Hypostastis in the Second Temple Period Part Three


We now return to where the problem became the most apparent: the Second Temple Period.  This period was full of speculation about the coming one, the anointed of God, and the coming of God himself into the arena of mankind.  The new age would be free of Israel’s enemies and God would reign.  Here the main objective is to examine how monotheists, as seen in the text of the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, could believe that God could be worshiped via proxy.  That is to say, how could an entity, which seemed to be created, be allowed to receive worship, honor and praise like God?

Towards the end of the Second Temple period, vivid examples of worship ascribed to some type of intermediary between God and man can be observed.  The instances of hypostasis are not found only in one type of literature.  Rather, they are in various texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls,[109] and in books of the New Testament.  The Targumim, the Aramaic translations of the Bible, also have examples of hypostasis.  And finally, rabbinic literature[110] lists several occurrences.

Like the texts studied already, in which another was praised alongside of God, so too, in this period, the worshippers did not abandon their fidelity to the God of Israel nor did they consider the accompanying entities to be new gods.  Rather, they were considered hypostases of God.  In order to gain a better understanding of just how widespread the belief in hypostasis was, a survey shall be conducted in this section dealing with several examples from each sub-category briefly rather than exploring each one in depth.  As will be demonstrated, hypostasis was present in many different genres of literature and thus existed in many circles of worshippers.  Like the phenomenon in the First Temple Period, cultic objects and God’s attributes were invoked alongside God and served as a substitute God.

3.1  Ben Sira

Ben Sira chapter 24, written circa the early second century BC,[111] is perhaps the first text to equate Wisdom with Torah.[112] It is a text which seems to have influenced Baruch,[113] discussed in more detail below.  In the 24th chapter, Wisdom is said to praise herself and to take glory in the midst of her people and in the midst of the Most High.  “Wisdom will praise herself and will glory in the midst of her people.  In the assemble of the Most High she will open her mouth, and in the presence of his host she will glory.” (24:1-2).  The self-praise of Wisdom is a very striking motif in the text, and as we shall see, is pregnant in Proverbs 8.  Also, like Proverbs 8, Wisdom speaks in the first person.  She is said to have had an active role in the creation of the world.  She is said to have been enthroned (“I dwelt in high places, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.”) and the one who travels the heavens “Alone I have made the circuit of the vault of heaven.” (24:4-5a).  This is the speech of hypostasis in that Wisdom is speaking in the first person like the speech of Iëtar (as seen below in 4.1), and claims to have roles which belong to God.  She alone travels the heavens and is enthroned.  Likewise, she is praised, receives glory and even has her own people.

3.2    Baruch

The poem of Baruch, written in Palestine, circa the late second or the early first century BC,[114] is also a pertinent text for our study.  In this text, Wisdom is identified with the Torah and is compared to Job 28 in which Wisdom is a mystery unsearchable.[115]

He found out the entire way of Wisdom,

Gave it to his servant Jacob,

To Israel, his beloved one.

And then she appeared on earth,

And became like a mortal one.

(Baruch 3:37-38)

This text plainly exemplifies the hypostatic tendency of the Second Temple Period.  It speaks of an attribute of God that became an entity – like a human being!  This attribute, which according to Harrelson,[116] is based on Proverbs 8, is apparently some type of heavenly being.  It is Wisdom, and not God, as is so often expressed in the Bible[117], who is to come and dwell on the earth.  Thus, we see that the author understood God’s attribute as the agent by which God would come.  Furthermore, this agent would be manifest in the form of a mortal.  Harrelson’s explanation of Baruch substantiates the previous conclusion.

If we take the Ethiopic reading at face value, it goes far toward portraying Wisdom as a heavenly being.  The expression wa-kona kama sab’ can only be translated, ‘and became like a human being’, or…‘like a mortal one’.  Wisdom is not only a personified being, she is one whom the deity has come to know completely, and who has appeared as a mortal among mortals.  Many interpreters have understood the text to be a modification by Christian editors, thereby causing the text to support the Incarnation.  But it is certainly not a Christian incarnation text in its Ethiopic reading, for the portrayal is of a divine or semi-divine being who, intimately known by the deity, now has her place within the human community as well.” [118]

Thus, hypostasis in the eyes of Baruch’s author, was to be realized in a concrete way.  The manifestation would be even more striking than what we saw in the Evil Eye; the hypostasis could definitely act and perform in the physical world, though possibly invisible.  The view of Baruch’s author is that the hypostasis of God, in this case Wisdom, would be made manifest in such a way that God would dwell with man and man would see it like a mortal.[119]

3.3 The Wisdom Of Solomon And I Enoch

The Wisdom of Solomon, written most likely in the time of Pompey (63-48 BC),[120] is presumably based on the text and more importantly the dubious , of Proverbs 8:30.[121] The author speaks of Wisdom as the inventor of all, thus assigning the work of creation with her in contrast to God.  “For she that is the artificer of all things taught me, even wisdom.” (Wisdom of Solomon, 7:21)  The author continues by listing the various attributes of Wisdom, which seem to point to a hypostatization of her.

