The Background of the Philippians Hymn (2:6-11)

David Seeley
Institute for Higher Critical Studies

JHC 1 (Fall 1994), 49-72.
Copyright © Institute for Higher Critical Studies, 1994

"...and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar,
saying that there is another king, Jesus." (Acts 17:7)

The question of an appropriate background for the Philippians hymn constitutes one of the perennial conundrums of New Testament studies.1 Many solutions have been presented, but none has achieved a consensus.2 I do not expect the proposal offered below to end the long debate about the hymn. Proof and definitive conclusions cannot be attained in a matter which is inherently so problematic. What can be expected, however, and what the following offers, is a marshalling of evidence which is plausible and possesses definite advantages over the other proposed solutions to the question.

Through the years, at least six distinct backgrounds for the hymn have been put forth. The gnostic redeemer, for example, descends to the human realm, and then ascends to the divine. But his descent is not marked by the humility Jesus exhibits in refusing to regard equality with God as an arpagmos, nor is it an incarnation, nor does he endure an obedient death.3 A wisdom pattern offers some manner of heavenly equality with God, along with descent and ascension, but again, there is no humility, incarnation, or obedient death.4 Jerome Murphy-O'Connor has attempted to understand the hymn in terms of wisdom without recourse to pre-existence.5 However, his success is doubtful.6 A background of Adam speculation contrasts Jesus' humility to Adam's avarice, Jesus' obedience unto death to Adam's disobedience unto death, and Jesus' exaltation to Adam's condemnation, while correlating Jesus' heavenly glory with that of the unfallen First Man.7 Nonetheless, serious difficulties remain.

To begin with, this background depends heavily on a rejection of pre-existence in the hymn (see Hurst, 449). Therefore, if one accepts pre-existence, its appeal diminishes greatly. Even if one does not, there are still problems, such as why Adam's fall should prompt the idea of slavery in 2:7 (see Hurst, 451-52; Wanamaker, 181-83). Also, the language of 2:7-8a suggests something more comprehensive even than Adam's fall (Hurst, 451). Similarly, how would the general idea of Adam's disgrace prompt the particulars of Phil 2:9-11? For instance, what is the connection between Adam speculation and Isa 45:23, which Phil 2:9-11 clearly reflects? In the end, he seems almost to abandon Adam speculation by concluding that "the nearest antecedents" to a Christology of pre-existence are personifications of Wisdom or Torah.8

Another possible background for the hymn is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52-53.9 This figure dies and is exalted, but that his death is obedient is questionable.10 Further, he starts out with nothing that could be deemed equivalence or likeness to God, and receives no general acclamation.11 These same two elements are lacking as well in the so-called Stories of the Suffering Righteous (e.g., 2 Macc 7), which do, however, contain an obedient death and resulting heavenly afterlife.12 Finally, the worship associated with rulers presents a background for pre-existence, incarnation, postmortem exaltation, and acclamation.13 Furthermore, the ideal ruler unselfishly lowers himself from a high station to the position of servant. However, the motif of obedient death is missing, as is a post-mortem exaltation specifically resulting from it.

We must conclude, then, that no single background can accomodate the hymn.14 Below, I will propose a combination of three, namely, Isaiah 45 (which will here be given more attention than it usually receives), Stories of the Suffering Righteous, and Greco-Roman ruler worship. This combination has several important advantages. First, the three elements I am emphasizing are linked together by a common theme.15 All have to do with sovereignty. Isaiah 45 insists that the God of Israel is the world's one, true lord. The Suffering Righteous are typically faced with a choice of lords. If they obey God rather than the king, a horrible death threatens them. That vindication follows their choice of God shows he is the most powerful lord of all. As for Greco-Roman ruler worship, concern with sovereignty is obvious there. The hymn combines these three backgrounds to form a compact but powerful commentary on the relation of the churches' lord to those of the societies in whose midst the churches lived.

The combination's second advantage is that it responds to a need which Helmut Koester has highlighted in a recent Society of Biblical Literature presidential address.16 This is the need to consider the early Christian message about Jesus in its political context. Koester suggests that the churches' teaching would have had to confront both Roman and Jewish political ideology.17 Although he does not specifically mention the hymn, responses to his call can hardly ignore a text which Dieter Georgi had already tagged as in competition with the Roman imperial cult.18

Koester's assertion that there would have been competition between nascent christology, on the one hand, and Roman and Jewish political ideology on the other, points toward an organizing principle for the entire hymn. The hymn appropriates for Jesus some of the most important claims for the emperor and for Israel's supreme ruler, the lord God. This is not surprising, since there is ample evidence for people of this period imagining and sometimes actualizing alternatives to established political structures. The Stoics and Cynics, for instance, were vitally interested in escaping the power of official rulers and placing themselves in a separate polity.19 Epictetus asks why philosophers should pay attention to those in positions of power (dunamis; 1.9.20), for no one can rule (arxchô) over them (1.9.21).20 The philosopher knows he is not the body over which rulers exercize power, but rather a kinsman of the gods (tôn theôn suggenês; 1.9.25).21 In one of the Cynic Epistles, Pseudo-Heraclitus says that the gods are his "fellow citizens" (politai; 9.3). The Wisdom of Solomon, which begins, "Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth," envisions several versions of governance other than what actually exists: at 3:8, the righteous, having endured the discipline of apparent death, attain rule; in chs. 6-9, a plethora of good advice is supposed to reform those already in power.22 Philo envisions a "kingdom of the sage" (...tou sofou basileia) which God grants and which stands in stark contrast to "other kingdoms" (allai basileiai).23 The numerous Jewish apocalyptic works from the period long for the day when God will shatter earthly sovereigns and impose his own kingdom.24 Qumran represents an attempt to carve out political space within human history, while waiting for the end. The Dead Sea Scroll community claimed to be the "true Israel" and assiduously tried to order itself as such.25 Why there should have been this interest in alternative political structures is simple: to many, the Roman Empire rested on little more than naked power.26 No wonder, then, that the search was made for a social organization with firmer moral and religious grounding.

By the time of the hymn's composition, Christians were already coming to see themselves as associated with a godly kingdom opposed to all others. This attitude could not avoid political ramifications, for it required early Christian theologians to address the nature of this opposition (1 Cor 15:24; Q 16:16, 13:28-30, 22:28-30; Mark 11:10, 13:8, 14:25; cf. 12:13-17). Christians could therefore not ignore either of the two religio-political entities which they confronted. The Roman Empire was the ultimate arbiter of power in the eastern Mediterannean, and persecutions dating from the reign of Nero show how little the early churches could afford to overlook it.27 It broadcast its might by manipulating a centuries-old set of religious ideas and cultic practices of which no one in the Empire could have been wholly unaware.28 Judaism, a religion with a strong political component, had played a crucial role in the emergence of Christianity, and from an early point in their existence the churches claimed the promises made to the nation of Israel.29 In the hymn, therefore, one wing of a fledgling communal movement offers its own religio-political warrant in competition with other communities already on the scene. We will now examine just how that competition proceeds. Since it can be seen most immediately in the hymn's use of Isaiah 45, we begin with that and move backwards through the hymn's more complex engagement of Stories of the Suffering Righteous and ruler worship.

The Hymn and Isaiah 45

Isaiah 45 LXX begins with God speaking to "my Christ, Cyrus" (that God calls him by name [onoma] is later stressed explicitly, 45:4). God promises to make the nations hear him obediently and to shatter the kings' power on his behalf (45:1). In 45:14, God's chosen one (either Cyrus or Israel) will receive the toil of Egypt and the wealth of Ethiopia. The Sabeans will be his slaves (douloi), bowing down (proskuneô) to him and offering worship (proseuchomai). The fact that this section of Isaiah depicts God as, in effect, sharing his rule of the world invites comparison with the hymn. However, it should be noticed that, at the same time, Isaiah 45 asserts emphatically the existence of only one kurios, i.e., God. There is none beside the kurios ho Theos (45:7, cf. 45:18).

