Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Holy Name of the God of Moses and the Prologue of St John's Gospel*

  • C. T. R. Hayward


It is now over twenty years since Alejandro Dez Macho announced his discovery of a complete text of the Palestinian Targum contained in the Codex Neofiti I of the Vatican Library. Even before the first volume of the editio princeps was published, the importance of Neofiti 1(N) and its marginal and interlinear glosses (Ngl) was apparent not only to specialists in the Aramaic language, Old Testament studies, and Jewish Literature of the Second Temple, Mishnaic and Talmudic times, but also to New Testament scholars. A particular feature of N which was bound to attract attention sooner or later is its frequent use of the formula Memra (utterance, word) of ahweh in the first chapter of Genesis in place of the Ἐlohim of the Massoretic Text, a feature encountered otherwise only in the Fragmentary Targum (FT). As we shall see presently, the exact significance of the term Memra was once a matter for keen scholarly debate, some asserting that it represented an entity separate from God, an intermediary between God and the created order, others roundly denying that it was any such thing, and regarding it only as a reverent means of avoiding pronunciation of the Holy and Ineffable Name. For reasons shortly to be described it was the latter opinion which finally prevailed and which is now generally accepted as established fact; but in the days before the scholarly debate on Memra was concluded it had been quite common for New Testament scholars to argue that, as an hypostasis and intermediary between God and the world, Memra had formed either the single antecedent, or one of the antecedents, to the Logos of the prologue of St John's Gospel. The presence of Memra in the text of N to Gen. i, and its frequent appearance in the Ngl, has led to renewed scholarly interest in the relationship of Memra to St John's Logos, so much so that A. Dez Macho, McNamara, and Domingo Muoz are all prepared to consider Memra a key concept in any discussion of St John's prologue. With the results of previous scholarship in mind, and in the light of new evidence, it would appear that the time is now right for a critical evaluation of these recent claims.



Hide All

1 Cf. Dez Macho, A., Una Copia de todo el Targum jerosolimitano en la Vaticana, Estudios Biblicos xvi (1956), 4467. For Dez Macho's description of this Targum, , cf. The Recently Discovered Palestinian Targum: its Antiquity and Relationship with the other Targums, Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, Oxford Congress Volume vii (1960), 22245.

2 At the time of writing, four volumes of the Aramaic text have been published under the editorship of Dez Macho, A.: Neophyti I, Tomo I Gnesis (MadridBarcelona, 1968); Tomo II xodo (MadridBarcelona, 1970); Tomo III Levtico (MadridBarcelona, 1971); Tomo IV Nmeros (Madrid, 1974). In each volume the Aramaic is translated into Spanish (by A. Dez Macho), French (by R. le Daut), and English (by M. McNamara).

3 Cf. the introductions to each of the published volumes, in which Dez Macho surveys and summarizes scholarly discussion related to Targum, , and idem, Le Targum Palestinien, in Exgse Biblique et Judasme, ed. Mnard, J.-E. (Strasbourg, 1973), pp. 1577.

4 Cf. Daut, R. le, La Nuit Paschale (Rome, 1963); idem, Liturgie juive et Nouveau Testament (Rome, 1965); McNamara, M., The New Testament and the Palestinian Targum to the Pentateuch (Rome, 1966); idem, Targum and Testament (Shannon, 1972). For the most recent survey of the effect of Targumic studies upon New Testament scholarship, cf. le Daut, R., Targumic Literature and New Testament Interpretation, Biblical Theology Bulletin iv (1974), 24389.

5 Das Fragmententhargum, ed. Ginsburger, M. (Berlin, 1899), hereafter FTG; cf. also the Yerushalmi, Targum II, ed. Walton, B., SS Biblia Polyglotta (London, 1657), hereafter FTW. The Targums Onqelos (TO) and Pseudo-Jonathan (Ps-Jon) do not include the Memra in their versions of Gen. i. For TO, cf. the edition of A. Berliner (Berlin, 1884), and for Ps-Jon the edition of M. Ginsburger (Berlin, 1903).

