With his latest book, The Holy Spirit before Christianity, John R. Levison again changes the face and foundation of Christian belief in the Holy Spirit. The categories Christians have used, the boundaries they have created, the proprietary claims they have made—all of these evaporate, now that Levison has looked afresh at Scripture.
In a study that is both poignant and provocative, Levison takes readers back five hundred years before Jesus, where he discovers history’s first grasp of the Holy Spirit as a personal agent. The prophet Haggai and the author of Isaiah 56–66, in their search for ways to grapple with the tragic events of exile and to articulate hope for the future, took up old exodus traditions of divine agents—pillars of fire, an angel, God’s own presence—and fused them with belief in God’s Spirit. Since it was the Spirit of God who led Israel up from Egypt and formed them into a holy nation, now, the prophets assured their hearers, the Spirit of God would lead and renew those returning from exile.
Taking this point of origin as our guide, Christian pneumatology—belief in the Holy Spirit—is less about an exclusively Christian experience or doctrine and more about the presence of God in the grand scheme of Israel's history, in which Christianity is ancient Israel's heir.
This explosive observation traces the essence of Christian pneumatology deep into the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures. The implications are fierce: the priority of Israelite tradition at the headwaters of pneumatology means that Christians can no longer hold stubbornly to the Holy Spirit as an exclusively Christian belief. But the implications are hopeful as well, offering Christians a richer history, a renewed vocabulary, a shared path with Judaism, and the promise of a more expansive and authentic experience of the Holy Spirit.
1. The Emergence of the Spirit Recasting Exodus: The Font of Pneumatology 2. The Essence of the Spirit Retelling Exodus: The Precursors of Pneumatology 3. The Absence of the Spirit Recalling Exodus: The Dawn of Pneumatology 4. The Assurance of the Spirit Rekindling Exodus: The Force of Pneumatology 5. The Significance of the Spirit Rediscovering Exodus: The Future of Pneumatology
John R. Levison is W. J. A. Power Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and Biblical Hebrew at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.
With this book, Jack Levison proves to be, once again, an ‘inspired’ reader of biblical texts. There is no other pneumatologist writing today who has taken so seriously the whole of the biblical witness for constructive theological reflection that aims to combat what could be called a latent pneumatological supersessionism. His skill as an interpreter, his exquisite prose, his sheer energy, and his humble, curious, and delightful spirit are all on full display in this work.
~Daniel Castelo, Professor of Dogmatic and Constructive Theology, Seattle Pacific University and Seminary
Fresh, perceptive, vigorous, energetic, provocative, interesting, and written with flair. Levison makes a fascinating case here for these two prophetic texts (Isaiah 63 and Haggai 2)--one lament, the other promise--as windows onto the origins of pneumatology, and thus pointers to the role of history, specifically historical crisis, in the emergence of holy spirit notions. The implications for rethinking Christian Spirit conceptions in serious conversation with Judaism are significant and clear.
~John T. Carroll, Harriet Robertson Fitts Memorial Professor of New Testament, Union Presbyterian Seminary
Levison's thesis is well argued and founded by detailed scholarly discussions. It deserves the attention of all who approach the Christian Bible by hermeneutically reflected and historically informed methods of interpretation.
~Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr, Professor of New Testament, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena
In his new book, Jack Levison boldly and brilliantly challenges reigning conceptions of the origins of Christian pneumatology. Grounded in his considerable expertise, and using lively and engaging prose, he offers compelling evidence of the holy spirit’s origins in Israelite history and traditions about the Exodus. The volume is another spirit-filled coup for Levison.
~Judith H. Newman, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism, University of Toronto
Any researcher with an interest in pneumatology, interpretations of the exodus tradition, exile, Isaiah, or Haggai will not want to miss this excellent book.
~Timothy Rucker, Catholic Biblical Quarterly
Spread through various levels and with attention to an impressive range of cross-disciplinary dialogue partners, Levison has put in his debt readers of Exodus, Isaiah, and Haggai; readers of Christian scripture with theological interpretive interests; and all those who would know the Holy Spirit better.
~Richard S. Briggs, Review of Biblical Literature
The Holy Spirit before Christianity serves as a vital text for interpreters of both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. It impresses the reader with its research, detailed appendices, complex arguments, and thoroughly engaged exegesis. While the debate of pneumatological origins will doubtless remain, Levison provides an impressive and convincing case on why early pneumatology should be reconsidered.
~T. Vollmer, Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses
Against the grain of much scholarship, this book argues for the emergence of the spirit of God as an independent agent centuries before Christianity. Levison presents clear arguments in welcoming prose. This is mature scholarship which makes an immediately tangible contribution.
~Tyler Horton, Reading Religion
The Holy Spirit Before Christianity is a fascinating study and written in a lively fashion. I suspect it will provoke discussion and productive thinking among those interested in pneumatology. What makes this work perhaps most significant is that it forces readers to reckon with the tension between historical description – the historical moment when ‘holy spirit’ enters the script – and divine ontology – the theological prolegomena that affirms God’s eternal existence as triune.
~Andrew T. Abernethy, Scottish Journal of Theology