One of Margaret Barker’s more interesting speculative claims is that “the baptism had been remembered, perhaps only by the inner group of initiates, as the moment when Jesus ascended to heaven, experienced the throne vision and accepted that he was the one called to be enthroned. At first, he resisted - the temptations in the desert record that he had doubts that he was the Son of God - but then he accepted the calling with all that this entailed.”1 These kinds of visions have their prominent New Testament example in the Revelation to John on Patmos. The claim depends on another idea – present in several of her books – that the roots of Christianity lie in Judaism’s distant past, in royal cultic rituals that predate the exile.2 One of the prominent ideas is that of resurrection as ascension and transfiguration.3 David Bentley Hart reveals this idea in Paul, disclosing that for Paul, the resurrection was transfiguration into a celestial body, and the acquisition of this body was not necessarily tied to the transfiguration of one’s present flesh, at least for many in the ancient world.4 Barker reveals that last claim as actually present in Christianity and its Judaic precursors. There is a resurrection before the resurrection, as it were. Christ is resurrected at baptism. This is also displayed at the transfiguration before the major reveal at the empty tomb and later the last ascension. The throne visions mentioned here are those of the book of revelation, or at least something similar. That topic alone, the implications of a celestial resurrection, is worthy of its own essay, but my focus here is the first quote itself, and what it says about Jesus as the “Logos made flesh”.
There is a temptation to see Jesus as a sort of “genius” concerning his humanity, perhaps a “held back genius”. If he is the perfect human as well as the perfect God, he must have all the knowledge possible for both humans and Gods. Therefore, one might argue, He must have known the standard model of particle physics (if the standard model is true). He must have known stars were made of hydrogen. He must have known what hydrogen was. These kinds of claims, both of Christ as the unity of two natures, and deity in general tend to appear in theological discourses and even debates about the existence of God, with passages about Jesus’ seeming ignorance on certain things seen as evidence of imperfect humanity and thus of Christianity’s falsity.
I think Hart’s statements on the analytic tradition apply here, to reveal the problem with these approaches:
“The analytic tradition is pervaded by the mythology of “pure” philosophical discourse, a propositional logic that somehow floats above the historical and cultural contingency of ideas and words, and that somehow can be applied to every epoch of philosophy without any proper attention to what the language and conceptual schemes of earlier thinkers meant in their own times and places.”5
I think this is apt here because this is exactly what happens in the kinds of discussions where the humanity and divinity of Christ are discussed under “modern” assumptions. It is, in a sense, obvious that concepts of humanity and divinity from late antiquity do not fit into the various philosophical edifices we take for granted in the past century and a score. One of the things Barker does well in her books is to help you “time travel” to the very alien world of the past, and see things at least a little bit more like those who lived in those times. If you do see it, a lot of things fall into place, and one of them is the humanity of Christ.
Christ is described by Butler as quite the “normal” human, at least in one sense. He is a man called to be Prophet-Priest-King to a people. He struggles with this calling, even at some point breaking down in tears in despair at his fate, and even despairing on the cross, but never staying down and never giving in. It is not an act. It is a very human story, and yet it is a divine revelation because as she says,6 the revelation that drove Christ was the vision of himself being the one on the throne, being the very “Angel of the Lord” that brought him this vision.
