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.
68 Jerome H. Neyrey
(15.7). The deities are often called â€œblessedâ€ (mavkar, makavrio")
which distinguishes their blissful lot from the turmoil of mortals (24).
The epithets of the deities are easily grouped into two categories:
those using negative predicates to distinguish gods from mortals and
those using some form of pa'n. Examples of the former include: â€œun-
conquerableâ€ (ajdavmaste, 4.7; 12.2; 65.2), â€œin-effableâ€ (a[rrhto",
12.4; 19.11); â€œun-tiringâ€ (ajkavma", 8.4); â€œun-conquerableâ€ (a[fqito",
15.1); â€œun-breakableâ€ (a[rrhkto", 65.1) and â€œin-vincibleâ€ (ajnivkhton,
19.9). These distinguish the deities from mortals who are subject to
the very things from which the gods are immune. Thus the gods
belong to an exclusive group of persons, â€œone of a fewâ€. Epithets
employing some form of pa'n include: â€œall-seeingâ€ (panderkev", 4.8;
9.7); â€œall-conqueringâ€ (pandamavtwr, 11.3); and â€œall-mightyâ€ (panto-
krateira, 10.4). Hephaistos at one point is called â€œhighest of all, all-
eating and all-huntingâ€ (66.5).
Therefore, while labels such as â€œfirstâ€, â€œonlyâ€ and â€œone of a fewâ€
occur, the hymns declare the uniqueness of the gods in terms of role
(king, queen), status (mistress of all), domain under their unique
control (earth, sea, sky) and benefactions tied exclusively to them.
Negative predication immediately distinguishes the gods from
mortals. Thus each god has his or her exclusive niche in the cosmos,
with unique territory and function.
3. Uniqueness in the Hebrew Bible
In 1966 a classic study on the incomparability of Israelâ€™s God
appeared (25), which identified diverse ways of praising Godâ€™s
uniqueness. The most common expression of incomparability is
embodied in declarative statements such as â€œThere is none like Xâ€.
For example, Hannah prays: â€œThere is none like the Lord, there is
none beside thee, there is no rock like our Godâ€ (1 Sam 2,2; see also
Exod 8,6; Ps 86,6). Biblical authors used this same formula to praise
mortals as well as God, i.e., Solomon (1 Kgs 3,12.13; Neh 13,26);
Hezekiah (2 Kgs 18,5); Josiah (2 Kgs 23,25); and Job (Job 1,8;
2,3). Incomparability, moreover, was also expressed by rhetorical
questions: â€œWho is like X? No One!â€ For example,
(24) For example, Orphic Hymns 4.4, 8; 6.3, 10; 8.1; 9.11; 12.14; 13.1; 16.2;
22.10; 28.6; 32.3; 33.9; 34.1; 45.1; 52.1.
(25) C.J. LABUSCHAGNE, The Incomparability of Yahweh in the Old Testament