Tag Archives: Ancient Texts & Manuscripts

New Book: The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity

This book looks like an excellent reference for anyone interested in the study of the biblical canon: The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis.

A brief discussion of the book by one of its authors can be found here. The book will ship in January 2018. That summary reads in part:

The main attraction of the book–the reason you’ll want your own copy–is because John and I have collected all the biblical canon lists from the first four centuries of Christianity, and we present them in the original languages and English translation (in parallel columns) with introductions and extensive notes. So, you’ve heard so much about the 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius, which listed for the first time in history the exact 27 books of the NT that we now accept, and you’d like to read the letter for yourself–our book has it, or the extant portions in Greek, anyway, with an English translation. Read the letter for yourself.

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For Those Interested in New Testament Textual Criticism and the Byzantine-Majority Text

I recently received this announcement from my Danish friend, Ulrik Sandborg-Peterson, who developed the very useful Paradigms Master Pro Greek and Hebrew parsing practice tool. Ulrik has been instrumental in bringing resources for the study of the Byzantine-Majority text to the web:

Announcing byzantinetext.com

The Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform, along with various resources developed by Maurice A. Robinson, have a new home on the web at https://byzantinetext.com/.

  • The website contains freely downloadable resources and pointers to further information about the Byzantine Majority text.
  • Audio downloads of the entire Greek New Testament Byzantine text (1991 edition), spoken by Maurice A. Robinson.
  • A downloadable Reader’s edition, as prepared by Jeffrey Dodson in consultation with Maurice A. Robinson.
  • Select bibliographies of articles and books on the Byzantine Text.
  • Downloadable editions of the Byzantine and other Greek New Testament texts.
  • … and more.

For developers, the website is accompanied by an official GitHub repository for Dr. Robinson’s various resources, https://github.com/byztxt/.  The repository will be updated in close collaboration with Dr. Robinson as he makes updates available.  The repository includes Greek New Testament texts with morphological parsings and Strong’s numbers, documentation, and a library written in the Python programming language for reading these texts.

The team behind the website and GitHub repository comprises Ulrik Sandborg-Petersen and Daniel J. Mount, in close collaboration with Maurice A. Robinson.

 

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Are 1 Cor 14:34-35 (“Women Should Keep Silent in the Churches”) Original to Paul’s Letter?

I saw this come up in Twitter today — Larry Hurtado’s comments on a recent study by Philip Payne concerning whether 1 Cor 14:34-35 were originally part of 1 Corinthians. His thoughts are concise and clear, so folks not into textual criticism can get something out of them immediately. Payne’s original article is accessible via a link on Hurtado’s page.

Here are Peter Gurry’s thoughts as well (Evangelical Textual Criticism blog) for good measure.

Very interesting!

(And nice title, Peter!)

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Book of Jasher, Chronicles of Gad the Seer

I am frequently asked for my opinion on the Book of Jasher and the Book of Gad the Seer (more properly called the Chronicles of Gad the Seer, per 1 Chron 29:29). There are books by both titles floating around (typically on the internet) that purport to be these ancient source texts from the biblical (OT) time period. They aren’t. Books you might see online or buy in some form are not the authentic source texts referred to in the Bible. They are not books that belong in the Bible. They aren’t even ancient.

I have blogged before about the so-called book of Jasher. The link includes a short peer-reviewed article on the recent book purporting to be the ancient source text.

For this post, I want to add something about the Chronicles of Gad the Seer. Most scholars

Fortunately, there is a fine peer-reviewed article on the literary work that purports to be the Chronicle of Gad the Seer: Meir Bar-Ilan, “The Date of The Words of Gad the Seer.” Journal of Biblical Literature 109.3 (1990): 475-492. It’s available on academia.edu so I have posted it here:

Bar-IlanChroniclesGadSeer

The introduction to the article reads in part:

The purpose of this paper is to discuss a “new” book by the name of The Words of Gad the Seer. This is an apocryphal Hebrew book known only from a unique manuscript that was copied at Cochin, India, in the middle of the eighteenth century. At the beginning of the nineteenth century it was purchased by the University of Cambridge, England, and since then it has been there. The name of the book, together with other extra-biblical books that were in the possession of the Jews of Cochin, has appeared in print in German, Hebrew, and English during the last two centuries. Nevertheless, this book is almost unknown to the scholarly world. The aim of this article is not only to draw attention to this book but also to demonstrate its significance by evaluating its date.

Bar-Ilan concludes the book is very old, but not the book referred to in the OT:

The Words of Gad the Seer treated here is not the book that was in existence in biblical times and was apparently lost. The book discussed here was composed in one of the early centuries of this era, but was noticed only at the end of the eighteenth century. When the book was discovered, it was thought to be a medieval work and was assumed to be of little value. Contemplating the different proofs of its date of composition shows that the arguments for its lateness are outweighed by evidence of its early date. Nevertheless, even if one believes that the book is late, its importance is unquestionable. Its value lies in showing the modern scholar some of the techniques of the editors of the biblical narrative. It presents apocalyptic visions and perhaps supplies the missing verse in Psalm 145. Of further importance is the contribution of this book to the knowledge of the Hebrew language in the first centuries of this era: Biblical Hebrew on the one hand and philosophical Hebrew on the other. Above all, this book might enhance our understanding of the book of Revelation and the literature of that period in general; and the history of the Jews of Cochin would not be the lesser for it.

