Thursday, June 23, 2016

John the Jew (Camaldoli): my response to Williams

AT THE "JOHN THE JEW" ENOCH SEMINAR THIS MORNING, Catrin H. Williams presented her plenary paper, "Johannine Christology and Prophetic Traditions: The Case of Isaiah." I was the respondent to the paper. With her permission I post my response, which summarizes her paper. I had no significant disagreements with her, but I also raise some speculative points inspired by the paper which I hope may be of some interest. [UPDATE (25 June): a photo of the session is here.]
Response to Catrin H. Williams,
“Johannine Christology and Prophetic Traditions: The Case of Isaiah”
Sixth Nangeroni Meeting of the Enoch Seminar, June 2016
James R. Davila

Catrin Williams has set out to advance our understanding of John’s exegetical use of the Septuagint version of Isaiah, drawing especially on insights into the translation technique of the Greek translator and ways in which the translation reformulates the text of Isaiah so as to create, whether deliberately or otherwise, internal connections of potential messianic interest which are not present in the Hebrew text. In part one, she focuses in particular on the two quotations of Isaiah, 53:1 and 6:10 which appear in John 12:38-40. The Hebrew text already provides catchword links between the two verses and the Septuagint translator has created more links between the two passages containing the verses and has otherwise set the stage for a Christological reading of them. Catrin argues, convincingly in my view, that the translator sets the stage for John’s key theological theme of “humiliation as exaltation” as applied to Jesus.

In part two she argues that, by “streamlining” the translation of some passages, the Septuagint translator opens potential catchword connections between passages with no such connection in the Hebrew text, and John seizes on some of these in his use of Isaiah. The key Greek terms include “glory” (δοξα), “exalt” (υψοω), and “light” (φως), and the new connections serve to create a closer link between God and the Servant, and therefore for John, God and Jesus. Of particular interest is the Septuagint’s treatment of the phrase “the arm of the Lord,” which features in 53:1 and is a characteristic phrase of the Book of Isaiah. Catrin argues, again convincingly in my view, that John’s familiarity with the Greek text of Isaiah has paved the way for him to read Jesus to be “the visible embodiment of ‘the arm of the Lord.’” Some passages in the Greek text hint at a close connection between the arm and the servant and this catchword connection of Isaiah 52:7-15 with Isaiah 40:9-11 informs John’s use of Zechariah 9:9 in John’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In addition the language of the Greek of Isaiah 43:10 makes the Lord a co-witness with the servant and opens up the possibility of an association of both God and the servant with the Greek divine title εγω ειμι, “I Am,” and the Greek text of this verse informs Jesus’ important Christological declaration in John 8:28.

The third section of the paper explores the reception of the book of Isaiah in the Parables or Similitudes of Enoch alongside its reception in the Gospel of John. The Parables have little in the way of overt allusion to Isaiah 6, but they show considerable interest in the Servant Songs, applying the titles Chosen One and Righteous One to the Son of Man figure and regarding him as the chosen but hidden light of the nations, now pre-existent. But, unlike the Christian interpreters of the Servant Songs, the Parables apply the humiliation of the Servant to the chosen and righteous ones on earth, not to the exalted Son of Man figure. Although John and the Parables share, as Collins put it, “belief in a hidden world where the power structures of this world are reversed” and both view this world, at Catrin puts it, as “filtered through an Isaianic lens,” the Parables present this reversal eschatologically with the enthronement of the Son of Man, whereas John presents it — with the help of Greek Isaiah — in terms of humiliation as exaltation.

Catrin’s paper is an important piece of work that improves our understanding of the origins and background of John’s Christological theme of humiliation as exaltation and places it in a larger context in Second Temple Judaism with the comparison to the messianic exegesis of Isaiah in the Parables of Enoch. I find her arguments and conclusions persuasive and I have no criticisms worth mentioning. Rather than looking for details to nitpick, I want to mention two areas of potential interest in relation to her paper, one as additional background to Second Temple Jewish exegesis of Isaiah and the other involving some observations concerning how her conclusions might help us understand another messianic controversy in late antiquity.

Firstly, a central concern of Catrin’s paper is how the translation decisions of the Septuagint translator facilitated the construction of John’s Christology. It is difficult to know how many of the messianic implications of the translation decisions were deliberate, but it is hard to image, for example, that the translator did not intend to emphasize and consolidate the relationship between God and the Servant in Isaiah. It is worth noting that there is some evidence for similar exegesis in the scribal treatment of the Hebrew text of Isaiah. In a number of cases readings found in the larger Qumran Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) seem to shift the text in a more messianic direction. In Isaiah 7:14 the Lord, rather than his mother, is the one who names (וקרא) the child Immanuel. In Isaiah 61:1, with the omission of a verb and the addition of a conjunction, the anointing of the speaker is tied directly to his power of healing. And in 53:14, rather than the Servant’s appearance being marred, we are told that God has anointed (משחתי) his appearance. And so on. And, in light of Catrin’s paper, it is perhaps of interest that, with the Septuagint but against the MT, 1QIsaa, IQIsab, and 4QIsaa tell us in 53:11 that the Servant will see light (אור). I do not know if anyone has done a comprehensive analysis of potential messianic exegesis in the readings of the Qumran Isaiah scrolls — probably someone has — but if not, this seems worth doing. The examples above underline that Second Temple-era exegesis of scripture involved not only commentary on the text, but the transmission of the text itself, a point important for Catrin’s paper.

