Heavenly Worship in Second Temple Judaism, Early Christianity, and Gnostic Sects: Part 2

By guest blogger Stephen L. Huebscher

 

STEP THREE: LOOKING AT THE THREE GROUPS INDIVIDUALLY

CONCEPTIONS OF HEAVENLY WORSHIP IN SECOND TEMPLE JUDAISM

The variety of groups and beliefs at this time was reflected in the variety of sacred texts used. It was common to believe in joint human/angelic worship. “The notion that the community in its prayer life participated in some way in the liturgy of the angels is well attested in first-century Judaism, and will later emerge as an element in Christian liturgical practice,” (Attridge 51). Also within this mix it is becoming more apparent to scholars that it was acceptable for Jews to believe in a “second power” in heaven who was worshiped along with Yahweh.

 

BIBLICAL TEXTS

Isaiah 6. One of the most influential of all texts during this period (roughly 500 BC—AD 300) was the vision and call of Isaiah in Isaiah 6.  The scene presented is that of the heavenly divine council (DC) (see the section on cosmology).  The key phrase, for our purposes, comes in v. 3:  “Holy, holy, holy, is Yahweh of hosts!  His glory shouts out, that which (always) fills the earth” (Wildberger 248). There are a number of significant liturgical implications found in this passage, beginning with God’s sitting, his throne, and his height, all of which imply that he is worthy to be worshiped.  The location is the hecal (“palace,” in v. 1) or bayit (“house,” in v. 4), terms which are used both of God’s heavenly dwelling and for the earthly temple.  The reason for this dual usage is that the earthly temple was conceived of as a model based on the heavenly one. “To try to distinguish between an earthly and a heavenly sanctuary attempts to make a distinction which the ancient person would never have attempted.  God dwells in heaven, but he is also present in the sanctuary…” (Wildberger 263). The actual location is thus somewhat ambiguous.  The heavenly attendants are specifically called “seraphs,” not mal’akim (“messengers”) or cherubim (“cherubs”).  In a DC scene such as this, we should probably understand there to be not just two attendants, but a great number of beings, as in 1 Kings 22 (Wildberger 264). These exalted beings do not receive worship in heaven—they cover their eyes so as not to look directly on God and praise him. His holiness is the focus of their praise.  This holiness “is not a static ‘quality.’  It is seen in action when it destroys all the opposition which human beings set up over against God” (Wildberger 266).

The adoration by the heavenly beings serves as a model for the adoration which the earthly community is to replicate, see Rev. 4:8; in the depiction of the adoration within the heavens there is also a call to the people of God on earth to follow suit.  As in a responsive liturgy, the praise from one seraph (or seraph-choir) is passed on further by the next one (Wildberger 265).

They also declare that the earth is filled with his kabod (“glory, honor, majesty, significance”).  The word kabod “expresses the fact that God’s kabod demands an appropriate response, an acknowledgment” (Westermann 596). Thus, the praise of the seraphs comes in response to the person of God.  God’s kabod is at times the visible representation of his holiness as well as his honor (e.g., Ex 29:43).

Ezekiel.  A second set of influential biblical texts is the call and throne visions of Ezekiel (1—3, 10). Ezekiel’s description of the throne-chariot (merkabah) of God was unparalleled in its time.  The influence of these visions can be seen in Dan 7:9 (the fiery throne and wheels) and 10:5-6 (shared vocabulary); Sirach 49:8; 1 Enoch 14:18; 4QBerakot (4Q286); Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice XI, XII; and Revelation 4:2-8a (see below for specifics). Ezekiel 10 also influenced Jewish understanding of the hypostases of God (see below).

 

EXTRA-BIBLICAL (SECOND TEMPLE) TEXTS

1 Enoch. 1 Enoch is a pivotal text in many ways.  In my understanding, it is a kind of liturgically and cosmologically mixed text, mixing literary motifs and descriptive elements from the biblical stream with cosmological elements from the stream later characterized by Platonism.  (Perhaps this is why, although it is quoted in the NT, it was not widely recognized as canonical.  Just a guess.)  First Enoch was also quite influential on other later Jewish works, such as the Testament of Levi.  It would also form an important transition to the later Hekhalot merkavah texts, which are characterized by the “worship = ascending to see God’s throne-chariot” view and by complex cosmologies complete with multi-tiered heavens and choruses of singing angels.