In short, the book has value, but isn’t to be regarded as a lost book of the canon.

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Heavenly Worship in Second Temple Judaism, Early Christianity, and Gnostic Sects: Part 5

This is the 5th and final post in a series by guest blogger, Stephen Huebscher

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This is the final post in this series, and I draw a number of conclusions here. At the end, I list all the works that I referenced in this series, in case I missed one earlier. This has been a great opportunity to read through these texts again and think through the issues and the claims that I make here. Thanks to Mike and all of you for your openness!

GENERAL CONCLUSIONS

The first major finding of this study was that cosmology was often linked to liturgy in such a way that it could be considered an indicator of the kind of worship that was practiced. Cosmology includes the description of heaven and beings in it, and their relationship to those on the earth (and under it).  There were two primary cosmologies used by these groups:  the biblical cosmology and the platonic cosmology. In the biblical cosmology, there are three basic levels to the universe (heaven, earth, and the underworld), as opposed to seven in the Hellenistic cosmologies. For instance, Aune writes,

It is striking that Revelation does not reflect more specifically the cosmology typical of the Hellenistic and Roman period, in which the cosmos was thought to consist of seven heavens.  Paul’s account of his own ascent to the third heaven reflects a cosmology of at least three heavens (2 Cor 12:1-5). John knows only a single heaven as the dwelling place of God and his angels. This older cosmology consisted of a three-tiered universe consisting of heaven above, earth in the middle, and the underworld beneath (the three-tiered universe is also reflected in several apocalypses, including the five apocalypses that constitute 1 Enoch, the Testament of Abraham, and the Apocalypse of Ezra . . . .)  The earth itself was thought to be a flat disk surrounded on all sides by water. Below the earth was the underworld, which was the realm of the dead, called Sheol by the Israelites but Hades by the Greeks.  Above the earth was the vault of heaven containing the heavenly bodies and, in the highest place, God and his angelic entourage. The new cosmology that developed during the Hellenistic period, and quickly displaced older cosmologies, regarded the earth as a sphere . . . .  The earth was thought to be a stationary center surrounded by seven planets (including the sun and moon), each of which moved in its own sphere . . . .  The earth was at the same time the ‘innermost’ as well as the ‘lowest’ part of the cosmos . . . .  God was thought to dwell in the highest heaven or sphere, usually the seventh or eighth heaven (Corpus Hermeticum 1.26), with various supernatural beings located at various levels below him. (David Aune, Revelation 1—5, 318).

The mystical belief of “worship=ascending to heaven,” which was first a part of Jewish and later Gnostic (and still later, Christian) mystical groups, seems to have built on the Platonic cosmology of various levels Plato described in Timaeus.  Timaeus was the standard work for much of the ancient world about the cosmology of heaven and earth.  In it, the astronomer/philosopher who sees the stars and understands the cosmology is the hero.  Margaret Barker has argued (unconvincingly, in my opinion) that this work reflects First Temple Judaism (via Pythagorus). More helpful is Gordon Lathrop, who has pointed out significant parallels between the blind man in Timaeusand the blind man (his name in Aramaic is “Bar-Timaeus,” which Mark carefully explains means “the son of Timaeus”) in Mark’s gospel.

At the junction of the two major parts of the Second Gospel, between the Gospel’s ‘Galilee’ and its ‘Jerusalem,’ exactly between the ministry narratives and the passion story, there stands the account of a blind man (Mark 10:46-52).  He is called ‘the son of Timaeus.’  The name itself strikes us at least three ways.  First, this is the only recipient of the healing ministry of Jesus in the entire Gospel who is given a name at all.  The name matters.  Second, the name is intensified, this patronymic being repeated both in Greek and in Aramaic. . . .  And third, as many commentators have noted, the name is very hard to place in a Jewish context.  It is not a recognized, current Hebrew or Aramaic name.  . . .  It is a Greek name and, in fact, one with a very specific and recognizable history.  Here is the ‘son’ of Timaeus, Plato’s Timaeus, and, ironically, he is himself blind, crying out in lament, seeing nothing, going nowhere.  This cry for help occurs at the very place, structurally, that the lament of the blind man occurs in the Timaeus:  at the juncture of the two major parts of the book. (Gordon Lathrop, 30-31).

Unlike Plato’s blind man who laments without hope, Bar-Timaeus abandoned his cloak (perhaps a philosopher’s cloak?) and came to Jesus.  After calling Jesus “my teacher,” he received sight and followed Jesus “in the way” (Mark 10:52).

It occurs at a place that corresponds, in the Timaeus, to the ethical culmination of the argument, to the turning of the consideration of all things toward the ordering of the life of the wise.  Only now the wise—together with everyone else—are invited to the wise folly of the cross. (Lathrop, 33)

A second difference between the two cosmologies is the population of heaven.  In the biblical cosmology, not only is God in heaven, but there is a core group of the heavenly host that works closely with God.  The core group in the biblical model is known as the divine council (DC) or divine assembly, and is found in many places throughout Scripture.  “One of the central cosmological symbols of the Old Testament is the imagery of the divine council and . . . the issues of order in Israel and in the cosmos are rooted in and understood as under the aegis of the divine council” (P. Miller, 423) It is not an exaggeration to say that the DC may be the most important hermeneutical guide for understanding celestial worship, whether in ancient Jewish or early Christian theologies. Even some Gnostic texts adopted an eclectic approach and incorporated a heavenly assembly into their doctrine, while still relying primarily on the Platonic model. In the original Platonic model, there is no such core group of “helpers.”  Instead, there are the Ideals.

