Previous Page
  Next Page
Thomas Mann 1933


Descent into Hell

Page 3

" VERY deep is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless? Bottomless indeed, if - and perhaps only if - the past we mean is the past merely of the life of mankind, that riddling essence of which our own normally unsatisfied and quite abnormally wretched ex-istences form a part; whose mystery, of course, includes our own and is the alpha and omega of all our questions, lending burning immediacy to all we say, and significance to all our striving. For the deeper we sound, the further down into the lower world of the past we probe and press, the more do we find that the earliest founda-tions of humanity, its history and culture reveal themselvelves unfathomable. No matter to what hazardous lengths we let out our line they still withdraw again, and further, into the depths. Again and further are the right words, for the unresearchable plays a kind of mocking game with our researchable ardours; it offers ap-parent holds and goals, behind which, when we have gained them, new reaches of the past still open out - as happens to the coastwise voyager, who finds no end to his journey, for behind each headland of clayey dune he conquers, fresh headlands and new distances lure him on.
     Thus there may exist provisional origins, which practically and in fact form the first beginnings of the particular tradition held by a given community, folk or communion of faith; and memory, though sufficiently instructed that the depths have not actually been plumbed, yet nationally may find reassurance in some primitive point of time and, personally and historically speaking, come to rest there.
    Young Joseph, for instance son of Jacob and the lovely, too soon departed Rachel; Joseph living when Kurigalzu the Cassite reigned at Babel, Lord of the Four Regions, King of Sumeria and Akkadia, greatly comfortable to the heart of Bel-Marduk, a ruler both luxuri-ous and stern, the curls of whose beard stood ranged in such perfect rows that they looked like a division of well-furnished shield-bearers; while at Thebes, in the land which Joseph was used to to call Mizraim, also Kemt, the Black, His sanctity the good God, called Amun-is-satisfied, third of this name, the sun's very son, beamed on the horizon  

Page 4   /

of his palace and blinded the enraptured eyes of his dust-born sub-jects; when Asshur increased by the might of its gods, and on the great shore route from Gaza up to the passes of the cedar mountains the Royal caravans went to and fro, bearing gifts in lapis-lazuli and stamped gold, between the court of the Land of the Rivers and Pharaoh's court; when in the cities of the Amorites, at Beth Shan, Ajalon, Ta'anach, Urushalim, they served Astarte, while at Shechem and Beth-lahma the seven days' wailing went up for the true son, the dismembered one, and at Gebal, the City of the Book, El was adored who needed no temple or rite; Joseph, then living in that district of the land of Canaan which in Egypt is called the upper Retenu, in his father's tents at Hebron, shaded by terebinths and evergreen oaks, a youth famed for his charm and charming especially by right from his mother, who had been sweet and lovely like to the moon when it is full and like Ishtar's star when it swims mildly in the clear sky; but also armed from the father's side with gifts of the spirit and perhaps in a sense excelling even him; Joseph, lastly and in conclusion (for the fifth and the sixth time Iname his name, and with gratification, for there is mystery in names, and I will have it that knowledge of his confers power to invoke that once so living and conversable personality, albeit now sunk so deep below the marge of time) Joseph, for his part regarded a certain town called Uru, in Southern Babylonia, which in his tongue he called Ur Kashdim, Ur of the Chaldees, as the beginning of all things - that is, of all that mattered to him.
      Thence, namely, in times long gone by - Joseph was never quite clear how far back they lay - a brooding and inwardly
unquiet man, with his wife, whom probably out of tenderness he would call his sister, together with other members of his family, had departed, to do as the moon did, that was the deity of Ur, to wander and to rove, because he found it most right and fitting to his unsatisfied, doubting, yes tormented state. His removal, which wore an undeniable colour of contumacy, had been concerned with certain structures which had impressed him as offensive, and which Nimrod the Mighty, then ruling in Ur, had if not erected, yet restored and exceedingly in-creased in height. It was the private conviction of the man from Ur that Nimrod had done this less in honour of the divine lights of the firmament to which they were dedicated, then as a bar against dis-persion and as a sky-soaring monument to his own accumulated power. From that power the man from Ur had now escaped, by dispersing himself, and with his dependents taking to pilgrimages of indeterminate length. The tradition handed down to Joseph varied somewhat as to which had more particularly annoyed the objector: whether the great moon- citadel of Ur the turreted temple of the god Sin, after whom the whole land of Shinar was named, the same word  

