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The Other Face of God
'I Am That I Am' Reconsidered
Cornelis den Hertog
‘I am that I am’ (Exodus 3.14) has been an exegetical puzzle to many generations of biblical scholars as well as theologians: is it about the present or the future, is it about God’s presence or his hiddenness? Den Hertog argues that such exegetical questions have been framed too narrowly, and that this deeply suggestive statement about God needs to be set in a broader context.
First, the statement must be understood within the narrative of Moses’ call as an answer to his problem: how can his being launched on a radically new, prophetic mission be reconciled with the features of the God of the patriarchs? This book substantiates the view that the meaning of the statement is deliberately indefinite: ‘I may be who I may be’. In its context, it points to Yhwh’s other face, the possibility of his manifesting himself differently from the way he is thought to be.
Secondly, the after-history of this text should also be considered, since it has shaped our understanding in one way or another. This book pays particular attention to the renderings by the ancient and early modern versions (including the King James Version). The point of departure is the Septuagint rendering ‘I am the one being’, which has traditionally been associated with the Greek philosophical concept of absolute Being. This rendering, however, appears to have originally signified God’s active presence: ‘I am the one who shows himself to be there’.
Thirdly, this fundamental theological statement invites further a psychoanalytic interpretation. Den Hertog adopts a Lacanian perspective, according to which ‘I am that I am’ represents an irruption of an ‘I’ from nowhere, from beyond usual thought and expectation. In its context this means that in a situation of crisis a new orientation is born, one that undermines the pharaonic powers.
1 The Sign of Sinai –
Exodus 3.12b as Part of a Call Narrative and Beyond
2 The Prophetic Core of the Divine Name:
On Exodus 3.14a, its Context and Syntax
3 The Withdrawal of God Himself:
Hosea 1.9 as Invalidation of Exodus 3.14 and Other Interpretations
4 Exodus 3.14 in the Septuagint:
‘I Am the One “Being”’ – a Metaphysical State¬ment?
5 Other Remarkable Phases in the Translation History of Exodus 3.14a
6 The ‘Want-of-Being’ of the Divine Name:
Reading the Narrative of Moses’ Call with Lacan