THE WORD OF YHWH REVEALED
IN THE BEGINNING
Where do I begin…?
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.
Philo was an Alexandrian Jew who was born nearly 20 years before Yeshua and died around 20 years after his death. Philo was a “Hellenist Jew”. Not like the Hellenists of the Maccabean period who abandoned Torah for Paganism, but like Stephen (Acts 7) and the Hellenists in Acts 6. These Hellenists were Greek speaking Jews who remained Torah Observant (at least in there own understanding) while accepting Greek culture.
Josephus’ comments about Philo are so brief that we can quote them here in full:
“There was now a tumult arisen at Alexandria, between the Jewish inhabitants and the Greeks; and three ambassadors were chosen out of each party that were at variance, who came to Gaius. Now one of these ambassadors from the people of Alexandria was Apion, who uttered many blasphemies against the Jews; and, among other things that he said, he charged them with neglecting the honors that belonged to Caesar; for that while all who were subject to the Roman empire built altars and temples to Gaius, and in other regards universally received him as they received the gods, these Jews alone thought it a dishonorable thing for them to erect statues in honor of him, as well as to swear by his name. Many of these severe things were said by Apion, by which he hoped to provoke Gaius to anger at the Jews, as he was likely to be. But Philo, the principal of the Jewish embassage, a man eminent on all accounts, brother to Alexander the alabarch, and one not unskillful in philosophy, was ready to betake himself to make his defense against those accusations; but Gaius prohibited him, and bid him begone; he was also in such a rage, that it openly appeared he was about to do them some very great mischief. So Philo being thus affronted, went out, and said to those Jews who were about him, that they should be of good courage, since Gaius’s words indeed showed anger at them, but in reality had already set God against himself.” (Antiquities of the Jews, xviii.8, 1)
Rabbinic Judaism has forgotten Philo. He is never mentioned or cited in the Rabbinic literature which makes no great mention of any Alexandrian Jews.
Philo is very important to us because he writes much about the Second Temple Era Jewish concept of the “Word” (Greek: LOGOS). We should not seek to understand John 1:1-3, 15 1and Jn. 19:13 in a vacuum. Remember, Philo lived and wrote at the same time as the “New Testament” events were taking place. However Philo was far away in Alexandria Egypt, and apparently unaware of the budding Nazarene movement which had not yet come to Alexandria.
In order to understand Philo’s concept of the Word, we must understand Philo’s concept of Elohim. Philo saw a conflict within Elohim. On the one hand, he saw Elohim as beyond man and far removed from the finiteness of this universe. He refers to this concept in Greek as TO ON (that which exists) and TO ONTOS ON “that which alone truly exists”. This concept of Elohim is conceived as virtually outside this universe with no real contact with it. This unknowable Elohim appeared from Ex. 20:21. In Rabbinic Judaism (i.e. Kabbalah) this unknowable Elohim is called in Hebrew EIN SOF (without end/border; The Infinite One).
For Philo the Word (Logos) was a sort of bridge between the unknowable remote Elohim and the universe. The Word was a manifestation of the unknowable Elohim in this universe, an intermediary or mediator between man and Elohim. One can immediately see that Philo’s Word parallels Rabbinic Judaism’s (Kabbalah’s) SEFIROT.
Philo writes much about the concept of the “Word” (Greek: Logos)
…So that the Word (Logos) is, as it were, the charioteer of the powers,…
(On Flight and Finding XIX 101)
This is very important, as we have a first century Jew revealing to us the mystery of the throne-chariot.
The Mishna tells us:
They do not expound upon…
Ma’aseh Bereshit before [more than] two, or Ma’aseh Merkavah before [more than] one unless he was a sage and understands of his own knowledge.
In the Mishnah the Ma’aseh Merkavah (account of the throne-chariot) was a secret. But Philo tells us all about the secret, he tells us that the charioteer is the Word (Logos). It is generally accepted that the mysteries of the Ma’aseh Merkavah (account of the chariot – i.e. Ezek. 1-2) and Ma’aseh Bereshit (account of creation) were the material that later came to be referred to as “Kabbalah”. Philo tells us that the big secret of the chariot is that the charioteer is the Word.
