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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.
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.
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.
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 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)
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.
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, “kbd” TLOT 2.
Robert Hayward, Divine Name and Presence: The Memra.
H. Ringgren, “עמד,” in TDOT 11.182-85.
Grundmann, “‘ίστημι,” TDNT 7.641, 43.
Here’s the latest video (thanks to Shaun’s work!). It does a good job summarizing how to parse the cherubim and seraphim (and how not to over-read that material).
In the previous two episodes on Melchizedek (1a, 1b) we covered the Old Testament data on this enigmatic figure. Jewish writers and readers in the Second Temple Period (ca. 500 BC – 70 AD) naturally had ideas on who Melchizedek was and how to understand him as a king-priest. This episode discusses important texts from the Second Temple Period that deal with Melchizedek. Primary attention is placed on texts that case Melchizedek as more than a man, in effect the divine messianic deliverer of Israel in the last days. These texts and the thinking behind them set the stage for how New Testament writers thought about Melchizedek and how they correlated him to Jesus.
I recently added this to my FAQ, but I thought I’d post it here as well.
Do you think Matthew 24:37-38 is a prophecy about the return of nephilim or has anything to do with Genesis 6:1-4?
The short answer to both is no. (I also don’t think it has anything to do with UFOs or aliens). Back around the year 2000 or so I suspected that was the case, but I know better now. It’s not a text-driven argument or position. I blogged about this (and Dan 2:43 as well) back in 2015. There are several problems with the idea, but I’ll summarize my thoughts here.
There are several reasons why Matt 24:37-38 does not connect back to Gen 6:1-4. The sons of God are mentioned nowhere in Matt 24. There isn’t a whiff of divine-human transgression. Their presence is assumed on the basis of the phrase “marrying and giving in marriage,” but that’s actually where the idea breaks down. If Matthew wanted readers to think about Genesis 6:1-4 in these comments, he’d use the Greek terms in the Septuagint of LXX for what the sons of God and mortal women were doing. Matthew doesn’t do that even once. The LXX reads ἔλαβον ἑαυτοῖς γυναῖκας ἀπὸ πασῶν, ὧν ἐξελέξαντο (lit: “they took for themselves women from all which they chose”). Matthew doesn’t use any of these terms. Matthew’s Greek for “marrying and giving in marriage” is γαμοῦντες καὶ γαμίζοντες (lit: “marrying and giving in marriage”). Even if you can’t read Greek you can look at the words and know they aren’t the same as Gen 6 LXX.The other significant problem is that saying Matthew 24:37-38 is about a repeat of Genesis 6:1-4 requires you to ignore parts of what Matthew describes — or deliberately not see the disconnections with Genesis 6:1-4. Here is the full list of what Matthew says will be going on when Jesus returns that was going on in the days of Noah:
– eating and drinking
– marrying and giving in marriage
– not watching / being unaware
Only one of those (conceivably — but incorrectly) could be associated with Gen 6:1-4 — the “marrying and giving in marriage.” The others have no association whatsoever with the supernaturalist aspects of Gen 6:1-4. So why impose the supernaturalist character of Gen 6 onto what Matthew says? It’s an arbitrary decision, and one made incoherent and unsustainable by the lack of any connection to the LXX of Gen 6:1-4. When biblical writers want their readers to cross-reference an OT passage with what they are saying, they create connections. Matthew doesn’t do that even once.
Melchizedek is one of the more enigmatic figures in the Bible. Mentioned in only two passages in the Old Testament (Gen 14:17-24; Psalm 110), he nevertheless drew a lot of attention during the Second Temple Period and the New Testament. Thousands of pages of scholarly research have been devoted to him. Nearly everything said about him produces interpretive problems, from the nature of his name, to its meaning, to his identity as a Canaanite (non-Israelite), to why Psalm 110 favors his priesthood about that of Aaron. This episode of the podcast finishes our discussion of the Old Testament material associated with Melchizedek. Later episodes will be devoted to how he was understood in Second Temple Judaism and the New Testament.
The “evil eye” was a widespread superstition in the ancient world, one that continues on into the present day. The belief that one could cause someone harm merely by looking at them, or cast a spell over them by the same means, shows up in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamian, Greece, Rome, and Rabbinic writings. But does the Bible contain any reference to the notion? This episode explores biblical references to having an “evil eye” and discusses the meaning of those references in biblical thought.
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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.
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.
- 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). ↩
- 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). ↩
- 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. ↩
The episode of Noah’s drunkenness in Genesis 9 has long befuddled interpreters. One of Noah’s sons, Ham, commits some heinous crime against his father. Oddly, though, Ham is not the one cursed by his father. Instead, Ham’s son Canaan bears the wrath of Noah. This episode explores the traditional solutions to the interpretive confusion and offers an alternative based on recent research in the Hebrew text.
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