There is an entire mode of spiritual meditation, found both in Kabbalah and Sufism, that considers the syntax of the Torah and Qur’an, respectively, as pure Truth, so that the deepest meanings may be found even within the very individual letters of God’s word.
Of course, the fact that we see this within both Hebrew and Arabic mystical contexts begs the question: is there something spiritually unique about these two particular semitic scripts?
If we talk about a particular script as if it were God’s chosen alphabet, so to speak, then this implicitly suggests that it has something other scripts lack. If I find Truth in the shape of each letter of the shahada, but say nothing about this Truth occurring in the English translation of the shahada, then I am implicitly privileging the Arabic over the English. Which is justifiable, one might think, given that Arabic is the language of revelation.
There is a problem of finding Truth within one script over another. For example: how can both Hebrew and Arabic be God’s chosen languages? Having two scripts entails a multiplicity of Divine scripts, and would consequently run the risk of rendering arbitrary the attribution of Divine meaning to individual letters.
But of course, so linguistic archeologists speculate, all phonetic scripts are related. If there is a common Divine root located in a pure alphabet, what is status is given to parents, cousins and children? Hebrew and Arabic overlap at many points, being close cousins, but diverge at others. Arabs say “Sakina”, in Hebrew it is “Shekhinah”. There must have been an earlier ancestor word with a (probably) somewhat different spelling. From “Sh” to “S”: if scripts are privileged, what happens to the Truth contained within the God’s Syntax when there is inevitable bifurcation and evolution over time?
Do we then just say: all languages are Holy and all scripts have Truth within their syntax? But surely there is something deeper going on under the hood of our collective journey. Something fulfilled and completed by the Revelation of the Seal? At least in this Abrahamic case, a linear progression, not a simple heterogeneity of divine languages.
Given that we believe that writing was first given to the Prophet Idris, and, given that there are at least two cousin traditions of syntactic meditation based within the Abrahamic context, it is interesting to review the genealogies of scripts so that we might 1) understand why an original Truth runs through (at least) the proto-semitic and semitic scripts (and, consequently, to aspects of the script I am employing to write these notes) 2) address the problem of privileging and completion by the Seal’s revelation (and his own language of revelation).
Let’s look at the S/”shin”/”sin”. “S” is interesting, because the genealogy of the letter for the “S” sound runs through various proto- and semitic scripts and also into Cyrillic and Latin. And is used for concepts that various people (including myself) have equated in some form or another. S is for Shekhinah, for Sakina, and for Sophia.
I have spoken of these concepts before in connection to the nature of Speech, of the means by which we experience the Divine within Differentiated Reality of the Symbolic, as the Bride and in relation to Christ and Christ’s return. Speaking with terminology borrowed from my mother’s Russian lineage (specifically, Soloviev, whose ghost still haunts the British Library over here), I wrote something about latter relationship here.
We now speak a clear Arabic when we discuss the final revelation of God. And “S” is key within that revelation. But the letter’s genealogy goes further back in time.
Permit me to sally forth with six (silly) suggestions:
1) The “S” is indeed central to the emergence and the return. It is a Kingdom of wheat. The Presence, the garden that abides within speech. We might even say it both a fertilizer and the wheat, a harvest that is so very close to the soil, that distinguishing one from the other, or conflating one with the other — or even bringing in the gardener or the act of growth itself and conflating these things — is a constant temptation for the theologian and the cause of many errors.
2) There is actually a universal S, whatever alphabet you employ, whose meaning is within the alphabet itself: not a meaning that transcends the letter(s), but a Truth that is precisely contained in the syntax of the S itself. In this universal, Divinely gifted, original alphabet, there is no semantics, only syntax.
An indicated semantics or “meaning” is the wrong word to apply to the muqatta’at of this alphabet: it is more accurate to say that these letters are a literal conduit of Light from the Real to the Symbolic (the realm that we inhabit and perceive and write in). And, at the risk of sounding a bit nutty, it was through the bodily ascension of Idris into the Real that this conduit is effected.
