The LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give unto all this evil that was come to the decisive step of mathematical abstraction
Gulf Of Mexico
“TELL ME,” said Uriel, “ABOUT THE WORD ‘KABBALAH’ ITSELF”.
“Well,” said Sohu, “the Hebrew root contains the three letters kuf, bet, and lamed, and means ‘tradition’. Kuf connects Binah to Hesed, and Bet goes from Chokmah to Hesed, so both cross the Abyss and symbolize something transmitted from God to Man. Lamed, on the other hand, goes to Yesod, which signals the background superstructure of the universe. So the whole effect is one of hidden knowledge that points to the Divine, meaning that the connotations of the individual letters perfectly match the connotation of the word, exactly as would be expected.”
“THAT IS VERY GOOD. GO ON.”
“We find analogues in almost every other language. For example, the Arabic ‘qibla’ means the direction you face to pray, which is also about pointing to the Divine, albeit in a more literal sense. In Hindu myth, the sage who brought the secret divine knowledge to Earth was named ‘Kapila’. The Latin ‘capella’ means cloak, which is also about secrets and hidden things, as is the English ‘cabal’, and even the English ‘cable’ if you think of it as an undersea cable transmitting information below the surface. Also some version of the word ‘chaplain’ or ‘kaplan’ means ‘priest’ in pretty much every European language.”
“THAT IS RIGHT AND YOU ARE GOOD,” said the angel, but he was fidgeting with his hands. It was never good when he was fidgeting with his hands.
“All right! Fine! Out with it!” said Sohu. “This is even more annoying than when you criticize me. What did I forget?”
“What did I forget? Just tell me.”
“WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF TURKISH, IN WHICH ‘KAPLAN’ INSTEAD MEANS ‘TIGER’?”
Sohu let out a sigh. “Nothing,” she said. “I make nothing of Turkish. What does a tiger have to do with hidden divine knowledge anyway?”
AND WHAT SHOULDER, AND WHAT ART
COULD TWIST THE SINEWS OF THY HEART?
AND WHEN THY HEART BEGAN TO BEAT,
WHAT DREAD HAND AND WHAT DREAD FEET?
WHAT THE HAMMER? WHAT THE CHAIN?
IN WHAT FURNACE WAS THY BRAIN?
WHAT THE ANVIL? WHAT DREAD GRASP?
DARE ITS DEADLY TERRORS CLASP?”
Sohu applauded, geniunely delighted. It was the first sign the archangel had shown of being familiar with literature. “You know Blake?” she asked.
“KNEW,” said Uriel. “I THINK HE IS DEAD NOW.” Then, “HE DID NOT LIKE ME VERY MUCH.”
“What was he like? Was he all weird and prophetic in person?”
“YES,” said Uriel.
“Neat!” said Sohu.
“YOU SHOULD LEARN TURKISH.”
“Stop trying to make me learn every human language!”
“TURKISH IS INTERESTING. IT IS THE MOST WIDELY SPOKEN LANGUAGE IN THE TURKIC FAMILY AND HAS AN INTERESTING AGGLUTINATION SYSTEM.”
“I don’t want to learn Turkish! I want to learn how to blow up mountains! Or at least see mystical visions like William Blake did! I’ve been good, Uriel! I’ve spent two years now learning all of the correspondences and all sorts of crazy half-reconstructed proto-languages and done everything you asked! This is boring!”
Uriel thought for a long time.
“OKAY,” he said.
“I WILL TEACH YOU CERTAIN SIMPLE MAGICS, IF YOU AGREE TO CONTINUE YOUR STUDY IN THE CORRESPONDENCES.”
“Really? Really?! You’re the best!” She opened her arms in a hugging motion, although because of the size difference it was no more than symbolic.
“WE DISTINGUISH AMONG FOUR TYPES OF KABBALAH, CORRESPONDING TO THE FOUR WORLDS. THE THEORETICAL KABBALAH CORRESPONDS TO THE WORLD OF ATZILUTH. IT IS THE ANALYSIS OF THE FORM OF ADAM KADMON. THIS FORM IS UNTOUCHABLE AND THE SLIGHTEST CHANGE TO IT WOULD PROBABLY DESTROY THE WORLD.”
“That’s what we’ve been learning so far?” asked Sohu.
“YES. BELOW THIS, CORRESPONDING TO THE WORLD OF BRIAH, IS THE CELESTIAL KABBALAH. THIS IS THE MANIPULATION OF THE RULES BY WHICH THE FORM OF ADAM KADMON PRODUCES EFFECTS IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD. IT IS THE FORM OF KABBALAH WHICH I USE TO RUN THE UNIVERSE. I AM THE ONLY ENTITY WHO UNDERSTANDS THIS FORM, BUT ONE DAY YOU WILL BE CAPABLE OF LEARNING IT AS WELL.”
“BELOW THAT, CORRESPONDING TO THE WORLD OF YETZIRAH, IS THE APPLIED KABBALAH. THIS IS THE MANIPULATION OF THE LOWER-LEVEL CONCEPTS AND ARCHETYPES. THE ANGELS AND SOME OF THE GREATEST SAGES HAVE MASTERED IT. SO HAVE YOUR SISTERS AND BROTHER.”
“And below that is…”
“THE WORLDLY KABBALAH. THE USE OF DIVINE NAMES. ANY HUMAN CAN MASTER IT, ONCE THE APPROPRIATE NAMES ARE KNOWN. YOU MAY LEARN THESE ON YOUR OWN. WE WILL START WITH THE APPLIED KABBALAH.”
“Okay,” said Sohu. “Teach me applied kabbalah.”
“YETZIRAH IS THE WORLD JUST ABOVE MATERIAL REALITY,” said Uriel. “IT IS THE WORLD OF ARCHETYPES…”
Uriel cleared his throat to get Sohu’s attention. When she was looking at him, he disintegrated into a bolt of lightning, then reappeared a mile above her head.
“NOW YOU TRY,” he said.
“Humans can’t do that!” she protested.
“YOUR FATHER CAN.”
