Our Divine Double

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Charles M. Stang
  • Cambridge, MA: 
    Harvard University Press
    , March
     2016.
     320 pages.
     $49.95.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780674287198.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In this learned and erudite study—Our Divine Double—Charles M. Stang showcases a panoply of Late Antique religious readings of the divine double, presenting an argument that is both persuasive and assiduously researched.

Stang employs the unlikely character of Narcissus in witness to the true self. Ovid’s allegorical reading of this tale provides many of the tools that become the core to Stang’s reading of the divine double: the question of true self, the notion of image/archetype, and the analogy of seeing oneself in a mirror—which can either lead to autoerotic vanity or to a desire to γνῶθι σαυτόν, know oneself.

Stang finds a number of doubles in Plato and has provided a great deal of grist for the mill of Platonic studies by pointing to one’s daimōn as more than just a negating voice, but as, through a close reading of the Greek text, one’s “distribution,” or lot in life. While the daimōn is taken as our divine part, Stang also reminds us that one sees oneself in one’s lover as if in a mirror (39), appealing to Alcibiades I to make this point. Stang reinforces that one finds one’s true self in one’s lover by appealing to Aristophanes’s myth in Symposium. Through these two doubles, Stang introduces the distinction of the horizontal (lover to lover), and the vertical (individual to daimōn) double.

Stang’s second chapter—on Thomas the twin—addresses the theme of Oua ouōt, one and the same. This chapter could be seen as taking on the question of identity and difference, keeping with the established image/archetype metaphysic. Thomas, a transliteration of the Aramaic word for twin [tāwmā], provides an intriguing starting point given that the question of "whose twin" has not been answered. Stang draws on some lesser-known strands of Christian thought, wherein Thomas is taken to be the twin of Jesus himself, a point he expands upon in the third chapter (129-34). Stang's hermeneutical approach to the Gospel of Thomas is one of self-knowledge, the text itself being a mirror in which one sees oneself (64-7). Through seeing oneself in the Gospel of Thomas, and by understanding Thomas as the twin of Jesus, the picture begins to emerge that to know oneself is to know one's divine double, which is to know God. This leads to the grand conclusion that we all have Jesus as a divine double (101).

Chapter 3, on syzygies, adds Tatian to the list of those who hold Jesus to be the divine double of all. Tatian is noted to have lived in imitation [mimesis] of the Logos after his conversion to Christianity. In addition to imitating the Logos, one is to strive to conjoin one's soul with the Holy Spirit (111), establishing the Holy Spirit as one's syzygos. The Valentinian tradition similarly urges one to link oneself with one's angelic counterpart (116). Stang capitalizes on the Coptic etymology for the word twin [soeiš], considering that it has a more general meaning of either half of a pair or double. In the Manichean tradition, there is abundant testimony to Mani as having an “alter-ego” in heaven (160). As Amin Maalouf describes Mani’s first revelation, Mani sees his true self in the waters of the river, inverting the Narcissus tale (168-9). In deference to the Christian divine double tradition—which holds Jesus as everyone’s divine double—it is unclear whether all have a divine double in the Manichean tradition (148).

In chapter 4 Stang diagnoses Plotinian selfhood as an individual soul combined with a body, which consists of world-soul and matter (197). The Plotinian self, thus, exists with one part above and a compound—which is never cut off from its higher part—below. This lower self is always seeking to conform to its undescended archetype (207). Stang brings out Plotinus’s comments on Plato’s daimon as the basis for a leading part of the soul (202-7).

The legacy of the divine double, Stang tells us, seems to have had its clearest retention in Manichaeism (231), but Christianity and Neoplatonism also have strands of it (234-5). The retention of doubling in dualist traditions can be seen through the lens of positing evil as God’s divine double (237-44). Stang also makes the most interesting suggestion that the Antiochean Christological school is the Christian heir of the divine double tradition and, perhaps in preparation for a sequel, Stang avers that this tradition “has not yet to this day been given [a hearing]” (248).

The only point that seemed to demand a fuller argument was Stang’s neologism of “undescended and descended intellect” (187). The convention in Plotinian scholarship since Porphyry has been to talk about the descent of the soul, following Ennead IV.8’s title “Περὶ τῆς εἰς τὰ σώματα καθόδου τῆς ψυχῆς” [On the Descent of the Soul into Bodies]. Stang is aware of this convention, but makes the case that soul is being used in its broadest sense, encompassing nous (197-8), and allowing him to equivocate the two by saying “soul or intellect” (198). While this train of thought works with Stang’s theology of twinning, it seems that Plotinus would be more comfortable talking in terms of triplets, the individual reflecting the three hypostases (V.1.9). It seems important that, in harmony with IV.8.8, when one talks about the descended/undescended self in Plotinus, one should talk about the soul, translating his use of ψυχή. This distinction should be kept as Plotinus credits the nous with non-discursive thought and the soul with discursive reasoning.

This work is a top-class piece of scholarship and Stang is to be commended for his hands-on approach to primary materials—Coptic, Syriac, and Middle Persian are just a few of the languages he employed to bring this study to fruition. Stang is also to be lauded for his openness when it comes to his methods and assumptions and Stang frequently makes explicit whether a point is contested in scholarship, or if he is reading a text a specific way.

Our Divine Double can truly be called an original contribution to scholarship and it is a most captivating read.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Daniel J. Tolan is a doctoral candidate in theology and religious studies at Clare College, Cambridge University.

Date of Review: 
June 13, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Charles Stang joined the Faculty of Divinity at Harvard University in 2008. His research and teaching focus on the history and theology of Christianity in late antiquity, especially Eastern varieties of Christianity. More specifically, he is interested in the development of asceticism, monasticism, and mysticism in Eastern Christianity.

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