Tag Archives: celestial

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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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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Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions: Part 4: Becoming as the Stars and Inheritance of the Nations, Continued

This is Part 4 of David Burnett’s guest blogging series


 

Philo’s Spec. Law 4.187, 2 Baruch 21:4; 48:8, and Romans 4:17: Misconstrual and a Missing Link?

 

This passage is frequently cited by commentators on Rom 4:17, rightly recognizing the parallel language regarding God’s calling “the non-existent things into existence (μὴ ὄντα ἐκάλεσεν εἰς τὸ εἶναι)” (Spec. Laws 4.187) and Paul’s recounting of the God of Abraham who “calls into existence the things that do not exist (καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα)” (Rom 4:17b). Most commentators on Rom 4:17 understand this particular passage in Spec. Laws 4.187 as a reference only to creatio ex nihilo while not taking into account the wider context of the citation as a reference to the establishment of God’s celestial government over the cosmos.1 In this particular context, Philo’s language of calling the non-existent into existence (μὴ ὄντα ἐκάλεσεν εἰς τὸ εἶναι) has nothing to do with the creating of all things out of nothing, but with the creation (in the sense of establishing) of the order or government of the cosmos (κόσμου γένεσίς τε καὶ διοίκησις). This should be read and understood in light of what Philo has already stated earlier in Spec. Laws 1.13-19 (see above), that the κόσμος was created or established (γενητός) as the “greatest of commonwealths (πόλις ἡ μεγίστη),” where the celestial bodies were appointed as the delegated rulers (ἄρχόντας), Philo sharing the Deuteronomic vision. Calling “the non-existent into existence (μὴ ὄντα ἐκάλεσεν εἰς τὸ εἶναι)” is connected to “bringing order out of disorder;” for Philo these are part of a long list of acts of cosmic beneficence that are not works of God alone, but of “He and His beneficent powers (δυνάμεσι)” who in their governance of the κόσμος, “ever make it their business to transmute the faultiness of the worse wherever it exists and convert it to the better (Spec. Laws 4.187).”

 

So then for Philo, the language of God’s calling “the non-existent things into existence (μὴ ὄντα ἐκάλεσεν εἰς τὸ εἶναι)” in Spec. Laws 4.187 should be understood more in terms of the ancient near eastern archetypical idea of creation as bringing order to the chaos, withstanding the idea of the act of bringing things that do not exist into existence. The thrust of the reference to creation here is an establishing of the cosmic government, seeing the κόσμος as “the greatest of commonwealths (πόλις ἡ μεγίστη),” in which the celestial bodies, or powers (δυνάμεσι), are delegated to the nations of the earth as rulers (ἄρχόντας) who are to rule as a father over his children (πατέρα παίδων), imitating (μιμεισθαι) the rule of the Father of all (πάντων πατρός). It is through the mimicking (μιμεισθαι) of this rule that the earthly ruler (of any kind) may be “assimilated to God (ἐξομοιώσεωσ της πρὸς θεόν),” becoming like the celestial “fathers (πατέρας)” or even the “Father of all (πάντων πατρός).”2

 

The same argument as above can be made with regard to the commentators’ use of 2 Baruch 21:4 and 48:8 as examples of creatio ex nihilo in relation to Romans 4:17.3 2 Bar. 21:4 reads: “O, you who have made the earth, hear me, who has (fi)xed the (fi)rmament by the word, and have set the height of heaven in place by the Spirit, which has called from the beginning of the world things which did not previously exist, and they obey you.”4 Here, in context, the calling into being of “things which did not exist” speaks of the fixing of the “firmament” and “the heights of heaven” which are actually personified saying, “they obey you.” Reading a bit further into the context may make clear what is being discussed here. Immediately following in 2 Bar. 21:5-6, “You have commanded the air by your nod, and have seen the things which are to come as those which have occurred (already). You who rule the hosts that stand before you with great reckoning and who rules with indignation the countless holy beings which you created from the beginning with (fl)ame and (fi)re which stand around your throne.” In context, the language of the personified “heights of heaven” that “obey you” that “previously did not exist” (2 Bar. 21:4), are referring to the celestial bodies or the heavenly host; the countless holy beings that “he created from the beginning.”

 

Again, when 2 Bar. 48:8 is read in context, the “bringing to life of that which did not exist” takes on a new dimension. 2 Bar. 48:8-10 reads:

 

“With signs and fear and indignation you command the (fl)ames, and they change into spirits. And with a word you bring to life that which does not exist, and with mighty power you hold that which has not yet come. You instruct created things in your understanding, and you make wise the spheres so as to minister in their orders. Armies without number stand before you and minister in their orders quietly at your sign.” (2 Bar. 48:8-10)

 

What is brought to life that has not existed before in this text, like above, are the celestial bodies and their role in the ordering of the cosmic government. Once he has brought them into existence, he “makes wise the spheres so as to minister in their orders.” Both of the texts from 2 Baruch refer not merely to creatio ex nihilo, but to the establishment of the order of the cosmos, giving the celestial bodies wisdom to “minister in their orders.”

 

It is important to keep in mind this interpretation when considering how 2 Baruch later discusses the vindication of the righteous. After the dead are raised in 2 Bar. 50:1-4, the destiny of those that were righteous is discussed in 2 Bar. 51:

 

“their splendor will be glori(fi)ed in changes, and the appearance of their face will be turned into the light of their beauty, so that they may be able to acquire and receive the world which does not die, which is promised to them (51:3) … When, therefore, they [speaking of the unrighteous] see that those over whom they are now exalted, who will then be exalted and glori(fi)ed more than they, they will be transformed: the latter into the splendor of angels (51:5) … and time will no longer age them (51:9). For they will dwell in the heights of that world, and they will be made like the angels. And they will be made equal to the stars … and from light into the splendor of glory (51:10) … and there will then be excellence in the righteous surpassing that in angels (51:12).”

