Mediated Revelation

Fra Angelico
The Annunciation, 1446
Fresco

There is a trope, pretty common in the Old Testament and the Gospels, that whenever God reveals something new to His chosen people, He does so through angelic messengers. Some examples of this kind include the angels’ visits to Abraham, Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush, and, perhaps most famously, Mary’s annunciation. Some of these visitations in the Scriptures are obviously angelic, as when the angels deliver Lot and his family from Sodom and Gomorrah; others are less clear, especially when the phrase “angel of the LORD” serves as a gloss for the Lord Himself.

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Proof

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein
Odysseus and Penelope, 1802
Oil on canvas

In a much-studied sequence of Homer’s Odysseythe old maid Eurýkleia bathes a beggar’s feet only to discover the precise scar that she knows to be of her lord, Odysseus. She responds, in a loud whisper:

“Oh yes! You are Odysseus! Ah, dear child! I could not see you until now — not till I knew my master’s very body with my hands!” (Homer, The Odyssey; trans. Robert Fitzgerald)

Famously, this passage has been discussed by the literary scholar Erich Auerbach as an example of proto-realism in Western literature, of the relationship between historicity, psychology, and text. This, of course, is in contrast (in Auerbach’s argument) to the Old Testament narrative, which has a different sort of relationship with history, psychology, and text. For Auerbach, Homer’s narrative forms the type of literature that aims at “mimesis,” the description of life in all its varied forms, whereas the Old Testament narrative forms the type of literature that aims at transformative truth. Continue reading “Proof”