Monday, August 15, 2005

Philo and God the Anonymous

Philo of Alexandria (50 BCE-20 CE) was a preeminent Jewish advocate of divine innominability. A number of passages in the Philonic corpus illuminate his thought concerning God’s namelessness, which he bases partly on Scripture and partly on philosophical abstractions. On the side of Holy Writ, Philo recapitulates the significance of the thorn bush account in Exodus, writing: “First tell them that I am He Who Is, that they may learn the difference between what is and what is not, and also the further lesson that no name at all can properly be used of me, to Whom existence belongs.”[1] Philo appeals to Exodus 3:14 in order to show that God is both anonymous and ineffable.[2]

[1] Vita Moisis 1.75.

[2] In the OT, one’s name is directly associated with an indivdual's personality or quiddity (Borchert, John 1-11, 117). Isaiah 62:2 speaks about Israel acquiring a new name. The apocalyptic NT book of Revelation also contains references to Christians being given a new name by God or Christ. Ben Witherington (Revelation, 104) suggests that the “new name” which the exalted Christ mentions in Revelation 2:17 “implies a new identity and being someone special in the kingdom.” Significantly, the Platonic One purportedly transcends “all being, names and knowledge” (McLelland, God the Anonymous, 10). In the renowned Athenian’s grand political dialogue, we read: “The good therefore may be said to be the source not only of the intelligibility of the objects of knowledge, but also of their being and reality; yet it is not itself that reality, but is beyond it, and superior to it in dignity and power” (Republic 509b). Nevertheless, compare Symposium 211a-b.

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