“My father does a lot of things.”
“YES. THAT ONE IS CALLED KEFITZAT HADERECH. IT MEANS SHORTENING THE PATH. IT WAS PERFORMED BY THE GREATEST SAGES OF OLDEN DAYS. TODAY WE WILL LEARN IT.”
“What? You’re going to teach me to teleport? Uriel, you are the best!”
“YOU ARE AN EMANATION OF DIVINE STRUCTURE, PASSING FROM ATZILUTH TO BRIAH TO YETZIRAH TO THE PHYSICAL WORLD. THE SECRET OF TELEPORTATION IS EMANATING INTO THE PHYSICAL WORLD SOMEWHERE ELSE. SIT DOWN AND CLOSE YOUR EYES.”
Sohu did as directed.
“IN THIS WORLD, YOU ARE A BODY. IN YETZIRAH, THE DREAM WORLD, YOU ARE A COLLECTION OF THOUGHTS AND POSSIBILITIES AND ARCHETYPES. GO TO THAT WORLD.”
“YOU DO IT EVERY NIGHT. NOW YOU WILL DO IT WHEN WAKING. STOP THINKING IN TERMS OF THINGS AND THINK OF THE MEANINGS BEHIND THEM.”
“I don’t know the meanings behind things!”
“YES YOU DO. THEY ARE THE CORRESPONDENCES YOU HAVE BEEN WORKING WITH FOR YEARS. SPACE IS A METAPHOR. TIME IS A METAPHOR. ALL THE CLOUDS AROUND US ARE METAPHORS. MY VOICE IS A METAPHOR. TAKE ONE STEP IN THE DIRECTION OF THE THING THAT THEY ARE METAPHORS FOR.”
“I don’t think the clouds are a metaphor.”
“EVERYTHING IS A METAPHOR. EVEN IF THERE WERE A CASE OF SOMETHING NOT BEING A METAPHOR, THE EXISTENCE OF THE CASE WOULD DEFINITELY BE A METAPHOR FOR SOMETHING.”
“What are the clouds a metaphor for?”
“WHAT ARE THE LINGUISTIC CORRESPONDENCES OF THE WORD CLOUD?”
“C-L-D. Clod, also a formless collection of dark earth. Clued, as in clued in, having received revelation. Clade, a collection of life given a form. Compare also “occlude”, to hide the form of. In Hebrew ‘anan’, compare noun, nomen, all ways of reifying and giving form – oh, and noon, perfect brightness, everything revealed, and Japanese ‘nan’ meaning ‘what’ or ‘thing’. In Latin nebula, compare Arabic ‘nabi’, meaning ‘prophet’, one who reveals, gives form to the hidden, and Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the Promised Land revealed before him before he died.”
“WHAT ARE THE BIBLICAL REFERENCES TO CLOUDS?”
“Exodus, 16:10, ‘Behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.’ Numbers, 12:5, ‘and the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud’. Job, 22:13 ‘How doth God know? can he judge through the dark cloud?” Psalms 18:11 ‘He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.'”
“WHAT ARE THE CLOUDS A METAPHOR FOR?”
“Form and formlessness, light and darkness, things hidden and revealed, God. But no, it isn’t that at all. It’s more than that. It’s hard to explain.”
“NO. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO EXPLAIN. LANGUAGE IS PART OF THE MATERIAL WORLD. THIS IS HIGHER. TAKE ONE STEP TOWARDS THE THING YOU CANNOT EXPLAIN.”
“OPEN YOUR EYES. BUT LOOK THROUGH THEM, NOT WITH THEM.”
Sohu opened her eyes. She saw things that were hard to explain.
“ARE YOU OKAY?”
“I’m the thing that being okay is a metaphor for.”
“YES. DO YOU THINK YOU CAN GET BACK TO ASSIAH? THE MATERIAL WORLD?”
“I think so. Maybe. Yes.”
“DO IT. BUT COME BACK IN A PLACE DIFFERENT FROM WHERE YOU LEFT.”
“IS SOHU BEING IN A DIFFERENT PLACE AN EQUALLY GOOD METAPHOR FOR THE LEVEL YOU ARE CURRENTLY AT AS SOHU BEING IN THE ORIGINAL PLACE?”
“THEN WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?”
Upon hearing this, Sohu was literally enlightened.
“I turned into a lightning bolt I turned into a lightning bolt I turned into a lightning bolt and then I went places I can go anywhere!”
“YES. YOU HAVE BEEN MENTIONING THAT FOR THE PAST TWO DAYS.”
“I know! It’s great! Hey, I can go to a restaurant and get something to eat other than manna! I can do it as lightning.”
“YOU LEARN HOW TO TELEPORT AND YOUR FIRST THOUGHT IS TO USE IT AS A MORE EFFICIENT FORM OF DRIVE-THRU?”
“No, my first thought was ‘I turned into a lightning bolt this is so awesome’. My second thought was using it to go to restaurants.”
“NOW THAT YOU HAVE LEARNED HOW TO ENTER YETZIRAH, YOU MUST CONTINUE TO LEARN HOW TO MASTER IT. BY MANIPULATING YETZIRAH YOU CAN CAUSE POWERFUL DOWNSTREAM EFFECTS IN ASSIAH.”
“Can I create food?”
“I HAVE A JOB FOR YOU”.
“A WHILE BACK I FORGOT TO HAVE A SOLAR ECLIPSE.”
“You forgot? A solar eclipse?”
“THEY USED TO BE AUTOMATED BEFORE THE SKY CRACKED. NOW I DO THEM BY HAND. BUT AFTER EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED IN MADRID, I GOT DISTRACTED AND FORGOT. I SHOULD HOLD AN EXTRA ONE TO CATCH UP.”
“Don’t you think having an extra solar eclipse at a time when it’s not supposed to happen will be really weird?”
“I WILL GRADUALLY SPEED UP THE SUN AND SLOW DOWN THE MOON SO THEY INTERSECT. NO ONE WILL NOTICE.”
