|The title of this discussion is “Trialogue of Knowledge. Faith. Image”. These three concepts may seem to be incompatible. Knowledge seems to collide with Faith. Faith seems to collide with Image. A Trialogue of the three seems to be excluded. I will try to argue otherwise. Therefore, I will start my talk by what we all Know and will try to see how and if it leads us to the Image of Faith.
We find ourselves in a room that is dedicated to Monotheism. We all know very well Monotheism. We are very familiar with its rooms. Indeed, many rooms have been already dedicated to this thing, Monotheism. We’ve all seen its many Temples: synagogues, churches, mosques. In fact, this multiplicity of rooms seems to be one of the most basic traits of Monotheism, as we know it. Monotheism has many forms, many images. These multiple images seem sometimes very different, very unlike one another, so unlike that it may seem unlikely that they are all about the same thing. The Muslim, Christian, Jewish temples may look so different, that it may seem that they do not look at the same thing, it may look like they do not share a common view, but are rather each enshrined within its own language, its own talk, its own Monologue. So much so that it looks rather unlikely that we may even be able to find One Word that they share. And the most unlikely word to bring them all together seems to be “Monotheism”.
However, it is precisely with this word, “Monotheism”, that this room looks for holding a monotheistic Trialogue, that is to say a talk between three different religious views. It is under this word, “Monotheism”, that these three different views are supposed to meet, on common grounds, see eye to eye and talk with each other, on the same thing. However, in order for the talk to happen, the meeting should take place. And for the meeting to take place, a room must be made, a common ground must be consecrated: one basic view that is shared, one basic expectation, one basic thing all the different participants must somehow look forward to. One basic Intention. This was indeed the condition precedent for one of the famous pan-monotheistic assemblies held in the past, which was narrated by Rabi Yehuda HaLevi and presided by the pagan King of Khazars, the Kuzari. This king of pagans, by definition non-monotheistic, was only able to conceive this monotheistic meeting after having aimed at the right direction, thus seeing in his dream the image of the messenger, the angel, telling him that:
“Your Intention is desired by the Creator, but your Deeds are undesired” (The Kuzri, A).
Only when we share the One Intention of all three monotheistic religions, only then can we look at what they all talk about, only then can we make a room for a possible Trialogue to take place. Are we – today, here - better situated than the Kuzri, the King of Pagans, in 8th century Caucasus, to do so? After all, unlike the King of Pagans, We already are in a monotheistic world, we are already deeply familiar with its common thing, with how it looks like. For a matter of fact, so many messengers have already spoken to us, that we all know already exactly what to expect. We’ve already heard it so many times, that we already have a clear picture of what it is – we even have already the right Word for it: “Monotheism”. We certainly are all ready. We are seemingly situated at least as good as the King of Pagans: like him, we too are not within one of the many Monotheistic Temples. Like him, we too are therefore apparently in a place to look on Monotheism, from the outside. We are seemingly all ready to convene all the messengers, to hold make messages meet.
However, do we have the right Intention? Do we look at the right direction? Did we set the right agenda? Do we have anything we are looking forward to, in view of which our Deeds may be said to be “desired” or “undesired”, “monotheistic” or “pagan”? Do we really think in these terms? It rather appears that we are so familiar with the terminus “Monotheism”, with the dogma of the “One God”, that it doesn’t mean anything for us anymore. We do not understand why would anyone worship or fight over the One God or for the One God. Why fight over anything? Why worship? Indeed, even the work of Pagans, the worship of Many Gods, seems unlike anything we know. Unlike the King of Pagans, God is not on our agenda. We have no room for God, not even in our dreams.
The King of Pagans could have a revelation of God because he already looked for God. The revelation of God could only appear in the Kuzari’s dream, because he already had a place for God, a Temple, albeit the wrong one. If we want to make room for Monotheism, for The One God, for the right God, we must therefore first make place for a God, for the wrong God, for the Many Gods. If we want to prepare the common ground for a Trialogue of the true worshipers, of the Proper Work, we must first enter the room of the Foreign Work, to which Monotheism have been announcing its One message. This may seem to be a very indirect and twisted roundabout. However, the shortest way to look into the Proper Work, is to look out of the Foreign Work. As formulated by Rabi Moshe Ben Maymon:
“Anyone who rejects Foreign Work, admits the whole Tora; and it is the essence of all of the commandments, all of them” (Mishne Tora, Hilchot Avoda Zara, 2, 7).
