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Theological Notebook: Reviews of Fossum on the Word of God as the Name of God

Some reviews that I just found online of the key essay I've been studying on the influence of Jewish Mysticism on the Prologue to the Gospel of John:
The Image of the Invisible God: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christology, The
Catholic Biblical Quarterly, The, Apr 1998 by Hurtado, L W

JARL E. FOSSUM, The Image of the Invisible God: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christology (NTOA 30; Fribourg: Editions universitaires; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995). Pp. ix + 181. SwF 58.

Fossum combines here two previously published essays with five others not previously published, in a useful collection of studies intended to illustrate the relevance of ancient Jewish mystical traditions for the christological imagery and themes of early Christianity. In the introduction (pp. 1-11) F quickly reviews some twentieth century scholars who have contributed to the study of Jewish mysticism and apocalyptic and of their relevance for early- Christian beliefs: especially G. H. Box, H. Odeberg, W. Bousset, G. Scholem, G. Quispel, J. Bowker, C. C. Rowland, G. Stroumsa, and C. R. A. Morray-Jones. The six following chapters are devoted to particular texts and issues that exhibit similarities with elements in Jewish mystical texts and (so Fossum) are to be explained in connection with Jewish mystical traditions.

...

Fossum turns to the Johannine prologue in his essay "In the Beginning was the Name: Onomanology as the Key to Johannine Christology" (pp. 109-33). Taking issue with R. Bultmann and others who claim that the passage is mainly indebted to speculations on Wisdom, F argues instead that traditions linking the Logos, the angel of the Lord, and the divine Name are really the key backgrounds. F assembles an impressive body of evidence that Jesus was seen to be, and to bear, the Name of God, the personified and incarnate manifestation of the tetragrammaton. As in ancient Jewish tradition the divine Name could be said to tabernacle in the temple, so in the Johannine prologue Jesus is "the final dwelling-place of the Name of God" (p. 133).

...

Then there is:
This review was published by RBL 1998 by the Society of Biblical Literature.

RBL 11/30/1998
Lars Hartman
University of Uppsala
Uppsala, Sweden

...

Next comes "In the Beginning Was the Name. Onomanology as the Key to Johannine Christology" (pp. 109-33). (Here I find Fossum's neologisms "sophianology" and "onomanology" to be a bit jarring--is there not at least the possible analogy "pneumatology"?) Fossum rejects the common assumption that the concept of the divine wisdom is the background of the Johannine Logos concept. Instead he claims "the author of John appears to have been dependent upon a Hellenistic, Jewish tradition according to which the Logos figure was substituted for the Angel of the Lord, who appears as indistinguishable from the Tetragrammaton in some Biblical texts" (p. 133).

...
And from my own review, from last fall's "Apocalyptic Literature" seminar:
“In the Beginning was the Name: Onomanology as the Key to Johannine Christology.” Here we have perhaps the most fun essay of the set. Fossum begins with a blanket rejection of Bultmann’s long-influential attempt to describe the teaching about the Logos in the Prologue to John as “Sophianology,” on the grounds that Sophia simply does not qualify to fulfill the role of the Logos as John describes it: the Logos has always existed in John, it was not the first thing created as Wisdom was in Proverbs; the Logos descended and become incarnate whereas there is no such description for Sophia. Instead, Fossum offers a wide set of texts as evidence that the Jewish motif which John does fulfill is that of the Logos being a concept that stands in for the Angel of the Lord, particularly manifest as the divine Name or Tetragrammaton.

The texts he cites are offered in comparison to the following traits of John’s Logos: the Name is eternal, and can even be regarded as a/the Power of God and hypostasized. The Name was the instrument of Creation, possibly even after the mode of a demiurge. The Name was also given to the Angel of Yahweh, and thus could be indicative of the pre-Incarnate Logos. The Name tabernacled among the people in the Temple of God. All this harmonizes rather nicely with John’s treatment of the Logos and makes for one of Fossum’s more compelling essays, although occasionally still marred by such confusions as saying that “the Gospel of John never makes a clear reference to Jesus as the Name…” which is then followed by a long quote from John 17 where Jesus in fact says, “Holy Father, keep them in Your Name, which You have given me….” Editorial problems like this aside, this essay must from now on be considered mandatory reading for anyone working on the Prologue to John’s Gospel.

