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Writing & Pronouncing the Divine Name in Second-Temple Jewish Tradition

August 18, 2014

Several comments prompted by my earlier postings have raised questions about how the Hebrew divine name (YHWH) was rendered in written form and how God was referred to orally in the time of Jesus.  In addition to interest in these questions for their own sake, there is also the related question of how these matters may relate to the designation of Jesus as “Kyrios” in the NT.

So, there are three distinguishable issues involved.  (1) How was the name YHWH treated in ancient Jewish manuscripts, both Hebrew and Greek ones? (2) How did ancient Jews refer to YHWH orally (i.e., did they use verbal/oral substitute words)?  (3) How might data relating to the preceding questions relate to the use of “Kyrios” to designate Jesus in the NT?  An adequate treatment would require far more space than appropriate for a blog-posting, so I shall have to be brief, referring interested readers to the “For Further Reading” list at the end of this posting.  (I was surprised and disappointed to find no entry relevant to these questions in the otherwise excellent work edited by J. J. Collins & Daniel C. Harlow, The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism.)

Let’s take question #2 first.  On the one hand, it is clear that by the late second-temple period, there was among many Jews an (apparently growing) avoidance of pronouncing YHWH.  Among frequently cited evidence, note how the LXX renders Leviticus 24:16.  Whereas the Hebrew text  of this verse forbids blaspheming God’s name, the Greek text forbids pronouncing it.  Likewise, in the list of offences and punishments in the Qumran community text, 1QS (6:27–7:2), uttering the divine name (“which is honoured above all”) results in a permanent exclusion.  And in the Mishnah also (10.1), albeit later in date, uttering the divine name is one of the crimes that excludes a Jew from “the world to come”.

On the other hand, other data indicate that some Jews apparently continued to pronounce YHWH in one form or another, e.g., “IAO” in Greek, as surveyed most fully in Frank Shaw’s 2002 PhD thesis (details below).

But those who observed the rule about not pronouncing YHWH would likely have used some reverential substitute(s).  Philo, for example, gives strong evidence that “Kyrios” was used by at least some Greek-speaking Jews, and “Theos” as well.  Indeed, he even discusses the special connotations of “Kyrios” and “Theos,” as key ways of designating the biblical deity (Dahl & Segal essay listed below; also Royse).  There is also evidence suggesting that “Adonay” was used as an equivalent substitute in Hebrew (e.g., 1QIsa at 3:7-8 has “Adonay” where the Masoretic text has YHWH).

This takes us to the way(s) that YHWH was handled in manuscripts.  The data indicate a certain variety of copyist-practices, and these likely shifting across time (details in DeTroyer’s article and in Tov’s “go-to” book on Qumran manuscripts listed below).  For example, in Aramaic letters from Elephantine (5th century BCE), the name is written out, as is the case in the early Samaritan texts from Wadi Daliyeh (4th century BCE).  Likewise, in a number of Hebrew manuscripts from Qumran (2nd-1st century BCE) YHWH appears in the same “square” Hebrew script as the rest of the surrounding text.  But in some other Qumran manuscripts, YHWH is written in an archaic Hebrew script that sets the word off visually from the rest of the text (which is written in typical “square” Hebrew script); and in others, instead of YHWH we have four dots.  In some instances, where the Masoretic Hebrew text has YHWH, we have instead “Elohim”.  Marking off YHWH from the surrounding text, and/or replacing it with a set of dots, appear to be intended also to alert readers to pronounce some acceptable substitute, which is compatible with the data about avoiding pronouncing YHWH itself.

In very early (pre-Christian) Greek biblical manuscripts, there is likewise a variety of practice exhibited.  In some cases, YHWH is written in Hebrew characters, which again has the effect of setting it off visually from the surrounding Greek text.  It is interesting that in at least some of these instances (e.g., P. Fouad 266 b) where the copyist of the Greek biblical text left a blank space for someone subsequently to insert the divine name in Hebrew, the space is more adequate for ca. six characters.  The result is that when the four letters of YHWH were written in, there is extra space left.  This may suggest that the copyist of the Greek text was thinking of sufficient space for the Greek word “Kyrios,” because it was familiar to him as a common oral substitute for the divine name, a practice for which (as noted already) Philo gives evidence.

In one Greek copy of Leviticus from Qumran (4QpapLXXLev b), we have an instance where YHWH is written in Greek letters as IAO.  In another (later) Greek biblical manuscript likely of Jewish provenance, P.Oxyrhynchus 656, at a few places we read “Theos” where the Masoretic Hebrew text has YHWH.