1 Cf. Dez Macho, A., El Logos y el Espritu Santo, Atlntida i (1963), 38196; idem, La Datacin de Neofiti I (Las Denominaciones de Dios) Memra de Yahweh, in Neophyti I, Tomo IV Nmeros, 40*43*; McNamara, M., Logos of the Fourth Gospel and Memra of the Palestinian Targum, Exp. T. lxxix (1968), 11517; idem, Targum and Testament, 1016; Domingo Muoz, Apndice sobre El Memra de Yahweh en el MS Neophyti I, in Neophyti I, Tomo III Levtico, 70*83*. This Apndice is a summary of his doctoral thesis, which is soon to be published.

2 This translation is explained below, pp. 223.

3 Cf. above, p. 16.

4 Cf. Westcott, B. F., An Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, 4th ed. (London, 1872), pp. 147 f.; idem, The Gospel according to St John, i (London, 1908), 5 f.

5 An Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, p. 147.

6 Cf. Edersheins, A., The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (London, 1890), i, 468.

1 Ibid. pp. 478.

2 Cf. Tholuck, A., Commentary on the Gospel of St John (Edinburgh, 1860), appendix 2, p. 436.

3 Cf. Lange, J. S., Das Evangelium nach Johannes (Leipzig, 1868), pp. 38, 40.

4 Cf. Scott, E. F., The Fourth Gospel, its Purpose and Theology (Edinburgh, 1908), pp. 14950. For him the Memra is an hypostasis which evolved after the time of Philo.

5 Cf. Nolloth, C. F., The Fourth Evangelist, his Place in the Development of Religious Thought (London, 1925), p. 175. He notes that the extant Targums were not written down until the third century A.D. and later, but contain earlier elements.

6 Cf. Burney, C. F., The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel (Oxford, 1922), pp. 3743.

7 Cf. his translation, ibid. p. 40: אהלא תול אוה אדמימו אדמימ תול אמדקב

8 Ibid. p. 38.

9 But not all were so inclined: cf. Loisy, A., Le Quatrime Evangile (Paris, 1921), p. 89. He attributes Logos to Egyptian ideas, comparing especially the figure of ThothHermes.

10 Cf. Weber, F., System der Altsynagogalen palstinischen Theologie aus Targum, Midrasch, und Talmud (Leipzig, 1886), pp. 1618; idem, Jdische Theologie (Leipzig, 1897), pp. 1804.

11 Cf. Kohler, K., article Memra in The Jewish Encyclopaedia, viii (New York, 1904), 4645.

12 Cf. Bousset, W., Die Religion des Judentums im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter (Berlin, 1906), p. 399. Cf. 4th ed., 1966.

13 Cf. Barrett, C. K., The Gospel according to St John (London, 1965), p. 128.

14 Cf. Carpenter, J. Estlin, The Johannine Writings (London, 1927), pp. 2912; 313. He believes that TO is the earliest Targum, and dates it to the second century in Palestine.

15 Cf. Bchsel, D. F., Johannes und der hellenistische Synkretismus (Gtersloh, 1928), p. 33.

16 Cf. Percy, E., Untersuchungen ber den Ursprung der johanneischen Theologie (Lund, 1939), p. 303.

17 Cf. Strachan, R. H., The Fourth Gospel, its Significance and Environment (London, 1941), p. 93, n. 3.

18 Cf. Menoud, P.-H., L'Evangile de Jean (Neuchtel, 1947), p. 52.

19 The Gospel according to St John, i, tr.Smith, K. (New York, 1968), Excursus i, The Origin and Nature of the Johannine Concept of the Logos, pp. 48193.

20 Ibid. p. 485.

1 Cf. Bultmann, R., The Gospel of John, a Commentary, tr. Beasley-Murray, G. (Oxford, 1971), p. 22. See especially note 4.