Historically, this reveals the section to be an important transition from the older Ezekiel tradition of the prophetic call to the much later tradition of Jewish Merkabah mysticism . . . . This active and subjective involvement of the seer in his vision differentiates our text not only from Ezekiel 1—2 but also from other prophetic calls” (Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1, 259).

According to 1 Enoch, the real temple is in heaven, the heavenly palace where God dwells. 1 Enoch teaches that most angels cannot approach God’s throne.  Four holy ones seem to be the exceptions, and it is to these, who serve as intercessors and take those prayers to God, that prayer is to be made. Some of the angels serve as priests, including Michael, who serves as the eschatological high priest. In 14:23, some kind of worship activity may be suggested by three elements: (1) the adjective “holy, (2) the term “approach” (the throne of God), and the expression “day and night,” (Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1, 265-66). In 15:3, the phrase “the sanctuary of the eternal station” occurs, and the word “station” can refer in the contemporary literature to a priestly course; thus we have a possible reference to angels acting as heavenly priests (Nickelsburg 271). However, “There are also important differences from the later mystical texts.  We have here no hymn of the angelic attendants [in 14.8-23].” (Nickelsburg 261).

Qumran. Included in the scrolls from Qumran are texts dealing with the covenanteers’ views of heaven and the practice of liturgy there. The two primary groups of texts are the Berakhot and the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. A third group, the Songs of the Sage, also shows some interest in these matters. One of the striking differences from Revelation, however, is the absence of reference to Isaiah 6:1-3 from all three groups of texts.

Berakhot

These texts were used for communal recitation in the liturgy of the sectarian group’s annual covenant renewal ceremony. For our interests, several of the songs that show similarities both to the songs in Revelation and to the later Hekhalot hymns.  These are sometimes called merkavah (“throne”) hymns, though technically the term refers to post-biblical compositions.

Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice

The cosmology is similar to that of the Christian Gnostics. There are both similarities to and differences from the biblical texts.  There is great interest in the throne of God, such as is found in Revelation.  At times there is great noise in heaven from the worship, while at other times there is stillness or silence.  The beings of heaven (angels, cherubim, ophanim [“wheels” in Ezekiel], divinities) obey God and “psalm” him.  In several texts from Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, some of the fixtures of heaven are animate, reminiscent of the throne in Revelation that commands praise to God. The tradition of the sounds of the cherubim recorded in Song 12 was so pervasive that it was even included in the Targum of Ezekiel 1:24.

Most scholars have interpreted the thirteen texts in this group as being read by the human worshiping community to heavenly angels and elohim in joint worship. The humans ascend to heaven to join the worship there.  This is one form of the “worship = ascending to the presence of God” doctrine which is a recurring, though not constant, motif in those sources outside the biblical stream.

Songs of the Sage (4Q510, 4Q511)

These two texts, of which the second is significantly longer, are hymns to God that call on the righteous to praise him.  Frequently the unrighteous are denounced, along with unclean owls and Lilith.  They also deal more with theurgy and magic. Thus, these texts show more of a divergence from the biblical stream of thinking.

Philo. The concept of the heavenly tabernacle/temple was very important and explicit in some of Philo’s writings.  Philo’s view here, as with much of what he writes, reflects Platonic cosmology and philosophy, borrowing as he does at times from Plato’s Timaeus.   For instance, De Specialibus Legibus 1.66 views the universe as a whole as a temple when it says, “We ought to look upon the universal world as the highest and truest temple of God . . . .”  In other texts, he uses allegorical interpretation to draw correspondence between the parts of the tabernacle and the parts of the cosmos.  In still other texts, he relies heavily on a Platonic understanding of the ideal sanctuary being in heaven, and the copy being on earth.

 

IMPORTANT DOCTRINES

There were several important doctrines during the Second Temple period, though whether they preceded the second temple or not depends in part on how one dates the texts.  One doctrine was the belief that the righteous, cultic (e.g., worshiping) human community was also part of God’s sod (Ps 25:14; but even more Ps 111:1; also Prov 3:32). The sod seems to have been the primary ecclesiological model in post-exilic times (Fabry). The accompanying belief was that the worshipers were in some way and some sense divinized (i.e., the human worshipers became divine, just like the heavenly beings on which they were modeled, variously called qodeshim (holy ones), beney ’elohim (sons of God), kokabim (stars), etc.).