Secondly, in one of the last sessions of this conference it is perhaps worthwhile to move the discussion briefly in the direction of late antiquity and ways in which the Christology of John may have influenced Jewish and Christian interactions over messianic theologies. Peter Schäfer has argued that the book of 3 Enoch, with its remarkable quasi-divine figure of Metatron, was a late antique Jewish response to Christian appropriation of Jewish messianic themes, a response that offered another messianic figure who was a divinized man who acted as savior and celestial judge, but who was not pre-existent and whose exaltation was not tied to a humiliating death.* The book of 3 Enoch and its figure of Metatron were clearly influenced on some level by the Parables of Enoch and its Son of Man, so bringing it in here is not entirely irrelevant to Catrin’s inquiries. And as I was reading her paper, a number of interesting connections between her conclusions and 3 Enoch occurred to me.

The figure of Metatron in 3 Enoch, like the Son of Man in the Parables, is a chosen one (6:3), who is lifted up off the earth in great glory from a corrupt generation (chapter 5 and 6:1), after which he is enthroned on his own throne in heaven (10:1-6). Metatron also has parallels with the Christ of the Gospel of John in his exaltation in glory and his divinization as the Lesser YHWH. But this positive picture of Enoch-Metatron is to a large degree rejected in 3 Enoch from the point of his dethronement in chapter 16 onward. From that point he functions almost exclusively as the interpreting angel for R. Ishmael’s tour of heaven.

The Book of 3 Enoch quotes and alludes to the book of Isaiah extensively and it would be worthwhile for someone to explore its exegesis of Isaiah in depth. But a few points are worth raising here. Unlike in the Similitudes, Isaiah 6:2-3 is quoted or alluded to a number of times in 3 Enoch (1:12; 19:7, 20:2, 24:3; 35:6; 40:2) but, unlike the use of the chapter in John, the passage is used essentially to provide details about the heavenly realm. More interestingly, 3 Enoch makes extensive use of the Isaianic passages about the arm of God, incorporating them into its theology of the right hand of God, which (on the basis of an old midrash) remains bound behind his back until the eschaton, when it acts to bring deliverance to Israel. His right hand is mentioned first in 3 Enoch 44:7, combining an allusion to Isaiah 42:5 (the only reference to a Servant Song in the book) with the creation of the heavens and earth by it in Isaiah 48:13. The highest density of references is in the appendix chapter 48A of 3 Enoch, where God’s released right hand becomes the arm of the Lord bringing God’s deliverance according to Isaiah 51:9, 63:12, 59:16, 63:5, and 52:10. The emphasis is on the arm of the Lord as God’s instrument and there is no messianic sense attached to it. Indeed, the passage emphasizes (v. 8) that God is acting to prevent profanation of his name. The passage concludes in 48A:9-10 with the revelation of the arm of the Lord, “and the appearance of its splendor is like the splendor of the light of the sun in its might at the summer solstice.” Israel is then redeemed from among the gentiles, the Messiah comes and brings them up to Jerusalem with great joy and feasts with them. The peoples of the world are either invited or not, depending on which textual variant one accepts. The passage concludes with quotations from Isaiah 52:10; Deuteronomy 32:12, and Zechariah 14:9, asserting that the arm of the Lord and God’s deliverance will be manifest before the nations, no foreign God shall be with him, and the Lord will be king over the whole earth.

At minimum this passage independently collects numerous scriptural themes also used by John. But is it possible that the connection is more direct? This appendix to 3 Enoch makes God’s arm his instrument at the eschaton and associates it with glory and light and the prevention of the profanation of God’s name, while carefully separating it from the Messiah. The Messiah brings Israel to Jerusalem joyously in what could be called a triumphal entry, but one in which the gentiles are at best subservient and at worst not invited at all. This almost reads like a rejection of John chapter 12, in which Jesus leads his followers joyfully into Jerusalem, where he is glorified and glorifies God’s name. He is the light of the world, at least implicitly he acts as the arm of the Lord, and the gentiles at the feast of Passover who ask to see him are not rejected. If more parallels to New Testament passages with this level of detail can be found in 3 Enoch, I may yet find myself persuaded by Schäfer’s theory.

Meanwhile, let me thank Catrin for her stimulating paper, which has advanced our understanding of John’s use of the Greek scriptures to construct his Christology and has helped place his use of Isaiah in the context of Second Temple-era Jewish exegesis. It has also stimulated me to think about some tangentially related matters in new ways and I am grateful for that as well.
*Schäfer, The Origins of Jewish Mysticism (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 315–327, 330; idem, The Jewish Jesus: How Judaism and Christianity Shaped Each Other (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 103–149.