The Numinous In The Old Testament

While the feelings of the non-rational and numinous constitute a vital factor in every form religion may take, they are pre-eminently in evidence in Semitic religion and most of all in the religion of the Bible. Here Mystery lives and moves in all its potency. It is present in the ideas of the daemonic and angelic world, which, as a ' wholly other ', surrounds, transcends, and permeates this world of ours ; it is potent in the Biblical eschatology and the ideal of a ' kingdom of God' contrasted with the natural order, now as being future in time, now as being eternal, but always as the downright marvellous and 'other'; and finally it impresses itself on the character of Yahweh and Elohim—that God who is nevertheless the ' Heavenly Father' of Jesus and as such ' fulfils', not loses, his character as Yahweh.

The lower stage of numinous conscious*«, viz. daemonic dread, has already been long superseded by the time we reach the Prophets and Psalmists. But there are not wanting occasional echoes of it, found especially in the earlier narrative literature. The story in Exodus iv. 24, of how Yahweh in his opy-q met Moses by the way 'and sought to kill him', still bears this ' daemonic ' character strongly, and the tale leaves us almost with the suggestion of a ghostly apparition. And from the standpoint of the more highly developed ' fear of God ' one might easily get from this and similar stories the impression that this is not yet religion at all, but a sort of pre-religious, vulgar fear of demons or the like. That would, however, be a misconception ; a' vulgar fear of demons' would refer to a ' demon ' in the narrower sense of the word, in \\ liich it is a synonym fur devil, fiend, or goblin, and is contrasted with the divine. But ' demon' in this sense lias not been, any more than ' ghost' or ' spectre ', a point in the transition, or if it be preferred, a link in the chain of development which religious consciousness has undergone. Both 'demon' (= fiend) and 'spectre' are, so to speak, offshoots from the true line of progress, spurious fabrications of the fancy accompany ing the numinous feeling. We must carefully distinguish from such a 'demon' the Saifioiv or 'daemon' in the more general sense of the word, which, if it is not yet itself a ' god ', is still less an anti-god, but must be termed a 'pre-god', the numen at a lower stage, in which it is still trammelled and suppressed, but out of which the ' god' gradually grows to more and more lofty manifestations. This is the phase whose aftcr-etrects can be detected in these ancient stories.

It will be worth while to consider this matter further. Two things may help to an understanding of the real relation wi ll v hicli we are here concerned. First, we may refer back to what was said on an earlier page upon the capacity of ' the dreadful' and ' terrible' in general to attract and arouse, and also to express, the true 'numinous ' consciousness or emotion. In the second place, we may refer to the parallel case of music. A man with a pronounced musical faculty, so long as he is a mere raw tyro, may be enraptured by the sound of the bagpipes or the hurdy-gurdy, though perhaps both become intolerable to him when his musical education has been completed. But, if he then recalls the qualitative character of his earlier musical experience and compares it with his present one. lie will have to admit that, in both one and the same side of his mind is functioning, and that what has taken place in the rise of his feeling for music to a more elevated form is no transition to something different in kind, but a process which we may call 'development' or 'growth to maturity', but can hardly further specify. Were we to hear to-day the lnu !c of Confucius, it would probably be to us merely a succession of queer noises. Vet already Confucius speaks of the power of music on the mind in a way wo modem,-cunnot better and touches upon just those elements which we also must recognize in the experience of mu.sic,. But the most striking consideration in this regard is the way in which some savage tribes are endowed with a capacity for a ready appreciation of our music, which they grasp quickly, practise assiduously, and enjoy intensely, when it is brought before them. This endowment did not first enter their minds at the moment they heard the music by a ' heterogony ' epigenesis or other miracle ; it simply existed all the time as a natural predisposition or latent capacity. It was aroused and began to develop as soon as the proper incitement came to stimulate it, but to the end it was yet the selfsame disposition that had been formerly excited to such primitive and crude manifestations. This ' crude ', ' primitive' form of music is often almost or wholly unrecognizable as real music by our developed musical taste, although it was the manifestation of the same impulse and the same element of our psychical nature. Now it is exactly a parallel case when the ' Godfearing ' man of to-day finds it hard to detect in the narrative of Exodus iv that which is akin to his own religious experience, or misjudges it altogether. All this involves a point of view which should be taken into consideration more generally with respect to the religion of ' primitive manthough naturally great caution should be used in applying it, seeing that very mistaken conclusions can be drawn from it and there is a real danger of confounding the lower with the higher levels of development and of making too little of the interval between them. ILrwever, it is still more dangerous to exclude this point of view altogether, as is unfortunately very commonly done.1

Recent research has sought to discover a difference in character between Yahweh, the austere and stern, and Elohim, the familiar, patriarchal God, and there is something very illuminating in the suggestion. Soderblom's supposition2 is that the notion of Yahweh had its point of origin in earlier ' animistic ' ideas. I do not dispute the importance of such ' animistic' ideas in the religious evolutionary process; in