/ Page 5  /

appearing in his own region, as for instance in the mountain called Sinai; or that towering house of the sun, E-saglila, the temple of Mar-duk at Babel itself, whose summit Nimrod had exalted to the hight of the heavens, and a precise description of which Joseph had re-cieved by word of mouth. There had clearly been much else at which the musing man had taken offence, beginning with that very mighti-ness of Nimrod and going on to certain customs and practices which to others seemed hallowed and unailienable by long tradition but more and more filled his own soul with doubts. And since it is not good to sit still when one's soul smarts with doubt, he had simply put himself in motion.
     He reached Harran, city of the way and moon-city of the north, in the land of Naharain, where he dwelt many years and gathered recruits, receiving them into close relationship with his own. But it was a relationship which spelt unrest and almost nothing else; a soul unrest which expressed itself in an unrest of the body that had little to do with ordinary light-hearted wanderlust and the adventurousn-ess of the free-footed, but was rather the suffering of the hunted and solitary man, whose blood already throbbed with the dark beginnings of oncoming destiny; perhaps the burden of its weight and scope stood in precise relation to his torment and unrest. Thus Harran too, lying as it did within Nimrod's sphere of control, proved but a "station on the way" from which the moon-man eventually set forth again, together with Sarah his sister-wife and all his kin and his and their possessions, to continue as their guide and Mahdi his hegira towards an unknown goal.
     So they had reached the west country and the Amurru who dwelt in the land of Canaan, where once the Hittites had been lords; had crossed the country by stages  and thrust deep, deep southwards under other suns, into the land of mud, where the water flows the wrong way, unlike the waters of the land of Naharina, and one travelled northwards downstream where a people stiff with age worshipped its dead, and where for the man of Ur and for his requirements there would have been nothing to seek or to find. Backwards he turned to the westland, the middle land, which lay between Nimrod's do-mains and the land of mud; and in the southern part, not far from the desert, in a mountainous region, where there was little ploughland,
but plenty of grazing for his cattle, he aquired a kind of superficial permanence and dwelt and dealt with the inhabitants on friendly terms.
     Tradition has it that his god
- that god upon whose image his spirit laboured, highest among all the rest, whom alone to serve he was in pride and love resolved, the God of the ages, for whom he sought a name and found none sufficient, wherefore he gave him the plural , calling him, provisionally, Elohim, the Godhead - Elohim, then had  

/ Page 6  /

made him promises as far-reaching as clearly defined, to the effect not only that he the man from Ur, should become a folk in numbers like the sands of the sea and a blessing unto all peoples, but also that the land wherein he now dwelt as a stranger, and whither Elohim had led him out of Chaldaea, should be to him and his seed in ever-lasting possessions in all its parts - whereby the God of gods had expressly specified the populations and present inhabitants of the land, whose "gates" the seed of the man from Ur should possess. In other words, God had destined these populations to defeat and sub-jection in the interest of the man from Ur and his seed. But all this must be accepted with caution, or at least with understanding. We are dealing with later interpolations deliberately calculated to confirm as the earliest intentions of the divine political situations which had first been established by force. As a matter of fact the moon-wander-er's spirit was by no means of a kind likely to receive or to elicit prom-ises of a political nature. There is no evidence that when he left home he had already thought of the Amurruland as a theatre of his future activities; and the fact that his wanderings also took him through the land of tombs and of the blunt -nosed lion maid would seem to point to the opposite conclusion. But when he left Nimrod's high and mighty state in his rear, likewise avoiding the greatly estimable kingdom of the double-crowned king of the oasis, and turned westwards - into a region, that is whose shattered public life condemned it into impotence and servitude - his conduct
Does not argue the possession of political vision or of a taste for imperial greatness. What had set him in motion was unrest of the spirit, a need of God, and if - as there can be no doubt - dispensations were vouchsafed him, they had reference to the irradiations of his personal experience of God, which was of a new kind altogether; and his whole concern from the beginning had been to win for it sympathy and adherence. He suffered; and when he compared the measure of his inward distress with that of the great majority, he drew the conclusions that it was pregnant with the future.
    Not in vain, so he heard from the newly beheld God, shall have been thy torment and thine unrest; for it shall fructify many souls and make proselytes in numbers like to the sands of the seas; and it shall give impulse to great expansions of life
Hidden in it as in a seed; and in one word, thou shalt be a blessing. A blessing? It is unlikely that the word gives the true meaning of that which happened to him in his vision and which corresponded to his temperament and to his experience of himself. For the word "blessing" carries with it an idea which but ill describes men of his sort: men that is of roving spirit and discomfortable mind, whose novel conception of the deity is destined to make its mark upon the future. The life of men with whom new histories begin can seldom or never be a sheer unclouded blessing; not this it is which their consciousness of self whispers in  

/ Page 7  /  

their ears. "And thou shalt be a destiny": such is the purer and more precise meaning of the promise, in whatever language it may have been spoken. And whether that destiny might or might not be a blessing is a question the twofold nature of which is apparent from the fact that it can always and without exception be answered in dif-ferent ways - though of course it was always answered in the affirma-tive by the community - continually waxing in numbers and in grace - of those who recognized the true Baal and Adad of the pan-theon in the God who had brought out of Chaldaea the man from Ur; that community to the existence of which young Joseph traced back his own spiritual and physical well being.