Given this emphasis, it is all the more remarkable that the hymn utilizes Isa 45:23. The latter makes it very clear that every knee will bow to God, and every tongue will swear by him. But Phil 2:10-11 asserts that knees will bow to Jesus and tongues will confess him, rather than God, as lord. This represents an audacious redirection of one of the most stringently monotheistic passages in the entire Hebrew Bible. As just noted, Isa 45:6, 18 proclaim that there is no kurios besides God. The hymn says there is, and even adds that it was God himself who conferred that name.30 Though Christ may work for the greater glory of the Father (Phil 2:12), his proclamation as lord can hardly be seen from the standpoint of Isaiah 45 as other than a serious encroachment on the singular lordship of God (see Isa 45:5-7, 14, 18, 21-22). The term "lord," which Isaiah 45 insists belongs to God alone, is being shifted to Jesus.31 This means that the God of Israel is losing a critical signifier of authority to the leader of the Christian churches. The fact that those churches continued to make claims on the heritage of Israel cannot efface this basic transferral.32 Through this theological arrogation, the community behind the hymn is claiming that it is the heir to the promises made to the nation of Israel. In effect, it is presenting itself as the true Israel.33

Such a claim was not unprecedented, however audacious it may have been. It had already been made, as mentioned, by the group centered around Qumran. At the core of this Jewish sect lay the conviction that only among its members were the promises to Israel still valid.34 There is little indication in the hymn of such vociferous criticism of outsiders as that found at Qumran (cf., however, such passages as 2 Cor 4:3-4). Nonetheless, like the Commentary on Habakkuk, it places its community's leader over against the leadership of competing communities. Yet the fact remains that the Teacher of Righteousness was not proclaimed lord of the cosmos, as the hymn proclaims Jesus. What accounts for this sharp difference?

For an answer, we should first of all remember that, since the time of Second Isaiah, many sectors of Judaism had grown used to speaking of various figures as closely associated with or even virtually equal to God. These sectors were comfortable in speaking in such a way because the figures were apparently not felt to be encroaching on God's suzerainty. It is this comfortability which accounts for the evident ease with which the hymn's author switches the stridently monotheistic Isa 45:23 from God to Jesus. However, the figures just mentioned tended, on the one hand, to be themselves divine attributes or, on the other, to be patriarchs or angels. For such a figure to have recently been human and to have served as the leader of the group at issue is unprecedented in Jewish traditions. In my view, only a thorough acquaintance with notions of recent human leaders who had become divine can explain the seeming ease with which the hymn's author portrays Jesus as a cosmic lord. It is argued below that these notions center around the imperial cult.

The Hymn and Stories of the Suffering Righteous

Before turning to the imperial cult, however, let us take up a somewhat more cleanly delimited topic, namely, the death of Jesus as described in Phil 2:8-9a. Perhaps the most striking feature of this passage is its terseness. We are told only that Jesus' death was obedient (hupêkoos) and that it resulted in exaltation (see the dio of v. 9a).35 Where else do we find this sequence? As noted above (n. 10), it is not clear that the Suffering Servant's death is an obedient one. Adam speculation may offer a foil for the sequence, but this is murky (see n. 8 above). In 2 Macc 7 and 4 Macc, however, the sequence is unmistakable.36 In the former, the first brother promises that "the king of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws" (apothanontas hêmas huper tôn autou= nomôn; 7:9). The mother says that God will "give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws" (hôs nun huperorate heautous dia tous autou nomous; 7:23).37 In 4 Macc 9:8, all the brothers tell Antiochus that "we, through (dia) this severe suffering and endurance, shall have the prize of virtue and shall be with God, for whom (di' hon) we suffer..."38

The fact that the sequence of obedient death/exaltation occurs in both the hymn and 2 and 4 Macc suggests that the latter somehow represent the background of the former. This suggestion is the easier to follow since 2 and 4 Macc do not stand in isolation, but are related to a genre of literature often dubbed "Stories of the Suffering Righteous" (see n. 12 above). These accounts, such as the Joseph narrative or Daniel 6, tell how God rescues his followers who are unjustly persecuted and threatened with death. But 2 and 4 Macc (along with Wis 2; 4-5) describe a rescue after death.39 They also appear, unlike the other stories, to be strongly Hellenized.40 We thus arrive at the conclusion that the hymn's sequence of obedient death/exaltation may be a result of influence by Hellenized Stories of the Suffering Righteous. In any case, there simply does not seem to be anywhere else the sequence takes place.41

Nonetheless, several ways in which the hymn departs from these Stories must be addressed. First, the hymn does not specify the object of Jesus' obedience. Second, it does not point to any persecutors. Third, it presents a more cosmic and less historical scenario than they do.42

The first departure does not present a formidable obstacle. Although no object of Jesus' obedience is named, it is simplest to see him as being obedient to God (an interpretation which is, of course, in accordance with the Stories of the Suffering Righteous). After all, for God to exalt Jesus because the latter was obedient to adversaries would be strange indeed. Even if 2:8 were saying that Jesus entered a state where he acceded to cosmic powers, one would still be hard put not to believe that such an entrance was part of a broader submission to God's will.43 Moreover, identifying God as the object of Jesus' obedience matches Paul's belief that Jesus' life and death were in obedience to God (see Rom 5:19, 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 1:4, 3:13).44 True, Paul may not have been the hymn's author, but he did live during the same time as its composition, work in the same general stream of early Christian tradition, and like it enough to put it in one of his letters.45

As for the second departure, one of the Hellenized Stories of the Suffering Righteous is at least partly comparable to the hymn regarding the omission of persecutors. In Wisdom 2; 4-5, the Righteous One (ho dikaios) is persecuted and killed by the Impious Ones (hai asebeis). The latter are never named, and it is not at all clear what historical group they represent (Sadducees, Epicureans, Hellenized Jews, et al.) (Seeley, Narrative, n. 6). Their motivations are unrealistic at best and contradictory at worst (Idem, 62f.). In short, they appear almost as stereotyped stick-figures (Idem, 63f.). Wisdom's author presents a very spare and unadorned narrative structure. It lacks the place names, personal names, motives, and details one normally expects from a story. That the hymn lacks persecutors altogether may be seen as another, if more rigorous, example of such a skeletal narration. In its few lines, the hymn seems to focus so intensely on what is essential that all else is blocked out.

This tight focus can be seen as characteristic also of the early Christian tradition within which the hymn stands. According to Mack, churches in places like Antioch had no interest in developing "a narrative embellishment of Jesus' trial" or in identifying his persecutors. "That would have created tremendous embarrassment, implicating unnecessarily either the temple establishment or the Romans."46 Pointing at the first would have damaged any hopes the churches might still have had of persuading more Jews to join.47 Pointing at the second would only have compounded the risk already incurred by calling Jesus lord. It is true that evil, cosmic powers could have been singled out, along the lines of 1 Cor 2:8. But note how isolated that verse is within Paul's letters, and how ambiguous it is. One cannot even be sure that Paul is referring to such powers there. This bespeaks a certain caution or disinterest concerning the issue on Paul's part and, by implication, that of pre-Pauline churches, as well. Not until the emergence of Christian gnosticism would this situation change. So, although we are still left with a real difference between the hymn and the Stories of the Suffering Righteous concerning the persecutors, we have been able to find something comparable in Wisdom 2:4-5, and to give several possible reasons for the persecutors' absence in the hymn.

The hymn's orientation toward a cosmic, rather than historical, setting is not terribly surprising. Many religious texts from this period, both Jewish and non-Jewish, exhibit a fascination with cosmic categories. The tendency of the Dead Sea Scrolls to see earthly events in terms of their cosmic meaning is well-known.48 The same is true of the various other apocalyptic writings of the time. Greco-Roman religious literature also has much to say about the cosmos.49 For a motif from the Stories of the Suffering Righteous to be inserted into such a popular and often addressed context could almost be expected to happen at some point. Indeed, a closely analogous insertion is reflected elsewhere in Paul's corpus. A constituent part of his soteriology is a martyrological pattern derived from Greco-Roman popular philosophy and generallly presented there without reference to cosmic powers. In Paul, however, it is charged with cosmic significance.50 Thus, what we find in the hymn is no more than what Paul did with the similar pattern of the noble death.

