Nel nome di Elohim e di Yahwe e dello Spirito Santo.
Quattro saggi sull’origine dell’idea della trinità e sulla critica della religione

Beiträge zum Verstehen des Judentums


Written by an author who also works in the field of pure science, this booklet is the result of an investigation into the place where biblical exegesis, ethnology, and the history of ancient religions meet. As the subtitle suggests, it is divided into four essays. The first one scrutinises the debate on the Trinitarian idea as developed in monotheistic tradition. This is clearly the key concept of the piece, both from a quantitative and qualitative point of view (30 paragraphs are dedicated to the subject, covering 90 pages out of a total of 127). The three remaining essays can be considered as an Appendix made up of examples taken from case studies on religious feasts and criticism of religion (pp. 93-127). Since they provide no more than a critical summary of secondary literature, it is sufficient to briefly touch upon their respective topics: Christmas and the harvest moon celebrations amongst shepherds, the relevance of the Inquisition’s arguments against Galileo Galilei, the concept of the origin of eternity in light of the debate concerning Sir Fred Hoyle’s book on The Origin of the Universe and the Origin of Religion (1993).

The main essay, on the other hand, is a stimulating meditation on a widely debated and awkward subject, and deserves closer attention. Bearing, not by chance, the same title as the booklet itself (Nel nome di Elohim e di Yahweh e dello Spirito Santo), it starts by considering the concept of a Supreme Deity as expressed by two well known scholars engaged in the study of primitive religions during the first half of the 20th Century: the Austrian missionary Wilhelm Schmidt (1868-1954), a prestigious member of the Societas Verbi Divini (not of the Society of Jesus as the author claims), and Raffaele Pettazzoni (1883-1959), the first titular of an Italian chair in the history of religion (1923). Schmidt categorised the spiritual Deities of primitive religions into four types, which can nevertheless be basically considered as three, the fourth being a reflection of the second when represented in images. By researching these different types in context, Schimdt asserted that it is possible to define the Supreme Deity as a form of monotheism marked out by all its attributes. Pettazzoni, on the other hand, through an articulated investigation into the spiritual Deity’s qualities as attested by different ancient religions, demonstrated how a Supreme Deity that presents all the so-called monotheistic prerogatives is not observed, thus arguing that monotheism cannot derive from primitive religions. Entering the de-bate, Frison notices an interesting point of contact in the discussion about the Supreme Deity’s ascension from the earth to the sky. Schmidt described the Supreme Deity’s abandonment of the earth as being a result of human faults, while Pettazzoni focused on the “assumption into heaven” of the so-called Lord of animals. Though the two scholars initially interpreted the immanent God’s ascension from two distinct perspectives, they ended up in agreement, noticing the relevance of a supernatural being’s ascent into the sky.

Frison builds the first argument of his essay on this assumption (pp. 13-66). He identifies ascension into the sky as a pivotal element of the Trinitarian idea in Jewish biblical tradition as well as in Christian theology, quoting narratives concerning Yahweh and Christ. In order to trace a Trinitarian conception in the Jewish Bible, he takes into account a sequence of fundamental episodes from Genesis and Exodus, namely the two accounts of creation (to which the 14th Century illumination from the Sarajevo Haggadah reproduced on the book’s cover refers), the story of Eden, a series of pericopes about Noah’s ark, the golden calf and Jacob’s ladder. The research method is based on quotations of biblical references with regard to the God’s attributes as they have been enlightened by ethnology (i.e. ritual and social aspects of pre-Jewish and Jewish traditions). The biblical quotations are given in Italian translation and interpreted with the support of the exegetical comments of scholars of theology such as Emanuele Testa OFM and Bernardo Boschi OP. Using logic and clear reasoning that reflects the benefits of a purely scientific (even if to some extent too neo-positivistic) mentality applied to humanities, Frison succeeds in distinguishing many of the attributes that belong, firstly to Elohim as a transcendental God in the sky, secondly to Yahweh as an immanent God on the earth and in the sky that communicates directly with men and receives sacrifices, and thirdly to the so-called Holy Spirit as an inde-pendent manifestation of God that appears in the form of fire on mount Sinai or brings Ezekiel and Yahweh up to the celestial seat (in this sense, the Holy Spirit is said to correspond essentially to rûah).

The second, more concise argument (pp. 66-76), invites the reader to consider the correspondence between the components of the Trinity, as far as they have been articulated up to this point, and three basic religious concepts: creation from nothing, primordial world order, and thought/spirit. Each phenomenon is produced by/refers to one of the respective types of spiritual Deity: the otiose Supreme Deity deals with creation, the active Supreme Deity owns and shapes nature after it has been created, the third Supreme Deity, i.e. the Holy Spirit in Christian terms, determines human destiny. The conclusion moves away from the investigation into biblical pericopes and back to the history of religion, once again questioning the origin of the Trinitarian idea and the debate of the first half of the 20th Century. It is clear that the religious lexicon on the Supreme Deity is mainly taken from Pettazzoni’s ideas, from amongst which Frison rejects what he calls an anti-monotheistic prejudice. The essay’s final conclusions, however, lead to a broad confirmation of Wilhelm Schmidt’s thesis on the identification of a monotheistic belief in primitive religions. The essay ultimately aims to prove how the Trinitarian idea is observed in the Jewish biblical tradition on the basis of precedents taken from ancient religions.

The focus on creation from nothing allows the author to offer the reader an enjoyable philosophical-literary excursus (pp. 77-89) about the perception of noth-ingness/infinity as it was experienced between the 18th and 20th Centuries by Čechov, Leopardi, Rousseau, and Heidegger, with some hints on atheism and questions of gender (e.g. Hannah Arendt’s interest in existentialism). Some references to cosmological and physical ideas on the origin of the universe, such as Planck time, come to light in the final pages and the ultimate goal of the research is to support the much-debated possibility, which Carlo Frison believes to be pursuable throughout contemporary developments in physics and cosmology, of a rational comparison between science and religion.

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