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The Prologue of John

and Hellenistic Jewish Speculation


THOMAS H. TOBIN, S.J.
Loyola University of Chicago
Chicago, IL 60626
OVER THE CENTURIES the Prologue of the Gospel of John has fascinated
not only exegetes and theologians but also writers and artists of all sorts.
Part of that fascination is the way in which the Prologue seems to offer the
interpreter connections with many of the religious currents of the ancient
world, whether Jewish or Greek. The specification of those connections,
however, has been elusive. As the late George W. MacRae, S.J., has pointed
out, the Gospel of John seems to reflect a number of the religious currents
of the time and yet remain uniquely itself.
1
In this article, my interest will be focused on the hymn that is part of the
Prologue, not on the way in which that hymn has been integrated and rein-
terpreted so as to form a Prologue to the Gospel as a whole.
2
1 shall suggest
1
G. W. MacRae, "The Fourth Gospel and Religionsgeschichte," Studies in the New
Testament and Gnosticism (ed. D. J. Harrington and S. B. Marrow; Good News Studies 26;
Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1987) 15-31. This article is dedicated to the memory of
George W. MacRae, S.J.
2
A few scholars think that the Prologue of the Gospel of John is a unified whole and
the work of the author of the Gospel (e.g., C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John [2d
ed.; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978] 150-51; P. Borgen, "Observations on the Targumic Char-
acter of the Prologue of John," NTS 16 [1970] 288-95). Most scholars, however, think that
behind the present form of the Prologue lies a hymn which has been expanded and commented
on in order to be used as the beginning of the Gospel (see G. Rochais, "La formation du prologue
[Jn 1, 1-18]," ScEs 37 [1985] 5-9 for a list of the various suggestions made by scholars about
which verses originally belonged to the hymn).
252
THE PROLOGUE OF JOHN 253
a plausible world of thought, in this case the world of Hellenistic Jewish
interpretation and speculation, of which the hymn in the Prologue was a
part. This involves placing the text of the hymn within a larger world of
Hellenistic Jewish texts which share certain basic perspectives, conceptual
frameworks, and vocabulary.
3
In distinguishing the original logos hymn from the rest of the Prologue,
I basically agree with the position of Raymond E. Brown.
4
According to
Brown, the original hymn consisted of John l:l-5,10-12b,14,16. The verses
about John the Baptist (John 1:6-8,15) clearly disrupt the flow of the hymn
both in terms of content and of style. John 1:9, although less clearly so, is
best interpreted as part of John 1:6-8, that is, as part of John the Baptist's
testimony. John 1:12c-13 and 17-18 are explanatory additions to the hymn
( w 12b-13 an explanation of who have been given the power to become
children of God; w 17-18 an explanation of the relationship of Jesus and the
Mosaic law). Unlike Brown, however, I think that the first reference in the
hymn to the incarnate Word is found in John 1:14 rather than in John 1:10.
5
The repetition of ho logos in John 1:14 as well as the content of John 1:14,16
suggest that a new stage has been reached, that is, the stage of the incarnation
itself when the Word now communicates with us in di more direct and per-
sonal way.
6
Only when the hymn was integrated into the beginning of the
Gospel and John 1:6-9 about John the Baptist were introduced between John
1:5 and John 1:10 did the incarnation come to be seen as taking place at John
1:10.
The logos hymn is obviously rooted in the Jewish wisdom tradition or
perhaps more accurately in the tradition of Jewish wisdom speculation. That
connection has been demonstrated most recently and most thoroughly by
Gerard Rochais.
7
Rochais points out the many conceptual and verbal par-
3
The position I shall argue is closest to that of C. H. Dodd {The Interpretation of the
Fourth Gospel [Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1953J 54-73, 263-85). Some of Dodd's par-
allels, however, are too broad. Because of this I have tried to specify more clearly the elements
in the hymn that Dodd pointed to and to suggest other ones.
4
R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (2 vols.; AB 29, 29A; Garden City, NY:
Doubleday, 1966-70) 1. 3-37.
5
R. Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to John (3 vols.; Herder's Theological Com-
mentary on the New Testament; New York: Crossroad, 1968-82) 1. 221-81; W. Schmithals, "Der
Prolog des Johannesevangeliums," ZNW10 (1978) 16-43; J. Becker, Das Evangelium des Jo-
hannes, Kapitel I-IO (kumenischer Taschenbuch Kommentar zum Neuen Testament 4/1; G-
tersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1979) 73-75; Rochais, "La formation du prologue," 161-87.
6
C. H. Giblin, "Two Complementary Literary Structures in John 1:1-18," JBL104 (1985)
88-89.
7
Rochis, "La formation du prologue," 173-82.
254 THE CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY I 52, 1990
allels between the hymn and texts from Jewish wisdom literature. The var-
ious attributes and activities ascribed to wisdom in Jewish wisdom literature
are ascribed to the logos in the hymn in the Prologue.
8
Yet significant elements in the hymn cannot be explained simply on the
basis of texts from Jewish wisdom literature. The first of these elements is the
central concept of the hymn itself, that is, the logos. In Jewish wisdom
literature the figure of wisdom (hokm, sophia) was never displaced by the
logos as it was in the hymn of the Prologue. While the cosmic attributes and
activities of the logos in the hymn are closely connected with those given to
wisdom in Jewish wisdom literature, the use of logos in place of wisdom goes
beyond Jewish wisdom texts.
