Tag Archives: glorification

Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions: Part 6: Origen’s Commentary on Romans 4 and the Reception of the Qualitative Interpretation

This is the final installment of David Burnett’s guest series.


 

This reading of Genesis 15:5 may appear novel yet it has an ancient antecedent in one of the earliest commentaries on Romans. Origen believed that in Romans 4, Paul did in fact understand the Abrahamic promise of Genesis 15:5 to become as the stars qualitatively. In his Commentary on Romans 4.6.4, he states: “Thus Abraham ‘against hope believed in hope that he would become the father of many nations,’ (Rom 4:18) which in the future would be like the stars of heaven, not only in terms of the greatness of number but also in splendor.”1 Here Origen reads the quotation of Gen 15:5 in Rom 4:18 explicitly as qualitative. In 4.6.7, he speaks further on the nature of the Abrahamic promise, as he understands Paul’s recounting of it. Discussing the content of Abraham and Sarah’s hope, he states:

 

“On the contrary when they hear of a such a hope of posterity and that the glory of their own offspring would be equal to heaven and its stars, when they hear these things, they do not think about their own goods, about the grace of continence, about the mortification of their members, but instead they regard all these things which contributed to their own gain as loss in order that they might gain Christ.” (Orig. Comm Rom, 4.6.7)

 

Origen assumes that the promise to Abraham and Sarah of an offspring would be “equal to heaven and its stars” in their “glory” is actually understood as the promise to “gain Christ,” drawing on the language of Phil 3:8. Significant here is the immediate context of Phil 3:8 in which Paul is discussing becoming like Christ (3:10) and attaining the resurrection from the dead (3:11).2 Fee rightly points out that Paul’s language regarding them, “children (τέκνα) of God without blemish, though you live in a crooked and perverse generation (γενεᾶς σκολιᾶς καὶ διεστραμμένης)” echoes Deut 32:5 (ἡμάρτοσαν οὐκ αὐτῷ τέκνα μωμητά, γενεὰ σκολιὰ καὶ διεστραμμένη), unsurprisingly where the immediately following verses (Deut 32:6-9) narrate Israel’s election in terms of the Deuteronomic vision as described above. Paul then turns to the language of Dan 12:1-4 to describe the children of God as those who “shine as lights (φωστῆρες, cf. Dan 12:3) in the world (κόσμῳ, cf. note 28),” reflecting the eschatological hope in Daniel as they are “holding on to the word of life (λόγον ζωῆς ἐπέχοντες, Phil 2:16),” echoing the language of Dan 12:3, “those who hold strong to my words (καὶ οἱ κατισχύοντες τοὺς λόγους μου),” as they approach the seemingly immanent eschaton and the full realization of their hope.3 Again, in the context of discussing the fruit of the spirit and dying to lust and vices Origen states: “Your seed and your works can ascend to heaven and become works of light and be compared to the splendor and brilliance of the stars, so that when the day of resurrection arrives, you will stand out in brightness as one star differs from another star” (4.6.9). Origen here relates the Abrahamic promise of star-like seed in Romans 4 to the discussion of the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15, also echoing the language of Daniel 12:3. It seems apparent that Origen takes for granted in his Commentary on Romans that Paul understands the promise to Abraham in Gen 15:5 qualitatively as well as quantitatively.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is necessary to restate the initial problem this paper sought to answer. Esler noticed the deficiency in the quantitative only interpretation of Paul’s use of Genesis 15:5, seeming far too unlikely that having numerous descendants would somehow be the equivalent of inheriting of the cosmos, becoming the father of nations, and the expectation of being resurrected from the dead. This paper proposes a possible answer to this problem. Reading Paul’s use of Gen 15:5 in light of early Jewish deification traditions stemming from a qualitative as well as quantitative interpretation of the Abrahamic Promise provides fruitful results. This proposal is supported by widely attested interpretive traditions from Paul’s early Jewish historical context, whether Palestinian or Hellenistic (or diasporic), and is further received into the Patristic tradition, as seen in Origen, through Paul.

 

 

  1. Translations of Origen here are taken from Thomas P. Scheck, Origen: Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, Books 1-5 (Washington D.C.: Catholic University Press, 2001).
  2. See Phil 3:8-11. Also important to note here previously in Philippians in the context of a moral admonition in light of the coming “day of Christ (ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ), which Paul seems to articulate here as an eschatological conflation Deut 32:5-9 with Dan 12:1-3, he describes the holy ones as “children of God (τέκνα θεοῦ)” who “shine as lights in the world (φαίνεσθε ὡς φωστῆρες ἐν κόσμῳ)” (Phil 2:15).
  3. See Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 244-48. In the eschatological expectation of Romans 8 the holy ones are also called “children of God (τέκνα θεοῦ, 8:16-17, 21),” most likely part of the same complex of language, see above.

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Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions: Part 5: Resurrection and Astral Immortality in Early Judaism and Paul

This is Part 5 of David Burnett’s guest series.


 

In early Judaism it was widely accepted that in the resurrection or afterlife, the righteous were to in some sense become as the stars or angels.1 In Dan 12:2-3, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” John Collins points out that the stars in Dan 8:10 are the host of heaven, which in comparison to Dan 12:3 implies that those raised from the dead in vindication will be associated with the angels.2 A similar idea is found in regard to the destiny of the righteous in 1 Enoch 104:2-6: “But now you shall shine like the lights of heaven, and you shall be seen; and the windows of heaven will be open to you… and you are about to be making a great rejoicing like the angels of heaven.” In the Testament of Moses we also find the affirmation of the astral immortality of the faithful as it states in 10:9: “God will raise you to the heights. Yes, he will fix you firmly in the heaven of the stars.” In context of a discussion of the seven ordered eschatological rest promised for those who “keep the ways of the Most High,” 4 Ezra 7:97 states, “The sixth order, when it is shown to them how their face is to shine like the sun, and how they are to be made like the light of stars, being incorruptible from then on.”

 

4 Maccabees 17:5-6 re-narrates the martyrdom of the faithful mother and her seven sons from 2 Maccabees 7 in the following way:

 

“O mother, destroying the violence of the tyrant with your seven children, rendering his evil intentions void and demonstrating the nobility of faithfulness (πίστεως)! For like a roof set nobly upon the pillars of the children, you, unwavering, bore up under the earthquake brought on by torments. Be confident, therefore, O pious-souled mother, holding firm toward God the hope (ἐλπίδα) that comes from endurance! Not so much, not so much has the moon in heaven among the stars been made to stand as revered as you, who lit the path (φωταγωγήσασα) toward piety for the seven star-like children (ἰσαστέρους ἑπτὰ παῖδας), have been made to stand honored in God’s presence and firmly fixed with them in the heavens. For your child-bearing was from father Abraham.” (4 Macc 17:5-6)

 

Here the mother embodies faithfulness (πίστεως) and her seven sons demonstrate firm hope (ἐλπίδα) that God will vindicate them in their willing martyrdom. The faithful mother now stands more august among the stars than even the moon. Her faithful sons are deemed “star-like,” which seemingly identifies them as true children of Abraham.3

 

Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of the Early Jewish Qualitative Interpretation

 

When considering Paul’s use of Gen 15:5 in Rom 4:18 in light of this early Jewish qualitative interpretation, we find fruitful and interesting exegetical results. When the evidence above has been taken into account, we are provided with a kind of narrative framework, out of which we arrive with a reading proposal that may provide a cogent answer to the interpretive problem this study sought to address. This proposal would provide us with a reading which links all the constituent parts (the inheritance of the cosmos, becoming a father of many nations, and the resurrection of the dead) of the one promise Paul understands to be given to Abraham in Gen 15:5 when he is told “so shall your seed be (οὕτως ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου),” a reference to becoming as the stars.4

 

Psalm 82 as a Narrative Framework for the Reception of the Abrahamic Promise in Early Judaism

 

Within the reception of the Deuteronomic vision in early Judaism we find a coherent narrative through which the promise of Abraham could be read. We find the setting up of the cosmic polis, where the celestial bodies (or angels of god) were “allotted to all the nations under the whole heaven (πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν τοῖς ὑποκάτω τοῦ οὐρανοῦ)” (Deut 4:19; 32:8-9), while Israel was Yahweh’s inheritance (κληρονομία) (Deut 32:9). In early Jewish reception of this tradition, the cosmos was understood as the “greatest of commonwealths (πόλις ἡ μεγίστη)” where the celestial bodies were appointed as rulers (ἄρχόντας) who were to mimic (μιμουμένους) the rule of the “Father of all (πάντων πατρός),” exercising their rule in law and justice (δίκην καὶ νόμον) (Spec. Laws 1.13-19). These celestial rulers (ἄρχοντα) were to “preside (or rule) (χρή) over his subjects (ὑπηκόων) as a father over his children (πατέρα παίδων) so that he himself may be honored in return as by true-born sons, and therefore good rulers may be truly called the parents of states and nations (ἐθνῶν) (Spec. Laws 4.184-188).” But as Philo states, “those who assume great power to destroy and injure their subjects should be called not rulers but enemies (πονηρότεροι) (Spec. Laws 4.185).” Psalm 82 (81 LXX) provides a narrative where the Father of all stands in judgment of the gods who were apportioned over the nations who have failed at precisely task that was set out for them saying “how long will you judge (or rule) unjustly (Ἕως πότε κρίνετε ἀδικίαν) (Ps 81:1 LXX)?” They were commanded to do justice or righteousness (δικαιώσατε) (Ps 81:3 LXX), but they failed, leading to the announcement of their judgment: the gods (Θεοί), or sons of the Most High (υἱοὶ ὑψίστου), will die like men (Ps 81:7 LXX). The hope of the psalmist is then stated: “Arise, O God and rule the earth (ἀνάστα, ὁ θεός, κρῖνον τὴν γῆν), for it is you who will obtain the inheritance of all the nations (ὅτι σὺ κατακληρονομήσεις ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν) (Ps 81:8)!” This narrative provides us with a framework for how early Jewish interpreters of the Abrahamic promise could understand it qualitatively as well as quantitatively. In light of these traditions, the Abrahamic promise could be read afresh.