The shin/sin is the Presence experienced within, and constituting, the Kingdom of signs. Literally. It is not a symbol, it is the kingdom. Our beloved Prophet (pbuh) perceived this offering in Revelation when he apprehended this sign, and we perceive it ourselves, recorded on the page : and through this Kingdom, the rest of the Revelation — the Kingdom itself, which is the Revelation — flowed into him, like water from a rock, and onto our page. Importantly, it is not a Symbolic entity, like everything we normally perceive and write, it is something rather like a Real hyper-hieroglyph. It is, precisely, what it represents.
The trace of this truth can be understood by meditating on the historical genealogy of S. Because if we do this, we get a connection back to Idris, the prophet who was taught the alphabet in the first place).
3) For example, the hypothesis is that our S derives — via proto-semitic alphabets — from the uraeus, the symbol of sovereignty — of Kingdom — used by the Egyptians, an upright snake attached to an orb — which linguistic archeologists say is the related symbol for Sun — although I suspect that there is something more going on here than a simple Sun.
Shams is of course Sun in Arabic, and its in Surah 91 (Ash-Shams) that we are taught what this “something more” is. A relationship between sun, moon, day, night, heaven earth and soul is brought out, all determined and spread and fashioned by the Creator, inspiring it to profligacy and piety.
I argue that this entire macrocosmic-logico-molecular composition is contained within the letter, as it was originally given to Idris.
And to deny the composition — to deny the essentially Temporal (and so Divine) — nature of this letter is precisely to read it as “just” a letter, which is what we do now — a letter whose value only derives from a semantics we project onto it. To create a semantics is to deny the she-camel of the syntax, the she-camel that should be free to graze upon an earth that nourishes her via the “S”.
And this is precisely the sin of Thamud, mentioned at the end of the Surah, who denounced. Recall that they built houses from the stabilizers — from the mountains. And then denied the she-camel who emerged from these stabilizers. They were true skeptics, living within the stabilization provided by an alphabet, refusing to perceiving that Gift which emerges from the syntax. A Gift, not of semantics, but of Presence and Grace, not projected onto, but emerging from. Their Messenger said: “Beware of Allah’s she-camel and her drinking time.” What did they denounce — what was their arrogance? It was to deny the interrelationships between these signs and domains. Because their interrelationships are the she-camel that emerges, moves through the desert, and what we call “time” is precisely the moment of her drinking.
4) Another, equivalent, way of putting things …
There is an other (equally good) hypothesis about what the precursor glyph — from which the Hebrew shin derives — is said to represent: it has been suggested that it is in fact a composite bow (turn the shin on its side and you can imagine this).
Recall that a rainbow formed within the Cloud was the sign given to Noah after the flood …
5) Fundamentally, the S is both a tranquility that descends upon us, and a sustenance that emerges from within our field, and through this, a means by which the Logos will fully return.
Looking for a connection to the Seal of Prophecy? From Noah we have a Rainbow’s connection to the Prophet’s final ascent through the Mi’raj, where he became close to Allah as two bows’ lengths. Through this movement, we will be reborn in a New World: by the length of two bows. One felt and experienced here, for the seekers, the other in the realm of “perfect speech” (Qur’an 88:11).
This is the kingdom, granted to the Prophets. It was given to Saul, who — because of his poverty — was chosen to be King: “The proof of his kingship is that there shall come to you the Ark in which there is tranquility (Sakina) from your Lord and the relics of Moses and the family of Aaron borne by the angels. In this there is a proof for you if you are real believers” (Qur’an 2:247-248). All proofs are conducted in Time: Time is, in fact, proof. The proof inhabits and runs through a battle that is no battle, because of the “S” of tranquility contained within, possessed by the Kings.
The bow perceived from Noah’s Ark. The letter of the King. Relationships running from sun to soul. Drinking time for the she-camel. Two bows’ lengths.