 

Here in 2 Baruch, the angelic transformation of the righteous is spoken of in terms of “being made equal to the stars” (51:10). Baruch’s reason for this is so that “they may be able to acquire and receive the world which does not die, which is promised to them” (51:3).

 

So in 2 Baruch 21:4 and 48:8, the language of being “called from the beginning of the world things which did not previously exist” referred to the establishment of the cosmic order and the celestial bodies who obey him, similar to that of Philo’s Spec. Laws 4.187. Later in 2 Baruch 51, the righteous after the resurrection must be changed into the likeness of the stars or angels so that they might be exalted and “be able to acquire and receive the world which does not die, which is promised to them” (51:3). In both Philo Spec. Laws 4.187 and 2 Bar. 21.5 and 48:8, the bringing into being of that which did not exist referred not merely to creatio ex nihilo in a general sense, but more specifically of the establishment of the celestial bodies and their orders, akin to that of the Deuteronomic vision. It is also important to note that in both texts there was the hope of deification (or angelomorphism), whether in terms of assimilation to God or to become like the stars or angels. This reading of Spec. Laws 4.187 and 2 Bar. 21.5 and 48:8 may provide a missing link with Rom 4:17b and the constellation of language and concepts found there.

 

Sirach’s Reception of the Deuteronomic Vision

 

Sirach also appears to share in the Deuteronomic vision. Sirach 17:17, speaking in context of Yahweh’s election of Israel, states: “He appointed a ruler for every nation (ἑκάστῳ ἔθνει κατέστησεν ἡγούμενον), but Israel is the Lord’s own portion (καὶ μερὶς κυρίου Ισραηλ ἐστίν).” Though the term ἡγούμενον is used frequently in the LXX of human rulers, there seems to be a clear echo of Deut 32:9 here in Sirach 17:17, “but Israel is the Lord’s own portion (καὶ μερὶς κυρίου Ισραηλ ἐστίν)” (see Deut 32:9, “καὶ ἐγενήθη μερὶς κυρίου λαὸς αὐτοῦ Ιακωβ”).5 This is significant in light of Sirach’s understanding of the Abrahamic promise of Gen 22:17, as discussed above, that God would “exalt (ἀνυψῶσαι) his seed as the stars, giving them an inheritance (κατακληρονομῆσαι) from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Sir 44:21). The reception of the Deuteronomic vision in Sirach makes clear how the author can read the promise God makes to Abraham in Gen 22:17, to “multiply your seed as the stars of heaven (πληθυνῶ τὸ σπέρμα σου ὡς τοὺς ἀστέρας τοῦ οὐρανοῦ),” as “exaltation (ἀνυψῶσαι).” In Sirach 44:21, the connection made between the Abrahamic and Davidic promises is that the inheritance (κληρονομήσει) of the “governments of your enemies (πόλεις τῶν ὑπεναντίων)” in Gen 22:17 is understood as receiving dominion (κατακυριεύσει) from “seas to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”6 In the Deuteronomic vision, the stars were understood as the “gods (θεοῖς)” or “angels of God (ἀγγέλων θεοῦ)” who had been “allotted (ἀπένειμεν)” to rule all the “nations under heaven (πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν τοῖς ὑποκάτω τοῦ οὐρανοῦ),” but Israel was to be ruled over directly by Yahweh as his own inheritance (κληρονομίας) (Deut 4:19; 17:3; 29:6 [25]; 32:8-9). It can be argued then that Sirach 44:21 reads the Abrahamic promise of Gen 22:17 qualitatively through the lens of the Deuteronomic vision, seeing the promise of celestial glory as usurping the rule of the gods or angels of the nations and exalting (ἀνυψῶσαι) the seed of Abraham as the stars to receive the inheritance (κατακληρονομῆσαι) of the all nations of the earth “from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”7

 

Wisdom of Solomon’s Reception of the Deuteronomic Vision

 

The Wisdom of Solomon, a text scholars have mined for parallels to Romans, speaks of the vindication of righteous dead in 3:7-8: “In the time of their visitation they will shine forth (ἀναλάμψουσιν), and will run like sparks (σπινθῆρες) through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever (κρινοῦσιν ἔθνη καὶ κρατήσουσιν λαῶν, καὶ βασιλεύσει αὐτῶν κύριος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας).”8 Later in 5:5 the unrighteous who are amazed at the unexpected salvation of the righteous say, “Why have they been numbered among the sons of God (υἱοῖς θεοῦ), and their lot among the holy ones (ἁγίοις ὁ κλῆρος)?” In Wisdom, common to texts that share the Deuteronomic vision, the connection again is seen between heavenly shining (ἀναλάμψουσιν) in the afterlife and the rule of the nations (κρινοῦσιν ἔθνη) (Wis 3:7-8). The connection is only strengthened when it is recognizes that they are seen to be among the “sons of God (υἱοῖς θεοῦ)” and the “holy ones (ἁγίοις),” both commonly denotations for the angelic hosts of the heavenly court.9

 

 