 

Paul’s Reception of the Qualitative Reading of the Promise to Abraham? A Proposal

 

The following proposed reading will be a rough attempt to understand Paul’s use of Gen 15:5 and his midrashic exposition of the promise in Romans 4 in light of the above tradition. Paul states in Rom 4:18 “In hope against hope (ἐλπίδα ἐπʼ ἐλπίδι) he believed (ἐπίστευσεν), so that he might become a father of many nations (πατέρα πολλῶν ἐθνῶν) according to that which had been spoken ‘so shall your seed be (οὕτως ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου)’.” When taken qualitatively, for Abraham’s seed to become as the stars of heaven meant to become as the gods or angels, the celestial bodies, the “fathers (πατέρας) of the nations (ἐθνῶν)” who had been allotted to rule the nations (Posterity, 89; Spec. Laws 1.13-19; 4.184-188; Sir 44:21; Apoc. Ab. 20:3-5). “In hope against hope (ἐλπίδα ἐπʼ ἐλπίδι) he believed (ἐπίστευσεν)” that he would attain the promise of astral glory (Rom 4:18; 4 Macc 17:5-6). For Paul, the faithful Abraham who had been credited righteousness was known now in astral glory as “the father of us all (πατὴρ πάντων ἡμῶν),” as it was written about him in Gen 17:5 (Rom 4:16-17). As was common in Jewish expectation in Paul’s day, he hoped in the god “who gives life to the dead,” who would raise his seed in celestial glory, replacing the powers (ἂρχοντας ἔχουσα), calling “into being that which did not exist (καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα),” or establishing a new cosmic polis (κόσμου); a new creation (Rom 4:17; Philo Spec. Laws 4.187; 2 Bar. 21:4; 48:8). This is what would be understood in Rom 4:13 when Paul states the promise to Abraham and his seed was to “inherit the cosmos (κληρονόμον αὐτὸν εἶναι κόσμου).” As in Gen 22:17, for Abraham’s seed to become as the stars of heaven would result in “inheriting the cities of their enemies (κληρονομήσει τὸ σπέρμα σου τὰς πόλεις τῶν ὑπεναντίων)” (see Ps 81:8 LXX; Philo Spec. Laws 4.185). This expectation is further delineated in Romans 8 where the “sons of God (υἱοὶ θεοῦ)” or “children of God (τέκνα θεοῦ)” are “heirs (κληρονόμοι)” of creation as “the creation waits with eager longing for the apocalypse of the sons of God (τῆς κτίσεως τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν τῶν υἱῶν τοῦ θεοῦ ἀπεκδέχεται, 8:19).5

 

 

  1. See above conversation on 2 Baruch 51. For further treatment of resurrection and celestial immortality in Early Judaism, see Hans C. C. Cavallin, Life After Death: Paul’s Argument for the Resurrection of the Dead in 1 Cor 15, Part I, An Enquiry into the Jewish Background, CBNT 7.1 (Lund: Gleerup, 1974); Smelik, “On Mystical Transformation,” 122-44; N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), Wright disagrees that there is a tradition of astral immortality in the usual texts used to support that idea; Nickelsburg, Resurrection; Jon D. Levenson, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: the Ultimate Victory of the God of Life (New Haven: Yale, 2006); Turid Karlsen Seim and Jorunn Økland, eds., Metamorphoses Resurrection, Body, and Transformative Practices in Early Christianity, Ekstasis 1 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2009); David Litwa, We Are Being Transformed: Deification in Paul’s Soteriology, BZNW 187 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012), 140-51: It is surprising that in an otherwise thoroughgoing discussion of celestial immortality in Greco-Roman and Jewish sources in relation to Paul, Litwa never mentions the texts that read Genesis 15:5 qualitatively as a promise of celestial immortality, especially in light of how important that text is for Paul to his argument in Romans. For other recent works on the topic of deification or theosis in Paul, see Michael J. Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009); idem, “Romans: The First Christian Treatise on Theosis,” JTI 5.1 (2011): 13-34; Ben C. Blackwell, Christosis: Pauline Soteriology in Light of Deification in Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria, WUNT 2.314 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011); Rabens, “Pneuma and the Beholding of God”; Michael J. Thate, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and Constantine R. Campbell, eds., ‘In Christ’ in Paul: Explorations in Paul’s Theology of Union and Participation, WUNT 2.384 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014).
  2. John J. Collins, Daniel: A Commentary, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress), 393-94.
  3. The tradition presented here in 4 Macc 17:5 of being exalted above the moon and the stars may reflect an eschatological expectation to shine as the sun, the greatest of the luminaries in the heavens. This tradition is reflected in Matt 13:43, in the context of the eschatological reaping where the Son of Man sends his angels to dispense of the devil and his people, Jesus says once this has been accomplished, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (οἱ δίκαιοι ἐκλάμψουσιν ὡς ὁ ἥλιος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν).”
  4. The following allusions or references to primary texts below do not denote citation or allusion for Paul in any way, but are used to simply construct the narrative framework which provides for an alternate reading using the qualitative interpretation to how Paul might understand the promise to Abraham in Gen 15:5.
  5. See Rom 8:12-25. Pertinent here is the shared complex of language between Paul and Philo associated with inheriting or judging the cosmos, see footnote 7 in Part 3.

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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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Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions: Part 3: Becoming as the Stars and the Inheritance of the Nations

This is Part 3 of the series by David Burnett; see Part 1, Part 2


 Part 3 – Becoming as the Stars and the Inheritance of the Nations

 

The Deuteronomic Vision of the Celestial Bodies as the Gods (or Angels) of the Nations

The precedent for this assumed connection in early Jewish tradition between becoming as the stars and the rule of nations is rooted in the Deuteronomic portrayal of the celestial bodies as the gods or angels of the nations, members of Yahweh’s Divine Council.1 It is necessary to point out here the hermeneutical significance of Deuteronomy for Paul (especially 29-32) that colors much of his engagement with scripture in Romans.2 Lincicum rightly recognizes that Deuteronomy “has been received by Paul with a threefold construal of the book as ethical authority, theological authority, and a lens for the interpretation of Israel’s history.”3 It is precisely the theological authority of Deuteronomy and its function as a lens for interpretation for Paul and Early Judaism that will be necessary to keep in mind.

The aniconic discourse of Deuteronomy 4 surveys all the creatures under heaven, whose images Israel must abstain from fashioning idols. After the creatures under heaven have been catalogued, the author directs Israel’s attention to the heavenly beings. Deuteronomy 4:19 states:

“And do not lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven (πάντα τὸν κόσμον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ), and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the Lord your god has allotted to all the nations under the whole heaven (ἃ ἀπένειμεν κύριος ὁ θεός σου αὐτὰ πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν τοῖς ὑποκάτω τοῦ οὐρανοῦ).”

Here, the celestial bodies themselves are regarded as the “hosts (or ornaments) of heaven (κόσμον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ)” who have been allotted or assigned to (ἀπονέμω) all the nations (ἔθνεσιν) under heaven.4 Later in Deuteronomy, in the same vein, Israel is commanded to refrain from the worship of the heavenly host in Deut 17:2-3:

“If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns, which the Lord your god is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your god, by transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshipped them (καὶ ἐλθόντες λατρεύσωσιν θεοῖς ἑτέροις καὶ προσκυνήσωσιν αὐτοῖς), whether the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven (ἢ παντὶ τῶν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τοῦ οὐρανοῦ), which I have forbidden…”

The celestial bodies here are referred to as “gods (θεοῖς)”. Likewise in 29:18 (17), 26 (25), these beings are referred to as the gods of the nations:

“so that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our god, to go and serve the gods of those nations (τοῖς θεοῖς τῶν ἐθνῶν)… they went and served other gods (θεοῖς ἑτέροις) and worshiped them, gods whom they have not known and whom he had not allotted to them (θεοῖς οἷς οὐκ ἠπίσταντο οὐδὲ διένειμεν αὐτοῖς).

