The Spirit In Early Jewish Biblical Interpretation Examining John R. Levison’s Filled With The Spirit

The Spirit In Early Jewish Biblical Interpretation  Examining John R. Levison’s Filled With The Spirit

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Pneuma 33 (2011) 35-46

Te Spirit in Early Jewish Biblical Interpretation: Examining John R. Levison’s Filled with the Spirit

Archie T. Wright

Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, Virginia


Te following article examines John Levison’s Filled with the Spirit for its overall contribution to pneumatology and in particular its contribution to biblical interpretation. I especially examine his contribution in light of Second Temple Jewish literature and the concept of inspiration and spiritual revelation. Levison’s work has opened up new lines of inquiry from which many new questions have been raised in the area of biblical interpretation and pneumatology.


inspiration, interpretation, early Judaism, Nephesh, ruah, Teacher of Righteousness, Pesharim, Dead Sea Scrolls


Te centuries-old question concerning the “baptism of the holy spirit” is raised once again in John R. Levison’s Filled with the Spirit.1 Tis volume offers a fresh approach to the question by challenging the view of “spirit-filled” as one of spe- cial endowment or superadditum, a position especially prevalent among modern Pentecostals and Charismatics. Levison suggests that inspiration as characterized in the Church will be redefined “in such a way that it will no longer be possible to define the presence of the holy spirit exclusively as a subsequent endowment, as supernatural revelation that arrives wholly in a charismatic endowment, as the onslaught of the inexplicable and the advent of the mysterious” (12). According to Levison, the traditional view of inspiration2 is not necessarily supported by


John R. Levison, Filled with the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009). All other refer- ences to the volume will be given with parenthetical page numbers in the body of the paper.


Key to the authority of Scripture, the traditional view of inspiration is that God has revealed himself in Scripture and the authors/editors of Scripture were guided by the Holy Spirit in

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/157007411X554686



A.T. Wright / Pneuma 33 (2011) 35-46

the evidence found in the Hebrew Bible (and LXX) or early Jewish literature. Levison’s detailed discussion of the human spirit as “holy spirit” adds a new dimension to this area of biblical studies (13).

Of particular interest to this author is Levison’s view of inspiration in early Jewish literature and the role of the holy spirit in the interpretation of Scrip- ture. I will spend most of this essay examining the significance of Levison’s findings in relation to this issue. It is important, however, to establish the premise of his thesis, as this will, of course, be the key to any “new” under- standing to biblical interpretation in light of inspiration of the “holy spirit.”

Te Key Premise

Key to Levison’s discussion is Genesis 2:7, in which, during the creation of Adam, God breathes into the human the “breath of life.”3 Tis “breath of life” is, according to Levison, the spirit of God.4 As he notes, however, חור ( ruah)

creating what we have in the canonical texts. As a result, the Scriptures can then be used to establish doctrine while components such as “tradition,” “community,” and “experience” help the reader interpret the text for the modern situation. See, e.g., John Webster, “Te Authority of Scripture,” in Dictionary for Teological Interpretation of the Bible, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer et al. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 724-27; and Grant R. Osborne, Te Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 2d ed. (Downers Grove, IL.: IVP Academic, 2006), 386-87.


A notable missing conversation partner for Levison in this work is Otto Betz. Betz argued in 1963 that humanity has a ruah similar in Substanz to God’s own spirit and regarded as heil- iger Geist. Tis ruah is given to the person when he or she is created — the “breath of life” from Gen 2:7. Betz goes on to answer some of the questions left open by Levison. He notes that the human eventually corrupts the holy spirit of God and ultimately needs to be cleansed before entering God’s community. See Otto Betz, Offenbarung und Schriftforschung in der Qumransekte (WUNT 6; Tübingen: Mohr, 1960), 140-49. See also J. Schreiner, “Geistbegabung in der Gemeinde von Qumran,” Biblische Zeitschrift 9 (1965): 161-80. Schreiner follows a similar line that the “holy spirit” is given to a person at birth. Similarly, H. W. Kuhn argues that a person is given the holy spirit at birth; it is not a supernatural gift of God’s spirit experienced at one’s entrance into the community; see Enderwartung und gegenwärtiges Heil, Untersuchung zu den Gemeindeliedern von Qumran (SUNT 4; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1966), 120-30.


Levison’s concept of human/divine spirit could be misconstrued as being a universal spirit model in which we are all part of the one divine spirit and that we will all, at some point, return to become part of the larger spirit of God. He needs to clarify how someone with the spirit of God in him or her from the beginning becomes a person of evil. Is it simply a matter of ignor- ing the divine spirit or is this where the issue of evil spirits and their influence upon humans comes into the picture? Is it simply by the revelation of the divine spirit within an individual that awakens him or her to the presence of the divine within him, i.e., a form of inspiration? Can one then ignore this inspiration and, if so, how does the holy spirit continue to remain in such a person?


A.T. Wright / Pneuma 33 (2011) 35-46


is not found in the Hebrew text of Genesis 2:7; neither is πνεῦμα ( pneuma)

present in the LXX translation. Tus he offers four important passages to support the connection between “breath” and “spirit.” Te first is Genesis 6:3, in which we encounter the term חור ( ruah), described as “God’s spirit.” Here

God describes the removal of his spirit from humanity because they are flesh.

Important to Levison’s argument is the connection between the removal of

this spirit from humans and the introduction of death at one hundred and

twenty years.5

Te second parallel between “breath” and “spirit” is found in Genesis 6:17.

Tis passage describes the destruction of the living creatures by the flood.

God will destroy all flesh in which the spirit (חור — ruah, πνεῦμα —

pneuma) of life exists. Levison maintains that this is the “breath of life” from

Genesis 2:7 — the spirit of God.

Te third occurrence in which one might discover a parallel is Genesis 7:22.

Tis passage offers perhaps the strongest support for Levison’s interpretation

of 2:7. Here one notes that all the creatures on dry land in whose nostrils was

the “breath of the spirit of life” (nishmat ruah hayim) will die.

Te final passage described is Job 12:7-10. Tis text offers a clear parallelism

between שׁפנ ( nephesh) and חור ( ruah): “In his hand is the life (nephesh) of

every living thing and the spirit (ruah) of every human being.” Tis passage could of course be interpreted as the animals having a nephesh and humans

having a spirit; however, Levison argues that every living creature, including animals, is endowed with the spirit (ruah) of God (23).6

Although the initial discussion is only cursory, Levison has offered some significant textual support for the foundation of his thesis that the “breath of life” is in fact the “spirit of God” that is breathed into the individual at creation.

7 His theory that humanity has the “holy spirit” within from creation


Levison fails to discuss in detail the other possibilities of interpretation of this statement, which may weaken the evidence for his thesis. See my book Te Origin of Evil Spirits (Tübin-

gen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), chapter 3.


Levison goes on to note several other verses in Job in support of his thesis. Verse 33:4 — “Te spirit of God has made me and the breath of the Almighty gives me life”; 34:14-15 — “should God take back his spirit to himself, and gather to himself his breath, all flesh would perish.”


In support of Levison, it should be noted that 2 Tim 3:16 declares that Scripture is “breathed” by God, indicating that the “Spirit” is the breath of God. One difficulty of the role of the Godhead Spirit in interpretation, although not discussed by Levison, is the issue of “overlord-

ship” in biblical interpretation. Tis issue has resulted in doctrinal arguments concerning the

inerrancy of Scripture, literal interpretation of Scripture, i.e. the Spirit is responsible for every

word of the canonical texts, a view strongly held in Pentecostal/Charismatic traditions. Tis



A.T. Wright / Pneuma 33 (2011) 35-46

offers some interesting possibilities concerning interpretation of Scripture and the inspiration of the authors and interpreters; at times, however, it is difficult to determine clearly what the role of the “Holy Spirit” is in the life of the individual and, in our case, the life of the interpreter. We will examine several of the possibilities in further discussion below; as will be noted, in some instances the texts Levison uses in support of his theory that the “holy spirit” is the spirit in humanity “breathed by God” from the beginning can be under- stood as the traditional concept of the Holy Spirit of the Godhead.

Te Spirit in Biblical Interpretation

What exactly are the roles of the “holy spirit” and the “human spirit” in the interpretation of Scripture? If Levison is correct in his proposal, we are no longer looking at the interaction between a separate human spirit and the “Holy Spirit,” but rather it is the spirit of God already residing (from creation) in the interpreter (or person) that grants understanding of the text to the interpreter.

