Apocalyptic and esoteric books have a definite taste for the ‘names’ of God and for His multiple ‘attributes’.
These ‘names’ are supposed to embody aspects of the divine essence.
You might think they are immutable by nature, but human language and human-made names are not immutable, by nature, so the names keep changing.
Philo of Alexandria devoted a whole book (De mutatione nominum) precisely to the question of changing names in the Bible.
Examples abound. Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai is renamed Sarah, and Jacob Israel.
In this book, Philo dealt with the important question of the names that God gave to himself.
About the specific name that God revealed to Moses, « I am that I am » (Ex 3,14), Philo has this comment: « It is equivalent to : my nature is to be, not to be said ».
In the original Hebrew, Ex 3,14 reads: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה « Ehyeh asher ehyeh« .
A literal translation might sound like: « I am who I am », — or « I shall be who I shall be », since « ehyeh » is the 1st person of the present-future of the verb to be, — if we want to somewhat preserve the Hebrew idiosyncrasy of the original text.
We could also simply focus on the word ehyeh that doubly expresses the notion of « Being », in two different modalities: « I am ‘I AM’ « .
We could then assume that God’s name might be ‘I AM’, which may be confirmed by the fact that God also said to Moses, just immediately after:
« Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I AM hath sent me unto you. »i
In the Exodus, God clearly affirms a key aspect of his essence through his Name. This essence is « Being ».
In John’s Gospel, another aspect of the essence of God is given: Word, or Logos.
« In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. »ii
But can this Word be His Name?
It does not seem so, at least if we consider what John quotes about Jesus addressing God:
« I have manifested thy name (onoma) unto the men, which thou gavest me out of the world. Thine they were, and thou gavest them to me; and they have kept thy word (logon). « (John 17, 6).
Clearly, here, the Word (Logos) is not the Name (Onoma).
The Name is ‘manifested’. The Word is ‘kept’.
What does that mean?
The Name embodies the very ‘presence’ of God, it « manifests » his presence.
In many texts, the Hebrew word Shekhina is used to celebrate God’s ‘Presence’.
But the Word is something else entirely. It is neither the Name nor the Presence.
What is it then?
It is what was « in the Beginning », — and what was « with God », — and what was « God ».
More complex, admittedly.
Something else entirely than ‘just a Name’.
Logos is not God’s Name, and Logos is not God’s Shekhina.
Jesus also said to God: « And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name (onoma) whom thou hast given me, so that they may be one, as we are. « (John 17, 11)
According to John’s original text (in Greek), Jesus asked God to « keep » the men through His Name (onoma).
Jesus, who is the Logos (Verb), asks God to « keep » men through His Onoma (His Name).
This indicates that Logos and Onoma play indeed a different role.
What are these different roles?
The Logos « is with God » and « is God ». The Onoma is a ‘Name’ and is not God.
The men « keep » the Logos. The Onoma « keep » the men, « so that they may be one ».
The Logos is said to be « one » with God. The Onoma can make the men be « one »with God.
Though obviously not synonymous, ‘Onoma‘, ‘Logos‘ and ‘God’, are however somewhat converging into ‘oneness’.
Let’s add that any ‘Name’ of God has therefore to be considered to have a formidable power.
Any ‘Name’ of God potentially includes all the other Names, those that are revealed and those that will remain ever hidden.
In all likelihood, Hidden Names abound.
To speak metaphorically, there are as many Names as there are angels, and conversely, each angel « bears » one of God’s Names.
The Babylonian Talmud teaches on this subject: « The Archangel Metatron, who is said to bear the Name of God » (« Metatron che-chemo ke-chem rabbo) » (Sanhedrin 38b).
All these (infinite) Names are not just names.They are divine beings, or rather they are figures of the divine Being.
A text belonging to the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, the « Gospel of Truth », composed by Valentine in the 2nd century, specifies it in this way:
« The Name of the Father is the Son. It is He who, in the Principle, gave name to the one who came out of Him, who was Himself and begot Him as Son. He gave Him his own name. (…) The Father. He has the Name, He has the Son. We can see him. But the Name, on the contrary, is invisible, because it alone is the mystery of the Invisible destined to reach the ears which are all filled with it (…) This Name does not belong to words and it is not names that constitute its Name. He’s invisible.»iii
The same idea is expressed in a slightly different way in the Gospel of Philip, also from the Nag Hammadi manuscripts: »‘Jesus‘ is a hidden name, ‘Christ‘ is a manifested name »iv.
But if ‘Jesus’ is a hidden name, how can he be known?
Irenaeus of Lyons gives a possible answer: « Iesous is only the sound of the Name, not its virtue. In fact, the entire Name consists of not only six letters, but thirty. Its exoteric (or pronounceable) composition is IHCOYC [Iesous], while its esoteric composition consists of twenty-four letters.»v
The exoteric name IHCOYC consists of six Greek letters. The full Name contains thirty of them.
Simple arithmetic: 6 (exoteric letters) + 24 (esoteric letters) = 30 letters of the full Name
But Irenaeus of Lyons does not reveal what are the 24 esoteric letters. if he had done so, would they have stayed ‘esoteric’?
It is up to us then, to try figuring them out.
Knowing that the Greek alphabet includes precisely twenty-four letters, the first one being ‘alpha’, the last one being ‘omega’, we could imagine that this esoteric Name is not a fixed name, but that it is constantly woven from the infinity of all their possible combinations, like this one:
or this one:
There 2424 such names…
Here is a selection of names that I like a lot:
We could also try with Hebraic letters such as:
A lot of research ahead of us!
iii Quoted by Guy Stroumsa, Ancient Christian Magic : Coptic Texts of Ritual Power. Princeton, 1993.
iv Gospel of Philip 58, 3-4
vIreaneus of Lyons .Adv. Heres.I. 14, 1-9. Trad. A. Rousseau. 1979