Torah Nondualism

The Secret of the Blasphemer

Home
Free Book:
Torah Nondualism
Nondualism in Hebrew Scripture
The Egyptian Origin of the Sefirot
The Secret of the Hebrew Letter Shin
The Egyptian God Thoth
The Secret of the Divine Name Yahweh
The “Hand” That’s Really a Hebrew Letter That Changes the Entire Torah
The Secret of the Hebrew Letter Alef
Scribal Magic (the Letter Alef Revisited)
Inside the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem Temple
The Secret of the Divine Name El Shaddai
Fractal Geometry
Fire Sacrifice in Image and Intuition
The Secret of The Blasphemer
The Secret of Moses’ Sin at the Rock in Kadeish
The Broken Peace That Is the Reward of Violence
Judaism Before Josiah
Broken Time
Children’s Story:
The Great Escape
The Secret Soul of Svaha
A Mystical Haggadah
About the Author
(Jay Cumming)

Karma and Chiasmus -- A World Without Mercy

A close examination of Hebrew scripture reveals two distinct principles by which God orders affairs in the world — one is the rule of strict retributive justice, and the other is the rule of mercy. According to strict retributive justice, what a person puts out, that person receives back, measure for measure. If one steals; one will be stolen from. If one kills; one will be killed. By contrast, the rule of divine mercy, which is generally associated in the Torah with the name yhvh (see Exodus 34:5-7; Numbers 14:18-20; Deuteronomy 5:9-10), shields one from the rule of strict retributive justice.

We encounter the retributive principle of divine justice in the famous passage from the book of Leviticus that speaks of “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth.” (Leviticus 24:20.) This passage should not be read as setting forth a governing principle for the justice systems of society, for such justice systems are created for the protection of society, not for the judgment of souls. Rather, the passage sets forth a principle of natural law that is familiar to anyone who has studied Eastern philosophy, where it is called the law of karma. It simply describes a morally charged version of Newton’s third law of physics. We encounter the same principle of natural law in the covenant that God (elohim, not yhvh) made with Noah: “The one who spills the blood of man, by man his blood will be spilled.” (Genesis 9:6.)

Significantly, a distinctive feature characterizes the verses from the Torah that set forth the rule of strict retributive justice: They employ a chiastic structure, meaning that as one reads in either direction away from the central pivot of the verses, the provisions repeat one another, like reflections in a mirror. Consider, for example, the complete text of the “eye for an eye” passage from Leviticus (ch. 24, vv. 15-23)

[A] Any man that will denigrate his god, he will bear his sin . . . .
  [B] Stranger and native alike . . . .
    [C] And a man that smites any human soul will surely die.
      [D] And the smiter of an animal soul will pay, soul for soul.
        [E] And a man that gives a wound in his people —
                 as he did, so will be done to him.
          [F] Break for break,
            [G] Eye for eye,
          [F] Tooth for tooth.
        [E] As he gave a wound to man, so will be given to him.
      [D] And the smiter of an animal shall pay.
    [C] And the smiter of a man shall die. . . .
  [B] Stranger and native alike . . . .
[A] And they took the one who cursed to the outside of the camp, and they stoned him . . . .

Likewise, consider the covenant against murder that God made with Noah (Genesis 9:6):

[A] The one who spills
  [B] the blood
    [C] of man,
    [C] by man
  [B] his blood
[A] will be spilled.

Finally, consider the commandment to atone for sin on Yom Kippur through acts of self-affliction (Leviticus 16:29-31):

[A] And this shall be for you for an eternal decree . . . .
  [B] You shall afflict your souls,
    [C] and you shall not do any work . . . .
      [D] For on this day he will atone for you to purify you;
      [D] from all your sin before yhvh you will be purified
    [C] It is a Sabbath of ceasing for you,
  [B] And you shall afflict your souls.
[A] An eternal decree.

