[Synoptic-L] names and numbers
- On the evening of March 12, we had the last meeting this season of the BTI
New Testament Colloquium. It was a joint meeting with OT colleagues, and
featured a paper by F. Bovon (which he had presented at the last SBL
meeting), on "Names and Numbers in Early Christianity".
The range of the discussion was enormous, covering the entire biblical
period, as well as the post-biblical period up to Augustine, with references
to works such as the Letter of Barnabas and the Sibylline Oracles. After a
brief introduction, the following topics were discussed:
1. Biblical recollections: the revelation of the divine name (Exod 3:14); the
naming of the animals by Adam (Gen 2:19-20; frequent changing of names -
Jacob to Israel (Gen 32:27-28), and their NT counterparts; the names of the
twelve tribes inscribed on various devices worn by the high priest (Exod
28:9-14.36); the statement in Wisdom of Solomon that it is God who is the
master of measure, of number and of weights (Wisd 11:20).
2. Numberings and symbolic names: on the attention paid to names by early
Christianity - the idea of divine names, in particular. The theological
significance of the system of nomina sacra. The unutterable name itself vs.
names which are an expression of the unutterable: Bovon suggested that early
Christians deliberately gave the impression that Jesus had inherited the
unutterable name of God, as distinct from any of the explicit "titles" that
are given to him as well. This was of course offensive to mainline Judaism,
and a quarrel arose between communities which, on both sides, identified
themselves as "those who call on the name of the Lord" (Joel 2:32 = 3:5 LXX).
3. Sacred numbers: In the post-biblical period, Gnostic Christians were not
the only ones engaged in speculations regarding numbers and their symbolic
values. Numerical values and their meanings were used routinely by "orthodox"
theologians for their exegetical or apologetic needs (climaxing in Augustine,
with, of course, an aftermath going through Bede to the mediaevals). Irenaus,
e.g., attacked some of the particulars of Gnostic numeric speculation, but
not the principle of meaningful numbers and names.
4. A final section on unity and plurality, unity and duality. Unity was
sometimes sought as an absolute ideal, excluding any plurality, such as in
certain statements of Paul (1 Cor 8:6). From another point of view, the "two"
was conceived not as the beginning of a negative series drifting away from
unity, but as the indispensable companion of the one - as in the communion of
Father and Son. (Bovon mentioned here that the earliest Christian creeds were
binary, rather than trinitarian, in structure).
There was time for questions at the end, and I asked Bovon about the use of
ciphers by the early Christians in the biblical manuscript tradition. His
answer surprised me because it contradicted what I thought I remembered
having heard on this list from Brian Wilson. He said that ciphers are not
used prominently in the manuscript tradition in place of numbers written in
long hand. Perhaps Brian would be so kind as to refresh our memory as to what
he in fact said on this topic some time ago on this list.
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