“Uriel, people have calculated the exact dates of all solar eclipses up to like the year 3000.”
“Why don’t you just let this one pass?”
“SOLAR ECLIPSES HAVE IMPORTANT KABBALISTIC SIGNIFICANCE. THE SUN REPRESENTS TIFERET. THE MOON REPRESENTS YESOD. VERY BRIEFLY THESE TWO SEPHIROT CANCEL EACH OTHER OUT, ALLOWING DIRECT COMMUNICATION BETWEEN KETHER AND MALKUTH.”
“What does that mean?”
“YOU WILL SEE.”
“That sounds sinister.”
“YOU WILL STEP INTO YETZIRAH DURING THE SOLAR ECLIPSE. WHILE YOU ARE THERE, YOU WILL SEE VISIONS OF THE PAST AND FUTURE.”
“What kind of visions?”
“I DO NOT KNOW.”
“You look worried. Is everything all right?”
“I AM NOT SURE YET. THE OMENS ARE BECOMING OMINOUS.”
“Aren’t omens ominous by defin- ”
Sohu thought for a second.
“Uriel, did you really forget a solar eclipse?”
“Something’s wrong, isn’t it?”
“NO ONE WILL NOTICE IF THERE IS ONE EXTRA SOLAR ECLIPSE.”
“I promise you, we notice these sorts of things!”
“THERE WAS A WHOLE YEAR WHEN THE MONTH OF MARCH LASTED AN UNMEASURABLE AMOUNT OF TIME AND NOBODY COMPLAINED.”
“1969? Uriel, everyone complained! It was horrible! I read about the Long March in history books! People are still traumatized by that!”
“OH. UM. I AM REALLY SORRY.”
“…it’s okay. You tried your best. And there haven’t been any infinitely long months since then.”
“THERE WAS AN ETERNAL SEPTEMBER ONE TIME, BUT THAT WAS SOMETHING DIFFERENT.”
“THIS WILL NOT BE LIKE THAT. I JUST NEED TO SPEED UP THE SUN AND SLOW DOWN THE MOON AT THE SAME TIME. EVERYTHING WILL GO WELL.”
“THE SUN WILL BE IN THE RIGHT ALIGNMENT NEXT MONTH. YOU NEED TO PRACTICE GOING INTO YETZIRAH SO YOU CAN DO IT INSTANTANEOUSLY WHEN THE TIME COMES.”
“YOU SEEM ODDLY HAPPY ABOUT THIS.”
“Do you know what this is?”
“A SOLAR ECLIPSE?”
“It’s the first time I can help you with something important!”
“AH. SO IT IS.”
“I am going to practice all month and together we are going to rock this solar eclipse.”
“IS THAT A GOOD THING OR A BAD THING?”
Eeeee, Sohu being adorable! Also, worldbuilding!
So, applied kabbalah is almost certainly the thing going on when entities have been fighting with word manipulation — Uriel and Thamiel did it way back, and Jinxiang and the Drug Lord did it most recently. It’s not worldly kabbalah, and it can’t be celestial kabbalah because only Uriel understands that, so unless it isn’t kabbalah at all (which seems unlikely by both Doylist and Watsonian reasoning), it must be the same sort of thing as the turn-into-lightning trick.
I wonder what words Sohu will manipulate that get her into trouble, because that seems like the obvious sort of thing to happen.
But if directly manipulating words is the applied kabbalah, why is Sohu special? Remember, it was Sohu’s ability to see words and tug at them that got her sent to Uriel for celestial kabbalah training…
So celestial kabbalah is the manipulation of the rules of reality in an “objective” sense that is nonlocalized. Notably, Sohu’s ability to perceive the symbols something special she can do without any particular effort.
Whereas this seems to be the deliberate evocation of symbols and metaphors; Uriel says Yetzirah is the world of archetypes, and the word-combat certainly seems based on that. Sohu’s ability to perceive it so readily may be an outgrowth of her talent for celestial kabbalah, but this isn’t anything we’ve seen her able to do (yet), nor have any of the word-combatants besides Uriel been able to produce a global effect like making the rivers of the world run in reverse.
Applied kabbalah is science. Turning HRCN into CHRN is molecular chemistry, where you’re working with existing elements and tweaking them.
Celestial kabbalah is being able to change the laws of physics. Simplistically, rivers running downhill is because of gravity. Rivers running uphill is against the course of gravity, so Sohu changed how gravity works. As offspring of the Comet King, who is the offspring of an archangel, Sohu has an innate capacity for this (Uriel may be the only one who up to now could do it, but that does not mean any other archangel was unable to, simply that Uriel was the only one who both studied it deeply enough and was indifferent enough/conceited enough to think he could improve upon/replace it by using maths instead).
(It’s worth pointing out, though, that rivers running uphill did happen, human-caused, in at least one significant story in the Talmud. So like that specifically isn’t TOTALLY OUT OF REACH of humans…) ((I think only one time? I know Yehoshua made it stop…))
Real humans have done this before, when we reversed the flow of the Chicago River.
This sent all of Chicago’s trash west to the Mississippi.
To be or she that mentioned the Talmud. Actually in that story God reversed the river in order to prove that Rabbi Elazar was correct on his understanding of halacha. (The congregation still didn’t listen though). So that resonates well with Sohu. Seeing as the river probably happened because URIEL decided that it was more optimal for runtime
I wonder if Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 will be relevant somehow. It broke in 1992, was discovered in 1993 (this chapter is in 1993), collided with Jupiter in 1994, is an errant astronomical event with a Jewish name …
I’m guessing it won’t (there’s a bit of a difference between a solar eclipse and an interesting comet incident) – I can’t imagine how Scott would work it in – but I can hope!
We know from “Miss American Pie” that Levy is a reference to the Law and divine judgment, and “Shoemaker” has all kinds of interesting implications. Seems like too good an opportunity to waste.
Sorry, I’m missing something, what is the significance of an Sternal September?
