- Through the Name of God: A New Road to the Origin of Judaism and Christianity
Joel Klein is an ordained rabbi, a practicing psychotherapist, a survivor of the Holocaust, and a professor of psychology at a Catholic college. As he explains, the mystery of the divine name, the unpronounced Tetragrammaton, has been an absorbing passion and avocation since before his bar mitvah. Essentially, its thesis, elaborated upon in numerous interesting and thought-provoking ways, is that the Hebrew names for the One God go back to Egyptian origins in sun-worship. Hence, Aten yields Adon(ai), who was early conflated with the Semitic god, Elohim. The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur (Yom ha-Khapporet or ha-Kippurim) goes back to Kheprer/Kephru, the self-produced Beetle-God, identified in Egyptian mythology with a winged solar disk and with the Creator-God, and so on.
In Christian tradition, the superimposed Chi-Rho (Greek letters for the Ch & R sounds that begin the name, or, more precisely, title “Christ”) flanked by alpha (first letter of the Greek alphabet) and omega (the last letter), that is the faith affirmation that Christ, as God, is “the beginning and the end,” easily transpose from the Egyptian Ankh, the sign of life. The cone-shaped episcopal miter used in Catholic tradition, likewise, goes back to the double royal crown of the pharaohs, specifically the white crown of Osiris who, holding a scepter, a crook, and a flail (cf. the bishop’s staff) presided over the court of final judgement in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
Klein traces not only linguistic sound-patterns for the names of God back to Egyptian roots, but the very forms of key archaic Hebrew letters used in them, especially [End Page 146] in the Tetragrammaton, as used in Jewish mystical tradition, the making of amulets, etc. I found much of his argumentation convincing, but I must confess to readers that I am not a professional paleo-linguist so, while I can follow his arguments I cannot critically adjudicate on their ultimate accuracy.
In any event, however, I think Klein is on to something. While Sigmund Freud’s book Moses and Monotheism lacked the sort of scholarly rigor that archaeologists or biblical scholars would today understand as essential to the methodologies of their respective disciplines, Klein’s elaborations, whether all or only some will end up being part of the scholarly literature of the future, do serve to rectify an imbalance by which biblical scholarship has tipped perhaps too heavily toward Canaanite and Babylonian origins of biblical mythology (using that term in the proper sense of narratives that define the meaning of ritual, as in Genesis 1), and not exploited deeply enough the Egyptian influence on early Jewish monolatry. On the other hand, Klein at times ignores the passage of centuries and possible mediating institutions (e.g., the ancient Roman priesthood and its regalia, etc.) in developing what sometimes appears as too quick a relationship. On the third hand, such mediating structures, rituals and linguistic “bridges” could be filled in by further scholarship, so this does not invalidate his conclusions in itself.
I would love to see a doctoral dissertation or two develop to test Klein’s theories with precision. In the meantime, I believe he has made a useful contribution both to Jewish and to Christian contemplation of many of our traditions.
Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and Consultor to the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews