Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism
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Abstract: Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism© 2007 Timothy ScottOriginally published as ‘Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism’(Vincit Omnia Veritas 3.1, 2007)________________________________________________________________________
Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism
© 2007 Timothy Scott
Originally published as ‘Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism’
(Vincit Omnia Veritas 3.1, 2007)
The Kings of Edom 1
It is taught in the Sifra di-Zeniuta: Before Atika Atikin prepared His attributes,
He constructed kings, inscribed kings, and conjectured kings, but they could not
survive, so that after a time He concealed them. This is [the meaning of] the
verse “And after these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom” (Genesis
36:31). … And if you say that it is written “And he died…and he died…” and
[this means] that they were completely annulled, this is not really the case, for
whoever descends from the first stage of his existence is referred to as if he had
dies, as it is said “the king of Egypt died” (Exodus 2:23), because he descended
from the first stage of his existence. … But they did not really live until the
image of Man was prepared. When the image of man was prepared they
resumed another existence, and lived.
(‘The Death of the Kings’, Zohar III, 135a-135b, Indra Rabba)
Do not despise the Edomite, for he is your brother. (Deuteronomy 23:8)
I called my son out of Egypt. (Matthew 2:15)
‘Edom’ remarks Leo Schaya, ‘symbolises sometimes the imperfect or unbalanced state
of creation preceding its present state–the latter being an ordered manifestation of the
Fiat Lux’ 2. As Gershom Scholem notes, ‘This conception of primeval worlds also occurs
in the “orthodox Gnosticism” of such Fathers of the Church as Clement of Alexandria
and Origen, albeit with a difference, in as much as for them these worlds were not simply
corrupt but necessary stages in the great cosmic process.’ 3 According to Kabbalah, the
On the Edomite Kings see Zohar III, 128a, 135a, b, 142a, b, 292a, a. See Tishby, The Wisdom of the
Zohar (Vol.1), 1991, p.332-3; Schaya, The Universal Meaning of the Kabbalah, 1971, pp.107-10; Mathers,
The Kabbalah Unveiled, 1991, § § 41, 56, pp.43, 84-5.
Schaya, The Universal Meaning of the Kabbalah, 1971, p.156, n.1.
Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 1995, p.354, n.30.
Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism 2
Edomite kings were constructed of pure Judgment and contained no Mercy. ’Edom (;אדם
“red”), derives from the word ’âdâm, (“ ;אדםto show blood”), where red, as Isaiah
Tishby observes, is the colour of strict judgment. 4 The “Death of the Kings” refers to the
inability of onto-cosmological manifestation to maintain itself before the advent of the
image of supernal Man. Tishby: ‘The system of emanation had not yet been prepared in
the image of the supernal Man, which constitutes a harmonious structure by balancing the
opposing forces. In the idea of the image of Man even the forces of destruction of “the
other side” are able to survive. … Once the image of Man had been prepared all the
forces that were not able to exist before existed in it.’ 5
Supernal Man: this is Adam Kadmon (“principial man”), also called Adam ilaah
(“transcendent man”). He is the “prototype” upon which the Universe is modelled–‘the
Universe is a big man and man is a little universe.’ This is the Islamic doctrine of Al-
Insānul-Kāmil (“Universal Man”). 6 In his introduction to al-Jīlī’s treatise, Al-Insān al-
Kāmil, Titus Burckhardt remarks that, ‘With regard to its internal unity, the cosmos is …
like a single being; – “We have recounted all things in an evident prototype” (Qur’an 36).
If one calls him the “Universal Man,” it is not by reason of an anthropomorphic
conception of the universe, but because man represents, on earth, its most perfect
image.’ 7 A distinction arises between Universal Man and Primordial Man or Pre-
Adamite Man (al-insān al-qadīm). This, mutatis mundis, is similar to the distinction, in
the Chinese tradition, between Transcendent Man (chün jen) and True Man (chen jen),
which is the same as that between “actually realised immortality” and “virtual
immortality.” René Guénon explains:
“Transcendent man,” “divine man,” or “spiritual man” are alternative names for someone who
has achieved total realisation and attained the “Supreme Identity.” Strictly speaking he is no
longer a man in an individual sense, because he has risen above humanity and is totally liberated
not only from its specific conditions but also from all other limiting conditions associated with
Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar (Vol.1), 1991, p.332, n.252.
Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar (Vol.1), 1991, p.333, n.258, 259.
See al-Jīlī, al-insān al-kamīl (tr.) Burckhardt, 1983; also Burckhardt, An Introduction to Sufi Doctrine,
Burckhardt, intro. to al-Jīlī, al-insān al-kamīl, 1983, p.iv. Elsewhere Burckhardt cites St. Gregory
Palamas as saying, ‘Man, this greater world in little compass, is an epitome of all that exists in a unity and
is the crown of the Divine works’ (An Introduction to Sufi Doctrine, 1976, p.76, n.3).
Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism 3
manifested existence. He is therefore, literally, “Universal Man,” whereas “true man”–who has
only reached the stage of identification with “primordial man”–is not. But even so, it can be
said that “true man” is already “Universal Man,” at least in a virtual sense. 8
According to Kabbalah, the sefirah Hesed (Mercy) corresponds to Abraham, Din
(Judgment) to Isaac, and Tiferet (Beauty) to Jacob. Jacob is the balance of Mercy and
Judgment, the harmonised “image of Man” who, in his realised state, is Israel. Yet Jacob
was not the first born to Isaac: ‘When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold,
there were twins in her womb. The first came forth red, all his body like a hairy mantle;
so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came forth, and his hand had taken
hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob’ (Gen.25:24-6). The name Jacob,
Ya‘aqôb ( ,)יעקבmeans “heel catcher,” from the primitive root ‘âqab (“ ;עקבto swell”).
The image is of Jacob (order) “swelling” or rising out of the chaotic waters of potentiality
(Esau), an image that is common in creation myths. Again, when we think of the
“redness” of Esau as “blood” then one is lead to think of the swelling of the woman’s
belly with the foetal child, which has the same relationship with the “blood” of the
placenta as Jacob has with Esau. Esau is potentiality, Jacob is actuality or realisation.
Then, as Genesis 36:1 tells us, Esau is Edom. The Edomite Kings are ‘the kings who
reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites’ (Gen.25:31); as
Jacob follows Esau, usurps the birthright and becomes the chosen child, so too Israel
follows Edom, and so too creation follows the potential for manifestation.
The symbolism of Edom is found with the Exodus from Egypt, for Egypt is commonly
identified with Edom in the Kabbalah. 9 Moreover, the Hebrew word for Egypt,
Mitsrayim, is the dual of the word, mâtsôwr, implying the sense of “a limit.” As Schuon
Guénon, The Great Triad, 1994, p.124. On the “Supreme Identity” see Guénon, Man and his Becoming
According To The Vedānta, 1981, Ch.24.
Zohar III, 135a-135b associates the “kings who died” to the “king of Egypt who died” (Ex.2:23). Edom
is metaphorically identified as both Egypt and Rome (see Schaya, The Universal Meaning of the Kabbalah,
1971, p.156, n.1). From a socio-symbolic level the civilization of Egypt preceded the civilization of Israel
and the civilization of Rome preceded that of Christianity, yet each was necessary for the following
civilization to emerge.
Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism 4
says, ‘To say manifestation is to say limitation.’ 10 In being unmanifest potential, Edom is
still the first limitation.
Again, this symbolism is found in the symbolisms of both the Ark of Noah and the
Ark of the Covenant; both express the “receptacle of Divine Immanence,” which is to say
they express the “limits” of manifestation. In the case of the Ark of Noah the state of
non-distinction is well expressed by the waters of the deluge. In the case of the Ark of
the Covenant this state is expressed by the “desert” or wilderness of the Exodus. Just as
the flood lasted forty years, so Israel wandered in the desert for forty years, and so, might
it be added, did Christ undergo his testing and “purification” during his forty days in the
desert. Both the flood and the desert express the idea of purification through a return to
primordial chaos. Again, from a perspective that might be described as “linear,” both the
mythology of Noah’s Flood and the story of Moses and the Ark of the Covenant allude to
primordial chaos by the “states” described prior to the flood and prior to the exodus. In
the first case this is expressed by the age of the Nephilim, the “wicked” generation of
Noah. In the second case this is the exile of the Israelites in Egypt. Both of these share
in the Kabbalistic symbolism of the “Death of the Kings of Edom”: ‘And these are the
kings that reigned in the land of Edom’ (Gen.36:31).
Egypt is an analogue of Edom. The identification of the wicked generation of the
Nephilim with the Edomite Kings is more obscure. The Nephilim are said to have been a
race of “giants”; symbolically the Nephilim correspond to the Titans of Greek legend, the
Mountain Giants of Norse legend and the Asuras of Hindu myth. 11 In each tradition
these represent the “unbalanced” state preceding the “Olympian” order. It has further
been suggested that the “war of the Titans” corresponds, mutatis mundis, with the “war of
the kings” (Gen.14:1-16), 12 where the “war of the kings” is again identifiable with the
Edomite kings. Genesis 36:31 says, ‘Bela the son of Beor reigned in Edom, the name of
his city being Dinhabah.’ Tishby explains that ‘the Hebrew word bela signifies
Schuon, In The Face Of The Absolute, 1989, p.35.
Bentley (Hindu Astronomy Pt.1, 1970, pp.18-27) refers to the famous “Churning of the Ocean”
(Mahabharata 1.15) as otherwise being called the “War between the Gods and the Giants.”
See for example Skinner, The Source of Measures, 1982, p.207.
Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism 5
“destruction,” and the whole name is like that of Balaam, son of Beor, who is on “the
other side”.’ 13 Dinhabah we should understand as related to Din (Judgment). Here one
might suggest the identification, at least symbolically, of “Bela the son of Beor” with “the
king of Bela” (Gen.14:8). Added to this, readings from the Sefirah Dtzenioutha, the Book
of Concealed Mystery, and Ha Idra Rabba Qadisha, the Greater Holy Assembly, suggest
the identification between the Kings of Edom and the kings of Genesis 14, albeit in an
esoteric way. In the Book of Concealed Mystery it is said, ‘Thirteen kings wage war with
seven.’ 14 These “thirteen kings” are “the measures of mercies,” insomuch as these
represent the unity of the Tetragrammaton. Thirteen answers by Gematria to the idea of
unity: ‘For ACHD, Achad, unity yields the number 13 by numerical value’ 15. The “seven
kings” are the seven Edomite kings named in Genesis 36:31-40. There are, in fact, eight
kings named in this passage; moreover, there are nine principal personages when we
recognize the importance of Mehetabel, the wife of Hadar (v.39). However, concerning
the first seven kings it said of each that “[He] died.” Chapter 26 of The Book of
Concealed Mystery explains that after Adam was constituted these seven were ‘mitigated
in a permanent condition through him’; they ceased to be called by their former
appellations and hence are considered to have “died.” Concerning Hadar and Mehetabel
it is taught that they were not abolished like the others because they were male and
female, ‘like as the palm tree, which groweth not unless there be both male and female.’
Hence, they did not “die” but remained in a fixed condition. 16 ‘Thirteen kings wage war
with seven kings’ and, as we are told, there were ‘nine vanquished in war’ (i.e. the eight
kings of Gen.36 and Mehetabel). Consider then: Genesis 14:9 is explicit in stressing the
odds “four kings against five.” This suggests the nine aspects of Edom (the eight kings
and Mehetabel). When the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah flee (v.10) the odds shift to
four kings against three, which reveals the seven Edomite kings who died. The “thirteen
kings” who waged war with the seven correspond to Abraham who, as Hesed (Mercy), is
the “measure of mercy.”
Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar (Vol.1), 1991, p.332, n.256.
Mathers, The Kabbalah Unveiled, 1991, p.102.
Mathers, The Kabbalah Unveiled, 1991, p.47.
See Mathers, The Kabbalah Unveiled, 1991, pp.176-7; also Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar (Vol.1),
Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism 6
The relationship between Israel (actuality) and Edom (potentiality) is complementary.
Deuteronomy 23:8 says, ‘Do not despise the Edomite, for he is your brother.’
Manifestation can never exhaust the indefinitude of potentiality, which is to say that there
is a continuity of potentiality. A Jewish tradition ties this idea to the mythology of Noah.
It is said that at the time of the Flood the giant Og begged admittance to the Ark. He
climbed on to the roof and refused to leave. 17 In this way the potentiality of the “giants,”
the Nephilim, remained with the Ark through to the next generation.
In the Second Slavonic Apocalypse of Enoch there is yet another intriguing reference
to Edom that relates it directly to the Flood myth. 18 According to the story of the birth of
Melkisedek (Melchizedek), Nir (“light”)–the brother of Noe (Noah)–to whom the new
baby had been entrusted was warned by the Lord that He planned “a great destruction
onto the earth” (the Flood), but the Lord reassured Nir that before this event the archangel
Michael 19 would take the child and put him in the Paradise of Edem (Eden). Chapter 72
finds Michael taking the child: ‘I shall take your child today. I will go with him and I
will place him in the paradise of Edem, and there he will be forever.’ 20 However in verse
nine we find the child placed in “the paradise of Edom.” 21 Again, Schaya recalls that
during the destruction of the second Temple, itself another case of the dissolution of the
Judaic “world,” all twelve tribes went into exile in the kingdom of Edom. 22
Another incident that deserves consideration in light of the symbolism of Edom and
the “imperfect or unbalanced state” preceding the “ordered manifestation” is the
destruction of the original tablets of the Law (Ex.32:19). Here one recognises a similar
relationship between Esau-Jacob and Jacob-Israel; allowing for certain differences of
symbolism, what Esau is to Jacob, Jacob is to the Community of Israel. Thus, as Jacob
ascended and descended the “Ladder”–the axis mundi–to become Israel, so too Moses
Pike de Rabbi Eliezer, Ch.23, cited in Rappoport, Ancient Israel (Vol.1), 1995, p.212.
See Andersen (tr.), 2 (Slavonic Apocalypse of) Enoch, Appendix: 2 Enoch in Merilo Pravednoe:
Charlesworth (ed.), The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Vol.1), 1983, pp.204-12.
The [J] text has Michael while the [A] has Gabriel. On the relationship of Michael and Gabriel see
Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, 1995, pp.50-51.
2 Enoch 72.5.
2 Enoch 72.9. It is strange that this apparent anomaly receives no recognition by Andersen.
See Schaya, The Universal Meaning of the Kabbalah, 1971, p.156.
Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism 7
ascended and descended Mount Sinai bringing the Testimony that transformed the
Israelites to the “Community of Israel” as such. 23 But, in conformity with the symbolism
being considered, the prototype tablets had to be destroyed before the Law could be
brought forth in a perfect state.
A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became
four rivers. (Genesis 2:10)
Between Edom and Eden there is a similar relationship as between Esau and Jacob and,
by analogy, between the potential of Jacob and the realisation of Israel, or again, between
Eden and the Garden. Here it is a matter of the hierarchy of Being and of perspective,
from “above” or “below.” According to Kabbalah there is an Upper and a Lower Eden,
respectively Binah and Malkhut, and these are the “upper firmament” and the “lower
firmament,” 24 the “Upper Mother” and the “Lower Mother,” 25 the Upper and Lower
The name ‘Eden ( )עדןderives from the primitive root ‘adan (“ ;עדןto be soft or
pleasant”) expressing the sense of “pleasure” or “enjoyment.” However, the New
Jerusalem Bible speculates that the word Eden may originally have meant “open
wastes.” 27 This suggests the word tohu (“formless”; chaos), as in the opening of Genesis:
‘Now the earth was a formless void (tohu and bohu)’. Eden is the sea of potentiality from
which creation stems; it is potentiality of fecundity, as the “ground”–Meister Eckhart’s
grunt–is potentially the garden. According to the perspective adopted, onto-cosmological
The Community of Israel is a cognomen of the Shekhinah.
Zohar I, 85b-86a.
Zohar I, 247b; III,7b-8a.
It is said: ‘The two letters of the upper firmament called Mi are contained within it [the lower firmament,
Malkhut], and it is called Yam (sea)’ (Zohar I, 85b-86a). Tishby adds by way of a note: ‘The Hebrew
letters of the word Mi, i.e., m, y, a designation of Binah, are reversed in the name for Malkhut, forming the
word yam (sea)’ (The Wisdom of the Zohar (Vol.1), 1991, p.351, n.453).
New Jerusalem Bible, 1994, p.19.
Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism 8
potentiality presents either a positive (Eden, “pleasure”; plenitude) or negative (Edom,
“open wastes”; chaos) face.
Eden corresponds to the sefirah Binah, which is called the “Great Sea.” 28 Ananda
Coomaraswamy observes that, ‘the Sea, as the source of all existence, is equally the
symbol of their last end or entelechy.’29 Mircea Eliade remarks that the symbolism of the
Waters expresses ‘the universal sum of virtualities; they are the fons et origio, “spring
and origin,” the reservoir of all the possibilities of existence; they precede every form and
support every creation.’ 30 Peter Sterry poetically describes this as ‘a fountain ever
equally unexhausted, a Sea unbounded’ 31. The symbolism of the Sea refers to the
“depth” and possibility of the Infinite; this is complemented by the symbolism of
Darkness, which refers to the unknowability of the Infinite. The symbolism of the
fountain is that of the active Essence that brings life through creation.
‘A river flowed out of Eden’ (Gen.2:10); here again is the symbolism of “the fountain”
and “the Sea.” The river that flows out of Eden is the active Essence–the same with the
Spirit (Ruah) that moved on the Waters and, again, with the Fiat Lux that brings light
from darkness. In the same way that zero contains the possibility for number and one
contains all numbers virtually, so too the symbolism of the word Eden ( )עדןcontains the
idea of the “river” that flows out of it. The letter ayn symbolically expresses the idea of a
“fountain” gushing forth; it is also an “eye,” that is, the divine Eye through which the
creative Light of the Fiat Lux flows out. In accord with the “law of inverse analogy” the
human eye is a receptacle through which light, as we perceive it, flows in. Daleth, the
second letter of Eden, is symbolically a “door”; it is the opening that the river of ayn
flows through. At the same time this idea of the door partakes of ayn insomuch as it is an
eye or opening. The letter nūn, which completes Eden, is symbolically a “fish”; suffice
Mathers, The Kabbalah Unveiled, 1991, p.25.
Coomaraswamy, ‘The Sea’: Selected Papers (Vol.1): Traditional Art and Symbolism, 1977, p.406.
Coomaraswamy continues here to say, ‘The final goal is not a destruction, but one of liberation from all the
limitations of individuality as it functions in time and space.’ The sea is a common symbol of the spatio-
Eliade, Sacred and Profane, 1987, p.130; see also Patterns in Comparative Religion, 1983, Ch.5.
Sterry, Vivian de Sola Pinto, in Peter Sterry, Platonist and Puritan, 1934, cited in Perry, A Treasury of
Traditional Wisdom, 2000, p.31.
Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism 9
to remark that the fish expresses the potentiality of water in a “living form.” Noted then
that Edom expresses a similar symbolism with two informative differences. The first
letter of Edom is an aleph, symbolically expressing an “ox,” where the ox is a well know
symbol of Cosmic Substance.32 The final letter is a mem, symbolically expressing
“water,” that is to say, it precedes the “living form” (the fish) and highlights the
unformed or chaotic nature of potentiality.