SOMETIMES, indeed , he thought of the moon-wanderer as his own great grandfather - though such an idea is to be sternly excluded from the realms of the possible. He himself was perfectly aware, on the ground of much and varied instruction, that the position was one of far wider bearings. Not so wide, however that that mighty man of the earth whose boundary stones, adorned with representations of the signs of the zodiac, the man from Ur had put behind him, had actually been Nimrod, the first king on earth, who had begotten Bel of Shinar. No, for according to the tablets, this had been Hammurabi, the Lawgiver, restorer of those citadels of the sun and moon; and when young Joseph put him on a level with that prehistoric Nimrod it was by a play of thought which most charmingly becomes his spirit but which would be unbecoming and hence forbidden to ours. The same is true of his occasional confusion of the man from Ur with his father's ancestor and his, who had borne the same or a similar name. Between the boy Joseph and the pilgrimage of his ancestor in the spirit and the flesh there lay, according to the system of chronology which his age and sphere rejoiced in, fully twenty generations, or, roughly speaking, six hundred Babylonian years, a period as long as from our time back into the Gothic Middle Ages - as long, and yet not so long either.
     True, we have received our mathematical sidereal time handed down to us from ages long before the man from Ur ever set out on his wanderings, and, in like manner, shall we hand it on to our furthest descendants. But even so, the meaning, weight and fullness of earthly time is not everywhere one and the same. Time has uneven measure, despite all the objectivity of the Chaldaean chronology. Six hundred years at that time and under that sky did not mean what they mean in our western history. They were a more level, silent, speechless reach; time was less effective, her power to bring about change was both weaker and more restricted in its range - though certainly in

/ Page 8

those twenty generations she had produced changes and revolutions, even changes in the earth's surface in Joseph's immediate circle, as we know and he knew too. For where in his day,  were Gomorrah and Sodom, the dwelling place of Lot of Harran, who had been received into the spiritual community of the man from Ur; where were those voluptuous cities? Lo, the leaden alkaline lake lay there where their unchastity had flourished, for the whole region had been swept with a burning fiery flood of pitch and sulphur, so frightful and apparently so destructive of all life that lot's daughters, timely escaped with their father, though he would have given them up for the lust of the Sodomites instead of certain important guests whom he harboured, went and lay with their father being under the delusion that save themselves there were none left upon the earth, and out of womanly careful ness for the con-tinuance of the race.
    Thus time in its course had left behind it even visible alterations. There had been times of blessing and times of curse, times of fullness and times of dearth, wars and campaigns, changing overlords and new gods. Yet on the whole time then had been more conservatively minded than time now, the frame of Joseph's life, his ways and habits of thought were far more like his ancestors' than ours are like the crusaders'. Memory resting on oral tradition  from generation to generation, was more direct and confiding, it flowed freer, time was a more unified and thus a briefer vista; young Joseph cannot be blamed for vaguely foreshortening it, for sometimes in  a dreamy mood, per-haps by night and moonlight, taking the man from Ur  for his father's grandfather - or even worse. For it must be stated here that in all probability this man from Ur. Probably -  even to young Joseph, in a preciser hour, and by broad daylight - this man from Ur had never seen the moon citadel of Uru;      
It had been his father who had gone thence north-wards, towards Harran in the land of Naharain. And thus it was only from Harran that this falsely so-called man from Ur, having received the command from the Lord God, had set out towards the country of the Amorites, together with that Lot, later settled in Sodom, whom the tradition of the community vaguely stated to be the son of the brother of the man from Ur, on the ground, indeed, that he was the "son of Harran."
Now Lot of Sodom was certainly a son of Harran, since he as well as the Ur-man came from there. But to turn  Harran, the "city of the way," into a brother of the man from Ur, and thus to make a nephew out of his proselyte Lot, was a kind of dreamy toying with ideas which, while scarcely permissible in broad daylight, yet makes it easier to understand why young Joseph fell naturally into the same kind of game.
    He did so in the same good faith as governed, for instance, the  