The kind of Throne vision Christ would have received, for Barker at least, would be either identical or similar to the vision described in Revelation 4.7 Let’s see one said of Moses for comparison:
“I had a vision of a great throne on the top of Mount Sinai, and it reached till the folds of heaven. A noble man was sitting on it with a crown and a large scepter in his left hand. He beckoned to me with his right hand, so I approached and stood before the throne. He gave me the scepter and instructed me to sit on the great throne. Then he gave me the royal crown and got up from the throne. I beheld the whole earth all around and saw beneath the earth and above the heavens a multitude of stars fell before my knees, and I counted them all. They paraded past me like a battalion of men. Then I awoke from my sleep in fear.”8
Barker argues the same kind of vision is what is disclosed in Daniel, where “The Ancient of Days, a title not used elsewhere in the Bible, was the enthroned LORD, and Daniel's vision was a memory of the apotheosis in the ancient king making…There are no details of the Man's appearance and no more is said about the Ancient of Days. The throne visions are reticent about describing the figures, but the focus is always on the one ascending as though there had been some recollection that the human figure was the only visible form of the One on the throne.”9
Christ, in his own vision, would have been somehow identified with this divinized figure who ascends to the throne and “becomes” the one who is seated. Just like Moses, he would be divinized, and just like the Daniel’s Son of Man, he would be the icon of his God, and somehow “be” his God. It is something that would have been yet to happen, and yet, because of the logic of eternity, it is something that has already happened. The incarnation of his God as himself is accomplished, is being accomplished, and will be accomplished, at once, in different ways.
What this discloses is a different logic of personhood and humanity. The story of Christ, in this vision, is a journey towards self. Christ says of himself that the Son of Man is both in heaven and on earth, but the relationship between these two poles is not just inward/outward or transcendent/immanent. It is also past/future. Christ is in heaven and on earth, and yet while on earth, he is moving towards heaven as to his future. In addition, the realization of this future influences and constitutes his past earthly life where he receives this vision and even prior, in Mary’s assent.10 The temporal rises to eternity but is also revealed as the “emanation” of the temporal from the eternal. Here is a vision of self at once Platonic and Biblical, for heaven, is where “all temporal succession coincides in one and the same Eternal Now,”11 and Christ reveals that “Time’s truth is that it is a single act whose parts mutually imply and constitute one another… Time’s existential fullness is found in eternity and eternity’s in time."12 Why is this so in the Christian Cosmos? “because both are in—no, are—Christ’s one body.”13 We see this in our liturgy, for “In the Eucharist, past, present, and future collapse in God’s eternal now. The remembering that occurs in the Eucharist is of a future fulfilment of the past event; a re-presencing of the past event of Christ’s resurrection and of the future expectation.”14 The humanity of Christ is seen as a microcosm, a hierarchy of “personas” that nevertheless meld into each other in eternity and time into one whole. Thus the Sage dog Roland says that “Identity is a kind of eschatology in that view of things. The emergence of the self is a kind of nisus toward the eternal.”15 This perfectly describes the view of Christ’s identity Scripture seems to reveal. Christ, as a man, is himself subject to change. He learns, he grows. He has cognitive dissonance, fears and worries. He feels pain and changes his mind. This is not contradictory to his identity as the Logos. In fact, his very identity as man is secured in his identity as Logos, the limitless Logos that manifests in the variety and change of his life and psyche. Christ being without sin is not him not breaking a set of abstract laws; it is him – in whatever act he does, even in changing his mind – never ceasing to act out of love of God and neighbour.
What implications flow from this? Well, the first is that “emanatory” accounts of the incarnation most commonly seen in the Neoplatonists can unite our current orthodox creeds, commitments to the incarnation to its original context and ecumenical efforts. If, as Hart notes, “Between the ontology of creatio ex nihilo and that of emanation, after all, there really is no metaphysical difference,”16 and if, as seen by St Maximus, creation is incarnation,17 then emanation can also be read as an account of incarnation.18 The full details are beyond the scope of this essay, but the better readings of the Neoplatonic “One” as “pure giving, Giving itself”19 rather than an inaccessible monad, along with the more “personal” readings of the One’s self-gift as the gift of the identity of God(s) through the gift of the “name”20 – an idea that has equivalents in late antique Jewish tradition21 – kills two birds with one stone in linking us to our Jewish past, revealing how established our tradition is in it, as well as giving us a chance at “ecumenism with our past” – to re-read the “Pagans” charitably – and to read our present “Pagans”, Polytheists, and Abrahamic cousins charitably.22
The second has to do with the “Old Testament Theophanies”. It is a simple claim: If the Celestial Christ on the throne at his ascension is also the human Christ glorified, then concerning the Old Testament Theophanies, there is no “pre-incarnate Christ”, it is the divine-human Christ that is in eternity and in time. The one “like the Son of Man” is the eschatological identity of man, man in man’s fullness.