Here in 29:25, we find similar language of the distribution (διένειμεν) of the gods of the nations akin to 4:19. Finally in the Song of Moses we see these ideas come together in the narratival recounting of Israel’s election:

“When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam (ὅτε διεμέριζεν ὁ ὕψιστος ἔθνη, ὡς διέσπειρεν υἱοὺς Αδαμ), he set the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the angels of God (ἔστησεν ὅρια ἐθνῶν κατὰ ἀριθμὸν ἀγγέλων θεοῦ). For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the allotment of his inheritance (καὶ ἐγενήθη μερὶς κυρίου λαὸς αὐτοῦ Ιακωβ, σχοίνισμα κληρονομίας αὐτοῦ Ισραηλ).” (Deut 32:8-9)5

In Deuteronomy, the celestial bodies are portrayed as the gods or angels allotted to rule the nations. While the Lord (YHWH in the MT) appoints the gods or angels to rule the other nations, he elects Jacob (Israel) as his own inheritance (κληρονομίας), ruling over them directly as their sovereign. It is important to note that the language of inheritance (κληρονομία) employed here in LXX Deuteronomy denotes the particular relationship between the divine sovereign and the nation to which He rules. With this relationship in mind, Israel’s election appears to be the reason why they call Yahweh father (πατήρ) (Deut 32:6).

The language of inheritance (κληρονομία) is employed in the same fashion in Ps 82:8. Sharing the Deuteronomic vision, Psalm 82 narrates a scene in the Divine Council where Yahweh passes judgement on the gods of the nations for their ruling unrighteously (κρίνετε ἀδικίαν, 82:2).6 Echoing the language of Deut 32:8 for the gods of the nations, Yahweh pronounces his judgment in 82:6-7 saying: “I said ‘you are gods (Θεοί), sons of the Most High (υἱοὶ ὑψίστου), all of you; nevertheless you will die like men and fall like any one of the rulers (ἀρχόντων)’.” The psalmist then concludes with the following cry: “Arise, O God, judge the earth (ἀνάστα, ὁ θεός, κρῖνον τὴν γῆν)! For it is you who will inherit all of the nations (κατακληρονομήσεις ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, 82:8).” Corresponding to Deuteronomy, Psalm 82 provides a narrative framework for early Judaism’s understanding of inheritance (κληρονομία) that includes the judgment of the gods of the nations and Yahweh’s restored rule over them.

Philo’s Reception of the Deuteronomic Vision and the “Fathers” of the Nations

In Philo’s interpretation of the territorial law of Deut 19:14, we see an interesting explanation of the identity of the “fathers (πατέρες)” mentioned. In On the Posterity of Cain 89, he states:

“These boundaries were fixed not by the creation to which we belong, but on principles which are divine and are older than we and all that belongs to earth. This has been made clear by the Law, where it solemnly enjoins upon each one of us not to adulterate the coinage of virtue, using these words: ‘thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s boundaries (ὅρια), which thy fathers (πατέρες) set up’ (Deut. 19:14), and again in other words: ‘Ask thy father and he will show thee; thine elders and they will tell thee. When the Most High distributed nations (διεμέριζεν ὁ ὕψιστος ἔθνη), when He dispersed the sons of Adam, He set boundaries of nations (ὅρια ἐθνῶν) according to the number of the angels of God, and Jacob His people became the Lord’s portion, Israel became the lot of His inheritance (κληρονομίας) (Deut 32:7-9).” (Philo, Posterity 89)

Here Philo sees the “fathers (πατέρες)” in Deut 19:14 not referring to human ancestral patriarchs, but to the angels of God apportioned over the nations, citing Deut 32:7-9.

In The Special Laws 1.13-19 we find further explanation on Philo’s conception of the astral gods of Deuteronomy and their role in God’s cosmic πόλις:

“Some have supposed that the sun and moon and the other stars were gods with absolute powers (θεοὺς αὐτοκράτορας) and ascribed to them the causation of all events. But Moses held that the universe (κόσμος) was created (γενητός) and is in a sense the greatest of commonwealths (πόλις ἡ μεγίστη), having magistrates (ἂρχοντας ἔχουσα) and subjects (ὑπηκόυς); for magistrates (ἄρχοντας), all the heavenly bodies (οὐρανῷ), fixed or wandering; for subjects (ὑπηκόους), such beings as exist below the moon, in the air or on the earth. The said magistrates (ἄρχοντας), however, in his view have not unconditional powers (αὐτεξουσίους), but are lieutenants (ἄρχοντας) of the one Father of All (τοῦ πάντων πατρὸς ὑπάρχους), and it is by copying (μιμουμένους) the example of His government exercised according to law and justice (δίκην καὶ νόμον) over all created beings that they acquit themselves aright; but those who do not descry the Charioteer mounted above attribute the causation of all the events in the universe (κόσμῳ) to the team that draw the chariot as though they were sole agents. From this ignorance our most holy lawgiver would convert them to knowledge with these words: ‘Do not when thou seest the sun and the moon and the stars and all the ordered host of heaven go astray and worship them- Deut 4:19.’  Well indeed and aptly does he call the acceptance of the heavenly bodies as gods going astray or wandering … in supposing that they alone are gods … So all the gods (θεούς) which sense descries in Heaven must not be supposed to possess absolute power (αὐτοκρατεῖς) but to have received the rank of subordinate rulers, naturally liable to correction, though in virtue of their excellence never destined to undergo it.” (Philo, Spec. Laws 1.13-19)7, then the celestial- sun, moon, and stars [Deut 4:19; 1 Cor 15:41]). Paul likens the resurrection body to that of the sun, moon, and stars (1 Cor 15:40-42), even going so far as referring to the resurrected ones as “those who are of heaven (οἱ ἐπουράνιοι, 15:48).” This Pauline complex of language fits the same background and pattern found in Romans 4 as argued in the present study. For a discussion of resurrection and astral immortality in Early Judaism, see below.]

Here, Philo describes the κόσμος as the “greatest of commonwealths (πόλις ἡ μεγίστη),” a kind of heavenly government akin to a Greco-Roman city-state where celestial rulers (ἄρχοντας) are delegated rule over subjects (ὑπηκόυς) that consist of all those who live below the heavens. Philo does not deny the divinity of the celestial bodies, but in his use of Deut 4:19, the logic given to not worship them is simply that they are not gods with “absolute powers (αὐτοκρατεῖς),” but are appointed rulers (ἄρχοντας) under the one God who is “Father of all (του πάντων πατρὸς ὑπάρχους)”. The celestial bodies are to carry out their rule by mimetic (μιμουμένους) participation in God’s own rule of the κόσμος in justice and law (δίκην καὶ νόμον).8 For Philo, the use of the appellation “Father of all (πάντων πατρός)” for God is predicated on his unshared, absolute sovereignty over the cosmic polis.

Later in Spec. Laws 4.184-188, we find the similar conceptual link between rulership and fatherhood described in detail, this time actually connecting these concepts with the potential for human rulers to be “assimilated to God (ἐξομοιώσεως της πρὸς θεόν)”:

“The ruler (ἄρχοντα) should preside (χρή) over his subjects (ὑπηκόων) as a father over his children (πατέρα παίδων) so that he himself may be honoured in return as by true-born sons, and therefore good rulers may be truly called the parents of states and nations (ἐθνῶν) in common, since they show a fatherly and sometimes more than fatherly affection. But those who assume great power to destroy and injure their subjects should be called not rulers but enemies (πονηρότεροι)9 … Now “rule” or “command” is a category which extends and intrudes itself, I might also say, into every branch of life, differing in magnitude and amount … For this is to follow God since He too can do both (for good or for worse) but wills the good only. This was shown both in the creation and in the ordering of the world (κόσμου γένεσίς τε καὶ διοίκησις). He called the non-existent into existence (μὴ ὄντα ἐκάλεσεν εἰς τὸ εἶναι) and produced order from disorder … For He and His beneficent powers (δυνάμεσι) ever make it their business to transmute the faultiness of the worse wherever it exists and convert it to the better. These things good rulers (ἄρχοντας) must imitate (μιμεισθαι) if they have any aspiration to be assimilated to God (ἐξομοιώσεωσ της πρὸς θεόν).” (Philo, Spec. Laws 4.184-188)