Old Usenet slang. Originally, you could only get on at universities, so new users would join in September when class started. They wouldn’t know the rules and would generally cause chaos. Eventually AOL gave Usenet to all its subscribers, so you had new people all the time and eternal chaos
Puts “Wake me up when September ends” in a whole new, possibly darker, light.
I mean, the song was already about the death of his father while he was a child, so I’m not sure a Usenet joke is a darker interpretation.
In this world, online discussion forums tend to have a marked decrease in post quality during the summer months when “the kids are out of school” – i.e. September. “Eternal September” is a metaphor for when the quality of a forum has degraded so much that it seems like the school-holiday dip never ends.
You are mistaken. September is not typically a school-less month in the US.
This is reversed. September is when the freshmen start college and get Usenet accounts, and haven’t been acculturated to the Internet, and so bring down the quality of discussion. Eventually they learn the norms and things revert to normal.
Eternal September is the state of the Internet after it was opened up to everyone–there was always someone new who had not acculturated, and so everywhere felt perpetually swamped by newbies.
The reversal is relevant, though.
Since the old days of Usenet, internet access became ubiquitous and internet usage became the limited factor. As a result, 4chan and similar complain about a rush of new users ever summer – high school kids with nothing better to do. It’s the September problem played in reverse.
Meanwhile, of course, Eternal September continues on every major site everywhere.
In the old days, it used to be that each September university freshmen would get their accounts, flooding usenet/etc, causing disruption with their n00bh00d until they could be beaten down into conforming members of the community. And all was well. But then AOL started carpet bombing the US with AOL free trials, producing an Eternal September of n00bs. Since then the internet has never been the same.
Note that AOL discontinued Usenet service in 2005. For Usenet, after twelve years, the Eternal September finally ended.
(in something akin to heat death, sadly)
But by that time there were plenty of other providers offering Usenet access to people outside universities.
Ha! Nice bit of history here. The Eternal September was in September 1993. The missed eclipse seems to have been the May 1993 one.
And the name “Eternal September” itself was coined no earlier than 1994 (for all we know, at least). Uriel, you need to stop making these anachronisms.
We only know the names of three of the Comet King’s children, I believe: Sohu, Nathanda, and Jinxiang. “The Voices Of Children In His Tents” mentioned “four… babies”, so there is one baby unaccounted for who might yet be a son.
This is not the first mention of the fourth child being a son. It was mentioned in Chapter 36 earlier.
Thanks, I’d missed that.
This makes me think that maybe his son has been mentioned, but never by name. A man with royal blood, one whom he could not defeat. Not because he lacked the ability, but because he lacked the will to strike the final blow.
Thanks, I also missed the reference to the brother.
I wonder this about TOK too, but until now it seemed really plausible that he would be The Other One (Acher, the powerful rabbi who was too holy to go to heaven and too sinful to go to hell — i.e. who was essentially undead.) After all, Uriel definitely made it sound like he’s still around somewhere…
I never liked Acher for the Other King because I’m an apostate with problems with theodicy and so I’m sympathetic to Elisha ben Abuyah and clinging to other candidates. It just seems like a big leap from heresy to mass murder. Even though he went about systematically violating the Law, it WAS systematic, as far as we know–not really evil, not even irrational, very deliberate. Remember Uriel made the Law, not God.
The fact that Uriel lost track of him is pretty worrying, but it does suggest that he’s not routinely breaking Uriel’s rules.
@boris, agree wholeheartedly! If anything, I expect the Acher to appear at some point and play a positive role in the plot!
@boris: I too, also as an apostate with problems with theodicy am very sympathetic to Elisha ben Abuyah. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure that Elisha is the Other King. It just wouldn’t make narrative sense for it to not be him, the way it’s been set up and foreshadowed.
Again, Elisha ben Abuyah is someone I have long admired and looked up to. He represents the fight against an unjust and evil god, and Elisha’s stance is one that, if God were real, I would hope that I’d have the guts to take. To stand up to God and to say: You may be powerful, even omnipotent, but that doesn’t give you the right to bully me.
So he is a personal hero for me. But still he’s always felt to me like an anti-hero. Just because someone is a hero, doesn’t mean they’re a nice person. In many cases, a character being generally a not-nice person can cast their heroism into sharp relief: They’re not what they do to be nice, they’re doing it because it’s important.
So I can totally see Elisha being the kind of person who’d commit mass murder. Remember the story from the Talmud where he wants to kill a kid because with that kid’s speech impediment it sounds like he’s making fun of Elisha?
If you don’t, here’s the story: Rabi Meir, who was Rabi Elisha’s former student, took Elisha around to see some schools. In the first school, they come across a student, and Elisha asks him what bible verse they studied that day. The student recites Isaiah 48:22: “There is no peace, says the lord, unto the wicked”.
Meir hurries Elisha away from that school before he can respond, and takes him to another school. Once again, Elisha asks a kid what he studied that day, and the kid tells him Jeremiah 2:22: “For though you wash yourself with nitre and use much soap, your inequity is marked before me, says the Lord God.”
Again Meir hurries him away, and at the next schoolhouse again Elisha asks a kid what he studied today, and again the answer is a verse about how God is merciless and vengeful to the wicked. And at the next schoolhouse, and the next, and the next. They visit thirteen schoolhouses in this fashion. Finally, at the last one, once again Elisha asks his question of the student, and once again the verse is one boding ill for evildoers. It’s Psalms 50:16: “To the wicked God says: For what reason do you recount my statutes?”
But this kid has a speech impediment, and when he says רשע “wicked”, it sounds like he’s saying אלישע, “Elisha”, so that the Bible verse sounds like it’s a rebuke from God aimed directly at Elisha: “To Elisha God says: For what reason do you recount my statutes?”
At this, Elisha turns to Meir and says: If only I had a knife, I’d cut this kid to shreds.
Anyway, I don’t really know what the moral there is meant to be, but it’s not that Elisha is a gentle and kind person who loves humanity. In fact, the various stories in the Talmud about him make him out to be kind of a cantankerous old man, who has seen tons of war and suffering, which has made him quite bitter and cynical. Remebmer: He was a contemporary of Akiva and Bar Kochva. He saw all his friends rise up in rebellion against tyrant, and be crushed under the heels of the Roman legions.