9
In addition, the functions and attributes of the logos go beyond what is
found in Jewish wisdom literature. A significant example of this is the way
in which the role of the logos in the creation of the world is described. In
John 1:3,10, the world is said to have come into being dVautou, that is dia
tou logou, through the logos. The repetition of the phrase in John 1:3,10
indicates that emphasis is being placed on the making of the world through
the logos. The use of the preposition dia, therefore, is not simply an insig-
nificant variant of the instrumental dative (logo) which is found in descrip-
tions of the creation of the world by God's word (logg) in Jewish wisdom
literature.
10
In addition, the logos is described as "God" (theos, John 1:1),
"an only son" (monogenes, John 1:14), and those who receive the logos are
given the power to become "children of God" (tekna theou, John l:12).
n
None of these attributes is ascribed to wisdom in Jewish wisdom literature.
A second element in the hymn that moves beyond the viewpoints found
in Jewish wisdom literature is the stark contrast between light and darkness
and the association of light and life found in John 1:4-5:
8
Ibid., 175-80. Rochais points to texts from Proverbs (8:22-31,35), Sirach(l:15; 24:3-12),
the Wisdom of Solomon (6:12; 7:22-8:1; 8:13,26; 9:9), and Baruch (3:12,31; 3:37-4:1) which all
offer parallels to the logos in the hymn, in the creation of the world, in wisdom's dwelling in the
world of human beings, and in wisdom's rejection by human beings.
9
In Ps 33:6 and in Sirach (39:17,31; 43:10,26), dbrj logos was associated with God's
act of creation and his maintenance of cosmic order. Yet dbrj logos in these passages refers
to God's command (see Gen 1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26: "And God said...") and not directly to
some cosmic principle of order as such. For Wis 9:1-2, see n. 15 below.
10
The texts mentioned in the previous note all have instrumental datives (log) and not
dia tou logou. See also Sib. Or. 3:20: "who created everything by a word (log).
9
*
11
Teknon is quite common in Jewish wisdom literature, especially in Sirach. It refers most
frequently either to the one addressed by the wise man or to the children of either the wise or
the foolish. It is not used in the sense either of "children of God" or of "children of wisdom."
THE PROLOGUE OF JOHN 255
4
What has come to be in him was life,
and this life was the light of men.
5
And the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
Wisdom is certainly associated with light (Wis 6:12; 8:26), and in Wis 7:29-30
wisdom is part of a comparison which involves light and night:
For she (wisdom) is more beautiful than the sun,
and excels every constellation of the stars.
Compared with the light she is found to be superior,
for it (light) is succeeded by the night,
but against wisdom evil does not prevail.
In this passage, however, there is no identification of light with wisdom.
Rather one has a contrast between wisdom (over which evil does not prevail)
and light (in which night regularly prevails over day). This text in Wis 7:29-30
remains a simple simile. It is not even, strictly speaking, a metaphor; and it
is obviously not meant to suggest the kind of contrast between light and
darkness that is found in John 1:4-5. One must seek for an explanation of this
contrast elsewhere.
A third and final element in the logos hymn in the Prologue which goes
well beyond the world of Jewish wisdom literature is the most obvious one,
the incarnation of the logos in Jesus of Nazareth. Certainly the identification
of the logos with Jesus of Nazareth is what is most characteristic, even
unique, about the hymn. Yet one is still entitled to ask whether there are prior
traditions of interpretation which may have prepared for, if not explained,
such an identification. Let us now look at each of these three elements in
detail.
I. The Reality and Functions of the Logos
As I mentioned above, the use of the term logos rather than the term
"wisdom" (sophia) sets the hymn in the Prologue apart from the other ex-
amples of Jewish wisdom literature. A number of explanations has been
offered for this change.
12
The most likely thought-world, however, of which
12
One explanation is that the change from sophia to logos was the result of the fact that
the logos in the hymn was identified with Jesus of Nazareth. Because Jesus was male, it was more
appropriate to identify him with a concept (logos) which was grammatically masculine rather
than with one (sophia) which was grammatically feminine (see Brown, The Gospel According
to John, 1. 523). Another suggested explanation of the use of the term logos in the hymn is the
influence of the targums (e.g., M. McNamara, "Logos in the Fourth Gospel and the Memra of
the Palestinian Targum [Ex 12:42]," ExpTim 79 [1967-68] 115-17; Borgen, "Observations").
256 THE CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY I 52, 1990
the hymn of the Prologue was a part is that of Hellenistic Judaism and, more
specifically, of the speculative biblical interpretations of Hellenistic Judaism
represented by a figure such as Philo of Alexandria. It was in this world that
logos played a long and increasingly important role, a role which was similar
in a number of ways to the role played by the logos in the hymn of the
Prologue.
Logos was an important concept in Hellenistic Judaism and had a long
and complex history. Although the beginnings of this process are lost to us,
fragments from the Hellenistic Jewish writer Aristobulus indicate that this
process had begun by the middle of the second century B.C.E.
13
The connec-
tion between wisdom and logos was also made explicitly in the Wisdom of
Solomon, a Hellenistic Jewish text from perhaps first-century B.C.E. Egypt or
Antioch.
14
In Wis 9:1-2, although wisdom is clearly the dominant concept,
God's word and God's wisdom were used as two parallel ways of describing
God's creation of the world and his creation of human beings.
15
It was, however, in the works of Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 B.C.E.-50
c.E.) and his immediate predecessors that logos found its full flowering in
Hellenistic Jewish literature. In his writings, which were primarily interpre-
tations of the LXX version of the Pentateuch (since he probably knew no
Hebrew), he sought to interpret the Mosaic law in the light of Greek, primarily
Middle Platonic, philosophy. The concept of logos played a central role in
13
Aristobulus (fl. 150 B.C.E.), who is mentioned in 2 Mace 1:10, was an Alexandrian
Jewish exegete who sought to interpret the LXX. in a way consistent with Greek philosophy,
primarily Stoic philosophy but also including Platonic and Pythagorean elements (see N.
