Monday, November 10, 2008

The Name of the Lord and its significance

In the last post, a question was raised that I would like to address:
This isn't about the election. I've just been enjoying your ORIGINAL GOSPEL OF THOMAS IN TRANSLATION. As someone who got interested in the Jerusalem Church, James, and offshoots of that community while taking a course on the gospels at Davidson College years ago, it's interesting and good to see the Thomas material less thru the Gnostic frame and more as what it is/was. I've always been curious as to at what point early believers started to think of Jesus as God or equate him with God, so the material relating to the NAME Angel was especially interesting because out of all of the material, it was completely new to me. Would you, perhaps, point me to some additional articles and/or early texts where the NAME Angel theology is expressed or implied. If so, I'd be very grateful.

Best,

William Madden, Instructor
Dept. of Humanities
Georgia Perimeter College
Atlanta GA
The classic comprehensive study is Jarl Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord (Tübingen, 1985). This is the book of my own teacher, from whom I learned these ideas. I apply them to everything I do, but I wrote a piece recently in which I tried to incorporate them into my discussion of the origin and development of Christology. This article is April DeConick, "How we talk about Christology matters," in David Capes, April DeConick, Helen Bond and Troy Miller (eds.), Israel's God and Rebecca's Children (Waco, 2007) pp. 1-24. One of Fossum's other students, Charles Gieschen, has written significant pieces on the subject. The most accessible is an overview article published in my favorite early Christian studies journal, which I highly recommend: Charles Gieschen, "The Divine Name in Ante-Nicene Christology," Vigiliae Christianae 57 (2003) pp. 115-158. See also Gieschen's book, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence (Leiden, 1998). Enjoy!

13 comments:

N T Wrong said...

See also, very recently, Steven Richard Scott, 'The Binitarian Nature of the Book of Similitudes', Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 18 (2008): 55-78. Any comments on that article, April?

William Madden said...

Dear Dr. DeConick (April), Thank you for this. I might have qualified my earlier statement just a tiny bit by mentioning that while I was serving as a volunteer missionary in Thailand back in the 1990's, there was a professor at the Baptist seminary there that taught a Bible study for the younger volunteers, and one evening he got going on the topic of the idea of the NAME Angel as a pre-incarnation of Christ, and he gave us a handout that listed all of the episodes with the Angel of YHWH in the OT.

It seemed like a nice idea, but in truth I thought it little more than good-natured wishful harmonizing of OT concepts from NT perspectives. Of course, the church has done that from the beginning, but I always assumed the idea of connecting the Angel of YHWH with Jesus was something that got cooked up in relatively recent times. It's much more interesting to consider that Jesus contemporaries (or at the very least, a very early generation of Christians) began to think about him and interpret him in that way. My favorite in this vein is the Thomasine variant (discussed in your ORIGINAL GOSPEL OF THOMAS) on the "Who do men say that I am?" when Thomas replies to the other disciples, "I could tell you (what Jesus told me about who he is), but you'd have to stone me, and then the stones would spit out fire and burn you up!" That is so cool.

All in all, Thomas brings an immediacy and a freshness to the experience of hearing Jesus that makes me feel like I'm there with them, which is of course very welcome.

Thank you for this post and for the couple of previous ones that touched on this topic. I did a paper on Son of Man sayings and their interpretation back in my days as a Davidson College student.
It became apparent through those studies that with just about any title or conception of Jesus that we look at--Son of God, Son of Man, Messiah, Logos, we are looking at an accretion of some sort--always later, the question being, how late? With THOMAS and the community that performed and transcribed it, it appears we are looking at just about one of the earliest layers that can be observed, and that is so cool. My wife and I spent most our entire dinner table conversation this evening discussing this. I look forward to getting into the readings that you suggested, and once again, my thanks!

Jim Deardorff said...

Hiere is more text that i find relevant regarding "the name of the Lord".

In the Dead Sea scroll called the Genesis Apocryphon (1Q20), we read:

I went to all my old campsites until I reached Bethel, the place where I once built an altar, and then I built another one and offered up burnt offerings and a cereal offering to the God Of Most High, and invoked the name of the Lord of the Universe there.

Here, "God of Most High" must have been Yahweh or El, to whom sacrifices were rendered. The "Lord of the Universe" seems to be something different – an entity superior to "God", which we might equate to true God, or a spiritual God of the universe.

April DeConick said...

NT Wrong strikes again. I wasn't aware of Scott's article, so I will go and dig it up now that you bring it to my attention. I have gotten away from this material since I've been immersed in the Gospel of Judas, which is consuming right now. Although recently I find myself delving into the Michael angel material again in relation to the Judas research, so I'm back to the Angel of Yahweh! Everything I do seems to come back to this angel. I suppose I am realizing that this angel is probably the most important aspect to get a handle on if we are to ever understand the origins of Christianity, Gnosticism, Judaism, and likely Islam (although I haven't tracked the angel into that material yet).

April DeConick said...

William,

I am so glad that my suggestions have helped. This YHWH angel is how Jesus became a god. Once he was identified with YHWH angel worship could be afforded him and his identity with God could be made. If you were an entity that bore the NAME, then you were that being in power and manifestation. So these traditions get tied in to the kavod of YHWH (Ezekiel 1 - translated "glory"). Jesus becomes God's Glory.