2 Cf. Abelson, J., The Immanence of God in Rabbinical Literature (London, 1912), pp. 15073.

3 Cf. Moore, G. F., Intermediaries in Jewish Theology, H.T.R. xv (1922), 4185. This article is commended by Burkitt, F. C., Memra, Shekinah, Metatron, J. T. S. xxiv (1923), 1589.

4 Cf. Strack, H. L., Billerbeck, P., Kommentar zum neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (Mnchen, 1924), ii, 30233. Note especially p. 333, where Memra is defined as ein inhaltsloser, rein formelhafter Ersatz fr das Tetragram, words later cited by Moore, , Judaism, i (Harvard, 1927), 418, n. i. Cf. also Dalman, G., Die Worte Jesu (2nd ed.Leipzig, 1930), pp. 1879.

5 Cf. Hamp, V., Der Begrff Wort in den aramischen Bibelbersetzungen (Mnchen, 1938).

6 Cf. Kahle, P., Masoreten des Westens, 2 vols. (Stuttgart, 1927, 1930).

7 Although some still, apparently, believe that it is; cf. Negotsa, A. and Daniel, C., L'Agneau de Dieu est le Verbe de Dieu, Nov. Test. xiii (1971), 2437.

8 Cf. Box, G. H., The idea of intermediation in Jewish theology, Jewish Quarterly Review xxiii (1932), 10319; Middleton, R. D., Logos and Shekinah in the Fourth Gospel, loc. cit. xxix (1938 1939), 10133.

1 The Gospel according to St John, i, Anchor Bible (New York, 1966), appendix ii: The Word, pp. 51924.

2 Ibid. p. 524: He (Jesus) is the Memra, God's presence among men. This, we maintain, is the crux of the matter: cf. below, pp. 213.

3 Cf. above, p. 17.

4 Cf. below, pp. 301.

5 Logos of the Fourth Gospel, pp. 11617.

6 Apndice, p. 82*.

7 El paso de una palabra de Dios pronunciada para crear (Gen. 1) a la Palabra en absoluto, ya ocurre en le exgesis de Filn (Somn. 1. 75) al commentar Gen. 1. 3; La Datacin Neophyti I, pp. 42*3*. Cf. with this his statement in El Logos y El Espritu Santo, p. 387: Es patente que la creacin se atribuye al Verbo de Yahv, ya se le considere como metonimia puramente verbal de Yahv, ya como hipstasis distinta de Yahv.

1 Cf. Apndice, p. 82*.

2 Cf. Vermes, P., Buber's Understanding of the Divine Name related to Bible, Targum, and Midrash, Journal of Jewish Studies xxiv (1973), 14766. I am most grateful to Mrs Vermes for her many valuable comments and suggestions on this matter, which forms the substance of my doctoral thesis The Use and Religious Significance of the term Memra in Targum Neofiti I in the light of the other Targumim, submitted to the University of Oxford in June 1975.

3 Cf. xodo 14 (Dez Macho): Y dijo: (Con) mi Verbo estar ciertamente contigo; 284 (le Daut): (Avec) ma Parole; 412 (McNamara): But I (in) my Word will be with you.

4 That ἨYH is here a divine Name is indicated by its use as subject of a verb in the third person at Exod. iii. 14; cf. below, p. 22.

1 Cf. the present writer's article The Memra of YHWH and the development of its use in Targum Neofiti I, Journal of Jewish Studies xxv (1974), 41218. The article also discusses the opinions of Domingo Muoz.

2 As will be seen, the Targumists understand the Hebrew verb to be not in the sense of mere existence, but as implying relationship and presence. Cf. P. Vermes, art. cit. pp. 1489.

1 The version of Ps-Jon presents a combination of the various traditions described here.

2 Presence is the key-note of Memra: cf. N to Gen. xxvi. 3, 15, xxxi. 3; Exod. iv. 5, etc.

1 N reads: And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats, one lot for the Name of the Memra of YYY and Aaron shall offer the goat on which came up the lot to the Name of the Memra of YYY. We know that at this moment in the service the High Priest called aloud the Expressed Name: cf. Mishnah Yoma iv. I.

