Monday, April 07, 2008

Εγω ειμι ο ων (Exodus 3:14) - Part II

ויאמר אלהים אל משה אהיה אשר אהיה ויאמר כה תאמר לבני ישראל אהיה שלחני אליכם׃

And God said unto Moses, אהיה אשר אהיה (I will be who/what I will be; I am who/what I am): and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, אהיה (I will be; I am) hath sent me unto you.

Greek Septuagint:
και ειπεν ο θεος προς Μωυσην Εγω ειμι ο ων (I am the being [one]/I am he who is)· και ειπεν Ουτως ερεις τοις υιοις ισραηλ Ο ων (the being [one]/he who is) απεσταλκεν με προς υμας.

Latin Vulgate:
dixit Deus ad Mosen ego sum qui sum (I am who (I) am) ait sic dices filiis Israhel qui est (who is) misit me ad vos

(To understand the background of the questions I pose here, please first read my previous post on this passage of Scripture.)

From The Christian Tradition, 1 The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), by Jaroslav Pelikan:
Although the axiom of the impassibility of God did not require conventional biblical proof, one passage from the Old Testament served as the proof text for Christian discussions of ontology: "I am who I am" - the word from the burning bush. To Clement of Alexandria it means that "God is one, and beyond the one and above the monad itself"; to Origen, that "all things, whatever they are, participate in him who truly is"; to Hilary it was "an indication concerning God so exact that it expressed in the terms best adapted to human understanding an unattainable insight into the mystery of the divine nature"; to Gregory of Nazianzus it proved that "he who is" was the most appropriate designation for God; to Theodore of Mopsuestia it was the mark of distinction between the Creator and all his creatures; to Philoxenus of Mabbug it was the divine way of "expelling the tradition of polytheism"; to Augustine it proved that "essence" could be used of God with strict propriety, while "substance" could not. From these and other sources, such as On Divine Names of Dionysius the Areopagite, the ontological understanding of the passage passed into authoritative summaries of Christian doctrine, namely, the Orthodox Faith of John of Damascus in the East and the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas in the West. It is no exaggeration, therefore, to speak of "a metaphysics of Exodus," with which a church father such as Clement of Alexandria sought to harmonize his Christian Platonism. - p. 54

Origen may also have been the first church father to study Hebrew, "in opposition to the spirit of his time and of his people," as Jerome says; according to Eusebius, he "learned it thoroughly," but there is reason to doubt the accuracy of this report. Jerome, however, was rightly celebrated as "a trilingual man" for his competence in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and Augustine clearly admired, perhaps even envied, his ability to "interpret the divine Scriptures in both languages." The testimony about the knowledge of Hebrew by other church fathers - for example, Didymus the Blind or Theodore of Mopsuestia - is less conclusive. But it seems safe to propose the generalization that, except for converts from Judaism, it was not until the biblical humanists and the Reformers of the sixteenth century that a knowledge of Hebrew became standard equipment for Christian expositors of the Old Testament. Most of Christian doctrine developed in a church uninformed by any knowledge of the original text of the Hebrew Bible. - p. 21

  1. To what extent did the translation of ehyeh asher ehyeh (אהיה אשר אהיה) as Egô eimi ho ôn (Εγω ειμι ο ων) and ego sum qui sum, as well as the translation of the second ehyeh (אהיה) as ho ôn (Ο ων) and qui est, influence subsequent developments in theology about the nature of God - e.g., being, simplicity, essence, energies, the Trinity, etc.?
  2. To what extent did such developments possibly diverge from the revelation of God as expressed by the Hebrew text and as given in the Hebrew Bible?

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