So, in sum, we have a variety of copying practices, including writing YHWH in one or another special ways, or using dots or some other word in its place, and also a (growing?) scruple against pronouncing YHWH, and so a usage of oral substitutes such as “Adonay” in Hebrew, “Kyrios” in Greek (and also “Mar” in Aramaic, as noted by Fitzmyer).

Finally, then, what is the relevance of all this for early use of “Kyrios” as an epithet for Jesus?  Well, perhaps the first thing to note is that this practice seems to follow from a prior ritual use of the equivalent term,  “Mar,” in Aramaic-speaking circles of the young Jesus movement (as commonly seen reflected in the “Maranatha” expression in 1 Cor 16:22).  So, the reference to Jesus as “Lord/Master” seems to take us back to the very earliest moments of the movement.  Indeed, it is entirely plausible (I’d say very likely) that Jesus’ followers referred to him in such terms (with the sense of “master”) during his ministry.

But very quickly after Jesus’ crucifixion, the powerful conviction erupted that God had raised him from death and exalted him to a new, greater, even unique heavenly glory/status.  In Philippians 2:9-11, this exaltation appears to include Jesus being given to share in the divine name (“the name above every name”).  In other early texts the exalted Jesus is pictured as uniquely sharing and reflecting God’s glory (e.g., 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:6).  In these early texts also, we have reference to the ritual practices of “confessing” Jesus as “Kyrios” and “calling upon” him, apparently as common constituent practices of the early worship-gatherings (Romans 10:9-13; 1 Corinthians 1:2).

The latter expression (“to call upon the name of the Lord”) clearly draws on the biblical (OT) expression for the invocation and worship of YHWH, but in these NT texts this action is applied to the exalted Jesus.  Likewise, in a number of early texts (including Paul’s letters, as studied in Capes’s book), biblical texts that originally referred to YHWH are applied to Jesus (e.g., Romans 10:13).  So, it’s clear that at a remarkably early point the exalted Jesus was associated with YHWH, such that practices and texts that originally applied to YHWH were “extended” (so to speak) to include Jesus as the further referent.

Against the contentions of a few (e.g., George Howard), however, these remarkable developments cannot be ascribed to some sort of textual confusion brought on by a supposedly later copyist practice of writing “Kyrios” in place of YHWH in Greek biblical manuscripts.  The developments in question exploded so early and so quickly to render any such a proposal irrelevant.

It is, however, likely that the oral substitution of “Adonay” and/or “Kyrios” for YHWH among Jews charged these terms with enlarged significance, widening their semantic force, or range of connotations, so to speak.  To be sure, the application of “Kyrios” to Jesus in NT texts has a certain variety of connotations.  In some cases, however, it seems to function as applying to the risen/exalted Jesus uniquely something of the divine status that otherwise belongs to YHWH.  The forces that prompted and shaped the specific conviction that it is right (even necessary) to accord Jesus this reverence and to acclaim him uniquely as the “Kyrios” were several (as I’ve discussed at length elsewhere, e.g., in Lord Jesus Christ, 27-78).  They cannot be reduced to Jewish copyist practices concerning YHWH.  But the latter are not irrelevant either.

For Further Reading:

Capes, David B., Old Testament Yahweh Texts in Paul’s Christology, WUNT, no. 2/47 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1992)

Dahl, Nils and Alan F. Segal, “Philo and the Rabbis on the Names of God,” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period 9 (1978): 1-28.

DeTroyer, Kristin:  (Good on the textual data, but I regard her stance on the “nomina sacra” deficient in bases and so unpersuasive.)

Fitzmyer, J. A. “New Testament Kyrios and Maranatha and Their Aramaic Background,” in To Advance the Gospel: New Testament Studies (New York: Crossroads, 1981), 218-35.

Fitzmyer, J. A. “The Semitic Background of the New Testament Kyrios Title,” in A Wandering Aramaen: Collected Aramaic Essays (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1979), 115-42.

Rösel, Martin, “Die Übersetzung der Gottesbezeichnungen in der Genesis-Septuaginta,” in Ernten, was man sät:  Festschrift für Klaus Koch zu seinem 65. Geburtstag, ed. Dwight R. Daniels, Uwe Glessmer and Martin Rösel (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1991): 357-77.

Rösel, Martin, “The Reading and Translation of the Divine Name in the Masoretic Tradition and the Greek Pentateuch,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 31 (2007):  411-28.

Rösel, Martin, Adonaj, warum Gott ‘Herr’ genannt wird, Forschungen zum Alten Testament, 29 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000)

Royse, James R. “Philo, Kyrios, and the Tetragrammaton,” The Studia Philonica Annual 3 (1991): 167-83.