The differences between Phil 2:8-9a and texts which have been noted as containing Stories of the Suffering Righteous thus can be accounted for. This means that the way is clear to place these Stories as the likeliest background for 2:8-9a (see the alternatives mentioned at the beginning of this article). Such placement, in turn, provides us with another background concerned with rulership. The crucial question in stories of the Suffering Righteous is whose rule the righteous ones will acknowledge. If that of the tyrant, they will will live; if that of God, they will die horribly. The hymn's use of Isaiah 45 situated the churches' leader by taking the title kurios from the God of Israel and awarding it to him. In an analogous manner, 2:8-9a situates him by placing him in the position of those vicitimized by tyrannical rulers. Like them, he is obedient unto death and rewarded by God for his obedience with transferral to heaven. Since it is hard to imagine that the author(s) of the hymn did not know Jesus died in a Roman civil execution, the effect would have been to show where the churches' leader stood vis-à-vis authorities whose rule rested essentially on raw power. His stance was, of course, to remain obedient to God's rule no matter what. This fact, in turn, would have showed that Jesus' lordship was not obtained in the way common for the Hellenistic and early imperial worlds, i.e., through violent aggression.51 Instead, it came in the most justifiable way possible: through his acknowledgment of and obedience to the lordship of God himself. For rule to devolve onto the churches' leader in this fashion meant that his claim to it was impeccable. He had gained it precisely via adhering to the most justly constituted authority of all. The churches' leader had earned the blessing of God on his power, which meant that the churches' existence as a communal entity had it, as well.

The Hymn and Greco-Roman Ruler Worship

The origin and destiny of the ruler were thought to be essentially the same as what the entire hymn attributes to Jesus: heavenly pre-existence, descent into bodily form, and return to heaven.52 The ruler was thus a special instance of the commonly held doctrine that souls descend from heaven, become incarnate on earth, and ascend after death. Roger Beck states that we find this view "in several variants as a widely-held set of beliefs" in classical, Hellenistic, and imperial society.53 Because the ruler's journey "followed the general destiny of souls," Nock rejects comparisons between it and Christianity, which claimed uniqueness for Christ (Nock, "Son of God," 936). But if the Philippians hymn is pre-Pauline, then we cannot conclude that the author(s) rejected the concept of the general descent and ascent of souls. The author(s) could have considered Christ a special instance of that pattern, as, indeed, the writers just cited considered the ruler. And, even if the author(s) did reject the concept vis-à-vis humanity in general, he, she, or they could still have employed it with respect to Christ in particular. Nock is also reluctant to believe that the authors of such texts took their own words seriously (Ibid., 938f.). However, the ascertainment of intention is notoriously difficult; moreover, the possibility must be considered that the concept of the ruler's divine pre-existence was meaningful to these writers, even if not taken literally.54

Phil 2:6 states that, in his pre-existent state, Jesus possessed the form (morfê) of God. Various interpretations of this have been debated (Martin, xix-xx, 99-133). All, however, run up against the stubborn fact that morfê signified "something which may be perceived by the senses," principally the visual sense.55 This is shown by, if nothing else, the fact that the hymn parallels "form of God" and "form of a slave."56 So, the question must be asked: why would the hymn concern itself with the issue of looking like God?

An answer may be found in the reign of Caligula (37-41 CE), who strove to present himself in the form of divinity, and made a lasting impression on the Jews precisely because of that fact (see Philo, Leg. Gas., and Josephus, Ant., 18.257-309).57 One of his many methods of self-aggrandizement was to dress up in elaborate costumes as various gods and goddesses (Philo, Leg. Gas., 93-114). Philo ridicules his donning of such regalia, stating that "a divine form (theou morfê) cannot be counterfeited as a coin can be" (Leg. Gas., 110).58 Indeed, Caligula seems to have been obssessed with presenting a godly appearance. Suetonius tells us that he ordered the most famous and admired statues of gods to be brought from Greece. He then had their heads removed and his own likeness installed. He established a temple to his own divinity (numen) where his golden statue was dressed daily in the same clothes he himself wore (Caligula, 22.3-4). When he demanded statues signifying his divinity in synagogues and the temple, he galvanized large numbers of Jews.59 They contemplated forms (morfai) of God's commandments in their souls, but would not countanance them otherwise.60 Both Philo and Josephus stress the Jews' willingness to die over the issue.61

Although Caligula's insanity made him especially attentive to the matter, imagery depicting the Roman ruler as divine began with Julius Caesar and continued with Augustus and Tiberius.62 The dissemination of the emperor's likeness throughout the Empire was of the utmost importance.63 Given the fact that it was so important in ruler worship, the issue of divine appearance could threfore hardly be avoided if the developing Christian communities were to situate their lord over against that of the Empire. Adding further weight to the matter was the fact that, probably less than a decade before the emergence of the hymn, the Jewish people had been thrown into tumult because of an emperor's divine image. This event would not have been forgotten easily, and it is hard to believe that memory of it had vanished by the time the hymn was composed.

We turn now to Christ's attitude toward his status as isa Theô. He did not regard it as harpagmos. This term, like all those in the hymn, has received much comment through the years.64 For present purposes, however, the most interesting is by Ehrhardt. He cited Plutarch's use of harpagma with reference to Alexander, and contended that a "common source or tradition" lay behind both it and the hymn.65 Plutarch's point is that Alexander did not regard his Asian conquests as loot, booty, the spoils of war, or however one cares to translate harpagma here. Instead, he sought to benefit his new subjects by showing that mankind is truly one. Ehrhardt's position has not fared well.66 In some ways that is rightly so.67 However, his comparison of Christ and Alexander on this score is helpful, because it points to some definite analogies between Christ's attitude and that of the ideal ruler.68 In Dio Chrysostom's first treatise on kingship, Zeus tests Heracles' fitness for rule by having him choose between one woman who personifies true, proper rule, and another who personifies tyranny. Among the unsavory aspects of the latter is the tendency to "snatch (harpazô) at whatever any passer-by might have, were it never so little."69 In his fourth treatise on kingship, Dio presents a conversation about rule between Alexander the Great and Diogenes of Sinope. After telling the young monarch what constitutes an ideal king, Diogenes cautions him regarding traits which ought to be firmly rejected. First among them is avarice; he who possesses it has "the soul of a worthless cur, that snatches up (harpazô) things... and looks on other morsels with longing eyes..."70

It seems clear, then, that an ideal ruler was seen in diametrical opposition to one who behaved greedily. Neither harpagmos nor harpagma appear in their comments on Caligula, but Suetonius and Philo do describe him as grasping for divine honors. The first says that he began to lay claim (adsero) to divine majesty (divina maiestas) (Caligula, 22.2). The second says that he "overstepped" (huperkuptô) the "bounds of human nature" (fusis) in his "eagerness (spoudazô) to be thought a god" (theos) (Leg. Gaj., 75). Philo also accuses him of a "most godless assumption of godship" (hê atheotatê ektheôsis) (Leg. Gas., 77). Caligula is unlike the Greek gods in that, "while each of them held to his own honors and did not lay claim (metapoieô) to those which were shared by others, he, filled with envy (fthonos) and covetousness (pleonekxia), took possession (sfeterizô) wholesale of the honours of them all, or rather of the deities themselves." He did all this by remaking his body into different shapes (metaschêematizô) (Leg. Gas., 80). Though his behavior was the opposite of "those whose honours he purposed to share as their equal" (isotimos), he nevertheless "invested himself (skeuazomai) with their insignia each in turn" (Leg. Gas., 98).71 Caligula was thus known as one who had grasped at divinity. A new community proclaiming the divinity of its lord would do well to distinguish him from the self-aggrandizing madman still fresh in many memories. This task would be accomplished nicely by the assertion that he had possessed the divine form and yet had not regarded equality with God greedily.72 It uses conceptuality familiar from ruler worship, while sharply demarcating the Christian lord from the Roman one.