Following his discussion of Genesis 2:7, Levison explores the nature of the “spirit within.” In Job 32:8-10, the young man, Elihu, has waited patiently for the three older “friends” of Job to respond further; when they fail to offer wisdom, he speaks against them and Job. He notes it is the “spirit” (חור — ruah) in a human being and the “breath of the Almighty” that gives under- standing; this spirit is the divine spirit (33:4), the same spirit that gives Elihu life and has made him speak out against Job. So strong are Elihu’s feelings con- cerning this issue, he claims that if God were to take back the breath/spirit that he gave at creation, all life would perish and return to dust (34:14-15).8

perhaps overzealous understanding of the role of the Spirit significantly belittles the role of the human spirit and reason in biblical interpretation, something argued for in Levison’s thesis.


Since it is possible to understand “his breath” and “his spirit” as two distinct items, this issue could undermine Levison’s thesis, as it is key that breath and spirit are one and the same, i.e., each is a descriptor for the spirit of God. Te Hebrew of the text reads: ותמשנו וחור ובל וילא םישי־םא ףסאי וילא (im yasim ehlav libo ruho venishmato ehlav yay’aysof ) — “if he will determine in himself, to gather his spirit and his breath to himself . . . .” As can be noted in the variety of English transla- tions of this verse, the Hebrew is quite difficult to translate; however, the LXX is somewhat sup- portive of Levison’s thesis in that it reads: εί γὰρ βούλοιτο συνέχειν καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα παρ᾿ αὐτῷ κατασχεῖν (ay gar booloyto sunekayn kai taw pneuma par awto kataskein) — “for if he wished to withhold and to hold back the spirit to himself . . .”; the Greek translator seems to understand the “breath” and “spirit” as one — τὸ πνεῦμα (taw pneuma). Te difficulty in this case is that we do not know what version of the Hebrew text the translator was using in the process.


A.T. Wright / Pneuma 33 (2011) 35-46


Issues of “Spirit of God Within”

Levison identifies five figures in the Hebrew Bible who have received what he calls an “ephemeral presence of the spirit” to perform an extraordinary task (36). Joseph and Daniel are empowered by the spirit to interpret dreams and rescue individuals; Bezalel has the spirit to provide leadership to construct the Wilderness Tabernacle; similarly, Joshua possesses the spirit to lead Israel into Canaan; and Micah has the spirit to gain the courage to prophesy. Tere is, however, no suggestion that the spirit that came upon each of these individuals is short-lived or momentary.

In Genesis 41:38, Joseph is recognized as a man in whom is the “spirit of Elohim” (םיהלא חור — ruah elohim). Tis phrase could be understood as “a spirit of God,” “the spirit of God,” or “the spirit of the gods.” Te anar- throus nature of the Hebrew makes the reading unclear. Similarly, Bezalel is identified as one whom God filled with the same “divine spirit” that Joseph received. Te “spirit of God” in Bezalel is, however, one of wisdom, under- standing, knowledge, and workmanship (Exod 35:31).9 Numbers 27:18 describes Joshua as “a man in whom is [the] spirit” (again this is anarthrous), and also in Deuteronomy 34:9 he is “full of [the] spirit of wisdom.” Both instances could describe Joshua as endowed with what appears to be the “divine spirit.” Te prophet Micah is clearly identified as having “the spirit of the Lord” within him: “I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord” (הוהי חור־תא — et ruah YHWH — Mic 3:8). In this instance one can include the definite article in the translation; however, the question still lin- gers as to whether the spirit was a lifelong indwelling (as suggested by Levi- son) or one of a momentary empowerment. Finally, Daniel is twice described as having a/the spirit of God(s) in him (ןיהלא־חור — ruah elohim — Dan 4:5 MT; 5:14). A third passage states that he has “an excellent spirit” within him, a possible reference to the particular gifts he had on these occasions.

Each of the instances suggests that these individuals were empowered through a divine spirit, but not necessarily “the Spirit.”10 Levison describes each situation as possible “gifts suitable for the task at hand” (39); these may be “God-given talents” (Levison’s “divine spirit”) rather than the pouring out of the “Spirit” (the traditional Pentecostal empowerment) for the occasion.


Exodus 28:3 identifies the wisdom of Bezalel as המכח חור ( ruah hochma) — “spirit of



Tis is one particular instance in which Levison is a bit ambiguous in his thesis. He hints at a role of the “capital S” spirit in the empowerment of individuals for certain occasions but does not clearly state what that is or how it may occur.



A.T. Wright / Pneuma 33 (2011) 35-46

Each of the translations seems to imply that the individual was especially endowed at that moment or period of his life with one of the “gifts of the spirit.”11

Levison returns to Micah 3:8 to emphasize that the traits identified in Micah are not temporary but lifelong. Micah declares, “I was filled12 with power, with the spirit of the Lord, and with justice and courage.” Levison’s argument suggests that justice is a characteristic that was important to the leadership of Judah and considered a permanent quality; strength is an attri- bute of the gibborim of Israel and also considered a permanent quality. As such, Levison contends that the spirit of God that Micah possesses is a per- manent lifelong characteristic of the prophet similar to justice and strength. Micah was then able to speak to the sin of the people because he was contin- ually filled and did not need to wait for temporary “gifts” such as dreams, visions, or revelation in order to speak.13 Levison understands the “spirit within” a human as the “core reality” — “the presence of God within which required no further impartation of the spirit” (55).

According to the young Elihu, there is no difference between the “spirit as a life-giving principle and the spirit as the source of extraordinary feats or insight” (35). Te spirit that is within him is forcing him to speak out, which, in turn, eliminates any separation of the human spirit from the divine (char- ismatic) spirit. Tis same spirit that shapes the words of Elihu as “words that will be full of wisdom” (35) is the same spirit that came upon the prophets and judges in the biblical period and also upon the authors of several texts of the intertestamental literature.

Much more could be said of Levison’s argument that the “spirit within humanity” is a/the “divine spirit.” Tis brief discussion has identified valid points of his argument and also raised some questions that need to be further addressed by Levison. However, we will move on to discuss the role of the “spirit” in interpretation of Scripture.


If the translators are correct, it would suggest that the “gifts of the Spirit” were available and at work prior to the resurrection of Jesus.


Te Hebrew of this phrase is in the perfect tense, thus suggesting a past tense, completed action — יתאלמ ( malehti) — perhaps translated as “I was filled,” supporting Levison’s view that the divine spirit was given at creation.


Cf. Elihu in Job 32:18, in which the spirit within him pushes him to speak out.


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Wisdom of Ben Sira (Sirach)

Te wisdom text Ben Sira (Sirach) continues a similar pattern to what is described above concerning the endowment of Joseph, Daniel, Bezalel, Micah, and Elihu through the divine spirit. Te author argues that if God desires, the Scribe would be filled by a spirit of understanding that allows him to fulfill his task(s). As Levison notes, many scholars suggest that this “endowment” is a temporary charismatic empowerment by the Holy Spirit; however, the author of Sirach offers every indication that the Scribe is “filled with a spirit of under- standing in the course of his study, travel, and prayer,” not by a temporary empowerment (119). It should be noted that this may be undermined by Sirach 39:6, which reads, “When the great Lord wills, he [Scribe] will be filled with a spirit of understanding”; nonetheless, there is no time element in this verse suggesting that this could be an ongoing “filling.”

Several authors in post-Exilic Judaism understood that the biblical prophets spoke by the means of the spirit. One example from the postexilic biblical texts, Nehemiah 9:30, suggests that the spirit by which the prophets spoke is the “spirit of the Lord.” Tus, following Levison’s theory, the “spirit of the Lord” that came upon Isaiah (61:1) during the times of prophesying could be the spirit that has been in Isaiah since his creation; it is through the nurturing of his spirit and by the knowledge of Isaiah’s own spirit that he is able “to see the future and comfort the mourners of Zion” (124).

Book of Daniel, Te Damascus Document, and Fourth Ezra

Te Tale of Susanna in the book of Daniel contains several interesting refer- ences to his spirit being a holy spirit: “God raised up the holy spirit of a young man.”14 Te spirit of Daniel is prompted by God to speak up during the trial of an innocent young woman. Te wisdom of Daniel’s spirit devises a plan to free her from the plot against her. Daniel has the wisdom and sense of justice equal to if not greater than the elders of the community. Levison argues that the Daniel material clearly identifies the human spirit as a holy spirit from birth. As we will see, this point will be significant to the issue of inspiration.