Walter, Der Thoraausleger Aristobulos. Untersuchungen zu seinen Fragmenten undzupseude-
pigrqphischen Resten der jdischen-hellenistischen Literatur [Berlin: Akademie, 1964] 124-49).
In one fragment (Eusebius, Praep. Evang. 13.12.3-4) in which he offered an interpretation of
Gen 1:3,6,9 ("And God said..."), Aristobulus claimed that Moses called the whole genesis of
the world the words (logoi) of God. In another fragment (Eusebius, Praep. Evang. 13.12.10-11),
Aristobulus connected wisdom (sophia) with a metaphorical interpretation of the seventh day
of creation because, according to his interpretation, all things are contemplated in the light of
wisdom just as all things are contemplated in the light of the seventh day mentioned in Gen 2:2.
He then went on to connect the seventh day with the sevenfold logos which is the principle of
order in the world (Eusebius, Praep. Evang. 13.12.13). For Aristobulus, then, both wisdom and
logos served similar cosmological ordering functions (see A. Y. Collins, "Aristobulus," The Old
Testament Pseudepigrapha[ed. J. H. Charlesworth; 2 vols.; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985]
2. 834-35).
14
For different views on the place and date of the Wisdom of Solomon, see D. Winston,
The Wisdom of Solomon (AB 43; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979) 20-25 (Egypt); D. Georgi,
Jdische Schriften aus hellenistisch-rmischer Zeit 3.4: Weisheit Salomos (Gtersloh: Gerd
Mohn, 1980) 395-97 (Syria).
15
Wis 9:1-2: "O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things by thy
word (en log sou), and by thy wisdom (t sophi sou) . . . . " Notice that the dative is used in
both cases.
THE PROLOGUE OF JOHN 257
these interpretations. Philo's use of logos must be seen within the tradition
of Hellenistic Jewish wisdom speculation since Philo, in continuity with his
predecessors, identified wisdom (sophia) with logos (L.A. 1.65; Her. 191;
Som. 2.242-45) and gave both some of the same attributes (e.g., image of God
[Conf. 146]).
For Philo the logos was the intermediate reality between God, who was
essentially transcendent, and the universe. While Philo could use the Stoic
concept of the logos as the principle of rationality that pervades the universe
(Her. 188; Fug. 110), his logos primarily fits into the pattern of the inter-
mediate figures found in most Middle Platonic systems.
16
Philo depicted the
logos in a variety of ways; and the figure had a number of different functions.
For our purposes, the two most important functions are the cosmological and
the anagogie.
One function of the logos was cosmological. The logos was the image
of God, the highest of all beings who were intellectually perceived, the one
closest to God, the only truly existent (Fug. 101). As in John 1:1, the logos
could even be referred to with the anarthrous theos (God) (Som. 1.228-30).
17
The logos also served as the paradigm or model for the ordering of the
universe (Som. 2.45). The logos was an image in a twofold way, a reflection
of the truly existent God above and a model on the basis of which the universe
below was ordered. The logos was the archetypal idea in which all of the other
ideas were contained (Op. 23-25). But the logos was not simply the image or
paradigm according to which the universe was ordered, it was also the
instrument (organon) through which (dVhou) the universe was ordered. This
viewpoint is most clearly elaborated in Cher. 125-27:
God is the cause (aition) not the instrument (organon), and that which comes
into being is brought into being not through an instrument (di' organou), but
by a cause (hypo de aitio). For to bring anything into being needs all these
conjointly, the "by which" (to hyph* hou), the "from which" (to ex hou), the
"through which" (to di'hou), the "for which" (to di'ho), and the first of these
is the cause (to aition), the second the material, the third the tool (to ergaleion),
and the fourth the end or object. If we ask what combination is always needed
that the house or city should be built, the answer is a builder, stones or timber,
16
For a description of those Middle Platonic systems and their intermediate figures, see
J. Dillon, The Middle Platonists, 80 B.C. to A.D. 220 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1977). It is inter-
esting to note that the use of the term logos for the intermediate figure appears especially in texts
which probably had some relationship to Alexandria (e.g., Philo, Eudorus of Alexandria [see
Dillon, The Middle Platonists, 128], Plutarch, De Is. et Os. 53-54; Poimandres 4-10).
17
As Dodd (Interpretation, 72) points out, this parallelism should not be pressed. The
theos in John 1:1 may be anarthrous simply because it is in the predicate position.
258 THE CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY I 52, 1990
and the instruments (organa). What is the builder but the cause "by which"?
What are the instruments but the means "through which"? and What is the end
or object of the building but shelter and safety, and this constitutes the "for
which." Let us leave these merely particular buildings, and contemplate that
greatest of houses or cities, this universe. We shall see that its cause is God, by
whom (hyph'hou) it has come into being, its material the four elements, from
which it was compounded, its instrument (organon) the Word of God (logos
theou), through which (di'hou) it was framed, and the final cause of the building
is the goodness of the architect.
In this very elaborate scheme, the logos of God was the instrument
(organon) through which (di' hou) the world was formed. The use of the
phrase, when set in the context of the other causes, is quite specific and
cannot be replaced by some other formulation (e.g., an instrumental
dative).
18
That the di'hou part of the formula was the most important part
for Philo can be seen from his use of that formula in other sections of his
works apart from the other prepositions (L.A. 3.96; Sac. 8; Mig. 6; Spec.
1.81).
19
In addition, the use of the metaphor of God as the master builder or
architect of the universe (Cher. 127) clearly connects this passage with Philo's
interpretations of the story of the creation of the world in Genesis 1, where
he makes extensive use of the same metaphor (Op. 7-25).
It is at this point that both the thought and the specific way in which the
thought was expressed in Philo shed light on the hymn in the Prologue. Like
Philo the author of the hymn in the Prologue is clearly commenting on the
story of the creation of the world in Genesis 1. In fact, the hymn begins with
the same words as Gen 1:1 (en arche). Again, like Philo, the author of the
hymn in the Prologue uses the phrase di'hou to describe the role of the logos
in the creation of the world (John 1:3,10). Both Philo and the hymn think of
the logos as the intermediary reality through which (di'hou) the world was
made.
The use of the phrase di' hou in the hymn is not simply an alternate
formulation for an instrumental dative (ho, log), a formulation found ear-
lier in the Jewish wisdom tradition. This is so for several reasons. First, the
phrase is used twice (John 1:3,10), and so the author wants to emphasize the
specific role of the logos in creation. This is indicated in John 1:3b: "and
18
Philo also comes to apply this language to wisdom in Det. 54: "If you accord a father's
honour to Him who created the world, and a mother's honour to Wisdom, through whom (di'
hs) the universe was brought to completion, you will yourself to be gainer." The highly alle-
gorical context of this passage indicates that it is late formulation and one in which the language
of instrumentality has been transferred from the logos to sophia.
19
See Dodd, Interpretation, 72.
THE PROLOGUE OF JOHN 259
without it (the logos) nothing came to be."
20
In other words, the role of the
logos was quite carefully and consciously formulated. Second, the same for-
mula (di'hou) is found elsewhere in the NT (ICor 8:6; Heb 1:2) and in both
cases the context is that of the creation of the world through an intermediate
figure (1 Cor 8:6, Jesus Christ; Heb 1:2, a son).
21
The use of the phrase di'
hou in the context of the creation of the world through an intermediate
figure, then, was fairly widely known and used by early Christian writers.
In reality, the use of the phrase di'hou to describe an intermediate figure
through whom the world was formed was part of a larger "metaphysics of
prepositions" that was part of the emerging Middle Platonism of the late first
century B.C.E. and the first century CE.
22
This metaphysics of prepositions
took several different forms, but common to all of them was the use of
different prepositions to express various types of causality.
23
Philo's use of
this metaphysics of prepositions, which is clearly reflected in Cher. 125-27,
was Platonic rather than Stoic.
24
The use, then, of the phrase di' hou to
describe the role of an intermediate figure in the creation of the world was
not simply an alternate formulation for an instrumental dative but was part
20
For the proper punctuation of John 1:3b, see Brown, The Gospel According to John,
1. 6 and I. de la Potterie, "De interpunctione et interpretatione versuum Joh. i, 3,4," VD 33
(1955) 193-208.
21
On 1 Cor 8:6, see R. A. Horsley, "The Background of the Confessional Formula in 1
Kor 8:6," ZNW 69 (1978) 130-35. Horsley quite rightly points out that Rom 11:36 ("For from
him and through him and to him are all things
9
*) is a doxological omnipotence formula and
should be distinguished from the pre-Pauline formula in 1 Cor 8:6. For Heb 1:2, see J. R Meier,
"Structure and Theology in Heb 1,1-14," Bib 66 (1985) 168-89.
22
Examples of the metaphysics of prepositions are found in Seneca (Ep. 65.8-10), Atius
(apud Stobaeus, Diels 287b-288b), and in Varr (apud Augustine, De Civ. D. 7.28). For dis-
cussions of the complexity of the origin and history of the metaphysics of prepositions see W.
Theiler, Die Vorbereitung des Neuplatonismus (2d ed.; Berlin: Weidmann, 1964) 1-60; H.
Dorne, "Die Erneuerung des Piatonismus im ersten Jahrhundert vor Christus," Platonica Mi-
nora (Studia et Testimonia Antiqua 8; Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1976) 157-58; Dillon, The Middle
Platonists, 137-39.
23
The two examples of the use of di'hou as part of ftiis metaphysics of prepositions are
found in Alkinoos (Albinus?) (Didaskalikos, IV, p. 154,8-22; XII, pp. 166,35-168,5 [Hermann])
and in Potamon (apud Diogenes Laertius 1.21). The formulation of Alkinoos may be a re-
working of a treatise of the first century B.C.E. Alexandrian philosopher Arius Didymus (see T.
H. Tobin, The Creation of Man: Philo and the History of Interpretation [CBQMS 14; Wash-
ington: Catholic Biblical Association, 1983] 70-71). If we are to judge from a comparison of
Cher. 125-27 and Porphyry (apud Simplicius, In Phys. 3.16), Philo's use of di'hou is part of the
Platonic tradition (cf. Seneca, Ep. 65, 4-10).
24
Philo's own use of the metaphysics of prepositions may depend on the work of the first
century B.C.E. Alexandrian Middle Platonist philosopher Eudorus of Alexandria (see Dillon,
The Middle Platonists, 138-39). For the importance of Eudorus of Alexandria for the history
of Middle Platonism, see Drrie, "Der Platoniker Eudoros von Alexandreia," Platonica Mi-
nora, 297-309.
260 THE CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY I 52, 1990
of a widespread topos in Middle Platonism which was taken up by Helle-
nistic Jewish interpreters. It was probably on this tradition of Hellenistic
Jewish interpretation that the author of the Prologue depended for his de-
scription of the logos as that through which (di'hou) the world was formed.
