Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Memra" article from the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia

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MEMRA (= "Ma'amar" or "Dibbur," "Logos"):

"The Word," in the sense of the creative or directive word or speech of God manifesting His power in the world of matter or mind; a term used especially in the Targum as a substitute for "the Lord" when an anthropomorphic expression is to be avoided.
—Biblical Data: 
In Scripture "the word of the Lord" commonly denotes the speech addressed to patriarch or prophet (Gen. xv. 1; Num. xii. 6, xxiii. 5; I Sam. iii. 21; Amos v. 1-8); but frequently it denotes also the creative word: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made" (Ps. xxxiii. 6; comp. "For He spake, and it was done"; "He sendeth his word, and melteth them [the ice]"; "Fire and hail; snow, and vapors; stormy wind fulfilling his word"; Ps. xxxiii. 9, cxlvii. 18, cxlviii. 8). In this sense it is said, "For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven" (Ps. cxix. 89). "The Word," heard and announced by the prophet, often became, in the conception of the seer, an efficacious power apart from God, as was the angel or messenger of God: "The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel" (Isa. ix. 7 [A. V. 8], lv. 11); "He sent his word, and healed them" (Ps. cvii. 20); and comp. "his word runneth very swiftly" (Ps. cxlvii. 15).
Personification of the Word. 
—In Apocryphal and Rabbinical Literature: While in the Book of Jubilees, xii. 22, the word of God is sent through the angel to Abraham, in other cases it becomes more and more a personified agency: "By the word of God exist His works" (Ecclus. [Sirach] xlii. 15); "The Holy One, blessed be He, created the world by the 'Ma'amar'" (Mek., Beshallaḥ, 10, with reference to Ps. xxxiii. 6). Quite frequent is the expression, especially in the liturgy, "Thou who hast made the universe with Thy word and ordained man through Thy wisdom to rule over the creatures made by Thee" (Wisdom ix. 1; comp. "Who by Thy words causest the evenings to bring darkness, who openest the gates of the sky by Thy wisdom"; . . . "who by His speech created the heavens, and by the breath of His mouth all their hosts"; through whose "words all things were created"; see Singer's "Daily Prayer-Book," pp. 96, 290, 292). So also in IV Esdras vi. 38 ("Lord, Thou spakest on the first day of Creation: 'Let there be heaven and earth,' and Thy word hath accomplished the work"). "Thy word, O Lord, healeth all things" (Wisdom xvi. 12); "Thy word preserveth them that put their trust in Thee" (l.c. xvi. 26). Especially strong is the personification of the word in Wisdom xviii. 15: "Thine Almighty Word leaped down from heaven out of Thy royal throne as a fierce man of war." The Mishnah, with reference to the ten passages in Genesis (ch. i.) beginning with "And God said," speaks of the ten "ma'amarot" (= "speeches") by which the world was created (Abot v. 1; comp. Gen. R. iv. 2: "The upper heavens are held in suspense by the creative Ma'amar"). Out of every speech ["dibbur"] which emanated from God an angel was created (Ḥag. 14a). "The Word ["dibbur"] called none but Moses" (Lev. R. i. 4, 5). "The Word ["dibbur"] went forth from the right hand of God and made a circuit around the camp of Israel" (Cant. R. i. 13).
—In the Targum: In the Targum the Memra figures constantly as the manifestation of the divinepower, or as God's messenger in place of God Himself, wherever the predicate is not in conformity with the dignity or the spirituality of the Deity.

Instead of the Scriptural "You have not believed in the Lord," Targ. Deut. i. 32 has "You have not believed in the word of the Lord"; instead of "I shall require it [vengeance] from him," Targ. Deut. xviii. 19 has "My word shall require it." "The Memra," instead of "the Lord," is "the consuming fire" (Targ. Deut. ix. 3; comp. Targ. Isa. xxx. 27). The Memra "plagued the people" (Targ. Yer. to Ex. xxxii. 35). "The Memra smote him" (II Sam. vi. 7; comp. Targ. I Kings xviii. 24; Hos. xiii. 14; et al.). Not "God," but "the Memra," is met with in Targ. Ex. xix. 17 (Targ. Yer. "the Shekinah"; comp. Targ. Ex. xxv. 22: "I will order My Memra to be there"). "I will cover thee with My Memra," instead of "My hand" (Targ. Ex. xxxiii. 22). Instead of "My soul," "My Memra shall reject you" (Targ. Lev. xxvi. 30; comp. Isa. i. 14, xlii. 1; Jer. vi. 8; Ezek. xxiii. 18). "The voice of the Memra," instead of "God," is heard (Gen. iii. 8; Deut. iv. 33, 36; v. 21; Isa. vi. 8; et al.). Where Moses says, "I stood between the Lord and you" (Deut. v. 5), the Targum has, "between the Memra of the Lord and you"; and the "sign between Me and you" becomes a "sign between My Memra and you" (Ex. xxxi. 13, 17; comp. Lev. xxvi. 46; Gen. ix. 12; xvii. 2, 7, 10; Ezek. xx. 12). Instead of God, the Memra comes to Abimelek (Gen. xx. 3), and to Balaam (Num. xxiii. 4). His Memra aids and accompanies Israel, performing wonders for them (Targ. Num. xxiii. 21; Deut. i. 30, xxxiii. 3; Targ. Isa. lxiii. 14; Jer. xxxi. 1; Hos. ix. 10 [comp. xi. 3, "the messenger-angel"]). The Memra goes before Cyrus (Isa. xlv. 12). The Lord swears by His Memra (Gen. xxi. 23, xxii. 16, xxiv. 3; Ex. xxxii. 13; Num. xiv. 30; Isa. xlv. 23; Ezek. xx. 5; et al.). It is His Memra that repents (Targ. Gen. vi. 6, viii. 21; I Sam. xv. 11, 35). Not His "hand," but His "Memra has laid the foundation of the earth" (Targ. Isa. xlviii. 13); for His Memra's or Name's sake does He act (l.c. xlviii. 11; II Kings xix. 34). Through the Memra God turns to His people (Targ. Lev. xxvi. 90; II Kings xiii. 23), becomes the shield of Abraham (Gen. xv. 1), and is with Moses (Ex. iii. 12; iv. 12, 15) and with Israel (Targ. Yer. to Num. x. 35, 36; Isa. lxiii. 14). It is the Memra, not God Himself, against whom man offends (Ex. xvi. 8; Num. xiv. 5; I Kings viii. 50; II Kings xix. 28; Isa. i. 2, 16; xlv. 3, 20; Hos. v. 7, vi. 7; Targ. Yer. to Lev. v. 21, vi. 2; Deut. v. 11); through His Memra Israel shall be justified (Targ. Isa. xlv. 25); with the Memra Israel stands in communion (Targ. Josh. xxii. 24, 27); in the Memra man puts his trust (Targ. Gen. xv. 6; Targ. Yer. to Ex. xiv. 31; Jer. xxxix. 18, xlix. 11).

