Recensions et comptes rendusThéologie

John R. Levison, The Holy Spirit Before Christianity. Waco TX, Baylor University Press, 2019, 15,5 × 23,5 cm, xiii-258 p., ISBN 978-1-4813-1003-1

  • John S. Adimula

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  • John S. Adimula
    Faculty of Theology, Dominican University College, Ottawa

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Cover of Lonergan, Ethics and the Bible, Volume 75, Number 1, January–April 2023, pp. 1-155, Science et Esprit

The aim of the author, John R. Levison (henceforth: JRL), is to argue for the origin of pneumatology from a world that existed before the flourish of the Hellenistic culture and before the Jews populated the Greco-Roman world. He specifically traces and links this origin (the birth of the holy spirit) to Isaiah 63:7-14 and Haggai 2:4-5, which in turn go back to the exodus tradition. He believes that the agents of exodus – angel, pillars of cloud and fire, presence/face/pānim of God – are fused in the spirit of these two Old Testament (OT) passages. However, he recognizes that the term spirit is not mentioned among the agencies of the exodus tradition. Due to the experiences of the Israelites in exile and the coming back after their liberation, the need to motivate them to realize the vision to restore the temple leads to this innovation of the spirit taking the place of the agents of the exodus. In order to make the divine agent felt in the communities, these prophets speak of the spirit in the same manner as the agents of the exodus tradition: the spirit stands in their midst; do not anger the spirit. JRL, therefore, concludes that pneumatology emerges from the communities in crises who are trying to fortify themselves with the divine agent as it were during the exodus. In light of the two passages, the spirit is an agent of the exodus: “The emergence of the spirit as an agent, which took place with the metamorphosis of Israel’s traditions, occurred under the intense heat and pressure of historic crises, when prophets fused two grand convictions – the presence and promise of rȗaḥ and the unassailable datum of liberation of a coterie of divine agents” (p. 111). He then suggests that Christians begin to “regard pneumatology as a collaborative enterprise, whose richness should be explored in the company of Jews and their reserve of ancient texts” (p. 5). He believes that the spirit as an agent owns its existence to the angel and pillar(s) of the exodus tradition. He claims that the angel of the exodus does not show to be speaking on behalf of God but on his own behalf; therefore, the spirit in Isaiah and Haggai becomes an independent agent (p. 20). By employing Isa 63:10 and Ps 51:11 in connection with Ex 23:22, JRL submits that the lament (Isaiah 63) “suggests that the holy spirit is none other than the angel of God’s presence” (p. 47). He is blunt by stating that “Angel and spirit are one and the same” (p. 48). One may now engage JRL’s arguments and discussion: The discussion would have been clearer from the outset if some definitions of pneumatology both from the general and restricted point of views are given. Would the concept of pneumatology include the study of spirits or just the concern about the holy spirit as an agent? However, on page 107, one of the last pages of the discussion, JRL seems to state what this concept means to him: “The goal of pneumatology is principally to understand the relationship of the holy spirit to father and son. Pneumatology, in essence, is an intra-trinitarian affair.” But in the course of his discussion, he does not demonstrate this relationship especially from the two texts on which he bases the origin of pneumatology. He goes on immediately to state that “this study mandates a recalibration of that approach – not a dismissal of Trinitarian discussion among Christians, but an assessment of origins and the implication of origins for the development of pneumatology” (p. 107). JRL …