context, then of course you conclude that the use of different names is caused by different authors and editors. But if we were reading computer code, we wouldn't necessarily conclude that the use of a different subroutine in a different part of the program was evidence of a different author -- particularly if subtle differences in the subroutine had technical consequences. (The Y2K fiasco is a good example. Some subroutines can deal with Y2K, and some can't. If you were writing code for a gadget likely to be obsolete before 2K, you wouldn't care which one you used, but if there were a part of the code that you expected to adopt for later use, then you'd have to make sure it was Y2K compatible, even though for most purposes there would be no noticeable difference.)
The two (or four or so) principal Names of God have different functional meaning. When no functional meaning is allowed for, then the only conclusion can be that they're all synonyms. But once the text is understood to have been woven of its letters for a specific technical purpose, then the use of a different God-Name implies a different necessary function.
Now, the Torah text comes with strong admonitions that insist that the sequence of letters must not be changed, and is of primary importance. These admonitions also tell us not to try to translate the text. It seems to me that traditions that claim to be Bible-based have an obligation to take these admonitions seriously -- as part of the Bible -- or to state openly that they're not Bible-based. This goes for Jews, Christians, and Moslems alike. It also includes the academic scholars. Translating a text as a story when the instructions say that to do so is grossly misleading is to steal that text and bend it to one's own purpose, IMO. (When I write computer code, and tell you it's code, you're not going to get any sort of narrative translation that carries its meaning, and you don't have a right to make an exclusively narrative translation unless your intention is to obscure its complete meaning, and make it non-functional.)
As soon as one begins to examine the actual letter-sequences of the Hebrew text of Genesis, a wide range of teachings that are currently dismissed as mythology, mysticism, or superstition, immediately make sense. In other words, if you take the advice of the sages, and refuse to translate the text, then a lot of the additional writings of the sages which are now dismissed or impossible to make sense of, become meaningful. (For example, the Sefer Yetzirah, the "Book of FORMation," actually provides the FORM of the letters. No current translation demonstrates this, and all current translations obfuscate the meaning of the text to the point where it's dismissed as letter- and number-mysticism. If you had a book entitled "Chemistry," that was translated in such a way that it never touched on the subject of chemistry, you'd have no choice but to presume it was a work of mythology or fiction, since it didn't deliver on its title. So too with Kabbalistic texts that are now dismissed. When you read them in literary metaphor, you have no choice but to dismiss them as mythology. When you read them in geometric metaphor, they make explicit sense, and the book of FORMation delivers form, as it advertises.)
So, I don't reject the multiple-story theory. It's necessary to use stories to write the clear-text. I just don't take this as proof of the documentary hypothesis -- not because it's entirely wrong, but because it's damnedly incomplete. Incompleteness in this situation is a catastrophe. The first Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Rabbi Kook, is said to have taught that evil exists when the part usurps the whole. (Paraphrase of the sentiments of Rabbi Kook, as presented in an essay by Jacob Agus.) The "evil" here is the theft and destruction of the Torah tradition by usurpers who adhere strictly to its literary meaning.
With regard to the Names of God: The Abrahamic discovery was not that there is a God. Lots of folks had already inferred that. Some worshipped idols. Some had meditative experiences. Some were awed by the night sky. It's not so hard to get a sense that the Transcendent exists in the world. That couldn't have been the Abrahamic discovery. The Abrahamic discovery was much more subtle and profound. It was the discovery of what really happened in the archetypal story of the Garden of Eden. In the Garden, human animals become fully human by separating their inner feelings, their subjective world, from the outer world. Once humans realized that what was in their head was private to them, and what was in the world was common to all, they gained a "skin," gained the ability to be embarrassed, and gained a need to communicate.
Abraham realized that the inner world of consciousness and the Source of conscious volition (personal will) is a Singularity in meditation in the mind, and that the outer world is a panoply of All-There-Is. The Singularity in the mind is identified with the state of being (consciousness): the Four-Letter Name, "Lord." The panoply of "All-There-Is" is identified with the Five-Letter Name, "God." Abraham's discovery is that the inner Singularity and the outer Whole are in fact the same. The "Lord-God" is Abraham's discovery. It's this fundamental discovery that academic scholars, modern Jews and Christians, and just about everyone else, completely ignores. Without the distinction between inside and outside, conscious life cannot exist. That's the point of the analogy I present in "Man Bites Dog." <http://www.meru.org/manbitesdog.html> You can find more about this in "The God of Abraham: A Mathematician's View" at <http://www.meru.org/GodofAbe/onegdpix.html>.
