Nazarene Space

In the Beginning was the Word...

by

James Scott Trimm

Yochanan (John) writes:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him,
And without him was not any thing made that was made…
And the Word was made flesh,
and dwelt among us,
(and we beheld his glory,
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,)
full of grace and truth.
(John 1:1-3, 14 KJV)

And in Revelation he writes:

And he was clothed with a vesture,
dipped in blood: and his name is called
The Word of God.
(Rev. 19:13 KJV)

These statements MEANT something in context of Second Temple Judaism. And they meant something very significant. The concept of the “Word” (Greek: LOGOS; Aramaic: MEMRA; Hebrew: DAVAR) already had a very special and unique meaning in the Second Temple Era. The LOGOS/MEMRA was a very important concept in the Second Temple Era, and if we are to understand what Yochanan (John) is saying, we must understand this concept.



Abraham’s Faith was in the MEMRA

In Genesis 15:6 we read concerning Avraham:

“And he believed in YHWH, and He counted it to him for righteousness.”
(Gen. 15:6)

The official Targum to this verse paraphrases:

 “And he believed in the Word (Memra) of YHWH. And He counted it to him for righteousness.”
(Gen. 15:6 Targum Onkelos)

And Targum Psedo-Jonathan has:

“And he believed in YHWH, and had faith in the Word (Memra) of YHWH, and He reckoned it to him for righteousness.”
(Gen. 15:6 Targum Pseudo-Jonathan)

Philo of Alexandria made a very interesting comment about this verse (Gen. 15:6):

“It is best, therefore, to trust in God, and not in uncertain reasoning, or unsure conjectures. "Abraham trusted in the Lord, and it was counted to him for Righteousness” (Gen. 15:6) And Moses governed the people, being testified to that he was faithful with his whole house. But if we distrust our own reason (LOGOS, Word), we shall prepare and build ourselves a city of the mind which will destroy the truth.”
(Philo of Alexandria; Allegorical Interpretation, III, 228)

So Abraham’s faith was a rational faith, but what does this really mean?


The Memra is the Mind of YHWH

It is important to understand the MEMRA is the very expression of the Mind of YHWH.  Philo of Alexandria makes this case as follows:

IV. We must mention as much as we can of the matters contained in his account, since to enumerate them all is impossible; for he embraces that beautiful world which is perceptible only by the intellect, as the account of the first day will show: (16) for God, as apprehending beforehand, as a God must do, that there could not exist a good imitation without a good model, and that of the things perceptible to the external senses nothing could be faultless which wax not fashioned with reference to some archetypal idea conceived by the intellect, when he had determined to create this visible world, previously formed that one which is perceptible only by the intellect, in order that so using an incorporeal model formed as far as possible on the image of God, he might then make this corporeal world, a younger likeness of the elder creation, which should embrace as many different genera perceptible to the external senses, as the other world contains of those which are visible only to the intellect. (17) But that world which consists of ideas, it were impious in any degree to attempt to describe or even to imagine: but how it was created, we shall know if we take for our guide a certain image of the things which exist among us. When any city is founded through the exceeding ambition of some king or leader who lays claim to absolute authority, and is at the same time a man of brilliant imagination, eager to display his good fortune, then it happens at times that some man coming up who, from his education, is skilful in architecture, and he, seeing the advantageous character and beauty of the situation, first of all sketches out in his own mind nearly all the parts of the city which is about to be completed--the temples, the gymnasia, the prytanea, and markets, the harbour, the docks, the streets, the arrangement of the walls, the situations of the dwelling houses, and of the public and other buildings. (18) Then, having received in his own mind, as on a waxen tablet, the form of each building, he carries in his heart the image of a city, perceptible as yet only by the intellect, the images of which he stirs up in memory which is innate in him, and, still further, engraving them in his mind like a good workman, keeping his eyes fixed on his model, he begins to raise the city of stones and wood, making the corporeal substances to resemble each of the incorporeal ideas. (19) Now we must form a somewhat similar opinion of God, who, having determined to found a mighty state, first of all conceived its form in his mind, according to which form he made a world perceptible only by the intellect, and then completed one visible to the external senses, using the first one as a model.