Shaw, Frank Edward. PhD thesis, “The Earliest Non-Mystical Jewish Use of ΙΑΩ,‘‘ (2002, Cincinnati):  (He may “over-egg” things just a bit, but his basic point is sound, that “IAO” was used as a designation of God by some Jews of the 2nd-temple period.)

Tov, Emanuel , Scribal Practices and Approaches Reflected in the Texts Found in the Judean Desert, Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah, 54 (Leiden: Brill, 2004), esp. 218-21.

Tov, Emanuel, The Greek Prophets Scroll From Nahal Hever (8HevXIIgr): (The Seiyâl Collection I), Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, 8 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990)


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  1. Greetings. For an example of the Divine Name YHWH written in stone from (probably) the late second century B.C. you are invited to see my photo of the stone from Mount Gerizim.,2,6,438,440&img=ICHMMG20

  2. Bryant J. Williams III permalink

    Dear Larry,

    In your post and subsequent discussion with Donald Jacobs above you mentioned that Philo used “kyrios” and “theos” with a different meaning than elsewhere. This would seem to indicate that the Diaspora Jews, using the LXX/OG, followed the same practice and made YHWH = KYRIOS/THEOS both in meaning and writing (with the additional Greek philosophical understanding). It would also appear that Diaspora Jews who believed in Jesus as Messiah would immediately make the same transfer of the Divine Names over to Jesus. Peter, Paul, John, etc in their writing made this connection quite early. Apparently this shift came from Jesus Himself.

    Am I understanding the discussion here correctly or is it more nuanced than that?

    • Bruant, Several corrections are in order to you attempt to catch the discussion of the topic. First, my point about Philo was that he attached different connotations to the terms “kyrios” and “theos”: For him, “Kyrios” was particularly the title of God acting in judgement and exercising power, and “theos” the title connoting God acting in mercy, etc. The relevance for the discussion here is that this suggests that Philo was familiar with “theos” (likely as the Greek substitute for “Elohim”) and “kyrios as the Greek oral substitute for YHWH.
      Second, there is NO connection in Jewish tradition between Messiahship and divinity. The divine-like status that was quickly accorded to Jesus in the post-crucifixion period cannot arise from belief that he was Messiah. Instead, as I’ve contended for decades now, it must have arisen from further convictions that God had exalted Jesus to heavenly glory and now required him to be reverenced.
      Third, the NT doesn’t “transfer” the divine name to Jesus. God remains God . . . throughout the NT. The exalted Jesus is pictured as, e.g., sharing the divine throne, directly radiating/reflecting divine glory, sharing the divine name/title (“Kyrios”), etc. Jesus doesn’t displace God, but is linked with God in an novel and unique degree.

  3. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Thanks for correctly inserting the [no].

    For the sake of balance it might be fair to add Skehan and Stegemann to the reading list for this topic. Emanuel Tov describes their arguments for the originality of IAO in the LXX as more persuasive than Pietersma’s argument for kyrios. Plus of course there is George Howard’s article too, which I think is just fantastic.

    Here is the Skehan one:

    Patrick W. Skehan, ‘The Divine Name at Qumran, in the Masada Scroll, and in the Septuagint’, Bulletin of the International Organisation for Septuagint and Cognate Subjects, 13 (1980), 14-44.

    I don’t have access to the Stegemann article and I can’t write out the Greek but the reference is easy to find in Tov. Howard’s article is Powell known.

    By the way I agree with you that Jewish practice was probably quite varied. In arguing for a position I perhaps come across more monolithic than intended. But the old fashioned view that kyrios had replaced the divine name by the time of Christ, and that the LXX use of kyrios demonstrated this is clearly without foundation and contrary to mounting evidence. I also find the stigmatisation of certain uses of Yaho as “magical” problematic. To my mind all religious practice is pretty “magical”, and when you get one set of believers calling another set of believers “mystical” or practicing “magic” it tells you little more than the fact that they consider each other to be heretics.

    Incidentally your esteemed colleague Sir Tom Devine doesn’t seem concerned about funding. What a legend that man is!

    • Yes, I’ve referred to Skehan’s article and Stegeman’s also in publications previously, and they’re certainly to be included in any exhaustive bibliography (which my “for further reading” wasn’t intended to be). The info on the Stegeman article = Hartmut Stegemann, “Religionsgeschichtliche Erwägungen zu den Gottesbezeichnungen in den Qumrantexten,” in Qumran. Sa piété, sa théologie et son milieu, ed. M. Delcor (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1978), 195-217. BTW, in this essay Stegeman actually agrees (1) that the Qumran texts reflect an avoidance of pronunciation of YHWH, and that (2) use of “adonai” as written substitute for YHWH in biblical texts likely derives from diaspora/Greek Jewish practice, where “kyrios” had developed as the verbal/reverential substitute. (I feel so affirmed!)

