[NB] Orders Profane and Holy: 7

Only the Messiah himself consummates all history, in the sense that he alone redeems, completes, creates its relation to the Messianic. For this reason nothing historical can relate itself on its own account to anything Messianic. Therefore the Kingdom of God is not the telos of the historical dynamic: it cannot be set as a goal. From the standpoint of history it is not the goal but the end. Therefore the order of the profane cannot be built up on the idea of the Divine Kingdom, and therefore theocracy has no political, but only a religious meaning….

If one arrow points to the goal toward which the profane dynamic acts, and another marks the direction of Messianic intensity, then certainly the quest to free humanity for happiness runs counter to the Messianic direction; but just as a force can, through acting, increase another that is acting in the opposite direction, so the order of the profane assists, through being profane, the coming of the Messianic Kingdom. The profane, therefore, although not itself a category of this Kingdom, is a decisive category of its quietest approach. For in happiness all that is earthly seeks its downfall, and only in good fortune is its downfall destined to find it.—Walter Benjamin, “Theological-Political Fragment” in Reflections (312; emphasis mine)

Let’s look at the book of Revelation in light of this structure. I don’t think it will be a perfect match, but the notion that there is a profane world which, developed, calls forth its own Messianic conclusion allows us to better appreciate the operations of the Apocalypse. That messianic movement takes place along the axis of the sevens, what in Kabbalistic terms refers us to the double letters in their generative aspect in the Sefer Yetzirah. This moves us closer to the substance of the transition from the seven churches to the renewed twelve tribes.

It is complicated material and I won’t pretend to have the whole of it. I remain convinced of its connection to the broader network of Kabbalistic and Gnostic material, but preserving what is distinctive in it while allowing it to be informed by comparisons with them is no small task. Preserving the strucutre and distinctions made within John’s Apocalypse is a key part of that, so as you read this, keep in mind that I am trying to establish resonances between the series which allow the profane and messianic to communicate with each other; I don’t want to conflate them, which is precisely the mistake Benjamin for which criticizes theocratic thought.

As Benjamin notes, what joins the messianic and the profane is the Messiah, a figure who moves through both in alternation. This is especially true for the book of Revelation, which positions itself between one coming of the Messiah to the profane and a future coming. So, in the profane world, we have the seven churches and their spirits, the candles and their flames, while in the Messianic Kingdom we find the seven seals and the seven trumpets. There are several other sevens, but these seem to be the central ones.

Circulating through both orders is the central figure of John’s Apocalypse, the Lamb of God:

I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.—Revelation 5: 4-9

To get all the way to the redeemed city with its twelve gates, we are going to pass through the cycle of fours that four beasts and twenty-four elders initiate (four beast, four horseman, four winds, and so on), but let’s set that aside for the moment to dwell upon the Messiah with seven eyes and seven horns.

When John was presented with a vision of the seven churches, he saw them as candles with spirits arrayed above them as stars. After the vision of the Messiah, he will be presented with a vision of the book which possesses seven seals which, upon their completion, liberate seven angels with trumpets. As a movement and power that animates both, the Messiah resonates with both. Using some simple notation, let’s map this out. Where the colon (:) indicates “relates to” and a double colon (::) “as”:

Churches:Eyes :: Stars:Horns

while

Eyes:Seals :: Horns:Trumpets

which in turn produces a triplicate structure:

Churches:Eyes:Seals :: Stars:Horns:Trumpets

Recall that apocalyptic literature has its roots in the Yom Kippur rite of atonement in which two sacrificial goats are deployed to separate the profane from the sacred. Here in a powerful fashion, the Messiah embodies both, descending into the churches as well as ascending into the Messianic kingdom. The imagery of each is potent, too. The stars above the candles suggest flames and flames consume candles, carrying the Messianic power down into the remains, the husks, of the candle, the goat cast into the pit.

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us

The seals and trumpets proceed to animate the election and sanctification of the Messianic Kingdom. While this is profoundly destructive, it is also profoundly liberating. The seals are opened + the trumpets announce. The process of election itself, with its two orders of holy spirits merit a bit of discussion, but, again, I’ll save that for another time. Suffice to say, that while the order of the churches is one of consumption (and it is this consumption that is most clearly witnessed in Revelation), the seals and trumpets prepare for the assumption of souls into a higher order.

Lamb of God who takes way the sins of the world, grant to us peace

There is a little bit of contemporary iconography that works against us appreciating some of the connections between these series in Revelation. We are often shown the seven trumpets as brass instruments, but read against the Judaic frame that is so clearly part of Revelation, the horns are probably something else. The book of Revelation entails a final accounting, a conclusion to the cycle of atonement and repentance commemorated in Yom Kippur.

What is it that is blown at the end of Yom Kippur? A shofar.

A trumpet made out of a ram's horn.

The implication is that the trumpets being blown by the angels are the horns of the Lamb of God which, taken together, bring the cycle of time to an end. Remember, too, that in the medieval Kabbalistic texts described by Segol that one of the major goals of working the Sefer Yetzirah was to temporarily suspend the movement of time itself.

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One thought on “[NB] Orders Profane and Holy: 7

  1. Pingback: Formation and Demolition – Disrupt & Repair

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