Te Damascus Document (CD VII 3-6) follows the author of Daniel and identifies the human spirit as a holy spirit (וישדק חור — ( ruah kodeshav) “his holy spirit”). One must keep in mind that “holy spirit” need not mean


Te LXX translation of Daniel 5:12 and 6:3(4) contains references to holy spirit, while the Aramaic text reads “excellent.”



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“divine,” but rather it could simply be the Community’s view of a member’s spiritual condition. In addition to this important marker, the text draws a parallel between “spirit” and “soul” (שפנ — nephesh — CD XII 11-13; cf. Gen 2:7). A similar parallel between “spirit” and “soul” is found in 4QIn- struction (4Q416). Fragment 2 col. II 6-7 cautions, “do not exchange your holy spirit for money,” while frag. 2 II 17 states, “do not sell your soul for money” (132).15 Both these documents suggest that the human spirit is, in fact, a “holy spirit.”

Levison identifies a somewhat distinct concept of spiritual inspiration found in the Jewish apocalyptic text Fourth Ezra (196). Te passage 4 Ezra 14:20-22 is clearly dealing with the issue of inspiration of authorship rather than interpretation of a biblical text. In this instance the author asks God to send him the holy spirit in order that he might write the history of the world from the beginning. God tells him that he will “light his lamp of understand- ing” (this is the language of inspiration, according to Levison, 196) in order to fulfill his task. Te holy spirit of God is brought to him in the form of a cup of fire, which grants him understanding and wisdom to write the history (4 Ezra 14:37-44). Similar to Philo of Alexandria, this author retains the proper function of his mind during this ecstatic frenzy.

Te Spirit in Interpretation

Several texts from the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls follow a similar line of thought as discussed above with regard to the “filling of the/a spirit,” while at the same time they offer some insight into how the Qumran Community interpreted and applied the biblical text to its circumstances.

As with any religious community, Qumran had its own particular method of interpreting Scripture, which the Community used for its social, religious, and political goals. As Levison notes, the members of the sect were required to follow Torah as the leaders of the Community interpreted it. Te interpreta- tion came through revelation that was granted to the priests, the sons of Zadok. Te leader of this group is thought to be the “Teacher of Righteousness,” the mysterious leader who claims to have been given divine revelation in order to interpret the biblical text in relation to the Community’s present situation.


Wisdom of Solomon 15 identifies the human spirit as a “holy spirit.” Tis spirit corresponds with the spirit of the Lord — which holds the world together. Te human holy spirit is teach- able and can flee from evil and injustice; thus, “All people, not only those with exclusive claims to inspiration, can be guided by a disciplined holy spirit” (145).


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According to the Pesher Habakkuk (1QpHab) VII 4,16 the Teacher of Righ-

teousness has been granted an understanding of “all the mysteries of the words

of his [God’s] servants, the prophets” (185). Te Teacher further claims in the

Hodayot (referred to as Hymns of Praise — 1QH) IX 27-29, although in rela-

tion to praise and not “inspiration” or “interpretation,” that the חור ( ruah)

that is bestowed upon the human in Genesis 2:7 is the spirit of God by which

he communicates his will to the person. Te author clearly recognizes that

YHWH is the one who guides his words and thoughts to keep him on the

“straight path” (Hodayot, 1QH XX 32-34).

Te author of Hodayot (1QH) acknowledges that the spirit within him is

from God and that it is God’s holy spirit within him that speaks to him and

grants him wisdom and power (Hodayot, 1QH XX 11-12). Levison argues

that the Teacher is solidifying the spirit’s work in inspiration and interpreta-

tion “by sandwiching ‘your holy spirit’ between references to ‘your wonderful

secret’ and ‘knowledge of the mystery of your wisdom’” (188). As such the

Teacher is clearly identifying the source of his ability and authority to interpret

