EROS AND THE DAEMONIC IN JEWISH TRADITION= Deuteronomy and the Book of Job

PRELUDE

The Book of Job is the ultimate story of the Daemonic, and arguably the clearest prefigurement of Christ in his Passion of anything in the whole Jewish Bible.

But first Eros, as it is conveyed to the Jews in Deuteronomy. Put at its simplest, all the ‘good things’ of life, tangible and intangible, are gifts from God, and so we humans do not, and cannot, ‘own’, possess, devour, consume, such gifts as if they ‘belonged to us’, and were our ‘private property.’ Rather, to acknowledge these gifts as divine in origin means giving to other beings as we are given to by the Origin of All Being. We circulate the ‘goods’ of life, passing on what has been granted to us. If we fail in this, we do not understand and live by the generous spirit of Eros; the irony is, through miserly holding on to what we think we can ‘have’, we destroy the spirit in whatever goodness our hands try to grasp, and so it all goes dead on us. The rich man hoards deathliness in his bulging grain-barn. What you preserve you destroy; what you let go you gain. In Eros, gain is loss, and loss is gain.

Seek fullness, and you will end up with emptiness; accept emptiness, and you will end up with fullness.

[1] Eros

In Deuteronomy – a book much re-edited [and over hyped] by a later ‘law upholding’ group in Judaism – the basics of Eros for the Jews is laid out. From the start Eros is linked to the temple, and to the function of the priest. It is not linked to king and warrior, prophet and clown, innocent and wise, and tramp and broken: the figures of the Daemonic.

The passage is Deuteronomy, 26, 1-11=

“When you come into the land which Yahweh your God gives you for an inheritance.. you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that Yahweh your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place which Yahweh your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest.. and say to him, ‘I declare this day to Yahweh your God that I have come into the land which Yahweh swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand, and set it down before the altar of Yahweh your God..”

The person making this sacrificial offering is to declare that, having been a wandering tribe ‘few in number’, the Jews were forged into a ‘great, mighty, and populous’ nation in Egypt, as a result of the sufferings and harshness visited upon them. In this captivity, they cried out to Yahweh the God of their fathers who had promised never to abandon them, and he heard their voice and saw their ‘affliction, toil, and oppression’, and Yahweh brought the Jews out of their bondage with ‘a mighty hand and an outstretched arm’, with great terror, ‘with signs and wonders’, and he brought them into ‘this place and this land, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ [milk being the maternal pole and honey being the sexual pole of Eros].

“And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which thou, O Yahweh, hast given me.”

The person making the sacrificial offering is also told that they will ‘set it down before Yahweh your God, and worship.. Yahweh your God.’

The next line is crucial in understanding what Eros is and how its Gift works in us: “and you shall rejoice in all the good which Yahweh your God has given to you and your house.” The rejoicing in Eros is for ‘you, the priest, and the stranger who is among you.’

Anyone who understands what is being revealed in these lines would understand why capitalism is impossible: why Yahweh who is the source of all Goodness, freely given and gratuitously offered to one and all, forbids usury, the engine of capitalism. Eros gives bounteously and unendingly, like a wellspring with no bottom, and asks no payment ‘in return’; it simply requires we give and offer ourself, and all the ‘goods’ we have received, back to God. What does this mean? It tells us what the spiritual basis of joy, and tasting the fruits of life, really is. It is sharing, and give away, not hoarding, and holding on.

Thus the sacrifice made in the temple, at the altar, is a giving, or offering, in which we let ourself be remade by the spirit of Eros; hence we thank and are grateful to God, in our worship, but this spirit also reaches out to and includes our fellow humans, including the sojourner, the ‘other’, the one not familiar but strange to us. The Eros that is a living Generosity to All has no ‘those who are in, and those who are out.’ Eros is non discriminating, non-dualistic.

The goodness of life is shared between God, neighbour, and stranger. It needs all three to bear witness to the origin and dynamic of Eros.

The social side of Eros is linked to its mystical ontology. Eros is divinely bestowed as a free gift, with no strings attached, yet it does require a response from the human to truly unite with it and become what it is. It is, but by its gift, we become what it is.. Sharing instils, or enshrines, the very nature of Eros in our being. We become the well-spring. Hence ‘if they ask for your shirt, give them your coat as well’, and ‘forgive 7 x 70’; or, ‘the sun shines on the just and the unjust alike.’

There is a sacrifice in this process of acquiring Eros as our true nature: we ‘offer’ ourselves to the divine gift, letting go of much that is incompatible with its love, light, life. Sacrifice in this context means letting go of a relative good [in human eyes] for a greater good [in God’s eyes] that replaces it..