Here Philo points out that every ruler (ἄρχοντα) should act as a “father over his children (πατέρα παίδων).” Good rulers may be “truly called parents of the nations (ἐθνῶν).”10 As the celestial bodies were called to mimic (μιμουμένους) the rule of the “Father of all (πάντων πατρός)” in the cosmic government (κόσμος) (previously in Spec. Laws 1:13-19), so to now the human rulers must imitate (μιμεισθαι) the rule of God and his “beneficent powers (δυνάμεσι)” (likely a reference the celestial bodies, or ἂρχοντας ἔχουσα, referred to above in Spec. Laws 1:13) if they wish to be “assimilated to God (ἐξομοιώσεωσ της πρὸς θεόν).”11


 

  1. For support of this idea and further discussion on the Divine Council in Deuteronomy, see Daniel I. Block, The Gods of the Nations: Studies in Ancient Near Eastern National Theology, ETS 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000); Michael S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Literature” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004), 68-89; idem, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” BS 158 (2001): 52-74; Nathan McDonald, Deuteronomy and the Meaning of Monotheism, FAT 2.1 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003); Patrick D. Miller, “Cosmology and World Order in the Old Testament: The Divine Council as Cosmic-Political Symbol,” HBT 9.2 (1987): 53-78; idem, “God’s Other Stories: On the Margins of Deuteronomic Theology,” in Realia Dei: Essays in Archaeology and Biblical Interpretation in Honor of Edward F. Campbell Jr. at his Retirement, ed. P. Williams et al. (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999), 185-94; idem, The Religion of Ancient Israel (London: SPCK, 2000), 23-28; Theodore E. Mullen, Jr., The Assembly of the Gods: The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature, HSM 24 (Harvard: Scholars Press, 1980); Mark S. Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts (New York: Oxford, 2001), 41-53; idem, God in Translation: Deities in Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 193-214; Ellen White, Yahweh’s Council: Its Structure and Membership, FAT 2.65 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 34-38. Heiser’s work is of special importance to the present study as he demonstrates, quite persuasively, that “the pre-exilic Israelite belief in a divine council under the rule of Yahweh was maintained in Israel’s faith after the exile and survived in at least some strains of Judaism well into the Common Era (quote from 258).” For the full study, see Heiser, “Divine Council.” Following this line of thought, McDonald (Deuteronomy, 96), in a discussion of the gods mentioned in 1 Corinthians 8, says of the Apostle Paul: “Paul, it can be argued, is breathing the same spirit as Deuteronomy 32. Other gods exist, but in another sense they are ‘no-gods’ and ‘demons.’ It is only YHWH that is ‘God’. Paul too wants to express the theme in relational terms. There are indeed many gods that exist, but for us (ἡμῖν) there is only one God. The absolute terms are confessional, not ontological.”
  2. For Paul’s engagement with Deuteronomy and its importance for his interpretation of scripture and thought in general, see David Lincicum, Paul and the Early Jewish Encounter with Deuteronomy, WUNT 2.284 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010); Per Jarle Bekken, The Word is Near You: A Study of Deuteronomy 30:12-14 in a Jewish Context, BZNW 144 (Berlin: De Grutyer, 2007); Guy Waters, The End of Deuteronomy in the Epistles of Paul, WUNT 2 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006); Wagner, Heralds; James M. Scott, “Paul’s Use of Deuteronomic Tradition,” JBL 112 (1993): 645-65; Hays, Echoes.
  3. See Lincicum, Paul and the Early Jewish Encounter, 198.
  4. The term “κόσμον” as a gloss for the “host of heaven” appears 4 times in the LXX, twice in Deuteronomy (4:19; 17:3; both discussed here) and twice in Isaiah (24:21; 40:26). It may be important to note here that Isa 24:21 speaks of the day Yahweh will punish the “hosts of heaven (κόσμον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ)” as well as the “kings of the earth (βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς),” which is more than likely speaking of the judgment of the gods of the nations and the corresponding kings, sharing the linguistic and conceptual parallels with Deuteronomy and the narrative of Psalm 82 (see below).
  5. For discussions of the difficult text-critical problem in 32:8 regarding the “angels of God,” see Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” BS 158 (2001): 52-74. This account is more than likely narrating the dispersing of the nations in Gen 11:1-9; the language of “separating the sons of Adam (ὡς διέσπειρεν υἱοὺς Αδαμ)” of Deut 32:8 reflecting the language of the dispersion in Gen 11:8-9, “and from there the Lord God scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth (καὶ ἐκεῖθεν διέσπειρεν αὐτοὺς κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἐπὶ πρόσωπον πάσης τῆς γῆς).”
  6. The tradition of the portrayal of the celestial bodies as the gods/angels of the nations as seen in Deuteronomy will be simply referred to for the remainder of the study as the Deuteronomic Vision. The vision functions as a cosmic-political lens through which many Jews of the period understood their world, their unique relationship to their God with respect to their election, as well as their relationship to the other nations. See e.g. Miller, “Cosmology and World Order.”
  7. The web of connections in Philo’s language here (Spec. Laws 1.13-19) for the celestial bodies (οὐρανῷ) as the rulers or magistrates (ἂρχοντας ἔχουσα) and powers (δυνάμεσι, see Spec. Laws 4.184-188 below) of the cosmos (κόσμος) provides us with an important comparative map when considering Paul’s employment of a similar complex of language for the angels, principalities, and powers (ἄγγελοι, ἀρχαί, ἐξουσίαι, δυνάμεις, cf. Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 6:2-3; 15:24; Eph 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col 1:16; 2:10, 15) of the cosmos (κόσμος, cf. Rom 4:13; 1 Cor 6:2-3; 8:4-6). An important point for consideration in the present study is Paul’s parallel in 1 Cor 6:2-3 between the expectation that the holy ones will “judge the cosmos (ὑμῖν κρίνεται ὁ κόσμος),” connected with the idea that they will “judge the angels (ἀγγέλους κρινοῦμεν).” Later in 1 Corinthians 15, another important connection is found in the context of a discussion on the glory of the resurrection body. A survey is taken of the terrestrial creatures and then the celestial creatures, following the same pattern of Deut 4:16-19 (the terrestrial- humans, land animals, birds, fish [Deut 4:16-18; 1 Cor 15:39
  8. It is important to note that in Psalm 82, this is precisely why the gods of the nations are to be judged and lose their inheritance (κληρονομία), because they did not maintain the cosmic world order (see Miller, “Cosmology and World Order,” 438-39), but ruled unjustly (κρίνετε ἀδικίαν).
  9. See e.g. Psalm 82.
  10. This is particularly important in Rom 4:17-18 as Abraham is referred to as a “father of many nations (πατέρα πολλῶν ἐθνῶν).”
  11. For the proper context see above, Spec. Laws 1.13-19. For a helpful discussion on the meaning of “assimilation to God” in Philo, see George H. van Kooten, Paul’s Anthropology in Context: The Image of God, Assimilation to God, and Tripartite Man in Ancient Judaism, Ancient Philosophy and Early Christianity, WUNT 232 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 181-98; Wendy E. Helleman, “Philo of Alexandria on Deification and Assimilation to God,” SPA 2 (1990): 51-71; David T. Runia, Philo of Alexandria and the Timaeus of Plato, PA 44 (Leiden: Brill, 1986), 341ff. It is surprising that van Kooten does not pick up on Philo’s qualitative reading of the promise to Abraham in Gen 15:5, as it may provide a rich exegetical source Philo could utilize in support of his Platonic notion of “assimilation to God.”

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Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions: Part 3: Becoming as the Stars and the Inheritance of the Nations

This is Part 3 of the series by David Burnett; see Part 1, Part 2


 Part 3 – Becoming as the Stars and the Inheritance of the Nations

 

The Deuteronomic Vision of the Celestial Bodies as the Gods (or Angels) of the Nations

The precedent for this assumed connection in early Jewish tradition between becoming as the stars and the rule of nations is rooted in the Deuteronomic portrayal of the celestial bodies as the gods or angels of the nations, members of Yahweh’s Divine Council.1 It is necessary to point out here the hermeneutical significance of Deuteronomy for Paul (especially 29-32) that colors much of his engagement with scripture in Romans.2 Lincicum rightly recognizes that Deuteronomy “has been received by Paul with a threefold construal of the book as ethical authority, theological authority, and a lens for the interpretation of Israel’s history.”3 It is precisely the theological authority of Deuteronomy and its function as a lens for interpretation for Paul and Early Judaism that will be necessary to keep in mind.

The aniconic discourse of Deuteronomy 4 surveys all the creatures under heaven, whose images Israel must abstain from fashioning idols. After the creatures under heaven have been catalogued, the author directs Israel’s attention to the heavenly beings. Deuteronomy 4:19 states:

“And do not lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven (πάντα τὸν κόσμον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ), and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the Lord your god has allotted to all the nations under the whole heaven (ἃ ἀπένειμεν κύριος ὁ θεός σου αὐτὰ πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν τοῖς ὑποκάτω τοῦ οὐρανοῦ).”