A lexical study of the words used for the DC includes, among others, the Hebrew words qahal (“congregation”), ‘edah “assembly”), and most importantly, sod(“council”).    The sod was a group of elohim that worked closely with Yahweh. The term sod was also applied to righteous, human worshipers on earth in some texts.

Those beings in his council (sod) are charged with three functions:

(a) “demonstration of Yahweh’s omnipotence in the form of accompaniment (Dt. 33:2), praise (Job 38:7; Ps. 19:2[1]; 29:1f.), fear (Ps. 89:7f. [6f.]), counsel in the form of obedient response (Job 1f.; Isa. 6:8; cf. the resistance to polytheistic notions in Isa. 40:13:f.);

(b) mediation of Yahweh’s salvific will to the world of human beings (1 K. 22; Isa. 6; cf Dt. 32:8f.; Jer. 23:22);

(c) implementation of social justice (Am. 3:7; cf. Ps. 82:3f.).” (Fabry, 10.174-75)

The first category contains our primary interest—heavenly worship—but you can see that it is likely that these various functions are interconnected. The DC is probably the heavenly model for the creation of the human community in the early chapters of Genesis.  It is the congregation that is the plural referent in “let us make man as our image” (Gen. 1.26-27).  The text is clear that God made the man (the Hebrew verbs are singular here), but that the model was plural.  Thus at the very beginning of the Torah, the cornerstone of the OT and of the whole Bible, we have humans created in order to be the physical, earthly representation of the spiritual, celestial community.

To say that the image of God is the primary overarching motif in Scripture is good. However, this claim goes beyond that, and this leads us to the third major finding of this study:  that liturgy or worship is one of the key purposes of human existence. It is an essential part of our reason for existence.

Psalm 29 is an example of this. “If Psalm 29 were to be considered a song for the solemn prostration before Yahweh . . . then we would have to assume that a heavenly act would correspond to the earthly hymn of praise and prayer (cf. especially Psalm 148)” (Kraus, 348). In other words, the heavenly worship is the model for the earthly worship.  In fact, Psalm 29:9b “is the key-verse of the whole psalm—it leads us away from the commotions on the earth up to the heavenly sanctuary where the company of the heavenly beings recognizes and glorifies these very occurrences on the earth as a revelation of the glory of Jahweh” (von Rad, 1.360).

 

 NOTES/BIBLIOGRAPHY

All quotations from the Apostolic Fathers are from the translation of Lightfoot, Harner, Holmes, 2nd edition.

All quotations of Origen’s Commentary on John 13-32 are from Ronald E. Heine, trans., FOTC, Origen: Commentary on the Gospel According to John Books 13—32(Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1993).  Thanks to Peter Martens for pointing out this passage to me.

“The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas,” in Acts of the Christian Martyrs, trans. Herbert Musurillo (London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1972), 111-13.

Harold Attridge, Hebrews (Minneapolis: Fortress Press).

David H. Tripp, “‘Gnostic Worship’: the State of the Question,” in Gnosticism in the Early Church, Studies in Early Christianity 5, ed. David M. Scholer (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1993), 322-23; reprinted from Studia Liturgica 1 (1987): 210-20.

Margaret Barker, Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2003).

Patrick D. Miller, “Cosmology and World Order in the Old Testament: The Divine Council as Cosmic-Political Symbol,” in Patrick D. Miller, Israelite Religion and Biblical Theology: Collected Essays, JSOTSS 267 (Sheffield, 2000).  Previously published in HBT 9 (1987), 53-78.

Robert A. Oden, Jr., “Cosmology, cosmogony,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.1170.

H.-J. Fabry, “סוד, sod” in TDOT 10.174-75; H.-J. Fabry, “סוד als ekkleiologischer Terminus,” Bausteine Biblischer Theologie: Festgabe für G. Johannes Botterweck zum 60. Geburtstag dargebracht von seinen Schülern, (Köln-Bonn: Peter Hanstein, 1977).

Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. by James Robinson, 3rd edition.

April D. Deconick, “Heavenly Temple Traditions and Valentinian Worship: A Case for first-Century Christology in the Second Century,” in Carey C. Newman, James R. Davila, and Gladys S. Lewis, Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism:  Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, SJSJ 63 (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 308-41.

Pheme Perkins in “Identification with the Savior in Coptic Texts from Nag Hammadi,” in Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, ed. Newman, Davila, Lewis (Leiden: Brill, 1999).

Frank C. Senn, “Lutherans Are Natural ‘Splitters’,” Worship 79 (July 2005).

Gordon W. Lathrop, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

Jean Daniélou, Theology of Jewish Christianity I.

  1. 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.

  1. J. Krause,Psalms 1-59: A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988)
  2. 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—5Revelation 6—16, and Revelation 17—22.

Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 1—12.

George Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1 (Hermeneia).

