Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Origin of 'Jesus'

Larry Hurtado wrote what is perhaps the definitive article on the origin of the nomina sacra (i.e. the scribal convention of reverencing certain divine names).  He and others argued, that the ancient Jewish scribal practices used in biblical texts where YHWH appears and the early Christian manner of spelling out Jesus name  in early manuscripts as a unique IH (i.e. the first two letters of Ἰησοῦς.  Nevertheless Hurtado argues the specific scribal devices themselves appear to be invented in Christian circles.  In other words, the Jews start the ball rolling by writing the divine name in a specifically reverential manner but the Christian nomina sacra are a uniquely Christian development of that original practice.

I think I can take this argument a step further, yet it takes us into a place that traditional scholarship is usually unwilling to go.  We all know (or at least most of us know that) that Jesus was called Yeshu by Aramaic speakers.  The specific form appears in early Syriac texts but it also seems to be known to Irenaeus.  I am now fairly certain that the earliest Christian manuscripts in Aramaic would likely have referenced Jesus's name simply as יֵשׁ (= yesh).  I don't know if there was any other accompanying scribal convention in these documents.  None have survived down to us.  Nevertheless I think I can confirm the likely interest in 'yesh' (= Yeshu) by means of tracing the origin of the heretical name 'Ebion.'

Yes most of us know that the so-called 'Ebionites' were a group of 'Jewish Christians' who were particularly common in the region called Perea (now the Kingdom of Jordan).  This region used to be the stronghold of the Herodian kings.  Clement mentions a sect called the Peraciti who are likely the same 'Ebionites.'  The so-called 'Ebionites' are demonstrated to go back to a figure named 'Hebion' in Tertullian's Prescription Against the Heretics.

Many scholars have been puzzled by the specific form 'Hebion.'  Epiphanius writing over a century later calls the founder 'Ebion' but it is difficult to believe that this Aramaic word which means 'beggar' or 'poor person' could have been a proper name.  Yet I stumbled upon something very interesting in Jastrow's Aramaic Dictionary which might explain the name 'Hebion' and why the Ebionites were not really 'the poor' at all.  This was just a misunderstanding or better yet a deliberate distraction from a Jewish mystical interest in Jesus as יֵשׁ (= yesh)

Let's start at the top. Jastrow says on page 5 that in some dialects of Jewish Aramaic the word חֶבְי֥וֹןה which means 'hidden' one was pronounced אבְי֥וֹןה. So now we have the beginnings of explaining how 'Ebion' could have developed from 'Hebion' something we already see as the original text used by Tertullian (probably originally copied from Irenaeus or Justin) became 'Ebion' by the time of Epiphanius.

Now we see in Epiphanius a notion that some of the Ebionites believed in Elxai (= the hidden power). Yet if we go to another treatise that Tertullian copied from Irenaeus (but which ultimately came from Justin) we begin to see how Ebion was himself derived from the concept of Elxai. Tertullian's interest in Habakkuk 3:4 to disprove Marcion clearly uses a passage where Hebion is referenced as 'the hidden power':

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth. LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.

God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden (וְשָׁ֖ם חֶבְי֥וֹן עֻזֹּֽה)
Now there isn't a Christian scholar alive who realizes that the earliest Jewish mystics read this last sentence as  'Yesh his hidden power.'  In other words, יֵשׁ was taken as a divine name.

My thinking goes something like this.  If the nomina sacra concept was derived from Jewish practices, why isn't it possible that the earliest Aramaic Christian manuscripts would have simply referenced Jesus as יֵשׁ?  In the same way that Christian manuscripts take the first two letters of Iesous and spell his name out only as IH the original Aramaic habit would have been יֵשׁ.  There is a surprisingly interesting agreement with Clement's identification of IH as part of the number 318 which appears in LXX Gen 14:14.  Clement says this means that Jesus is being signified.  While the surviving Jewish manuscripts spell out the value 'eight, ten, three hundred.'  In other words, in the same way as Clement sees IH in the 318, an Aramaic speaker could well have found יֵשׁ

In any event, let's continue with Tertullian's (or Justin's) original 'correction' of the Marcionite claim that the God who manifested himself through Jesus was NOT unknown to the Jewish scriptures.  Tertullian was taking over an original text which clearly took an interest in Hab 3:4.  Yet in the beginning the source explains to us what is wrong with the Marcionite interest:
You [Marcion] ought to be very much ashamed of yourself on this account too, for permitting him to appear on the retired mountain in the company of Moses and Elias, whom he had come to destroy. This, to be sure, was what he wished to be understood as the meaning of that voice from heaven: "This is my beloved Son, hear Him" ----Him, that is, not Moses or Elias any longer. The voice alone, therefore, was enough, without the display of Moses and Elias; for, by expressly mentioning whom they were to hear, he must have forbidden all others from being heard. Or else, did he mean that Isaiah and Jeremiah and the others whom he did not exhibit were to be heard, since he prohibited those whom he did display? Now, even if their presence was necessary, they surely should not be represented as conversing together, which is a sign of familiarity; nor as associated in glory with him, for this indicates respect and graciousness; but they should be shown in some slough as a sure token of their ruin, or even in that darkness of the Creator which Christ was sent to disperse, far removed from the glory of Him who was about to sever their words and writings from His gospel. This, then, is the way how he demonstrates them to be aliens, even by keeping them in his own company! This is how he shows they ought to be relinquished: he associates them with himself instead! This is how he destroys them: he irradiates them with his glory! How would their own Christ act? I suppose He would have imitated the frowardness (of heresy), and revealed them just as Marcion's Christ was bound to do, or at least as having with Him any others rather than His own prophets! (Against Marcion 4:22)
So the Marcionites believed that when the Father manifested Jesus as a divinity on the mountain, he was revealing a wholly unknown divinity.  In Against Marcion we see Tertullian's preserve what must have been Justin's original citation of Hab. 3.4 to explain the Transfiguration:

So the Father has put into the Son's charge the new disciples, by first displaying Moses and Elijah along with him in his excellence of glory, and thus granting them release, as having at length fully discharged their office and dignity—so that for Marcion's benefit confirmation might be given of this very fact, that there is even a sharing of Christ's glory with Moses and Elijah. We find also in Habakkuk the complete outline of this vision, where the Spirit speaks in the person of the apostles sometime to be, Lord, I have heard thy hearing and was afraid. (Hab 3.2) What hearing, other than of that voice from heaven, This is my beloved Son, hear him? I considered thy works and was astounded. (Hab 3.2) ... And once more, Habakkuk again, His virtue covered the heavens, with that cloud, and his glory will be as the light, (Hab 3.4) the light with which even his garments glistered. And if we call to mind the promise to Moses, here it will be seen fulfilled. For when Moses asked to have sight of the Lord, and said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, manifest thyself to me, that I may knowledgeably see thee, what he looked for was that aspect in which he was to live his human life, which as a prophet he was aware of—but God's face, he had already been told, no man shall see and live—and God answered, This word also which thou hast spoken, I will do it for thee. And again Moses said, Shew me thy glory: and the Lord answered, concerning the future, as before, I will go before in my glory, and what follows. And at the end, And thou shall see then my later parts, not meaning his loins or the calves of his legs, but the glory he had asked to see, though it was to be revealed to him in later times. In this glory he had promised to be visible to him face to face, when he said to Aaron, And if there shall be a prophet among you, I shall be known to him in a vision, and shall speak to him in a vision, not as to Moses: to him I shall speak mouth to mouth, in full appearance, the full appearance of that man- hood which he was to take upon him, and not in an enigma. For even if Marcion has refused to have him shown conversing with the Lord, but only standing there, even when standing he stood mouth to mouth with him, and face to face, as it says, not outside of him, looking towards the glory that was his, and of course in full view. So at his departure from Christ he retained the light of that glory precisely as he did at his departure from the Creator: as then he dazzled the eyes of the children of Israel, so now he dazzles the eyes of blinded Marcion, who has failed to see how this evidence tells against himself. (ibid)
Now it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the original text of Justin identified the entire passage in Habakkuk as having foreknowledge of the Transfiguration. That was Justin's original point and his argument was certainly that the god who manifested himself on the mountain was the 'hidden power' or what was formerly the hiding of his power (hebion uzzoh) in previous ages. 

Justin only took exception with the notion with a fringe group of heretics who apparently thought that nothing in the OT had any foreknowledge of what was to come. Tertullian however has edited the original text in such a way that he added references from Zechariah and Exodus to make a new argument that this god who was manifest on the mountain was the same god who made his revelation to Moses. This was not the original point of the author who cited Habakkuk to prove foreknowledge. Why so? Because of the reference to the 'hiding of god' (hebion uzzoh) which conveniently goes missing in the final Catholic editor of the text.

What Christian scholars do not understand is that Habakkuk 3:4 isn't just another 'scripture' but one of the most important texts to prove the existence of a hidden god.  I was familiar with this passage from the writings of Joseph Gikatilla which I will explain later.  Yet Gikatilla clearly has a tradition he is following to understand 'yesh' as a hidden power. It was the very early text of the Bahir which makes plain how Hab 3:4 was always interpreted by Jews:
Bahir 187. The fear of God is the one that is higher. It is in the palm of God’s hand. It is also His Force. This palm (kaf) is called the pan of merit (Kaf Zechut). This is because it inclines the world to the pan of merit. It is thus written (Isaiah 11:3), “I will grant him a spirit of the fear of God, and he will not judge by the sight of his eyes, he will not admonish according to what his ear hears.” He will incline all the world to the pan of merit. From there counsel emanates, and from there health emanates to the world. [It is also written,] (Genesis 49:24) “From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel.” This is the place that is called “There" (= yesh). Regarding this, it is written (Habakkuk 3:4), “and His hidden Force is yesh (= 'there')." 
You know I could explain this logic to Hurtado for two thousand years and he would never 'get it.'  He would never get it because there is only so much 'truth' that he could ever allow into his brain, into his soul.
Justin's idea that Habakkuk is foretelling the manifestation of Jesus the hidden power of God is clearly derived from Jewish mystical circles.  He originally was confirming that the scriptures confirmed the same understanding that Marcion said was unknown to the Law and prophets.

Yet the truth that Hurtado would never admit of course - and which follows from this exhibition - is that the early Aramaic manuscripts likely only referenced Jesus as יֵשׁ because Jesus was the 'hidden power' of the heretics.  His tradition is a deliberate European corruption of an original Jewish mystical tradition.  He doesn't even realize how fundamental this passage is to Jewish mysticism.  Justin originally noted that it 'foretold' the Transfiguration.  However, Hurtado has a blind spot with respect to what was being revealed here.  Jesus was a hidden power.

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