/ Page 9  /  

star-worshippers and astrologers at Shinar, in their prognostications according to the principle of stellar representation, and exchanged one planet with another, for instance the sun, when it had set with Ninurta the planet of war and state, or the planet Marduk with Scorpio thereafter blithely calling Scorpio Marduk and Ninurta the sun. He did so, that is, on practical grounds, for his desire to set a beginning to the chain of events to which he belonged encountered the same difficulty that it always does: the fact that everybody has a father, that nothing comes first and of itself, its own cause, but that everybody is begotten and points backwards, deeper down into the depths of beginnings, the bottoms and the abysses of the well of the past. Joseph knew of course, that the father of the Ur-man, that is to say the real man from Uru, must have had a father, who must thus have really been the beginning of his own personal history, and so on, back to Abel, son of Adam, the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and keep sheep. Thus the exodus from Shinar afforded him only one particular and conditioned beginning ;  he was well instructed by song and saga, how it went on further and further into the general, through many histories, back to Adapa or Adama, the first man, who, indeed, according to a lying Babylonian saga, which Joseph more or less knew by heart, had been the son of Ea, god of wisdom and the water depths, and had served the gods as baker and cup-bearer - but of whom Joseph had better and more inspired knowledge; back to the garden in the East wherein had stood the two trees, the tree of life and the unchaste treeof death; back to the beginning the origin of the world and the heavens and the earthly universe out of con-fusion and chaos, by the might of the word, which moved about the face of the deep and was God. But this, too, was it not only a con-ditioned and particular beginning of things? For there had already
Been forms of existence which looked up to the Creator in admiration and amaze: sons of God, angels of the starry firmament, about whom Joseph himself knew some odd and even funny stories, and also re-bellious demons. These must have their origin tn some past aeon of the world, which had grown old and sunk and become raw ma-terial - and had even this been the very first beginning ?
    Here young Joseph's brain began to reel, just as ours does when we lean over the edge of the well; and despite some small inexacti-tudes which his pretty and well-favoured little head permitted itself but which are unsuitable for us, we may feel close to him and almost contemporary, in respect to those deep backwards and abysms of time into which so long ago he already gazed. He was a human being like ourselves, thus he must appear to us, and despite his earlyness in time just as remote as we mathematically speaking, from the begin-nings of humanity ( not to speak of the beginnings of things in general ), for they do in actual fact lie deep down in the darkness at the  

/ Page 10   /  

bottom of the abyss, and we, in our researches, must either stop at the conditioned and apparent beginnings, confusing them with the real beginning, in the same way that Joseph confused the man from Ur on the one hand with his father, and on the other with Joseph's own great-grand father; or else we must keep on being lured from one time-coulisse to the next, backwards and backwards into the im-measurable.
Hold thy hand a moment scribe said ZedAliz .Read this, and then with understanding of this and  that, intercede, and seed the seed within.
Reight wah Alizzed said the scribe, as long as that thread of threads be not lost.
Worry not az to that thread far yonder scribe, said the Zed Aliz, twill all come out in the wish.  




Scofield references
GENESIS    Chapter 5    B.C. 4004

Page 12

       "This is the book of the genera-tions of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him;
2     Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created .
3     And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image and called his name
4     And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hun-dred years: and he begat sons and daughters:
5     And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.
                                                                    The Family of Seth

6      And Seth lived an hundred and five years and begat Enos:
7      And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years and begat sons and daugh-ters:  
8      And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died.
9      And Enos lived ninety years, and begat Cainan:
10    And Enos lived after he begat Cainan eight hundred and fifteen years, and begat sons and daugh-ters:
11    And all the days of Enos were nine hundred and five years: and he died.
12    And Cainan lived seventy years and begat Mahalaleel
13    And Cainan lived after he be-gat Mahalaleel eight hundred and forty years, and begat sons and daughters:
14    And all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years: and he died.
15    And Mahaleel lived sixty and five years, and begat Jared:
16    And Mahaleel lived after he begat Jared eight hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters:
17    And all the days of Mahalaleel were eight hundred ninety and five years: and he died.
18    And Jared lived an hundred sixty and two years, and he begat Enoch:
19    And Jared lived after he begat Enoch eight hundred years, and be-gat sons and daughters:
20    And all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty and two years: and he died.
21    And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah:
22    And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah: three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters:
23    And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years:
24    And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.
25    And Methuselah lived an hundred eighty and seven years, and begat Lamech:
26    And Methusalah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighty and two years, and begat sons and daughters:
27    And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died.
28    And Lamech lived an hundred eighty and two years, and begat a son:
29    And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because
of the ground which the LORD hath cursed.
30    And Lamech lived after he be-gat Noah five hundred ninety and five years, and begat sons and daughters:
31    And all the days of Lamech were
seven hundred seventy and seven years: and he died.
32    And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham and Japheth.
Page 17

Chapter 9   B.C. 2348

28    And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years.
29    And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died..
Now then dear scribe said Zed Aliz, and for the love of it all, transcribe those aforementioned vintage years to our advantage.
For the sake of continuity, include verses 28 and 29 of chapter 9 bearing in mind that there is a difference of 100 years in the calculated
time spans stated for Noah

Page 13

Chapter 5   

verse 32   " And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham and Japheth"

Page 17

Chapter 9

           28   "And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years."
                                    29   " And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died.
Alizzed and the scribe waved goodbye to the swiftly turned returning glances watching until they disappeared into the not too distant past



Previous Page
Next Page