The last is connected to the first as well as the second, in that because we know Christ this way, we can know ourselves better. To echo Roland in Moonlight, we can move beyond the language of “true selves” anchored in our fleeting egos, and see “that my true story is the end toward which I’m journeying,"23 and for the Christian, that this true self is “Christ”, not “Christ” a limited ego into whom I dissolve, but “logoi” of the Logos that is the fullness of Logos still.
- Margaret Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Which God Gave to Him to Show to His Servants What Must Soon Take Place (Revelation 1.1). (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 128.
- Margaret Barker, The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God. (London: SPCK, 2007), 23.
- Baker writes, “Jesus had descended from David according to the flesh but had been designated Son of God by the resurrection, his exaltation.” Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God. (Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992), 213.
- David Bentley Hart, “The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients.”, Church Life Journal, July 26, 2018, https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/the-spiritual-was-more-substantial-than-the-material-for-the-ancients/
- David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 123.
- Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 128.
- Barker, 9-10.
- Alexandria Frisch, “A Not-Quite Mortal Moses,” The Torah, 2021, https://www.thetorah.com/article/a-not-quite-mortal-moses/.
- Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 85, 123.
- Jordan Daniel Wood, “In the Fullness of Time,” Macrina Magazine, 2020, https://macrinamagazine.com/theology/guest/2020/02/01/in-the-fullness-of-time/
- Ananda Coomaraswamy, Time and Eternity. (Ascona: Artibus Asiae, 1947), 122.
- Wood, “In the Fullness of Time.”
- Aristotle Papanikolaou, The Mystical as Political: Democracy and Non-Radical Orthodoxy. (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012), 64.
- David Bentley Hart, Roland in Moonlight. (Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2021), 117.
- David Bentley Hart, “God, Creation, and Evil: The Moral Meaning of Creatio Ex Nihilo.” Radical Orthodoxy 3, No. 1 (2015): 4, https://journal.radicalorthodoxy.org/index.php/ROTPP/article/view/135.
- Jordan Daniel Wood, “Creation Is Incarnation: The Metaphysical Peculiarity Of The Logoi In Maximus Confessor.” Modern Theology 34, No. 1 (2017): 98, https://doi.org/10.1111/moth.12382.
- Oluwaseyi Bello, “A Superabundance of Goodness: On the Trinitarian Divine Presence.” A Play of Masks, January 19, 2022. https://symmetria.substack.com/p/a-superabundance-of-goodness?s=w.
- Eric Perl, “‘The Power of All Things’: The One as Pure Giving in Plotinus.” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 71, no. 3 (1997): 309, https://doi.org/10.5840/acpq199771331.
- For Proclus’ understanding of the One, and its identity with the Henads or Gods, Edward Butler says “the One Itself, despite its hypostatization for discursive purposes, is actually not different from each member of the ultimate class of individuals: the One is each henad… the One is the first principle as each henad individually. That is, it is in the uniqueness of each henad that the first principle is manifest, not in that henad’s membership in any group or class… The henads are all in all or all in each… Theirs is not an individuality borne upon identity and difference, but expressed in the proper name… it [absolute unity] represents a power that cannot be circumscribed within the limits of ontology, a power transcending form, the power of the proper name.” Edward Butler, “The Metaphysics of Polytheism in Proclus.” PhD Diss. New School University, 2003. https://henadology.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/dissertation-copy.pdf.
- As Barker writes, “The Name was the nature, the power, the presence of Yahweh.” Barker, The Great Angel, 111.
- Oluwaseyi Bello, “The One Is Each God: Non-Duality as Polycentric Polytheism.” A Play of Masks, February 1, 2022. https://symmetria.substack.com/p/the-one-is-each-god?s=w.
- Hart, Roland in Moonlight, 117.