Another story from the Talmud (short this time): In the ruins of war-devestated Judea, he saw a dog dragging the severed tongue of the famous Rabi Yehudah. He exclaimed: Is this the reward for studying and following the Torah? This is a tounge from which words of wisdom and kindness used to shine forth all the days of his life. No, it seems that there is no justice, no reward to the righteous. The dead can never return to life!
The point is, he’s one of the few survivors of horrible devastation, all his contemplates are dead, and he’s left alone, cursing at God and the world. I could absolutely imagine him as the Other King.
Elisha fans: HAve you read “As a Driven Leaf”? (I think it’s been recommended here before). If you liked ASOIAF but found it too darn cheerful, you’ll like AADL.
Thanks, this is a very interesting comment. But I could read the story with the boy in two ways:
1) Well, when you provoke a person, even the best of us sometimes loose our temper and say stupid things or behave stupidly. So, while the boy was not to blame, the circumstances were such that to the inflamed mind of Elisha it looked like he was provoking him, or maybe, that God himself was provoking him with all these taunts, which actually sounds like it could have been the case! So, Elisha flips and vents. Still a long way from this to mass murder, mind.
2) Also, obviously the rabbis who compiled the Talmud would like to smear the apostate – so, I would not be surprised if the particulars of the story were twisted or invented entirely.
The second story does not support the view of a mass murderer either, or even a misanthrope.
Al this to say that it is a long way from a person rebelling against God’s injustice towards humans to actually committing such injustice on mass scale himself. Unless he totally lost his marbles.
The point of the second story isn’t that he’s a misanthrope, not by a long shot. Rather, he’s… seen things, horrible things, the cruelty and horror of the unjust world. He’s seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion and so forth, like tears in the rain. You get the point.
But I do think you got the point of the first story, and that’s what makes it interesting. Let me back up a moment and answer first your second point:
It is interesting to note that the Talmud, much as it treats Acher as a bad guy, has a surprising amount of respect for him. In fact, the most famous story that involves him, the one about the Pardes, the whole point is that these four guys are the wisest of the wise, the greatest of the great. In his generation, Acher is considered second only to Rabi Akiva, the greatest Rabbi in all Jewish history. Those four who entered the Pardes, Simeon ben Azzai, Simeon ben Zoma, Acher, and Akiva, where the greatest minds of their time, and indeed among the greatest ever. The Talmud makes that very clear.
The moral of the story of the Pardes is that even the greatest of the great can die, go insane, or become an apostate. Or become the leading figure of rabbinic Judaism. All these are things that can happen, depending on the individual.
Or at least that is one interpretation of the story. However you interpret it, the story involves the four wisest and most learned of the Tannaim, and Elisha ben Abuya is among their number. Other places in the Talmud too: he is considered one of the wisest of the wise. When all his contemporaries are dead, Elisha is one of the last bastions of that generation’s wisdom.
So while the composers of the Talmud indeed didn’t like him as a person, they did respect him a ton, and I wouldn’t necessarily assume they’d automatically badmouth him.
Back to the matter of context. I now realize that in telling the first story, I kind of told you the punchline without really giving the background. This incident isn’t meant to show that he’s a guy with no self control. Quite the opposite. The point is that despite being a guy with so much self control, he still loses his cool when God starts mocking him like that.
All in all, Elisha is portrayed by the Talmud like what Yudkowsky describes as a thourand year old vampire. He’s old, ancient event, and wise. Very wise. Smart and with ancient knowledge lost to time. And also like a thousand year old vampire, his demeanor is calm and focused, but you can see behind his eyes a very cold and calculated malice. Or not malice, if you don’t want to call it that. But he’s a very wise and learned man, who is very intent on his goal, that is to say his opposition to the unjust God.
One of the longest stories about him in the Talmud (don’t worry, I won’t recount all of it, and anyway, it’s not that long), involves him, the old master, riding into town, and his former apprentice, Rabi Meir, comes out to speak to him. Once close friends, now they are, in a sense, on opposite sides, but their still is a deep respect between them. They converse, and Meir is pleading to him to return to the light side of the force, as it were. Think of it as kind of like Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, except that it’s the teacher that has since turned to the dark side, not the student.
Elisha says that he can not and will not. He says he has heard the voice of God emanating from behind the heavently curtain, like it says in the book of Jeremiah: “Return, O backsliding children”. He goes on to say that the voice added a clause not found in the book of Jeremiah: “Return, O backsliding children, except for Acher, who rebelled against me.”
So yeah, what Uriel said about the very specific voice is actually straight from the Talmud, from Elisha’s own mouth. The Talmud can be a bit weird. Weird in a good way, the way Unsong is weird. Unsong is a good book partially because of all the cool and wacky weirdness. And much of it comes straight from the Talmud.
But I digress, as I’ve gone a bit off track, and that last part of the story was kind of irrelevant to my main point, which is that if you read Hagiga 77b in the Talmud Yerushalmi/Hagiga 15a-b in the Talmud Bavli, the impression you get of Elisha is of a very smart, very wise, very learned, very collected man, who has made it his personal mission to defy and to fight against God. And indeed, that’s what I respect and admire most about him.
But shortly after the story I just described, Meir takes him around to visit the schoolhouses, as I talked about in my first comment. And yes, God provokes him, and he flips. That is the point. What the story shows is that despite being wise, despite being learned, despite being insanely collected and focused, when you make God your enemy, he doesnt play nice, and you can’t beat him, because the deck is stacked against you. He doesn’t need to even fight you, he can sit back and taunt you, and even just with that overcome and defeat you.
It paints a bleak picture, at least if you aren’t on the same side as God. God wins, God always wins. That’s what it means to be omnipotent. He can mock you until you lose your cool, and you can’t really do anything to him. It is much to Elisha’s credit (in my personal opinion), that despite knowing this more than anyone, he still stands against God. He still doesn’t stand for the world’s injustice.