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        Skehan also argues that whereas the divine name was written, adonay and kyrios were always pronounced. But I think Shaw has shown that assumption to be, at least, unsafe.

        The reference Tov gives for Segemann appears to be an earlier monograph by the look of it. Which through a google search, I located, and paste from Segemann’s wikipedia page:

        Kyrios o Theos und Kyrios Jesus. Aufkommen und Ausbreitung des religiösen Gebrauchs von Kyrios und seine Verwendung im NT, Habilitationsschrift Bonn 1969

      • Well, perhaps not “always” or by every man-Jack Jew of the time, but (clearly!) often and by many Jews, “adonay” and “kyrios” were the oral substitutes for YHWH. Let’s not try to play off the one to suppress the other.

      • Hugh Scott permalink

        (Editor’s note: I have edited down a lengthy statement to preserve what I think is the relevant point for discussion here.)
        Now, although I generally back Hurtado’s excellent book, I do not think that he gives enough credit to the truly admirable book of Margaret Barker (3) above. In an earlier reply to me, Hurtado says of Barker, evidently without having freshly re-read Barker, that he differs from Barker because “ it’s her imposition of her own pet theory upon the evidence, instead of deriving a view inductively from the evidence”. This is not an accurate judgment. Barker derives her (to me) compellingly accurate ‘pet theory’ (that Jesus Christ is YHWH) precisely because she has exhaustively analysed the original sources for what is meant by Jesus being ‘Son of God’. I give the titles of her chapters: 1. The Son of God; 2. The Evidence of the Exile;. The Evidence of …the Old Testament (3), of Wisdom (4), of the Angels (5), of the Name (6), of Plato (7), of the Jewish writers (8), of the Gnostics (9), of the first Christians (10), of the New Testament (11), followed by a bibliography. Barker hammers away at the use of El Elyon for the supreme God, whose Son, Yahweh, is the God of Israel, the God of the Old Testament. Barker is not to be lightly brushed aside.

      • Hugh: I don’t “lightly brush aside” Barker’s theses. I’ve subjected them to critique and review elsewhere, as have a number of other scholars. I stand by the judgement that she does not engage the evidence in a methodical manner, but picks this and that snippet of text and pastes them together to form her own creation. She acknowledges as much in having to hypothesize that “El” and “YHWH” in ancient Jewish thought were a senior and junior deity: She has no direct evidence for this.
        More importantly, there is no evidence that this particular dyad was preserved in 2nd temple Jewish tradition, although this would be essential for it to be of any relevance for earliest Christian views of Jesus. You found her case impressive, and you acknowledge that you’re not yourself really competent in the evidence. Well, for what it’s worth, of those who are hardly anyone follows Barker’s line. Now, let’s let it drop. Barker’s view isn’t the issue under discussion.