We come now to Christ's self-emptying (heautos...kenoô). When Caesar "dedicated himself" (se... dedicavit) to the world, he "robbed himself of himself" (sibi eripuit); he may never again "do anything for himself" (numquam illi licet... quicquam suum facere).73 The true ruler is selfless, desiring nothing for his own purposes. Seneca says of good kings that "instead of devoting (dico) the state to themselves, they have devoted themselves to the state."74 Dio says that the good king "shall plan and study the welfare of his subjects..." (1.12). He will by no means stuff or gorge himself with pleasure and power, but rather "he ought to be just such a man as to think that he should not sleep at all the whole night through as having no leisure for idleness" (1.13, cf. Il., 2.24-25). So little does he wish for self-aggrandizement that the one pleasure in which he is insatiable is granting benefits to others (1.23). In short, the true ruler takes no thought for himself.75

Jesus' "kenosis" eventuated in his taking the form of a slave or servant (morfê doulou). Similarly, the self-effacing nature of the true ruler was seen as prompting him to take on the role of servant or slave. At one point, Dio compares him with slaves in such a fashion as to suggest a kind of equality between them:

In the title "master" (despotes)... he can take no delight, nay, not even in relation to his slaves (douloi), much less to his free subjects; for he looks upon himself as being king, not for the sake of his individual self, but for the sake of all men.76

That is, the king should consider himself to be in essentially the same position as a slave, laboring for the benefit of others instead of himself. Later, Dio compares the good king to the sun, because the latter endures "a servitude (douleia) most exacting."77 The idea of the ruler as servant can be discerned also in Dio's teacher, Musonius Rufus,78 Archytas and Diotogenes (preserved in fragments by Stobaeus),79 Plato,80 and Xenophon.81 Here, then, it would seem we have an analogue for Christ taking on the role of a doulos in Phil 2:7b. Servanthood or slavery willingly assumed is the epitome of selfless behavior, and such behavior is the hallmark of a true ruler.

There remains one major problem, however, in setting the hymn against the background provided by the material just canvassed. It is as if the hymn had displaced two of the topics just discussed (form and graspingness) from the realm of earthly existence to that of heavenly existence. We have seen that Caligula's efforts to assume divine form and to appropriate divinity occurred during his reign.82 The other topics (selflessness and service) are related to Christ's incarnation, but his heavenly existence still constitutes an important foil for them.83 What can account for these discrepancies?

For an answer, let us chart the two last-named topics in terms of what might be called the hymn's narrative logic. If Christ is to be shown behaving in a manner comparable to the selflessness of the ideal ruler, he must begin from some great eminence. After all, the ideal ruler foreswears satisfying his own needs in spite of the great power available to him, and acts as a scrupulous and ever-vigilant guardian of his people. Likewise, his assumption of the role of slave or servant is striking precisely because of the sharp juxtaposition it entails: he who is lord acts as a minion. To portray Christ as selflessly bending down from a high position for service would be difficult following his exaltation. The firmness of his establishment in heaven is clearly conveyed by 2:9-11. His elevation has a decisiveness which runs contrary to the notion of subsequent kenosis and benefaction. Indeed, in Paul's letters, the only activity we see Jesus undertake after his resurrection centers around the Day of Judgment, hardly an occasion which highlights kindness.84 It is not surprising, then, to find these two elements (selflessness, service) placed at the beginning of Christ's journey.

As for not grasping at equality with God, this can be demonstrated more sharply if it is followed by a self-denying descent from the heavenly sphere than if it occurs in close proximity to an exaltation and acclamation. Similarly, the topic of the form seems most natural where it is. Being in the place of God and experiencing equality with him implied sharing his form. Even a mentally ill individual such as Caligula understood this.85

Let us turn now to Phil 2:9-11. We have seen above that these verses are based on Isaiah 45, but they resonate with ruler worship as well, and deserve analysis from that perspective. Phil 2:9 refers to a name "which is above every other name." Such superlative standing is important because it usefully marks off the hymn's community in distinction from the Greco-Roman oikoumene. Names of rulers could not have been easy to miss in the mid-first century CE. Cities alone would have seen to that.86 More pointedly, "Caesar" was the family name of the Julio-Flavians, who were in power during the hymn's composition. To say that a name possessed by Jesus Christ was above that of anyone else constituted an assertion whose boldness could not have been missed by citizens of the Empire.

Phil 2:10 extends the theme of 2:9 by saying that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow..." It is clear that this is a reference to Isa 45:23, but it is not so clear why this particular phrase should have appealed to the hymn's author(s). Could the latter have considered bowing an issue which deserved comment? Probably so. Its role in ruler worship is complex, but for our purposes, there are two basic points. First, bowing appears not to have been a standard feature of the imperial cult.87 Second, Caligula tried to make it one.88 His attempt created quite a stir. Greco-Roman writers are contemptuous of it, and of those who acquiesced.89 Philo expresses horror and disgust at being personally caught up in the situation.90 Also, he proudly maintains that the Jews were the only people who stood apart from this effort to sully Roman tradition through barbarian ritual.91 If, as suggested above, the hymn was composed within memory of Caligula's reign, then his behavior may well be serving as a foil at this point. Isaiah 45:23 would have been very useful, in that it shows Christians to possess a lord who is genuinely worth bowing to, not some egomaniac who receives the rite from toadies. The specification "in heaven and on earth and under the earth" echoes assertions of the breadth of the emperor's rule.92 Yet Ovid can say only the following about his ruler: "Jupiter controls the heights of heaven and the kingdoms of the triformed universe; but the earth is under Augustus' sway."93 The hymn, as we might by now expect, makes the same sort of claim used by ruler worship but in a stronger fashion, attributing to Jesus lorship over all three tiers of the universe.

The reference to Isa 45:23 is continued by Phil 2:11 ("and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord"). Here again we can see early Christians marking themselves off from the oikoumene. Cuss notes that "The first emperors did not aspire to the title of 'Lord.'"94 Augustus admonished any who used it of him, including his immediate family.95 Tiberius likewise rejected it.96 Still, it is clear from these emperors' protests that there was considerable pressure to apply the term to them. Caligula had no compunction about such terminology, and actively sought the title, according to Aurelius Victor.97 Even though Claudius was more circumspect about such things, we have several examples of his being addressed thus.98 There is, in addition, the fact that Hellenistic culture was quite accustomed to calling a ruler kurios. Demetrius Poliorcetes was hailed with the term in the hymn preserved by Athenaeus.99 Ptolemy Epiphanes is called kurios basileion in the Rosetta Stone.100 Later (62 BCE), Ptolemy XIII is called kurios basileus theos.101 In 52 BCE Cleopatra and her brother are titled kurioi theoi megistoi.102 A Syrian inscription may fancy Tiberius and Livia the "Lords Augusti."103 Finally, it should be mentioned that the term was used even for the Herodians.104 In light of such competition for the title, the attribution of "lord" to Jesus must be seen for the political act it was.

The language of confession is not found in our sources on ruler worship.105 It ought, however, to be noted that public praise of the emperor was very familiar in the early Principate. Price reports that at imperial festivals, there were

high-ranking officials whose specific task was to praise the emperor. A choir established by the province of Asia sang hymns in honour of Augustus and other officials praised the emperor in verse... festivals included competitions, not only in athletics and music, but also in imperial encomia... We hear of one Coan who "in all the most distinguished cities of Asia won competitions in encomia to the founder of the city Sebaston Caesar and the benefactors Tiberius Caesar and Germanicus Caesar and all their house and to all the other gods in each city." Contests in praising the emperor in prose and verse were widespread in the Greek world, both at festivals in honour of the emperor and as part of the festivals of traditional gods.106

The fact that public praise of the emperor was a familiar feature of life in the early Empire underscores the hymn's audacity in offering it instead to the churches' lord. Phil 2:11 thus firmly places Jesus Christ in juxtaposition to the emperor. Regarding this placement as accidental requires a stretch of the imagination. Early Christians would have to be seen as capable of deftly employing sophisticated ideas with resonance in the imperial cult, yet simultaneously oblivious to the socio-political implications of what they were saying.

the Combination of Isaiah 45, Stories of the Suffering Righteous,
and Greco-Roman Ruler Worship

