Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Mark Sheridan: How did Moses become a hierophant?

Cyril of Alexandria, commenting on John 6:46 “No man has seen the Father,” says that Jesus was hinting at “the hierophant Moses,” a title that he applies often to Moses. This designation of Moses as “Hierophant,” although found frequently in Greek patristic texts (e.g., Origen, Eusebius, Didymus, Epiphanius) and found in English usage since the 17th century, is unintelligible to most modern readers except as the fifth trump in traditional Tarot decks. This paper will explore the process by which this title, belonging originally to the Greek the mystery cults and then used extensively in the philosophical tradition, came to be applied to Moses, what it signified for those who employed it and how it could have been understood by those to whom these patristic texts were addressed. The title “hierophant” in fact is only one of the terms borrowed from the mystery cults that enter into the exegetical vocabulary of the Scriptures beginning at least with Philo of Alexandria and remain there for several centuries. This vocabulary had also entered earlier into the tradition of Homeric interpretation, which forms part of the background for the development of Hellenistic Jewish and Christian Scriptural exegesis.

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