A second function of the logos in Philo was anagogical, that is, the logos
was meant to guide the human soul to the realm of the divine. For Philo the
goal of the human soul was the knowledge and vision of God (Deus 143), to
become like God or to be assimilated to God (homoisis t theo) (Fug. 63).
The possibility of the human soul attaining the knowledge and vision of God
was rooted in the soul's fundamental relationship to and participation in the
divine logos. Once the human soul had turned to God (Praem. 163), it could
then detach itself from the body and the realm of sense perception (Fug.
91-92; Her. 69-74) and mystically rise above the material world and be free
to contemplate the divine logos (Som. 1.71; 2.249) and in some very limited
sense even God himself (Mig. 170-75). In this process, the divine logos was
the means and the guide of this mystical ascent (Som. 1.68-69, 86; L.A.
3.169-78).
25
Particularly pertinent for understanding the thought world of the hymn
in the Prologue are three passages from De Confusione Linguarum (40-41,
62-63, 146-47).
And therefore when I hear those who say "We are all sons of one man; we are
peaceful" (Gen 42:11), I am filled with admiration for the harmonious concert
which their words reveal. "Ah! my friends," I would say, "how should you not
hate war and love peaceyou who have enrolled yourselves under one and the
same father, who is not mortal but immortalGod's man (anthrpos theou),
who being the logos of the Eternal must needs himself be imperishable" (Conf.
40-41).
I have heard also an oracle from the lips of one of the disciples of Moses, which
runs thus: "Behold a man (anthrpos) whose name is the rising (anatole)
n
(Zech
6:12), strangest of titles, surely, if you suppose that a being composed of soul and
body is here described. But if you suppose that it is that Incorporeal One (ton
asmaton ekeinon), who differs not a whit from the divine image (theias eiko-
nos), you will agree that the name of "rising" assigned to him quite truly de-
scribes him. For that man is the eldest son, whom the Father of all raised up
(aneteile), and elsewhere calls his first-born (prtogonon), and indeed the son
thus begotten followed the ways of his Father, and shaped the different kinds,
looking to the archetypal patterns which that Father supplied (Conf. 62-63).
But if there be any as yet unfit to be called a son of God (huios theou), let him
press to take his place under God's first-born, the logos (ton prtogonon autou
25
For a fuller description see D. Winston, Logos and Mystical Theology in Philo of
Alexandria (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1985) 43-55.
THE PROLOGUE OF JOHN 261
logon), who holds the highest rank among the angels, their ruler as it were. And
many names are his, for he is called "the Beginning," and the Name of God and
his logos, and the Man after the image, and "he that sees," that is Israel. And
therefore I was moved a few pages above to praise the virtues of those who say
that "we are all sons of one man" (Gen 42:11). For if you have not yet become
fit to be thought sons of God yet we may be sons of his invisible image, the most
holy logos. For the logos is the highest born image of God (theou gar eikn
logos ho presbytatos). (Conf. 146-47).
Two of these three passages (Conf. 40-41, 146-47) are interpretations of
the words spoken by Jacob's sons to their brother Joseph in Gen 42:11: "We
are all sons of one man (henos anthrpou); we are peaceful." In his inter-
pretation, Philo allegorically identifies the "man" in Gen 42:11 with the
logos.
26
The logos is also described in Conf. 63 as the "eldest son" (presby-
tatos huios) of the Father, that is, God. In both Conf. 63 and Conf. 146, Philo
describes the logos as God's first-born (protogonos) and those who want to
be sons of that "man" become sons of the logos, although they may not be
fit yet to be called "sons of God."
27
Both the conceptual framework and some of the vocabulary are re-
markably similar to that found in John 1:12,14:
But all those who did accept him
he empowered to become children of God (tekna theou). . . .
And we have seen his glory,
the glory of an only Son (monogenes) coming from the Father.
In both Philo and in John 1:12,14 the context is anagogical in the sense that
both Philo and John 1:12,14 are describing the way in which human beings
are guided toward God. In both Philo and John 1:12,14 the logos is described
as having a special relationship of filiation (protogonos in Conf. 63, 146;
monogenes in John 1:14) with God who in both Philo (Conf 63) and John
1:14 is described as "Father." In addition, in both cases, those who come
under the influence of the logos also receive a special relationship of filiation.
In Philo that relationship is first becoming sons (huio) of the logos and then
eventually, in some sense, sons (huio) of God (Conf 147). In John 1:12 those
who receive the logos become children (tekna) of God.
Neither the conceptual frameworks nor the vocabularies are identical.
For example, the conception of filiation in Philo is more complex (i.e., one
becomes first a son of the logos and then a son of God). In addition the terms
used (protogonos in Philo, monogenes in John 1:14; huioi in Philo, tekna in
26
For the connection of these passages with interpretations of Genesis 1-2, see pp. 266-67
below.
27
For similar formulations see Conf 97, Mig. 174.
262 THE CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY I 52, 1990
John 1:12) are not the same.
28
But the similarits of both conceptual frame-
work and vocabulary are nevertheless remarkable. While one cannot argue
that the author of the hymn in the Prologue had read Philo, it is difficult to
imagine that the two are not part of the same Hellenistic Jewish tradition of
interpretation and speculation.
II. The Contrast of Light and Darkness
Let us now turn to the description of the relationship between light and
darkness found in John 1:4-5:
4
What has come to be in him was life,
and this life was the light of men.
