Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Nomen Sacrum ΙΣ and the 'Ish Theophany [Part Three]

This is pretty good so far, right?  I have already argued - I think fairly successfully - that the belief in a wholly divine figure floating down from heaven, 'tabernacling' with humanity and 'appearing' crucified on the Cross, was just as old as the belief in 'Jesus' of flesh and blood like the rest of us.  Why so?  Because the earliest manuscripts of Christianity refer to the founder of their tradition as ΙΣ and ΙΣ goes back to an attempt to transliterate the Hebrew איש, the 'mystical angel' who wrestled with Jacob in the wilderness and ultimately gave him his name 'Israel' as a reward for his display of 'strength.'

The more I look at that important passage from Clement which I identified in my last post as a 'smoking gun' the more that I see how it was fundamental to the Christian identity of its God.  The question that has to have crossed the mind of anyone who has ever come into contact with this religion is - what the heck is it all about?  Was 'being nice to one another' really such a radical concept in antiquity?  Are we really to believe that everyone was 'mean' before the appearance of this 'Jesus'?

The closer that one gets to the most ancient forms of Christianity, the more one comes into contact with the hope for being transformed or remade after the image - even the essence - of God.  This is certainly 'what it was all about' in the beginning.  'Being nice to one another' rather than representing its essence was merely 'accidental' outward sign of its core interests (= becoming divine) much like radiation from the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Early Christians like Clement 'knew' that there was a hidden being - something called 'God,' angel or other divine epithets.  He was unknown to previous generations (at least explicitly - i.e. after the manner that 'news' makes its way to reputable news networks only after being 'verified').  As Clement writes however this איש was now known to a new generation through a new convent - a thoroughly Greek covenant - as ΙΣ.  While Jews of a previous period only knew him in terms of his 'powers' of mercy and judgment, the present age where brought into acquaintance with this 'mystical angel,' this 'name above all names' as a totality - a 'fullness' - of the three other names of God - i.e. Adonai, Yahweh and Shaddai = איש.

As we have already noted in previous posts the Greek expression of this ancient name which appears in the Jacob wrestling story (Genesis 32) was seen to have great mystical significance because its letters added up to 99. We are the missing 'one percent' as it were, and God has come down in his totality, in his 'almost completeness' to search for us, his lost sheep to close the circle on the number 100.  The fact that there are Patristic references, grave markers and incantation bowls which reinforce this abstract 'mystical' reality mean that we are not entirely in theoretical nonsense.  It was 'nonsense' that the earliest sects of Christianity believed.  This is why the nomen sacrum ΙΣ was written with such distinction; it was supposed to be 'above' the already distinct and ornate Tetragrammaton.  Indeed the Tetragrammaton was part of it (as part of the aforementioned mystical acronym). 

Undoubtedly because of the destruction of the Second Commonwealth Judaism, the idea became established that the 'mystical angel' who established ancient Israel established a new 'more perfect' covenant with the present age.  Clement and the earliest Christians learned from Philo to read the very name Ἰσραὴλ as reflective of the hidden essence of this ultimate divinity איש = 'ish ra'ah [or ro'eh] 'El, "a man seeing God" (Justin = "a man contending with God).  At its core, as Clement and Justin both testify, is the phoneme Ἰσ = אִישׁ which ultimately gets its final expression in the nomen sacrum ΙΣ and perhaps more importantly the idea that humanity was now fortunate to be eating and drinking the supernatural being (יש) of the Most High God.

I don't know how one 'gets into the mind' of a mystical tradition.  On the other side, standing rigidly opposed to this understanding, is the rather facile explanation of the gospel by 'historicists' that Jesus was a real man who lived in Palestine at the time of Pilate and ultimately died on the Cross.  It is easier 'prove' something that seems provable.  Being a 'man' seems so straightforward.  We are all 'men' in the broadest sense of the term.  So it is that the question of the 'manhood' of Jesus was used as a rhetorical 'tactic' by the early Church Fathers against the heretics.  'We see that he was a man from the very pages of the gospel,' we hear them utter over and over again, 'what is so controversial about being a man'?

The point of course is that if we go back to the very pages of the so-called 'Old Testament' that the same Church Fathers were claiming was the proper foundation for understanding the gospel, it becomes quite apparent that matters are no so straightforward.  For in Genesis 32 and other passages there is quite clearly repeated suggestion that God was not only 'anthropomorphic' but man.  It is not a matter of failing understanding Hebrew; the Greek (and English text for that matter) render the very same idea into the vernacular - i.e. there was a God or angel named 'man.'

