Divine Embodiment in the Gospel of John and Philo's De Opificio Mundi

The idea of the incarnation—how the divine could become embodied—appears to be a distinctly Christian phenomenon, and scholarship on the origins of the incarnation has traditionally been confined to narrow debates regarding when and how the idea developed in Christianity. However, the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria poses a notion similar to the incarnation in his discussion of the human soul in De Opificio Mundi 135. While Philo portrays the body as corporeal, earthly, and created, in his interpretation of the creation of man in Genesis 2, he presents the soul as proceeding directly from God—as a begotten or uncreated thing—imparted into the human mind via a direct in breathing by God. Elsewhere he even goes on to describe man's intellect as but a fragment or ray of the divine reason. Accordingly, for Philo the human soul, much like the incarnate Jesus of Christianity, becomes immanent in the created world in order to play a significant soteriological role as the instrument or agent by which humanity, via a mystical ascent, can be saved from this world to partake in the divine one instead. In this paper I will examine Philo’s version of "divine embodiment," comparing it in particular to the Gospel of John's version of Jesus as God incarnate. I will argue that scholarship on incarnation has been limited by an acceptance of the particular teleological end in Christian theology, and propose a new reading that demonstrates how the incarnational formula of John 1:14 is just one of the wide variety of ways that Second Temple Jews, of which the early Jesus followers were just one part, were articulating how they understood the divine to be embodied.