It remains now to ask how these three patterns came together in the hymn. The answer is that they are all centered on the issue of rule. By the first century CE, the question of who was in charge was on many people's minds. Prior to 31 BCE, the Romans had suffered through protracted periods of civil war and seen the effective dissolution of their republican form of government. Native peoples chafed under imperial rule, as they had under the Hellenistic kings. Augustus was an exceptionally wise and moderate leader, but Tiberius left much to be desired, and after Caligula, few could even pretend that the office of emperor was secure from the worst excesses of tyranny and madness. In Judea, the question of rule was even more acute. Herod maintained order, but only through the use of terror. His heirs were little more popular. The Romans were not welcome, to say the least. Jews longed for an independent state devoted to its true monarch, God. What all this means is that a profound gap was felt between who the ruler was and who he ought to be. The wrong king was on the throne.107

In such circumstances, a figure who combined all-consuming power with perfect righteousness would be immensely appealing. How better to show his power than through having him nudge Yahweh aside and trump the emperor? And how better to show his righteousness than by having him die obedient to God, thus exhibiting his piety in extremis? The hymn achieves both of these ends by alluding to two figures of absolute power, and one who suffers the worst depredations of such power. In a startling and brilliant move, these figures, who stand at diametrically opposed poles in the power structure of the first century, are brought together and coalesced in the story of Jesus Christ. Unlimited force and impeccable piety are wedded; political and religious/ethical categories are aligned; what is and what should be are at last unified. This unification provided the early churches with what every group needs: a strong and admirable leader. The hymn places this leader in a position of clear superiority vis-à-vis the emperor, and describes God as transferring to him the epithet "lord," previously reserved for God alone. The emperor presided over a very real political entity. So, too, had the God of Israel, during those periods when his nation had thrown off the foreign yoke. Though the hymn proclaimed Jesus' lordship over all, it must have been painfully obvious that his realm could not yet match such reality. Even so, his rule was becoming manifest in small cells forming within the Empire. These were not plagued by the Empire's corruption or limited by the ethnic constraints of Israel. They did not yet constitute a genuine polilty of their own, but they looked forward to the day when their master would return to exercize real, worldly power. Until then, they could take comfort in his cosmic kingship and know that he, too, had had to suffer the abuses of tyranny. Secure in the belief that their cause was righteous, they stubbornly set about creating their own, alternative society, one which came eventually to control all its rivals.108

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Important Works Referred to in Text

Georgi, Dieter
Theocracy in Paul's Praxis and Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991).
Howard, George
"Phil 2:6-11 and the Human Christ," JBL 40 (1978), 369-72.
Hurst, L. D.
"Re-enter the Pre-existent Christ inPhilippians 2.5-11?" NTS 32 [1986] 449-57.
Kee, Alistair
"The Imperial Cult: the Unmasking of an Ideology," SJT 6/2 (1985) 112-28.
Mack, Burton
A Myth of Innocence. Mark and Christian Origins (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988).
Martin, Ralph P.
Carmen Christi (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983).
Murphy-O-Connor, Jerome
"Christological Anthropology in Phil. II.6-11," RB 83 (1976), 25-50.
Nock, Arthur Darby
"'Son of God' in Pauline and Hellenistic Thought," Essays on Religion and the Ancient World. 2 vols., ed. Zeph Stewart (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1972).
Pretorius, E. A. C.
"A Key to the Literature on Philippians," Neotestamentica 23 (1989), 125-53.
Sanders, James A.
"Dissenting Deities and Philippians 2:1-11," JBL 88 (1969), 279-90.
Seeley, David
The Noble Death. Graeco-Roman Martyrology and Paul's Concept of Salvation (JSNTSSS 28. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990).
Seeley, David
"Narrative, the Righteous Man and the Philosopher: An Analysis of the Story of the Dikaios in Wisdom 1-5," JSP 7 (1990) 68-69.
Wanamaker, A.
"Philippians 2.6-11: Son of God or Adamic Christology?" NTS 33 (1987)

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1For scholarship on the hymn, see Ralph P. Martin, Carmen Christi (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983; reprint of 1967 ed. with new preface). Cf. E. A. C. Pretorius, "A Key to the Literature on Philippians," Neotestamentica 23 (1989) 125-53.

2The problem is all the more daunting because there is disagreement over the hymn's basic elements. Some argue that pre-existence and incarnation have no place here (for bibliography, see L. D. Hurst, "Re-enter the Pre-existent Christ in Philippians 2.5-11?" NTS 32 [1986] 449-57; cf. J. Habermann, Präexistenzaussagen im Neuen Testament [Europäische Hochschulschriften XXII/362; Frankfurt am Main/Bern/New York/Paris: Peter Lang, 1990] 149-56). However, the arguments for a pre-existent Christ still appear to outweigh those against (see Hurst, "Re-enter;" Martin, Carmen Christi, xxi). Note the difficulty with interpreting 2:7 otherwise than as an incarnation, and the consequent improbability of Christ's being already incarnate in 2:6.

3Martin, Carmen Christi, xix-xx, 76-78, 89-93, 219-20, 222-23. See also 121-28, 133 n. 3.

4For bibliography and discussion, see Martin, Carmen Christi, 93, 318-19.

5Jerome Murphy-O-Connor, "Christological Anthropology in Phil. II.6-11," RB 83 (1976) 25-50.

6 George Howard, "Phil 2:6-11 and the Human Christ," JBL 40 (1978) 369-72; C. A. Wanamaker, "Philippians 2.6-11: Son of God or Adamic Christology?" NTS 33 (1987) 182.

7See Martin, Carmen Christi, xx-xxi, 116-19, 128-33, 142-43, 152-53, 156, 161-64, 194, and 196 (but especially 163-64).

8 N. T. Wright , The Climax of the Covenant (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 91-92, 97. See also Peter O'Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991) 263-68.

9 See Martin, Carmen Christi, 51-52, 147-48, 182-90, 211-13.

10 Martin, Carmen Christi, 212-13.

11 With respect to the issue of pre-existence, it is of course true that the Servant is not pre-existent and undergoes no incarnation (Martin, Carmen Christi, 185-86).

12 See Martin, Carmen Christi, 191-94. In addition to the literature cited there, see John J. Collins, "The Court-Tales in Daniel and the Development of Apocalyptic," JBL 94 (1975) 218-34; George W. E. Nickelsburg, "The Genre and Function of the Markan Passion Narrative," HTR 73 (1980) 153-84; idem, Resurrection, Immortality and Eternal Life in Intertestamental Judaism (HTS 26; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University; London: Oxford University, 1972). On differences between Stories of the Suffering Righteous and Isaiah 52-53, see Nickelsburg, Resurrection, 66. This option will be discussed below.

13Martin, Carmen Christi, 78-81. This option will be discussed below. "Exaltation" is used here simply to mean "placed in a high position." Connotations of enthronement are not intended.

14Some commentators in effect posit no pattern as anterior to the hymn. See, e.g., O'Brien, who points simply to the "terminology of early Christianity" (Philippians, 197; emphasis his). But this proposal leaves the issue so self-referential as to suggest a misunderstanding of the meaning of "background."

15In contrast, e.g., to Adam speculation and the Suffering Servant, which are often combined (Hurst, "Re-enter," 457 n. 39; Wanamaker, "Son of God," 182). Note also James A Sanders' need to switch back and forth between the Dead Sea Scrolls and Gnosticism ("Dissenting Deities and Philippians 2:1-11," JBL 88 [1969] 279-90).

16 Published as : Helmut Koester, "Jesus the Victim," JBL (1992) 3-15.

17Koester, "Jesus the Victim," 9.

18 Dieter Georgi, Theocracy in Paul's Praxis and Theology (trans. David D. Green; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) 73. See also, inter alia, Dominique Cuss, Imperial Cult and Honorary Terms in the New Testament (Paradosis XXIII; Fribourg: The University Press, 1974) 63, 88; Adolf Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East (2nd English ed.; trans. Lionel R. M. Strachan; New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1927) 349; William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1962) 116; H. G. G. Herklots, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians (London and Radhill: Lutterworth, 1946) 69; Donald L. Jones, "Christianity and the Roman Imperial Cult," ANRW (eds. Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1980) II.23.2, 1031; Alistair Kee, "The Imperial Cult: the Unmasking of an Ideology," SJT 6/2 (1985) 112-28; Martin, Carmen Christi, 292; O'Brien, Philippians, 206.