V. (20) As therefore the city, when previously shadowed out in the mind of the man of architectural skill had no external place, but was stamped solely in the mind of the workman, so in the same manner neither can the world which existed in ideas have had any other local position except the divine reason (Logos) which made them; for what other place could there be for his powers which should be able to receive and contain, I do not say all, but even any single one of them whatever, in its simple form? (21) And the power and faculty which could be capable of creating the world, has for its origin that good which is founded on truth; for if any one were desirous to investigate the cause on account of which this universe was created, I think that he would come to no erroneous conclusion if he were to say as one of the ancients did say: "That the Father and Creator was good; on which account he did not grudge the substance a share of his own excellent nature, since it had nothing good of itself, but was able to become everything." (22) For the substance was of itself destitute of arrangement, of quality, of animation, of distinctive character, and full of all disorder and confusion; and it received a change and transformation to what is opposite to this condition, and most excellent, being invested with order, quality, animation, resemblance, identity, arrangement, harmony, and everything which belongs to the more excellent idea.
(Philo; On Creation IV, 15b-V, 22)

The Memra Permeates the Universe Biding it Together

Solomon identifies the Word with Wisdom speaking

1 "O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy,
who hast made all things by thy word,
2 and by thy wisdom hast formed man,
to have dominion over the creatures thou hast made,
(Wisdom of Solomon 9:1-2 RSV)

And earlier he writes concerning Wisdom:

6 For wisdom is a kindly spirit and
will not free a blasphemer from the guilt of his words;
because God is witness of his inmost feelings,
and a true observer of his heart, and a hearer of his tongue.
7 Because the Spirit of the Lord has filled the world,
and that which holds all things together knows what is said;
(Wisdom of Solomon 1:6-7 RSV)

Philo of Alexandria says of the Word (Greek: Logos):

for all other things are intrinsically and by their own nature loose; and if there is any where any thing consolidated, that has been bound by the word of God, for this word is glue and a chain, filling all things with its essence. And the word, which connects together and fastens every thing, is peculiarly full itself of itself, having no need whatever of any thing beyond.

(Philo; Who is Heir of all Things? 188)

And he says of the Law, which he elsewhere identifies  with the Word:

(8) If therefore any one wishes to escape from the difficulties of this question which present themselves in the different doubts thus raised, let him speak freely and say that there is nothing in any material of such power as to be able to support this weight of the world. But it is the eternal law of the everlasting God which is the most supporting and firm foundation of the universe. (9) This it is which, being extended from the centre of the borders, and again from the extremities to the centre, runs through the whole unsubdued course of nature, collecting all the parts and binding them firmly together; for the father who created them has made it the indissoluble bond of the universe. (10) Very naturally and appropriately therefore, all earth will not be dissolved by all water, which the bosom of the earth contains, nor will fire be extinguished by air, nor again will air be burnt up by fire, since the divine law establishes itself as a boundary to all these elements, like a vowel among consonants, so that the universe may, as it were, be harmonious in concert with the music expressed by letters; persuasion, by its own authority, putting an end to the threatening conflicts of contrary natures.

(Philo; Concerning Noah's Work as a Planter 8-10)

Gershom Scholem writes of the Word:

...the memra-- the paraphrase used in the Targumim, the Aramaic Bible translations, to refer to God's word. The memra is not merely a linguistic device for overcoming the problem of biblical anthropomorphisms; it has theological significance in its own right. The memra....is, as Abelson correctly puts it. “a world-permeating force, a reality in the world of matter or mind, the immanent aspect of Elohim, holding all things under its omnipresent sway.”

(On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah, by Gershom Scholem pg 181-182)

 

He here refers to the monumental work by

“…the Memra has, to the minds of the Targumic authors, some real theological connotation…. it connotes the manifestation on earth and among men of several aspects of -Divine power, goodness, wisdom and justice. The "Word" is a world-permeating force, a reality in the world of matter or mind, the immanent aspect of God holding all things under its omnipresent sway.”