What we learn from these passages and many others like them is that when the Torah is invoking the divine principle of strict retributive justice (the law of karma), the text employs a chiastic structure that imitates its unforgiving quid-pro-quo content.

Return to top of page.

The Blasphemer’s Capital Offense

If we look at the blasphemer story more closely, we learn from the chiastic structure of the text that the blasphemer’s capital offense was not simple blasphemy; more specifically, it was using the name yhvh to curse someone to die an unnatural death.

[A] Any man that will denigrate his god, he will bear his sin . . . .
  [B] Stranger and native alike . . . .
    [C] And a man that smites any human soul will surely die.
      [D] And the smiter of an animal soul will pay, soul for soul.
        [E] And a man that gives a wound in his people —
                 as he did, so will be done to him.
          [F] Break for break,
            [G] Eye for eye,
          [F] Tooth for tooth.
        [E] As he gave a wound to man, so will be given to him.
      [D] And the smiter of an animal shall pay.
    [C] And the smiter of a man shall die. . . .
  [B] Stranger and native alike . . . .
[A] And they took the one who cursed to the outside of the camp, and they stoned him . . . .

We begin with the first line. The complete statement reads as follows: “[1] Any man that will denigrate his god, he will bear his sin, and [2] [he who] expresses the name yhvh will certainly die; the entire Assembly will certainly stone him.” (Leviticus 24:15-16.) The statement seems to announce two contradictory rules. The first half of the statement announces that a blasphemer “will bear his sin” — that is, the bad act he did in god’s name, thereby bringing god’s name into disrepute, will be revisited upon him. But the second half of the statement seems to announce instead that a blasphemer — described as anyone who “expresses the name yhvh” (i.e., reveals the secret pronunciation of the name) — will always be stoned to death regardless of how he used or misused the name. The apparent contradiction is resolved, however, if we recognize that the first half of the statement announces the operative rule of the blasphemer (“he will bear his sin”), and the second half of the statement announces what became of a particular person, the person described in this particular story who expressed the name yhvh (“he will certainly die”). In other words, the second half of the statement is descriptive, not prescriptive, stating only what happened in a particular case.

The first half of the statement is the law of strict retributive justice or karma (“he will bear his sin”). According to Jewish tradition, blasphemy is an act that diminishes the dignity of God’s most revered name, yhvh, and it includes expressing that name in a context (such as anger) that brings dishonor to the name. The name yhvh is associated with God’s mercy (Exodus 34:5-7; Numbers 14:18-20; Deuteronomy 5:9-10), but by using that name improperly, the blasphemer becomes cut off from God’s mercy, thus placing himself under the law of strict retributive justice (“he will bear his sin”). And the next several lines of the blasphemer story describe the harsh, measure-for-measure reality of this law of strict retributive justice.

The chiastic structure naturally focuses the reader on the pivot: “Eye for eye” (Hebrew: ayin tachat ayin). The symmetry of this “pivot” is the key that unlocks the entire passage. The central point is the letter chet (CH) of the word TaCHaT, a letter whose name means “sin.” As one moves in either direction away from the letter chet (“sin”), the letters, and then the words, and then the ideas repeat one another almost verbatim, as if the chet were a mirror. According to this chiastic principle, the punishment line of the blasphemer story (the last line) must match substantively the line describing the blasphemer’s crime (the first line), and therefore the punishment line reveals to us an undisclosed detail about the blasphemer’s crime. The punishment line states: “They took the one who cursed to the outside of the camp, and they stoned him.” (Italics added.) They killed him, in other words, and therefore, according to the story’s rule of retributive justice and also according to its chiastic structure, the blasphemer of the first line must have used the name yhvh to kill someone.

The foregoing is an excerpt from Torah Nondualism: Diversity, Conflict, and Synthesis in the Pentateuch.

To read the entire book, please click here.


Please “like” or “share” this website on Facebook:

You can also “like” or “share” this page of the website using these buttons:

Copyright © 2011 James H. Cumming