19"... Cynicism voiced a serious protest against an established social and political order which teemed with injustice ..." (G. J. D. Aalders, Political Thought in Hellenistic Times [Amesterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1975] 63).

20On the philosopher as king, see Ragnar Hoïstad, Cynic Hero and Cynic King (Lund: Carl Bloms, 1948).

21Cf. Mary Rose D'Angelo, "Theology in Mark and Q: Abba and 'Father' in Context," HTR (1992) 164.

22D'Angelo calls Wisdom an "example of the collaboration of the traditions of Judaism and Greek philosophical theology in response to Roman imperial propaganda ... " ("Theology in Mark and Q," 154).

23Philo, Abr., 261. Cf. Mut. Nom., 135; Vit. Mos., 2.241; Spec. Leg., 1.207. See Burton L. Mack, "The Kingdom Sayings in Mark," Forum 3/1 (1987), 16.

24On the political roots of both Jewish and non-Jewish apocalyptic, see John J. Collins, "Jewish Apocalyptic against its Hellenistic Near Eastern Environment," BASOR 220 (1975) 27-36; cf. Adela Yarbro Collins, "The Origin of the Designation of Jesus as 'Son of Man,'" HTR 80 (1987) 407.

25The Damascus Covenant (CD) and the Rule of the Community (1QS) give specific guidelines for how the group is to be regulated. For one aspect of the political nature of the Scrolls, see Doron Mendels, "Hellenistic Utopia and the Essenes," HTR 72 (1979) 207-22, especially 210-11.

26See Ramsay MacMullen, Enemies of the Roman Order (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1966).

27 In two articles ("Theology in Mark and Q," and "Abba and 'Father': Imperial Theology and the Jesus Tradition," JBL, forthcoming), Mary Rose D'Angelo argues that Jesus and the early church used "father" "in the context of resistance to the imperial claims made by Roman use of the title pater for the emperor" ("Theology in Mark and Q," 150 n. 4).

28 Plutarch asks, "Is not almost every king called Apollo, if he hums a tune? Dionysus, if he gets drunk? and Heracles, if he wrestles?" ("How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend," Moralia [LCL; 16 vols.; trans. Frank Cole Babbitt, et al.; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University; London: William Heinemann, 1927-?] 56F. Plutarch viewed these claims with a jaundiced eye, but the point here is simply their broad dissemination. Philo says that when Caligula became emperor, "nothing was to be seen throughout the cities but altars, oblations, sacrifices, men in white robes and crowned with garlands ... " (Philo [LCL; 10 vols.; trans. F. H. Colson, et al.; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University; London: William Henemann, 1929-44] Leg. Fas., 12). Cf. David E. Aune, "The Influence of Roman Imperial Court Ceremonial on the Apocalypse of John," Papers of the Chicago Society of Biblical Research 28 (1983) 6; W. Liebeschuetz, review of Price, Rituals and Power, JRS 85 (1985) 263. For the vast literature on the ruler cult, see inter alia, Peter Herz, "Bibliographie zum römischen Kaiserkult (1955-1975)," ANRW II.16.2 (eds. Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1978) 833-910; Larry Kreitzer, "Apotheosis of the Roman Emperor," BA 52 (1990) 211-17; S. R. F. Price, "Gods and Emperors: The Greek Language of the Roman Imperial Cult," JHS 104 (1984) 79-95; idem, Rituals and Power (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1984). Francis Dvornik describes the origin and development of Greco-Roman ruler worship in Early Christian and Byzantine Political Philosophy (2 vols.; Washington, D.C.: The Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies/ Trustees for Harvard University, 1966). On possible correspondences between the hymn and ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Israelite enthronement ceremonies, see Otfried Hofius, Der Christushymnus Philipper 2,6-11 (WUNT 17; Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1976) 29-34; see also Calvin W. McEwan, The Oriental Origin of Hellenistic Kingship (Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, 13; Chicago: University of Chicago, 1934).

29Q 22:28-30, 2 Cor 3:4-11. On Q and its relation to Israel, see Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels (London: SCM; Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990) 162-71.

30See, e.g., Martin, Carmen Christi. 236-37; O'Brien, Philippians, 238.

31 Claims that Jesus is God, and that therefore no challenge exists, are more appropriately associated with later, trinitarian debates than with these first steps of Christian identity building.

32 A similar point might be made about the hymn's use of "Christ." Even though it seems already to have become a kind of personal name rather than a title, one would think its political implications must have been evident at some stage of its appropriation by the churches. Yet, there is confusion in the Jewish sources over the portrayal of the Messiah as king (J. H. Charlesworth, "From Messianology to Christology: Problems and Prospects," The Messiah [eds. J. H. Charlesworth, et al.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1987] 21-22).

33 The very complex and ambivalent process by which early Christian groups contained Jews, invited more Jewish participation, claimed origins reaching back into Judaism, and yet came to see themselves as distinct from Judaism cannot be gone into here.

34 Devorah Dimant, "Qumran Sectarian Literature," Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period (CRINT 2/2; Assen: Van Gorcum; Philadelphia, Fortress, 1984) 493. Other precedents for Jewish groups conceiving political structures alternative to the Empire can be found, also. It was common for Jewish diaspora communities to set themselves up as politeu/mata and gain the right to handle their own affairs and select their own leaders (Robert F. Stoops, Jr., "Riot and Assembly: The Social Context of Acts 19:23-41," JBL 108 [1989] 77). These structures could not aggressively confront the Empire, of course, but they were still recognizable political entities operating within it.

35I have no objection to claims that the dio refers to Jesus' self-humbling and self-emptying as well as to his death (e.g., O'Brien, Philippians, 234). The fact remains, however, that the obedient death stands as the climax and culmination of these actions and that, because of its contiguity to v. 9a, the audience cannot help being impressed with the sequence formed by it and the exaltation which follows directly thereon.

36Cf. Josephus, Bell., 1.650, and Wis. 2-5. In the latter, the Righteous One is killed (2:20, 4:16) and undergoes a post-mortem exaltation (4:16, 5:5; contra Howard, "Phil 2:6-11 and the Human Christ," 372, who ignores 4:16). That the death is obedient is implied by 3:5b, though there the reference is to the Righteous Ones rather than to the Righteous One.

37That Jesus' death in the hymn is not for the sake of the laws goes without saying, this being one of the basic differences between pre-Pauline/Pauline Christianity and Judaism. But a desire to comply with God's will can exist whether or not the latter is conceptualized in terms of laws.

38See also 13:16-17, 16:24-25; 17:5, 11-12; 18:23. Note that 17:10 contains the same phrase (mechri thanatou) as Phil. 2:8.

39This distinction has been noticed. See Robert Doran, "The Martyr: A Synoptic View of the Mother and Her Seven Sons," Ideal Figures in Ancient Judaism (Septuagint and Cognate Studies 12; eds. George W. E. Nickelsburg and John J. Collins; Chico, CA: Scholars, 1980) 189; Joel B. Green, The Death of Jesus (WUNT 33; Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1988) 170; Burton L. Mack, A Myth of Innocence (Philadlphia: Fortress, 1988) 106. See also Nickelsburg, Resurrection, 66.

40On 2 Maccabees, see Jonathan A. Goldstein, II Maccabees (AB 41A; Garden City: Doubleday, 1983) 285, 304. On 4 Maccabees, see Moses Hadas, The Third and Fourth Books of Maccabees (New York: Harper, 1953) 101, 116-17; R. Renehan, "The Greek Philosophic Background of Fourth Maccabees," Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 115 (1972) 223-38. On Wisdom, see James M. Reese, Hellenistic Influence on the Book of Wisdom and its Consequences (AnBib 41; Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1970).

41It is intriguing that Isa 45:15 LXX, unlike 45:15 MT, bears a certain resemblance to Stories of the Suffering Righteous. Verse 14 describes the humiliation of the Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Sabeans. Verse 15 then presents these groups as saying: "You are God and we did not know it." This matches closely the admission of error in Wis 5:7; cf. the category of "REACTIONS" described by Nickelsburg, "The Genre and Function," 162.

