Monday, January 16, 2012

Benjamin Sommer and the Johannine Divine Name applied to the Son


In The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, Benjamin Sommer draws attention to examples of the 'fluidity' of divine identity (i.e., the 'ability' of a Semitic deity to maintain an identity in more than one place simultaneously), for example, as described in some ancient Near Eastern texts concerning the term shem, that is, "name":
The same phenomenon [of being at once an independent deity and a part of another deity] occurs also with the term shem. In a Phonecian inscription, we read that the king Eshmunazor built a temple for Baal of Sidon and a temple for . . . "Astarte, Name of Baal . . . . The same epithet is applied to this goddess twice in Ugaritic myths. One of the occurrences comes from the Kirta epic: . . . (May) Astarte, Name of Baal, (break) your scalp!" An almost identical passage appears again in a passage from the Baal epic. In these three texts, Astarte as the Name of Baal appears in parallel with another god. She appears on her own, however, with some frequency in Ugaritic and Phonician texts (as well as in Egyptian ones). Here again, a goddess who elsewhere has her own self appears as an aspect of Baal's self. As in the more abundant Akkadian texts . . . then, the selfhood of Canaanite deities was at times fluid: Gods could fragment and overlap, even though at the level of worship and mythology they usually were distinct from each other. (page 27)

Sommer later applies this model to a number of passages in the Hebrew Bible, but I want to draw attention to another parallel, in John's Gospel:
17:11 καὶ οὐκέτι εἰμὶ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ εἰσίν κἀγὼ πρὸς σὲ ἔρχομαι πάτερ ἅγιε τήρησον αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου ᾧ δέδωκάς μοι ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν καθὼς ἡμεῖς. 12 ὅτε ἤμην μετ᾽ αὐτῶν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ, ἐγὼ ἐτήρουν αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου οὓς δέδωκάς μοι ἐφύλαξα . . . (Morphological Greek New Testament)

17:11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name -- the name you gave me -- so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me . . . (New International Version)

A bold, but careful hermeneut might venture to read this as meaning that the Son is the Name of the Father, analogous to how Astarte is the Name of Baal. Ben doesn't comment on these two Johannine verses, but I see by looking ahead that he later cites the Johannine prologue on page 96 in a particularly relevant discussion of John 1:14 concerning the manner in which the divine Word "tabernacled" in the world. Of special interest are Ben's notes 60 through 63 to this point, found on page 239, especially note 63's reference to "Name theology" in the Hebrew Bible, about which I'll comment upon when I've read that material thoroughly. I'd be curious to know what Ben makes of the two verses in John 17, as well as that chapter more generally.

Perhaps we can expect another book?

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At 5:15 AM, Blogger dhr said...

A definitely intriguing verse. In the previous Italian official Catholic version (1974) it was badly translated as "Father, protect in your name those whom you gave me," where "ho" (which) worked as a very generic pronoun, even referred to "them" instead of "name," though the latter would have been much more consistent with the structure of the Greek sentence.

When I studied these things, and happened to translate that very passage as a homework or so, I then ventured to ask the teacher whether it could be read as God giving His Name to the Son. He simply replied that there were no other occurrences of such a concept in the NT...

Now, however, the current official etc. (2008) exactly matches the NIV text you cite. The 2008 version being a bit better than the 1974 one, but still far away from the Great Translations.

As to the meaning, in the Bible - but not only there - the name 'carries' the person's substance and destiny. That is why it was, and is, forbidden to utter God's own name YHWH. In general, the verse can be interpreted as showing Jesus' divinity and irreplaceable role in humankind's meeting with God, but...

... but I suggest a different hypothesis. If God's Name cannot be pronounced, John ch. 17 prepares Christ's resurrection: "You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth... he IS NOT HERE," that sounds like the opposite of YHWH, meaning "I Am (here)", but at the same time is the true meaning of that Name, suggesting in fact that "He Is insofar as He Is Not (as you expect Him to, etc.)"

Just for the sake of theologizing a bit

At 5:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Dario -- definitely a lot to think about.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:38 PM, Blogger Lady Kālikā said...

Welcome back, I missed your great intelligence.

Don't know who else you have channeling on here, lately, but they were different. Haha!

Oh, when I read your post, the quote "be of the world but not in it" came to mind.

Hm...where have I seen that quote before...oh, a Korean meditation place, I guess. :p

At 9:23 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Lady Kālikā, good to hear from you again. Dario is best described by "great intelligence," so you must be referring to him. He comes and goes, a busy renaissance man.

As for me, I'm a second-rate mind occasionally capable of first-rate work.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:55 AM, Blogger dhr said...

Dario ... a busy renaissance

a buzzing-rein ass Hans

At 7:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You see, LK, I told you Dario was clever! A clever Hans . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:47 AM, Blogger Lady Kālikā said...


Well, in any case, I appreciate and enjoy the bits of enlightenment that I get from your posts, prof. Hodges, They are delightful.

At 1:19 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I might not always be enlightening, but I hope ever to be delightful, which is still a kind of 'light', whether opposed to darkness or heaviness, I don't know.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:04 AM, Blogger Lady Kālikā said...

I never had an a problem with light, actually, until I came find out that light has a problem with, yeah, as long as we can co-exist I think we're good! ;)

At 1:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Co-existence grounded in the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction worked for a good long while . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:55 PM, Blogger Lady Kālikā said...

...then...along came the devil with his bag of tricks and,...DAM! The End!

At 7:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I hate it when that happens . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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