JULIAN OF NORWICH, HER SHOWING OF LOVE AND ITS CONTEXTS 1997-2010 JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAY  || JULIAN OF NORWICH  || SHOWING OF LOVE || HER TEXTS || HER SELF || ABOUT HER TEXTS || BEFORE JULIAN || HER CONTEMPORARIES || AFTER JULIAN || JULIAN IN OUR TIME ||  ST BIRGITTA OF SWEDEN  ||  BIBLE AND WOMEN || EQUALLY IN GOD'S IMAGE  || MIRROR OF SAINTS || BENEDICTINISM|| THE CLOISTER || ITS SCRIPTORIUM  || AMHERST MANUSCRIPT || PRAYER|| CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO (HANDCRAFTS, BOOKS ) || BOOK REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY ||
 
 

PAULA, BIRGITTA, JULIAN

CONTEMPLATING UPON HEBREW
 
 

came across a book by Spinoza on the Hebrew language and found to my joy that it was more contemplative theology than it was linguistics. Spinoza says, among other things, that in Hebrew the consonants are the skeletons of words, vowels their souls. The vowels are largely unwritten, except for aleph, ayin ,yod , the rest being pointed in Masoretic texts beneath the consonants. One relies on oral memory, on spoken - and living words - words, for their souls. The name of God is never pointed, being too sacred - yet begins with the smallest letter, yod , of them all. (Similarly, in Judaism, one does not represent God in an image made by men's hands, or man in his image, except with the hand, yad, in the heavens.) Hebraism is about littleness, about children, about David as a shepherd boy, watching sheep and composing psalms, and about women, about Mary, singing her Magnificat of her coming Messianic child, Ben-Adam, Son of Adam, Son of Man, Everyman, who is to be anointed by a fallen woman, both from Bethlehem, which means simply 'house' beth , 'of bread' lehem , which David and Christ would deny no one. Then I came across another book, by John Whiterig, the Benedictine hermit on Farne, whose writings Julian seems to know, and who said that Christ 's body is the alphabet, his wounds its vowels.

*

We are taught, because of the Commandment against graven images, that Judaism is opposed to the human form. That is not so, for God in Hebrew is most humanly formed. He has, for instance, a face, Genesis 32.30; a mouth, Isaiah 1.20; hands, Psalm 119.73; even a backside, Exodus 33.23. He is intensely human in form, and in that form he has shaped us. Nor is he only male. He is also the tender mother stilling her anxious child, Isaiah 49.15, 66.13. And he is as well a vast bird form with great protecting wings, Psalm 91.4, not yet the mother hen of Christ's image, Luke 13.34, but instead the swooping, soaring, gyring eagle, of Deuteronomy 32.11-12. Jesus' dying words, from Psalm 31.5, the prayer Jewish Mothers teach their Jewish sons first to say, are addressed to God, speaking of his form as human, 'Into thy hands I commend my breath, my life, my spirit'.

*

Birgitta of Sweden was encouraged in her writing the vast book of the Revelationes, and especially its Fifth Book where she hears Christ and the Virgin answer the doubting theological questions of a Master of Theology, by that same Master of Theology, Magister Mathias. Magister Mathias studied Hebrew in Paris under the misogynist and convert Nicholas of Lyra.

*

Years later, during the canonization process for Birgitta of Sweden , an English Benedictine,  AdamEaston , proficient likewise in Hebrew having taught it at Oxford University and even correcting Jerome 's errors of translation, would make dialectic use of Nicholas Lyra's misogynist arguments, to twist them round into accepting Birgitta's Revelationes in his Defensorium Sanctae Birgittae. Magister, then Cardinal, Adam Easton successfully oversaw that canonization process. He also owned amongst his many manuscripts, an exquisite thirteenth-century copy of Pseudo-Dionysius 's Works, the invocation to the Trinity in the Mystic Theology having its Gothic{ T, a lovely assymetrical form of our more rigid letter, wrought in intertwines and gold leaf, and as well a copy of Rabbi David Kimhi'sMiklol, 'Perfection'. Rabbi David Kimhi had countered Maimonides' scepticism by pleading for the philological study of Hebrew as a base for theology, and to do so read the works of Jerome . Kimhi frequently in his writings refers to God as Mother, as feminine and as begetting us, giving birth to us.

Further material, including bibliography, on Rabbi David Kimhi: www.glaird.com

It is possible that Adam Easton , a fellow Norwich Benedictine who often returned there to preach to the laity, knew and influenced Julian of Norwich, encouraging her writing of the Showings. Where Julian quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures she uses neither the Vulgate translated into Latin by Jerome from the Hebrew, with the assistance of the Lady Paula and her daughter, Eustochium, nor the translation made of that text into Middle English by John Wyclif and Miles Coverdale, but instead she shows direct knowledge of the Hebrew text. Adam Easton, as Master and a Norwich Cathedral Priory monk, alternated between teaching Hebrew at Oxford, and preaching in Norwich during Julian's formative years. He is most probably her source.