5
And the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
While the logos in the hymn is preeminently the "light of men," the back-
ground for the interpretation found in these verses should be connected with
the continuation of some sort of interpretation of Gen 1:2-5, the creation of
light and the separation of light from darkness. There are two reasons for
this. First, John 1:1-3 is clearly based on some sort of interpretation of Gen
1:1. It would make most sense to interpret John 1:4-5 as a continuation of
that kind of interpretation. Second, the only place in the early chapters of
Genesis where "light" and "darkness" are set side by side is in Gen 1:2-5.
Yet there are two elements found in John 1:4-5 which move beyond Gen
1:2-5 of which they are interpretations. First, light and darkness in John 1:4-5
are antithetical. The phrase, "and the darkness did not overcome (katelaben)
it" (John 1:5), suggests an underlying conflict and hostility between light and
darkness.
29
Second, in John 1:4 the logos is intimately connected with life;
what came to be in the logos was life (ze). These two elements in John 1:4-5
move beyond what is found in Gen 1:2-5. This suggests that what is found
in John 1:4-5 is based on some sort of prior interpretation of Gen 1:2-5.
28
The reason why one finds tekna rather than huioi in John 1:12 is that, as Brown (The
Gospel According to John, 1.11) points out, the Johannine tradition reserves the term huios for
Jesus.
29
The translation of katelaben as "overcome" is consistent with John 12:35 ("lest the
darkness overtake [katelabe\ you"). It is also consistent with the contrast between light and
darkness in Johannine thought in general (see Brown, The Gospel According to John, 1. 8;
Dodd, Interpretation, 36, 107). This is also the interpretation of Origen (Comm. in Jo. 11.27
[Preuschen, p. 84]) and most of the Greek Fathers (Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to
John, 1. 246).
THE PROLOGUE OF JOHN 263
A good example of this sort of interpretation is found in Philo's De
Opificio Mundi 29-35. This section of the De Opifcio Mundi is explicitly an
interpretation of Gen 1:1-5. This interpretation represents a tradition of
speculative interpretation in which "day one" of creation (i.e., Gen 1:1-5) is
understood as the creation of the incorporeal world (ho asmatos kosmos).
The sense-perceptible world (ho aisthtos kosmos) was created only on the
second through the sixth days (Op. 36). In keeping with this clearly Platonic
interpretation, "the invisible and intelligible light (to aoraton kai noton
phs)" came into being on "day one." The interpretation then goes on to
associate this invisible and intelligible light with the divine logos.
Now that invisible and intelligible light has come into being as an image (eikn)
of the Divine Word (theios logos) Who brought it within our ken; it is a su-
percelestial constellation, fount of the constellations obvious to sense. It would
not be amiss to term it "all-brightness" (panaugeia), to signify that from which
sun and moon, as well as fixed stars and planets draw, in proportion to their
several capacities, the light befitting each of them (Op. 31).
The intelligible light, then, is closely associated with the divine logos; indeed
it is the image of that logos.
That invisible and intelligible light is then separated from darkness (sko-
tos). The reason given in Philo for this separation is the potential hostility
between light and darkness.
After the kindling of the intelligible light, which preceded the sun's creation,
darkness its adversary (to antipalon skotos) withdrew (hypechrei); for God, in
His perfect knowledge of their mutual contrariety and natural conflict (ten ek
physes autn diamachn), parted them one from another by a wall of sepa-
ration. In order to keep them from the discord arising from perpetual clash, to
prevent war in place of peace prevailing and setting up disorder in an ordered
universe, He not only separated light and darkness, but also placed in the
intervening spaces boundary-marks, by which He held back each of their extrem-
ities; for, had they been actual neighbors, they were sure to produce confusion
by engaging with intense and never-ceasing rivalry in the struggle for mastery.
As it was, their assault on one another was broken and kept back by barriers set
up between them. These barriers are evening and dawn (Op. 33-34).
God separates the light from the darkness, then, lest there be constant war
between the two, since light and darkness are by nature (ek physes) hostile
to one another.
The viewpoint found in this passage from Philo is not exactly the same
as that found in John 1:4-5. In the passage from Philo, the separation seems
to have been motivated by God's desire to avoid any actual conflict between
light and darkness. In other words, the separation is to prevent potential
264 THE CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY I 52, 1990
conflict from becoming actual conflict. In John 1:5 ("and the darkness did
not overcome it"), the conflict seems to have been not only potential but also,
in some unspecified way, actual. In addition, there is no indication that light
and darkness in John 1:4-5 are part of an intelligible world which is prior to
the sense-perceptible world.
30
Nevertheless, the close association of the logos
with light as well as the hostility of light and darkness, all of which are in the
context of an interpretation of Gen 1:1-5, offer a plausible tradition of inter-
pretation out of which John 1:4-5 could have grown.
The second element in John 1:4-5 which can be clarified, at least par-
tially, by this passage from Philo is the introduction of the concept of "life"
(John 1:4). In John 1:4, it is asserted that what came to be in the logos was
life (ze). Although the Johannine tradition connects "life" with eternal or
divine life rather than with "life" in general, the use of the term "life" in John
1:4 cannot be restricted only to divine or eternal life.
31
The context of John
1:4, an interpretation of Gen 1:2-5, suggests a wider meaning than just divine
or eternal life.
A similar, although not identical, assertion is made in Op. 29-30. The
spirit of God which moved over the waters mentioned in Gen 1:2 is under-
stood in this passage in Philo as the "incorporeal essence of breath" (as-
malos ousia pneumatos) and is associated with life:
The one (the incorporeal essence of breath) he (Moses) entitles the "breath"
(pneuma) of God, because breath is most life-giving (ztiktaton), and of life
(ze) God is the cause (Op. 30).