2 Cf. N to Gen. xvii. 8; Exod. xxix. 45; Lev. xxii. 33, xxvi. 45, xxv. 38, etc.

3 Cf. N to Gen. xvii. 7,8, II, ix. 1217.

4 The rule that YHWH equals the Measure of Mercy, Elohim the Measure of Justice, is stated, for example, at Sifre to Deut. xxvi (ed. H. S. Horowitz and L. Finkelstein, reprinted New York, 1969); Gen. R. xxxiii. 3. Cf. P. Vermes, Buber's Understanding, pp. 15560, for the relation of Memra to Exod. xxxiiixxxiv, where Yhwh is described as חמאו דסח בד

5 Cf. Ishmael, Mekilta de R., Kaspai. 58 (ed. Lauterbach, J. Z., 3 vols., Philadelphia, 1933). The translation is our own. And I will hear, for I am gracious: for by mercy I created my world. Cf. Nezikin x. 158; Mekilta de R. Simeon b. Yohai, ed. J. N. Epstein (Jerusalem, 1959), p. I.

6 The dispute probably reflects debates within Judaism before the Destruction of 70; cf. Isenberg, S., An anti-Sadducee polemic in the Palestinian Targum tradition, H. T. R. lxiii (1970), 43344; Vermes, G., The Targumic versions of Genesis 4: 316, Annual of the Leeds University Oriental Society iii (1961 1962), 103. This article has now been reprinted in the collection Post-Biblical Jewish Studies (Leiden, 1975); cf. p. 116.

1 Cf. Vermes, G., The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin, 1966), p. 224.

2 A Genesis Apocryphon (Jerusalem, 1956), ad loc.

3 The Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran Cave i, second, revised edition (Rome, 1971), p. 74, and the note on p. 181 which refers to the relevant line.

4 Notes on some old Aramaic texts, Journal of Near Eastern Studies xviii (1959), 148, where he merely asserts: The fact that the language is Aramaic similarly necessitates correction of the transcription w'hyh to w'hwh. But lectio dfficilior potior, and perhaps the text of Avigad and Yadin should stand: they had no reason to read a Hebrew word when the text is Aramaic.

5 The view generally held is that it was written in the first century B.C., and in the early part of that century; cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, op. cit. pp. 1619. He himself prefers a dating at this time, while citing the views of others, including that of G. Vermes, who is inclined to date it in the second century B.C. on account of the non-sectarian nature of the aggadah.

6 The New Testament and the Palestinian Targum, pp. 97118. For the date of John's Apocalypse, cf. Kmmel, W. G., Introduction to the New Testament (Abingdon Press, 1966), pp. 3279.

7 Cf. Barrett, C. K., The Gospel of John and Judaism (London, 1975). This book is an English translation of his Franz Delitzsch lectures, delivered at the University of Mnster in 1967. For a further survey of the problem, cf. Smith, D. Moody Jr., Johannine Christianity: some reflections on its character and delineations, N.T.S. xxi (1975), 22248.

8 Op. cit. p. 71.

1 On the authorship of the prologue, cf. the literature cited by Brown in his commentary, pp. 367.

2 OP. cit. p. 27.

3 Op. cit. pp. 315.

4 Cf. the commentaries, and Demke, C., Der sogennante Logos-Hymnus im Johannes-Prolog, Z.N.W. lviii (1967), 4568.

5 Cf. above, pp. 245.

6 Cf. above, p. 25, fl. 6. McNamara refers to the strongly liturgical character of the Apocalypse, and shows how this is dependent upon Jewish liturgical elements found in Targum. Cf. also Charles, R. H., The Revelation of St John, i (Edinburgh, 1920), xxxii xxxiii; Farrer, A. M., A Rebirth of Images (London, 1949).

7 Cf. Vermes, G., He is the Bread. Targum Neofiti Ex. 16: 15, in Neotestamentica et Semitica (Studies in honour of Principal Matthew Black), ed. Ellis, E. E. and Wilcox, M. (Edinburgh, 1969), pp. 25663.