The complete book reviews are below for further reference.

The Image of the Invisible God: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christology, The
Catholic Biblical Quarterly, The, Apr 1998 by Hurtado, L W

JARL E. FOSSUM, The Image of the Invisible God: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christology (NTOA 30; Fribourg: Editions universitaires; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995). Pp. ix + 181. SwF 58.

Fossum combines here two previously published essays with five others not previously published, in a useful collection of studies intended to illustrate the relevance of ancient Jewish mystical traditions for the christological imagery and themes of early Christianity. In the introduction (pp. 1-11) F quickly reviews some twentieth century scholars who have contributed to the study of Jewish mysticism and apocalyptic and of their relevance for early- Christian beliefs: especially G. H. Box, H. Odeberg, W. Bousset, G. Scholem, G. Quispel, J. Bowker, C. C. Rowland, G. Stroumsa, and C. R. A. Morray-Jones. The six following chapters are devoted to particular texts and issues that exhibit similarities with elements in Jewish mystical texts and (so Fossum) are to be explained in connection with Jewish mystical traditions.

In "The Image of the Invisible God" (pp. 13-39) E treats Col 1:15-18, arguing against the view that the passage reflects gnostic influence and pointing to connections with Jewish mystical traditions. F contends that the passage is shaped not so much by Wisdom tradition as by Jewish traditions of a heavenly anthropos imagined as bearing divine glory and as a visible manifestation of the invisible God. As always, F provides a rich assortment of evidence to consider and shows himself amazingly diligent in amassing possible parallels. Some, no doubt, will hesitate to share F's confidence in his use of texts of varying dates in reconstructing earlier traditions, but in general F makes a case for some sort of relevance of at least some of this material for the background of the passage in Colossians.

In "Kyrios Jesus: Angel Christology in Jude 5-7" (pp. 41-70), F contends that this passage presents Jesus as the angel of the Lord who led Israel out of Egypt. F prefers "Jesus" as the original reading in Jude 5 (variants are lesous, kyrios, theos, and theos christos), and he argues that the sort of preincarnate manifestations of the Son of God claimed by Justin Martyr were already accepted by the author of Jude some fifty years earlier than Justin.

In "Ascensio, Metamorphosis: The 'Transfiguration' of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels" (pp. 71-94), F presents a case for seeing the story of the "transfiguration" as one influenced by traditions of heavenly ascent and transformation (e.g., traditions of Moses' ascent on Mount Sinai at the giving of the Torah). In F's view, the story originally stems from traditions of Jesus' having ascended into heaven, and it may also reflect some sort of "cultic preparation for obtaining a vision of the glorified Jesus when the Lord's Day breaks" (p. 94). In "Partes Posteriores Dei: The `Transfiguration' of Jesus in the Acts of John" (pp. 95-108), F argues that this apocryphal version of the transfiguration is also shaped by Jewish traditions of Moses' heavenly ascents, and that Jesus is seen as the embodiment of the divine glory.

Fossum turns to the Johannine prologue in his essay "In the Beginning was the Name: Onomanology as the Key to Johannine Christology" (pp. 109-33). Taking issue with R. Bultmann and others who claim that the passage is mainly indebted to speculations on Wisdom, F argues instead that traditions linking the Logos, the angel of the Lord, and the divine Name are really the key backgrounds. F assembles an impressive body of evidence that Jesus was seen to be, and to bear, the Name of God, the personified and incarnate manifestation of the tetragrammaton. As in ancient Jewish tradition the divine Name could be said to tabernacle in the temple, so in the Johannine prologue Jesus is "the final dwelling-place of the Name of God" (p. 133).

In the final essay, "The Son of Man's Alter Ego: John 1:51, Targumic Tradition and Jewish Mysticism" (pp. 135-51), F draws upon targumic traditions about the vision of Jacob in Gen 28:12, arguing that John 1:51 is influenced by such traditions and that the passage reflects the idea that Jesus (like Jacob-Israel in some mystical traditions) "is both in heaven and on earth at the same time" (p. 149). Once again, F contends that traditions about principal angels-in this case speculations that Jacob was the earthly manifestation of a principal angel-are the proper background.