6) Having sketched a genealogy of commonality, a pseudo-archeological speculation of what is privileged in the syntax of one particular letter, a final point is to be made about difference between scripts, a difference that is the origin of privilege.
I believe that difference is, rather than a hinderance to our passage, is the means by which passage through the desert to the Truth. The two brothers and the alternating angels of the diamond dialectic. We noted their importance in the Qur’an’s verses on Saul’s inheritance of the ark (2:248), specifically in relation to the Kingdom’s S of Sakina. I am now tempted to describe a surprising inverted precursor to this in the Tanakh, in Judges.
Perhaps precursor is the wrong word, as the events described follow those described in the Qur’an, but are a direct side-effect (a shattering side-effect we might say), of Israel’s journey with Moses.
The story is interesting because it is about the difference between “shin” and “sin” — the different, splintered pronunciations of the same letter. And what this means in relation to battles and modes of approaching the dialectic of difference.
Recall that the diamond dialectic is the process of journeying through the desert, by which all Truth is obtained. It exactly what constitutes process of proof — is one of an interplay, a discourse — between martyrdom and victory, between a priest’s fana and a prophet’s revelation, between praise and reading, between ruku and itdal –between Aaron and Moses. We experience it all the time, but self-reflexively in theological debate, where people assume positions and negotiate their experiences by bouncing descriptions of them off of each other.
At any rate, if this interplay takes the form of brotherly love, then it is the diamond dialectic. Otherwise, it degenerates into war and mastery/slavery.
But what happens when an alien is introduced into the picture (or rather, a half-alien). In Judges, the people of Gilead (of the “hill of Testimony) call on Jephthah to serve as their Leader and Judge, having previously rejected him (because his mother was a concubine, while his father was Gilead) and sent him from their land and inheritance. They call him back because only he can defeat the Ammonites.
A foreigner, whose mother is the cause of his rejection by his half-brothers, whose father is Testimony, returns to Judge.
He defeats the Amonites for his half-brothers. But then the tribe of the Ephraimites (“double fruitfulness”) come to him, angry that they weren’t part of the battle (they were invited before but at that moment refused — now they come after the battle, jealous they didn’t get a share of the spoils of Victory). A secondary, internal war breaks out, with the Half-Alien Jephthah judging.
So in typically black humour, the following description is given of how the conflict resolved itself, with Gileadites defeating the Ephraimites:
Gilead then cut Ephraim off from the fords of the Jordan, and whenever Ephraimite fugitives said, ‘Let me cross,’ the men of Gilead would ask, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ If he said, ‘No,’ they then said, ‘Very well, say Shibboleth.’ If anyone said, ‘Sibboleth’, because he could not pronounce it, then they would seize him and kill him by the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites fell on this occasion. (Judges 12:5-6)
Shibboleth means both a part of a plant that contains grains — or a river or stream.
And thus, in a war of brother against brother … Annihilation for those who said “sin” instead of “shin”. Fana for the fruitful, victory for the Victorious. Sin in matyrdom and Shin in testament, conflicted, shattered. Because of an accent over the original sign! Pronouncing the “S” in grain/river.
And a judgement passed by an alien who is not. I argue that it is his foreign nature, the part of him that lies outside the language game of his half-brothers, from which his ability to wage war (and to lead) derives: his mother is difference, he is born of difference, and a warrior is nothing other than an expert in Metamodel Transformation, movement from one language to another. A master of cultural synthesis, is one way of putting things: a master of differentiated regimes is one who has power over all cities.
I submit to you (whoever has been kind enough to read this far!) that final War of Metamodel Transformation waged by our own Prophet, both an Alien, a Son and final inheritor of the Abrahamic tradition, precisely resolves and fulfills this conflict (hence the precursory echo), by perfectly brining together these two pronunciations of brothers, transmogrifying the conflict into … er … a Romantic Comedy between lovers: