Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Use of "Father" for God in Ancient Judaism

Taken from my dissertation "Metaphor and Divine Paternity" which will be published (hopefully) within the next year or two:

[Walter] Kasper states that ancient Israel believed God has “the attitude of a father.” Marsh similarly affirms that the use of “Father” as a divine appellation in the Tanakh “is clearly a metaphor, an image employed to express some aspect or aspects of God’s relationship with God’s people.” Moreover, Jeremiah the prophet indicates that God’s paternity with respect to Israel is symbolic or metaphorical when he speaks of YHWH “becoming” a Father to Israel (Jeremiah 31:9 NRSV). Therefore, it seems that the paternal title for deity is a well-established metaphor in ancient Judaism: the expression appears to form part of a metasememe that communicates the notion of God electing and providentially guiding Israel, the historical seed of Abraham (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8). Hence, although the communal address “our Father” is “relatively late,” (according to Vermes) the metaphor of God as Father (ab) to the Israelite nation appears to have been a prominent motif in the sacred documents of early Judaism (Prayer for Intercession 3:5-8).


JimSpace said...

As you probably know, in addition to Jeremiah 31:9, there is also Isaiah 63:16; 64:8, and Malachi 2:10 that equate Jehovah with the Father.

Edgar Foster said...

Jim, please never be afriad to post something like this, even if you think I already have the info. In fact, those verses do appear in my dissertation. Yet I appreciate the reminders. Here is what's stated in my thesis:

God is Father to the nation of Israel since YHWH brings it about that the children of Israel exist as a nation (Exodus 4:22-23; Deuteronomy 8:5; 32:6; Psalm 103:13; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Jeremiah 31:9; Malachi 1:6; 2:10). In contrast to the immortal “fathers” of Greek mythology, when Israel refers to YHWH as its one Father, “the idea in the background is not the biological one of procreation, but the theological one of election.” [quote from Walter KAsper, Jesus the Christ, p. 79] The Judaic view of a paternal divinity additionally stands in marked contrast to the god of Stoic pantheism. Unlike the deity of Stoicism, the Tanakh portrays YHWH as a personal and transcendent Father for the sons of Israel. He guides the comparatively scant nation through the middle eastern wilderness while administering remedial discipline that is rooted in love (Deuteronomy 1:31; Proverbs 3:12; Malachi 3:17).

Thanks, Edgar