*

God gave us his hands and his brains, shaping us in that image, which, with evolution kept shaping each other into greater and greater dexterity and complexity. Then his people invented the alphabet. It is an Internet prototype. It was not invented by the Greeks. They borrowed it, pirated it from the Semites. We owe Semites a tremendous debt, for from their alphabet came the Greek, the Roman, the Cyrillic and the Runic ones. Without it we should not have our Bibles or our culture or the Internet. 'Alphabet' is not at all a Greek word. It comes from the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph , meaning ox, beth , meaning house. (lehem means bread; thus David's and Jesus' birthplace, Bethlehem, means 'House of Bread'.) Each letter in Hebrew means a thing and is also a number. Each carries with it the significance that it is a part of God's Creation. It is God's computer which has been most carefully programmed, linking body and soul, thing and meaning. But it brings into northern climes desert winds.

The ancient Egyptians in the Book of the Dead employed rubrication, writing important parts in red letter. So did medieval scribes for the words of God, including the scribe of the Paris Julian Showings Manuscript for Christ's words to Julian. Mary Carruthers in The Book of Memory has described how the alternating red and blue capitals (the colours of Aaron's High Priestly robe) are a memory system for the readers of those manuscripts. Cheap print threw out an entire technology of memory that computers can now restore to us. Let us put the alphabet back into its ancient computing 'theatre of memory'. Reading is a sacred game. (It can be a cruel one, Odin hanging himself upon the tree Yggdrasil for nine days and nights to learn the runes of life , Christ's titulus upon the Cross in Hebrew, Greek and Latin.)

Let us go through that list: aleph, ox, 1/1,000; beth, house/tent, 2/2,000; gimel, camel,3/3,000; daleth, door, 4; he, airhole, 5; vau, nail/hook, 6; zain, weapon, 7; cheth, fence, 8; teth, coiling, twisting, 9; yod, hand, 10; kaph, hollow hand, palm, 20,500; lamed, oxgoad, 30; mem, water, 40,600; nun, fish, 50,700; samech, support, 60; ayin, eye, 70; pe, mouth, 80, 800; tzadi, fishing hook, 90,900; qoph, back of head, 100; resh, head, 200; shin, tooth, 300; tau, sign, 400. Jots and tittles are the yods, and the little horns on some letters to distinguish them from others, such as beth versus kaph. They are the reading of the fine print in Hebrew and in Hebrew's Law, its Torah. Where two forms of one letter are given the second is used at the end of a word, as with the Greek final sigma versus the more normal. Further differentiation can happen with the letters where they are hardened by 'being pierced in the bosom' with the dagesh', with a point at their centre.

Contemplate Jesus, whose name is that of Joshua and Isaiah, all beginning in Hebrew with yod, as would have Julian in her Anchorhold before her Crucifix, in prayer, as on the Cross, tau, nailed, vau, through the palms, kaph , of the hands, yod , which made and fashioned us, his head, resh, bleeding from the crowning with thorns, the one who called himself the Son of Man, in Hebrew, Ben-Adam, in Aramaic, Bar-Adam, being of ourselves whom he has made, who was God's Word become Flesh and living amongst us, in whose image we are, whom we have mocked and crucified, pierced in the bosom and killed. Above the living, dying Word are placed those imperial letters of the titulus, in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, 'Jesus, King of the Jews'. All our alphabets, all ourselves, are to blame. We must learn this Internet, these 'runes of life', that its words be of God, rather than ego. We must read this Body, this Word - which mirrors ours - mirroring it free, breathing back into its lost bones its soul, truly acclaiming our King of the Universe, ourselves his grateful Creation.

*

Upon that cross, before he dies, the Word, become our flesh and daily bread, dwelling in our midst, uttered words, words drawn from Psalms 22.1 and 31.5, commending his life into the hands, yod, of God, his own mirroring hands being pierced with nails. He had earlier, to the devil, refuted the devil's use of Psalm 91. All those Psalms would have been said by Julian in the Offices in her anchorhold before its Crucifix. They had been said by countless generations of Jewish and Christian women and men. Mary would have taught Jesus, the Word , first to speak, then to read. She would herself have said the Jewish Offices, the seven-fold recitation of the Psalms. It was in prayer that Gabriel found her that Annunciation morn. The earliest book, the earliest bound codex we have, is a Oxyrrhincian Psalter discovered in an Egyptian twelve-year-old slave girl's tomb, pillowing her head. It would have been used by her daily and would have comforted her greatly.

*

When Master, then Cardinal, Adam Easton defended visionary women and their written books, he was remembering an earlier Cardinal of the Church,  St Jerome , translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, with the able assistance of the Roman ladies, Paula and her daughter Eustochium , Paula learning Hebrew for the task and supporting the crabby scholar financially and psychologically during his arduous labours. There exist at least two manuscripts in Middle English with Norwich associations which play with the relationship of the earlier Cardinal, the one in a Lambeth Palace manuscript, Lambeth 432, the other in Norwich Castle itself, in both of which the Cardinal is described as writing to a holy maid, the first, to Eustochium, the second to Demetriade, each vowed to virginity. The first manuscript is drawn from Master Mathias and Birgitta of Sweden's similar awareness of their relationship as like that of Jerome to Paula, while it includes a Norwich miracle, in which the devil is about to throttle his victim, that it dates 1350, an episode like that which Julian describes as happening to herself in the Long and the Short Texts. Birgitta had a most beautiful daughter, Catherine of Sweden, who became first Abbess of Vadstena. At San Girolamo in Fiesole first, and now in the National Gallery in London, a follower of Botticelli gave the crabbed Jerome, with the aged widow, Paula, and the beautiful virgin, Eustochium, at his side. They are also portraits of Birgitta, the widow, and Catherine, the beautiful virgin, of Sweden.

*

I was on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, travelling with Italians. I was deliberately replicating the pilgrimages of Helena, Egeria, Paula, Birgitta and Margery . Our Roman Catholic priest was fluent in Hebrew. On Friday evening, the Sabbath, he took us to the Western Wall - for it is not the Wailing Wall in Hebrew. It is the mother in a Jewish family who begins the Sabbath by blessing and lighting the Sabbath candles, ' Blessed art thou, O Lord, King of the Universe, who hast given us thy Law and bidst us light these Sabbath lights'. It is the child who begins the Passover by asking the question. It is the father who blesses the bread and wine, 'the fruit of the vine and the work of human hands'. That evening we saw Hassidic families walk through the Arab Quarter, older children carrying the younger ones, for their parents may not on the Sabbath. Then, at the Wall, we went to the women's section with its tables heaped high with Hebrew Bibles to be taken to the wall in prayer. Florentine Sister Peregrina of the Order of San Felipo Neri begged that I ask a young Israeli mother to read to us from the Hebrew. The mother replied in English that she could not for to have done so would not have been in the act of prayer and begged us to understand.

I hope she will forgive me for I have painted her as a Byzantine Madonna, against gold leaf, her Child with black side locks. Judaism with Christianity conquered its conquerors. It was the Empress Helena, the former British slave and mother of the Emperor Constantine, who wrought that peaceable conquest and who built the Basilica at Bethlehem, who discovered the True Cross on Calvary, who began Byzantinism. It was Paula's Jerome, following Helena and Constantine, who translated the Bible in the cave at Bethelehem from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, undoing the sarcasm of the titulus upon the cross placed there by Pontius Pilate in the three now-sacred languages. It was in Jerusalem that I saw the restoring of women's presence in the sacred places. The men danced in joyous circles arm in arm with each other in their large section at the Western Wall, then walked solemnly backwards from its sanctity. The women quietly read and prayed in their equally-large section. What I was seeing was the 'Joy of Hebrew', a culture and a religion based upon God as Word, upon equality, upon literacy, upon our alphabet, even upon gender, upon sex within marriage, for the family, as sacred. While in the Dome of the Rock I saw veiled Moslem women insisting upon the right to enter beneath the Temple's Rock rather than be forced to only pray behind screens apart from that more sacred place. It was only in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that gender apartheid was still most ungently practised for there we saw a young Russian pilgrim woman being thrown out violently by the monks, despite her sobs and screams. The original Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre was built by Constantine because of his mother, Helena. At the Crucifixion only the women stayed - apart from John in his Gospel - while the men fled. Adam Easton notes that fact in his defense of Birgitta. So had Abelard, Jerome and Origen in their defenses of Christian women before him.

*

Jerome has had a bad press. Chaucer's fault. For he has his scarlet-clad Wife of Bath attack the long-dead Cardinal Jerome in the Prologue to her Tale for his espousal of virginity, claiming he is anti-Feminist. Not so, for Jerome was surrounded by noble Roman ladies who revered him and his scholarship, supporting and assisting his endeavours. In return he wrote them marvellous letters, still being copied by St Lioba's beloved St Boniface to English nuns in England and Germany, by Abelard to Heloise and by Alexander Pope to Lady Mary Wortely Montague. In one letter to the divorced and nobleFabiola in Rome Jerome had discoursed learnedly and delightfully upon Aaron's High Priestly blue robe, as hyacinthine blue , carefully explaining to her the Hebrew meanings of the scriptural texts he cites and that the Pope is now the High Priest. Julian gives that blue robe to the Lord in her Parable, while having that same Lord seated on the ground in the Wilderness, for all the world like the Madonna in her Humility, a theme prevalent in the art of Avignon and initiated most likely by Simone Martini when commissioned to paint a fresco which included the Cardinal Stefaneschi as its donor.

*

Julian uses passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, entering into God's world of the Word. In all three versions, the Westminster , Paris and Amherst Manuscripts, Julian speaks of God speaking of himself to her, as he did of himself to Moses, Exodus 3.14, as ' I it Am '. In the Paris Manuscript those words are carefully rubricated by the Syon nun who likely wrote it. Elsewhere such rubricated words are not in red but instead are engrossed in the Julian Manuscripts, giving us to think that that was Julian's own practice. We see it as well in Master Adam Easton's copy of Rabbi David Kimhi' s Miklol, where God's Word in the Scriptures is given in large letters, the commentary explaining it in smaller letters in the hierarchy of scripts.

*

In the Long Text Julian describes herself quite suddenly, surrealistically, as upon the deep sea bed. One could expect that now with our anaesthesia and pharmacopia, but not then. She describes the dales and dingles. Scholars have therefore leapt to the conclusion that she is a Yorkshirewoman. But what she describes, it has not been noticed, is from the Book of Jonah 2.5, and from Psalm 139.7-10 which Jonah is praying to God from that same deep sea bed with its wrack and gravel wrapped so closely about him. The words are closer to the version in the Hebrew than they are to the Vulgate or the Wyclifite Bibles, while also drawing upon most learned Neoplatonist texts, likely only to be known about by such scholars as were John of Salisbury, Dante Alighieri and Adam Easton.

*

But the loveliest, yet most poignant, correspondence is that between the Hebrew text of 2 Kings 4.8-37 and Julian's passages on 'All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well '. The stories in 2 Kings 4 centre upon mothers and their children, the first upon a widow whose cruse of oil is replenished continually so that her two sons need not be sold into slavery, referred to obliquely by Christ in the Synagogue at Nazareth, Luke 4.26, then of the childless Shunamite woman showing hospitality to Elisha and who is granted a son. Only to have that son die of sunstroke. The woman asks her husband to let her go to Elisha and when he queries her she says 'It shall be well'. Elisha, seeing her approach, has Gehazi his servant ask her 'Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with thy child? And she answered, It is well'. But Elisha knows that her soul is vexed within her. Gehazi fails to revive the dead child but Elisha succeeds.

The Latin Vulgate translates that engrossed or rubricated 'All is well ' baldly as recte and rectne. Wyclif simply has that 'Allis well ' it be rigt. It is translations knowing the Hebrew, such as the King James, which give the phrase as 'All is well' , using the word for peace and completeness, shalom. Yet Julian's context for its use undermines its peaceableness. Beneath it we can hear the mother's seething bitterness, expressed in sarcasm, in words meaning their opposite. Then that bitterness and falseness, by a miracle, is made sweet again, and is true. Just as in Christ's miracles (though he himself becomes the dead son given back to his mother, who had taught him psalms to sing in Hebrew, even upon the cross), and he, again in a miracle, gives himself back to all of us.

*

When Julian - whose name begins with yod - holds the small thing, like a hazel nut in her hand, she is like God who holds all he has made in the palm of that hand which has made it. What she - and we - truly hold in the palms of our hands is her book, 'God's Showings'. What it shows us is what God writes. We, with our genetic coding, are part of God's alphabet, his alephbeth.

See also the Joy of Hebrew, Julian and Judaism, Julian's Medieval Midrash, Martin Buber's Julian, Karen Graffeo, Chuppa, Jo Ann McNamara, Cornelia's Daughters
 

JULIAN OF NORWICH, HER SHOWING OF LOVE AND ITS CONTEXTS 1997-2010 JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAY  || JULIAN OF NORWICH  || SHOWING OF LOVE || HER TEXTS || HER SELF || ABOUT HER TEXTS || BEFORE JULIAN || HER CONTEMPORARIES || AFTER JULIAN || JULIAN IN OUR TIME ||  ST BIRGITTA OF SWEDEN  ||  BIBLE AND WOMEN || EQUALLY IN GOD'S IMAGE  || MIRROR OF SAINTS || BENEDICTINISM|| THE CLOISTER || ITS SCRIPTORIUM  || AMHERST MANUSCRIPT || PRAYER|| CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO (HANDCRAFTS, BOOKS ) || BOOK REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY ||