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The Resonance of the Word: A Philosophical Legacy of Judaism By: Laurence L. Murphy and Dominick IorioGo Back to Table of Contents
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In Judaism, the creator says “let there be light” and there “is” light. The universe is literally spoken into existence, such as in the playing of music, the notation, the playing of the instrument, and the consequential sounding of music itself--is an intimate relationship of all its component parts.

Music stands out against a background of nothingness--or what we call “silence.” Similarly, after God’s spoken Word, the existence of all that is, stands out for us against a background of a void---such as seeing the stars at night is only possible against the backdrop of the dark. In seeing the lights of the heavens, because of the great expanse that the light of stars must travel across time-space, we are looking into the past. Even when we gaze at the sun, we are looking at the reflection of a star which is already eight minutes gone. Thus when we study the sky we are doing archaeology into the strata and reflections of time--into the echo of God’s Word.

In the beginning, all the universe exists because it is at one and at once with its Creator--even outside of time, even unto what is eternal; for the universe (or universes, as the case may be) is God’s artifact; and thus God said let their be light, and there was light, at one and the same with its word--its music--and the entirety of the Cosmos emerged into existence out of the void of absolute nothingness. The world we see, and all we can imagine, reflects the magnificence of the Word’s resonance. The past present and future in time, like the stars, are merely dimensions--time lagged reflections--of light.

The word for “day” in Hebrew means “a period of light.” Thus from the first created light, in seven intervals which transcend any concept we have of time, all of creation is set into motion--and this touches the very essence of our lives--as well as the mystery of all that surrounds us. Just as we know life is possible in the universe simply because we are, so all, first and foremost, simply is and must be before we can even begin to inquire about the phenomenal world which surrounds us.

This implies that language is, in its essence, what Greek philosophy calls “ontological” (from ontic, meaning Being, and Logos, meaning originally “divine reason,” and later, through particularly Aristotle, becoming associated with language and “logic”). Thus ontology means literally “the logic of Being,” or the logic of all that is.

This “logic of Being” however, is not necessarily composed of language as we may have traditionally come to think of it--particuarly in the West.

Our word “language” speaks of a phonetic bias. It is derived from the root word “langue” meaning tongue. The assumption is that all language is spoken and primarily resides in sound. But Logos is language beyond any particular sense perception or physical phenomenon; it is neither sound nor sight nor touch, smell or any other medium through which it is received. Nor does it exist physically. Yet Logos is itself that which relates all things, gives them form and substance and holds all of existence together.

It is both reason and word. It is the language of the universe, and this universal language describes actively the principles that brought all that is into existence. This notion of Logos lies at the very foundation of our capacity for reason.

In ancient Greek philosophy, the transcendent principle out of which all else was simply a reflection, such as light reflects the stars, were ideas expressed in forms, and then related symbolically in a language we call “formula.” The concept that “ideas” underlie all physical phenomena establishes the foundations of rational science as well as logic. By formalizing our reason, we can understand a phenomenon by accessing the principles, or ideas, that that phenomenon expresses.

If we can formulate the idea that E=MC2, for example, then we can understand the physical properties of energy, gravity and light as these principles are reflected in the physical universe. Yet the formula E=MC2 is nothing but a language expressing an idea, a principle. Physical phenomena in the universe reflect this formula, this idea, just as the stars reflect the speed of light--and just as the speed of light clocks the barriers of time.

The same principle that formula expresses language as having authority in the physical world is evidence in Genesis when Adam, who is given dominion over all species that are created, appropriates this gift and responsibility from God the creator, by naming the species: much as science names new species, new molecular structures, or new elements. When a new element or organism is named, humanity incorporates this phenomenon into its knowledge and thus takes responsibility for it. When we decipher the elements of matter-energy in the physical world we do so by naming molecular and atomic elements and creating symbols for them in order to read their essential structure--or, in short--we create and decipher a language which describes the basis of the existence of that which we study in order to decipher and understand the Logos, the logic, the reason, behind the phenomenon. This implies a sense of intimacy between the creative act of language and how a phenomenon is understood through its name.


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