(The Immanence of God in Rabbinic Literature by J. Abelson; p. 159; 1912)

 
The Memra is the Torah and the Rational Order of the Universe

Philo taught that the universe is an effect that must have a cause, i.e. a Creator, and that this Creator has a preference for order as opposed to chaos, as expressed by the order of the universe itself.  Philo speaks of Moses account of the Creation saying:

 (3) And his exordium, as I have already said, is most admirable; embracing the creation of the world, under the idea that the law corresponds to the world and the world to the law, and that a man who is obedient to the law, being, by so doing, a citizen of the world, arranges his actions with reference to the intention of nature, in harmony with which the whole universal world is regulated. (4) Accordingly no one, whether poet or historian, could ever give expression in an adequate manner to the beauty of his ideas respecting the creation of the world; for they surpass all the power of language, and amaze our hearing, being too great and venerable to be adapted to the sense of any created being.
(On Creation 1-4)

Elsewhere Philo writes:

…for he [Moses] was not like any ordinary compiler of history, studying to leave behind him records of ancient transactions as memorials to future ages for the mere sake of affording pleasure without any advantage; but he traced back the most ancient events from the beginning of the world, commencing with the creation of the universe, in order to make known two most necessary principles. First, that the same being was the father and creator of the world, and likewise the lawgiver of truth; secondly, that the man who adhered to these laws, and clung closely to a connection with and obedience to nature, would live in a manner corresponding to the arrangement of the universe with a perfect harmony and union, between his words and his actions and between his actions and his words.
(On the Life of Moses 2, 48)

To Philo Natural Law is revealed in the very order of the universe, which is the Creator’s work, and thus reveals the will of the Creator.  

In his letter to the Romans, Paul also addresses this concept that Natural Law is revealed in the very order of the universe, which is the Creator’s work, and thus reveals the will of the Creator.

[17] For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
[18] For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
[19] Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
[20] For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
[21] Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
[22] Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
[23] And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
[24] Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
[25] Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
[26] For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
[27] And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
[28] And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
[29] Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
[30] Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
[31] Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
[32] Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
(Romans 1:17-32 KJV)

And after a few other words he says:

[13] (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
[14] For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
[15] Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
[16] In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
(Romans 2:13-16 KJV)

The Memra was the Creator

This “Word of YHWH” was, according to Targum Jonathan, the Creator:

And the Word [Memra] of YHWH created man in his likeness,
in the likeness of YHWH, YHWH created,
male and female created He them.
(Targ. Jonathan Gen. 1:27)

This idea is also put forward in the Jerusalem Targum:

And the Word [Memra] of YHWH said to Moses:
“I am He who said unto the world ‘Be!’ and it was:
and who in the future shall say to it ‘Be!’
and it shall be.” And He said: “Thus you shall say
to the children of Israel: ‘I Am’ has sent me to you.”
(Jerusalem Targum Ex. 3:14)

The Fragmentary Targum of the Torah also expresses that the Word of YHWH was the Creator:

The first night, when the “Word of YHWH”
was revealed to the world in order to create it,
the world was desolate and void,
and darkness spread over the face of the abyss
and the “Word of the Lord” was bright and illuminating
and He called it the first night.
(Fragmentary Targum Ex. 12:42)

That the Word of YHWH was the Creator can also be seen in the Tanak itself:

By the Word (DAVAR) of YHWH were the heavens made,
and all the hosts of them by the Spirit of His mouth.
(Ps. 33:6)

The Memra is the Image of Elohim

Philo’s concept of the “Word” (Logos) is the “image of Elohim” which served as the pattern for the creation of man in Gen. 1:26-27. Philo writes:

…For God does not seem to have availed himself
of any other animal existing in creation as his model
in the formation of man; but to have been guided,
as I have said before, by his own Word (Logos) alone…
(Philo; On Creation XLVIII (139))

But the divine Word (Logos) which is above these
does not come into any visible appearance,
inasmuch as it is not like to any of the things
that come under the external senses,
but is itself an image of God,
the most ancient of all the objects of intellect
in the whole world, and that which is placed
in the closest proximity to the only truly existing God,
without any partition or distance being interposed
between them:
(On Flight and Finding XVIII (101))

Now, Bezaleel, being interpreted, means God in his shadow.
But the shadow of God is his Word (Logos), which he used
like an instrument when he was making the world.
And this shadow, and, as it were, model, is the archetype of other things. For, as God is himself the model of that image which he has now called a shadow, so also that image is the model of other things,
as he showed when he commenced giving the law to the Israelites,
and said, “And God made man according to the image of God.”[Gen. 1:26] as the image was modeled according to God, and as man was modeled according to the image, which thus received the power and character of the model.
(Allegorical Interpretations III 96)