1 In this regard Mr. Marett in particular has important and novel considerations to offer.

2 Siiderblom, Dai, WerJtn dm Guthsylaubens, 1916, pp. 297 £f.

fact, I should go even farther than Stiderblom -n that respect, for he would explain them as a sort of primitive "philosophy', and therefore has to exclude them altogether from the domain of genuinely religious imagination. It would be perfectly c mpatible w 1th my own view to hold that where ideas of an animistic character had been framed they could serve as an important, link if the 'chain of stimulation ' by which true numinous consciousness is aroused (namely, in so far as they served to disengage and free the obscure feeling-element of ' existent being', latent in it). But v\ hat distinguishes Yahweh from El-Shaddai-Elohim is not that the former is an 'anima',1 but (and the distinction may be applied to differentiate all god-types) that, whereas in \ahweh the numinous preponderates over the familiar ' rational' character, in Elohim the -rational aspect outweighs the numinous. 'Outweighs' is as t much as we can say, for in Elohim too the numinous element.! is certainly present; Elohim is, for instance, the subject of the genuinely numinous narrative of the theophany in the burning bush with the characteristic verse (Exodus iii~ G): 'And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.'

For the copious and diverse characteristics of the idea of God of the ancient Israelites which might be instanced here the reader is referred to works upon the history of religion.1 The venerable religion of Moses marks the beginning of a process which from that point onward proceeds with ever increasing momentum, by Which 'the numinous ' is throughout rationalized and moralized, i.e. charged with ethical import, until it becomes 'the holy' in the fullest sense of the word. The culmination of the process is found in the Prophets and in the Gospel«. And it is in this that the special nobility of the religion revealed to us by the Bible is to be found, which, when the stage represented by the deutero-Isaiah is reached, justifies its claim to be a universal world-religion. Here is to be found its manifest superiority over, e. g., Islam, in which Allah i.s mere ' numen ', and in fact precisely ^ ahweh in his pre Mosaic form and upon a larger scale. But this moralizing

1 They arf> pi»cn cxhiuntivply in the Encyclopedia Die Religion in Gcfchirhte und Gttjenicart, vol. ii, pp. 1530, 2036.

and rationalizing process does not mean that the numinous itself has been overcome, but merely that its preponderance lias been overcome. The numinous is at once the basis upon which and the setting within which the ethical and rational meaning is consummated.

The capital instance of the intimate mutual interpénétration of the numinous with the rational and moral is Isaiah. The note struck in the vision of his eall is the keynote of his entire prophecy. And nothing is in this regard more significant than the fact that it is in Isaiah that the expresjon ' the Holy One of Israel ' first becomes established as the expression, par excellence, for the deity, prevailing over all others by its mysterious potency. This remains so in the writings of the ' deutero-Isaiah who follows the tradition of the earlier Isaiah. Assuredly in deutero-Isaiah, if in any writer, we have to do with a God whose attributes are clear to conceptual thought : omnipotence, goodness, wisdom, truth ; and yet all the time these are attributes of ' the Holy One ', whose strange name deutero-Isaiah too repeats no less than fifteen times and always in passages where it has a special impressiveness.

llelated expressions akin to the ' holiness ' of Yahweh are His • fury His 'jealousy His ' wrafh ', the ' consuming fire ', and the like. The import of them all is not only the all-requiting righteousness of God, not even merely His susceptibility to strong and living emotions, but all this ever enclosed in and permeated w ith the ' awefulness ' and the ' majesty the ' mystery ' and the ' augustness ', of His non-rational divine nature.

And this holds good, also, of the expression ' the living God God's ' livingness ' is perceptibly akin to His 'jealousy ' and is manifested in and through this, as in His other ' passions ' generally.1 It is by His ' life ' that this God is differ

1 Cf. Deut. v. 26 : ' For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and liMd ? ' Cf. also Josh. in. 10; 1 Sam. fvii. 26,36; 2 Kings xis 4; Isa. xxxvii. 4,17 ; Jer. x. 10 : ' He is the living God : ... at His wrath the earth shall tremble and the nations shall not be able to abide Hie indigna-

entiated from all mere ' World Reasonand becomes this ultimately non rational essence, that eludes all philosophic treatment. This is the God that lives in the consciousness of all prophets and apostles of the Old and the New Dispensation alike. And all those who later championed against the ' God of philosophy' the ' living God ' and the God of anger and love and the emotions have unwittingly been defending the non-rational core of the Biblical conception of God from all excessive rationalization. And so far they were right. Where they were wrong and sank into ' anthropomorphism ' was in defending, not figurative 'anger' and ' emotion', but literal anger and emotion misconcei\ irig the numinous character o of the attributes in question and holding them simply to be ' natural' attributes, taken absolutely, instead of realizing that they can only be admitted as figurative indications of something essentially non-rational by means of symbols drawn from feelings that have analogy to it.