  1. It will arguably result in an anachronistic reading of this text to use the language of later Christian doctrine such as creatio ex nihilo in attempting to articulate the thrust of the passage. For the common interpretation of the parallel language of Spec. Laws 4.187 and Rom 4:17b as referring only to creation ex nihilo, see e.g. Byrne, Romans, 159-60; Cranfield, Romans 1-8, 245; Dunn, Romans 1-8, 218; Jewett, Romans, 334; Käseman, Romans, 122.
  2. For further texts in Philo regarding celestial deification or assimilation, see Creation 144; Dreams 1.135-37, 1:138-145; Giants 7; QE 2.114; Moses 2.108.
  3. As with the frequent misconstrual of Spec. Laws 4.187, the same argument can be applied to commentators interpretations of 2 Baruch 21:4 and 48:8 as referring only to creatio ex nihilo, see e.g. Byrne, Romans, 160; Cranfield, Romans 1-8, 245; Dunn, Romans 1-8, 218; Jewett, Romans, 334; Käseman, Romans, 122.
  4. Translation of 2 Baruch is taken from Daniel M. Gurtner, Second Baruch: A Critical Edition of the Syriac Text with Greek and Latin Fragments, English Translation, Introduction, and Concordances, JCTCRS 5 (New York: Continuum, 2009).
  5. See Di Lella, Ben Sira, 283.
  6. See also in the discussion above of the connection with the “exaltation (ἀνύψωσεν)” of David in Sirach 47:11.
  7. This interpretation of the covenant promise may have a narrative similar to that of Psalm 82 in the background.
  8. For recent comparative studies of Wisdom of Solomon and Romans, see e.g. Joseph R. Dodson, The ‘Powers’ of Personification: Rhetorical Purpose in the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans, BZNW 161 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2008); Jonathan A. Linebaugh, God, Grace, and Righteousness in Wisdom of Solomon and Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Texts in Conversation, NovTSup 152 (Leiden: Brill, 2013).
  9. See Nickelsburg, Resurrection, 81-82.

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The Function of the Divine Council in Heavenly Worship: Piety, not Mysticism: Part 5

For the previous post and links to earlier parts of this series by Stephen Huebscher, click here. -MSH


 

SUMMARY OF TEXTS. After surveying the most common biblical and Second Temple texts (together with a few older ones from the ancient Near East), we can see that the majority of the biblical texts consist of little more than reports of heavenly praise, or else calls for heavenly praise to be directed to Yahweh. Even the greatest exception to this, Isaiah 6, is remarkably brief. Since there are no indications that these texts functioned in mystical experiences, I take this paucity of description to indicate such things were not important. In other words, if the writers had wanted to show that they were important, they would have had to do something such as provide lengthy, detailed descriptions or state boldly that union with God or the heavenly host was the goal. Therefore, what was important in almost all these texts was that the celestial spirits, in some instances the divine council, were worshiping God. This belief constituted a part of the piety for many of the biblical writers, and in large part explains why they would mention the heavenly activity in passing, but without further explanation. At times, they may also reflect faith in Yahweh and the stability of his cosmic rule. In one sense, this may be interpreted as cosmological stability (“all is right with the world” if the divine council members are doing their job and praising Yahweh). In other texts, the writer expresses a desire for heavenly creatures to worship Yahweh because of his own inability to adequately praise Yahweh’s very greatness. Also, the mention of celestial praise served the role of pastoral care for faithful Israelites struggling in their faith when others around them were worshiping false gods. In a sense, all of these are related.

When we read these texts in this light, we see that there really does not seem to be any interest in mysticism (as generally defined) in Scripture or most ancient Jewish texts. Thus, although we see such concerns much later, and although they may take their inspiration at times from biblical texts, such interpretive moves reflect only the intentions of those later interpreters, not the authors or editors of Scripture.

In surveying non-biblical Second Temple texts, we saw that their interests diverged from Scripture. There was more of an interest in ascending to heaven, and the individuals played an active role in those ascents. The descriptions were also more elaborate of the celestial realm in general, the groups of angels, and the angelic praise and singing. However, in Enoch and the Qumran texts, the goal of the ascent was to gain a message from God, perhaps in conjunction with a prophetic commissioning, and to bring that message back to earth. Although it may seem overly technical, I believe that this emphasis still marks a clear distinction between these ascent texts and the later mystical Jewish (Hekalot) texts. Because of this, contra Margaret Barker and Phillip Alexander, I do not see mysticism as the lore of the First Temple priests, and therefore I argue that even these texts do not present evidence for it (as does Peter Schäfer in his 2009 book).

The one clear exception to this is Philo of Alexandria. The other possible exception is the community at Qumran. According to Carol Newsom, that some kind of mystical ritual was practiced at Qumran seems likely; but that it consisted of ascending to heaven to view God or gaze on his throne/merkabah is not (Newsom, Journal of Jewish Studies (2011), 160-62). However, this would need to be evaluated on its own merits, and the fragmentary nature of the texts makes it difficult to posit more than Newsom states.

NOW WHAT?

Question: If the divine council liturgical passages don’t demonstrate mysticism in Israel both before and after the exile, where did they come from, and why are they there?

Rather than these praise reports of celestial worship being considered evidence for mysticism, I suggest that they be understood within the development of Jewish theology of a corporate or “ecclesiological” model for the people of God that utilizes the “as in heaven, so on earth” line of thinking. In other words, these passages form a core element of the heavenly model of what the people of God (OT Jews, and then NT Christian) should be like on earth. Since they join together to worship the Most High, so should we. This is a key part of what they were created for, and it is also a key part of what we humans were created for.

Another key part of my suggestion is the theory that ancient, righteous Jews equated themselves as the seed of Abraham with the celestial sons of God (so-called “angels”). (For more on this point, see Brendan Byrne, ‘Sons of God’– ‘Seed of Abraham’: A Study of the Idea of the Sonship of God of All Christians in Paul Against the Jewish Background, 64–67.)

The divine council was (or perhaps came to be) seen by ancient Israelites as a model of sorts. We find this idea, this hermeneutical move, in two passages in Deut (4:19-20; 32:8-9). Deut 4 states that God allotted other nations their own gods to worship, especially the sun, moon, and stars. In other words, God gave them their own false gods to worship. Israel was different, however, because God reserved them for himself. The second text, Deut 32, draws a connection between the number of the sons of God and the number of nations in the world, each nation having its own son of God. (According to the Table of Nations in Gen 10, there were 70 nations. When read in light of Deut 32, this would equal 70 sons of God. Ugaritic mythological texts correlate with this understanding of the world, and in fact state that there were 70 sons of the gods.) Deut 32:8 then states that Israel is not included in this, because Yahweh has reserved them for himself. Let’s isolate the logic of what these texts are saying, together with the texts they are interpreting.