Here, the celestial bodies themselves are regarded as the “hosts (or ornaments) of heaven (κόσμον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ)” who have been allotted or assigned to (ἀπονέμω) all the nations (ἔθνεσιν) under heaven.4 Later in Deuteronomy, in the same vein, Israel is commanded to refrain from the worship of the heavenly host in Deut 17:2-3:

“If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns, which the Lord your god is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your god, by transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshipped them (καὶ ἐλθόντες λατρεύσωσιν θεοῖς ἑτέροις καὶ προσκυνήσωσιν αὐτοῖς), whether the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven (ἢ παντὶ τῶν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τοῦ οὐρανοῦ), which I have forbidden…”

The celestial bodies here are referred to as “gods (θεοῖς)”. Likewise in 29:18 (17), 26 (25), these beings are referred to as the gods of the nations:

“so that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our god, to go and serve the gods of those nations (τοῖς θεοῖς τῶν ἐθνῶν)… they went and served other gods (θεοῖς ἑτέροις) and worshiped them, gods whom they have not known and whom he had not allotted to them (θεοῖς οἷς οὐκ ἠπίσταντο οὐδὲ διένειμεν αὐτοῖς).

Here in 29:25, we find similar language of the distribution (διένειμεν) of the gods of the nations akin to 4:19. Finally in the Song of Moses we see these ideas come together in the narratival recounting of Israel’s election:

“When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam (ὅτε διεμέριζεν ὁ ὕψιστος ἔθνη, ὡς διέσπειρεν υἱοὺς Αδαμ), he set the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the angels of God (ἔστησεν ὅρια ἐθνῶν κατὰ ἀριθμὸν ἀγγέλων θεοῦ). For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the allotment of his inheritance (καὶ ἐγενήθη μερὶς κυρίου λαὸς αὐτοῦ Ιακωβ, σχοίνισμα κληρονομίας αὐτοῦ Ισραηλ).” (Deut 32:8-9)5

In Deuteronomy, the celestial bodies are portrayed as the gods or angels allotted to rule the nations. While the Lord (YHWH in the MT) appoints the gods or angels to rule the other nations, he elects Jacob (Israel) as his own inheritance (κληρονομίας), ruling over them directly as their sovereign. It is important to note that the language of inheritance (κληρονομία) employed here in LXX Deuteronomy denotes the particular relationship between the divine sovereign and the nation to which He rules. With this relationship in mind, Israel’s election appears to be the reason why they call Yahweh father (πατήρ) (Deut 32:6).

The language of inheritance (κληρονομία) is employed in the same fashion in Ps 82:8. Sharing the Deuteronomic vision, Psalm 82 narrates a scene in the Divine Council where Yahweh passes judgement on the gods of the nations for their ruling unrighteously (κρίνετε ἀδικίαν, 82:2).6 Echoing the language of Deut 32:8 for the gods of the nations, Yahweh pronounces his judgment in 82:6-7 saying: “I said ‘you are gods (Θεοί), sons of the Most High (υἱοὶ ὑψίστου), all of you; nevertheless you will die like men and fall like any one of the rulers (ἀρχόντων)’.” The psalmist then concludes with the following cry: “Arise, O God, judge the earth (ἀνάστα, ὁ θεός, κρῖνον τὴν γῆν)! For it is you who will inherit all of the nations (κατακληρονομήσεις ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, 82:8).” Corresponding to Deuteronomy, Psalm 82 provides a narrative framework for early Judaism’s understanding of inheritance (κληρονομία) that includes the judgment of the gods of the nations and Yahweh’s restored rule over them.

Philo’s Reception of the Deuteronomic Vision and the “Fathers” of the Nations

In Philo’s interpretation of the territorial law of Deut 19:14, we see an interesting explanation of the identity of the “fathers (πατέρες)” mentioned. In On the Posterity of Cain 89, he states:

“These boundaries were fixed not by the creation to which we belong, but on principles which are divine and are older than we and all that belongs to earth. This has been made clear by the Law, where it solemnly enjoins upon each one of us not to adulterate the coinage of virtue, using these words: ‘thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s boundaries (ὅρια), which thy fathers (πατέρες) set up’ (Deut. 19:14), and again in other words: ‘Ask thy father and he will show thee; thine elders and they will tell thee. When the Most High distributed nations (διεμέριζεν ὁ ὕψιστος ἔθνη), when He dispersed the sons of Adam, He set boundaries of nations (ὅρια ἐθνῶν) according to the number of the angels of God, and Jacob His people became the Lord’s portion, Israel became the lot of His inheritance (κληρονομίας) (Deut 32:7-9).” (Philo, Posterity 89)

Here Philo sees the “fathers (πατέρες)” in Deut 19:14 not referring to human ancestral patriarchs, but to the angels of God apportioned over the nations, citing Deut 32:7-9.

In The Special Laws 1.13-19 we find further explanation on Philo’s conception of the astral gods of Deuteronomy and their role in God’s cosmic πόλις:

“Some have supposed that the sun and moon and the other stars were gods with absolute powers (θεοὺς αὐτοκράτορας) and ascribed to them the causation of all events. But Moses held that the universe (κόσμος) was created (γενητός) and is in a sense the greatest of commonwealths (πόλις ἡ μεγίστη), having magistrates (ἂρχοντας ἔχουσα) and subjects (ὑπηκόυς); for magistrates (ἄρχοντας), all the heavenly bodies (οὐρανῷ), fixed or wandering; for subjects (ὑπηκόους), such beings as exist below the moon, in the air or on the earth. The said magistrates (ἄρχοντας), however, in his view have not unconditional powers (αὐτεξουσίους), but are lieutenants (ἄρχοντας) of the one Father of All (τοῦ πάντων πατρὸς ὑπάρχους), and it is by copying (μιμουμένους) the example of His government exercised according to law and justice (δίκην καὶ νόμον) over all created beings that they acquit themselves aright; but those who do not descry the Charioteer mounted above attribute the causation of all the events in the universe (κόσμῳ) to the team that draw the chariot as though they were sole agents. From this ignorance our most holy lawgiver would convert them to knowledge with these words: ‘Do not when thou seest the sun and the moon and the stars and all the ordered host of heaven go astray and worship them- Deut 4:19.’  Well indeed and aptly does he call the acceptance of the heavenly bodies as gods going astray or wandering … in supposing that they alone are gods … So all the gods (θεούς) which sense descries in Heaven must not be supposed to possess absolute power (αὐτοκρατεῖς) but to have received the rank of subordinate rulers, naturally liable to correction, though in virtue of their excellence never destined to undergo it.” (Philo, Spec. Laws 1.13-19)7, then the celestial- sun, moon, and stars [Deut 4:19; 1 Cor 15:41]). Paul likens the resurrection body to that of the sun, moon, and stars (1 Cor 15:40-42), even going so far as referring to the resurrected ones as “those who are of heaven (οἱ ἐπουράνιοι, 15:48).” This Pauline complex of language fits the same background and pattern found in Romans 4 as argued in the present study. For a discussion of resurrection and astral immortality in Early Judaism, see below.]

Here, Philo describes the κόσμος as the “greatest of commonwealths (πόλις ἡ μεγίστη),” a kind of heavenly government akin to a Greco-Roman city-state where celestial rulers (ἄρχοντας) are delegated rule over subjects (ὑπηκόυς) that consist of all those who live below the heavens. Philo does not deny the divinity of the celestial bodies, but in his use of Deut 4:19, the logic given to not worship them is simply that they are not gods with “absolute powers (αὐτοκρατεῖς),” but are appointed rulers (ἄρχοντας) under the one God who is “Father of all (του πάντων πατρὸς ὑπάρχους)”. The celestial bodies are to carry out their rule by mimetic (μιμουμένους) participation in God’s own rule of the κόσμος in justice and law (δίκην καὶ νόμον).8 For Philo, the use of the appellation “Father of all (πάντων πατρός)” for God is predicated on his unshared, absolute sovereignty over the cosmic polis.