Eden is unmanifest Existence in its state of biunity: Essence undifferentiated from
Substance–recalling the ambiguity of the words ayn and ousia. The “river” is the vertical
ray of Essence in act upon the horizontal garden (Substance). It is said that the river
divided and became “four rivers,” these being the four symbolic directions of a horizontal
plane of existence, the same with the “face of the waters” (Gen.1:2). 33 This same
symbolism is found in the Zohar (II, 13a-13b), with the difference being that in this case
it is the Spirit (Ruah) dividing into the “four winds.” 34 The details we are given
concerning these “four rivers” reveal a cosmogonic symbolism. This, of course, is not to
deny a geographical reading but simply to recognise the primacy of the cosmogonic
reading in this case. In this respect it is enough to recall that the plan precedes the
The first river is Pishon, Pîyshôwn (“ ;פישוןdispersive”). 35 This word is closely
related to the word Pîythôwn (“ ;פיתוןexpansive”), which derives from the root pothâh
(“ ;פתהto open,” as implying a secret place). Pishon is said to ‘wind all through the land
of Havilah’ (Gen.2:11), where Havilah, Chavîylâh ( ,)חוילהmeans “circular” from chîyl
(“ ;חילto whirl”). To whirl in a circular manner: the image here may be compared to the
See “ox,” “bull” and “cow” in Chevalier & Gheerbrant, Dictionary of Symbols, 1996, (pp.730; 131 &
As Guénon observes: ‘a degree of Existence can be represented by a horizontal plane of indefinite extent’
(Symbolism of the Cross, 1975, p.58; see Ch.11).
According to hadīth in the Moslem tradition (Muslim, īmān, 264; Bukhārī, bad’al-khalq, 6), there are
four rivers flowing forth from the sidra tree (Qur’an 53:14). The sidra or “Lotus of the Limit” is the
barzakh between manifested and unmanifested existence. Ibn Sina says that these four rivers or “seas” are
the ‘ideal realities (haqīqat) of substantiality, corporeality, Matter, and Form’ (see Corbin (tr.), Avicenna
and the Visionary Recital, 1960, p.175).
On the symbolism of dispersion or “scattering” see Guénon, ‘Gathering what is Scattered’, Fundamental
Symbols, 1995, Ch.48.
Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism 10
analogous symbolism of the Masonic plume line (the vertical axis) set swinging in
increasing or “expansive” continuous spirals.
The second river is Gihon, Gîchôwn ( ,)גחוןfrom gôach (“ ;גחto gush forth” or “to
issue,” in the sense of labour). Gihon moves through the land of Cush. The sense here is
more obscure. Kûwsh ( )כושis generally associated with Cush, the son of Ham
(Gen.10:6). This is far from inconsequential, for Ham plays an active role in the
cosmogony as expressed in the story of Noah. On this point, the name Ham, châm (;חם
“hot,” to be inflamed) expresses a similar sense as the bringing forth of the ontological
waters, where fire and water are recognised as analogous symbols of the state of
undifferentiated Being. It is worth noting the similarity here between Kûwsh ( )כושand
kûwr ( ,)כורwhich means “to dig” but particularly to dig “a furnace.” The two words
differ by their final letters, which are subsequent letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Kûwr
has as its final resh, symbolically a “head.” Kûwsh has as its final shin, symbolically a
“tooth.” One might say that the tooth is in the head as the heat is in the furnace. This
symbolism of the furnace echoes the alchemist’s athanor (Arabic at-tannūr; “oven”) and
the Kabbalist’s Urn, which are not irrelevant here, for they are both homologues of the
Ark of Noah.
The third river is Hiddekel, Chiddeqel ( .)חדקלThe Hebrew here is of uncertain
derivation. In Persian this is Tigra, which becomes Tigris in Greek, as the Septuagint
calls it. In the old language of Babylonia this river was termed Idiglat or Digla, meaning
“the encircling.” 36 The Hiddekel is said to run to the east of Ashur, which is the same
name as Assyria. This name carries the sense of “stepping or coming forth”–suggesting
the coming forth of manifestation from unmanifest potentiality; this comes from ’âshûr
(“ ;אשורa step”), which itself comes from the primitive root, ’âshar (“ ;אשרto be level”).
In this context there is an etymological similarity between Assyria, ’Ashshûwr ()אשור
Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 1965: Ti’gris, p.1096. Although the name Chiddeqel is of uncertain
derivation, if one takes the “Chi-” as a typical vowel prostheis, then the consonant series D-Q-L is, in
phonological terms, intimately related to T-G-R (Digla).
Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism 11
and the word ’ashûwyâh ( ,)אשויהwhich derives from an unused root meaning
“foundation.” According to sefirotic symbolism, Yesod is called “Foundation,” as it is
the foundation upon which Malkhut (the Kingdom) is built; in this connection, note that
Yesod is symbolically described as a “river.” 37
The fourth river is Euphrates, Perâth (“ ;פרחto break forth”; “rushing”). We might
compare this with the word pôrâth ( ,)פרחwhich is the same with the primitive root pârâh
(“ ;פרהto bear fruit”; to be, or cause to be). An interesting connection is suggested here,
for pârâh derives from par ( ,)פרwhich means “a bullock,” where the bullock, like the ox,
is a universal and common symbol of prima materia. 38 Moreover, Strong’s Dictionary
suggests that this itself comes from the idea of either “breaking forth in wild strength” or,
perhaps, from the image of “dividing the hoof,” and this from pârar (“ ;פררto break up”).
Again, pâras ( ,)פרשwhich differs to pârar by the shift from the final resh to a final shin,
also means “to break apart” in the sense of “to disperse,” which returns us to the
symbolism of the first river, Pishon.
Schuon offers the analogy of a wheel to describe Divine Substance: ‘expressed in
geometric terms, the Substance is the centre, Radiation is the cluster of radii, and
Reverberation, or the Image, is the circle; Existence or the “Virgin,” is the surface which
allows this unfolding to take place.’ 39 The symbolism described by the “four rivers” is
suggestive of this analogy, excepting in this case the radii appear to be described as
“spirals,” which is, in a sense, more exact.
The description of “encircling” described by both the name Havilah and the Babylonia
word Digla remind one of the numerous world encircling rivers of mythology, of which
the Greek Oceanus is maybe the most familiar. One feels it is fair to say that this passage
contains an esoteric expression of the cosmogony, as opposed to Von Rad who claims
Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar (Vol.1), 1989, p.433, n.24.
As for example in the mythology of Mithras.
Schuon, In The Face Of The Absolute, 1989, p.55.
Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism 12
that this passage ‘has no significance for the unfolding action’ of Genesis. 40 All of the
details presented are expressed in the symbolism of the ayn, a fountain, which
synthetically contains the word Eden.
The Hebrew Scriptures give only the names of the four rivers that divided from the
original river yet not the name of this source river. However, according to Ha Idra Zuta
Qadihsa, the Lesser Holy Assembly, this river is called Yobel: ‘What is Yobel? As it is
written, Jer. xvii.8: “VOL IVBL, Va-El Yobel, And spreadeth out her roots by the river”;
therefore that river which ever goeth forth and floweth, and goeth forth and faileth not.’41
The word yôbêl ( )יבלmeans literally “a blast from a trumpet,” and comes from a
primitive root, yâbal ( )יבלmeaning “to flow,” as a river. The connection of Yobel with
the sound of a trumpet suggests the idea of creation through the emanation of the
primordial sound, the “Word,” which is again the “Name,” analogous by a shift in
symbolism with the Fiat Lux. In this connection, Yobel is also said to be the same as the
angel Yahoel, which is the first of the “Seventy Names of Metatron.” 42 According to the
Babylonian Talmud, Metatron is the angel who is given the same name as his master. 43
This name is Shaddai or “Almighty,” which has the same numerical value as “Metatron.”
According to the Zohar the name Shaddai is related to the word sadai or “field,” as in
Psalm 104: ‘Who sends forth springs into the streams … they give drink to every beast of
the field’ (11-12). Zohar III, 18a: ‘This is [the significance of] the verse “and from
thence it was parted and became four heads” (Genesis 2:10); these four heads are the
beasts of sadai … Sadai: do not pronounce it sadai, but Shaddai (the Almighty), for he
receives and completes the name from the foundation (Yesod) of the world.’ As Tishby
remarks, “the beasts of the field” (sadai) are the fours beasts of the Chariot.44
Concerning the connection between the primordial sound and the primordial light, both
Von Rad, Genesis, 1963, p.77.
Mathers, The Kabbalah Unveiled, 1991, p.288.
