Jerome H. Neyrey, «"First", "Only", "One of a Few", and "No One Else". The Rhetoric of Uniqueness and the Doxologies in 1 Timothy», Vol. 86 (2005) 59-87
The distinctive way of honoring gods or God was to celebrate
what is unique about them, that is, praise of persons who were the "first",
"only", or "one of a few" to do something. Rhetoric from Aristotle to Quintilian
expounded the theory of "uniqueness", which the authors of Greek hymns and
prayers employed. One finds a Semitic counterpart in the "principle of
incomparability" describing Israelite kings. "Uniqueness" pervades the New
Testament, especially its doxologies. In them, "uniqueness" was richly expressed
in rhetorical mode, as well as by predicates of negative theology which elevated
the deity above those praising.
66 Jerome H. Neyrey
Most glorious of immortals
honored under many names
O Zeus, first cause of nature
nomou mevta pavnta kubernw'n (15).
guiding all things through law
Zeus is unique, for he is â€œmost gloriousâ€ even among the immor-
tals, hence the apex of an already elite group. Concerning Zeus being
â€œmany namedâ€, Dio Chrysostom provides an apt illustration of this(16).
Consider whether you will not find that the statue is in keeping with
all the titles by which Zeus is known. For he alone of the gods is
entitled â€œFather and King,â€ â€œProtector of Cities,â€ â€œGod of
Friendship,â€ â€œGod of Comradeship,â€ and also â€œProtector of
Suppliants,â€ â€œGod of Hospitality,â€ â€œGiver of Increaseâ€ (Or. 12.75).
Being â€œmany namedâ€, then, Zeus is honored as the distinctive and
exclusive deity of Cleanthes and the Stoics. By addressing Zeus as
â€œfirst cause of natureâ€, the hymn honors Zeus as the unique giver of
reason and rationality which make the world accessible to human
minds. And finally Zeus serves as master and guide over â€œall thingsâ€,
indicating his unique sovereignty and power. Thus Zeusâ€™ honor is
expressed in his unique status even among the gods, his many names
and his exclusive role in making and governing the universe.
In a different mode, an aretalogy of Isis claims uniqueness.
Although spoken by the goddess, the hymn invites its audience to
honor Isis for the items listed.
I am Isis, queen of every land (pavsh" cwvra"), who was taught by
and whatever laws I have ordained, these no one can abrogate (oujdeiv"
aujta; duvnatai lu'sai).
I am the oldest daughter of the youngest god, Kronos.
I am wife and sister of king Osiris.
I am the first one (prwvth) to discover corn for humans.
I am mother of the king Horus (17).
(15) The text is that of A.C. PEARSON, The Fragments of Zeno and Cleanthes
(New York 1973) 274-275; see also VON ARNIM, SVF I, 121-122, frag. 537.
(16) Young Artemis asked her father for a gift that would put her on a par with
her brother: â€œGive me many-namednessâ€ (poluwnumivhn) cited by J.M. BREMER,
â€œGreek Hymnsâ€, Faith, Hope and Worship, 194-195. See also the cultural study
of names by D. EICKELMAN, The Middle East. An Anthropological Approach
(Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1989) 55-59; and NEYREY, Honor and Shame in the
Gospel of Matthew, 55-60.
(17) For Greek text see Diodor of Sicily, 1.27.4; the translation is by M.
GUSTAFSON, â€œThe Isis Hymn of Diodorus of Sicily (1.27.3)â€, Prayer from
Alexander to Constantine, 155-158.