  4. Donald Jacobs permalink

    (Editor’s note: As Donald Jacobs set out a series of intelligent comments below, rather than responding separately, I thought it more efficient to engage them by interlacing my responses. DJ’s comments are marked by “DJ”, and my responses by “LWH”.)
    DJ: Thanks for the survey. On the question of whether Jews had stopped pronouncing the divine name and replaced it with kyrios by the time of Christ.
    LWH: If you read my posting more carefully, you’ll see that (again!) you mis-characterize what I wrote. I explicitly wrote that there appears to have been a variety of Jewish practices, as reflected in the various evidence quickly surveyed. SOME Jews obviously refrained from pronouncing YHWH, and SOME Jews appear to have not refrained.
    DJ: 1) Is it safe to rely on the LXX rendering of Lev 24:16 as evidence since this only survives in later Christian copies? In the pre-Christian manuscript of Leviticus that uses the transliteration Yaho for example (unfortunately not extant at this verse) is it credible that it would have read: “he that names the name of Yaho, let him die…”? Since Christian scribes handled the divine name differently from Jewish ones, and we do not know how the pre-Christian LXX rendered this verse which is highly relevant to that issue, the form of this verse in the Christian LXX should not be leaned upon too heavily as evidence for earlier Jewish practice.
    LWH: Again, Donald, you seem to want to make it a monolithic one-way-or-the-other, and so evidence such as LXX of Lev 24:16 bothers you, and you need to dismiss it. But if you could grant (as the evidence seems to require) a variety of practices/attitudes on the question of pronouncing YHWH, then there is no need to try to dodge the verse. Moreover, I know of no LXX expert who does so.
    DJ: 2) That the Qumran community apparently avoided use of the divine name is not evidence for wider Jewish practice. In this as in many other repects the community is perhaps peculiar rather than representative of Jews of the period.
    LWH: For the 3rd time (!), I never said that Qumran was indicative of all Jews, or that all Jews acted the same. As for how “peculiar” the Qumran “community” was, I think you’d get a more nuanced response from Qumran experts. Here again, in short, you’re being simplistic. Loosen up and respect the complexity of the evidence.
    DJ: 3) The evidence from the Mishnah is too late to be relevant to the question of how Jews of the first century used the divine name.
    LWH: Yes, the lateness is mentioned in my posting! But, given the other evidence, in this matter it seems that Mishnah likely enshrines a practice older than the text itself. Moreover, the agreement with the Qumran text cited further suggests that the Qumran attitude wasn’t so “peculiar”!
    DJ: 4) Philo’s reflection on the meaning of kyrios and theos, like much of his thinking, may have been shaped by his interaction with Greek philosophy rather than Jewish practice.
    LWH: If you actually read the article by Dahl & Segal, you’ll note that Philo reflects a practice also attested later in rabbinic texts, in which YHWH and Elohim are each assigned special connotations. But in Philo they’re reversed! So, actually, Donald, Philo seems (to experts at least) to reflect a very Jewish practice of pondering the various names,titles of God in the biblical corpus.
    DJ: 5) The widespread use of Yaho by Jews at the turn of the era as documented by Shaw is strong evidence that the divine name was still in use and not replaced by kyrios. Such useage has sometimes been dismissed as “magical” or aberrant, but such pejoratives aside, the use of Yaho appears to have been demotic and widespread, whereas evidence for the use of kyrios in place of the divine name is absent.
    LWH: Shaw shows *usage* of IAO, but how “widespread”? Probably more widely than simply in “magical” settings, but it would go beyond the evidence to say it was the norm. Again, of course pronunciations of YHWH were still in use, and “had not been replaced by kyrios”. Yet again, it’s not a matter of one OR the other, but of a varied practice in that period. Moreover, in Hebrew, the oral substitutes seem to have been “Adonay” and/or “Elohim”, as reflected in the early MSS. And (as Fitzmyer showed), “Mar” was an Aramaic substitute.
    DJ: 6) The space around YHWH in certain manuscripts could just as easily be explained as deference to the divine name so that it should not be contiguous with the text, rather than leaving space for “kyrios”. A second scribe is assumed to written the Hebrew characters. There is [no?] direct evidence that kyrios was ever used in place of the divine name in the pre-Christian LXX. Each new fragment that emerges confirms various forms of the divine name, not substitution.
    LWH: Well, in the Hebrew texts, there is no such large spaces left around YHWH, so your proposal is hardly a winning one. As to your last two sentences, you simply continue to ignore the evidence, such as Philo, that “kyrios” was used as an oral/reverential substitute among at least some Greek-speaking Jews. You fail to distinguish between the “ketib” (what was written in the MS), and the “qere” (what was spoken/pronounced). And for the latter we do have the evidence that I’ve repeatedly cited.

    DJ: 7) In the OT text most often applied to Jesus, the title kyrios is actually used in a way that distinguishes between Jesus as kyrios and YHWH God, i.e. Psalm 110:1, “The Lord said to my Lord…” The reason the earliest Christians were untroubled by the designation of Jesus as Lord is because the term didn’t have the connotations it later accrued when it replaced the divine name.
    LWH: Of course Jesus is distinguished from God! Again, you’re doing “straw man” argumentation, or simply not paying attention to what I’ve said (perhaps because you seem soooo eager to try to disagree!). So, e.g., in the Gospels passage (e.g., Mark 12:35-37), the point is the superiority of the second “kyrios” to David, not a flat merging of this kyrios with the other one. And in other NT texts as well, Jesus doesn’t replace God, but is portrayed as exalted by God to share rule, glory, name, etc.
    The reason for this view of Jesus didn’t arise from the sort of silly confusion that you posit. As I’ve repeatedly shown, it erupted from powerful experiences that generated the conviction. THEN, they went to biblical texts seeking further understanding, and lit upon Psa 110 and others.
    DJ: 8) In Romans 10:9-13 it is God who raised Jesus from the dead who is called upon as Lord. See for example John Ziesler’s discussion of this passage in his commentary on Romans, and his discussion of the kyrios title in his “Introduction to Pauline Christianity”.
    LWH: Well, it’s rather obviously Jesus who is called upon, Donald, whatever Ziesler may have claimed. In the context, Jesus is to be confessed as “kyrios” (10:9), and in the ensuing context it is clear that Jesus is the one “called upon”. It is the preaching of the Gospel about Jesus pictured there. Moreover, in other Pauline passages as well, “calling upon” Jesus is referred to, e.g., in 1 Cor 1:2, “all who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (pretty explicit isn’t it??) is Paul’s handy characterization of fellow believers! As for commentators, I’d recommend now Robert Jewett’s analysis in his Hermeneia commentary, Romans (Fortress Press, 2007), 633.