We find the power of the numinous—in its phase of the mysterious—to excite and intensify the imagination displayed with particular \i>idness in Ezekiel. Here are to be classed Ezekiel's dreams and parable» and fanciful delineation of God's being and sovereign state, which are, as it were, an example by anticipation of the later more spurious sort of excitement of the religious impulse to the mysterious, leading (in accordance with analogies already expounded) to the merely strange, the extraordinary, the marvellous, and the fantastic. When such an operation of the religious consciousness works itself out in accordance with a wrong analogy, the way is prepared for miracle and legend and the whole dreani-

t\on '; Jer. xxiii. 3(5 : 2 Macc. vii. 33 ; JIatt. xxvi. 68 (.the adjuration 'by the ¡¡ring God', the God of terror and dread); and Heb. x. 31 : 'It ia a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the liv'ng God.' The Old Testament idea oi the terrible ' lititg' God reaches its completion in the ideas of the 'avenging God', of which the most ruthless expression is in the almost ap| a! ling image of tlie t reader of the wi tie-pi ess, Isa. lxiii. 3 : 'I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury ; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments and I will sta;n nil my raiment.' The dreadful image recurs in the New Testament in Rev x'x. 10 : ' He treadeth the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Alm.ghty God.'

world of pseudo-mysticism ; and, though these are all truly enough emanations from the genuine religious experience, they are emanations broken by the opaque, dull medium through which they pass, a mere substitute for the genuine thing, and they end in a vulgar rankness of growth that overspreads the pure feeling of the ' rnysterium ' as it really is and chokes its direct and forihright emotional expression.

But, if Ezekiel hardly shows the numinous moment apart from an admixture of excessive fantasy and imagination, the same is not true of the Book of Job. In the 38th chapter of Job we have the element of the mysterious displayed in rare purity and completeness, and this chapter may well rank among the most remarkable in the history of religion. Job has been reasoning with his friends against Elohim, and—as far as concerns them—he has been obviously in the right. They are compelled to be dumb before him. And then Elohim Himself appears to conduct His own defence in person. And He conducts it to such effect that Job avowTs himself to be overpowered, truly and rightly overpowered, not merely silenced by superior strength. Then he confesses: ' Therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.' That is an admission of inward convincement and conviction, not of impotent collapse and submission to merely superior power. Nnr is there here at all the frame of mind to which St. Paul now and then gives utterance; e.g. Rom. ix. 20: ' Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus 1 Ilath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour 1' To interpret the passage in Job thus would be a misunderstanding of it. This chapter does not proclaim, as Paul does, the renunciation of, the realization of the impossibility of, a ' theodicy'; rather, it aims at putting forward a real theodicy of its own, and a better one than that of Job's friends; a theodicy able to convict even a Job, and not only to convict him, but utterly to still every inward doubt that assailed his soul. For latent in the weird experience that Job underwent in the revelation of Elohim is at once an inward relaxing of his soul's anguish and an appeasement an appeasement which wouM alone ami in itself perfectly suffice as the solution of the problem of the Book of Job, even without Job's rehabilitation in chapter xlii where recovered prosperity comes as an extra payment thrown in after quittance has been already rendered. But what is this strange ' moment' of experience that here operates at once as a vindication of God to Job and a reconciliation of Job to God?

In the vvords put into the mouth of Eloliim nearly every note is sounded which thS- situation may prepare one to expect a j/riorr. the summons to Job, and the demonstration of God's overwhelming power, His sublimity and greatness, and His surpa sing wisdom. This last would yield forthwith a plausible and rational solution of the whole problem, if only the argument were here completed with some such sentences as: 'My ways are higher than your ways; in my deeds and my actions I have ends t hat you understand not'; viz. the testing or purification of the godly man, or ends that concern the whole universe as such, into which the tingle man must fit himself w ith all his sufferings. If you start from rational ideas and concepts, you absolutely (hint for such a conclusion to the discourse. But nothing of the kind follows; nor does the chapter intend at all to suggest such teleological reflections or solutions. In the last resort it relies 011 something quite ditferent from anything that can be exhaustively rendered in rational concepts, namely, on the sheer absolute wondrousness that transcends thought, on the mysterium, presented in its pure, non-rational form. All the glorious examples from nature speak very plainly in this sense. The eagle, that 'dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place', whose ' eyes behold afar off her prey, and whose'young ones also suck up blood, and where the slain are, there is .she'—this eagle is in truth 110 evidence for the telealoijical v\ isdom that 'prepares all cunningly and well', but is rather the creature of struiigeness and marvel, in whom the woudrousness of its creator becomes apparent. And the same is true of the ostrich (xxxix. 13-18) with its inex/licable instincts. The o«trich is indeed, as here depicted, and 'rationally ' considered, a crucial difficulty rather than an evidence of

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Responses

  • JUANITA
    Do you have to experience the underworld for the numinous in the old testament?
    7 months ago
  • adalgiso
    Are there numinous elements in Judaism?
    6 months ago

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