Another doctrine that was important during the second temple period was that of a second divine being separate from YHWH and yet equal to him in power and essence, even to the point of forgiving sin and receiving worship.  Daniel 7 is the most obvious text, but there are many other texts.  Again, just when these doctrines appeared and began to develop is not always clear, since many later texts find their exegetical basis in earlier ones.  (The monkey wrench that can be thrown in this assertion is that the earlier texts are often terse, and simply do not give the level of detail that later ones do.)  This second being was called by various titles, such as the Word, Wisdom, Name, and Glory.

“The Word” is used in Genesis 15:1-6. It also is used in Exodus, Philo, and the Targums. The Aramaic memra’ means “the word,” and it is used in the creation account and elsewhere, where the Memra creates the world. The Memra is closely associated with the Name (haššem), and is quite important.  It has been traced back to the second century B.C. in DSS texts by Robert Hayward, Divine Name and Presence: The Memra, 147-49.   The Name is used in Exodus 32, where God’s Name passes by Moses. In Lev 24:11, it occurs in an account of blasphemy. It is also used in 1 Kings 8, where Solomon’s prayer states that if anyone prays to Yahweh’s Name in the Temple, Yahweh in heaven will hear it.  Several of the psalms can also be read this way. Wisdom is found most obviously in Prov 8:22-31, as well as some apocryphal works and DSS. “Glory,” following Ezekiel 10 at the latest, also was significant. “The [Glory] here too is like an independent being, almost a hypostasis of God: the majesty of God represents God himself.  The usage in Ezek 1—3 is linked with that in 8—11 and 43—44 by this hypostatization . . . .  He is the first to depict the [Glory] as an independent being representing God and appearing in brilliant light”(Westermann 602). So in conclusion, by the second temple period at the latest, the Jews had common, orthodox traditions of a second divine being in heaven  who created the world and received worship both from humans and celestial beings.

 

SACRED MEALS

Sacred meals should also be briefly mentioned. Within the Bible, but pre-dating both the First and Second Temples, The sacred meal in Exodus 24 on Mount Sinai would possibly be an example of a blended situation, since God (heaven) came down on the mountain to eat with them. Like I mentioned before, even though this text was not written during the post-exilic Persian period (though mainstream scholars claim it is because it deals with themes related to the priesthood, which they argue was “late”)—this text and others formed the basis for the later texts, and it continued to be influential. Other texts that pick up this topic and develop it in terms of an eschatological meal include Isa. 25:6-7 and Isa. 65:13-17.

Exodus 24: 7-14 (from before the First Temple period)

 7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”

 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

 9 Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel,

 10 and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.

 11 Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank. (ESV)

 

Isaiah 25:6-8.

 6 The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, And refined, aged wine.

 7 And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, Even the veil which is stretched over all nations.

 8 He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken.

 

Isa. 65:13. Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, my servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; behold, my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame; (Isa. 65:13 ESV)

 

At Qumran, 1QSa mentions mal’akim being present during a meal, but without further explanation. Because the word mal’akim means “messengers,” some scholars have argued that it merely refers to human messengers from outside the community. Other scholars, however, argue that these are heavenly messengers (e.g., “angels”). Basically, I think it probably was a reference to a heavenly messenger, but since there is no further development of this idea, the text is not very important.

Finally, there is another meal mentioned both in the Bible and at Ugarit, though with very little explanation. The marzeah is not generally regarded as a sacred meal any longer by scholars, since it seems that it was likely associated with private drinking clubs, at least at Ugarit.

 

 

NOTES/BIBLIOGRAPHY

Jean Daniélou, Theology of Jewish Christianity I.

K. Beale, NIGTC, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999),

Daniel Boyarin, “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John,” in HTR 94 (2001) 243-84.

J. Krause, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988)

G. von Rad, Old Testament Theology, trans. D. M. G. Stalker (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001).

David E. Aune, WBC, 3 volumes: Revelation 1—5, Revelation 6—16, and Revelation 17—22.

Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 1—12.

George Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1 (Hermeneia).

James Davila, Liturgical Works.

Claus Westermann, “kbdTLOT 2.

Robert Hayward, Divine Name and Presence: The Memra.

H. Ringgren, “עמד,” in TDOT 11.182-85.

Grundmann, “‘ίστημι,” TDNT 7.641, 43.

 

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