Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Philo of Alexandria:
God cannot have
a proper name /

Φίλων ο Αλεξανδρεύς:
Δεν είναι δυνατό για τον Θεό
να έχει κύριο όνομα



The Ancient of Days
by William Blake



ἦν οὖν ἀκόλουθον
τὸ μηδ’ ὄνομα κύριον ἐπιφημισθῆναι δύνασθαι τῷ ὄντι πρὸς ἀλήθειαν.
οὐχ ὁρᾷς ὅτι φιλοπευστοῦντι τῷ προφήτῃ,
τί τοῖς περὶ τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ ζητοῦσιν ἀποκριτέον,
φησὶν ὅτι „ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν“ [Εξοδ. 3:14],
ἴσον τῷ εἶναι πέφυκα, οὐ λέγεσθαι;
τοῦ δὲ μὴ παντάπασιν ἀμοιρῆσαι τὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος προσρήσεως τοῦ ἀρίστου,
δίδωσι καταχρῆσθαι ὡς ἂν ὁ ὢν ὀνόματι τοιούτῳ.


It was, therefore, quite consistent with reason
that no proper name could with propriety be assigned to him who is in truth the living God.
Do you not see that to the prophet
who is really desirous of making an honest inquiry after the truth,
and who asks what answer he is to give to those who question him as to the name of him who has sent him, he says, "I am that I am," [Exod. 3:14]
which is equivalent to saying, " It is my nature to be, not to be described by name"?
But in order that the human race
may not be wholly destitute of any appellation
which they may give to the most excellent of beings,
I allow you to use the word Lord ["I am that I am"] as a name.


Φίλων ο Αλεξανδρεύς / Philo of Alexandria,
Περί των μετονομαζομένων και ων ένεκα μετονομάζονται  * /
De mutatione nominum
[On the change of Scripture names]
11.1-12.2.
[Ελληνικά-Αγγλικά/Greek-English, PDF]

Greek text / Ελληνικό κείμενο:
P. Wendland,
Philonis Alexandrini opera quae supersunt, vol. 3.
Berlin: Reimer, 1898 (repr. De Gruyter, 1962).

English translation / Aγγλική μετάφραση:

Charles Duke
Yonge,
The works of Philo Judaeus (1855) vol. 2.



Consequent upon Being's unknowability is the fact that He has no 'proper name' (ὄνομα κύριον). To the reader this statement in § 11 cannot as yet be wholly clear. He or she can be certain that Philo introducing some kind of word-play on the use of the divine name κύριος in the main biblical lemma. But he does not know whether the expression 'proper name' is to be understood as (1) a legitimate name as opposed to an 'improper' or metaphorical appellation, or as (2) a personal proper name (the ambiguity, we note, is preserved in English as well).25 Philo does not leave the reader in suspense. First he indicates the secondary biblical text which he is adducing for purposes of elucidation, Ex. 3:14. Then, by immediately introducing the notion of 'improper use of language' (κατάχρησις, already implicit in the words δίδωσι καταχρῆσθαι § 12), he makes it quite clear that he intends the first of the two possible meanings.

25 It is important to note that the ancients did not clearly distinguish between name and word (ὄνομα serving for both); so in this article I will disregard the distinction as well.

* David Runia,
Exegesis and Philosophy Studies on Philo of Alexandria
[Εξήγηση και Φιλοσοφικές Μελέτες στον Φίλωνα τον Αλεξανδρέα],
Variorum Collected Studies, 1990,
p./σ. 76.

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