Good Nimrod, Justin the Arian?, Projecting

1. Abraham Tal, “The Samaritan Targum on the Pentateuch,” Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 208.

“Nimrod is another unpopular figure. Gen 10:8-9 narrates: ‘and Cush became to be father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man; he was a mighty hunter before the LORD, therefore it is said: Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD’…[I]n biblical times hunting was not as disgraceful a profession as it probably was in later days…[A] hunter (whose name [Nimrod] suggests [mrd], ‘rebellion’) cannot be connected with the following word: [liphnei Adonai–‘before the LORD’] for…only a righteous person ‘walks before God’.”

This passage seems to be saying that the biblical text was not too hard on Nimrod, which posed a problem for Samaritan interpreters. I vaguely recall finding a positive portrayal of Nimrod in some source. I thought it was the Book of Jubilees, but I can’t find the statement right now. Most Jewish interpretations view Nimrod in a negative light, and they contend that “before the LORD” means “against the LORD.” E.W. Bullinger accepts this interpretation, and he defends it through a reference to Genesis 6:11, which uses “before the LORD” in a negative context: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight [(‘before the LORD’)], and the earth was filled with violence” (NRSV).

Genesis probably treats Nimrod as negative, since he builds cities that became hostile to Israel (e.g., Nineveh), his name means “we will rebel,” and he is called a “mighty man,” which, in Genesis, is a bad thing (Genesis 6:4). At the same time, I recall reading something in Basil Wolverton’s Bible Story that shows why Nimrod may have been deemed a hero: he protected the city from wild animals. Wild beasts were a serious threat in biblical times, which explains why God uses that as a threat in Deuteronomy 32:24. Nimrod the mighty hunter could therefore get a pretty substantial following!

2. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1910) 549, 552.

On Justin Martyr (second century C.E.): “The act of the procession of the Logos from God he illustrates by the figure of generation…This generation, however, is not with him an eternal act…as with Athanasius in the later church doctrine. It took place before the creation of the world, and proceeded from the free will of God…Christ is the Reason of reasons, the incarnation of the absolute and eternal reason.”

On Origen (second-third century C.E.): “He can no more think of the Father without the Son, than of an Almighty God without creation, or of light without radiance. Hence he describes this generation not as a single, instantaneous act, but, like creation, ever going on.”

I don’t know too much about the nuances of the trinitarian controversy, so please be charitable to me!

Schaff denies that Justin Martyr was like the Arians, who maintained that God created the Logos who became Jesus Christ, to the consternation of Christians who viewed Christ as eternal God. And yet, Justin seems to say that there was a point in time when the Son came to exist. For Justin, God at some point decided to generate the Logos, which embodied his reason, created the cosmos, and served as an intermediary between God and humanity.

Origen, however, held what became the orthodox trinitarian perspective: that the Son eternally proceeds from the Father. Schaff presents Origen believing that God has to emanate as part of his self-expression. Don’t we all like to express ourselves? Why would God be any different?

I don’t understand what it means for the Son to be “begotten.” Does that imply that the Son depends on the Father for his existence? If that’s the implication, doesn’t it rule out the Son being self-existent, making him inferior to the Father? But I thought orthodox trinitarianism views the Father and the Son as of the same essence.

One more thing I don’t understand: Arians liked to appeal to Proverbs 8:22-31:

“The LORD created me [(wisdom)] at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth–when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

According to this passage, God created wisdom before the creation of the world, and wisdom was like a master worker who assisted God in his craftsmanship. That sounds somewhat like John 1, which says that the Logos existed with God before creation and made all things. And Jesus is called wisdom in the New Testament (I Corinthians 1:24–only there Paul associates Jesus as wisdom with the cross). For Arians, the wisdom that God created was the Logos who became Jesus Christ. That outraged the Christians who maintained that Jesus was eternal God, meaning he never was created at a specific point.

Schaff’s statement that Origen couldn’t envision the Father without the Son revived an old question I’ve asked before: What was God like before he made wisdom? Was he unwise? Or maybe Proverbs is saying that wisdom was an emanation from God, who already is wise. The rabbis treat wisdom as God’s plan for the universe: when an architect designs a house, he draws up a plan, and that’s what wisdom was for God. God was already wise when he drew up the plan, but the plan (wisdom) was a concrete expression of God’s intended order for the universe.

How’s that tie in with Jesus? I don’t know. The New Testament does present Jesus as similar to the wisdom of Proverbs 8, and the Logos of Greek philosophy (see John 1; Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:2-3). Does that mean Jesus the Logos was a created being? Or can Jesus resemble wisdom/Logos in some ways, but not others?

3. C.G. Montefiore, “Introduction,” A Rabbinic Anthology, ed. C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1938) xv.

“If a Jew of the year, say, A.D. 1000 had made a collection of what he regarded as the finest and the noblest things in Rabbinic literature, it would have been a very different collection from that which I should make if I were rigidly to include only those things which I thought noblest and finest.”

I think that, in many cases, evangelicals like to read the Bible in light of modern ideas. Today, self-esteem is a big thing, so many evangelicals interpret the Gospel in terms of feeling good about oneself: I no longer root my self-worth in looks, money, babes, etc., but rather in God’s unchanging love for me.

I don’t see this explicitly in the Bible, but the Bible has things that can be applied to it. There’s a lot of talk in the Bible about God’s love–for Israel, for sinners, for Christians. Plus, we know that people throughout history have had a thirst for glory and recognition, which they try to feed in a variety of ways (often unhealthy). And the Bible does appeal to this desire for glory, since there’s much in it about God glorifying those he loves.

I think it’s acceptable to apply the Bible to issues that may not have arisen in the minds of its authors (e.g., self-esteem). At the same time, it’s also important to ask ourselves about the concerns of the ancients. I thought about this when I read early Christian literature. We moderns like to see God as our buddy, or as a nice grandfatherly figure in the sky, who wants to have a personal relationship with us. But, as far as I can see, we don’t explicitly encounter such a figure in the Bible, or in early Christian literature, or in the Koran. In those sources, God is someone who loves us and desires a righteous, beneficent order in the world. Christianity even goes so far as to call God abba (“daddy”), and to affirm that Christ can live inside of the individual believer. But we don’t see much talk about a personal relationship with God, or God boosting our sense of self-worth. These works have other concerns: justice, helping others, human duties to a glorious God, etc.

But don’t see my thoughts as “in-stone.” I still believe in having a personal relationship with God! I just wonder how often we project modern concepts onto the Bible, and what the Bible’s own concerns actually are.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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