The whole letting go of something humanly old and dead to receive something divinely new and alive is articulated in naturalistic, farming metaphors, through-out the Jewish Bible. Eros sanctifies farming: the settled life– the life which leads on to capitalist greed, violence, rivalry, and selfishness. Without the true Eros, humanity seeks Ego, and Desire, and everyday life — the life of business and trading — becomes ever more corrupt, and under the sway of evil. Eros addresses the ‘natural man and woman’, transforming them, so that in all their natural dealings they constantly incarnate Eros in the ordinary. Though there always remains an exalted mystical side to Eros, there is also a side more embodied, and encompassing of all that ‘naturally happens.’ This is the Sacred. The temple is the special place of the Sacred, and the priest is the representative of the people in asking for and passing on the ‘saving grace.’ Thus every human being is ‘priest of the creation’, because the creation is itself in its entirety meant to be Sacred to humanity.

Given this, then what the temple, and the priest, ensures is that Eros will never be confined to the mystical alone, but that it will stretch seamlessly from heaven to cosmos to nature to culture to society to family to person; Eros will become the Everyday.

Consequently, there is a sacrifice in Eros, but it is the give-away that ‘makes sacred’; it sanctifies, and creates sacrament. This is not the sacrifice of the Daemonic that is radical, terrible, unbelievable.

In many older and indigenous cultures, the sacrifice [of greed and selfishness, of possessiveness and holding on] that sanctifies, and makes all ordinary things ‘sacraments’, is known and practiced.

A Desert story points to it.

Once a peasant farmer barely surviving on the margins of the desert was over looked by a wandering monk from a neighbouring hill. The peasant’s prayer, and thanksgiving, to God was to leave some of his meagre food out at night as a gift for God. This was his sacrificial offering. To his happiness, every morning when he came back to the ritual place, he noticed the food was gone.

The monk went down to the peasant and put him right. God is a Spirit, and has no need of your material food, the peasant was told. The peasant said nothing, but showed that obdurate face of the unlearned to the learned, when the former think the latter wrong but cannot prove it. The monk realised his words were falling on deaf ears. The peasant believed what he had experienced. All right, we will watch tonight and see who takes your food, the monk insisted.

Sure enough, in the deep hours of the night, the confident trot and jaunty tail appeared. The fox gratefully ate his daily bread under the cover of night.

See, the monk crowed, I told you so. When he left the next day, he taught the peasant a more spiritual way of praying and left. Within hours the peasant had forgotten the sophisticated words, and the consequence was his prayer life, woven into a sacramental consciousness, ceased from that day.

Back in his monastery, the monk slept one night but was awakened, in terror of his life, sweating and shaking. God loomed over him, a terrible presence speaking in a more terrible voice. ‘What is it to you if I want to give my food to my fox?’

This is a story about the nature of Eros, but it is backed up by the Daemonic God.

[2] The Daemonic

The tale told in the Book of Job is one of the strangest in the Jewish Bible, having wheels within wheels, and as with all things Daemonic, having a hidden and secret wisdom uncovered by a journey only suffering can send us on. The Daemonic is not every day, and natural; it is out of the ordinary, rare, the disturber of the usual peace. It is the patron of wandering tribes all-round the globe, and a threat to all those who settle down in the name of Eros– but betray Eros in their bourgeois addiction to preserving the good things; for by the way we try to preserve them, we turn good things into dead things. Then the Daemonic storm comes, and it is all wrecked, as it needs to be.

Job is different, however. He is not a bourgeois man, a hoarder, a selfish and mean Scrooge, a card carrying capitalist. He is not the vampire devourer drinking the blood of others, to promote and secure his life. Job is a genuinely good man, by the lights of Eros. More interesting, he is not even Jewish, but a pagan; he is ‘everyman’, and he will be forced to go through something harshly difficult which the Jews will struggle with through-out their religious evolution: the existence, and importance, of innocent suffering. This is existentially fated suffering that is not a cause-effect, or karmic, result of evil doing that comes back upon the evil doer. Job does not deserve what befalls him. Indeed, he is the stakes in a bet between God and Satan; the gamble is that if undeserved suffering is visited upon humanity by God, as a necessary part of the world process, then humanity will reject God. Most interesting of all, Job is the oldest book of the Bible, older than Genesis. The Jewish ‘story’ begins with this stranger who is the subject of a wager made by a God willing to gamble with the Evil Spirit called Satan the Accuser. God has faith in Job, and thus humanity as a whole, believing we will come through the worst fate that can test us. The devil believes, by contrast, we will fold in the midst of the suffering hardest to bear and hardest to endure, and will blame God for it– or will blame ourself as rejected of God. Either way, we will ‘in the end’, at the last breath and the final accounting, throw the whole risk of existence back at God, as not worth it.

This story is not confined to Job, but is the story of what the human heart passes through in existence. It lays bare an existential suffering in this world that cannot be rationalised and cannot be moralised. It just is. It is what is.