the Scriptures — God’s Spirit. Te term mystery ( זר — raz), in relation to

God’s wisdom, is identified in the Pesher Habakkuk as the words (message) of

the prophets, which the Teacher interprets through the knowledge of the holy

spirit that is within him (Pesher Habakkuk , 1QpHab VII 5). Levison contends

that the Habakkuk Commentary offers multiple examples of the Teacher’s

“claim to inspiration” (188).17

Levison further argues for a connection of the spirit to scribal teaching in

Nehemiah 9:20. Te author of Nehemiah claims, “You gave your good spirit to

instruct them [the people of Israel].”18 According to Levison, the verbal root

לכש ( sh-k-l), “to instruct,”19 is the connection between the holy spirit in

Nehemiah and the holy spirit in the Hodayot (1QH). Te “source of the

‘instructor’s’ insight, knowledge, and wisdom concerning God’s secrets” is the holy spirit. Levison remains ambiguous, however, as to whether the “spirit” in these two texts is referring to the external “spirit of the Godhead” or the “divine, life-long human spirit” imparted to humanity in Genesis 2:7. Levison


Te Teacher of Righteousness is thought to be the author of the Pesharim and the Hodayot (hymns) of 1QH.


He uses the phrase (or something similar) “Te interpretation of . . .” between thirty-five and forty times.


My italics — הבות חור ( ruah tova) and brackets.


לכש ( shachal) as a Hiphil form as in Nehemiah 9:20 is translated as “to cause to prosper” or “to cause to succeed.” Nehemiah 9:20 may then be better translated, “You gave your good spirit to cause them to succeed.”



A.T. Wright / Pneuma 33 (2011) 35-46

needs to clarify whether he is collapsing the distinction between the human divine spirit and the spirit of the Godhead. It is clear that the spirit that God has set within the individual is one that will guide the person to follow God’s Torah — “a cornerstone of Qumran conviction” (188).20 Te Community Rule (1QS) V 9 declares that all those who are entering into or are members of the Qumran group are obligated to follow the interpretation of Scripture given to its leader. Te authority of this leadership comes through God’s holy spirit, which he has placed in the Instructor.

A final identification of the human spirit with the spirit of God, or holy spirit, is found in the Hodayot (1QH). Te author of Hodayot (1QH XX 11-13) states that he has known God through the spirit that God gave him and he has listened to him through his holy spirit. It is possible to understand that the author hears the voice of God through his own spirit, which he iden- tifies as the holy spirit with which God endowed him at creation.

Philo of Alexandria and Divine Inspiration

It appears that this concept of divine inspiration for the purpose of interpret- ing Scripture was not limited to Israel proper. Te Jewish philosopher and exegete Philo of Alexandria experienced similar occasions during which the divine spirit inspired him to interpret the biblical text, although at times incorporating an “ecstatic frenzy” brought on by God to bring about his divine revelation.

Philo of Alexandria is well known for his allegorical interpretation of Scrip- ture in which he incorporates philosophical language into his exegesis.21 On the Special Laws 4.123 hints that humanity is made in the image of God


Tis will, of course, only occur should the person follow after the Lord. Several documents from Qumran suggest that the heavenly being Mastema (Satan) and the evil spirits from the Watcher Tradition have the task of testing and trying a person to see if he or she will follow Torah and YHWH. Levison’s thesis could be helped with the inclusion of a discussion of what happens to the divine human spirit should the person choose not to be guided by it or to ignore it com- pletely. Here Levison could have incorporated a further discussion on the issues concerning the “Doctrine of Two Spirits” and its relationship to the influence of evil spirits on the members (and the person’s holy spirit) of the Community. See Jörg Frey, “Different Patterns of Dualistic thought in the Qumran Library: Reflections of their Background and History,” in Legal Texts and Legal Issues: Proceedings of the Second Meeting of the International Organization for Qumran Studies, Cambridge 1995, Published in Honour of Joseph M. Baumgarten (STDJ 23; ed. Moshe Bernstein, Florentino García Martínez, and John Kampen; Leiden: Brill, 1997), 275-336. Also Wright, Origin of Evil Spirits, Chapter 6.


See Wright, Origin of Evil Spirits, Chapter 7.


A.T. Wright / Pneuma 33 (2011) 35-46


through the breath of life that God breathes into him at creation; as Levison would argue, this is the reception of the spirit of God in humanity — “a full infusion of deity”; for Philo “inspiration is identified with creation rather than with a subsequent endowment” (148).

