Reading Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers (page 1208-1254) today, I came across two insights that I wish I could apply to my own life somehow, and yet fear they are beyond my comprehension. One of them is the one cited in the title, “But is there a more religious practice than the study of the psychology of God?” I worked out on paper once what I imagined God’s mind to consist of based on the Bible. God was Creator of Good and Evil, but also My Rock in Whom There is no Wrong. I have learned since that the Bible teaches the existence of the “Chaos Monster” in minor passages, and I think if a person interprets this Monster as being not a literal monster but Matter itself, this may be a very helpful understanding of Evil. God can be seen as Spirit, and moves through Matter to bring about Creation. As such God does not contain evil Himself but by acting through Matter brings about Good and Evil results. True, God is thus not omnipotent (being hemmed in by Matter), but neither is the God of the Bible. The words usually translated “God Almighty” actually translate “God of the Mountains,” and from what I have learned, God probably spoke to the Israelites first in the Mountains, as Moses is portrayed as speaking to God in the Wilderness or on Mt. Sinai. The book The Bible Unearthed and the PBS special The Bible’s Hidden Secrets both portray the original settlements of Israelites as constituting escaped Canaanite slaves in the Mountains of what would become Israel. I recall an Israelite poet saying of Israel’s Mountains that these hills give birth to many prophets, implying that Moses and Mohammad are equally prophets of God.
Next I will refer to another quote from Joseph and His Brothers, about Joseph’s marriage:
[Myrtle] with which all the participants… is sacred both to gods of love and to the dead. In the grand procession there were as many people who exulted with cries of joy while banging cymbals and tambourines as there were those who displayed all the prescribed expressions of grief and lamentation of people following behind a corpse… the laughter betrayed a different mood, one of which the premise of the wedding feast, the idea of what nature had in store, became crudely evident, and one might say that the undercurrent of vile abduction and murder intersected that fertility at the point of bawdy, so that the air was full of innuendo, broad winks, smutty insinuation, and loud laughter at sotto voce obscenities.
Mann describes wedding as related to death, and the taking of the virgin to murder. Perhaps as politically incorrect as this isn’t today–to suggest that pleasure and pain are intertwined, along with life and death–there is a sense in which if a person could understand all of life from God’s perspective, each thing would have to have its’ place. Though God is described as Creator of “Good and Evil,” these two things are not polar opposites but are related. Why? Because a deed can be virtuous and Godly in one instance and yet in another instance be criminal and devilish. A person “just obeying the law” is necessary for society, yet can collude with evil in times described as “organized lawlessness” in which the truly brave soul resists the governing authorities. It is important to admit that there is a “higher law” that exists to justify the “good citizen” of the just society and the civil disobedience of the bad or badly led one.
Without that higher law, there is no Justice. And just as Plato tried to create a “just society” in his Republic, and just as millennia later the Founders of the United States created a republic governed by “We the People,” the first Israelites lived in Canaan’s hills, they also tried to live according to a new code of ethics, one in which the slave and not the slaver was justified before God. These men–Plato, the Founders, and the Canaanite slaves who became Israelites–like any men were flawed, but to fulfill their vision is not to ignore their flaws but to transcend them. So it is important to kindle their Spirit. For Jews, this means replenishing a person’s faith in God. For the Founders, it is to teach our history in a way as reverent as it is critical. As for Plato–reading the Republic as an adult is something everyone should do.