James Davila, Liturgical Works.

Claus Westermann, “kbd” TLOT 2.

Robert Hayward, Divine Name and Presence: The Memra.

Lucien Deiss, trans Benet Weatherhead, Early Sources of the Liturgy (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1975).

  1. Ringgren, “עמד,” inTDOT 11.182-85.
  2. Grundmann, “‘ίστημι,”TDNT 7.641, 43.

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Heavenly Worship in Second Temple Judaism, Early Christianity, and Gnostic Sects: Part 4

Part 4 of a series by guest blogger, Stephen Huebscher

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C. CONCEPTIONS OF HEAVENLY WORSHIP IN GNOSTIC GROUPS

This post deals with groups that are known as “Gnostics” from the Greek word gnosis = “knowledge.” They developed the century after Christianity. They are the darling of much of contemporary scholarship, which tends to trust them more as authentic christianities and distrust the NT—it is so backwards! One of the results of the problem these groups posed, is that early Christians developed their understanding of Christianity in order to show the distinction. But when you read these, you will see a sampling of how these groups derided and scorned followers of Jesus.

Some scholars are using the term “Gnostic” less these days, because we have come to see that there was a fair amount of diversity among these groups. But the term is still useful. To follow up on the previous point, the groups who drew on the mystical elements present in some streams of Judaism (e.g., Enoch) as well as middle-Platonism came to be known as “Gnostics,” though many scholars regard this as a fairly elastic, catch-all category. There were many different Gnostic groups, which have been divided into three major types, based on their liturgical practices: (1) Cults of Power—e.g., Simon Magus; (2) Groups originating from the Separation of Christianity from Judaism—and (3) ‘The Gentile Counter-Churches’—e.g., Valentinus, Marcion, and Tatian. (Although Montanus may be classed in this division, he and his Church cannot usefully be pushed into the same theological classification with the others as a ‘Gnostic’ phenomenon.) Look at some of the things they wrote. (Word that are between angle brackets show where there was a break in the text, and the scholar inserted their best guess.)

 Treat. Seth 60.16-29. It is an ineffable union of undefiled truth, as exists among the sons of light, of which they made an imitation, having proclaimed a doctrine of a dead man and lies so as to resemble the freedom and purity of the perfect assembly, (and) themselves with their doctrine to rear and slavery, worldly cares, and abandoned worship . . . .  [This Sethite text scorns Christians for imitating the heavenly world, but in the process admits belief in a perfect, heavenly assembly. Boldface added.]

 Ap James 15.13-23. And when we had passed beyond that place, we sent our mind(s) farther upwards and saw with our eyes and heard with our ears hymns and angelic benedictions and angelic rejoicing.  And heavenly majesties were singing praise, and we too rejoiced. [In this text, the disciples mentally ascend to heaven, where they join the heavenly worship.]

 Disc. 8-9, 56.22—57.9. Lord, grant us a wisdom from your power that reaches us, so that we may describe to ourselves the vision off the eighth and the ninth.  We have already advanced to the seventh, since we are pious and walk in your law. . . .  Lord, grant us the truth in the image.  Allow us through the spirit to see the form of the image that has no deficiency, and receive the reflection of the pleroma from us through our praise. [Here, the speakers pray for the ability to ascend to the eighth and ninth heavens so that they may have the heavenly vision of God.]

 Irenaeus AH 1.21.3. For some of them prepare a nuptial couch, and perform a sort of mystic rite (pronouncing  certain expressions) with those who are being initiated, and affirm that it is a spiritual marriage which is celebrated by them, after the likeness of the conjunctions above [italics mine].

 Irenaeus AH 1.21.3. After this [baptism] they anoint the initiated person with balsam; for they assert that this unguent is a type of that sweet odour which is above all things.

 Zost 8.10-14. And about this airy-earth, why it has a cosmic model?  And about the aeon copies, how many there are, and, why they are [not] in pain?

 These groups generally believed that there was one God, but many lower, divine beings in heaven, and that there were angels. Some also believed that the male God had a female consort.  Most references to worship in the realms above the earth are rather general, whether in the presence of God or merely in the Aeons between heaven and earth. There is not much material extant on what most of them did for liturgy, and even less on what they thought they were accomplishing by what they did. These references often only say that “x praised y” or that “x prayed for forgiveness.”  Generally, liturgical form is not implied.

Here are some more texts which refer to some kind of religious acts that might be called “liturgy” or “piety” or “worship.”

Origen, Comm John 13.114 – Heracleon thinks, however, that the expression “we worship” means the one who is in the aeon and those who have come with him, for these, he says, have known whom they worship, because they worship in truth. [Italics original.  Those who have already ascended and are in the aeon, one of the intermediary levels of heaven between the Father and earth, are presumed by Heracleon, a Valentinian, to worship the Father properly.]

