“The Semitic Logos: The (Personal) Memra of God” – An Excerpt

[LogoMemraMy friend Michael Burgos and I are writing a short an apologetics book dealing primarily with the doctrine of God proper, but also including related materials. What follows in this post is an excerpt from one of my essays in the book. I am addressing the claims of Oneness Pentecostal theologians who deny that the Logos of John 1:1-14 was eternally a Distinct Divine Person in eternal communion with the Father and the Spirit, but was instead simply an a-personal plan in the mind of God. Let me know your thoughts :) Soli Deo Gloria! -h.]

The Semitic Logos: The (Personal) Memra of God

Daniel Boyarin, furthermore, while of the belief that Philo’s Logos is, like John’s Logos, a distinct divine Person,1 demonstrates that “there were other Jews [besides Philo], and, moreover, not only Greek speaking ones, who manifested a version of Logos theology.”2 Boyarin:

Notions of the second god as personified word or wisdom of God were present among Semitic-speaking Jews as well. […] The leading candidate for the Semitic Logos is, of course, “The Memra” of God, as it appears in the para-rabbinic Aramaic translations of the Bible in textual contexts that are frequently identical to ones where the Logos hermeneutic has its home among Jews who speak Greek.3

So close, in fact, is the personal “Memra” of God doctrine of these Jews that Boyarin, after surveying numerous theological and contextual parallels between John’s prologue and Jewish commentaries on the OT featuring the Word/Logos/Memra of God, concludes that “the Memra performs many, if not all, of the functions of the Logos of Christian Logos theology.”4 This directly contradicts Bernard’s attribution of Logos theology to “the Greek Apologists,”5 demonstrating that their idea of “the Logos as a second divine person”6 was not only not unique to philosophers like Justin Martyr, but found a place within Judaism itself.

The literature on the subject of the so-called “two powers in heaven” doctrine is extensive, and shows that the differentiation of Divine Persons in the Godhead was not the product of cultural admixture and religio-philosophical syncretism. Daniel Boyarin correctly notes that such an interpretation of the “two powers in heaven” doctrine is more likely an ideologically driven reconstruction of the past by present Rabbinical scholars7 than it is an attempt to understand the complex interrelationships between multiple “in-house” debates arising from various exegetical/interpretive difficulties faced by devout Jews.8

Notes

1 “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John,” in The Harvard Theological Review Vol. 94, No. 3 (July, 2001), 249-252.

2 Boyarin, The Gospel of Memra, 252.

3 Boyarin, The Gospel of Memra, 252-253.

4 Boyarin, The Gospel of Memra, 257.

5 The Trinitarian Controversy in the Fourth Century, (Missouri: Word Aflame Press, 2011), 10.

6 ibid.

7 Most notably Alan F. Segal in his seminal work, The Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism (Baylor University Press, reprint 2012), 339 pp.

8 “Beyond Judaisms: Metatron and the Divine Polymorphy of Ancient Judaism,” in Journal for the Study of Judaism 41 (2010), 323-365.

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