Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sword-in-Mouth Disease: 1 Enoch, Wisdom of Solomon, Revelation, and Hebrews

Last month, I posted on the similar imagery used in 1 Enoch 62:2 and Heb. 4:12-13: that of the word with a sharp sword for the purpose of judgment. In the comments, Ken Schenck noted the similar imagery in Wisdom of Solomon 18:15-16, while Brian Small noted some very important differences between the function of 1 Enoch and Hebrews in this regard. In his Carnival of Hebrews posts this month, he reiterates these differences, and, in the comments of that post, Tony Siew pointed out another striking usage of the sword-in-mouth in Rev. 19:15, coming from the word of God (19:13).

Here they all are:

And the Lord of Spirits upon the throne of his glory,
and the spirit of righteousness was poured upon him.
And the word of his mouth will slay all sinners,
and all the unrighteous will perish from his presence.
(1 Enoch 62:2)

The all-powerful word leaped from
heaven, from the royal throne,
into the midst of the land that was doomed
a stern warrior carrying the sharp
sword of they authentic command,
and stood and filled all things with death,
and touched heaven while standing on the earth.
(Wisdom of Solomon 18:15-16; RSV)

From his [the Word of God] issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (Rev. 19:15; RSV)

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Heb. 4:12-13; RSV)


Tony Siew and Brian Small are right that 1 Enoch and Revelation have the strongest resemblance with one another--they along with Wisdom of Solomon are militaristic scenes of judgment and destruction. Wisdom of Solomon does not actually depict destruction, but it is an intimidating image nonetheless--it seems more like ongoing policing vigilance from on high. Likewise, in the first three, the word has a sword, and in Hebrews, the word is as a sword. The first and the third clearly signal physical destruction; whereas Hebrews uses the same imagery for internal divisions between soul and spirit, thought and intention--a much sharper sword indeed--although still to judge, but to judge not just actions but the inner perturbations of the conscience (destructive judgment is mentioned elsewhere). The similar imagery of these four documents is quite striking, especially as word with/as sword is quite a strange image, while the differences are just as telling of the varying perspectives (with Hebrews having the most sophisticated usage of the image, matching the author's overall heightened literary skill) of what now appears to be a stock image. Indeed, this is now at least four sources in which depict the word as sword, the word with sword, or the sword in a mouth. Does anyone know any others? Does Philo perhaps use it in an allegory somewhere? Since we have two apocalypses here, perhaps in apocalyptic literature?

The larger question is why combine the word and sword? Where does this imagery come from? And, if anyone knows, where does it go from here? Has the "word" been identified with the conquering figure of the divine combat myth by now? Is the "word" God as warrior in the well-known double aspect of God as merciful old man and God as warrior young man? I have a feeling I'll have to get my advisor's doctoral dissertation out.

4 comments:

Stefanos said...

How about Ephesians 6:17? There, the word of God is associated with the sword of the Spirit. Intrestingly, the Spirit is mentioned in the 1 Enoch text.

Jared said...

Ah...the "sword of the spirit which is the word of God." That, like Hebrews, would make another source for "word as sword."

Stefanos said...

See also Rev 1:16; 2:16 and Isa 49:2. While the "sword" is not explicitly associated with God's word, it is nevertheless linked to the "mouth" of God's agent. Rev 19:15, 21 also refer to "mouth."

By the way, thanks for the interesting thoughts.

Jared said...

And the list grows!

Is. 49:2 and Rev. 1:16 nicely emphasize the sharpness of the sword and in Rev. that it is double-edged as in Hebrews. And the Isaiah passage gives another context, being the earliest passage mentioned so far and used as a metaphor for prophecy. And the sword-like mouth is the "servant" Israel.

IT all reminds me of a passage in Hamlet: "I shall speak daggers to her / and yet will use none" (or, that is how I remember the passage).