 Val Exp 25.30—26.21 – [He is] . . .the [true] High Priest, [the one who has] the authority to enter the Holies of Holies, revealing the glory of the Aeons and bringing forth the abundance to . The East [. . . that is] in [him.  He is the one who revealed himself as] the primal [sanctuary] and [the] treasury of  [the All]. [liturgical terms and cosmology with heavenly paradigm—primal sanctuary—implied]

 Val Exp 39.20-22 – [The complete one glorifies] Sophia; the image [glorifies] Truth. [worship in the heavenly realms, but not worshiping Jesus]

 Val Exp 40.20-29 – And we [glorify] thee:  [Glory] be to thee, the Father in the [Son, the Father] in the Son, the Father [in the] holy [Church and in the] holy [angels]!  [glory to God among the angels]

 Gosp Truth 40.30—41.3 – For that very reason he brought him forth in order to speak about the place and his restingplace from which he had come forth, and to glorify the pleroma, the greatness of his name and the sweetness of the Father. [The Son was created to praise the pleroma (in heaven?)]

 Tripart Trac 64.20-22 – The one whom they hymn, thereby glorifying him, he has sons. [the beings created by the ?son sing hymns of praise to him]

 Tripart Trac 68.22 – Therefore, in the song of glorification and in the power of the unity of him from whom they have come, they were drawn into a mingling and a combination and a unity with one another.  They offered glory worthy of the Father from the pleromatic congregation, which is a single representation although many. . . .   Now this was a praise […] [the pleromas sing praise]

Some groups, such as the Valentinians, believed that the person’s soul passed through multiple heavens, each higher than the last, in order to gaze upon God and sometimes participate there in the angelic liturgy. (In the Valentinian form, one had to ascend first through thirty levels (Aeons). In other words, worship = ascending to heaven. A key difference from early Christian texts is that Jesus was not worshiped, either in heaven or on earth. After all, he was merely the human body that the heavenly Savior or Christ descended on.  There were many other heavenly beings who were much higher and much more important and glorious than the Christ.  For instance, in the Gospel of Philip, “the sacramental catechesis. . . insists that its rites transform the initiate into Christ in contrast to those of conventional Christians which merely lend the name Christian” (Pheme Perkins, “Identification with the Savior,” 183). Also, they believed it was an error to worship God as the Creator. This is because at least one group (the Valentinians) distinguished between God and the creator. The one who created the world was not God, but said was a lower being that resulted from a botched abortion by Sophia. This, of course, was a significant difference from OT and early Christian practice.

Not covered here are the mysterious references to the heavenly “bridal chamber,” about which little is known.

CHRISTIANITY COMPARED TO GNOSTIC GROUPS

  1. Christians worshiped Jesus. This was a big deal. Gnostics never did.
  2. Christians worshiped God as Creator. Gnostics never did.
  3. Some Gnostic groups (e.g., Valentinians) believed in ascending to heaven as a substitute for worship. They didn’t need Jesus, etc.

“We may not always know what we are reading in ancient documents.  We do not always know how a document is related to its own context, since the context is not always known.  In the final analysis, we can only do what we are mandated to do by the dominical institutions as we have them in the writings that the church canonized as sacred scripture.  We preach the gospel to all people and baptize in the triune name those who come to faith in Jesus.  We take bread and wine and give thanks over them.  There are models in the tradition that can instruct us in how to do these things.  But we must finally do them in a way that reflects our own obedience of faith and expresses our own devotion to the Giver of every good and perfect gift.” (Frank Senn, 327-28)

NOTES/BIBLIOGRAPHY

David H. Tripp, “‘Gnostic Worship’: the State of the Question,” in Gnosticism in the Early Church, Studies in Early Christianity 5, ed. David M. Scholer (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1993), 322-23; reprinted from Studia Liturgica 1 (1987): 210-20.

Margaret Barker, Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2003).

Robert A. Oden, Jr., “Cosmology, cosmogony,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.1170.

Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. by James Robinson, 3rd edition.

April D. Deconick, “Heavenly Temple Traditions and Valentinian Worship: A Case for first-Century Christology in the Second Century,” in Carey C. Newman, James R. Davila, and Gladys S. Lewis, Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism:  Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, SJSJ 63 (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 308-41.

Pheme Perkins in “Identification with the Savior in Coptic Texts from Nag Hammadi,” in Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, ed. Newman, Davila, Lewis (Leiden: Brill, 1999).

Frank C. Senn, “Lutherans Are Natural ‘Splitters’,” Worship 79 (July 2005).

Gordon W. Lathrop, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

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

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

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Heavenly Worship in Second Temple Judaism, Early Christianity, and Gnostic Sects: Part 3

Guest blogger, Stephen Huebscher
This is the third of five posts in this series.

B. CONCEPTIONS OF HEAVENLY WORSHIP IN EARLY CHRISTIANITY

Early Christian conceptions of heavenly worship drew heavily on the OT and, not surprisingly, show a similarity, though with some important differences.  Revelation and Hebrews are undoubtedly the most important NT books to gain an understanding of the heavenly liturgy and its significance for Christians on earth.