The distinction between inside and outside is the source of conscious evolution. The analogy is with that of the sun in the sky. Life gets the information needed for self-organization from the _contrast_ between sun and sky. If the sky were as bright as the sun, plants could not extract energy or information from either. It's because the narrow pencil of intense white solar photons contrasts with the panoply of the dark sky that plants can extract organizational information from the light. So too the Light of Consciousness. The inner, singular, infinite Sun, identified with the name "Lord," stands in infinite contrast to the outer panoply of All-There-Is, and it's this contrast between absolute Singularity and all-encompassing Wholeness that becomes the attractor for, and source of, conscious evolution and personal volition. This One "Lord-God" can be demonstrated to be a sufficient source to explain the evolution of consciousness, in technical terms. No story could possibly do that.
I am saying that the contrast between the Names, "God" and "Lord," is critical to the entire text, and to its deepest purpose. When the believing and non-believing scholars toss out this distinction, they have nothing left but textual "bath water," IMO.
In this model, the Hebrew Bible is the link between consciousness and physicality, between inside and outside, between Lord and God. By internalizing the Hebrew Bible (meditation), we make ourselves into that link. We unify the Name of God, we lose our conceptual "skin," and we have an ego-death and rebirth experience. It's this experience that Moses brought down from Sinai; it's this experience that Akiba described as his Pardes meditation, and that Jesus attempted to act out in the world.
Our situation, stretched metaphorically between Singularity and Wholeness, is analogous to the meaning of the mathematical constant pi, which in a more restricted way, stretches between the radius and circumference of a circle. For an elaboration of this geometric metaphor, see the essays listed at <http://www.meru.org/3220lecture/contents.html>.
In this model, whatever their source, the stories of the Bible are the necessary vessel that carries the informational DNA inside itself. It's the making, wrapping, and unfolding of this vessel that Genesis presents to us. It's not in the past; it's how our consciousness works, right now. When Akiba is killed, he's skinned alive. This is a metaphor for the ego-death experience. When Jesus is killed, his body is "hung out to dry." This is a metaphor for the ego-death experience. The Kabbalists teach that Unity exists when the Flame is wedded to the Coal, or analogously, when the Light is in the Meeting-Tent. Both "vessel" and "germ" are required. An acorn without the germ of an oak tree inside is sterile, and dead. The germ of an oak tree without its acorn desiccates and dies. Only the two together, acorn and germ of oak tree, vessel and light, "Lord-God," can live, propagate, and represent All Life. (So, the stories are vital, but they shouldn't be confused with the informational DNA woven within them.)
IMO, we can continue to worship and/or debate the attributes of the vessel, or we can put aside literary wordsmithing, and partake of the germ of life -- the ego-death and rebirth meditation -- carried inside the vessel. It seems to me that the second course is more neglected than the first. It seems to me that the science in spirit, and spirit in science, have to do with the experience of ego-death and rebirth, and its psychological and physical implications, and little or nothing to do with the stories in the Bible -- whatever their veracity, source, or merit.
That's why I'd like to get on with serious research. How do we explain the absence of the state-of-being verb in the Hebrew Bible? How do we explain the lack of Sameks at the beginning of Genesis? Why are there equal-interval letter-skip patterns? Why can the Genesis text be curled up such as to pair all its letters? Can the text be "re-woven"? When re-woven, what will it appear as?
It seems to me that a search for the meditational exercises in the letter-sequences, and/or an explanation for any of the above, is long overdue. To put it bluntly, Jews can either, in effect, worship the tradition, or they can emulate Moses' trek ("halacha" -- "the path") up the mountain. And Christians can either continue exclusively to worship Jesus and the Gospels, or they can attempt to emulate the path he is reputed to have set out. As I mentioned in an earlier post [not included here], and based on the idea that Jesus was attempting to externalize (to fulfill) the meditation woven into the Hebrew Bible, emulating a Jesus (or an Akiba) would be a "second coming" that could be accepted by one and all.
All the discussion in the world will never prove that which can only be proven by personal experience. As long as we succumb to the temptation to believe the academic position that insists that the entire meaning of the Bible is in its stories, we're not going to get very far, IMO. There's important work to do, and it's not a matter of endlessly restating and requoting text references. There will be plenty of time for opinions, after the research is done, and after there's hard data that can be counted on.
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