What would such a room, such a Foreign Temple for Foreign Work, look like? What would be its image? We seem to be lucky. We find ourselves today in a room for Exhibition of Images. This seems to be the agenda, this seems to be the intention, this seems to be what we are looking forward to: Images. Wouldn’t such a room be just perfect for looking for the Image of the Temple? And if we are looking for the Foreign Temple, the Foreign Work, wouldn’t such a room actually be just perfect for being the Foreign Temple, the Wrong Temple, or rather the wronged Temple, that is to say the room of the “Image in the Temple”? Isn’t the Room for Exhibition of Images, by definition, the Temple of Idolatry?
The Second Word: Idolatry (in camera)
Indeed, from the very beginning of Monotheism, the concept of Foreign Work as Idolatry seems to have been its counter-concept, its defining Other. Let us look at the principles of this Beginning, as they are formulated in the Ten Words spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai. The First Word seems to be rather declarative and formal, more of a Preamble to the text, more of a remainder:
“I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage (Exodus, 20, 4)”.
The real action seems to begin with the Second Word, which is the first proper Commandment. As we saw, the shortest way into the Proper Work is the way out of the Foreign Work. The First proper Commandment points out exactly to this direction, by simultaneously defining and forbidding the Foreign Work:
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me; Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth; Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them” (Exodus, 20, 3-5).
What is then the Foreign Work, what is then so fundamentally forbidden, as the basic condition for the Proper Work? The worship of any “graven image or any likeness”. This kind of Worship, this Foreign Work, was called in Greek, in the First Corinthians Letter of Paul, εἰδωλοσλατρείας (1 Corinthians 10:14): “Idolatry”. The Greek word “eidoloslareias” may be translated to English as the worship of “small forms”.
What is the “small form”? In what way is it a “graven image”, “Pesel”, and a “likeness”, “Tmuna”? The eidolon of something, i.e. its “small form”, is not exactly the eidos of this thing, i.e. its precise form, but rather a smaller model. It is like a small souvenir-shop Statue of Liberty. It does not present the exact Image of the Statue of Liberty, it is not its exact imitation, but in order for it to be “engraved” and then put on the shelf it is rather a smaller representation. The picture seems then rather clear – the fundamental division between the Proper Work and the Foreign Work is about the quality of the Image. And what is exactly “Image”? The word comes from Latin. Lets look at the Etymological and Explanatory Dictionary of Words Derived From Latin; Being a Sequel to the Student’s Manual by R. Harrison Black, London 1825:
“Image. Imago (from imitatione, as if imitago), a resemblance. Image is used to denote the trace or mark, which outward objects impress on the mind, by means of the organs of sense. Image also signifies an artificial representation performed by man; as in painting, sculpture, and the like. The Romans preserved the images of their ancestors with a great deal of care and concern, and had them carried in procession at their funerals and triumphs. The Jews absolutely condemn all images. The Mahometans have a perfect aversion to images; which was what led them to destroy most of the beautiful monuments of antiquity, both sacred and profane, at Constantinople”.
Apparently, the Foreign Work is so foreign because it only has bad images, imitations, which are eo ipso caricatures. Of what? Of “any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth”. Proper Work has therefore a rather exquisite aesthetical taste: it will only settle for the real thing, the true Image. Of what? Apparently, once again, “of any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth”. According to its Second Word, its First Proper Commandment, Proper Work will not settle for a “small image” of the sun, but only for the true image of the sun, i.e. the look of the Sun itself.
However, in the last words of Moses to the People, who are about to leave him in the desert, at the border and enter alone into the Promised Land, before the second proclamation of the Ten Words, the Ten Commandments, Moses starts with a preamble, a small remainder of what it is whole about and what is therefore to be absolutely avoided:
“Lest ye corrupt yourselves and make you a graven image the similitude of any figure the likeness of male or female…And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven and when thou seest the sun and the moon and the stars even all the host of heaven shouldest be driven to worship them and serve them” (Deutrenomoy 4, 16-20).