Revelation

Revelation 4—5 is the most comprehensive of all the worship scenes and hymns in the book.  It has a number of OT antecedents, including Exodus 19, Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1—2, and especially Daniel 7:9ff, which Beale argues is the primary interpretive lens John uses to understand the visions he has seen (Beale 315, 366-69). The fact that Isaiah 6 forms a part of the understanding of the heavenly throne room in Revelation is a striking contrast to the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice where this OT text is not even mentioned! (Davila 91). Rev. 4—5 presents a scene of heavenly worship around the throne of God, and in that sense is similar to what were later called the merkavah hymns in Jewish mystical texts of hekhalot literature.  David Aune correctly observes the connection between the heavenly worship scenes in Revelation and the divine council.  “The focus on the throne vision is God enthroned in his heavenly court surrounded by a variety of angelic beings or lesser deities (angels, archangels, seraphim, cherubim) who function as courtiers.  All such descriptions of God enthroned in the midst of his heavenly court are based on the ancient conception of the divine council or assembly found in Mesopotamia, Ugarit, and Phoenicia as well as in Israel” (Aune 277). Scholars have argued for a variety of sources for the liturgy portrayed here, ranging from Jewish synagogues to Christian churches.  However, I have been most persuaded by Beale’s arguments for a strong OT background for this passage (as well as the rest of the book), and I believe he is correct when he writes, “John intended the readers to see what is told of in the vision as a heavenly pattern that the church is to reflect in its worship rather than the other way around (just as the heavenly pattern of the tabernacle shown to Moses on the mountain was to be copied by Israel in the construction of their own tabernacle)” (Beale 312). Beale summarizes:

The concluding hymns of Rev. 4:11 and Rev. 5:9-13 bear out that this idea—that sovereignty in creation is the basis for sovereignty in judgment and redemption—is the main theme of the two chapters . . .” (Beale 369, italics original). One of the keys to seeing these chapters as a heavenly liturgical pattern for earthly worship comes at the end of chapter 5, where creatures on earth join the heavenly praise, and to which the elders add “Amen.”  Of the prayers of the saints that the elders hold in 5:8, the elders function as heavenly priests, according to Aune (356). The use of καινός (new) “associates Christ’s redemptive work with the beginning of a new creation . . .” (Beale 358).

In Revelation 6:9-11 (souls of the martyrs under the altar) Beale believes that the altar is to be identified with the throne of God, thereby showing divine protection (Beale 391-92). Although the importance of silence in Revelation 8:1-4 (silence in heaven) is probably to be found in Jewish writings, it may perhaps reflect “the practice of maintaining silence in the Jerusalem Temple while the priests went into the Holy Place to offer incense; it was during such a time that Zacharias had his vision of the archangel Gabriel” (James Roger Black, personal note).  Revelation 11:19 with its mention of the ark in heaven points to the “presence of God without a literal reappearance of the ark . . . which is expanded in 21:3, 22, where the establishment of the end-time temple is interpreted as God’s presence in the midst of his people” (Beale, Revelation, 619).

Revelation 19:9 mentions the wedding supper of the Lamb, which may be the (eschatological) wedding meal mentioned elsewhere in Scripture and Gnostic literature (Isa. 25:6-7; 65:13-17; Matt 22:1-10 = Gos. Thom. 64; Matt. 25:10; Luke 12:36; 14:8; Acts Thom. 4-5, 7, 13) (Aune, Revelation 17—22, 1032). If this is so, then it is the referent for Jesus’ statement at the Last Supper about drinking new wine in his Father’s kingdom (Matt 26:29; Mark 14:25; possibly Luke 22:18).  This, in turn, makes the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper an earthly type of the (future), heavenly worship. Other texts that could be added, though not specifically wedding texts, include Matt 8:11-12; Luke 13:28-29; 14:15; 22:28-30.

Hebrews. Hebrews 8—10 has a lengthy discussion of the application of Jeremiah 31 and the new covenant to the situation of Christians.  In it, the author repeatedly makes distinctions between the earthly “tent” of the Mosaic worship and the true, heavenly “tent” that Christ has entered to make atonement for sins once for all.  For our purposes, two observations by Attridge will suffice.  “The basic image with which our author operates is that of a paradigmatic sanctuary, probably with two parts, in heaven” (Attridge 223).  “The interior reality that the heavenly temple symbolizes is not a principle or virtue generally available to humankind, but a relationship made possible by Christ” (Attridge 224). Although the author of Hebrews makes much use of liturgical language, the application to Christians generally does not put a lot of emphasis on ritual act, but rather on prayer, public praise, and service (e.g., Hebr. 13:15).

Hebrews 12.22-23

You, however, have approached Mount Zion and a city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem; and myriads of angles in festive gathering and an assembly of firstborn who are inscribed in heaven; and a judge, God of all, and spirits of the righteous who have been perfected. [This passage uses language that draws on the picture of the cosmic mountain in the OT and ANE (which is where God convenes the divine council), divine theophanies, and visions of the celestial court.  This text shows human Christians participating with heavenly beings in a festival gathering, which, by definition, has liturgical overtones.] (Attridge 371, 374-75).

Other NT. In other NT texts, the cosmology and population of heaven is usually very similar to that found in OT texts. For instance, Paul’s statement “I charge you, in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels,” (1 Tim 5.21) should be probably be understood as a divine council scene.  The differences in heaven are both cosmological and liturgical.  Cosmologically, Christ has been highly exalted.  The liturgical implication is that he therefore receives worship.  In other words, Christ now becomes the focal point of heavenly worship.  Unlike some of the DSS and later hekhalot texts, no angels, not even exalted ones, ever receive worship in heaven.  A second cosmological difference is that whereas OT Israelites would pray to the Name in the Jerusalem temple and God would hear in heaven, now Christians are to pray to Jesus in heaven, and the Father will hear them (e.g., 1 Kings 8; John 14:13-14). “Name” was still used as a reference to Jesus in some of the NT texts (Acts 5:41; 3 John 7). Other names or titles for Jesus include Law, Covenant, Beginning, and Day (Daniélou, 147-63).