Clement knew this reality because it was the foundation of his tradition which developed its ideas of who ΙΣ was from the very words of Genesis 32 in specific.  Genesis 32 tells the strange story of two men 'struggling' with one another - one mortal, the other immortal - leading to immortality for Jacob through a 'change of names.'  All explanations for the mystical exegesis necessarily go back to the original Hebrew of the passage.  How for instance does Clement for instance identify this 'struggle' as an expression of love.  The Hebrew words for ‘struggle’ (A-B-K) and ‘embrace’ (Ch-B-K) derive from the same two-letter root, B-K which Rashi for instance links etymologically - i.e. lechobko and leovko: “to struggle is to embrace."

Clement clearly understood this wrestling to have taken place while both men were naked.  The image was inescapable owing to his cultural preconditioning.  Undoubtedly this conception stands at the core of his community's 'secret gospel.'  But let's leave this aside for a moment and continue to delve deeper into the etymological foundations of the nomen sacrum.  “Sarita im elokim - you have struggled with God,” God says to Jacob. We are then told that sarita is related to the core meaning of the name Israel. Israel means to struggle with God.

The oldest surviving Jewish exegesis of this material is found in Genesis Rabbah dating from the third century CE.  The etymological explanation for the name Israel echoes many other sources and will ultimately prove once and for all that the Marcionites interpreted the nomen sacrum ΙΣ as איש.

“There is none like God (Deut. 32:26); yet who is like God? Jeshurun, which means israel the Patriarch. Just as it is written of God, and the lord alone shall be exalted (Isa 2:11), so of Jacob too: and Jacob was left alone (Gen. 32:25).”

As Hartman notes "this is more than eulogy, for the allusion that identifies Jacob and Jeshurun is underwritten by the opening proof text of the midrash: “There is none like unto God, O Jeshurun."

There is no doubt whatsoever that the name Jeshurun is rooted in the Hebrew word yashar (= to be straight).  The point here is that only Jacob, among all men, is noble or straight enough to be compared to God.  But yashar was also often and early identified as the etymological root for the name Israel.  As Hartman again notes "even if the redactor draws back and shows some cunning of his own, claiming it means 'you have striven with God [Midrash: angels] and with men' it is impossible to get around the fact that at the core of this passage is a mystical being known to the earliest Christians by the nomen sacrum. 

For the last part of this line “as with men” has often been taken to be a reference to Jacob's trouble with Laban and Esau.  But, when read in light of early Christian interest in the figure איש drawn from this very narrative.  If you look at the Hebrew text איש appears throughout.  This is why this a major proof text for Hamori's 'ish theophany.  As Hartman suggests that the line usually translated as “you have striven with God [Elohim] and with men” should be taken as a hendyadis, intending “you have striven with godlike men” or "with God-like man."  While the narrator's gloss tries to settle the meaning of Yisra'el it only complicates - or even obscures - it.

The Torah commentary issued by the union of the american hebrew Congregations, modern scholarship develops, without alluding to it, rabbi Berekhia's midrash. “Jeshurun,” another name for israel the Patriarch, “means noblest and best”: the rabbis suspect the name is rooted in the word for “upright” (yashar). so Yisra'el, we learn from this newest commentary, is probably derived from yashar-'el, the one whom God makes straight), as opposed to ya-akffv-ei, one whom God causes to limp.

What does any of this have to do with the Marcionites?  Let's go back to the only surviving epigraphic evidence from this tradition.  They identified their god as Χρῆστος rather Χριστός which makes sense because it would be hard to imagine 'anointing' a supernatural divinity.  But what about Χρῆστος?  What is the origin of that epithet?  Certainly one can make the case that this god was 'good' or 'kind' but the core meaning here is 'use' or being 'useful.'  What special significance did Χρῆστος have with the Marcionites that they were so attached to it?