For there is in her spirit quick of understanding, holy, Alone in kind, manifold… All-powerful, all-surveying, And penetrating through all spirits…  For she is a breath of the power of God, And a clear effluence of the glory of the Almighty… for she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness. And she, though but one, hath power to do all things… (Wisdom of Solomon 7:22,25-27a) e;stin ga.r evn auvth/| pneu/ma noero’.n a[gion monogene’.j polumere.j… lepto.n euvki,nhton trano.n avmo,lunton safe.j avph,manton fila,gaqon ovxu.… avtmi.j ga,r evstin th/j tou/ qeou/ duna,mewj kai. avpo,rroia th/j tou/ pantokra,toroj do,xhj ga,r evstin fwto.j avi?di,ou kai. E.soptron avkhli,dwton th/j tou/ qeou/ evnergei,aj kai. eivkw.n th/j avgaqo,thtoj auvtou/ mi,a de. ou=sa pa,nta du,natai kai. Me,nousa…..

The author of the Wisdom of Solomon, basing much of his work on Proverbs 8, has taken a stand on the enigmatic word amon.  He understood the word to have the meaning of master craftsman or as it is in LXX, arranging all things.  There is no hint of the alternative meaning “nursling” (see discussion below) for the word amon. Wisdom was understood to be a hypostasis.

The language used here describes an entity that is nothing short of divine and equal to God.  First, the author describes how she is equal to God.  She is all powerful, all knowing, alone in kind.  The author here is making giant claims about Wisdom.  She, like YHWH, is omniscient and omnipotent.  To be omnipotent is to claim equality with God.  She is also alone in kind.  So we can see, that the author did not intend to create another god, but understood Wisdom to be God.  She was an aspect of God which was self-existent.

Next the author demonstrated how Wisdom was still connected to God.  She was semi-independent in that she was the breath of his power, the effluence of his glory and the mirror of his power.  Thus, the author showed that though Wisdom was in her own right omniscient and omnipotent, there was nonetheless a nexus between God and Wisdom.

Charles notes that according to the author of the Wisdom of Solomon, just as “the serpent was not really a serpent but the devil, the cloud was not really a cloud but the form which Wisdom assumed.” [122] This is a salient example of Wisdom taking on a physical and visible form.  Thus in the Second Temple period, Wisdom, God’s hypostasis, was regarded to have had an explicit role in the days of the Exodus; for the Second Temple person it was the Wisdom of God which worked in the world and not God directly.

Proceeding to chapter nine of The Wisdom of Solomon, we see Wisdom seated on the throne of God, (reserved for God), and, in the similitudes (Enoch), reserved for the Son of Man.  The author, via prayer, gives a picture of the role which Wisdom has.

O God… and Lord of mercy,

Who by your word have made all things,

And in your wisdom fitted man…

Grant me Wisdom, consort to your throne

(Wisdom of Solomon, 9:1,2,4)[123]

In this text the author shows how word (lo,goj) and wisdom are synonymous and how wisdom sits by God on his throne.  Thus, here she shares in the glory of sitting on God’s throne and above it is she who has power to do all things.  All the divine qualities (e.g. omniscience, omnipotence, holiness, etc.) are hers and yet she is the effluence of God’s glory.

Likewise, in the Similitudes (Enoch), a heavenly figure is ascribed qualities equal to God, and like in Wisdom, is seated on the seat of glory, a place reserved for the divine.  Thus the elect one is a heavenly-divine figure but also the one who will come to dwell among the people.  Interestingly, in Zechariah 2:10-11 (in the English version), it is none other than God himself who would come to dwell among the people.  This text illustrates how God’s representative, the one who is imbued with his qualities and characteristics, the one who shares in his glory, will come to fulfill God’s promise to Israel.  And so, God would come and live among the people albeit via his hypostasis.

On that day, my Elect One shall sit on the seat of glory

and make a selection of their deeds…

On that day, I shall cause my Elect One to dwell among them…

I Enoch 45: 3-4

In both texts, a heavenly figure is with God on his throne and shares in his divine power.  In the Wisdom of Solomon, it is God’s attribute, Wisdom that is the hypostasis.  In I Enoch, the Elect One, some prehistoric figure, acts as the hypostasis.  I propose that the Elect One is a hypostasis because it is the one by which God will act in the world.  The Elect One will make a selection of their deeds.  He will be the staff upon which the righteous lean (I Enoch 48:4).  And most importantly, he, like God will receive praise and worship.  “All those who dwell upon the earth shall fall and worship before him.” (I Enoch 48:5).[124]

3.4 Summary and Conclusion

Having completed our survey of Second Temple literature, we should now be able to conclude that there was indeed a continuum of hypostatic thought which ran from some of the earliest times of Israelite religion through the Second Temple period.  The claim made by many scholars that foreign influence, during both the Old Kingdom and the Second Temple period, was the cause of the appearance of godlike creatures can now be strongly questioned.  In light of the evidence, we can securely put forth the claim that what appears to be the influence of a pagan religion creeping into Israelite/Jewish religion is actually a part of the underlying thought process which existed for many centuries.