Though critical readers will likely demur here and there, the great value of F's work always lies in his wide-ranging knowledge of sources and in his bold proposals, which sometimes challenge widely held assumptions and push us to consider fresh possibilities. A twenty-eight-page bibliography completes the volume.

L W Hurtado, New College, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland EHI 2LX

Copyright Catholic Biblical Association of America Apr 1998

+++


This review was published by RBL 1998 by the Society of Biblical Literature.

RBL 11/30/1998
Fossum, Jarl E.
The Image of the Invisible God: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christology
Novum Testamentum et Orbis Antiquus 30
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995. Pp. ix + 181, Cloth, F 58,00, ISBN
3525539320.

Lars Hartman
University of Uppsala
Uppsala, Sweden

In this volume Jarl E. Fossum has collected seven essays, two of which have appeared in earlier versions in NTS. As indicated by the subtitle, Fossum intends to shed light on early Christology from Jewish mysticism. The first essay is "The Image of the Invisible God. Col. 1.15-18a, Jewish Mysticism and Gnosticism" (pp. 13-39). Fossum suggests that Col l:15-18a should be understood in the light of Anthropos categories and maintains that there was a pre-Christian Jewish tradition, vaguely reflected in Philo, that the Divine Glory was a man-like form of the invisible God which appeared in throne visions. According to Fossum this glory was also "first-born" and identified with the fws (light) of Gen 1:3, not least because fws sometimes means "man." The heavenly Man is also said to have a demiurgic function (witness Wis 10:1: Adam is called the "first-formed father of the world [kosmos]"; however, it seems not to occur to Fossum that there are several examples in Wisdom of kosmos meaning "humans in general," which, of course, is the natural understanding in Wis 10:1).

To illustrate Fossum's method, it may be worthwhile mentioning the texts quoted in the first part of this article: the Nag Hammadi treatise "On the Origin of the World" (on "Light Adam"); Gen 1:3 (fws!); Philo, Opif. mundi (on the ideal Man in Gen 1:26ff.); Ezek 1:26 LXX ("a likeness as an eidos of a human," which Fossum understands as representing "the idea of Man in the description of the Glory upon the heavenly throne"); Ezekiel the Tragedian (Moses' vision of a "man"-(fws) on a throne: here Fossum assures us that the use of fws =man silently indicates that Hellenistic Jews could weld the Glory of God upon the heavenly throne with the Fws in Gen 1.3"; however, Fossum does not mention that Ezekiel's usage is from epic and tragedy, a fact which opens the suggestion to serious doubt); Aristobulus (light signifying wisdom); Joseph and Aseneth (according to a disputable reading "a man of light" appears, whom Fossum assumes is enthroned in heaven--yet nothing is said about it in the text.)

In the second essay, "Kyrios Jesus. Angel Christology in Jude 5-7" (pp. 40-70), Fossum takes "Jesus" to be the original reading in Jude 5, and argues that the Christology of the passage "is modelled on an intermediary figure whose basic constituent is the angel of the Lord" (p. 67). The point of departure is Exod 23:20-21 and Genesis 19, where the angel in Fossum's reading "possesses" God's name.

According to "Ascensio, Metamorphosis. The 'Transfiguration' of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels" (pp. 71-94), Jesus' ascent of the "high mountain" symbolizes an ascent to heaven. This suggestion is based on Fossum's reading of some passages from Philo, from Rabbinic and Samaritan material, and from Ps.-Philo and Ezekiel the Tragedian.

In "Partes posteriores Dei. The 'Transfiguration' of Jesus in the Acts of John" (pp. 95-108), Fossum claims that there is a similar background behind Acts of John 90. The title is inspired by Exod 33:23, and Fossum adduces passages from several quarters to support his claim that Jesus is portrayed on the model of the Divine Glory seen by Moses, including the immense dimensions of the body of this glory.

Next comes "In the Beginning Was the Name. Onomanology as the Key to Johannine Christology" (pp. 109-33). (Here I find Fossum's neologisms "sophianology" and "onomanology" to be a bit jarring-is there not at least the possible analogy "pneumatology"?) Fossum rejects the common assumption that the concept of the divine wisdom is the background of the Johannine Logos concept. Instead he claims "the author of John appears to have been dependent upon a Hellenistic, Jewish tradition according to which the Logos figure was substituted for the Angel of the Lord, who appears as indistinguishable from the Tetragrammaton in some Biblical texts" (p. 133).

The last article of the collection is "The Son of Man's Alter Ego. John 1.51, Targumic Tradition and Jewish Mysticism" (pp. 135-51). With C. Rowland, Fossum assumes that Jewish interpretative tradition (particularly in Genesis Rabbah and the Targums) meant that when Jacob slept on earth (Gen 28:12), he had an "image" in heaven which was identical with the Glory of God. So, Fossum concludes, the author of John "promises his readers a spiritual vision of the heavenly Glory of God in the Son of Man on earth" (p. 151).

Fossum's articles give me a double impression. Positively, I am impressed that Fossum has read a lot of texts with which most exegetes are not acquainted, and he uses them with exuberant imagination. He may very well be right when claiming that studies of early Christology would gain from an intensified use of material from Jewish mysticism--in spite of the difficulties of dating it.

Negatively, however, I cannot avoid adding the reservation: one may consider the texts Fossum adduces, but one should be cautious about his conclusions. Certainly scholars can take different stands on how relevant so-called "parallels" might be, but a little too often I have felt that statements of Fossum that are presented as "obvious" or "clear" are not at all so. Thus Fossum collects passages from many quarters and has them shed light on one
another, but it seems to me that here associative chains such as "(a) reminds of (b), which is similar to (c), which may bring to mind (d)" seldom contribute very much to the understanding of (a).

Finally, a question of wider impact. Do these kinds of studies tell us anything about what, for example, Col 1:15 told its addressees how the writer of Colossians thought about Christ, how the author of the "hymn" (if he was not the writer of the letter) thought, what the spiritual climate was like in the Christian milieu in which it was composed? Or are we informed (only) of a possible pre-history of this or that motif? All of these are relevant questions, but we should try to be conscious of just which questions we are asking, and then of what the answers received imply.

+++


Michael Anthony Novak
Book Review
Professor Andrei Orlov

Jarl E. Fossum’s The Image of the Invisible God: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christianity (Novum Testamentum et Orbis Antiquus, v. 30. Freiburg, Schweiz: Universitätsverlag; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995) opens in its introduction by offering a simple “graph” set of definitions and relationships: Mysticism, we are told, is “vertical” apocalypticism and is supplementary to eschatology which is “linear” apocalypticism. The concern of mysticism in this schema is the heavenly world (hence “vertical” or “up”) and the ways in which humanity can gain knowledge of those mysteries.

The work is a collection of essays, some published earlier, some given at various conferences and the like. In setting his essays in context, Fossum uses his introduction to take the reader on a quick, but thorough, survey of work on the question of the influence of Jewish mysticism in early Christianity. He grounds his survey in the work of the early 20th century by noting a relative lack of such work as the century progressed. He follows G. Scholem’s argument of a tradition-historical connection between the idea of heavenly ascent in the apocalyptic literature and later rabbinic-era Merkabah and Hekhalot texts. At the same time, he stresses the need to avoid an anachronistic reading of the Judaism of early Christian period as solely the later, orthodox, Rabbinic Judaism with which we are more familiar, and to recognize the diversity of the forms of Judaism that really characterize the period, noting that the inclination for doing so has increased in recent years with the rise of interest in apocalyptic and pseudepigraphal literature.

“The Image of the Invisible God: Colossians 1.15-18a in the Light of Jewish Mysticism and Gnosticism” leads off the essays. Acknowledging the births of Christianity and Gnosticism out of the same cultural matrix, this essay opens with the intent to merely “flesh out the historical context for the terms and motifs used to describe Christ.” (p. 15) A first discussion on the description of Christ as “the image of the invisible God” takes us away from the Adam-Christology of Paul and into that line of tradition common to Hellenistic Judaism and to Gnosticism to speak of the “image” of God as an hypostasized image distinct from both God and man. The Greek word phos—translatable as either “man” or “light”—is the basis for this line of meaning and some of the various mythologies behind such “images” (later swept out of the faith by rabbinic Judaism) are explored, as well as the use of the idea of such an intermediary by Philo. Hellenistic Judaism could combine the phos of Gen 1.3 to the Glory of God on the heavenly throne and Christ in Col 1.15 can be the same identification and physical embodiment of God: a conception different that the idea of Sophia or Logos as divine image.

A second consideration in this essay is the naming of Christ as “firstborn,” a term commonly attributed as an allusion to Prov 8:22. Instead, Fossum considers it in light of the closest actual parallel which is a fragment of the Prayer of Joseph preserved by Origen. Here the angel Israel is conceived of as the Glory of God, and “his name ‘Firstborn of every living thing’ would seem to allude to the light which was brought into being on the very first day and which could be construed as a heavenly Man, even the Glory.” Since Christ is hailed in the same way in Col. 1:15, Fossum concludes, this could be another piece of evidence that the hymn recognizes him as the Glory of God.

In considering Christ as a demiurgic figure in v. 16, the idea of Colossians conveying a Sophia Christology is again contrasted with a heavenly Man figure, who could also bear that demiurgic function. Fossum cites a heavenly Man in the Gospel of the Egyptians, a Gnostic text called the Poimandres, and the beliefs of an apparently pre-Christian sect called the Magharians to that effect. Fossum likewise is interested to point out that the description of Christ as head of a “cosmic ‘body’ of the Church” in Col 1.18a is arguably related to contemporary Jewish mystical language of God’s having a “body” as articulated in various ways in such documents as the Shicur Qomah, the Lesser Hekhalot—our oldest Jewish mystical work, from the second or third century BC—and the writings of the Jewish Christian Elchasai, who put the body of an angel he identified as the “Son of God” at an impressive 96 miles in height.

So instead of the more-or-less consensus among exegetes at reading Col 1 as an example of Sophia-Christology, Fossum has offered an alternative in trying to read the hymn as an Anthropos-Christology, an attempt he justifies by the fact that both readings are possible out of a pre-Christian Jewish milieu. He claims his argument’s success in that the themes examined are not typically present in a Sophia-Christology. Such a Christology usually never identifies Sophia as God’s “image,” or as “firstborn” (denying the famed application of Proverbs here), and while Sophia can be a demiurge in the Jewish mystical tradition, no such speculation about the Body is tied to Sophia-thinking. Thus he feels that an Anthropos-Christology, whose roots can be seen in earlier Jewish and Gnostic mysticism, is a better avenue for our reflection upon the text.

“Kyrios Jesus: Angel Christology in Jude 5-7” has Fossum considering a question he does not think has ever arisen before: whether Jude 5-7 presents Jesus as the Angel of the Lord. Noting the controversy over the textual variant in v. 5 as to whether “Jesus” (the most critically-supported likelihood) or “Lord” is the preferable reading, he ends up saying that which reading you use really does not matter. Even if it is “Lord,” he notes, one still must accept that people felt free to replace that with “Jesus,” and even “theos” in some variants. Then, given the acts reported of this figure—delivering the Israelites from Egypt, destroying their pursuers, imprisoning the fallen angels, and destroying Sodom and Gomorrah—he refreshes our minds of the long tradition of reading these acts of God as being specifically performed by “the Angel of the Lord,” and of reading this OT figure as a manifestation of the pre-Incarnate Son, as we see in writers like Paul and Justin. Through a very lengthy set of textual comparisons, he argues that “it would not have impossible for Jude to have anticipated Justin’s identification of the Angel of the Exodus as Jesus.” (p. 60) Philo had already identified the Logos with that Angel, and Sirach has Wisdom replacing the Divine Name held by the Angel. Marshalling the textual tendencies in this direction within Jewish spirituality, it is not surprising to find Fossum hailing Jude as having used “Jesus” as a name for the pre-existent Son even some fifty years before Justin would do so.