The present identity of Christians is often referred to in the same terms used of celestial beings: sons of God, children of God, children of the Most High, saints/holy ones, stars, etc. The future identity of Christians seems to be celestial beings, and some texts seem to state that Christians will be on par with or part of God’s divine council (DC).

Some texts show joint human/angelic worship (e.g., Hebr 12:22-23), just as some OT texts show joint human/angelic combat (e.g., Judges 5:20 “the stars fought with Sisera”). This joint worship makes sense when we understand that God is present among worshipers, and that members of the heavenly host are present with him.  The fact that God is present accounts for the emphasis on the proper way of worshiping God.

The worship of angels in Colossae that Paul opposed “may represent a cultic practice of visionary ascent and deification,” a practice which has connections with the mystical views both in Jewish and Gnostic sects. (Perkins, 167)

This last quotation in this post is from Justin Martyr, and early Christian writer.

Justin, Apol. I, 65-66. On the day which is called Sun-day, all . . . gather in the same place.  Then the Memoirs of the Apostles or the Writings of the Prophets are read . . . .  The president speaks. . . .  Then we rise all together and pray (Deiss 25). [Basil some years later comments on his understanding of standing in prayer, which scholars believe to be reflected in the forgoing quotation from Justin. “We stand up when we pray, on the first day of the week (i.e., Sunday)… also because that day itself seems in some fashion to be an image of the world to come” (Deiss 25). This becomes significant when we realize that the phrase “stand before” is often used with the liturgical sense of “serve” in biblical and Jewish texts of angelic messengers who serve God.]

CONTINUITY AND DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OT & NT

There is a lot of continuity and overlap between OT and NT on this issue. The biggest difference is that the OT has a mysterious “second Yahweh” figure, whereas Jesus is part of the equation in the NT. Stay tuned for Part 4.

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The Myth of an Aramaic Original New Testament

I get questions about whether the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic. Some really aren’t questions; they are (I presume) well-meaning people trying to inform me of the “fact” of Aramaic primacy. In light of those sorts of emails, it was nice to come across a well-written summary of why this is a myth (by a professional Aramaic translator no less) It is an even-handed discussion that goes beyond the way I try to disabuse people of the myth in a shorter, less elegant way.

I would only add that this discussion makes zero sense for the two-thirds of the New Testament written to Gentile churches. It’s really about gospel originals (and Luke must then be excluded). And there are no (as in zero) manuscripts of the New Testament that compete with the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament for chronological primacy, either. Aramaic New Testaments from antiquity are all translations made a couple centuries or so after the New Testament was written in Greek.

I periodically am asked about the Lamsa translation of the Bible, which is an attempt to produce an English translation on the basis of Aramaic (Syriac) manuscripts, there is a review here. It speaks for itself (Lamsa’s translation wasn’t exactly hailed by Aramaic specialists).

 

 

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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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Heavenly Worship in Second Temple Judaism, Early Christianity, and Gnostic Sects: Part 1

By guest blogger, Stephen L. Huebscher

This series was originally written as an academic paper for presentation at a conference. At the time, we were doing research on the divine council for what ended up in Mike’s book The Unseen Realm. I had told Mike I was interested in worship. He helped me design a topic that was more likely to be included in the program, and this was the result! At the conference, I was assigned a time slot late in the day in a tiny room that was hard to find. Only a handful of people came. Nevertheless, there are some really interesting conclusions here (to me at least) that say, in the simplest terms: worshiping God with other believers in a church is important. There is more to worship than what is here, but there is not less. Someday, I hope to write a book on worship, and this will be part of it, somehow.

Ancient peoples often believed that heavenly (celestial) worship provided a normative or authoritative pattern for earthly worship. They also commonly believed in some kind of divine transformation (e.g., glorification) in the presence of the god or God. The biblical texts tended to belong to one stream (though not exclusively), while the texts with a platonic-like cosmology tended to belong to another stream (again, with exceptions).  Over time the divergence between the two became greater, and shows up most obviously later in the mystical Jewish hekhalot texts (which are not covered here). One of the difficulties of this study is that non-biblical texts, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Gnostic manuscripts, are often highly fragmented and with little context, so most conclusions are tentative, whether explicitly stated or not.

STEP ONE: DEVELOPING A VOCABULARY

Here is a brief overview of some of the key words and concepts relating to worship, some of which are not obviously connected with worship at a first glance. Obvious worship words are the easy ones, words like “sing,” “worship,” “priest,” “sacrifice,” “incense,” and “pray,” especially when several of these are used together in phrases such as “sing the praise of x.”  Subtle worship words are a bit more tricky, like “congregation,” “assembly,” “stand before,” “serve,” “bow,” “remember.”  These words are more dependent on the context for their liturgical meaning.  For this study, I have coined or at least adopted terms to identify kinds of language that I did not otherwise have language for. There are several groups of this. For instance, what I will call exaltation words are not directly about worship, but often give the context where worship is implied. This includes phrases like “exalted above every name,” “exalted in the heavenlies,” etc.  There can be overlap with cosmological words.  Cosmological words are also not directly about worship, but often give the context where worship is implied.  This would include such things as “the highest heaven,” “the heaven of heaven,” “ascending,” etc. Architectural words include things like “temple,” “palace,” “tabernacle,” “house,” and “tent.”  All of these words can be used for the dwelling place of a god/God, and therefore also for the place of worship.

