WORD


WORD, in the Bible, primarily renders the Hebrew davar, but also omer (pl. amarim), imrah, and peh (lit. "mouth"). "The word of the Lord," an oft–recurring scriptural phrase, signifies a divine communication to man that reveals God's character or His will, as in Isaiah 50:4ff. This revelation can assume many forms, such as oracles (e.g., Judg. 20:18ff.), visions (e.g., Amos 7:1ff.), and dreams (e.g., Gen. 15:12ff.), as well as prophecy and religious teaching in general, including the divinely given laws. In the broadest sense, the Scriptures taken as a whole, and subsequently the totality of Jewish spiritual teaching, fall within the connotation of God's word. In certain biblical passages, the divine word is personified, e.g., "So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, except it accomplish that which I please, and make the thing whereto I sent it prosper" (Isa. 55:11; cf. also Ps. 33:6; 147:15). This biblical feature has antecedents in Sumerian and Babylonian literature, where the "word" is an agent of the gods' beneficence, but more especially of their wrath. In wisdom literature this process of hypostatization becomes even more marked, only ḥokhmah ("Wisdom") is substituted for the divine word, to which it is closely related ideologically (e.g., Prov. 8:1ff.; 9:1–6; Job 28:12–28). However, throughout the Hebrew Bible the figurative character of the personification is never in doubt.

A further stage in the evolution of the concept of the divine word is reached in apocryphal and rabbinic literature. Here the Word emerges as a distinct entity (cf. Wis. 18:15; Mekh., Be-Shalla#x1E25;, 10; Avot 5:1). Furthermore, there arose a negative attitude toward the attribution to God of any anthropomorphic characteristics or the use of language that appeared to detract from the divine dignity. To avoid anthropomorphisms, the Targum employs the memra ("utterance"). For example, Deuteronomy 1:32 is rendered, "… ye have not believed in the memra of the Lord." Thus the memra connotes the manifestation of God's power in creating the world and in directing history. It acts as His messenger and is generally analogous to the Shekhinah ("Divine Presence") and the Divine Wisdom. New and fateful significance was given to the Word by Philo's doctrine of the Logos (the Greek term means both "word" and "reason"). On the one hand, Philo borrowed some of his ideas from the Stoics (Logos as the active and vivifying principle of the universe), who in turn are indebted to Heraclitus ("the dividing Logos," which creates by the fusion of contrasts); he was also influenced by Plato's "theory of ideas." On the other hand, Philo's Logos is rooted in the biblical idea of the creative word of God, the Targum's memra, the mystical concepts of the merkavah ("divine chariot"), the Shekhinah, the name of God, and the names of the angels. The multi-faceted character of the Logos is reflected in the many metaphorical epithets applied to it by Philo: "divine thought," "the image of God," "the firstborn son," "the archpriest," "the paraclete of humanity." Philo paved the way for later Christian theology. In the prologue to John's Gospel (1:14) this is carried farther, and "the Word made flesh" is identified with Jesus. Philo's Logos is no more than an "archangel of many names," the rational principle in the divine nature, the creative mediator between God – the One who is all-perfect and all-good – and the world of matter, which is inherently evil; but the Johannine Logos is a separate divine entity. At this stage the Word created an impossible gulf between Judaism and its daughter faith.

[Israel Abrahams]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.