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€ 69
Ps 35,10 Yahweh, who is like you?
Ps 89,9 O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord?
Exod 15,11 Who is like you among the gods, Yahweh, who is like
No one, of course, because God is unique in what God does.
A later study of incomparability focused on the praise accorded
select monarchs who found favor in the eyes of the writer (27). Of
Solomon, it says: â€œI give you also what you have not asked. â€¦ so that
no other king shall compare with youâ€ (1 Kgs 3,13; 10,23). Of
Hezekiah we read: â€œHe trusted in the Lord the God of Israel, so that
there were none like him among the kings of Judah after him, nor
among those who were before himâ€ (2 Kgs 18,5; see Josiah in 2 Kgs
23,25). The uniqueness expressed in this formula claims that these
monarchs are the best of Davidâ€™s line. They are not praiseworthy
because they were the â€œfirstâ€ or â€œonlyâ€ ones, but because they are â€œone
of a fewâ€.
Labuschagne and Knoppers provide clear examples of what
uniqueness looks like in the Hebrew bible, namely, â€œincomparabilityâ€.
Yet Morton Smith argued long ago that there was a â€œcommon
theologyâ€ in the ancient near east, which applies to God in Israelâ€™s
literature. He noted that â€œprayer and praise are usually directed to one
god at a timeâ€ (28), with the result that the god is made unique, at least
for the moment. He labels this as â€œflatteryâ€:
Though he [a god] may occupy a minor position in the preserved
mythological works, yet in worship addressed to him he is regularly
represented as greater than all other gods. It is often said that he not
only created the world, but also the other gods. He is the only true
Smith argued that Israelâ€™s religious language was itself not unique,
but belonged to a larger cultural area which can be said to have
a â€œcommonâ€ theology. Smithâ€™s study took no note of divine
â€œincomparabilityâ€, a lacuna which Labuschagne filled in with his
(26) See also Pss 71,19 and 113,5; see LABUSCHAGNE, Incomparability of
(27) G.N. KNOPPERS, â€œâ€˜There Was None Like Himâ€™: Incomparability in the
Books of Kingsâ€, CBQ 54 (1992) 411-431.
(28) M. SMITH, â€œThe Common Theology of the Ancient Near Eastâ€, JBL 71
(29) SMITH, â€œCommon Theologyâ€, 139. The truth of the predication of
uniqueness is not the point, but rather the rhetorical manner in which it is