For if it was necessary to examine the mortal body
of the priest that it ought not be imperfect through
any misfortune, much more was it necessary to look
into his immortal soul, which they say is fashioned
in the form of the living God. Now the image of God
is the Word (Logos), by which all the world was made.
(The Special Laws I, 81)

What is the man who was created? And how is that man
distinguished who was made after the image of God? (Gen. 2:7).
This man was created as perceptible to the senses,
and in the similitude of a Being appreciable only by the intellect;
but he who in respect of his form is intellectual and incorporeal,
is the similitude of the archetypal model as to appearance,
and he is the form of the principal character;
but this is the Word (Logos) of God, the first beginning of all things,
the original species or the archetypal idea,
the first measure of the universe.
(Q & A on Gen. I, 4)

Why is it that he speaks as if of some other god,
saying that he made man after the image of God,
and not that he made him after his own image? (Gen. 9:6).
Very appropriately and without any falsehood
was this oracular sentence uttered by God,
for no mortal thing could have been formed
on the similitude of the supreme Father of the universe,
but only after the pattern of the second deity,
who is the Word (Logos) of the supreme Being;
since it is fitting that the rational soul of man should bear it
the type of the divine Word (Logos); since in his first Word (Logos)
God is superior to the most rational possible nature.
But he who is superior to the Word (Logos) holds his rank
in a better and most singular pre-eminence, and how could
the creature possibly exhibit a likeness of him in himself?
Nevertheless he also wished to intimate this fact,
that God does rightly and correctly require vengeance,
in order to the defense of virtuous and consistent men,
because such bear in themselves a familiar acquaintance
with his Word (Logos), of which the human mind is
the similitude and form.
(Q & A on Gen. II 62)

This parallels what we read in the Targum:

And the Word (Memra) of YHWH
created man in his likeness,
in the likeness of YHWH, YHWH created,
male and female created He them.
(Targ. Jonathan Gen. 1:27)

The Memra is the Covenant Maker

The Word was also the covenant maker. For example the Noachdic covenant was between the Word and all mankind:

And YHWH said to Noah,
“This is the token of the covenant
which I have established between My Word [Memra]
and between all flesh that is upon the earth.
(Targum Onkelos Gen. 9:17)

The Word also made the Abrahamic covenant as Targum Onkelos also paraphrases:

And I will establish my covenant
between My Word [Memra] and between you…
(Targum Onkelos Gen. 17:7)

The Word of YHWH was also the giver of the Mosaic Covenant and the Torah as the Jerusalem Targum (as quoted above) makes the Torah giver “the Word of YHWH” in Ex. 20:1. It was to th e Word that Jacob turned to for salvation:

Our father Jacob said: “My soul does not wait for salvation
such as that wrought by Gideon, the son of Joash,
for that was but temporal; neither for a salvation
like that of Samson, which was only transitory;
but for that salvation which You have promised to come,
through Your Word unto Your people, the children of Israel;
for your salvation my soul hopes.”
(Targum Jonathan Gen. 49:18)


The Memra is Messiah

The Targums also identify this Memra as the Messiah:

Behold, my servant, the Messiah, whom I bring,
my chosen in whom one delights:
as for my Word [MEMRA], I will put my Holy Spirit upon Him;
He shall reveal my judgment unto the nations.
2 He shall not cry aloud, nor raise a clamor,
 and He shall not lift up His voice in the street.
3 The meek who are like a bruised reed He shall not break,
and the poor who are as a glimmering wick with Him, He will not quench:
He shall bring forth judgment unto truth.
4 He shall not faint nor be weary,
till He have established judgment in the earth;
and the isles shall wait for His Torah.
(Targum Jonathan to Isaiah 42:1-4)

Likewise Philo of Alexandria identified the Logos as the Messiah:

"The head of all things is the eternal Word (Logos) of the eternal God, under which, as if it were his feet or other limbs, is placed the whole world, over which He passes and firmly stands. Now it is not because Messiah is Lord that He passes and sits over the whole world, for His seat with His Father and God but because for its perfect fullness the world is in need of the care and superintendence of the best ordered dispensation, and for its own complete piety, of the Divine Word (Logos), just as living creatures (need) a head, without which it is impossible to live."
(Q&A on Exodus, II, 117)

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