Moses (the “author”) is interpreting the events of Gen 10–12—the rebellion at Babel, the Table of Nations, and the call of Abraham—and linking the actions by people to the changes in the heavenly administration/organization of the world. In Gen 1, God originally appointed humanity to rule (Hebrew: mashal) over the earth even though humans were less powerful than the sons of God (Ps 8). But at Babel (Gen 11), God seems to have reversed this somewhat when he apportioned the 70 nations (Gen 10) to the sons of God (Deut 4 & 32), who were members of the heavenly council. Therefore, God called Abraham (Gen 12) to start a new nation to once more bring the blessing of Yahweh’s rule to the world. According to Gen 46:27, there were 70 descendants of Abraham who went down to Egypt. This is probably a kind of typology, showing that God was taking back the nations of the world from the unfaithful sons of God, and perhaps replacing them with the seed of Abraham.

The implication is that the seed of Abraham now become the true and faithful “sons of God.” Thus we have the formula “seed of Abraham = sons of God,” which became very clear in Second Temple literature. (For other biblical examples of this kind of thinking, see Ps 25:14 “council (Hebrew: sod) of the holy ones” = cultic community; Ezek 13:9; Ps 111:1; Prov 3:32; Ps 55:15 [14]).

This is perhaps the key point: pious, orthodox Israelites began to see themselves as the earthly replacement for their rebellious heavenly counterparts (i.e., what people today often call “fallen angels”). Over time, groups that could interpret themselves as the “seed of Abraham” (e.g., both Qumran and early Christians) could also see themselves as the true and faithful Israel, the true sons of God. This was true of the Jewish Essenes at Qumran as well as of the early Christians (though I have not dealt with Christian texts in this blog series). (If this reading is correct, then this theology began at a relatively early date, depending on how one dates Deuteronomy. The “problem” that arises for scholars, however, is that it contradicts modern theories of the development of monotheism from polytheism in ancient Israel, such as those of Wellhausen and later source critics.)

Development in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity

Building on this was the idea of “righteous seed of Abraham=a human temple [God dwells among His people],” an idea present in the Old Testament (in a few texts), Qumran, and early Christianity. When combined with the idea of “inheritance=future, eternal life with God like the angels enjoy,” we have the final major puzzle piece in place: God dwells in the midst of his faithful people, who are the new “sons of God” who will someday take their rightful place as the new members of Yahweh’s celestial council.

In short, I have suggested that it is more coherent to see that the biblical texts demonstrate that the divine council came to be seen as an “ecclesiological” and “eschatological” model for the people of God (following Fabry on this point). In this sense, then, the celestial worship may have been a kind of heavenly ideal for pious Israelites. (Jumping forward historically, this seems to have also formed an important part of the both the corporate/ ecclesiological and “last days”/ eschatological theological beliefs of early Christianity as found in the NT.)

Thus, mysticism in its usual definition is neither the only explanation for the kinds of celestial experiences we read about in Old Testament and Second Temple Jewish texts, nor is it even the best. Rather, it seems to me to be a failed attempt, a grasping at straws, to advance the historical “source” of the theory of multiple kinds of orthodox early Christianity (including gnostic ones, such as Bauer and Ehrmann have argued for!) back in an unbroken line to the core of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. In other words, Margaret Barker clearly argues that the “true” worship of Israel’s God originally was Gnostic, and that later Jewish reformers tried to change and hide this fact (Barker, Great High Priest, xi, 1–2, 315). Obviously, I strongly disagree with this hypothesis, and I think the evidence studied in this series of posts does not support it. This issue is much greater than can be adequately addressed in a short paper like this, and I would guess that because of its appeal, it will enjoy even greater popularity for some time to come.

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The Function of the Divine Council in Heavenly Worship: Piety, not Mysticism: Part 5

For the previous post and links to earlier parts of this series by Stephen Huebscher, click here. -MSH


 

SUMMARY OF TEXTS. After surveying the most common biblical and Second Temple texts (together with a few older ones from the ancient Near East), we can see that the majority of the biblical texts consist of little more than reports of heavenly praise, or else calls for heavenly praise to be directed to Yahweh. Even the greatest exception to this, Isaiah 6, is remarkably brief. Since there are no indications that these texts functioned in mystical experiences, I take this paucity of description to indicate such things were not important. In other words, if the writers had wanted to show that they were important, they would have had to do something such as provide lengthy, detailed descriptions or state boldly that union with God or the heavenly host was the goal. Therefore, what was important in almost all these texts was that the celestial spirits, in some instances the divine council, were worshiping God. This belief constituted a part of the piety for many of the biblical writers, and in large part explains why they would mention the heavenly activity in passing, but without further explanation. At times, they may also reflect faith in Yahweh and the stability of his cosmic rule. In one sense, this may be interpreted as cosmological stability (“all is right with the world” if the divine council members are doing their job and praising Yahweh). In other texts, the writer expresses a desire for heavenly creatures to worship Yahweh because of his own inability to adequately praise Yahweh’s very greatness. Also, the mention of celestial praise served the role of pastoral care for faithful Israelites struggling in their faith when others around them were worshiping false gods. In a sense, all of these are related.

When we read these texts in this light, we see that there really does not seem to be any interest in mysticism (as generally defined) in Scripture or most ancient Jewish texts. Thus, although we see such concerns much later, and although they may take their inspiration at times from biblical texts, such interpretive moves reflect only the intentions of those later interpreters, not the authors or editors of Scripture.

In surveying non-biblical Second Temple texts, we saw that their interests diverged from Scripture. There was more of an interest in ascending to heaven, and the individuals played an active role in those ascents. The descriptions were also more elaborate of the celestial realm in general, the groups of angels, and the angelic praise and singing. However, in Enoch and the Qumran texts, the goal of the ascent was to gain a message from God, perhaps in conjunction with a prophetic commissioning, and to bring that message back to earth. Although it may seem overly technical, I believe that this emphasis still marks a clear distinction between these ascent texts and the later mystical Jewish (Hekalot) texts. Because of this, contra Margaret Barker and Phillip Alexander, I do not see mysticism as the lore of the First Temple priests, and therefore I argue that even these texts do not present evidence for it (as does Peter Schäfer in his 2009 book).