STEP TWO: RECOGNIZING THE BIBLICAL, HEAVENLY PARADIGM

Many of the key texts from the earlier part of the Old Testament continued to be influential. Contrary to what mainstream scholars hold, I believe that much of the Pentateuch is from the time of Moses. Look at the emphasis on the heavenly source for worship that we find in Exodus 25:9,40. (Actually, this idea of a heavenly pattern was fairly common throughout in the ANE.)

 Exodus 25:9, 40. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. (v. 9 ESV) And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain. (v. 40 ESV)

One of the last books written in the Old Testament was the book of Chronicles, along with others such as Ezra and Nehemiah. In Chronicles, at the end of the Old Testament period in the Persian times, we find that the biblical author repeated this same idea about the importance of the heavenly source and paradigm for Israel’s worship. Notice this text, which refers to the plans for Solomon’s temple:

 1 Chron. 28:19. All of this the LORD made clear to David directly in a document, including the plan for all of the work. (1 Chr. 28:19 CEB)

Later on, early Christian writers (both biblical and post-biblical) also used terminology that points to this kind of understanding, both in Scripture and in the first few centuries following.

 Luke 20:4. The baptism of John—was it from heaven or men? [The implication is that if it was based on a heavenly paradigm, then it should  be recognized as authoritative.]

 Hebrews 9:24. Christ has entered, not copies, but heaven. [The assumption is that earthly temples are copies of the heavenly sanctuary.]

 Ignatius Trall 3.1. Similarly, let everyone respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, just as they should respect the bishop, who is a model of the Father, and the presbyters as God’s council and as the band of the apostles.  Without these no group can be called a church. [This implies that the local church reflects in a physical way the heavenly council paradigm.]

 Ignatius, Magn 6.1. Be eager to do everything in godly harmony, the bishop presiding in the place of God and the presbyters in the place [= Greek topos; variant, Greek typos = “after the model”] of the council of the apostles and the deacons . . . .  [Again, Ignatius is drawing a parallel between the local church as the visible representation of the celestial divine council.]

 Passion Perpetua & Felicitas 4. This was the vision I had.  I saw a ladder of tremendous height made of bronze, reaching all the way to the heavens, but it was so narrow that only one person could climb up at a time. . . .  At the foot of the ladder lay a dragon of enormous size. . . .  I trod on his head and went up.  Then I saw an immense garden, and in it a grey-haired man sat in shepherd’s garb; tall he was, and milking sheep.  And standing around him were many thousands of people clad in white garments.  He raised his head, looked at me, and said: ‘I am glad you have come, my child.’  He called me over to him and gave me, as it were, a mouthful of the milk he was drawing; and I took it into my cupped hands and consumed it.  And all those who stood around said:  ‘Amen!’  At the sound of this word I came to, with the taste of something sweet still in my mouth. [In this important text, Perpetua, who was an early Christian martyr, reports a vision given to her in which God is pictured as an old man and the martyrs in heaven celebrate the Eucharist.  The implication is that these early Christians who recorded and handed this story on believed that they were worshiping the same way that those in heaven were worshiping.]

 Origen, Commentary on John 13.99. For just as the angels (as even the Jews would agree) do not worship the Father in Jerusalem because they worship the Father in a better way than those in Jerusalem, so those who can already be like the angels in their attitude will not worship the Father in Jerusalem but in a better way than those in Jerusalem . . . . [boldface added; Origen claims Jewish support for the idea that heavenly worship is superior to earthly worship, and then adds that Christians who are already like the angels in their attitude will worship God in a superior, i.e., a heavenly, way.  Thus, Origen holds that Christian worship is on par with the heavenly worship, and seems to reflect a belief in a heavenly paradigm.]

 Origen, Commentary on John 13.146. We want to honor God in truth and no longer in types, shadows, and examples, even as the angels do not serve God in examples and the shadow of heavenly realities, but in realities that belong to the spiritual and heavenly order, having a high priest of the order of Melchisedech as leader of the saving worship for those who need both the mystical and secret contemplation. [Origen believes that Christian worship, unlike Gnostic worship, participates currently in a real way in the celestial worship, thus reflecting belief in a heavenly liturgy of which Jewish worship was a shadow.]

 In the coming posts, we’ll look at OT texts, Second Temple non-biblical Jewish texts, NT and early Christian texts, and then drawing some general conclusions.

 

NOTES/BIBLIOGRAPHY

All quotations from the Apostolic Fathers are from the translation of Lightfoot, Harner, Holmes, 2nd edition.

All quotations of Origen’s Commentary on John 13-32 are from Ronald E. Heine, trans., FOTC, Origen: Commentary on the Gospel According to John Books 13—32 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1993).  Thanks to Peter Martens for pointing out this passage to me.

“The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas,” in Acts of the Christian Martyrs, trans. Herbert Musurillo (London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1972), 111-13.

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