Later in Spec. Laws 4.184-188, we find the similar conceptual link between rulership and fatherhood described in detail, this time actually connecting these concepts with the potential for human rulers to be “assimilated to God (ἐξομοιώσεως της πρὸς θεόν)”:

“The ruler (ἄρχοντα) should preside (χρή) over his subjects (ὑπηκόων) as a father over his children (πατέρα παίδων) so that he himself may be honoured in return as by true-born sons, and therefore good rulers may be truly called the parents of states and nations (ἐθνῶν) in common, since they show a fatherly and sometimes more than fatherly affection. But those who assume great power to destroy and injure their subjects should be called not rulers but enemies (πονηρότεροι)9 … Now “rule” or “command” is a category which extends and intrudes itself, I might also say, into every branch of life, differing in magnitude and amount … For this is to follow God since He too can do both (for good or for worse) but wills the good only. This was shown both in the creation and in the ordering of the world (κόσμου γένεσίς τε καὶ διοίκησις). He called the non-existent into existence (μὴ ὄντα ἐκάλεσεν εἰς τὸ εἶναι) and produced order from disorder … For He and His beneficent powers (δυνάμεσι) ever make it their business to transmute the faultiness of the worse wherever it exists and convert it to the better. These things good rulers (ἄρχοντας) must imitate (μιμεισθαι) if they have any aspiration to be assimilated to God (ἐξομοιώσεωσ της πρὸς θεόν).” (Philo, Spec. Laws 4.184-188)

Here Philo points out that every ruler (ἄρχοντα) should act as a “father over his children (πατέρα παίδων).” Good rulers may be “truly called parents of the nations (ἐθνῶν).”10 As the celestial bodies were called to mimic (μιμουμένους) the rule of the “Father of all (πάντων πατρός)” in the cosmic government (κόσμος) (previously in Spec. Laws 1:13-19), so to now the human rulers must imitate (μιμεισθαι) the rule of God and his “beneficent powers (δυνάμεσι)” (likely a reference the celestial bodies, or ἂρχοντας ἔχουσα, referred to above in Spec. Laws 1:13) if they wish to be “assimilated to God (ἐξομοιώσεωσ της πρὸς θεόν).”11


 

  1. For support of this idea and further discussion on the Divine Council in Deuteronomy, see Daniel I. Block, The Gods of the Nations: Studies in Ancient Near Eastern National Theology, ETS 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000); Michael S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Literature” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004), 68-89; idem, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” BS 158 (2001): 52-74; Nathan McDonald, Deuteronomy and the Meaning of Monotheism, FAT 2.1 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003); Patrick D. Miller, “Cosmology and World Order in the Old Testament: The Divine Council as Cosmic-Political Symbol,” HBT 9.2 (1987): 53-78; idem, “God’s Other Stories: On the Margins of Deuteronomic Theology,” in Realia Dei: Essays in Archaeology and Biblical Interpretation in Honor of Edward F. Campbell Jr. at his Retirement, ed. P. Williams et al. (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999), 185-94; idem, The Religion of Ancient Israel (London: SPCK, 2000), 23-28; Theodore E. Mullen, Jr., The Assembly of the Gods: The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature, HSM 24 (Harvard: Scholars Press, 1980); Mark S. Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts (New York: Oxford, 2001), 41-53; idem, God in Translation: Deities in Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 193-214; Ellen White, Yahweh’s Council: Its Structure and Membership, FAT 2.65 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 34-38. Heiser’s work is of special importance to the present study as he demonstrates, quite persuasively, that “the pre-exilic Israelite belief in a divine council under the rule of Yahweh was maintained in Israel’s faith after the exile and survived in at least some strains of Judaism well into the Common Era (quote from 258).” For the full study, see Heiser, “Divine Council.” Following this line of thought, McDonald (Deuteronomy, 96), in a discussion of the gods mentioned in 1 Corinthians 8, says of the Apostle Paul: “Paul, it can be argued, is breathing the same spirit as Deuteronomy 32. Other gods exist, but in another sense they are ‘no-gods’ and ‘demons.’ It is only YHWH that is ‘God’. Paul too wants to express the theme in relational terms. There are indeed many gods that exist, but for us (ἡμῖν) there is only one God. The absolute terms are confessional, not ontological.”
  2. For Paul’s engagement with Deuteronomy and its importance for his interpretation of scripture and thought in general, see David Lincicum, Paul and the Early Jewish Encounter with Deuteronomy, WUNT 2.284 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010); Per Jarle Bekken, The Word is Near You: A Study of Deuteronomy 30:12-14 in a Jewish Context, BZNW 144 (Berlin: De Grutyer, 2007); Guy Waters, The End of Deuteronomy in the Epistles of Paul, WUNT 2 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006); Wagner, Heralds; James M. Scott, “Paul’s Use of Deuteronomic Tradition,” JBL 112 (1993): 645-65; Hays, Echoes.
  3. See Lincicum, Paul and the Early Jewish Encounter, 198.
  4. The term “κόσμον” as a gloss for the “host of heaven” appears 4 times in the LXX, twice in Deuteronomy (4:19; 17:3; both discussed here) and twice in Isaiah (24:21; 40:26). It may be important to note here that Isa 24:21 speaks of the day Yahweh will punish the “hosts of heaven (κόσμον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ)” as well as the “kings of the earth (βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς),” which is more than likely speaking of the judgment of the gods of the nations and the corresponding kings, sharing the linguistic and conceptual parallels with Deuteronomy and the narrative of Psalm 82 (see below).
  5. For discussions of the difficult text-critical problem in 32:8 regarding the “angels of God,” see Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” BS 158 (2001): 52-74. This account is more than likely narrating the dispersing of the nations in Gen 11:1-9; the language of “separating the sons of Adam (ὡς διέσπειρεν υἱοὺς Αδαμ)” of Deut 32:8 reflecting the language of the dispersion in Gen 11:8-9, “and from there the Lord God scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth (καὶ ἐκεῖθεν διέσπειρεν αὐτοὺς κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἐπὶ πρόσωπον πάσης τῆς γῆς).”
  6. The tradition of the portrayal of the celestial bodies as the gods/angels of the nations as seen in Deuteronomy will be simply referred to for the remainder of the study as the Deuteronomic Vision. The vision functions as a cosmic-political lens through which many Jews of the period understood their world, their unique relationship to their God with respect to their election, as well as their relationship to the other nations. See e.g. Miller, “Cosmology and World Order.”
  7. The web of connections in Philo’s language here (Spec. Laws 1.13-19) for the celestial bodies (οὐρανῷ) as the rulers or magistrates (ἂρχοντας ἔχουσα) and powers (δυνάμεσι, see Spec. Laws 4.184-188 below) of the cosmos (κόσμος) provides us with an important comparative map when considering Paul’s employment of a similar complex of language for the angels, principalities, and powers (ἄγγελοι, ἀρχαί, ἐξουσίαι, δυνάμεις, cf. Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 6:2-3; 15:24; Eph 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col 1:16; 2:10, 15) of the cosmos (κόσμος, cf. Rom 4:13; 1 Cor 6:2-3; 8:4-6). An important point for consideration in the present study is Paul’s parallel in 1 Cor 6:2-3 between the expectation that the holy ones will “judge the cosmos (ὑμῖν κρίνεται ὁ κόσμος),” connected with the idea that they will “judge the angels (ἀγγέλους κρινοῦμεν).” Later in 1 Corinthians 15, another important connection is found in the context of a discussion on the glory of the resurrection body. A survey is taken of the terrestrial creatures and then the celestial creatures, following the same pattern of Deut 4:16-19 (the terrestrial- humans, land animals, birds, fish [Deut 4:16-18; 1 Cor 15:39
  8. It is important to note that in Psalm 82, this is precisely why the gods of the nations are to be judged and lose their inheritance (κληρονομία), because they did not maintain the cosmic world order (see Miller, “Cosmology and World Order,” 438-39), but ruled unjustly (κρίνετε ἀδικίαν).
  9. See e.g. Psalm 82.
  10. This is particularly important in Rom 4:17-18 as Abraham is referred to as a “father of many nations (πατέρα πολλῶν ἐθνῶν).”
  11. For the proper context see above, Spec. Laws 1.13-19. For a helpful discussion on the meaning of “assimilation to God” in Philo, see George H. van Kooten, Paul’s Anthropology in Context: The Image of God, Assimilation to God, and Tripartite Man in Ancient Judaism, Ancient Philosophy and Early Christianity, WUNT 232 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 181-98; Wendy E. Helleman, “Philo of Alexandria on Deification and Assimilation to God,” SPA 2 (1990): 51-71; David T. Runia, Philo of Alexandria and the Timaeus of Plato, PA 44 (Leiden: Brill, 1986), 341ff. It is surprising that van Kooten does not pick up on Philo’s qualitative reading of the promise to Abraham in Gen 15:5, as it may provide a rich exegetical source Philo could utilize in support of his Platonic notion of “assimilation to God.”

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Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions: Part 3: Becoming as the Stars and the Inheritance of the Nations

This is Part 3 of the series by David Burnett; see Part 1, Part 2


 Part 3 – Becoming as the Stars and the Inheritance of the Nations

 

The Deuteronomic Vision of the Celestial Bodies as the Gods (or Angels) of the Nations

The precedent for this assumed connection in early Jewish tradition between becoming as the stars and the rule of nations is rooted in the Deuteronomic portrayal of the celestial bodies as the gods or angels of the nations, members of Yahweh’s Divine Council.1 It is necessary to point out here the hermeneutical significance of Deuteronomy for Paul (especially 29-32) that colors much of his engagement with scripture in Romans.2 Lincicum rightly recognizes that Deuteronomy “has been received by Paul with a threefold construal of the book as ethical authority, theological authority, and a lens for the interpretation of Israel’s history.”3 It is precisely the theological authority of Deuteronomy and its function as a lens for interpretation for Paul and Early Judaism that will be necessary to keep in mind.

