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.
â€œFirstâ€, â€œOnlyâ€, â€œOne of a Fewâ€, and â€œNo One Elseâ€ 67
Elite roles of very high status belong to Isis: queen, oldest
daughter, wife-sister and mother. One or two might warrant praise, but
the variety of kinship roles and their connection to the important
Egyptian gods constitute the exclusive and unique honor of Isis. Her
sovereignty extends over â€œevery landâ€; she is not a mere local
goddess. She was taught by the best of teachers, Hermes. Her law â€”
in a world where male, not female, rulers were the norm â€” is unique,
and â€œno oneâ€ can abrogate it. Moreover she is the â€œfirstâ€ to discover
corn, which sets her above all others in this category.
The Orphic Hymns provide a third example of Greek hymns and
amplification by uniqueness (18). The following summary of them was
made with an eye to the rhetoric of uniqueness, both the familiar items
and other materials in the hymns which function in the same way.
While â€œfirstâ€ is rarely used (38.6; 40.8) (19), â€œonly/aloneâ€ occurs quite
frequently (20). Use of superlatives to emphasize a godâ€™s uniqueness is
present, but not common (21). More frequent are the titles and epithets
not found in rhetoric: rare is the deity who is not king of this or queen
of that (22); some deities are acclaimed as sovereign over all, such as
â€œfather of allâ€ (4.1; 6.3; 13.1; 20.5), â€œmother of allâ€ (9.5; 10.1), â€œlord
of allâ€ (12.4) and â€œmaster of allâ€ (45.2). Often one finds mention of
the extent of the domain of this or that god: Helios begets both dawn
and night (8.4); Zeus presides over earth, sea and sky (15.4-5). Thus
the gods are honored in terms of their unique roles and statuses as well
as the geographical domain of their sovereignty. As befits only gods,
their eternity (23) and deathlessness are proclaimed: Ouranos, eternal
cosmic element, is primeval as well as â€œbeginning of all and end of
allâ€ (4.1-2); Zeus, too, is â€œfather of all and beginning and end of allâ€
(18) The text and translation used here is that of A.N. ATHANASSAKIS, The
Orphic Hymns. Text, Translation and Notes (Missoula, MT 1977). See also M.L.
WEST, The Orphic Poems (Oxford 1983).
(19) Variations of â€œfirstâ€ include â€œoldest of allâ€ (10.2) and â€œfirst bornâ€ (10.5).
(20) Hymns 33.2; 58.8; 61.1; 64.8; 68.11; 74.6; 75.7; 85.3; 87.8. Persephone
and Athena are the â€œonly-begottenâ€ (moogenhv") offspring of Demeter and Zeus
respectively (29.2; 32.1).
(21) Adonis is called â€œbest godâ€ (a[riste, 56.1); Okeanos, â€œhighest divine
purifierâ€ (mevgiston, 83.6); Dream, â€œgreatest prophet to mortalsâ€ (mevgiste, 86.2).
(22) For example, moon is â€œdivine queenâ€ (9.1); Pan is â€œqueen of allâ€ (11.2);
Zeus, of course, is â€œkingâ€ (15.2) in one place and â€œbegetter of all and great kingâ€
(20.5); Hera, â€œqueen of allâ€ and consort of Zeus (16.2).
(23) Variations of â€œeternityâ€ include â€œself-bornâ€ (8.3) or â€œself-fatheredâ€
(10.10); â€œend that has no endâ€ (10.8); as well as note of a godâ€™s â€œeverlasting lifeâ€