Foreign Work is therefore not only making the “small form”, the “graven image” of something. These words also warn from simply looking at “the sun and the moon and the stars”. Why? The answer seems to be rather clear. As we saw, if Foreign Work is indeed “Idolatry”, then the division between Proper Work and Foreign Work is about the quality of the Image. Foreign Work looks at bad images; Proper Work looks for the good image. Good image of what? A good image of the One God, a good image of the Creator of “any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth”. The words about the “graven image” are therefore figurative, metaphorical: like man-made “small forms” (a picture of the sun) are only a bad imitation of God-made “big forms” (the sun itself), so are God-made “big forms” only a bad imitation of God’s form itself. The Creation is a bad image of the Creator.
Which implies of course that God also has a good image. Since, in principle, the contrary of such Foreign Work, i.e. “Idolatry”, the work of bad images of God, of images that do not look exactly like God, would be the work of images that do look like God. Indeed, it seems unlikely that some thing, which was created by God, “any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth”, would look like God. Unlikely – but not impossible. Actually, if we do look at the Origin, at the Beginning, at the story of Creation itself, as it inaugurates the Monotheistic Logos, it seems rather clear that God does look like something, does have a true image, which is not only an “engraved image”:
“Let us make man in our image after our likeness; So God created man in his own image” (Genesis, 1, 26-27)
Indeed, it seems that Man is not only a “graven image”, not only a “small form”, a Greek “eidolon” of God, but rather its true and proper Image, its “Tzelem”, a concept that was translated in Ancient Greek by the word “Eikon” = something which looks like something else. That is to say, of all Creation it seems that it is only Man “Who is the image of the invisible God” – “εἰκών ό θεός ό ἀόρατος” (Paul’s Letter to the Collosians, 1, 15). Man is therefore not God, but he has God’s Image. Man looks like God. Therefore, Proper Work, which looks for the One Proper God, should not look at anything but the One Proper Image of God, which is the Image of Man. The dividing line between Foreign Work and Proper Work is seemingly the line between Eidolon (bad image of God) and Eikon (good image of God). If God is the Object of Work, then Foreign Work, as Idolatry, looks at the wrong Image, i.e. the sun, the moon and the stars, whereas the Proper Work looks at the right Image of God: Man.
But how does “Man” look like? The question seems inane. We all know very well how Man looks like. The question was perhaps better formulated by El-Hajj Malik El Shabazz (formerly known as Malcolm X), who asked more precisely: “What color is the face of God’s Son?” If God is indeed invisible, then what does Man, who was supposedly created in God’s Image, look like – “in heaven above or in the earth beneath or in the water under the earth”? We have all seen people, males, females, in different forms, in different sizes, in different colors. The variety is big. Very well. All we need to do, in order to find Man’s Image, or rather Human Being’s Image, which would be therefore God’s Image, is to make a small model, a small form. All we basically need, all we are basically looking for is an Eidolon.
And this is how Foreign Work comes to stand. It is the necessary result of asking how anything - “that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth” - “looks like”. It is the necessary answer to the question “how does it look like”? “How does IT look like”. It is a very common question, very natural. With this question we may mean “any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth”. But what we are in fact looking for by asking this question is not what we mean. When we ask how the Sun looks like, we certainly mean the Sun itself, but what we are looking for, what we are looking forward to is to get a picture. We don’t need to ask this question – “how does the Sun look like” – aloud. In fact, we don’t need to ask this question at all. We only need to look at “any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth” as something that is only looked at, as something that only lies there, outward, in front of our eyes, that is to say as some Thing, a lifeless, foreign, pure Thing: an Object. Foreign Work is the work of foreign things, the look that looks for Objects.
What does it mean to “look for objects”? When someone is looking at something, how can we tell if he is looking for an object? When someone is looking at the sun, how can we know if he is looking to see how the sun looks like, or whether, for example, he wants to know what time it is? How can we even tell what we ourselves are actually looking for whenever we look at something? How can we tell if we look at something as a pure, lifeless, outward Object, or otherwise? Capital question. Most important question. Guiding question, which we shall look at in a moment. What we do already know, however, is what we get when we look at things as pure, lifeless, outward objects: an Image. As the Etymological and Explanatory Dictionary of Words Derived From Latin; Being a Sequel to the Student’s Manual by R. Harrison Black, London 1825, told us:
“Image is used to denote the trace or mark, which outward objects impress on the mind, by means of the organs of sense”.