Levison notes that Philo also suggests that the “voice of the invisible spirit” (equivalent with the divine spirit) raises his interpretative ability and reveals the proper interpretation of the Scriptures (On Dreams 2.252; On the Cheru- bim 27-29). In addition to this method of understanding through the spirit, Philo states that he is often sent into an ecstatic frenzy “by God” in order to receive the interpretation of Scripture; this manner is curiously absent from the methods of interpretation found at Qumran (190).

In many instances Philo argues that he does not have the ability to overcome the difficulties he encounters in the biblical text, and he relies on the voice of the “customary unseen spirit” (192). He contends that the spirit enhances his mind during this process (On Rewards and Punishments 50). Philo’s allegorical interpretation, in which he asks God to take a person’s insight into Scripture beyond the literal understanding (On Dreams I.164-165), could be understood as a “charismatic exegesis” in which a person relies totally on the spirit for his or her understanding of the text. Within this “allegorical interpretation” Philo expects to find mysteries within the sacred text of Moses by which he will reveal unknown mysteries to the people. Philo describes this prophetic inspiration brought on by an ecstatic rapture as “a form of possession, of infilling by the spirit” (On the Special Laws III.5-6). Philo understood this process of “infilling by the spirit” for the biblical prophet as the eviction of the prophet’s mind upon the arrival of the divine spirit; in his personal experience, however, the ability of Philo’s mind to understand the text is increased by the “infilling of the spirit” rather than his mind being evicted.


John Levison has produced a masterful volume that will be of great use to scholars, students, and laypersons for years to come. Previous and current understandings of “inspiration” understood the outpouring, although tempo- rary, of the holy spirit upon an individual to write or interpret the biblical text. Levison suggests that this temporary endowment of the spirit is incorrect and not supported by Scripture or Second Temple period Jewish literature. He understands that each person is endowed with the/a holy spirit at creation by the “breath of God”; during the process of life, the individual either nurtures



A.T. Wright / Pneuma 33 (2011) 35-46

or ignores the divine spirit within (although Levison does not discuss this negative aspect) and the gifts that he or she has obtained or developed are then used (and enhanced?) by God when he calls upon that individual. I am intrigued by Levison’s thesis and have attempted to think with him through these issues of pneumatology with regard to Second Temple period literature, which is my own area of expertise. From the standpoint of this lit- erature, the argument of Filled with the Spirit is more or less plausible, although many questions remain before it can be said that a new paradigm for biblical pneumatology has been secured by this book. Although I am generally sympa- thetic to Levison’s thesis, I do have some reservations on points of detail which I have registered in the footnotes and quietly raised in the body of the essay. I would urge Levison and others to examine and further clarify the questions he has raised in his line of inquiry.

Several questions that come to mind and should be considered: (1) What are the implications of Levison’s thesis for biblical pneumatology if a “gift of the spirit” is the divine spirit from God that has been place within an individual through creation and enhanced through “training” in life rather than a super- additum of the Holy Spirit? (2) How does Levison’s reading of these texts affect the idea that Jesus will baptize with a/the holy spirit and fire? Should it be understood as the Spirit of the Godhead, as is the general Pentecostal/Charis- matic view, or is it the divine spirit, a spirit of holiness, placed in the individual at creation and affirmed in several of the texts discussed by Levison? (3) How should one understand the spirit coming upon Jesus following his baptism? Was it necessary for the Holy Spirit to come upon him to move him into his mission? If so, what was his spiritual condition prior to his baptism in the Jor- dan? (4) Can we understand the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira as a rejection of the divine holy spirit within them? (5) How, then, should we understand the pouring out of God’s spirit at Pentecost? Was the divine spirit within the dis- ciples simply coming to life with the coming of the wind (ruah); did they then move into the mission that they had been training for with Jesus? Tese are just a few of the questions for further study beyond the clarifications that Levison needs to make. Tese answers could change the framework from which one examines pneumatological pericopes in the biblical text.

Levison has done an excellent job of interpreting the material he has exam- ined, and in doing so he has perhaps offered the best example of his thesis at work. He has interpreted these texts by the divine spirit he was granted at creation, and through the gifts he has developed through study, teaching, travel, and prayer he has been able to present an inspired work that should encourage others to reevaluate previous work alongside this new material.


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