  5. Patrick permalink

    Perhaps a bit tangential to this discussion, but I wonder if you have read Kendall Soulen’s book “The Divine Names and the Holy Trinity,” (though only the first volume has been published so far) and if so what you think of it.

  6. Kasey permalink

    How do you understand the locutions used in MT Ps.68.17 LXX 67.16, where ‘the lord’ (kyrios/adonai) is amongst the thriving ones which make up the chariot of “God” (theou/elohim)? Is ‘kyrios/adonai’ here functioning as a circumlocution for YHWH? If so, were the MT and LXX authors avoiding a pronunciation issue, or was it more of a theological conviction which permitted this distinction?

    Also, concerning epithets of Jesus, does the title ‘Son of God’ fit into the relevant discussion of divine statuses given to Jesus? I am certain that you are well aware of the multiple passages in the NT which contain references to Jesus as ‘Son of God’ (e.g. Mark 1.1, Luke 1.32, Rom. 1.4, Peter’s confession, etc.), which are customarily interpreted as a title denoting a unique/special relationship with God. However, could ‘Son of God’ perhaps have been a way of expressing more than that? Maybe something a bit more similar to what Barker has suggested, that Jesus is (at least correlated with) one of the sons of the Most High presented in the OT (Deut. 32.8,9; Job.38.7(MT); c.f. MT Ps.68.17 LXX 67.16)?
    Speaking of Barker, do you consider her research as providing any credible or reliable information to discussions concerning the origins of early christology at all? Namely her thesis that early Jesus followers were connecting the dots between Jesus’ unique divinity and Israels ancient belief in a second or ‘son’ of god.

    • I have no particular wisdom on the Hebrew of Psa 68:17-18, and why “adonay” appears in v. 18. Perhaps a stylistic device to avoid repetition of YHWH, perhaps indication that at that point “adonay” was an epithet for YHWH. In any case, Ephesians 4:8-10 indicates that the Psalm (likely a Greek version of it) was read christologically, the “kyrios” being taken as the ascended/exalted Jesus.
      As to divine sonship language, a basic linguishtic principle: Most words (and expressions) have a certain range of meaning-possibilities, and acquire specific meaning in sentences. So, “son of God” doesn’t have one fixed meaning, but acquires specific meanings in sentences. In Psa 2, divine sonship = the chosen ruler. In Job 1, “sons of God” are the heavenly council of “angelic” beings. In Hos 11:1 the divine son is Israel, the sentence here connoting Israel as specially related to God.
      Likewise, in NT applications of divine sonship language to Jesus, the specific connotation varies with the sentences in which it is used. In Paul’s (infrequent) refs to Jesus’ divine sonship, they seem mainly to emphasize Jesus’ special status and favour with God. In GJohn, however, the (more frequent) usage often indicates a divine(like) status.
      As for Barker’s views, I really don’t consider what I know of them terribly well based or useful. E.g., we know that in pre-exilic Judah YHWH could be seen as having a consort (a female deity), as reflected in complaints in some prophetic passages and as shown in archaeological evidence. But the type of di-theism she asserts is not so attested (i.e., “Elohim” as the Israelist senior deity, and YHWH as the Israelite junior deity). In any case, there is no evidence of this specific schema in 2nd temple Jewish texts. Moreover, the NT texts don’t ever indicate that they were “connecting dots”, but instead announce Jesus’ exalted divine status as something startling, and due to the act of God in exalting him to this status.

      • Brett permalink

        How startling or unexpected was it? The NT texts ask constantly if Jesus is the one that was long foretold.

        Who was? Totally aside from 1) the problematic “Messiah,” 2) the OT constantly told about a “day” when God himself, or his agent, would return to earth. To reward the good and punish the wicked.