“Ascensio, Metamorphosis: The ‘Transfiguration’ of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels.” This essay or chapter follows the same general plan of comparing the NT text with a variety of earlier Jewish passages in which similar motifs might be discerned. This exercise, however, comes across as sloppier and more contrived than those we have read up to this point. Jesus’ transfiguration is itself transformed and is recast in terms of an ascension schema. Motifs like “going up the mountain,” “acting after a six-day [preparatory?] period,” “a transformed appearance,” “transformed clothing,” and “being overcome by a cloud” all are tied to similar Mosaic motifs from Moses’ ascent of Sinai. But in their application to the Transfiguration story, details that do not line up are forced or ignored, a number of absurdities are proposed and some of Fossum’s conclusions seem rushed or self-contradictory.

For example, in order make the ascension theme work, Fossum has to insist that the journey to the top of the mountain where Christ will be seen in a transformed way is an ascent to heaven: that the height of the mountain is in itself as far up as one could walk in the three-story universe, and thereby gets the party to where the vision of Christ can take place. Fossum is correct in portraying many of the mountain scenes in earlier Jewish literature—like Moses on Sinai in Ezekiel the Tragedian’s Exagoge—as a kind of view of heaven and God’s throne, but it is less clear that such is the case here. It could just as easily be talked about in terms of a “descent” than an ascent, but the point is forced. Then we see details acknowledged like the lack of any fading-away of the light in Christ, or the absence of such light in Moses’ and Elijah’s faces—or the disciples’—although they, too, should be understood as having just been in the divine presence. Such details are acknowledged, but then left unexplained or ignored. We begin to see a few absurdities when Peter proposes building shelters for the three heavenly figures, and this is taken as proof that Peter realizes that he is in heaven, but which misunderstanding about his duty to build in heaven requires him being corrected. Peter makes no such clear assumption, but it would allow Fossum to draw out another weak parallel. Similarly, Fossum notes that the voice from the cloud identifies Jesus as his Son, but does so in the same words as the identification at Jesus’ baptism: therefore while the voice may be real, the actual text of what the voice says betrays Mark’s editing hand. Finally, after having just stated that the voice in the cloud identifies Jesus as his beloved Son, Fossum goes on to note in his conclusion that the meaning of the story here is to point out that Jesus “has become their equal.” This looks more self-contradictory and is symptomatic of the comparative weakness of this essay compared to the others we have read thus far.

While a line-up of interesting and compelling parallels are introduced in this essay, the over-all sloppiness of the parallel’s lining-up to the text limits the usefulness of this reading of the Transfiguration. The fact that Fossum seems to both want to turn the entire Transfiguration story into a contrivance created through the recycling of these Exodus motifs, and to acknowledge it as an actual event in the life of Christ, creates problematic tensions that leave perhaps too great a strain on the credulity of the reader. The weight of these sewn-together motifs overwhelms the significance of the story itself and does not let the narrative speak for itself or to flow at all. Instead, one is left with a confusing pile of re-used OT themes that do not seem to carry any coherent and unifying meaning if we accept Fossum’s reconstruction in too strong a way.

“Partes Posteriores Dei: The ‘Transfiguration’ of Jesus in the Acts of John.” Another essay on the Transfiguration takes its departure point from a non-canonical text. This one is more modest in its goals and resultingly more successful. In this case, Fossum’s interest is in drawing our attention to the body of the transfigured Jesus, particularly in the two themes of the great size of the transfigured or glorified body, and in the idea of its “nakedness.” Again, he draws attention to the Exodus stories of Moses and Sinai and speaks of both Sinai and the Transfiguration as being ascent stories. (This paper and the previous one were earlier combined and presented together, which may also account for what seemed the previous essay’s “messiness.”) After the manner of Moses’ seeing God from behind, the Acts of John (c. 200 AD) also presents the disciple as only being able to see the Glory of God, for in the Acts John is presented as
approach[ing] him discretely, as if he does not see, and stand looking at his hinter parts. And I see him not dressed in clothes at all, but stripped of those we saw [before], and not at all like a man. And … his feet are whiter than snow, so that also the ground is lit up by his feet, and that his head reaches up to heaven, so that I became afraid and cried out. And he, turning around, appeared as a small man and took hold of my beard and pulled it, and said: ‘John, do not be faithless but believing, and not inquisitive!’
Both the nakedness of Jesus, his feet (at least) turning dazzling, and the enormity of his body (while he is turned away from John, “transfiguring,” as it were) are all themes seen in various other texts, canonical or apocryphal, relating to the heavenly body. Fossum leads you to some comparisons and gives you some idea of the relative representation in the literature of these varied forms of the new body. “Naked,” he feels, is not quite the most accurate description of the body, as most texts speak of the heavenly body as then “clothed in light.” This is why he thinks this text immediately qualifies Jesus’ nakedness with describing his appearance as “not at all like a man.” In short, all these descriptors are to be properly understood in the way that they add the most to the Glory of Jesus, and not in ways in which they might be considered as detracting from it.

