The Divine Essence, that Inaccessible Kabod Enthroned in Heaven: Nazianzen’s Oratio 28,3 and the Tradition of Apophatic Theology from Symbols to Philosophical Concepts

in Numen
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Abstract

In his second theological oration (Oratio 28,3), Gregory Nazianzen equates the divine glory (kabod ) of the Holy of Holies with the divine essence and asserts their inaccessible character. An investigation into the meaning of these two terms unveils their origins in two distinct traditions, the former tracing its roots back to the ancient Semitic symbolisms of the forbidden divine glory and throne, the latter to the Hellenistic philosophical conception of an immaterial and incomprehensible divinity. The thesis advanced in this study is that these two different languages represent two semiotic forms of apophaticism, one expressed through the mysterium tremendum inspiring symbols and images of fire, dazzling glory and enigmatic heavenly creatures, guardians of the enthroned Kabod, the other through negative philosophical terminologies. The identity of the two semiotic forms is established at the end of an investigation that concludes with the observation that Hellenistic theologians developed their apophatic discourses mostly in the context of interpreting biblical reports on the theophanies of the divine and unapproachable enthroned Kabod. It was in this hermeneutical context that they “translated” the symbols of interdiction into philosophical negative concepts.

Numen

International Review for the History of Religions

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