“Presence” language in the LXX and Greek NT

For awhile now, I’ve been interested in the language used in the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament to talk about being in the presence of God. The variations are interesting (improper prepositions like ενωπιον or its ilk; or a ‘proper’ preposition and προσωπον, “face”), and the content is interesting too.

I have no idea where I’ll go or what I’ll find. Probably nothing, but I’ve learned that if you’re interested in something, sometimes finding out that there is nothing there is valuable too.

Anyway, I just started aggregating data to sift through in detail later. And one thing I found was striking: use of an improper preposition with προσωπον. I didn’t expect that. It happens twice in the deuterocanon/apocrypha and not at all in the Greek NT. Once is an idiom in Sirach 31.3: κατέναντι προσώπου ὁμοίωμα προσώπου, “the likeness of a face in front of a face” (LES). But the other, in Judith 11.13, is pretty cool:

ἁγιάσαντες τοῖς ἱερεῦσιν τοῖς παρεστηκόσιν ἐν Ἰερουσαλὴμ ἀπέναντι τοῦ προσώπου τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν, (Swete)
having dedicated it to the priests who stand in Jerusalem before the presence of our God (LES)

Why do I think this is interesting? First, it is the only place in the deuterocanonical/apocryphal books of the Septuagint and entire Greek NT, so far as I can tell, that combines both strategies for indicating being in the presence of deity (or at least a very important person). Second, the context of Judith here is crazy. Judith is attempting to convince Holofernes (the general assaulting the city) that she’s trustworthy. She tells him, basically, that she left the city because the people are weak and essentially defeated as they are now about to defile themselves before God, and once they do that, the city will fall. Here’s some larger context, Judith 11.12–13, the speaker is Judith:

12 For since the provisions failed them and all water has become scarce, they are planning to throw upon their flocks, and all that God has forbidden them in his laws not to eat, they are planning to consume. 13 And the firstfruits of the grain and the tithes of the wine and the olive oil that they closely guarded, having dedicated it to the priests who stand in Jerusalem before the presence of our God, they have determined to consume, that which is not permissible for those among the people to touch. (Jdt 11.12–13, LES)

The strength of the language fits Judith’s words and actions perfectly, and increases the direness of the situation she has put herself into. The very things they have consecrated to God, they are taking back to serve their own needs. Once that happens, says Judith, the battle is over and God’s protection will no longer be over the people.

Anyway, I could go on. This type of thing is very interesting to me. My plans for this study, at present, are to examine prepositional phrases where ενωπιον and its ilk are the preposition, in both the Greek NT and the LXX deuterocanon/apocrypha, as well as instances where προσωπον (“face”) is the object of a prepositional phrase. We’ll see what happens.

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