Another passage from my chapter 2, on divine beings in Judaism


If you read enough scholarly literature, you will quickly see that scholars tend to use some technical terms for no good reason, other than the fact that they are the technical terms scholars use. This is true even when scholar could talk in language that normal human beings normally use. When I was in graduate school we used to ask, wryly, why we should use a perfectly good English term when we had an obscure Latin or German term we would serve the purpose instead? But there are some rare terms that simply don’t have satisfactory, simple words that adequately express the same thing, and the word “hypostasis” (plural: hypostases) is one of them. Possibly the closest thing to a more common term meaning roughly the same thing would be “personification” – but even that doesn’t quite get it, and it too isn’t a word you normally hear in line at the grocery store.

The term hypostasis comes from the Greek, where it can refer to the essence or substance of something. In the context in which I’m using the term, it refers to a feature or attribute of God that comes to take on its own distinct existence apart from God. Imagine, for example, that you think that God is wise. That means he has wisdom. But that means that wisdom is something that God “has” – i.e., it is something independently of God that he happens to have possession of. If that’s the case, then one could imagine “Wisdom” as a being apart from God; and since it is God’s Wisdom then it is a kind of divine being alongside God that is also within God as part of his essence, a part of who he is.

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