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.
76 Jerome H. Neyrey
to crass anthropomorphisms in Greek piety, some philosophers
developed a special god-talk that avoided such excesses and produced
a refined way to celebrate the uniqueness and excellence of god.
Negative predication about god resulted from this process (e.g., some
form of aj-). Epithets prefaced by a negative deny imperfection in god
and acclaim him superior to all things of this material world, mortals
included. Theophilus provides a particularly excellent example:
The appearance of God is ineffable (a[rrhton) and indescribable
(ajnevkfraston) and cannot be seen by eyes of flesh. In glory God
is incomprehensible (ajcwvrhto"), in greatness unfathomable
(ajkatavlhpto"), in height inconceivable (ajperinovhto"), in power
incomparable (ajsuvgkrito"), in wisdom unrivaled (ajsumbivbasto"),
in goodness inimitable (ajmivmhto"), in kindness unutterable
(anekdihghto") (To Autolycus 1.3) (54).
This statement begins by claiming that God cannot be described or
seen; hence God belongs not to our material world, but to a higher
one. In terms of virtues which warrant praise and glory, God surpasses
all mortal standards. Although tags such as â€œfirstâ€, â€œonlyâ€ and â€œone
who has done X the mostâ€ are not here, negative predicates attest
Godâ€™s uniqueness in the universe. To God alone belongs glory,
greatness, height, eternity, wisdom, etc.
A second example argues more strongly that negative predication
is a form of uniqueness. The following is a piece of a synagogal prayer
in which Godâ€™s uniqueness is first acclaimed (â€œthe only Mighty Oneâ€;
â€œthere is no God beside you alone, there is no Holy One beside youâ€),
after which follows a cascade of negative predicates declaring how
God is â€œhonored and exalted exceedinglyâ€:
Glorious and exceedingly exalted, invisible (ajovrato") by nature,
inscrutable (ajnexicnivasto") in judgments, whose life is in want of
nothing (ajnendehv"), whose continuity is unchangeable (ajtrepto") and
unceasing (ajnelliphv"), whose activity is untiring (ajkavmato"), whose
majesty is not circumscribed (ajperivgrafo"), whose beauty is
everflowing (ajevnao"), whose habitation is inaccessible (ajprovsito"),
whose encamping is unmoving (ajmetanavsteuto"), whose knowledge
in the Church Fathers and the Gnostic Basilidesâ€, HThR 50 (1957) 145-156; F.M.
YOUNG, â€œThe God of the Greeks and the Nature of Religious Languageâ€, Early
Church Literature and the Classical Intellectual Tradition (ed. W.R. SCHOEDEL â€“
R.L. WILKEN) (Paris 1979) 45-73; W.R. SCHOEDEL, â€œEnclosing, Not Enclosed:
The Early Christian Doctrine of Godâ€, Early Christian Literature, 75-86.
(54) The text of Theophilus is that of M. MARKOVICH, Theophili Antiocheni ad
Autolycum (Berlin 1995) 18.