Friday, June 6, 2014

In the Beginning was Sophia

Over the past five weeks, I've indulged my inner geek and read a bunch of biblical scholarship.  I confess: I love this stuff.  And I've especially enjoyed, of late, Michael White's Scripting Jesus.  White traces New Testament images/stories of Jesus back (so far as it's possible) to oral tradition, first century Jewish philosophies, and so on.

In one chapter, he looks at the many strands of the Wisdom/Sophia tradition around the turn of the millennium.  Clearly this lively and contemporary conversation influenced oral tradition and especially the gospel writers themselves.  White closely relates Sophia in the Wisdom of Solomon (late first century BCE) to the Logos in the writing of Philo of Alexandria (in the same period).
Holy Sophia at Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki, Greece

Solomon is particularly interesting and wonderful.  Because of its compelling relevance to much in Paul's letters and to the Gospels themselves, Christians throughout the Middle Ages read it as part of their Old Testament canon.
"Although she is but one, she can do all things, 
and while remaining in herself, she renews all things;
in every generation she passes into holy souls 
and makes them friends of God, and prophets;
for God loves nothing so much as 
the person who lives with Sophia."
Philo uses "Sophia" occasionally, but "Logos" much more consistently for the same ideas and insight.  Says White, Philo 'starts with the assumption that the divine Logos is the source or pattern of the moral structure of the world.'  It all gets pretty complex from there--but the point is that Logos and Sophia represent a related tradition bridging Greek thought and Jewish tradition at the time.

Obviously, the Fourth Evangelist--whoever she or he may have been--draws deeply from that same well.  S/he may have been more familiar with Philo than other texts, but Logos is virtually synonymous in the period with Sophia.  We may just as well read the Prologue:
In the beginning was Sophia,
and Sophia was with God,
and Sophia was God.
She was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through her,
and without Sophia not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in her was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
Sophia then is embodied, incarnate.  She dwells among us, pitches her tent in midst (as Henri Nouwen once translated John 1).  And she "passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God."  No longer do I call you servants, Jesus says in the Fourth Gospel.  Now you are my friends!

On this wonderful pilgrimage across the eastern Mediterranean basin, I've visited Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki, Aya Sofya in Istanbul and Little Aya Sofya (also in Istanbul).  In all three holy sites, I've felt a strong pull, an urge to befriend God in deeper and lasting ways.  Celebrating that urge, I link here to a video from Neyzen Burcu Karadag, a song meaningfully called "Aya Sofya."  I was so lucky to hear Burcu play one evening in Istanbul--and this piece will forever link her music to the source of being I'm coming to know and love and trust as Sophia.