…Every man in regard of his intellect is connected with Logos (Word),
being an impression of, or a fragment or emanation of that blessed
(Philo; On Creation LI (146))
Philo gave a very detailed description to the Word (Logos). To Philo the Word was the creator:
As therefore the city, when previously shadowed out in
the mind 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
Logos (Word) which made them…
(Philo; On Creation V (20))
Philo taught that the Word (Logos) was the shadow of God and was the instrument of creation.
…But the shadow of God is his Logos (Word),
which he used like an instrument when he was
making the world.
(Philo; Allegorical Interpretation III XXXI (96))
Not only does Philo speak of this “Word” but the ancient Targums do so as well. The Targums were Aramaic paraphrases of the books of the Tanak. Throughout the Targums we read of this entity called the “Word” (Aramaic: MEMRA). On many occasions the Targums paraphrase YHWH with the phase “Word of YHWH” and on some occasions the Word (MEMRA) is mentioned in the paraphrase where YHWH is not mentioned. The term is applied to YHWH in Targum Onkelos 179 times, the Jerusalem Targum 99 times and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan 321 times.
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.
Whenever the Targums come to passages where YHWH is anthropomorphisised or seen, or where two or more YHWHs are indicated by the text, the Targums will substitute “The Word [Memra] of YHWH” for YHWH. For example in Gen. 19:24 the Tanak has:
And YHVH rained brimstone and fire upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah, from YHVH, from the heavens.
(Original Bible Project preliminary edition)
The Hebrew grammar here indicates that one YHWH rains fire from another YHWH. But Targum Jonathan substitutes “The Word of YHWH/the L-RD” for the first of the two YHWHs as follows:
And the Word of the YHWH caused to descend upon the peoples of Sodom and Gommorah, brimstone and fire from the YHWH in heaven.
In another example the Torah has:
Ex. 24:1a (YHWH is the speaker, see Ex. 20:1-2)
Now He [YHWH] said to Moses, “come up to YHWH…”
But Targum Jonathan paraphrases the speaker in Ex. 20:1 with the substitution “the Word [Memra] of YHWH” in place of “YHWH.”
“And the Word of the Lord spoke all these glorious words…”
So it would seem that one of these entities called “YHWH” in these Torah passages was actually understood by the Targumists as being the “Word of YHWH.”
Moreover Abraham prayed in the name of the Word of YHWH:
And Abraham worshipped and prayed
in the name of the Word [Memra] of YHWH,
and said, “You are YHWH who does see,
but You cannot be seen.”
(Jerusalem Targum Gen. 22:14)
Note that here Abraham prays “in the name of the Word of YHWH” to the YHWH who “cannot be seen.” Here two YHWH’s are very apparent. Abraham is praying in the name of the Word of YHWH but is praying to the YHWH who cannot be seen. This idea is reinforced elsewhere as follows:
And Hagar praised and prayed in the name of the Word [Memra] Of YHWH who had revealed Himself to her…
(Jerusalem Targum Gen. 16:3)
Of this very incident Philo writes:
But Hagar flees out of shame. And a proof of this is, that the angel, that is the WORD of God, met her, with the intent to recommend her what she ought to do, and to guide her in her return to her mistress’s house. For he encouraged her, and said unto her: “The Lord has heard the cry of thy humiliation,” which you uttered, not out of fear, nor yet out of hatred. For the one is the feeling of an ignoble soul, and the other of one which loves contention, but under the influence of that copy of temperance and modesty, shame.
(On Flight and Finding (5))
It was this Word of YHWH that Jacob also trusted in:
And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, “If the Word [Memra] of YHWH will be my support, and will keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Word [Memra]of YHWH be my Elohim.
(Targum Onkelos on Gen. 28:20-21)
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