This is not to suggest, as mentioned before, that Israel lived in a vacuum.  Foreign influence without doubt had a pull on the mind of the ancient writer.  Nonetheless, instances in which an entity is sharing in God’s roles and his glory, need not be seen in the light of polytheism for hypostasis in Israel never became a matter of incorporating new gods and consequently introducing a pantheon of gods into its cultic practice.[125] The hypostasis, though understood as a semi-independent entity, was not allowed to become greater than the original God, which Parpola suggests, was the greater part of the prophets’ complaint.  “The bitter attacks of biblical prophets against idolatry and the worship of heavenly bodies and foreign gods have in my opinion to be seen in this light – as attacks against the nations’ excessive worship of divine powers at the cost of God himself, which was seen as the root cause of her demise, not as attacks against the contemporary concept of God as such which did not differ essentially from its Assyrian counterpart.”[126] Israelite religion was able to maintain its standing on monotheism while at the same time, believe that an entity, equal to God, independent of Him and yet connected to Him, was the way by which one addressed Him.

Hypostasis is a phenomenon which existed in Israel and beyond its borders.  It was a means by which ancient man had immediate access to a god and was an integral part of ancient man’s cultic framework.  The notion that an object or attribute could function as an intermediary was very prevalent and widespread, which was also realized in the form of the Evil Eye.  In whatever way manifested, it was regarded as an entity, separated from the original deity or person, which could bring pain and pleasure and could itself be pleased or suffer loss.  The occurrences in the Bible parallel those found outside its borders.  And thus, with these observations and conclusions in mind, we are now ready to ask whether or not Proverbs 8 contains a hypostasis.

Ancient Israelite Hypostasis Introduction

Hypostases in the Ancient Near East Part One

Hypostasis in Biblical Literature Part Two

Hypostasis in the Second Temple Period Part Three

Hypostasis, Proverbs Eight, and Wisdom Part Four

Ancient Israelite Hypostasis Bibliography Part Five

[109] See: R. Eisenman & M. Wise, (1992).

[110] Midrash haggadol, specifically deals with the problem of how to understand the various manifestations of God without creating new gods.  Here the Glory, like in Ezekiel and Zechariah, and the Shekinah (), that is the presence or dwelling of God, have nearly become independent of God.  “R Eliezer said: ‘He who translates a verse (from the bible) literally is a liar.  He who adds to it, commits a blasphemy… if he translated: ‘And they saw the God of Israel’, he spoke an untruth; for the Holy One…sees but is not seen.  But if he translated: ‘And they saw the glory of the Shekinah of the God of Israel’ he commits blasphemy; for he makes three, viz. Glory, Shekinah and God.’”

[111] Harrelson, W., (1992), p. 159.

[112] R. E. Murphy, (1990), p. 76.

[113] See D. G. Burke, (1982).

[114] W. Harrelson, (1992), p. 159.

[115] “Who has found her place? And who has entered her storehouses?…Who has gone up into the heaven, and taken her, and brought her down from the clouds?…No one knows the way to her, or is concerned about the path to her.”  Baruch 3:15,29,31 – translation G. W. E. Nickelsburg & M. E. Stone, (1983).  See discussion of Amon for parallels of being “hidden”.

[116] Harrelson, (1992).

[117] See. Ex. 28:5; 29:45,46;Num 35:34; Eze. 43:7,9; Zech. 2:10,11.

[118] Harrelson, (1992), p.159.

[119] See the first chapter of The Gospel of John for parallels.

[120] L.H. Schiffman, (1987), p.237.

[121] See Nickelsburg and Stone, (1983).

[122] Charles, R.H. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, (1913), p. 547.

[123] Jerusalem Bible London, (1966).

[124] The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs offers a parallel to I Enoch.  Like Enoch, the Testament speaks of a man, a descendent of Abraham who shall be worshiped like God.  “Levi, your posterity shall be divided into three offices as a sign of the glory of the Lord who is coming[emphasis mine] His presence is beloved, as a prophet of the Most High, a descendant of Abraham our father.  (8:1-15)  …And his star shall rise in heaven like a king…  And he shall be extolled by the whole-inhabited world.  This one will shine forth like the sun in the earth, he shall take away all darkness from under heaven, and there shall be peace in all the earth.” Again, the figure receives praise and has powers like God.

[125] “And even if such hypostases occasionally developed into independent divinities, this was unable to take place within the domain of the genuine religion of Yahweh.”  H. Ringgren, (1966), p. 307.

[126] S. Parpola, (1997), p. XXVI.

Ancient Israelite Hypostasis Introduction

Hypostases in the Ancient Near East Part One

Hypostasis in Biblical Literature Part Two

Hypostasis in the Second Temple Period Part Three

Hypostasis, Proverbs Eight, and Wisdom Part Four

Ancient Israelite Hypostasis Bibliography Part Five