42This is not to say that the events in 2 and 4 Maccabees actually happened. Their descriptions are highly crafted and extremely melodramatic. Neither is it to say that the events in 2 and 4 Maccabees do not have a cosmic significance. Obviously, they do, for the martyrs' obedient deaths result in their post-mortem exaltation to heaven. Nevertheless, these books provide a great many specifics and details which pertain simply to a human, earthly, and non-supernatural realm. The hymn, on the other hand, contains virtually no such details. Its earthly interest is limited to the bare facts of Jesus' incarnation, his obedience, and his death.

43See Ernst Käsemann, "A Critical Analysis of Philippians 2:5-11," JTC 5 (1968) 72-73; cf. Günter Bornkamm, "On Understanding the Christ-Hymn," Early Christian Experience (New York and Evanston, IL: Harper & Row, 1969) 116.

44On Rom 5:19, 2 Cor 5:21, and Gal 3:13, see David Seeley, The Noble Death: Graeco-Roman Martyrology and Paul's Concept of Salvation (JSNTSup 28; Sheffield: JSOT, 1990) 103-105. (The contrast between Adam and Christ in Romans 5 is probably the strongest evidence that the hymn has both a typological relation with the suffering righteous of 2 and 4 Maccabees, and an antitypological relation with Adam speculation; but cf. p. 2 above.) As for Gal 1:4, see Richard B. Hays' equation of it and Phil 2:8 on the issue of obedience ("Crucified with Christ," Society of Biblical Literature 1988 Seminar Papers [SBLSPS 27; ed. David J. Lull; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988] 324).

45A strong case has been made by many scholars for the pre-Pauline character of the hymn (see Martin, Carmen Christi, 42-62).

46Mack, A Myth of Innocence, 111.

47On 1 Thess. 2:13-16, see Birger A. Pearson, "1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: A Deutero-Pauline Interpolation," HTR 64 (1971) 79-94; Daryl Schmidt, "1 Thess 2:13-16: Linguistic Evidence for an Interpolation," JBL 102 (1983) 269-79.

48See, for instance, the Damascus Document.

49See, inter alia, Eduard Schweizer, "Slaves of the Elements and Worshipers of Angels: Gal 4:3, 9 and Col 2:8, 18, 20," JBL 107 (1988) 455-68.

50See Seeley, The Noble Death, 147-48.

51According to J. Rufus Fears, "... Augustus sought to emphasize that the gods themselves had willed those victories which gained him the principate" (Princeps A Diis Electus: The Divine Election of the Emperor as a Political Concept at Rome [Papers and Monographs of the American Academy in Rome, 26; Rome: The American Academy in Rome, 1977] 216).

52See, e.g., Cicero, Rep., 6.13.13; Horace, Odes 1.2, lines 41-46; Plutarch, Alex. Fort. Virt., 329C-330D; Seneca, De Consolatione ad Polybium, 12.5; Virgil, Georgics, 1.503. These texts are discussed below.

53Roger Beck, "The Mithras cult as association," SR 21 [1992] 5; for bibliography, see idem, Planetary Gods and Planetary Orders in the Mysteries of Mithras [Leiden: Brill, 1988] 6 n.12). Cf., inter alia, Theony Condos, The Katasterismoi of the Pseudo-Eratosthenes (University of Southern California dissertaion, 1970); A. A. T. Ehrhardt, "Jesus Christ and Alexander the Great," JTS 46 (1945) 47; Schweizer, "Slaves of the Elements," 456-64. This belief also appears in Judaism in the early imperial period; see Wis 8:19-20, 2 Enoch 23:5, chap. 32; Josephus, Bell., 2.8.11.

54G. W. Bowersock, "The Imperial Cult: Perceptions and Persistence," Jewish and Christian Self-Definition (3 vols,; eds. Ben F. Meyer and E. P. Sanders; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980-83) 3.173-74; S. R. F. Price, "Between Man and God: Sacrifice in the Roman Imperial Cult," JRS 70 (1980) 43. Cf. Keith Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves (Sociological Studies in Roman History, 1; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1978) 215-21.

55J. Behm, "morfê," TDNT 4 (1967) 745. Efforts to employ Tobit 1:13 to interpret morfh/ as "status" do violence to that verse, whose use of enôpion implies the visual (cf. Martin, Carmen Christi, xx).

56Commentators who would see morfê in terms of substance (e.g., Kasemann, Jervell) must answer Eduard Schweizer's question of what the substance of a slave might be (Erniedrigung und Erhöhung bei Jesu und seinen Nachfolgern [ATANT 28; 2nd ed.; Zürich: Zwingli, 1955] 54 n. 233; see Martin, Carmen Christi, 133 n. 1). Those who maintain that morfê reflects the Septuagintal use of doxa must explain the absence in the LXX of a correspondence between these two terms. Exegetes are able to link doxa and eikôn, but not doxa and morfê (see Martin, Carmen Christi, 102-20). O'Brien argues for a link beween eikôn and morfê (Philippians, 208-9) but then more convincingly argues the opposite (263-64). Those who maintain that morfê signifies Adamic glory must rely on Rabbinic writings whose date cannot be ascertained (Martin, Carmen Christi, 119; G. Kittel, "dokeô ktl.," TDNT 4 [1964] 245-47).

57Karl Bornhäuser (Jesus Imperator Mundi [Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1938]) set the hymn against the background of Caligula's reign, but his proposal has been dismissed (Martin, Carmen Christi, 80-81). It is revealing, however, that while speaking contemptuously of Bornhäuser, Martin actually criticizes only his excessive view that the hymn's reference to "slave" reflects Nero's habit of skulking about Rome in commoner's dress.

58Cf. Dio Cassius, 59.26.6-8; Suetonius, Caligula, 52. See Bornhäuser, Jesus Imperator Mundi, 17.

59Philo, Leg. Gas., 225 (cf. 214-17); Josephus, Ant., 18.263.

60Philo, Leg. Gas., 211.

61Philo, Leg. Gas., 229-36; Josephus, Ant., 18.271-72.

62Kreitzer, "Apotheosis of the Roman Emperor," 212-15. See also Price, "Gods and Emperors," 87. Ovid refers to Augustus' image as divine (Ex Ponto, 2.8.1-16). Cf. Pliny, Ep., 10.96.

63 "Most persons in the empire of Rome could only have known their emperor from his bust or statue, and it was this which dominated the celebration of his cult" (Bowersock, "The Imperial Cult: Perceptions and Persistence," 173). See also Andreas Alfoldi, Die monarchische Repräsentation im römischen Kaiserreiche (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1980); Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves, 218-24; Kreitzer, "Apotheosis," 211-16; Daniel Schowalter, The Emperor and the Gods (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992). It would seem that the tendency to see rulers in divine form was strong enough that it influenced even Jewish perceptions. Josephus tells how Agrippa entered the theater at Caesarea clad in a brilliant garment woven of silver. When this shone in the rays of the rising sun, there were shouts addressing him as a god (theos) (Ant., 19.344-45; cf. Acts 12:21-22).

64 See, inter alia, J. C. O'Neill, "Hoover on Harpagmos Reviewed, with a Modest Proposal Concerning Philippians 2:6," HTR 81 (1988) 445-49.

65 Ehrhardt, "Jesus Christ and Alexander the Great," 50. See Plutarch, Alex. Fort. Virt., 330D.

66 Martin, Carmen Christi, 79. He was, in any case, not the first to present it. See Käsemann, "Critical Analysis," 59.

67 See, e.g., Ehrhardt's suggestion that Alexander's assumption of Persian garb is tantamount to Christ's being found in human form.

68 See Dieter Georgi, "Reflections of a New Testament Scholar on Plutarch's Tractates De Alexandri Magni Fortuna aut Virtute," The Future of Early Christianity: Essays In Honor of Helmut Koester, ed. Birger A. Pearson (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 30.

69 Dio Chrysostom (LCL; 5 vols.; trans. J. W. Cohoon and H. Lamar Crosby; London: William Heinemann; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1932-51) 1.80.