The Object is recognized by the Image. We may say that the “Image” is the “inner picture” that is “engraved” in our mind by the look of Objects. Any “Image” is thus, by definition, a “graven Image”. We may say that the “graven Image” is the Image of the Image, the Image par excellence. This is to say, the “graven Image, the “Pesel and Tmuna” of the Second Word spoken on Mount Sinai, are not “poor” or “small” or “bad-quality” Images, but rather the perfect Images, the Image par excellence. The prohibition on the Work that looks to the sun, the moon and the stars is therefore not a metaphor for the prohibition on the Work that looks to “graven Images”. On the contrary, the prohibition on the Work that looks to “graven Images” is the perfect Image, the only Image, for the prohibition on the Work that looks to the sun, the moon and the stars as its Objects.
But don’t we therefore ignore the distinction between “graven Image” and “pure Image”? Between “bad-quality Image” and “good Image”? Between “Eidolon” and “Eikon”? We do indeed. The line between Foreign Work and Proper Work is not the line between “good image” and “bad image”. Not because, for Proper Work, all images are bad, but simply because the Image is not the question. For the Proper Work, the Image, as such, is neither prohibited nor commanded, neither condemned nor praised: it is simply not what this Work is about, it is simply not its main question. Foreign Work is not looking at “bad” images or looking at images at all, but rather focusing the intention of the Work on the question of the Image and therefore on the look for the lifeless, foreign Object. Foreign Work is putting the Image in the center of the room, in the foreground. And if translating the Hebrew “Avoda Zara”, literally “Foreign Work”, by the word “Idolatry”, puts the concern of the Image in the center of the Work, as the main question of the Work, then this word itself, this grammata, “Idolatry”, is the graven image of Foreign Work.
The Second Word of the Proper Work, the prohibition of Foreign Work, tells us not to look for Objects when we look at things; tells us not to look for Objects when we look at “any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth”. What does it mean? How can we look at things otherwise? How would such looking look like? What would be its Image? What would it be like? What would it mean to look at things otherwise than as lifeless, foreign Objects? What would it mean to look at something not simply as standing there, indifferent to our looking eyes, the hard reality of things to which we are subjected? What would it mean to look at things not as dead Objects, but rather as subjected to someone’s will, to someone’s freedom? What would it mean to looks at things as Created? What would it mean to look at things from the point of view, say, of the Creator? This is exactly the question of the Proper Work, this is what Proper Work is looking for.
And if Proper Work looks for God, then God is not the Object of the Proper Work, but rather its Subject. The Proper Work of God does not look for any Object. Which immediately raises the inevitable question: what does it look at? Where does it look to? In what direction does its intention point to? Or, on a more personal note, as the question was asked and thereby actually answered by Augustinus:
“And how shall I call upon my God, my God and Lord, since, when I call for Him, I shall be calling Him to myself?” (Confessions, 1st Book, 2)
That is to say, for the Proper Work of God, God is not in the looked-at Object, but rather in the looking Subject.
The First Word: Avoda Zara
The Proper Work is looking for God in the looking Subject. It does not look for God’s “Image”, for something that looks like God. It looks for God’s “Tzelem”, because the living, looking Subject was created, as the Hebrew text tells us, in God’s “Tzelem”. “Tzelem” in Hebrew is not a picture, not a statue, not an Image. “Tzelem” is the creation of “Tzilum” – the Hebrew word for Photography. The concept “Photography” suggests that the creation of this work, the “photo”, is a “light sculpture”, “sculpture made of light”, a “light-graven Image”. The photo therefore is something that “looks like” something. However, the Dog in the photo does not just “look like” the Dog in realty. It is the Dog. You don’t say, “hey this photo really looks very much like me!”. You say, “hey, this is me in the photo!”. And if I was indeed created in the “Tzelem” of God, then I do not look like God. God is rather in me. God is the living soul, the looking and creating subject. The Proper Work looks for the “I” of the Beholder. And who is the looking subject? Who is “I”? This is the question. We may start by looking at the First Word, the First Proper Commandment:
“I am Jehova thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves (Exodus, 20, 4)”.
// May 2008