August 31st, 2004


Theologi... oof. Personal--Everyone's back

I was going to do a review of the start of the new theological material, but I can't stop yawning. Up at 730 this morning for the Intro to Theology classes and then reading frantically to finish my pre-assignment for Barnes' "Holy Spirit from Second Temple Judaism to Augustine" class. After that, the first session of Andrei's "Apocalyptic Literature" class. It was all fantabulous, but I can't stop yawning. I already said that. Typed that. Anyway, I'm going to bed. The best part was seeing all the faces again, and in the gathering of these people, to start to feel the excitement of the synergy of these minds... always amazing. Andrei talked about how he wanted this seminar (his first Ph.D. seminar as a professor--absurdly, criminally over-packed with 21 students attending (a seminar!)--to capture the excitement and dynamism of the underground interdisciplinary seminars that he said were the heart of intellectual life under the Soviet Union. How's that for ambiance? Alright: passing out. Real theology tomorrow.
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Theological Notebook--Alan F. Segal's "Two Powers in Heaven"

A Note of Explanation My main intention with starting this journal last semester was to keep an online record, for my own benefit, of what I was reading in my theological studies, but also to share that with friends who were always asking me such questions as "What are you reading?" I think it not only good for me to keep notes of where I've been and what I've thought, but also to constantly try to take professional theology and popularize it: learn to make it accessible for the person who doesn't have a strong background or formation in the material. With the school year starting, I'm going to try to be more conscious of this, and more methodical in my writing. So this is just to say, this will be a format--a paragraph or two in review of an article or reading--that you will be seeing more often, if I keep the discipline up. If you're interested in this: great! Read on! If not so much, you'll be able to tell and move on to me talking about my next life-episode, like that's any more interesting....

"'Two Powers in Heaven' & Early Christian Trinitarian Thinking" by Alan F. Segal in Trinity, ed. by Stephen T. Davis, et al.

Segal's article was given as "Deep Background Reading" for Michel René Barnes' "Holy Spirit from Second Temple Judaism to Augustine" class. It's an exploration of a possibly pre-Christian phenomenon of what seems to be a kind of proto-Trinitarian kind of thinking already occurring in Judaism, or in this case a "binitarian" one. Either way, it seemed to indicate multiplicity in the One God. The rabbis of Rabbinic Judaism (the Judaism we have today, which was formed after these rabbis refused to recognize those who believed in Jesus as Messiah as being their fellow Jews anymore--after the year 70) referred to a heresy of there being "two powers" in God. Because of a variety of texts in the Hebrew scriptures, questions were being raised about figures--taken as appearances of God--that somehow also seemed to be distinct from God. (See the appearance on Sinai, Psalm 110:1, Daniel 7:9-13, and others.) The timing of these heresies are difficult to tell from what the rabbis wrote. They could be reacting to Christians talking about "the Father and the Son." These could also be reactions to the influence of thinking like the Greek philosophical influence we see in Philo of Alexandria and his language of a logos or "Word" in God: a style of thinking that would have a great influence in the opening of the Gospel of John. Philo, a Jewish philosopher living in Egypt at the time of Jesus and the earliest church, called the logos "a second god" without denying monotheism. Whether of Jewish Christian origin or of Hellenistic (Greek-influenced) Jewish philosophy, what is notable for our class purposes is that the rabbis were deeply bothered by a notion of two somehow being in God. As Segal says, " Christian mention of the "Holy Spirit" would neither have been considered unique nor heretical by the rabbis." (p. 79) Unlike "Father and Son," language of the Holy Spirit is already established in Judaism, if not the idea that this is a name for a distinction within God.

Theological Notebook--"The Angelic Spirit in Early Judaism" by John R. Levison

"The Angelic Spirit in Early Judaism" by John R. Levison, Society of Biblical Literature 1995 Seminar Papers

This article is designed to "sketch possible foregrounds for the divine spirit in the Fourth Gospel, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Ascension of Isaiah." Essentially, you have a collection of texts from the Old Testament that show the divine spirit--perhaps what the Christians will come to call the Holy Spirit--being portrayed as perhaps an angelic being. The article generally didn't translate its original language citations, and while I can plod through the gist of the Greek, I know no Hebrew, so I had to do a considerable amount of understanding the context alone without being able to distinguish Hebrew words from one another. What the hodge-podge of texts revealed was that we seemed to have two options in trying to understand references to the divine spirit in the Hebrew texts:
1) We either have a concept of the Spirit that is developing: a growing recognition of the "Spirit" being something distinct and particular, or

2) perhaps the spirit of God that is described in a given story is an angelic being (often contrasted with a demonic being).

In this case, we have to be very cautious about seeing any references to a "holy spirit" in the Jewish text as a reference to God--or even moreso as being like a Christian understanding of a "Person" in God--but rather simply as a Jewish was of describing a spiritual being who was "one of the good guys." A holy spirit, as opposed to an evil spirit of the sort that tormented Saul in the book of Samuel. The article lets us approach our examination of the Holy Spirit in Judaism with greater caution.