So my point with the first story isn’t to say that Elisha is a bad man, an evil man, who’d just choose to commit mass murder. But… he’s a man pushed to his limits, and beyond. God taunts him, and he can’t strike back. He’s trapped in an endless battle against an omnipotent foe he has now hope of ever defeating, who ceaselessly mocks him and pokes at him.
I could see him snapping, that’s all I’m saying. Indeed, it’s more than just that I could see him snapping. That story shows how he was in that case pushed to the point of snapping. Despite everything, despite being so coolly focused on one goal, his hatred of God’s injustice, he still is human, he still can snap. That was the point that I was making with that story.
Would he commit mass murder? The man portrayed in the Talmud, who hates injustice more than anything, who he alone is willing to truly stand against God? No, he wouldn’t. I agree with you on that.
You say that unless he lost his marbles he wouldn’t commit mass murder. I wouldn’t put it in that strong terms. You don’t need to literally go insane to to become that which you hate in relentless pursuit of your impossible goal. One could even say that it’s perfectly natural to react that way, to be pushed father and father, until at last you find yourself indistinguishable from that which you oppose.
It’s an old story, and one that rings true to our narrative experience. Both realistically and narratively, it feels like it is inevitable.
(And also, come on. To have a story containing both a guy named “The Other” and a guy named “The Other King”, who could be one and the same, but then in the end are different people? That’s just bad form.)
Ha! I’ve speculated about this before:
Yes, TOK being the TCK’s son makes sense, although Aaron (or Scott) would have to have very good reasons for obscuring this info.
I’m inclined to think that the son is dead now. Note how Jala was especially upset over the “death of the firstborn”? And he seemed really off at that dinner, as if he’d had a really traumatic experience recently, such as the death of his son. This would mean that one of the plates belonged to his wife or Malia Ngo or Uriel or somebody.
If so, I would feel somewhat cheated by the description in chapter 17:
Sohu + 3 other Cometspawn + Father Ellis + Uncle Vihaan + TCK = 7 people at the table. To deliberately elide one of the people at the table in order to conceal that only 3 Cometspawn were present and someone else was in her brother’s place is narratively unfair.
It might be a counting error by the author.
I actually don’t think so; the “seven” thing is emphasized enough that it’s probably important. Thinking it over, I think my original idea was wrong and it is indeed the wife that is missing.
Well, SOMEONE made a counting error somewhere. With 7 people at the table there should have been 8 cups of wine, with the extra one being for Elijah (symbolically).
We used to have a theory that Father Ellis (or maybe uncle Vihaan) was Elijah (Vihaan is an anagram of Hanavi, aka the prophet, aka Elijah). But it looks like that was wrong.
Also, the implication is that he was that way because of the death of his wife. When talking about TCK’s death, Aaron said he was depressed because “His great crusade had failed, his wife was dead…” but mentions nothing about a dead son.
Except maybe hinted by what Marvy is talking about here:
TCK says in Chapter 36 that Nathanda was firstborn, and she’s definitely alive there (well, I guess it’s possible she’s undead, but it seems very unlikely).
Could it perhaps be Kayne?
So what’s Uriel getting bad omens about? They’re two years from Aaron’s birth right now. Did The Other King appear between this chapter’s dateline and 1995? I can’t remember.
(And I’m on a phone and looking it up is inconvenient)
Chapter 30 says the Other King first appeared as a Vegas cult leader in the mid ’90s, so it seems like a strong possibility.
A certain ship name suddenly looks rather unfortunate.
Yes, but what is the existence of the Not A Metaphor a meta-metaphor for?
It’s a meta-metaphor for humanity’s desire for some lack of meaning sometimes?
Maybe a meta-metaphor for nihilism?
For the unavoidability of metaphor, obviously!
Perhaps we’d be better off if we started considering the complement in a small domain, like topology, and working from the highest levels first.
What is the existence of the Not A Methaphor NOT a meta-4 knot metaphor for?
Damn. A lot of time and pages and Unsong-craziness and comment discussion (and this specific chapter) were necessary to get to the point where you could use this particular play-on-words, and make it relevant.
Viewing visions of the past and future during a solar eclipse?
This is more than a little reminiscent of Homestuck.
Sohu is a Prospit dreamer but waht about the rest of the cast.
Malia Gno is definitely Dersite
Can’t be that reminiscent. I don’t even remember such a part of Homestuck.
You must have been awake during that part, then.
This whole story kind of reminds me of Homestuck just because of the sheer amount of insanity and hilarity.
Now waiting eagerly for chapter 44-b
Awww man, everything will not go well will it ?
Someone might pick a particularly unfortunate time to boil a goat in his mother’s milk ?
I have a feeling that either Sohu or Uriel (or both?) isn’t with us in the 2017 storyline
Interlude Waw is dated 2017 and mentions Uriel in the present tense.
This nicely dovetails with the way the Vanishing name works – if you are good at the applied kabbalah, you can stretch your metaphors a bit. But if you are using the earthly kabbalah, then you are constrained to using the best available non-trivial metaphor.
Could be Sohu was the one who came up with the way to target the vanishing name, then. Especially since it looks like only the cometspawn have it.
I thought it was just placebomancy, like the way Lin targeted the Motive Name on the Panama Canal locks.
Surprisingly, it seems that the negative consequences of the Madrid incident were not the immediately obvious ones.
Unexpected total eclipses of the sun are a great way to summon Faustian demons in the form of unidentified plants. So, um, maybe a bad idea.
Strange and interesting ones.
You’re getting your plants mixed up, aren’t you? Audrey II doesn’t arrive during an eclipse, but the Triffids do.
If we’re lucky they might be Lauren Faustian though. And then everyone is saved by ponies.
For anyone wondering: Yes, that Kefitzat Haderech.
Borrowed from Wikipedia:
Herbert was reading the Talmud too.
IT WAS PERFORMED BY THE GREATEST SAGES OF OLDEN DAYS. ALSO BY THAT GUY WHO WAS ON “TWIN PEAKS”. THIS IS KABBALISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT BECAUSE [five-hour monologue about the nature of duality, prophecy, and the importance of cherry pie]
Also, the importance of Blake remains unexplained.
