Soskice on the Name of God

‘I Am Who I Am’ became, in the Greek of the Septuagint, ego eimi ho on, and in the Latin of the Vulgate, ego sum qui sum. The metaphysical resonance of this sacred name, so translated, was irresistible both to early Christians and to Hellenistic Jews such as Philo of Alexandria, to whom I shall return. The name given to Moses seemed an ideal meeting place of scriptural revelation and Greek metaphysics, and came to be seen as implying an identification of God with Being. From here it is a short step to saying that only God is being itself (which is not at all the same thing as saying that God is <the greatest being'), that only God is eternal, that all creatures are dependent on God, that even space and time are creatures – all adjunct theses of creatio ex nihilo.4

It should be pointed out that these metaphysical readings are not dictated by the Hebrew of the Book of Exodus. Quite the opposite. The gloss which we translate 'I Am Who I Am', or ego sum qui sum, is better rendered as something like 'I am with you and will be with you'. Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig were particularly exercised, at the beginning of the twentieth century, by the distortions which entered when this Hebrew name of promise – a promise to be with the people on their journey in the wilderness – was made into a proposition of metaphysics. One of their targets on this score was Moses Mendelssohn; another was Maimonides. Consideration of their dispute over the Name and its gloss can open up some matters at stake in the theology of creatio ex nihilo.

Janet M. Soskice “Creation and the God of Abraham”, [Chapter 2] Cambridge University Press, New York , © Cambridge University Press 2010

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