The one clear exception to this is Philo of Alexandria. The other possible exception is the community at Qumran. According to Carol Newsom, that some kind of mystical ritual was practiced at Qumran seems likely; but that it consisted of ascending to heaven to view God or gaze on his throne/merkabah is not (Newsom, Journal of Jewish Studies (2011), 160-62). However, this would need to be evaluated on its own merits, and the fragmentary nature of the texts makes it difficult to posit more than Newsom states.

NOW WHAT?

Question: If the divine council liturgical passages don’t demonstrate mysticism in Israel both before and after the exile, where did they come from, and why are they there?

Rather than these praise reports of celestial worship being considered evidence for mysticism, I suggest that they be understood within the development of Jewish theology of a corporate or “ecclesiological” model for the people of God that utilizes the “as in heaven, so on earth” line of thinking. In other words, these passages form a core element of the heavenly model of what the people of God (OT Jews, and then NT Christian) should be like on earth. Since they join together to worship the Most High, so should we. This is a key part of what they were created for, and it is also a key part of what we humans were created for.

Another key part of my suggestion is the theory that ancient, righteous Jews equated themselves as the seed of Abraham with the celestial sons of God (so-called “angels”). (For more on this point, see Brendan Byrne, ‘Sons of God’– ‘Seed of Abraham’: A Study of the Idea of the Sonship of God of All Christians in Paul Against the Jewish Background, 64–67.)

The divine council was (or perhaps came to be) seen by ancient Israelites as a model of sorts. We find this idea, this hermeneutical move, in two passages in Deut (4:19-20; 32:8-9). Deut 4 states that God allotted other nations their own gods to worship, especially the sun, moon, and stars. In other words, God gave them their own false gods to worship. Israel was different, however, because God reserved them for himself. The second text, Deut 32, draws a connection between the number of the sons of God and the number of nations in the world, each nation having its own son of God. (According to the Table of Nations in Gen 10, there were 70 nations. When read in light of Deut 32, this would equal 70 sons of God. Ugaritic mythological texts correlate with this understanding of the world, and in fact state that there were 70 sons of the gods.) Deut 32:8 then states that Israel is not included in this, because Yahweh has reserved them for himself. Let’s isolate the logic of what these texts are saying, together with the texts they are interpreting.

Moses (the “author”) is interpreting the events of Gen 10–12—the rebellion at Babel, the Table of Nations, and the call of Abraham—and linking the actions by people to the changes in the heavenly administration/organization of the world. In Gen 1, God originally appointed humanity to rule (Hebrew: mashal) over the earth even though humans were less powerful than the sons of God (Ps 8). But at Babel (Gen 11), God seems to have reversed this somewhat when he apportioned the 70 nations (Gen 10) to the sons of God (Deut 4 & 32), who were members of the heavenly council. Therefore, God called Abraham (Gen 12) to start a new nation to once more bring the blessing of Yahweh’s rule to the world. According to Gen 46:27, there were 70 descendants of Abraham who went down to Egypt. This is probably a kind of typology, showing that God was taking back the nations of the world from the unfaithful sons of God, and perhaps replacing them with the seed of Abraham.

The implication is that the seed of Abraham now become the true and faithful “sons of God.” Thus we have the formula “seed of Abraham = sons of God,” which became very clear in Second Temple literature. (For other biblical examples of this kind of thinking, see Ps 25:14 “council (Hebrew: sod) of the holy ones” = cultic community; Ezek 13:9; Ps 111:1; Prov 3:32; Ps 55:15 [14]).

This is perhaps the key point: pious, orthodox Israelites began to see themselves as the earthly replacement for their rebellious heavenly counterparts (i.e., what people today often call “fallen angels”). Over time, groups that could interpret themselves as the “seed of Abraham” (e.g., both Qumran and early Christians) could also see themselves as the true and faithful Israel, the true sons of God. This was true of the Jewish Essenes at Qumran as well as of the early Christians (though I have not dealt with Christian texts in this blog series). (If this reading is correct, then this theology began at a relatively early date, depending on how one dates Deuteronomy. The “problem” that arises for scholars, however, is that it contradicts modern theories of the development of monotheism from polytheism in ancient Israel, such as those of Wellhausen and later source critics.)

Development in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity

Building on this was the idea of “righteous seed of Abraham=a human temple [God dwells among His people],” an idea present in the Old Testament (in a few texts), Qumran, and early Christianity. When combined with the idea of “inheritance=future, eternal life with God like the angels enjoy,” we have the final major puzzle piece in place: God dwells in the midst of his faithful people, who are the new “sons of God” who will someday take their rightful place as the new members of Yahweh’s celestial council.

In short, I have suggested that it is more coherent to see that the biblical texts demonstrate that the divine council came to be seen as an “ecclesiological” and “eschatological” model for the people of God (following Fabry on this point). In this sense, then, the celestial worship may have been a kind of heavenly ideal for pious Israelites. (Jumping forward historically, this seems to have also formed an important part of the both the corporate/ ecclesiological and “last days”/ eschatological theological beliefs of early Christianity as found in the NT.)

Thus, mysticism in its usual definition is neither the only explanation for the kinds of celestial experiences we read about in Old Testament and Second Temple Jewish texts, nor is it even the best. Rather, it seems to me to be a failed attempt, a grasping at straws, to advance the historical “source” of the theory of multiple kinds of orthodox early Christianity (including gnostic ones, such as Bauer and Ehrmann have argued for!) back in an unbroken line to the core of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. In other words, Margaret Barker clearly argues that the “true” worship of Israel’s God originally was Gnostic, and that later Jewish reformers tried to change and hide this fact (Barker, Great High Priest, xi, 1–2, 315). Obviously, I strongly disagree with this hypothesis, and I think the evidence studied in this series of posts does not support it. This issue is much greater than can be adequately addressed in a short paper like this, and I would guess that because of its appeal, it will enjoy even greater popularity for some time to come.