      • Ah, Brett, I’m not sure I get what you’re responding to, but here goes: First, the OT doesn’t “constantly” predict a personal appearance a “return to earth” by “God himself, or his agent.” In some passages in a few OT prophets there are prophecies that God will act directly, e.g., to rescue/redeem Israel, but it’s actually not clear that we have in these texts a personal and earthly appearance by God. (I know, I know, Tom Wright says so, but let’s go with the actual evidence.)
        In the NT, the function of Jesus as the one who will “reward the good and punish the wicked” is sited in the hope for his “parousia,” or “second coming,” not in his earthly ministry.
        So, in sum, the notion that the crucified man from Nazareth was now to be reverenced along with God was in fact rather a novel and startling claim.

  7. Hugh Scott permalink

    I have just read Geza Vermes’s Christian Beginnings, and immediately after, as a control, Hurtado’s How on Earth did Jesus Become a God? So all of this new blog by Hurtado is very relevant.

    On the much-worked-over pericope, Phil 2.5-11, may I add a comment which I have not seen explicitly expressed in the literature: that verses 10 and 11 (“so that AT THE NAME OF JESUS EVERY KNEE SHOULD BEND … AND EVERY TONGUE SHOULD CONFESS that Jesus Christ is Lord’”) do not merely ‘refer back to and echo’ Isaiah 45.23 (“to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear”, but explicitly describe Jesus’s exalted status with the very words which Isaiah addresses to God/Elohim/Adonai/YHWH/Lord/Kyrios/theos. The English translation which I quote is the New Revised Standard Version, but looking at the Hebrew text (and the Aramaic?) of Isaiah, and the Septuagint, powerfully confirm this same equating of Jesus Christ to Isaiah’s God of Israel! I therefore feel that Phil. 2.11 must be translated, “and every tongue should confess that JESUS CHRIST IS YAHWEH’, in line with Margaret Barker’s compelling book, ‘The Great Angel – A Study of Israel’s Second God’, (SPCK, 1992).

    Hurtado refers to Barker in a footnote (p.112/3, .n.5),but dismisses Barker as a ‘di-theist’, rather than a ‘binitarian monotheist’ which Hurtado finds an acceptable description of the NT authors who emphasize that there is only one God, and yet maintain that Jesus Christ (as here in Philippians) is given divine honour. But again, in Phil 2.9, the name given to Jesus Christ, ‘the name that is above every name’, cannot be other than YHWH.

    Maybe Hurtado would have welcomed Barker, if she had sub-titled her book, in anticipation of Nicaea, as ‘A Study of Israel’s Second Divine Person’. I confess that I found Hurtado‘s Chapter 5, ‘First Century Jewish Monotheism’, which deals with the distinction between di-theism and binitarian-monotheism’ to be the least convincingly argued in the book.

    • Uh, Hugh, one key problem with Barker’s view (which you accept so readily) is this: The NT writers rather consistently continue to distinguish between “the Lord Jesus” and the God of Israel, who in the OT is everywhere identified as YHWH! The title of Barker’s book isn’t the problem; it’s her imposition of her own pet theory upon the evidence, instead of deriving a view inductively from the evidence.
      And can I clarify for you what I argue in that chapter and in other publications (as you don’t seem to get it)? (1) There are two consistently distinguished figures in NT thought: “God” and Jesus. (2) These two are also uniquely linked such that, e.g., one cannot adequately speak of, or worship “God” without involving Jesus also; and yet (3) these two are two deities (e.g., of independent origin or with different forms of worship), but are linked in a “shaped” relationship, “God” the sender of Jesus, and Jesus the agent and expression of divine purposes (not the other way around). So, not “di-theism” but a distinctive “dyadic” pattern of devotion and belief.

  8. Manny permalink

    I really appreciate you taking the time to clearly express your thoughts on these subjects. I find them very helpful and succinct. I’ve noticed quite a bit of exaltation language and preexistance language of the son but not much discussion as to regards the son’s eternal preexistance or nature as Yahweh. Is there a place where you interact with such concepts? Or would you be willing to provide your thoughts on the subject? Do you believe there was a time when the Son was not? I ask this very specific question because as lay people these are the questions we deal with practically and have been haughtily debated historically. We deal with it at our home door steps or in school and I think your perspective would be much appreciated. If perhaps you avoid answering such questions do to the lack of evidence from a scholarly perspective, could you provide your theological conclusions and justifications. Again, forgive me if you’ve addressed this elsewhere. I was not able to find it in what you have in print. I only ask because I truly don’t know what your perspective is when it comes to the eternal preexistence of the son.
    Please take the tone with utmost respect.