“In the Beginning was the Name: Onomanology as the Key to Johannine Christology.” Here we have perhaps the most fun essay of the set. Fossum begins with a blanket rejection of Bultmann’s long-influential attempt to describe the teaching about the Logos in the Prologue to John as “Sophianology,” on the grounds that Sophia simply does not qualify to fulfill the role of the Logos as John describes it: the Logos has always existed in John, it was not the first thing created as Wisdom was in Proverbs; the Logos descended and become incarnate whereas there is no such description for Sophia. Instead, Fossum offers a wide set of texts as evidence that the Jewish motif which John does fulfill is that of the Logos being a concept that stands in for the Angel of the Lord, particularly manifest as the divine Name or Tetragrammaton.

The texts he cites are offered in comparison to the following traits of John’s Logos: the Name is eternal, and can even be regarded as a/the Power of God and hypostasized. The Name was the instrument of Creation, possibly even after the mode of a demiurge. The Name was also given to the Angel of Yahweh, and thus could be indicative of the pre-Incarnate Logos. The Name tabernacled among the people in the Temple of God. All this harmonizes rather nicely with John’s treatment of the Logos and makes for one of Fossum’s more compelling essays, although occasionally still marred by such confusions as saying that “the Gospel of John never makes a clear reference to Jesus as the Name…” which is then followed by a long quote from John 17 where Jesus in fact says, “Holy Father, keep them in Your Name, which You have given me….” Editorial problems like this aside, this essay must from now on be considered mandatory reading for anyone working on the Prologue to John’s Gospel.

“The Son of Man’s Alter Ego: John 1.51, Targumic Tradition and Jewish Mysticism.” The final essay of the volume is one we have all read together for Professor Orlov, so I shall be brief in my treatment of it. This essay was Fossum’s examination of connections between the saying of Jesus to Nathaniel in John 1.51 and the dream of Jacob in Gen 28.12. Thinking that the idea of Jewish tradition that Jacob had some kind of image in heaven was in fact an obscuring of the earlier idea that Jacob had an image carved on the heavenly throne of glory that was in fact identical with the Glory, Fossum reconstructs a picture for us of angels who were familiar with the Glory itself descending and ascending to and from Jacob in order to view the earthly image for themselves. In the same way, Fossum argued, the Son of Man was both in heaven and on earth at the same time and John’s point is to say that Nathaniel—and the reader who “envisions” Jesus in the Gospel—are able to see the heavenly Glory that is the Son of Man in Jesus who walks here with us on earth.

Conclusion. On the whole, while many of Fossum’s arguments are hardly conclusive, the texts that he brings together are a useful tool for the student of the Gospels. If discerning the effect of Jewish mysticism on early Christianity is not so much making conclusive, deductive arguments, but is instead the re-construction of a “mystical imagination,” then Fossum’s book will go a long way toward bringing together those texts and images that might enable one to enter this part of the mind of the early Jewish Christians. The book is also valuable in establishing a beachhead for a great deal more scholarship that can be pursued: the topics of the book, while illustrative, are hardly exhaustive, and leave plenty more to be done. Perhaps its greatest contribution to further scholarship, then, would be the high level of mastery of the oft-obscure Jewish texts that are necessary to attempt serious work in this direction.
Tags: books, dqes, historical, jewish mysticism, johannine literature, patristics, prologue to john, teachers
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