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The Function of the Divine Council in Heavenly Worship: Piety, not Mysticism: Part 4

[Note: This post continues where Part 3 left off.  It includes the rest of the main biblical as well as non-biblical ancient Jewish texts.– MSH]


 

Psalm 97:7–9. “All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods!  Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, Yahweh.  For you, Yahweh, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.”

This psalm focuses on the kingship of Yahweh and uses the imagery of a Divine Warrior.  Vv 1–6 deal with theophany and perhaps victory as a basis for his rule, and as a cause for joy. The problem of the writer seems to have been that not everyone was worshipping Yahweh (vv 10-11). To rectify this situation, the psalmist spoke of the gods who make up the divine council as bowing before Yahweh in praise and submission and recognition of his superiority. Commentators are divided as to whether this bowing should be read as an indicative or an imperative. If indicative, then the gods have already bowed to Yahweh. If imperative, then the psalmist is calling for such action. Why? Because if Yahweh was the true God, the king of heaven, the ruler of all the mighty spirits there; and if these spirits acknowledged that status, then it would make no sense for humans to continue worshiping lesser deities. Perhaps another way to say it is that at least in this psalm, Yahweh’s right to receive worship was linked to the fact that all his closest competitors either already had or at least ought to bow in submission and praise to him. Thus, the mention of gods worshiping Yahweh in this psalm was a key part of the writer’s argument of why humans ought to worship Yahweh, and this desire stemmed from the writer’s own piety.

Psalm 103:20–21. “Bless Yahweh, O you his messengers, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!  Bless Yahweh, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!”

These verses come at the conclusion of this individual psalm of praise. The writer begins and ends with his own need to bless Yahweh. In between he lists various reasons to do so. The mention of “his messengers” and “his hosts” shows that for the writer, even in reflecting on his own need to praise God, he became aware of the inadequacy of such praise, and proceeded to expand the scope to include the faithful doers of God’s work and will in heaven. Perhaps God’s goodness to humans exceeds our greatest capacity to praise him. Or perhaps he thought there should be praise and rejoicing among the heavenly doers of God’s will when their earthly counterparts also do Yahweh’s will and fear him. Whatever the exact reason or combination of reasons, the writer makes it clear that this is linked to his own piety, to his own need to “bless Yahweh.” And somehow, if faithful, heavenly spirits also do that, that is even more fitting.

Psalm 148:1-2. “Alleluia! Praise Yahweh from the heavens, praise him in the heights. 2 Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!”

This psalm is a short call to praise that has a vision of cosmic praise inversely proportionate to its length. The scope of praise includes all the created order, both celestial and terrestrial. The mention of his messengers and “his hosts” (following the plural in an ancient note called the “qereh” reading) draws on the heavenly sphere. In the piety or spirituality of the writer, there is a desire for God to receive the greatest possible amount of praise. Quantity, not just quality, matters also.

Job 38:7. “When the morning stars sang together// And all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

God here recounts his greatness in this section by referring to his glorious work as Creator. The “morning stars,” parallel with “sons of god,” are clear references to the heavenly council. This same parallelism (bn il // pḫr kkbm) is found in one of the texts from Ugarit (CAT, 1.10 i:3–4). By mentioning the divine council, He also introduces the element of his own incomparability. Here it serves to renew and stimulate Job’s piety by humbling him and helping him better grasp his natural insignificance in the cosmic scope of things, especially when compared with Yahweh’s love and concern for him.

Nehemiah 9:6. “You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.”

This text comes at the beginning of a “doxology of judgment,” and forms part of the basis for the confession of sin at the close. (This is a classic penitential prayer passage, which developed after the exile on the basis of Lev 26:39-40.) The repentant members of the community are preparing to confess their sin and ask for Yahweh’s forgiveness so that they might renew the covenant with him. The heavenly council’s existence is assumed, as is their praising of Yahweh. The thought is that God created everything, from the greatest to the least of creation, and therefore they all praise him. Like some other passages, this points to the incomparability of Yahweh. (The word “heavens” probably refers to heavenly beings, which only strengthens what is already clear.)

 

SECOND TEMPLE (NON-BIBLICAL) TEXTS

Besides the OT biblical passages, there are several Second Temple texts which could be studied, of which these are the most salient.

1 Enoch

First Enoch contains a number of passages that record heavenly praise, both by the author as an individual (e.g., 22:14; 25:7; 39:9-11; 81:3; 90:40) and also by groups of heavenly beings (e.g., 39:5, 7, 12-14; 40:3-10; 41:7; 47:1-4; 61:10-13; 69:25-27). These are mostly praise reports, though one scene records the Trisagion (39:12, cf. Isa 6) and heavenly prayer and intercession is also mentioned several times (e.g., 39:5, 7; 40:6, etc.). Four holy angels seem to be the only ones that can approach God’s throne, and it is to these, who serve as intercessors that prayer is to be made. Some of the angels serve as priests, including Michael, who serves as the eschatological high priest. There are also elaborate descriptions of multi-tiered heavens and various ranks of angels. These elements influenced later ascent writings, such as the Testament of Levi and formed an important transition to the later Hekhalot texts. One of the ways it did this is by changing the role of the seer from essentially passive, as in Ezekiel’s case, to active (1 Enoch 14.8-23). “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.).