I feel like it was well explained when Armstrong said “William Blake was right about everything.”
Yes, of course – but why? Just another arbitrary “coincidence”? Is there no in-story reason?
Uriel and Blake met, this could hint to the fact that Blake got kabbalistic knowledge from Uriel himself
It’s important that A continues to equal A.
At the next level up, all the known physical laws end up being mathematical functions of each other, or include factors that are functions of the other laws. If you change one, necessarily you change all its dependencies, meaning you change everything, meaning all known forms of stability stop being stable, meaning most things get teleported to the top of exothermic clines and subsequently explode.
It’s kabbalah instead of physics is Sohu’s world, but a sudden change of all the kabbalic correspondences would have the same effect.
So… why does becoming more the thing you are a metaphor of and then back again somewhere else involve lightning?
Because one travels through enlightenment, and those who so travel strive to bring enlightenment to the world, so lightening is an intrinsic part of who they are and what they strive to do.
That works… Though appearing/disappearing flash of light would fit with that just as well, no?
People might interpret the flash of light as lightening since it is sudden and bring something of the divine upper worlds into the manifested world.
The flash is likely just divine Cherenkov radiation due to breaking the local lightspeed limit. The vanishing name seems slower, and does not cause a flash.
Because “as above, so below” and “the macrocosm reflects the microcosm, the microcosm reflects the macrocosm”. Sohu moving from a higher to a lower world is like an electron moving from a higher to a lower energy level:
This is cheating. “Cabal” actually indirectly comes from “kabbalah”.
Nothing is ever a coincidence, but some things are non-coincidental in more overt ways than others.
If that were cheating chaplain would be too.
both chapel and chaplain originate from capella.
Only sort of! It seems to have gained popularity because the five members of the original cabal had last names whose first letters spelled out C-A-B-A-L. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabal_Ministry.
This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.
Well, the “Tyger Tyger” shoe had to drop sometime. Yeah, several chapter titles already came from it, but now the story’s starting to engage with its meaning. Very excited to see where that goes.
One notable correspondence that I can think of is with Fahrenheit 451, in which the third and final section is titled “Burning Bright.” This section chiefly concerns an underground group that memorizes and disseminates forbidden knowledge (especially linguistic and religious knowledge) in defiance of government authorities and in preparation for an upcoming apocalypse. All together now: this is not a coincidence…
Also “quibbler”, meaning one who worries over fine details.
I guess this is the nitpick thread?
How could Uriel ever get to know Blake personally if the latter lived during the time when the universe ran on mathematics?
Because Blake consorted with metaphors.
I wasn’t clear on whether Uriel existed during the non-metaphorical time or not.
He told Nixon he was STILL MOSTLY METAPHORICAL.
Uriel existed mostly as metaphor, and Blake dealt extensively in metaphor, so…
Is there a good reason you didn’t call the lowest level asiah?
> Sohu applauded, geniunely delighted.
In Russian “kabala”: slavery as a result of a debt.
Something about Infinite Debts to the One who created us?
I really liked this chapter. It was fun, we got to learn a little about what’s going on and it always nice to check in on Sohu and Uriel.
Remember what Sohu said about the combination tav-resh in Chapter 26? Well, TR is the two-letter country code for Turkey and in our universe Turkish Airlines is the airline which flies to the largest number of different countries. The latter most definitely doesn’t apply to the Unsong universe, but I bet something big happened in the Bosphorus, which is kind of the Eurasian equivalent of what the Panama Canal is in the Americas.
That’s killed me.
Also, extremely, extremely impressed by working in the Turkish for “tiger” and Blake 🙂
Come on, that was already in Interlude Zayin.
Yeah, I literally laughed out loud at that one.
The attribution of the verse from Job, “‘How doth God know? can he judge through the dark cloud?'” should be Job 22:13.
Theory: This is leading up to Uriel and Sohu witnessing future dangers (possibly TOK), and solving them by creating Aaron (who was born two years after this). The mysterious person manipulating the 2017 storyline behind the scenes is Sohu.
Aaron’s mom = Mary? (divine conception)
Adrian Teller = Joseph? (absentee father)
Aaron = Jesus??
Sarah = ??? (Holy Spirit?)
I was getting used to chapters with a little more action (in a good way). I think it was time Sohu and Uriel did something important for the story. Apparently nuking Madrid was an kind of irrelevant in the grand scheme of things and had no lasting repercussions, so I don’t really count it as action. While the other storylines are going ok, I feel this Has been stalling for some time.
Thamiel was disincorporated. That was important.
Only for a time though, he got better, he always does.
Uh, no… Not really… He probably got better soon, right?
Just to add to my comment: we also “know” we’ll have another chapter in which someone will perform a magical ritual that will end up in climatic revelation (or fail spectacularly and destroy the world or something). This is very dangerous from the writer’s point of view, because the revelation better deliver. It seems safer to have the ritual to play out in the same chapter it is announced and either show the revelation right away (and deal with the consequences in a future chapter) or to leave the revelation for the beginning of the next chapter. That way, even if the revelation does not in fact deliver, you get a chapter of action / people dealing with the consequences.
<blockquote perfect brightness, everything revealed,
one who reveals, gives form to the hidden, and Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the Promised Land revealed before him before he died.”
The connection between Mount Nebo, clarity/lightness, and flight/rapid transportation has been well established.
Also, there’s a mount Nebo in Utah. I wonder what the kabbalistic implications of that are.
I keep wanting to read the entire works of William Blake so I can know exactly how the Unsong universe works, and everything that will happen in the story. Then I realize I don’t have nearly the right mental architecture, and it would take me months, and it’d be easier just to wait for Scott to finish.
That being said, after Unsong is over if anyone is willing to put together a comprehensive BlakeUnsong correspondence guide, there might be a market for it among us commenters?