The aniconic discourse of Deuteronomy 4 surveys all the creatures under heaven, whose images Israel must abstain from fashioning idols. After the creatures under heaven have been catalogued, the author directs Israel’s attention to the heavenly beings. Deuteronomy 4:19 states:

“And do not lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven (πάντα τὸν κόσμον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ), and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the Lord your god has allotted to all the nations under the whole heaven (ἃ ἀπένειμεν κύριος ὁ θεός σου αὐτὰ πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν τοῖς ὑποκάτω τοῦ οὐρανοῦ).”

Here, the celestial bodies themselves are regarded as the “hosts (or ornaments) of heaven (κόσμον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ)” who have been allotted or assigned to (ἀπονέμω) all the nations (ἔθνεσιν) under heaven.4 Later in Deuteronomy, in the same vein, Israel is commanded to refrain from the worship of the heavenly host in Deut 17:2-3:

“If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns, which the Lord your god is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your god, by transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshipped them (καὶ ἐλθόντες λατρεύσωσιν θεοῖς ἑτέροις καὶ προσκυνήσωσιν αὐτοῖς), whether the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven (ἢ παντὶ τῶν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τοῦ οὐρανοῦ), which I have forbidden…”

The celestial bodies here are referred to as “gods (θεοῖς)”. Likewise in 29:18 (17), 26 (25), these beings are referred to as the gods of the nations:

“so that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our god, to go and serve the gods of those nations (τοῖς θεοῖς τῶν ἐθνῶν)… they went and served other gods (θεοῖς ἑτέροις) and worshiped them, gods whom they have not known and whom he had not allotted to them (θεοῖς οἷς οὐκ ἠπίσταντο οὐδὲ διένειμεν αὐτοῖς).

Here in 29:25, we find similar language of the distribution (διένειμεν) of the gods of the nations akin to 4:19. Finally in the Song of Moses we see these ideas come together in the narratival recounting of Israel’s election:

“When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam (ὅτε διεμέριζεν ὁ ὕψιστος ἔθνη, ὡς διέσπειρεν υἱοὺς Αδαμ), he set the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the angels of God (ἔστησεν ὅρια ἐθνῶν κατὰ ἀριθμὸν ἀγγέλων θεοῦ). For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the allotment of his inheritance (καὶ ἐγενήθη μερὶς κυρίου λαὸς αὐτοῦ Ιακωβ, σχοίνισμα κληρονομίας αὐτοῦ Ισραηλ).” (Deut 32:8-9)5

In Deuteronomy, the celestial bodies are portrayed as the gods or angels allotted to rule the nations. While the Lord (YHWH in the MT) appoints the gods or angels to rule the other nations, he elects Jacob (Israel) as his own inheritance (κληρονομίας), ruling over them directly as their sovereign. It is important to note that the language of inheritance (κληρονομία) employed here in LXX Deuteronomy denotes the particular relationship between the divine sovereign and the nation to which He rules. With this relationship in mind, Israel’s election appears to be the reason why they call Yahweh father (πατήρ) (Deut 32:6).

The language of inheritance (κληρονομία) is employed in the same fashion in Ps 82:8. Sharing the Deuteronomic vision, Psalm 82 narrates a scene in the Divine Council where Yahweh passes judgement on the gods of the nations for their ruling unrighteously (κρίνετε ἀδικίαν, 82:2).6 Echoing the language of Deut 32:8 for the gods of the nations, Yahweh pronounces his judgment in 82:6-7 saying: “I said ‘you are gods (Θεοί), sons of the Most High (υἱοὶ ὑψίστου), all of you; nevertheless you will die like men and fall like any one of the rulers (ἀρχόντων)’.” The psalmist then concludes with the following cry: “Arise, O God, judge the earth (ἀνάστα, ὁ θεός, κρῖνον τὴν γῆν)! For it is you who will inherit all of the nations (κατακληρονομήσεις ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, 82:8).” Corresponding to Deuteronomy, Psalm 82 provides a narrative framework for early Judaism’s understanding of inheritance (κληρονομία) that includes the judgment of the gods of the nations and Yahweh’s restored rule over them.

Philo’s Reception of the Deuteronomic Vision and the “Fathers” of the Nations

In Philo’s interpretation of the territorial law of Deut 19:14, we see an interesting explanation of the identity of the “fathers (πατέρες)” mentioned. In On the Posterity of Cain 89, he states:

“These boundaries were fixed not by the creation to which we belong, but on principles which are divine and are older than we and all that belongs to earth. This has been made clear by the Law, where it solemnly enjoins upon each one of us not to adulterate the coinage of virtue, using these words: ‘thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s boundaries (ὅρια), which thy fathers (πατέρες) set up’ (Deut. 19:14), and again in other words: ‘Ask thy father and he will show thee; thine elders and they will tell thee. When the Most High distributed nations (διεμέριζεν ὁ ὕψιστος ἔθνη), when He dispersed the sons of Adam, He set boundaries of nations (ὅρια ἐθνῶν) according to the number of the angels of God, and Jacob His people became the Lord’s portion, Israel became the lot of His inheritance (κληρονομίας) (Deut 32:7-9).” (Philo, Posterity 89)

Here Philo sees the “fathers (πατέρες)” in Deut 19:14 not referring to human ancestral patriarchs, but to the angels of God apportioned over the nations, citing Deut 32:7-9.

In The Special Laws 1.13-19 we find further explanation on Philo’s conception of the astral gods of Deuteronomy and their role in God’s cosmic πόλις:

“Some have supposed that the sun and moon and the other stars were gods with absolute powers (θεοὺς αὐτοκράτορας) and ascribed to them the causation of all events. But Moses held that the universe (κόσμος) was created (γενητός) and is in a sense the greatest of commonwealths (πόλις ἡ μεγίστη), having magistrates (ἂρχοντας ἔχουσα) and subjects (ὑπηκόυς); for magistrates (ἄρχοντας), all the heavenly bodies (οὐρανῷ), fixed or wandering; for subjects (ὑπηκόους), such beings as exist below the moon, in the air or on the earth. The said magistrates (ἄρχοντας), however, in his view have not unconditional powers (αὐτεξουσίους), but are lieutenants (ἄρχοντας) of the one Father of All (τοῦ πάντων πατρὸς ὑπάρχους), and it is by copying (μιμουμένους) the example of His government exercised according to law and justice (δίκην καὶ νόμον) over all created beings that they acquit themselves aright; but those who do not descry the Charioteer mounted above attribute the causation of all the events in the universe (κόσμῳ) to the team that draw the chariot as though they were sole agents. From this ignorance our most holy lawgiver would convert them to knowledge with these words: ‘Do not when thou seest the sun and the moon and the stars and all the ordered host of heaven go astray and worship them- Deut 4:19.’  Well indeed and aptly does he call the acceptance of the heavenly bodies as gods going astray or wandering … in supposing that they alone are gods … So all the gods (θεούς) which sense descries in Heaven must not be supposed to possess absolute power (αὐτοκρατεῖς) but to have received the rank of subordinate rulers, naturally liable to correction, though in virtue of their excellence never destined to undergo it.” (Philo, Spec. Laws 1.13-19)7, then the celestial- sun, moon, and stars [Deut 4:19; 1 Cor 15:41]). Paul likens the resurrection body to that of the sun, moon, and stars (1 Cor 15:40-42), even going so far as referring to the resurrected ones as “those who are of heaven (οἱ ἐπουράνιοι, 15:48).” This Pauline complex of language fits the same background and pattern found in Romans 4 as argued in the present study. For a discussion of resurrection and astral immortality in Early Judaism, see below.]

Here, Philo describes the κόσμος as the “greatest of commonwealths (πόλις ἡ μεγίστη),” a kind of heavenly government akin to a Greco-Roman city-state where celestial rulers (ἄρχοντας) are delegated rule over subjects (ὑπηκόυς) that consist of all those who live below the heavens. Philo does not deny the divinity of the celestial bodies, but in his use of Deut 4:19, the logic given to not worship them is simply that they are not gods with “absolute powers (αὐτοκρατεῖς),” but are appointed rulers (ἄρχοντας) under the one God who is “Father of all (του πάντων πατρὸς ὑπάρχους)”. The celestial bodies are to carry out their rule by mimetic (μιμουμένους) participation in God’s own rule of the κόσμος in justice and law (δίκην καὶ νόμον).8 For Philo, the use of the appellation “Father of all (πάντων πατρός)” for God is predicated on his unshared, absolute sovereignty over the cosmic polis.

