Jun 1, 2023
“Zohar and Whitehead, separated by more than 500 years, both deliver us a map of the world where X marks the spot of the eschatological treasure.”
The Zohar is a work of Jewish mysticism, steeped in ancient Kabbalah and closely related to modern Hasidism; it appeared out of whole cloth in the city of Leon, Spain, c. 1400 CE. It is surprising then to see similar ideas at work in the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, a 20th century British philosopher and an Anglican Christian.
To recap, The Zohar is the story of our search for God and God’s search for us, mediated by what Kabbalists call the Tree of Life:
Keter (Crown): Le Neant, Nothingness
ZA (God’s essence): Love, Justice/Judgment, Beauty, Eternity, Splendor, and Righteousness
Malkhut (Shekinah): Kingdom, the World
The structure that Zohar identifies at the heart of Being is not imposed on Being or deduced from beings; it is Being per se! ‘To be’ is to be a ‘piece of fruit’ on the Tree of Life and by extension (fruit = seed), the Tree of Life itself. (The fractal structure of the Universe.)
Keter ‘manifests’ as Hokhmah, Wisdom (Sophia), a single point of light. Hokhmah ‘inflates’ (Big Bang style?) and manifests as Binah, Understanding. Understanding encompasses Wisdom; it is the ‘reception’ of Wisdom. Binah provides the ‘space’ needed for the marriage of Hokhmah and Malkhut to occur.
Fast forward to Century 21. Roger Penrose (of Hawking-Penrose fame) proposed a Cosmology (CCC) in which Heat Death (maximum extension) and Big Bang (minimal extension) are mathematically equivalent. In the language of CCC, the 5 branches of the Tree of Life are congruent.
Binah is the womb of all things (Malkhut). Think Logos in the Christian tradition (John 1: 3). It faces Hokhmah on one side and Malkhut on the other. Keter (nothing) and Hokhmah (point) are eternal; so is Binah (extension). But within the eternity of Binah lies spacetime, a mode of extension, i.e., Malkhut, the Kingdom, our World.
Binah is where Wisdom meets World; but between the two lies ZA, God’s essence…which is God. ZA consists of the 6 virtues (qualities, behaviors) of Emmanuel (‘God with us’). God’s essence is God’s substance. Keter/Hokhmah may be ‘what God is,’ but ZA is ‘who God is.’
What of Whitehead? His cosmology is built around a single God manifested in two Persons (Personae): God’s Primordial Nature (PN) and his Consequent Nature (CN). Personae because each Nature, by itself, is fully God. Yet the two Natures are radically distinct, they have no common elements. PN consists entirely of concepts (values) while CN consists entirely of entities (events), yet each Nature is implicit in the other.
The Primordial Nature of God is ZA, the totality of God’s values. The Consequent Nature is Malkhut, the totality of events as they are redeemed in Binah. Ultimately, Malkhut, clothed in ZA, unites with Keter/Hokmah and the promise of Universe is fulfilled.
Events originate in Malkhut (Whitehead’s ‘Actual World’) on account of the teleological attraction of Hokhmah, felt as the qualities of ZA. The unfolding of each such event in the cosmic womb (Bihah) is driven by God’s values (ZA). To paraphrase W.B. Yeats, “Its hour come round at last, (Malkhut) slouches toward Bethlehem (Binah) to be born.”
Malkhut is the nexus of every event that is or ever was. Absent Hokhmah, Binah and ZA, events would occur haphazardly, revealing no pattern and disclosing no values. Such a world is not actually possible, but if it were, it would be featureless…and terribly sad.
Fortunately, our world is not that world. Zohar and Whitehead, separated by more than 500 years, both deliver us a map of the world where X marks the spot of the eschatological treasure. Amazingly, the two maps overlay almost perfectly. Yet there’s no evidence that either mapmaker was even aware of the existence of the other map. Is this evidence of authenticity?
Either way, in the intellectual history of the West, Whitehead and Zohar converge!
David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at email@example.com.