Your first paragraph applies to me verbatim, and the answer to your second paragraph is YES
At this point I bet the readers think we’ve been paid off on the angels cant speak Aramaic thing. After all Aaron used it to outwit an old and powerful angel. But I think we still have more payoff to go.
I notice that Uriel is telling Sohu to learn languages a lot. Not just once or twice. He is really pushing the idea. This chapter shows us that power in Kabbala comes st least partially from know more correspondences. More languages more correspondences more power. Uriel knows every language but one. His power is vast but limited. But theoretically Sohu could learn ALL the languages and have power that surpassed any angel.
Oh no! double post! how do i delete it?
oh nice idea.
Yeah, I wondered if the inability to speak Aramaic extended to Uriel… Not sure how he could teach Sohu Talmud without Aramaic. He also uses some Aramaic names (Akiva, e.g.) where Gadiriel could not even say “Bar Kochba” (although The comment kings suggests an explanation for this)
Given how important very minor seeming details can be. Uriel might be able to speak it because he is an ARCHangel and the rule referred to angels specifically.
I think Gadiriel is an archangel and she cannot speak Aramaic.
Do we know this? Where from?
No, there are only ten archangels. Most have been permanently killed; the only remaining ones are Uriel, Metatron, and Raziel.
In fact, in Chapter 28, it was specifically said that Gadiriel and Samyazaz were “lower-ranking angels”.
Huh, I stand corrected.
Possibly Gabriel too.
Chapter 19 says that the normal angels believe Gabriel to be dead.
Well, he was alive when Uriel started his job, so either those angels are mistaken or he somehow was killed during the time angels were only metaphorical.
My understanding is that the transition from the Biblical universe to Uriel’s machine was a long, gradual process. Like, thousands of years long. If so, angels probably kept existing for quite some time after Uriel began.
I wouldn’t call someone X son of Y in Mandarin, since I don’t know the language and have know idea how to say it. That doesn’t prevent me from speaking a name from that language (I might mispronounce, but that is another matter), I just wouldn’t know what it means.
Angels (and as pointed bellow, we don’t know if this extends to archangels) just can’t understand and learn Aramaic, that doesn’t mean they should be incapable of pronouncing a word from that language. Give me the phonetic symbols and I can (more or less) pronounce any word from any language, regardless of knowing anything about it (now I wonder if the Angels are also fluent on the IPA).
As for the Talmud, any particular reason why she couldn’t just study a translation?
Right, makes sense and is implied in The comment king’s comment: to call Jala “Bar Kochba”, Gadiriel would have to understand what “bar kochba” means, which she cannot, but she could still pronounce it in some other circumstance.
Talmud might be a bit tougher – is there a more or less full, accurate translation of Talmud Uriel could use?
Sohu could teach Uriel Aramaic.
She couldn’t. Angels are completely incapable of learning Aramaic.
Yeah, it is this weird mental block, like face-blindness.
If so, then the entire content of the climactic chapter will be puns that work in Aramaic.
At this point I bet we are meant to think we’ve been paid off on the angels cant speak Aramaic thing. After all Aaron used it to outwit an old and powerful angel. But I think we still have more payoff to go.
I notice that Uriel is telling Sohu to learn languages a lot. Not just once or twice. He is really pushing the idea. This chapter shows us that power in Kabbala comes st least partially from know more correspondences. More languages more correspondences more power. Uriel knows every language but one. His power is vast but limited. But theoretically Sohu could learn ALL the languages and have power that surpassed any angel.
I’m surprised* Sohu forgot to point out my favourite thing about it: The gematria value of “Kabbalah” is 137, the inverse of the fine structure constant.
*Well, I guess it makes sense, since Sohu probably doesn’t know physics and for all we know the fine structure constant doesn’t even exist anymore in unsongverse. But it’s still pretty cool.
Late edit: Also, the room number of the hospital room where Wolfgang Pauli died. NIEAC.
also 137 is almost 1337 (visually not numerically)
This works out, since the significance of 1337 is visual rather than numerical.
137 there be light 😛
Really enjoyed this chapter ? as a native hebrew speaker, though, I take issue with how sohu said the hebrew root K-B-L means tradition. I mean, it certainly is that too. But at its base K-B-L means to accept or recieve. One can recieve, for example, a package. The meaning of tradition is derived from that – it is “the accepted way”. When a thing is “mekubal”, it means it is agreed upon. “Mekubal” is also the title many jewish kabbalists take on – “one who understands the kabbala”. But it also has a third meaning – “popular” (espcially of a person). A popular person is one accepted by his peers. Similarly, a container (any container that can hold liquid, such as a bottle, cup or bowl) is a “kli kibul” – literally “vessel of acceptence”. It can “accept”, or “recieve”, any liquid given to it. Note that it can also hold and ‘contain’ it – accepting something in part, or without retaining it, is not acceptance at all. Lastly, the hebrew word for ‘receipt’ – all definitions of receipt – is simply “kabala” 🙂
So to tie all this into the chapter and story, the hebrew word “kabbala” is about accepting the divine light that pours into creation from the divinity that is beyond creation – accepting, and attempting to grasp. I can understand why Scott, through Sohu, chose to simplify to “tradition”, though – the jewish view of tradition matches up almost exactly with the concept of “divine knowledge of the structure of the universe being passed down to man beyond the abyss [of time]”.
I think the kabbalistic root analysis in the beginning of the chapter is inaccurate.
According to (Hebrew and English) wikipedia, Het is the letter that connects Binah to Hesed, Kuf actually connects Hod to Yesod.
Lamed connects Hesed to Tiferet.
Now that I’m looking for it, I can find 2 or 3 different versions online of which letters symbolizes which connection, giving completely different graphs of the Sephirots’ connections. I can’t find which one you’re working with, though.
He’s using this one: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tree_of_life_bahir_Hebrew.svg
The Hebrew root kuf, bet, lamed doesn’t mean “tradition” – it means “receive.” The word Kabalah itself means tradition, based on the root word – tradition is something received from previous generations. In modern Hebrew, “kabalah” means receipt (like from a grocery store).