Later in Spec. Laws 4.184-188, we find the similar conceptual link between rulership and fatherhood described in detail, this time actually connecting these concepts with the potential for human rulers to be “assimilated to God (ἐξομοιώσεως της πρὸς θεόν)”:

“The ruler (ἄρχοντα) should preside (χρή) over his subjects (ὑπηκόων) as a father over his children (πατέρα παίδων) so that he himself may be honoured in return as by true-born sons, and therefore good rulers may be truly called the parents of states and nations (ἐθνῶν) in common, since they show a fatherly and sometimes more than fatherly affection. But those who assume great power to destroy and injure their subjects should be called not rulers but enemies (πονηρότεροι)9 … Now “rule” or “command” is a category which extends and intrudes itself, I might also say, into every branch of life, differing in magnitude and amount … For this is to follow God since He too can do both (for good or for worse) but wills the good only. This was shown both in the creation and in the ordering of the world (κόσμου γένεσίς τε καὶ διοίκησις). He called the non-existent into existence (μὴ ὄντα ἐκάλεσεν εἰς τὸ εἶναι) and produced order from disorder … For He and His beneficent powers (δυνάμεσι) ever make it their business to transmute the faultiness of the worse wherever it exists and convert it to the better. These things good rulers (ἄρχοντας) must imitate (μιμεισθαι) if they have any aspiration to be assimilated to God (ἐξομοιώσεωσ της πρὸς θεόν).” (Philo, Spec. Laws 4.184-188)

Here Philo points out that every ruler (ἄρχοντα) should act as a “father over his children (πατέρα παίδων).” Good rulers may be “truly called parents of the nations (ἐθνῶν).”10 As the celestial bodies were called to mimic (μιμουμένους) the rule of the “Father of all (πάντων πατρός)” in the cosmic government (κόσμος) (previously in Spec. Laws 1:13-19), so to now the human rulers must imitate (μιμεισθαι) the rule of God and his “beneficent powers (δυνάμεσι)” (likely a reference the celestial bodies, or ἂρχοντας ἔχουσα, referred to above in Spec. Laws 1:13) if they wish to be “assimilated to God (ἐξομοιώσεωσ της πρὸς θεόν).”11


 

  1. For support of this idea and further discussion on the Divine Council in Deuteronomy, see Daniel I. Block, The Gods of the Nations: Studies in Ancient Near Eastern National Theology, ETS 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000); Michael S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Literature” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004), 68-89; idem, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” BS 158 (2001): 52-74; Nathan McDonald, Deuteronomy and the Meaning of Monotheism, FAT 2.1 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003); Patrick D. Miller, “Cosmology and World Order in the Old Testament: The Divine Council as Cosmic-Political Symbol,” HBT 9.2 (1987): 53-78; idem, “God’s Other Stories: On the Margins of Deuteronomic Theology,” in Realia Dei: Essays in Archaeology and Biblical Interpretation in Honor of Edward F. Campbell Jr. at his Retirement, ed. P. Williams et al. (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999), 185-94; idem, The Religion of Ancient Israel (London: SPCK, 2000), 23-28; Theodore E. Mullen, Jr., The Assembly of the Gods: The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature, HSM 24 (Harvard: Scholars Press, 1980); Mark S. Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts (New York: Oxford, 2001), 41-53; idem, God in Translation: Deities in Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 193-214; Ellen White, Yahweh’s Council: Its Structure and Membership, FAT 2.65 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 34-38. Heiser’s work is of special importance to the present study as he demonstrates, quite persuasively, that “the pre-exilic Israelite belief in a divine council under the rule of Yahweh was maintained in Israel’s faith after the exile and survived in at least some strains of Judaism well into the Common Era (quote from 258).” For the full study, see Heiser, “Divine Council.” Following this line of thought, McDonald (Deuteronomy, 96), in a discussion of the gods mentioned in 1 Corinthians 8, says of the Apostle Paul: “Paul, it can be argued, is breathing the same spirit as Deuteronomy 32. Other gods exist, but in another sense they are ‘no-gods’ and ‘demons.’ It is only YHWH that is ‘God’. Paul too wants to express the theme in relational terms. There are indeed many gods that exist, but for us (ἡμῖν) there is only one God. The absolute terms are confessional, not ontological.”
  2. For Paul’s engagement with Deuteronomy and its importance for his interpretation of scripture and thought in general, see David Lincicum, Paul and the Early Jewish Encounter with Deuteronomy, WUNT 2.284 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010); Per Jarle Bekken, The Word is Near You: A Study of Deuteronomy 30:12-14 in a Jewish Context, BZNW 144 (Berlin: De Grutyer, 2007); Guy Waters, The End of Deuteronomy in the Epistles of Paul, WUNT 2 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006); Wagner, Heralds; James M. Scott, “Paul’s Use of Deuteronomic Tradition,” JBL 112 (1993): 645-65; Hays, Echoes.
  3. See Lincicum, Paul and the Early Jewish Encounter, 198.
  4. The term “κόσμον” as a gloss for the “host of heaven” appears 4 times in the LXX, twice in Deuteronomy (4:19; 17:3; both discussed here) and twice in Isaiah (24:21; 40:26). It may be important to note here that Isa 24:21 speaks of the day Yahweh will punish the “hosts of heaven (κόσμον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ)” as well as the “kings of the earth (βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς),” which is more than likely speaking of the judgment of the gods of the nations and the corresponding kings, sharing the linguistic and conceptual parallels with Deuteronomy and the narrative of Psalm 82 (see below).
  5. For discussions of the difficult text-critical problem in 32:8 regarding the “angels of God,” see Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” BS 158 (2001): 52-74. This account is more than likely narrating the dispersing of the nations in Gen 11:1-9; the language of “separating the sons of Adam (ὡς διέσπειρεν υἱοὺς Αδαμ)” of Deut 32:8 reflecting the language of the dispersion in Gen 11:8-9, “and from there the Lord God scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth (καὶ ἐκεῖθεν διέσπειρεν αὐτοὺς κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἐπὶ πρόσωπον πάσης τῆς γῆς).”
  6. The tradition of the portrayal of the celestial bodies as the gods/angels of the nations as seen in Deuteronomy will be simply referred to for the remainder of the study as the Deuteronomic Vision. The vision functions as a cosmic-political lens through which many Jews of the period understood their world, their unique relationship to their God with respect to their election, as well as their relationship to the other nations. See e.g. Miller, “Cosmology and World Order.”
  7. The web of connections in Philo’s language here (Spec. Laws 1.13-19) for the celestial bodies (οὐρανῷ) as the rulers or magistrates (ἂρχοντας ἔχουσα) and powers (δυνάμεσι, see Spec. Laws 4.184-188 below) of the cosmos (κόσμος) provides us with an important comparative map when considering Paul’s employment of a similar complex of language for the angels, principalities, and powers (ἄγγελοι, ἀρχαί, ἐξουσίαι, δυνάμεις, cf. Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 6:2-3; 15:24; Eph 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col 1:16; 2:10, 15) of the cosmos (κόσμος, cf. Rom 4:13; 1 Cor 6:2-3; 8:4-6). An important point for consideration in the present study is Paul’s parallel in 1 Cor 6:2-3 between the expectation that the holy ones will “judge the cosmos (ὑμῖν κρίνεται ὁ κόσμος),” connected with the idea that they will “judge the angels (ἀγγέλους κρινοῦμεν).” Later in 1 Corinthians 15, another important connection is found in the context of a discussion on the glory of the resurrection body. A survey is taken of the terrestrial creatures and then the celestial creatures, following the same pattern of Deut 4:16-19 (the terrestrial- humans, land animals, birds, fish [Deut 4:16-18; 1 Cor 15:39
  8. It is important to note that in Psalm 82, this is precisely why the gods of the nations are to be judged and lose their inheritance (κληρονομία), because they did not maintain the cosmic world order (see Miller, “Cosmology and World Order,” 438-39), but ruled unjustly (κρίνετε ἀδικίαν).
  9. See e.g. Psalm 82.
  10. This is particularly important in Rom 4:17-18 as Abraham is referred to as a “father of many nations (πατέρα πολλῶν ἐθνῶν).”
  11. For the proper context see above, Spec. Laws 1.13-19. For a helpful discussion on the meaning of “assimilation to God” in Philo, see George H. van Kooten, Paul’s Anthropology in Context: The Image of God, Assimilation to God, and Tripartite Man in Ancient Judaism, Ancient Philosophy and Early Christianity, WUNT 232 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 181-98; Wendy E. Helleman, “Philo of Alexandria on Deification and Assimilation to God,” SPA 2 (1990): 51-71; David T. Runia, Philo of Alexandria and the Timaeus of Plato, PA 44 (Leiden: Brill, 1986), 341ff. It is surprising that van Kooten does not pick up on Philo’s qualitative reading of the promise to Abraham in Gen 15:5, as it may provide a rich exegetical source Philo could utilize in support of his Platonic notion of “assimilation to God.”

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