Here is a key question: Do elements like this support the claim for incipient mysticism? Many people have answered, “Of course. It’s obvious that they do!” However, if we look at what Enoch is actually doing and trying to achieve, we will see that there are clear differences. In Enoch’s ascent (and those in some of the pre-Hekalot texts influenced by 1 Enoch), the goal of the ascent is not seeing God and becoming one with him (which is considered the classic goal/definition of mysticism). Rather, the goal for Enoch is an audition: receiving a message from God to take back to earth (Schäfer, The Origins of Jewish Mysticism, 84–85). This is a huge difference of kind, not degree, like comparing apples to oranges. In short, 1 Enoch does not record mysticism in ancient Israel, though later on it did become an important source and transition for later works that were indeed mystical.

Qumran

Several texts from Qumran deal with celestial liturgy in some form. The best known of these is the seriesSongs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. The texts deal with the celestial world, and so draw on a variety of texts, of which Ezek 40–48 seems to have been the greatest influence. They contain a series of mysterious, vague  texts apparently intended for recitation of some kind. The exact manner of their use has been debated, though in her commentary on them, Carol Newsom argues that they were used by the Qumran community in mystical ceremonies in which they practiced visionary ascent to God’s presence. However, unlike some texts in which this is experience is the climax, in these texts it is the description of the magnificent appearance of the angels and the sacrifices of the angelic high priest that seems to be the primary focus. Most scholars have interpreted the thirteen texts in Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice as being read by the human worshiping community to heavenly spirits in visionary ascent.

Also, they show a cosmology that is similar to that of the (chronologically later) 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. One of the striking differences from the Revelation of St. John, however, is the absence of any reference to Isaiah 6:1-3 fromSongs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. Why? We don’t know. Since the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice are pretty fragmentary, it might be merely an accident of preservation. On the other hand, it might be significant.

The Self-Glorification Hymn.

This is another ascent text in which the writer claims to have been seated in heaven above the “gods” or heavenly spirits. There, he is given what seems to be a prophetic commissioning for the purpose of instructing his community and perhaps leading them in worship. This commissioning seems to be climax of his experience. That the writer ascended to heaven is strongly implied, though not actually stated. Although some scholars like Philip Alexander claim that this demonstrates mysticism in ancient Israel, the fact that the focus is on receiving a message for the community rather than on actual union with God or angels seems to contradict such a claim. Alexander does not seem to catch that the inherent contradiction between what he has just written regarding the prophetic commissioning and his own definition of mysticism when he writes, “The ascender takes his seat in heaven above the angels. This is a classic component of mysticism: the ultimate goal of mystical experience is communion or union with the divine.” (Alexander, Mystical Texts, 90).

Philo.

Although Philo of Alexandria was not, strictly speaking, a writer in ancient Israel, we have included him because he was a prolific Second Temple Jewish writer who does seem to have practiced some form of mysticism. In one sense, Philo constitutes a real exception from what we have seen in the other Jewish texts of ancient Israel. The basis for Philo’s thought, however, is not the Jewish texts, but the ideas of Middle Platonism (as distinguished from the earlier, original Platonism proper, and from the later Neo-Platonism, which were both significantly different). Middle Platonism was an extremely widespread and influential paradigm or system of thought among intellectuals during this time period. One of its defining characteristics was a dualism between the body and the soul. This is demonstrated in Philo’s thought, that only the soul ascends to God, leaving the body (Op Mund 70–71). (This is because souls and minds are “good,” but bodies and physical things are “bad”). Philo clearly describes the experience of union with God in strongly erotic language (Cher. 43–50). Everyone agrees that this is mysticism. Even here, however, there are smaller differences from classic definitions of mysticism. For Philo, the soul, is transformed during the experience, and then returns to its former state after the experience (Som. II 232–33). There is no lasting change, and whole person, body and soul, does not experience mysticism. Thus, even in the one clear example of mysticism in ancient Jewish circles (albeit in Egypt rather than in Israel), the link to the body and soul in mystical union is still not established

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September 11: Happy Birthday to Jesus

Many readers will know that I believe the actual birthdate of Jesus was Sept 11, 3 BC. This isn’t based on any original research of my own (here’s a short YouTube video of me discussing the date). Rather, it is based on the work of E. L. Martin’s The Star that Astonished the World (which can be read for free). Most academics are unaware of Martin’s research because he wasn’t a member of the biblical studies guild. Others reject it out of hand because of Martin’s involvement with the old Worldwide Church of God. The quality of one’s research, however, doesn’t depend on having a PhD in biblical studies or whether one is doctrinally correct in all areas. I don’t buy Martin’s views on other things, but I find his work on the birth of the messiah persuasive (and it has a long history of endorsement in planetariums).

As noted, most academics have no inkling about Martin’s work or its basis. In briefest terms, Martin considers Rev 12:1-7 to describe the actual celestial events of the birth of the messiah (which birth is part of the context of Rev 12:1-7). Most New Testament scholars don’t consider Rev 12 as astral prophecy. The major voice in that regard is Bruce Malina, a well-known New Testament scholar. Unfortunately, Malina dramatically overstates his case in his book, On the Genre and Message of the Book of Revelation. Malina argues that (basically) the entirety of the book of Revelation is astral prophecy. Scholars like G. K. Beale and David deSilva have rightly pointed out Malina’s near total neglect of the Old Testament context of John’s Revelation. Malina’s work deserves such criticism. But it’s misguided to think that we have to choose between seeing astral prophecy everywhere in Revelation to the neglect of how John uses the Old Testament, and seeing it nowhere. I don’t buy that either-or fallacy.