One must also remember that in this interpretation this most life-giving
"incorporeal essence of breath," like all of the other things mentioned in
connection with "day one" in Gen 1:1-5, is part of the intelligible world (see
30
Op. 29-35 is a complicated passage from the point of view of the tradition-history of
these interpretations. The interpretation of the separation of light and darkness found in Op.
32-33 may have, at an earlier stage of interpretation, referred to the separation of light and
darkness in this world rather than in the intelligible world, that is, prior to the distinction
between the two worlds. Op. 32 seems to point in this direction when it refers to the "immensity
and desolation of the void, of all that reaches from the zone of the moon to us." In the last part
of Op. 34 and in Op. 35, Philo seems to be at pains to point out that this interpretation must
refer to the incorporeal and intelligible world. This suggests that the interpretation originally did
not refer to the intelligible world but was prior to the distinction between the intelligible world
and the sense-perceptible world. If that is the case, then it may have been that earlier inter-
pretation that was used and reinterpreted in John 1:5.
31
See Brown, The Gospel According to John, 1. 7, 27 and Schnackenburg, The Gospel
According to John, 1. 242. Philo in Fug. 198 can also associate "life" primarily, but not exclu-
sively, with more than physical "life."
THE PROLOGUE OF JOHN 265
Op. 29). This also means that all of them, including the "incorporeal essence
of breath," are identified with the logos of God. This was made clear several
paragraphs earlier in Op. 24:
Should someone desire to use words in a more simple and direct way, he would
say that the intelligible world (ho kosmos notos) is nothing other than the Word
of God (theou logos) when He was already engaged in the action of creation.
Like John 1:4, this interpretation in Philo's De Opifcio Mundi associates the
process of giving life at the creation of the world with the logos of God. But,
although the connection of life with the logos of God in John 1:4 and in Op.
24, 29-30 is quite similar, they are not identical. In the interpretation found
in Philo, this association of the logos of God with life is less direct than it
is in John 1:4, that is, life is associated directly with the breath of God and
then, because the breath of God is an intelligible reality, it is a part of the
logos of God in the act of creation. Nevertheless, this interpretation in Op.
24,29-30 provides important evidence in Hellenistic Jewish speculative inter-
pretations of Gen 1:2-5 for the connection of the notion of "life" with the
logos of God at the time of creation, a connection also made by the hymn
in John's Prologue.
This is especially important when one realizes that in both Op. 29-34
and in John 1:4-5 the contrast of light and darkness is linked to the concept
of life (a concept not clearly present in Gen 1:2-5) and that this linkage takes
place in the context of an interpretation of Gen 1:2-5. Once again, Hellenistic
Jewish speculative interpretation of Genesis offers the most plausible world
of thought against which to understand the logos hymn in the Prologue.
III. The Logos and the Heavenly Man
The third and final element of the logos in the Prologue that I would like
to consider is the broader question of the traditions of interpretation in
Hellenistic Judaism which may have contributed iv the identification of the
logos with an individual human being, Jesus of Nazareth. While such an
identification cannot be explained simply by reference to traditions in Hel-
lenistic Judaism, such traditions can help us to understand how such an
identification could have been facilitated by those traditions.
One of the difficulties with seeing the hymn in the Prologue as linked to
Hellenistic Jewish speculation is that the logos as one finds it in Philo seems
so abstract when compared to the concreteness of the hymn's identification
266 THE CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY I 52, 1990
of the logos with Jesus of Nazareth. In fact some have argued that the logos
in Philo is really simply a metaphor for God's action in the world.
32
There is no doubt that the logos functions in a very complex way in
Philo's thought and that the complexity makes it difficult to understand
precisely what he means in his interpretations. In addition, Philo was rooted
in a larger tradition of Hellenistic Jewish interpretation, and some of his
interpretations were derived from that tradition and were not completely
integrated into his own thought.
33
But a basic sense of what Philo meant can be gained by paying attention
to the kind of language he used and why he used it. Like other Middle
Platonists, Philo thought that God in his essence could not be implicated in
the material universe. At the same time, the relative order of the material
universe had to derive at least indirectly from God. For Philo the logos served
as the intermediate metaphysical reality through which the universe was
originally ordered and by which it continues to be sustained in an orderly
state. It was not simply a metaphor; it was a real aspect of the divine reality
through which God was related, although indirectly, to the universe. Al-
though a derivative reality, the logos was not created as was the rest of the
universe.
34
In much the same way, the logos cannot aptly be characterized as
either personal or impersonal. Rather it was the source of the intelligibility
of the universe and so was itself intelligent in a way that transcended the
universe and, in that sense, also went beyond the categories either of personal
or of impersonal.
35
In this respect, Philo was very much like other Middle
Platonists who also maintained both the transcendence of God and God's
indirect relationship to the universe through the use of an intermediate
metaphysical reality.
While the logos in Philo remains primarily an intermediate metaphysical
reality, there are several elements in Philo which are helpful in seeing how
such an otherwise metaphysical reality could eventually be identified with an
individual human being, Jesus of Nazareth. These hints are found in the three
passages in Philo's De Confusione Linguarum treated earlier (Conf. 40-41,
62-63, 146-47). In these three passages, Philo has brought together and con-
flated several elements of Hellenistic Jewish speculative interpretation. For
example, the logos in these passages has taken on characteristics similar to
those of the figure of Wisdom, for in other passages from Philo Wisdom is
32
J. D. G. Dunn (Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins
of the Doctrine of the Incarnation [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980] 220-28) sees the logos as
"nothing more for Philo than God himself in his approach to man" (228).
33
See Tobin, The Creation of Man, 1-35.
34
See Dillon, The Middle Platonists, 158-63.
35
Ibid., 158-61.
THE PROLOGUE OF JOHN 267
referred to as the "first-born mother of all things" (Q.G. 4.97) and the
"daughter of God" (. G. 4.97,243; Fug. 50-52 ). In addition, logos is referred
to as the "Beginning" (arche), again an important attribute of Wisdom (cf.
Prov 8:22; Ebr. 30-32; Virt. 61-63).
More importantly, however, for our purposes, the logos has been iden-
tified with the "man after His image" (Conf. 146). This refers to the man
created in Gen 1:27. As Conf. 62 indicates, this man is to be distinguished
from the man created in Gen 2:7, that is the man who is composed of body
and soul. The man created after the image of God in Gen 1:27 is a heavenly
man who is not composed of body and soul but is incorporeal and is the
paradigm for the creation of the earthly man created in Gen 2:7.
a6
The logos
has been identified with the figure of the "heavenly man" in Gen 1:27.
An important development has taken place in the Hellenistic Jewish
interpretation of the logos in connection with interpretations of texts from
Genesis 1-3. The reasons for this assimilation of the figure of the logos and
the heavenly man are undoubtedly complex and reflect developments in the
history of Hellenistic Jewish biblical interpretation. Two reasons, however,
were certainly involved. First, the heavenly man, as the paradigm for the
fashioning of the earthly man, was for Philo and his tradition one of the many
paradigms found in the logos (e.g., Op. 20). Second, and perhaps more
importantly, both the logos and the heavenly man came to function in very
similar if not identical ways. Both served as paradigms for earthly creation
(one for the whole and the other for human beings); both came to serve an
anagogie function in that they were guiding divine powers by which the
human mind was enabled to ascend toward God.
37
This assimilation in Hellenistic Judaism of the logos to the figure of the
heavenly man may have served as an important step in the kind of reflection
that led to the identification of the logos with a particular human being, Jesus
of Nazareth, in the hymn in the Prologue of John. Philo and Hellenistic
Jewish exegetes of like mind would certainly have found such an identification
impossible. Nevertheless, a tradition of interpretation in which the logos was
identified with the figure of the heavenly man does make the identification of
the logos with a particular man more understandable within such a tradition
of interpretation. The identification of the logos with the heavenly man of Gen
1:27 provides the middle term, if you will, between the logos and Jesus of
Nazareth: logosheavenly manparticular man (Jesus of Nazareth).
3 6
The most important passages about the distinction between the heavenly man created
in Gen 1:27 and the earthly man created in Gen 2:7 are Op. 134-35, L.A. 1.31-32, 53-55, 88-89,
90-96.
37
Tobin, The Creation of Man, 140-42.
268 THE CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY I 52, 1990
IV. Conclusion
On the basis of the parallels between the hymn of the Prologue (John
l:l-5,10-12b,14,16) and some of the biblical interpretations of Philo of Ale-
xandria, one is led to the conclusion that the hymn in the Prologue, like Philo
of Alexandria, was part of the larger world of Hellenistic Jewish speculative
interpretations of biblical texts. That tradition developed through successive
but similar interpretations of basically the same biblical texts, in this case the
texts of Genesis 1-2. Because of this, both made use of the logos as a central
concept; both understood the cosmological function of the logos as the in-
strument through which God created the universe; both saw the logos as the
basis of "life" and "light" in contrast to darkness; both attributed to the logos
an anagogical function as the means by which human beings became sons or
children of God. The argument is not that the author of the hymn had read
Philo of Alexandria; the parallels are not close enough to maintain that kind
of position. But the parallels do show that both the author of the hymn and
Philo of Alexandria were part of the larger tradition of Hellenistic Jewish
biblical interpretation and speculation. Both were making use of similar
structures of thought and were expressing those structures through the use
of similar vocabulary, even though the results were very different.
38
The author of the hymn developed an interpretation of the logos, that
is, that the logos had become incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, that would have
been unimaginable for someone like Philo. Yet that is not the same as saying
that the world of Hellenistic Jewish speculative interpretation was not the
world of which the author of the hymn was a part. Rather, the author of the
hymn, in keeping with the speculative character of that tradition, moved it
in a new and quite different direction. That same hymn was then integrated
into a Gospel which made significant use of traditions and interpretations
closer to the Palestinian midrashim than to the more philosophically oriented
traditions of Hellenistic Judaism.
39
This points once again to the complexity
of the religious and cultural world of which the Gospel of John was a part.
In this I return to the point at which I began, with the thought of George W.
MacRae, S.J., that the Gospel of John (and I would add the hymn of the
38
This kind of analysis may also have implications for the interpretation of the other NT
texts such as Phil 2:6-11 and Col 1:15-20, both of which seem to involve speculative interpre-
tations of Genesis 1-2. In addition, this analysis may also serve to clarify the relationship of the
hymn of the Prologue to certain gnostic texts (e.g., the Dimorphie Protennoia from the Nag
Hammadi texts). I plan to explore these questions in further articles.
39
See the review of literature in J. Becker, "Das Johannesevangelium im Streit der Me-
thoden (1980-1984)," TRu 51 (1986) 61-62.
THE PROLOGUE OF JOHN 269
Prologue in particular) draws on the worlds of thought around it (especially,
I would add for the hymn of the Prologue, the world of Hellenistic Judaism)
and yet ultimately can be understood only on its own terms, on the terms of
the Christian gospel that it proclaimed.
^ s
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