8 Cf. Diaz, J. R., Palestinian Targum and New Testament, Nov. T. vi (1963), 7580.

9 Cf. Grelot, P., Boismard, M. E., Audet, J.-P., Les Citations Targumiques dans le quatrime Evangile, Revue Biblique lxvi (1959), 36986.

10 Cf. Borgen, P., Observations on the Targumic character of the prologue of John, N. T. S. xvi (1969 1970), 28895.

1 Cf. the opinions of Dez Macho noted above, p. 20.

2 His argument from the paraphrase of the Targum to Gen. iii. 24 is not entirely convincing. He suggests that both John i. i and the Targum to Gen. iii. derive their present content from having incorporated into themselves elements from Gen. i. i. The word תישארב in Gen. i. i is replaced in the Targum (i.e. to Gen. iii. 24) by the interpretative phrase אלדעםדק, since the term is understood as referring to the time before the creation of the world (art. cit. pp. 2934). But surely the point of departure for the Targumists' exposition of Gen. iii. 24 is not Gen. i. i, but the Hebrew of Gen. iii. 24 itself, which reads: םיבורכהתאןרעקלםדקמןכשיו. Here, as so often in Targum, Hebrew םרקמ (from of old, or from the east) is taken to refer to the time of the creation, and is rendered ןימדקל ןמ, which N to Gen. i. i substitutes for תישארב One could accordingly argue that Gen. iii. 24 had influenced the Targum to Gen. i. i. It should also be noted that the Targum to Gen. iii. 24, in making mention of the Law, Gehinnom, and the Garden of Eden, is expounding the Hebrew text, where Eden is actually named, the tree of life represents the Torah, and the fiery sword Gehinnom.

3 Cf. Hooker, M. D., The Johannine prologue and the Messianic secret, N. T. S. xxi (1974), 4058.

4 Cf. P. Vermes, art. cit. p. 158.

5 Boismard, M. E., St John's Prologue (Westminster, 1957), 13640.

6 Cf. art. cit. p. 54. But it should be noted that the I am sayings of Jesus, which are sometimes associated with the Divine Name, do not belong with the Memra-theology, since Memra stands for HYH, I AM THERE.

1 Cf. above, p. 23.

2 Cf. above, p. 214.

3 Cf. above, p. 24.

4 Cf. above, p. 23.

5 Cf. above, p. 20.

6 Cf. below, p. 31.

1 Cf. N to Exod. xxv. 22, xxix. 43, xxx. 6, 36.

2 Cf. Dodd, C. H., The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge, 1968), p. 95. The whole section on the Name of God, pp. 936, is relevant here.

3 Cf. Danilou, J., Thologie du Fudo-Christianisme (Tournai, 1958), pp. 199216. Note especially p. 202, n. I.

1 Matt. xviii. 20.

2 Matt. xxviii. 20.

3 Cf. also Acts x. 368.

4 El Logos y el Espritu Santo, pp. 3889.

5 Ibid. p. 389.

6 Cf. C. H. Dodd, op. cit. pp. 26385.

7 Cf. Biblische Zeitschrft xvii (1973), 30910.

8 Cf. above, pp. 256.

1 Cf. Black, M., An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, 3rd ed. (Oxford, 1971), whose arguments for an Aramaic original for sayings of the Baptist (pp. 5459) are based on sound linguistic, grammatical, and stylistic considerations.

2 Cf. R. Bultmann, The Gospel of John, p. 22.

3 Cf. P. Borgen's view of the matter, discussed above, p. 27. His views can be found in art. cit. (above, p. 26, n. 10), and in Logos was the true light, Nov.T. xiv (1972), 15530.

4 Logos of the Fourth Gospel, p. 116.

* The writer of this paper is most grateful to Dr Geza Vermes for his advice and assistance in its preparation, and to the Rev. Andrew Louth, Fellow of Worcester College, for his comments on reading the article.

The Holy Name of the God of Moses and the Prologue of St John's Gospel*

  • C. T. R. Hayward


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.