Worship of angels was going on in early Judaism even though there are many scholars who will try to deny this to preserve the "antiquity" of modern notions of monotheism. The top angels in early Judaism functioned in some ways like saints do in Catholicism. You could send them prayers for healing and ask for intervention. This is in the literature. But also the magical amulets and lamella in this period are utterly fascinating. The use of angel names and images to bring healing and grant favors is all over the materials, especially the YHWH angel who is called IAO, but also Greco-Egyptian names like Abrasax.

If you want to have a great read of this material, try Justin Martyr's writings. He was writing in the mid-second century, and his material on Jesus as the YHWH angel is fascinating. Justin is like a sponge, absorbing all the earlier traditions about Jesus and this angel and systematically writing them down. I recommend the Dialogue with Trypho.

The later church of course did not like these early traditions one bit because Greek philosophy was about ontology. If Jesus were an angel, he must be a created being, so therefore, he could not be God. These philosophical Christians forgot their Jewish origins and ways of thinking about divinity which was at odds with the philosophical. So poor Arius had a terrible time trying to defend the old tradition that Jesus was an angel, and this paved the way to Nicaea and later the doctrine of the Trinity.

SeekWisdom said...

I've recently "found" your blog and I think I'm addicted now. I have a question, but first where I'm "coming from." I've been thinking for some time that the Greeks were so abstract and when they grabbed onto The Jesus Movement, their way of abstract thinking seemed (to my mind) to take what was an "experience near" way of thinking and believing and gradually turn it into a "system" which was supposed to be air-tight and had to be swallowed whole. As such, that "system" never seemed to explain or address my own experience of the Sacred, a kind of "unfolding" of Holy Mystery.

So here's my question: Does this idea of the Angel/Name of the Lord better answer not just who is Jesus (or who people came to experience Jesus as) but does it also better explain mystical (personal spiritual) experience?

Maybe it's all been answered in previous posts. But somehow it seems to me that what theologians say should address not only the biblical/historical evidence but also fit with stages on a spiritual path (something like that).

Another thought, based on what (little) I've read from your blog, I wonder if "memory" should be used just for what one person recalls, and another term, like "remembrance" for a social process. I say this because remembrance has connotations of honoring something or someone - kind of like a Festshrift.

Sorry. One question became 3 topics, I think.

John said...

Dr.DeConick,

I came across ideas via Margaret Barker but you didn't mention her writings on subject. I was wondering what you thought of her views and in what way you might disagree with her?

Travis

Travis said...

Dr.DeConick,

I came across ideas via Margaret Barker but you didn't mention her writings on subject. I was wondering what you thought of her views and in what way you might disagree with her?

Travis

William Madden said...

Hi Dr. DeConick,

Now you've really got me on a good track. I found this last night:

"There is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things, above whom there is no other God, wishes to announce to them.... I shall endeavour to persuade you, that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things, I mean numerically, not in will. (Dialogue with Trypho, 56).

I did an early church history course with Baptist church historian E. Glenn Hinson back in 2000, again with an eye for tracing the development of Christology. The material that I found on Justin Martyr, however, only emphasized his use of the Logos concept and some possible influence or knowledge of Philo. His discussion of the Angel was completely left out of the sources that I consulted. What's interesting is the way in which the Synoptics now displace everything, or distort the spatial field they inhabit because of the weight now given to them.

The tendency is to take their (the Synoptics') concepts and trace threads back from them. Or to imagine/re-construct some kind of origin that leads toward them. But as you have helped to show--other more interesting stuff (the really important stuff) gets pushed so far to the side that it's hardly noticed or left out altogether.

I feel I now have an opportunity to understand Arius much better. I always felt he got a bad deal, but my thinking on it was shaped by Ioan Culianu's TREE OF GNOSIS. Culianu's approach was something more like game theory with some different arguments about why Nicea's solution won out. Once again, my thanks.

WM

Taliesin said...

Of course such angelomorphic christology survives at the heart of the Canon of the Roman Catholic Mass (now "Prex Eucharistica I" in the post-1969 rite:

"We humble beseech Thee, Almighty God, to command that these our offerings may be borne by the hands of Thy holy Angel to Thine altar on high"

where the Angel in question is understood to be Christ Himself, the Angel of Great Counsel of the LXX Isaiah.

It is thus not insignificant that liturgical scholars have long argued that the Roman Canon is one of the oldest surviving Eucharistic prayers.

On Name theology, three "Persons", one Name. The Name of the Three is One Name.

Taliesin said...

Of course such angelomorphic christology survives at the heart of the Canon of the Roman Catholic Mass (now "Prex Eucharistica I" in the post-1969 rite:

"We humble beseech Thee, Almighty God, to command that these our offerings may be borne by the hands of Thy holy Angel to Thine altar on high"

where the Angel in question is understood to be Christ Himself, the Angel of Great Counsel of the LXX Isaiah.

It is thus not insignificant that liturgical scholars have long argued that the Roman Canon is one of the oldest surviving Eucharistic prayers.

On Name theology, three "Persons", one Name. The Name of the Three is One Name.

Taliesin said...

Of course such angelomorphic christology survives at the heart of the Canon of the Roman Catholic Mass (now "Prex Eucharistica I" in the post-1969 rite:

"We humble beseech Thee, Almighty God, to command that these our offerings may be borne by the hands of Thy holy Angel to Thine altar on high"

where the Angel in question is understood to be Christ Himself, the Angel of Great Counsel of the LXX Isaiah.

It is thus not insignificant that liturgical scholars have long argued that the Roman Canon is one of the oldest surviving Eucharistic prayers.

On Name theology, three "Persons", one Name. The Name of the Three is One Name.

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