Like the Shekinah (comp. Targ. Num. xxiii. 21), the Memra is accordingly the manifestation of God. "The Memra brings Israel nigh unto God and sits on His throne receiving the prayers of Israel" (Targ. Yer. to Deut. iv. 7). It shielded Noah from the flood (Targ. Yer. to Gen. vii. 16) and brought about the dispersion of the seventy nations (l.c. xi. 8); it is the guardian of Jacob (Gen. xxviii. 20-21, xxxv. 3) and of Israel (Targ. Yer. to Ex. xii. 23, 29); it works all the wonders in Egypt (l.c. xiii. 8, xiv. 25); hardens the heart of Pharaoh (l.c. xiii. 15); goes before Israel in the wilderness (Targ. Yer. to Ex. xx. 1); blesses Israel (Targ. Yer. to Num. xxiii. 8); battles for the people (Targ. Josh. iii. 7, x. 14, xxiii. 3). As in ruling over the destiny of man the Memra is the agent of God (Targ. Yer. to Num. xxvii. 16), so also is it in the creation of the earth (Isa. xlv. 12) and in the execution of justice (Targ. Yer. to Num. xxxiii. 4). So, in the future, shall the Memra be the comforter (Targ. Isa. lxvi. 13): "My Shekinah I shall put among you, My Memra shall be unto you for a redeeming deity, and you shall be unto My Name a holy people" (Targ. Yer. to Lev. xxii. 12). "My Memra shall be unto you like a good plowman who takes off the yoke from the shoulder of the oxen"; "the Memra will roar to gather the exiled" (Targ. Hos. xi. 5, 10). The Memra is "the witness" (Targ. Yer. xxix. 23); it will be to Israel like a father (l.c. xxxi. 9) and "will rejoice over them to do them good" (l.c. xxxii. 41). "In the Memra the redemption will be found" (Targ. Zech. xii. 5). "The holy Word" was the subject of the hymns of Job (Test. of Job, xii. 3, ed. Kohler).

The Logos.
It is difficult to say how far the rabbinical concept of the Memra, which is used now as a parallel to the divine Wisdom and again as a parallel to the Shekinah, had come under the influence of the Greek term "Logos," which denotes both word and reason, and, perhaps owing to Egyptian mythological notions, assumed in the philosophical system of Heraclitos, of Plato, and of the Stoa the metaphysical meaning of world-constructive and world-permeating intelligence (see Reizenstein, "Zwei Religionsgeschichtliche Fragen," 1901, pp. 83-111; comp. Aall, "Der Logos," and the Logos literature given by Schürer, "Gesch." i. 3, 542-544). The Memra as a cosmic power furnished Philo the corner-stone upon which he built his peculiar semi-Jewish philosophy. Philo's "divine thought," "the image" and "first-born son" of God, "the archpriest," "intercessor," and "paraclete" of humanity, the "arch type of man" (see Philo), paved the way for the Christian conceptions of the Incarnation ("the Word become flesh") and the Trinity. The Word which "the unoriginated Father created in His own likeness as a manifestation of His own power" appears in the Gnostic system of Marcus (Irenæus, "Adversus Hæreses," i. 14). In the ancient Church liturgy, adopted from the Synagogue, it is especially interesting to notice how often the term "Logos," in the sense of "the Word by which God made the world, or made His Law or Himself known to man," was changed into "Christ" (see "Apostolic Constitutions," vii. 25-26, 34-38, et al.). Possibly on account of the Christian dogma, rabbinic theology, outside of the Targum literature, made little use of the term "Memra." See Logos.

  • Bousset, Die Religion des Judenthums im Neutestamentlichen Zeitalter, 1903, p. 341;
  • Weber, Jüdische Theologie, 1897, pp. 180-184.