I will argue that the interest goes back to the 'ish theophany and the identification of ΙΣ with the איש of the material there.  If we consult a Greek concordance χρῆστος takes the place of three Hebrew words 'tov' (good) 'yaqar' (precious, honored) and - lo and behold - yashar (upright).  We read:

Proverbs 2:21 כִּי-יְשָׁרִים יִשְׁכְּנוּ-ארֶץ; וּתְמִימִים, יִוָּתְרוּ בָהּ
LXX Proverbs 2:21 χρηστοὶ ἔσονται οἰκήτορες γῆς ἄκακοι δὲ ὑπολειφθήσονται ἐν αὐτῇ ὅτι εὐθεῖς κατασκηνώσουσι γῆν καὶ ὅσιοι ὑπολειφθήσονται ἐν αὐτῇ

It would seem that when we look to LXX usages, give the impression that the term had the underlying general sense of being 'appropriate' or 'right.'  But in the context of the Marcionite and heretical use of the epithet in association with ΙΣ it is a reminder that the Christian god is the divine איש who wrestled with Jacob. 

The point then is that beneath the ridiculous etymology from Philo that Israel is the 'man who sees God' there is a much deeper tradition that איש was yashar-el, the 'upright' or 'noble' god (cf. Genesis Rabbah 77.1).  The surviving members of the early Christian tradition likely could not interpret Hebrew.  Nevertheless they did their best to preserve very ancient concept in terms that could still understand, so it is that איש was both ΙΣ and Χρῆστος.  Both attempted to preserve the living link to a fundamental mystical concept - i.e. the idea that God could tabernacle and ultimately transform men into divine beings. 

In the end it is impossible not to see that the original nomen sacrum derived its origins from an early Christian interest in Genesis 32 and its 'ish theophany.  We have by now laid out a strong case that it was a transliteration of איש.  Nevertheless it is important not to lose sight of the context of Genesis 32 as the basis - even the justification - for the reverence of these two Greek letters.  While we have already taken into account the numerological significance of the term, I think there is one more reason why the earliest Christians found ΙΣ so deserving of reverence.  It was a pre-existing Homeric term which approximated the word sarita for thou hast prevailed with God (ἐνίσχυσας μετὰ θεοῦ) and be mighty with men (μετὰ ἀνθρώπων δυνατός).

ἐνίσχυσας (= to be strong) derives from ἰσχύω. But it is interesting to note that there was an archaic term used mostly in Homeric writings which Hesychius of Alexandria, the great collector of ignored words saw as its very root. It also just happens to appear exactly as the sacred nomen sacrum on the written page. The Liddell entry is:

ἴς (B) [ι_], ἡ, three times in acc. sg. ἶνα (elided ἶν᾽) Il.5.245,7.269, Od.9.538, freq. in instr. ἶφι (q.v.), elsewh. only nom. sg.:

— A.strength, force, of persons, “ἀλλ᾽ ἄρα καὶ ἲς ἐσθλή” Il.12.320; “ἐπέρεισε δὲ ἶν᾽ ἀπέλεθρον” 7.269; “ἤ μοι ἔτ᾽ ἐστὶν ἴς, οἵη πάρος . . ” Od.21.283, cf. 11.393, 18.3: freq. in periphr., ἱερὴ ἲς Τηλεμάχοιο the strong Telemachus, 2.409; “κρατερὴ ἲς Ὀδυσῆος” Il.23.720; “ἲς Ἡρακλῆος” Hes.Th.951; and in twofold periphr., ἲς βίης Ἡρακληείης ib.332; also of things, ἲς ἀνέμου or ἀνέμοιο, Il.15.383, 17.739, Od.9.71; “ἲς ποταμοῖο” Il.21.356; κράται᾽ ἴς was read by Od.11.597; v. κρατύς. (ϝι_-, cf. γίς: ἰσχύς, Hsch., pr. n. “ϝιφιάδας” IG7.3172.70, Lat. vis, vim; prob. cogn. with ἵεμαι but not with ἴς (A).)

The point here of course is that we imagine for a second people coming across the nomen sacrum for the first time  it is impossible not to think that they would have read it as 'strength' or 'force.' Of course they knew that there was something special about this word by the way it appeared on the written page.  The orthodox certainly explained to their faithful that it was a 'collapsing' of the six-letter name Ἰησοῦς.  But there would have been an even stronger argument in favor of the idea that ΙΣ - by means of the Homeric ἴς - was an expression of the mystical transfer of 'essence' or 'energy' in Genesis 32. 

FWIW Brown, Driver and Briggs by way of Genesius suggest איש is rooted in the Akkadian ishanu = strong. 

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