AskDefine | Define theophany

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theophany n : a visible (but not necessarily material) manifestation of a deity to a human person

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English

Noun

  1. A visible manifestation of a deity.

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Extensive Definition

From the Greek, theophaneia which translates "appearance/showing of God", theophany means an appearance of a god to man, or a divine disclosure.
This term has been used to refer to appearances of the gods in the ancient Greek and Near Eastern religions. While the Iliad is our earliest source for descriptions of theophanies in the Classical tradition (and they occur throughout Greek mythology), probably the earliest description of a theophany is in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The term, however, has acquired its technical usage through the Bible. In its most restrictive sense, it is a visible appearance of God in the Old Testament. Some Bible commentators believe that “the angel of the Lord” who appears in several places throughout the Old Testament is translated to be the pre-incarnate Christ, which is Christ before his manifestation into human form in the New Testament.

Greek tradition

The appearance of Zeus to Semele in his full godhead, "all his glory", is more than a mortal can stand and she is burned to death by the flames of his power. However, most Greek theophanies were less deadly. Unusual for Greek mythology is the story of the immortal Prometheus, not an Olympian but a Titan, who brought knowledge of fire to humanity. There are no descriptions of the humans involved in this theophany, but Prometheus was severely punished by Zeus.

Catholic tradition

The New Catholic Encyclopedia cites examples such as Gen 3:8a. The same source then quotes Gen 16:7-14. In this case, initially it is an angel which appears to Hagar, however it then says that God spoke directly to her, and that she saw God and lived (Gen 16:13). The next example the New Catholic Encyclopedia cites is Gen 22:11-15, which states explicitly that it was the angel of the Lord speaking to Abraham (Gen 22:11a). However, the angel addressing Abraham speaks the words of God in the first person (Gen 22:12b). In both of the last two examples, although it is an angel present, the voice is of God spoken through the angel, and so this is a manifestation of God Himself.
A similar case would be Moses and the burning bush. Initially Moses saw an angel in the bush, but then goes on to have a direct conversation with God himself (Ex 3).
In the case of Jesus Christ according to the gospels and tradition, Christians understand him to be God the son, become man (Jn 1:14). The New Catholic Encyclopedia, however, makes few references to a theophany from the gospels. Mk 1:9-11, and Lk 9:28-36 are cited which recount the Baptism, and the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ respectively. Although Jesus Christ is believed by Christians to be a manifestation of the divine throughout his life, it is only when his divine glory is not veiled by his humanity, that it could be termed theophany.
Traditional analysis of these passages led Christian scholars to understand theophany as an unambiguous manifestation of God, to man, where "unambiguous" indicates that the seers or seer are of no doubt that it is God revealing himself to them.

Orthodox Christianity

The Feast of Theophany in the Eastern Orthodox Church on 6 January (which is 19 January in the Gregorian Calendar when the particular church uses the Julian Calendar) celebrates the theophany at the Baptism of Jesus.
The 4th century bishop Eusebius of Caesarea wrote a book called Theophania, referring to the Incarnation of Jesus.

Latter-day Saints

Joseph Smith, Jr., the prophet and founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claimed that when he was 14 years old, he was visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ in a grove of trees near his house, a theophany in answer to his first spoken prayer. This vision is considered to be the start of the Latter Day Saint movement altogether.

Theophany in other beliefs

Since Hinduism is often understood as polytheistic or pantheistic, theophany has a different significance than it carries in Judaism and Christianity. The most well-known theophany in Eastern religions is contained within the Bhagavad-Gita, itself representing one chapter of the epic, Mahabharata. In the Gita, the famed warrior Arjuna begs for Krishna to reveal his true form after a series of teachings given by Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra indicates Krishna to be far more than mortal. Krishna complies and gives Arjuna the spiritual vision which enables him to see Krishna in his true form, a magnificent and awe-inspiring manifestation, containing everything in the universe that forms the main part of Chapter XI. This theophany was paraphrased by Robert Oppenheimer upon witnessing the first atomic bomb test, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
More recently, science fiction author Philip K. Dick reportedly had a theophany on February 3 1974, which was to become the later basis for his semi-biographic works Valis (1981) and the posthumous Radio Free Albemuth (1985).
In 1977, a man, in France, Michel Potay testified he witnessed five theophanies. He published the text he says he received from God in The Book, second part of The Revelation of Ares.

References

theophany in German: Theophanie
theophany in Modern Greek (1453-): Θεοφάνεια
theophany in Spanish: Teofanía
theophany in French: Théophanie
theophany in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Theophania
theophany in Italian: Teofania
theophany in Luxembourgish: Theophanie
theophany in Dutch: Theofanie
theophany in Norwegian: Teofani
theophany in Polish: Teofania
theophany in Portuguese: Teofania
theophany in Russian: Теофания
theophany in Slovak: Teofánia
theophany in Swedish: Teofani

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