I am becoming what I am becoming

barre at nethere.com barre at nethere.com
Sat Sep 16 20:36:19 EDT 2000

Then Moses said to El(ohim), "I am to go, then, to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'The god of your fathers has sent me to you.'  But if they ask me what his name is, what am I to tell them?  And El(ohim) said to Moses, "I am becoming what I am Becoming.  This," he added, "is what you must say to the sons of Israel: 'I am Becoming' has sent me to you.'"  

And El(ohim) also said to Moses, "You are to say  to the sons of Israel: 'YHWH, the god of your fathers, the god of Abraham, the god of Isaac, and the god of Jacob, has sent me to you."  This is my name for all time; by this Name I shall be invoked for all generations to come.

The  unusual  rendering of the Hebrew, ´eyeh aser ´eyeh  as "I am becoming what I am Becoming" is informed by the fact that both the form and content of this formulaic expression finds it closest parallel not in Semitic thought but in Hamitic ontological speculation.  Its formulation, based on a theological word-play of the verb "to be(come)," not only reveals that we are dealing with ontology in a strict sense, but also that such a formulation is characteristically Egyptian.  Consider, for example, this comparable formulation taken from an Egyptian grammar regarding the verb, xeper ("to be[come]"):

xeper-a xeper xeperu
"I  who became
 made become 
the beings who became." 

We note three similarities to the formula found in the Elohist's epic.  First, the divine name is predicated upon a repetition of a verb, the Egyptian version repeating it three times as subject, verb and object while the Hebrew version repeats it twice with the second occurrence functioning syntactically as an objective, subordinate predication introduced by the relative particle, aser.  Although the syntax varies, the two formulations are similar in the central importance of the repeated verb.  Second, the verbs themselves, adjusting for the different cultures that produced them, are roughly semantic equivalents, both meaning "to be" or "to become."  Third, both formulations are theological proclamations, intended to expose the essential characteristics of a deity based upon a distinctively Egyptian perspective.  As such, it stands apart from typical Semitic understandings of divinity, but is demonstrably at home within Egyptian religious tradition. 

L.M. Barre, Ph.D.


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