Ephrem’s Symbolic Transformation

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Ephrem the Syrian and early Syriac Christianity.

TransformationIn his dissertation on Ephrem, Jeff Wickes argues that Ephrem’s symbolic universe constructs a symbolic self through the scriptural world of his hymns (Wickes, 3). In light of an earlier chapter, this is clarified to mean that Ephrem co-identified the scriptural and symbolic selves (Ibid., 3). Overall, Wickes’s presentation of how Ephrem assimilated biblical terminology in order to create a scriptural self for his audience is convincing, especially when read with the perspectives of Alford and Krueger. Yet there seems to be something missing from this presentation of the scriptural self, namely, the concrete manner in which the transformation of the believer through identification with Ephrem’s symbolic universe was to occur. This essay reflects upon the question of whether or not Ephrem’s scriptural universe required concrete expression, or remained a primarily abstract symbolic universe. Continue reading

Philo and the Gospel of John

Dionysus

Dionysus

While reading Joseph Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth, I came across a couple of interesting passages which I felt were worth reflecting on and sharing here.

“The historical study of comparative religion likes to claim the myth of Dionysus as a pre-Christian parallel to the story of Cana. Dionysus was the god who was supposed to have discovered the vine and also to have changed water in wine–a mythical event that was also celebrated liturgically. The great Jewish theologian Philo of Alexandria (ca. 13 BC- AD 45/50) gave this story a demythologizing reinterpretation: The true giver of wine, Philo says, is the divine Logos; he is the one who gives us the joy, the sweetness, and the cheerfulness of true wine. Philo then goes on to anchor his Logos theology onto a figure from salvation history, onto Melchizedek, who offered bread and wine. In Melchizedek it is the Logos who is acting and giving us the gifts that are essential for human living. By the same token, the Logos appears as the priest of a cosmic liturgy.

“Whether John had such a background in mind is doubtful, to say the least. But since Jesus himself in interpreting his mission referred to Psalm 110, which features the priesthood of Melchizedek (cf. Mk 12:35-37); since the Letter to the Hebrews, which is theologically akin to the Gospel of John, explicitly develops a theology of Melchizedek; since John presents Jesus as the Logos of God and as God himself; since, finally, the Lord gave bread and wine as the bearers of the New Covenant, it is certainly not forbidden to think in terms of such connections and so to see shining through the Cana story the mystery of the Logos and of this cosmic liturgy, which fundamentally transforms the myth of Dionysus, and yet also brings it to its hidden truth.” (253-4)

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