Without going into detail, suffice it say that Job is the story of every human being who goes through, and undergoes, the worst that fate can bring down upon our poor human flesh. The righteous Jewish judges insist Job has done wrong, and try to explain his ‘black inexplicable pain’ as a punishment from God for moral failure. They deal in guilt. Job has the integrity to throw off this guilt. His wife councils him to curse God and die, which is a more existential response, more ultimate in despair. This death would be the affirmation that hell wins, or as Sartre put it, that “mankind is a useless passion.”

But Job comes through. He accepts something impossible to accept, and he comes through.

Job’s coming through, right at the beginning of the entire Jewish story, prefigures and prophetically anticipates Christ’s coming through in hell, after the Cross and before the Resurrection. Job’s ‘season in hell’ is a foretaste of Christ’s Descent into Hell, and his final victory there.

But what strikes me today, more than anything, is the declaration, the shout, that Job cries at the moment of break-through, the moment of turn around, in the depth. This is the end result of all the wounding inflicted by the Daemonic.

Job, 19, 23-27=

“Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were graven in the rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And at last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then from my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold..”

Before, Job had heard of God, and kept the divine instructions. Now, he is face to face, flesh to fire. His skin is burnt away, and his flesh is unconcealed, and in this flesh of the body radiant with energy, he will know God heart to heart.

You cannot claim you believe in Christ as the Redeemer, and go to church to ‘remember’ him, or read thick tomes of theology ‘explaining’ him.

You can only discover Christ is your Redeemer as Job did, from the depths of hell. Only in hell, where you are lost and done, can you find the Redeeming divine-humanity that, just as you sink for the last time, seizes your failing hand with violence.

Only in hell do we accept the irrational suffering.

Only in hell do we know the Redeemer lives, and stands upon the earth.

Only in hell do we know the Redeemer is on our side, and will not let us go down to the pit, the furnace, the void.

In hell, the Redeemer comes, and in hell we discover why it must be passed through, and what takes us through all the way, to a far shore.

To discover this, in hell, electrifies Job. He wants to tell everyone the unbelievable news, he wants to scream it to the height and to the depth, and to the farthest disappearing horizons.

Job wants to write it in the rock, to make it available for all the generations to come after. In his story, the word in the Rock is the Redeemer.

But later on, after centuries, the Redeemer and the person who can turn to him when all help is gone becomes Christ and Peter: Christ is the word and Peter is the rock. The word comes on the day of trouble, and the rock, paradoxically, is troubled by the day of trouble, it remains true to the trouble on that terrible day.

But it is Job’s wild declaration, his witness to the hidden secret of hell, that celebrates the victory of the Daemonic.

Those who suffer under the Daemonic may lose Eros, may lose the rejoicing in the fruits of Eros. Their suffering is protracted, the night is unending, the black pain is deeper than any ravine. Yet, at the end of it is a victory, an exultation, that will electrify you, if you can make the same plunge into hell.

In hell, you will know your Redeemer lives; in hell, you will know the God on your side, because he is prepared to pay the price for you beyond calculating.

If you discovered this, this redemptive power in the place where God is not, and God is defeated, would you not want to shout it, like Job, to the rooftops?

If we are not shouting it, then this is because we have either not descended into our hell, or if we have, we cannot yet find the redemptive power that contests that place as our advocate, against our accuser.

We may be in hell, but without discovering the Redeemer in that place, we are simply assaulted night and day by the ‘doubting’ and ‘judging’ voices, coming from authority, spouse, friends, and Satan. Many persons know what this assault is like. Call it deep depression, existential despair, or what you like, the name does not change the experience one jot. Under assault, we can do nothing. We see with the clear glint of hell our own defunctness and weakness, and all the rest of our shabby failings and big betrayals. You cannot get up, or do anything, or even defend yourself, under this assault. You sit under it, you lie under it, your substance wastes away under its endless barrage.

It is incredible what Job found in hell, and the words in which he expressed it are electrifying.

This is the Daemonic.

Job anticipates the true meaning of Resurrection. Christ himself tells us the Resurrection is not about securing eternal life, for Moses already established the existence of an eternal life beyond this ephemeral life. In Luke, 20, 27-38, we are told that the Resurrection is in reality ‘a coming age’, and in this changed condition of everything visible and invisible people will not marry, nor will they die, because they will be like spirits, and sons of God. “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls Yahweh the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.”

Resurrection to the Coming Age starts in this existence, once we are raised from hell, by the knowing only possible in hell that the Redeemer lives. In this life, we come out of the black grief and enter the red flame of love. This is ‘the love stronger than death.’

Job is electrified by the unexpected reversal, and when it happens to us, so will we be.

We thank God in Eros, and share with others what he shares with us. But in the Daemonic, we are lost and refound, and it is just unbelievably electric!