    • Manny: The form of your question reflects the terms of Christological discussion/debate of centuries later than the period in which I try to have some real expertise. I can say that already in Paul Christ is seen as in some way having been “pre-existent” (our term), i.e., somehow being “there”, e.g., as agent of/in creation (1 Cor 8:4-6), and as becoming human (Philip 2:6-8). The NT writers reflect a concern to posit Jesus as somehow part of God’s purposes all along, not as some after-thought. But they don’t go into speculations about “eternal” this or that. It was enough for them to posit that Christ’s eschatological role/significance was matched by his proto-logical role/significance.
      Later, when categories of “being”, “substance”, and Greek questions about whether God could alter or had to be eternally static were on the table, and whether including Jesus in worship = more than one deity were debated in that context, we have the options posited by Arius and his critics. But I’ll leave that to specialists in Patristics.

      • Manny permalink

        You place a great deal of emphasis on the exaltation of Jesus to Yahweh status post resurrection, which I think there is much evidence of. However, do you think there is a strong case to the view that Jesus shared this status prior to his incarnation and humiliation?

        On page 74 of Lord Jesus Christ, you make the comment that John 12:41 is a reference to Isaiah 6:1. If so, would it not be proper to conclude Jesus was worshipped and understood as Yahweh to at least John prior to even his incarnation? It appears that is John’s point. In other words John (or the writer) is saying “Isaiah saw Yahweh, and I am telling you that it was Jesus.”

      • I’ll confine my response to what John 12:41 might signify. It’s not clear or completely unambiguous (to me at least), but my own hunch is that he means that Isaiah saw the glorified Jesus in a prophetic vision. I.e., Isaiah prophetically saw the exaltation of Jesus which was to come. This would fit with the tradition (also reflected in Ascension of Isaiah) that Isaiah 6 reflects a heavenly vision in which he foresaw “the beloved” (Christ). It is to be noted (any may be significant) that the Masoretic Hebrew says that Isaiah saw “adonay” (not YHWH), and the LXX of Isa 6:1 says Isaiah saw “ton Kyrion” (“the Lord”), whereas the text more regularly uses the form of “kyrios” without the definite article to translate YHWH. So, the early Christian readers of Isaiah 6 may have seen textual allowance to read a vision of Jesus in the text.

      • Manny permalink

        I appreciate your admission regarding clarity. But do you think there is much weight to the other interpretation in John 12:41 that Jesus was Yahweh prior to incarnation based on the overall context of John? I’m thinking here of 1:1,3,15,18; 8:58; 17:5 just to name a few. Or would you say it’s plausible but not probable.

      • What do you mean in the option that “Jesus was YHWH”? What would that mean? For Margaret Barker it might mean that Jesus was the junior deity (which for her is YHWH). It couldn’t mean that “the God of Israel formerly known as YHWH is now identified as Jesus”, right? I see in GJohn and other texts indications that Jesus was given to share in some manner in God’s glory, name, throne, etc. But Jesus doesn’t replace God.
        In any case, in GJohn, it seems clear that the author fully grants that the deity revealed in the OT is YHWH, and he distinguishes this deity from Jesus, whom he portrays as the one sent by this deity and who reveals this deity in a fuller manner.

      • Manny permalink

        Personally I think we should loosen your sentence to read “the God of Israel formerly known as YHWH is also identified as Jesus.”

        In short I think for John, Jesus as Yahweh would mean that Jesus was equal with the Father in nature and status. Why would John have an issue with such an idea prior to the incarnation if he doesn’t after his resurrection?

        Now it seems from your response, the view of Jesus as Yahweh prior to his incarnation is not plausible only because you do not know precisely what it can mean. Making sense of it shouldn’t be the driving factor of John’s point. In other words, we cannot say, “John must have meant Isaiah saw the future messiah raised to Yahweh status because I’m not sure how to understand it if John meant Jesus was Yahweh prior to his incarnation.” It certainly makes sense to me!

        Personally, as with many others, I think it obvious that if you grant John 12:41 as a reference to Is 6:1, the case for the Son as Yahweh prior to incarnation is remarkably strong. Thus, for John, the Son would be as to his nature what God was (1:1) the uncreated agent of creation (1:3) the unique God who was seen in the OT (1:18 12:41) one with the Father and specifically one in the salvation of his people (10:30) the ego eimi of Isaiah (8:58) the one who shared in the glory of the Father before creation (17:5) who after his humiliation was recognized as God (20:20) and therefore Yahweh prior to his incarnation (12:41).

        It’s not a stretch to think John believed Jesus to be Yahweh prior to incarnation if he identified Jesus in every other divine language, including Yahweh after his ascension.

      • Manny: I’ll let you have the last word, although I’ve given my reasons earlier for demurring from your stance. (And you don’t reflect my position accurately, but I won’t try to state it again as it likely wouldn’t help.)

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