Martin’s thesis has, of course, been critiqued in some detail. There are problems, but none of them are insurmountable and can be rebutted with good evidence. This reality, along with the comprehensive explanatory power Martin’s work, as well as the date’s remarkable synchronicity with Jewish messianic symbolism and calendar, make Martin’s work persuasive to me. Most of the criticisms of Martin’s work revolve around the fact that it requires a date of 1 BC for the death of Herod the Great, something that flies in the face of the (current) consensus of 4 BC for that event. Critics of a 1 BC death for Herod that I have read seem oblivious to the past and recent work in defense of that date — at least I have found references to that research lacking in their criticisms. A date of 1 BC for Herod’s death is not only possible, but more accurately reflects the data now available.  The two best sources for defending Herod’s death in 1 BC — which, again, seem utterly neglected in criticisms of Martin’s work — are:

1) The difficult to find article by Ormond Edwards, “Herodian Chronology,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly  114 (1982): 29-42. Edwards’s article is a study of Herodian coinage and its implications for dating Herod’s reign, including his death. Edwards’ research shows that the death of Herod the Great was Tishri 1, 3 BC (Martin’s Sept 11) by the civil new year’s calendar, or Nisan 1, 2 BC using the ecclesiastical calendar. Edwards writes in his conclusion:

“It is concluded that Josephus in Jewish War was mistaken in his handling of the calendars of the Herodian period. He dated all the Herods’ reigns from the spring new year, whereas the earlier Herods (excluding Agrippa II) dated their coins from the autumn civil new year’s day preceding accession. The error comes to light only when the data in Josephus is compared with the coin dates.”

2) The more recent article by an expert in biblical chronology, Andrew Steinmann, “When Did Herod the Great Reign?” Novum Testamentum 51 (2009) 1-29. The abstract of this article reads:

For about 100 years there has been a consensus among scholars that Herod the Great reigned from 37 to 4 BCE. However, there have been several challenges to this consensus over the past four decades, the most notable being the objection raised by W. E. Filmer. This paper argues that Herod most likely reigned from late 39 BCE to early 1 BCE, and that this reconstruction of his reign can account for all of the surviving historical references to the events of Herod’s reign more logically than the current consensus can. Moreover, the reconstruction of Herod’s reign proposed in this paper accounts for all of the datable evidence relating to Herod’s reign, whereas the current consensus is unable to explain some of the evidence that it dismisses as ancient errors or that it simply ignores.

The above articles are not in the public domain, so I cannot post them. However, I can get copies to interested parties if you subscribe to my email list and the newsletter. This option is only for a limited time. It will start with the next issue (#5) but not continue indefinitely.

There are other issues in Martin’s work that need scrutiny. I’m actually engaged in doing that at present. Having just handed off the manuscript of a new book on 1 Enoch (focused on the importance of the Watchers’ transgression for New Testament theology) that will launch Feb-March 2017, I’m now turning my attention to a partially-written manuscript on astral prophecy. That book will aim to explain what astral prophecy is and isn’t, and expose abuses of it in Christian prophecy talk.

By way of illustrating the abuses, one of the reasons Martin’s work has drawn criticism is because some Christians think that the celestial imagery of Rev 12:1-7 somehow (a) affirms biblical prophecy, or (b) plays a role in future prophecy. The first is simply not true. There was no Old Testament prophecy about the specific astronomical events in Rev 12 signaling the birth of the messiah. The book of Revelation was the last  book of the New Testament. It was written well after the birth of Jesus. Revelation 12:1-7 wasn’t a prediction about celestial events and the messiah. Rather, John is giving us the celestial circumstances handed down to him by unnamed witnesses and (effectively) establishing the birth with significant celestial signs. This isn’t a contrivance on his part because the Sept 11 3 BC date must (and does) work with the rest of the chronology of Jesus’ life produced by the New Testament and other sources.  In regard to future prophecy, there is no verse in the Bible that tells us: (a) that the signs of Jesus’ birth will be mirrored at his second coming, or (b) that the signs of Rev 12:1-7 are the meaning of “the sign of the son of man” mentioned in relation to the second coming (Matt 24:30). Anyone who tells you they can predict the time of the second coming based on a repetition of the celestial events of Rev 12:1-7 should be ignored.

Another abuse comes from folks out there who are using the celestial signs of Rev 12 to predict the rapture and the tribulation are going to happen on Sept 23, 2017. I’m not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I’m going to predict something: This won’t happen. This is a false prophecy. I’m not going to be chummy toward people who abuse Scripture after the fact, like saying certain passages predicted the fall of the twin towers or an American financial collapse, or [fill in the blank with a modern event impacting America]. Sorry, but America isn’t the focus of biblical prophecy. I don’t care what code language they think they’ve figured out (or had channeled to them by special revelation). Ignore these people. Their exegesis is awful (if I were Ezekiel I might use scatological language now, but like I said, I’m not a prophet).

I have many reasons for criticizing modern “prophetic” use of Rev 12:1-7, but I’ll save that for the book. For now I’ll just say that much of what passes for “application” of Rev 12:1-7 misses something very important:  the other celestial signs associated with the birth of Jesus that were present on Sept 11, 3 BC that are not mentioned in Rev 12:1-7 (i.e., there’s a lot more going on in the sky than the items John mentions). Our modern “prophets” don’t seem to be aware of that. But even if they were, see the above — there is nothing in the Bible that says any of this should matter for the second coming.

The bottom line is that if I, or anyone else, tells you they know when the Lord is returning, ignore it. That said, I’m not dumb enough or vain enough (or in the habit of ignoring Matt 24:36) to do that. I’m not going to portray myself as a prophet to dupe you into buying something from me, thinking you’re getting secret information dispensed to me from on high. I just do biblical scholarship and give readers the academic breadcrumb trail. You know the drill if you’ve followed my work for any time. Sure, I’m interested in astral prophecy, but I’m just a biblical scholar. I’m blessed to have an astronomer who has an eye for all this material to provide fodder for consideration and check my own work. Fans of my novel, The Portentknow that person by the name Mantello, as that novel, the sequel to The Facadeweaves astral prophecy into the storyline (which will continue in the third novel). Mantello is not the real name of the astronomer who works with me, nor is he a mute Pakistani teenager, but he is indeed real. I’m meeting with him, Lord willing, in November to talk about the book manuscript. He’s an invaluable resource. Please pray that my time with Mantello is productive.

So, happy birthday Jesus. While only the most callous and inhumane will fail to mourn the loss of so much life on this date in our own memory, let’s not forget the theological significance of the date for the whole world.

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