On the angel Yohoel see Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 1995, pp.68-9. Note the
interchange between there being 70 and 72 names of Metatron, see Charlesworth, The Old Testament
Pseudepigrapha (Vol.1), 1983, p.313, n.48D.a. On the 72 lettered name of God see Tishby, The Wisdom of
the Zohar (Vol.1), 1989, p.313, n.114; also Schaya, The Universal Meaning of the Kabbalah, 1971,
See B.T. Hagigah, 15a; B.T. Sanhedrin, 38 a; B.T. Avodah Zarah, 3b.
Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar (Vol.1), 1989, p.436, n.60.
Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism 13
the Midrash and the Zohar says that the Fiat Lux of Genesis 1:3 is the light of Metatron. 45
He is called ‘the light of the luminary of the Shekhinah’ 46. Metatron has been identified
with Melchizedek, 47 who is seen as prefiguring Christ (Heb.5:7); yet even without this
identification having being made it is not hard to see the relationship between the creative
sound and light in the Christian tradition. Christ is both the Word and the “light of the
world” (Jn.8:12). Jalāl al-Din Rūmī offers the following image of the creation which
beautifully sums up all we are considering here: ‘But when that purest of lights threw
forth Sound which produced forms, He, like the diverse shadows of a fortress, became
Schaya remarks that Yobel is the “divine state”: ‘the state of supreme illumination and
identity, of total union with God.’ 49 He further recognises Yobel as Binah, the Upper
Mother. 50 We have said that the Upper and Lower Mothers are Binah and Malkhut, but
from another perspective they are also Binah and Yesod, which, as Tishby says are both
symbolically “rivers.” 51 Furthermore, Yobel is the Hebrew word for “jubilee,” the fiftieth
year beginning on the Day of Atonement (kol shofar, the “voice of the trumpet”).
Accordingly Binah is conceived of as having 50 gates through which Mercy flows as a
river. 52 It is by the way of the 50 gates of Binah that all creation is manifested. In this
context it should be noted that the Hebrew word kol (“all”) has the numerical value of
50. 53 Furthermore, according to Kabbalah, the world is created in and through the 22
letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Manifestation, in both its potentiality and actuality, is
thus to be found expressed by the number 72 (50 + 22), which reveals, in part, the
meaning of the “Seventy-Two Names of Metatron.”
Midrash ha-Ne’elam; Zohar Hadash, Bereshit, 8d.
Zohar II, 65b-66b.
Z’ev ben Simon Halevi, Kabbalah The Divine Plan, 1996, p.14; The Way of Kabbalah, 1976, p.16.
Mathnawī I, 835 (Gupta (tr.), Vol.1, 1997, p.74).
Schaya, The Universal Meaning of the Kabbalah, 1971, p.135.
Schaya, The Universal Meaning of the Kabbalah, 1971, p.44.
See Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar (Vol.1), 1989, p.433, n.24.
Rabbi Gikatilla, Gates of Light (Sha’are Orah), 1994, p.245.
See Guénon, Symbolism of the Cross, pp.19-20, in particular n.8.
Edom and Eden: remarks on cosmogonic symbolism 14
Rabbi Gikatilla observes that it was the angel Yahoel who “performed the slaying of
the firstborn” 54 (Gen.12:29-34). Considering the cosmogony as expressed by the Exile,
the slaying of the firstborn and the subsequent Exodus symbolise the “slaying” of cosmic
potentiality and the coming forth of Creation. The slaying of the first-born is prefigured
in the “rejection” of Ishmael and again the relinquishing of his birthright by Esau, who,
as noted, is Edom (Gen.36:1). In this context, the Zohar recognises Jacob as “a river of
praise” and more explicitly says that he is the “river going out of Eden.” 55 Jacob, who is
Beauty (Tiferet) and Order, is the river that flowed out of Eden to water the garden of
Creation, expressed, at this level, by a horizontal plane of existence, which in turn is
symbolised by the four rivers “breaking forth” in ever “expansive” spirals.
Rabbi Gikatilla, Gates of Light (Sha’are Orah), 1994, p.35.
Zohar I, 247b.
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