70 Dio Chrysostom, 4.95. Bornhäuser compares Jesus' attitude in the hymn to 3 Macc 3:15, where King Ptolemy Philopator speaks of ruling Coele-Syria and Phoenicia with clemency and benevolence (Jesus Imperator Mundi, 18-19).

71 Cf. Josephus, who says that Caligula came to regard himself as a god (Ant., 18.256).

72 Regarding the use in 2:6 of isa Theô, one should bear in mind that the imperial cult extended divine honors or isotheoi timai to the emperor (Price, "Gods and Emperors," 88; idem, Rituals and Power, 48-49; cf. Martin Percival Charlesworth, "Some Observations on Ruler-Cult Especially in Rome," HTR 28 [1935], 28).

73 Seneca, De Consolatio ad Polybium, Moral Essays (LCL; 3 vols.; trans. J. W. Basore; London: Heinemann; New York: Putnam's; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1928-35) 7.2. Seneca is engaging here in shameless flattery towards Claudius, but that is irrelevant for our purposes. What matters is that although there are countless ways to flatter someone, this particular way has recommended itself to Seneca.

74 Adapted from Seneca, Moral Essays, Ben., 4.32.2. Cf. Philo, Leg. Gas., 53.

75"As a rule the Hellenistic king was described as ... toiling uninterruptedly for the common welfare ..." (Aalders, Political Thought in Hellenistic Times, 21).

76 Dio Chrysostom, 1.22-23.

77 Dio Chrysostom, 3.75. See also 1.17-20.

78 Cora Lutz, Musonius Rufus: "The Roman Socrates" (New Haven: Yale University, 1947; reprinted from Yale Classical Studies, vol. 10) 61, 65.

79See Erwin R. Goodenough, "The Political Philosophy of Hellenistic Kingship," Yale Classical Studies (New Haven: Yale University, 1928) 60, 62, 67, 72-74.

80Plato, Resp., 5.463B, 8.540B (see also 5.473C-D and 6.487A).

81Xenophon, Mem., 3.2.3

82For examples of other emperors being regarded as divine during their lifetimes, see M. P. Charlesworth, "'Deus Noster Caesar,'" Classical Review 39 (1925) 113-15; Cuss, Imperial Cult, 31-32; Duncan Fishwick, "Ovid and Divus Augustus," CP 86 (1991) 38; Price, "Gods and Emperors," 81-83, 88.

83It should be noted here that the ruler's departure from heaven is a result of being sent, not an act of selflessness leading to slavery or service. See Plutarch, Alex. Fort. Virt., 329C-330D; Seneca, De consolatione ad Polybium, 12.5 (cf. Marion Altman, "Ruler Cult in Seneca," CP [1938] 201); Horace, Odes, 1.2, lines 41-46; Cicero, Rep., 6.13.13; cf. 6.26.29; Virgil, Georgics, 1.503. See also Glenn F. Chesnut, "The Ruler and the Logos in Neopythagorean, Middle Platonic, and Late Stoic Political Philosophy," ANRW II.16.2 (eds. Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1978) 1319 n. 35; cf. Goodenough, "The Political Philosophy," 1.77 n. 79.

84This statement takes Paul's letters simply as a suggestive index to the sensibility of the hymn and does not presuppose Paul as the hymn's author.

85For the importance of divine imagery in the imperial cult in general, see above, nn. 73-74.

86There were various cities in and around Palestine named for emperors and other rulers, e.g., Caesarea, Tiberias, Caesarea Philippi, Archelais, Ptolemais, Antioch, Seleucia. Also noteworthy are the fortresses Herodium and Alexandrium.

87Charlesworth, "Some Observations," 17; Gerd Theissen, The Gospels in Context (trans. Linda M. Maloney; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) 211-12 n. 23; contra Aune, "Influence," 13. But see also Duncan Fishwick, "Prudentius and the Cult of Divus Augustus," Historia 39 (1990) 481-82 and the literature cited there. On bowing in Greek religion, see F. T. van Straten, "Did the Greeks kneel before their Gods?" Bulletin Antieke Beschaving 49 (1974) 159-89.

88Charlesworth, "Some Observations," 28-9; Theissen, The Gospels in Context, 209-12. See also J. P. V. D. Balsdon, The Emperor Gaius (Caligula) Oxford: Clarendon, 1934) 172.

89See the passages from Suetonius, Dio Cassius, and Seneca cited by Theissen, The Gospels in Context, 209-12.

90Philo, Leg. Gas., 352-53.

91Philo, Leg. Gas., 116-17.

92See, e.g., Horace, Odes, 2.9.17-24, 3.5.1-4, 4.14.1-52, 4.15.1-32; Ovid, Met., 15.751-59, 858-60; Virgil, Georgics, 1.24-42, 2.170-72, 4.559-62; Aeneid, 1.287, 6.792-807, 8.722-28.

93Ovid, Metamorphoses (LCL; 2 vols.; trans. Frank Justus Miller; London: William Heinemann; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1916) 15.858-60. Cf. Virgil, Georgics, 1.24-42 .

94Cuss, Imperial Cult, 54.

95Suetonius, Aug., 53.1-2 ("dominus"); see Cuss, Imperial Cult, 55.

96Tacitus, Annals, 2.87 ("dominus"); see Cuss, Imperial Cult 55-56.

97Aurelius Victor, "de Caesaribus," 3.13; see Cuss, Imperial Cult 58-59. Cf. Suetonius, Caligula, 4.22.1.

98Cuss, Imperial Cult 59; Jones, "Christianity and the Roman Imperial Cult," 1028. Cf. Charlesworth, "'Deus Noster Caesar,'" 113-15.

99 Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae, VI.253e.

100 Wilhelm Dittenberger, Orientis graeci inscriptiones selectae (Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1903-05) No. 90.1. See Wilheim Bousset, Kyrios Christos (trans. John E. Steely; Nashville: Abingdon, 1970) 140; Deissmann, Light, 352.

101 Dittenberger, Orientis, No. 186.8. See Bousset, Kyrios Christos, 140; Deissmann Light, 352.

102 Bousset, Kyrios Christos, 140; Deissmann, Light, 352. For more on the ruler cult of the Ptolemies, see J. Quagebeur, "The Egyptian Clergy and the Cult of the Ptolemaic Dynasty," Ancient Society 20 (1989) 93-116, and the literature cited there.

103 Dittenberger, Orientis, No. 606. See Bousset, Kyrios Christos, 140; Deissman, Light, 353.

104 Dittenberger, Orientis, Nos. 415, 423, 425, 426. See Bousset, Kyrios Christos, 140; Deissmann, Light, 353. On the general use of the term "lord," see also Arthur Darby Nock. Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background (New York: Harper & Row, 1964) 32-35.

105 But see Horace, Odes 4.5, lines 32-36. Cf. Pliny, Ep. 10.96.5, 7.

106 Price, "Gods and Emperors" 90. Inner quotation from Louis Robert, Études epigraphiques et philologiques (Paris: Champion, 1938) 23. In addition, Suetonius reports that, after Caesar's murder, a marble column was dedicated to him in the Forum. "At the foot of this they continued for a long time to sacrifice, make vows, and settle some of their disputes by an oath in the name of Caesar," The Lives of the Caesars (LCL; 2 vols.; trans. J. C. Rolfe; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University; London: Heinemann, 1913-14) 1.85.5. Cf. Price, "Gods and Emperors," 92.

107See Samuel K. Eddy, The King is Dead (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska, 1961); Jonathan Z. Smith, Map Is Not Territory (Studies in Judaism in Late Antiquity 23; Leiden: Brill, 1978) 147-71, 186.

108This article was drafted during an NEH Summer Seminar on Judaism and Hellenism, held in 1992 at Yeshiva University (New York City) and chaired by Louis Feldman. I am grateful for the comments of Prof. Feldman, Darrell Udd, and the Seminar members.

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Created January 14, 1997
Copyright © Institute for Higher Critical Studies, 1994

Darrell J. Doughty
Institute for Higher Critical Studies
Drew University, Madison, NJ, 07940