The point of this post is to highlight, with reference to the sources, some of the less widely known beliefs among Jews around the time Christianity was emerging, and that would seem to have some resonances among Christian ideas we find in Paul and other early letters and gospels.
The Jewish world from which Christianity emerged is infinitely more complex than our traditional readings of the Old Testament and the beliefs of current Judaism. I would love to compile an outline of all its variations — or better still, find a book where this is already done. Till then, here are a few snippets that are worth keeping in mind whenever the subject of Christian origins is addressed.
- The human form of the Logos, God’s first-born, and Heavenly Man
- The Heavenly Man and the Earthly Man
- The human form of Wisdom
- The heavenly Adam
- Melchizedek and other vice-regents of God
- Divine Heavenly Patriarchs
The following is taken primarily from a chapter on Jewish sectarian texts (and from a few references in a chapter on Philo) in Alan Segal’s Two Powers in Heaven.
1. The Logos in Human Form
The Logos [=Word] is a human figure: Wisdom of Solomon 18:15-16
Thine Almighty word [Logos] leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into the midst of a land of destruction,
And brought thine unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword, and standing up filled all things with death; and it touched the heaven, but it stood upon the earth.
Philo identified the Logos with the Heavenly Man — see below.
Philo also describes the Logos as God’s partner in creation
Now, Bezaleel, being interpreted, means God in his shadow. But the shadow of God is his word, which he used like an instrument when he was making the world. And this shadow, and, as it were, model, is the archetype of other things. For, as God is himself the model of that image which he has now called a shadow, so also that image is the model of other things, as he showed when he commenced giving the law to the Israelites, and said, “And God made man according to the image of God.” . . . as the image was modelled according to God, and as man was modelled according to the image, which thus received the power and character of the model.
What, then, can it be except the Word, which is more ancient than all the things which were the objects of creation, and by means of which it is the Ruler of the universe, taking hold of it as a rudder, governs all things. And when he was fashioning the world, he used this as his instrument for the blameless argument of all the things which he was completing.
For if it was necessary to examine the mortal body of the priest that it ought not be imperfect through any misfortune, much more was it necessary to look into his immortal soul, which they say is fashioned in the form of the living God. Now the image of God is the Word, by which all the world was made.
Logos is The Beginning, The Ruler of the Angels, the Name of God
Confusion of Tongues, 146
And even if there be not as yet any one who is worthy to be called a son of God, nevertheless let him labour earnestly to be adorned according to his first-born word, the eldest of his angels, as the great archangel of many names; for he is called, the authority, and the name of God, and the Word, and man according to God’s image, and he who sees Israel.
Logos is first-born of God and the Heavenly Man
As an emanation of God he is also God’s offspring, the first-born son of God. As such he is a kind of immortal heavenly man or the true father of men.
For, in fact, the one God alone is the sole Creator of the real man, who is the purest mind; but a plurality of workmen are the makers of that which is called man, the being compounded of external senses; (72) for which reason the especial real man is spoken of with the article; for the words of Moses are, “The God made the man;” that is to say, he made that reason destitute of species and free from all admixture. But he speaks of man in general without the addition of the article; for the expression, “Let us make man,” shows that he means the being compounded of irrational and rational nature.
Therefore, the faculty which is common to us with the irrational animals, has blood for its essence. And it, having flowed from the rational fountain, is spirit, not air in motion, but rather a certain representation and character of the divine faculty which Moses calls by its proper name an image, showing by his language that God is the archetypal pattern of rational nature, and that man is the imitation of him, and the image formed after his model; not meaning by man that animal of a double nature, but the most excellent species of the soul which is called mind and reason.
What is the man who was created? And how is that man distinguished who was made after the image of God? (Ge 2:7). This man was created as perceptible to the senses, and in the similitude of a Being appreciable only by the intellect; but he who in respect of his form is intellectual and incorporeal, is the similitude of the archetypal model as to appearance, and he is the form of the principal character; but this is the word of God, the first beginning of all things, the original species or the archetypal idea, the first measure of the universe. Moreover, that man who was to be created as a vessel is formed by a potter, was formed out of dust and clay as far as his body was concerned; but he received his soul by God breathing the breath of life into his face, so that the temperament of his nature was combined of what was corruptible and of what was incorruptible. But the other man, he who is only so in form, is found to be unalloyed without any mixture proceeding from an invisible, simple, and transparent nature.
In reference to which I admire those who say, “We are all one man’s sons, we are men of Peace,” because of their well-adapted agreement; since how, I should say, could you, O excellent men, avoid being grieved at war, and delighted in peace, being the sons of one and the same father, and he not mortal but immortal, the man of God, who being the reason of the everlasting God, is of necessity himself also immortal?
one of them being the archetypal pattern and above us, and the other being the copy of the former and abiding among us. (231) And Moses calls the one which is above us the image of God, and the one which abides among us as the impression of that image, “For,” says he, “God made man,” not an image, “but after that Image.” So that the mind which is in each of us, which is in reality and truth the man, is a third image proceeding from the Creator. But the intermediate one is a model of the one and a copy of the other.
2. The Heavenly Man and the Earthly Man (Two Adams in Eden)
Allegorical Interpretation, 1, 31, 53, 55
“And God created man, taking a lump of clay from the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life: and man became a living soul.” The races of men are twofold; for one is the heavenly man, and the other the earthly man. Now the heavenly man, as being born in the image of God, has no participation in any corruptible or earthlike essence. But the earthly man is made of loose material, which he calls a lump of clay. On which account he says, not that the heavenly man was made, but that he was fashioned according to the image of God; but the earthly man he calls a thing made, and not begotten by the maker.
“And the man whom he had formed,” Moses says, “God placed in the Paradise,” for the present only. Who, then, is he in reference to whom he subsequently says that “The Lord God took the man whom he had formed, and placed him in the Paradise to cultivate it and to guard It.” Must not this man who was created according to the image and idea of God have been a different man from the other, so that two men must have been introduced into the Paradise together, the one a factitious man, and the other modelled after the image of God?
Therefore, he calls that man whom he only places in Paradise, factitious; but him whom he appoints to be its cultivator and guardian he calls not factitious, but “the man whom he had made.” And him he takes, but the other he casts out. And him whom he takes he thinks worthy of three things, of which goodness of nature especially consists: namely, expertness, perseverance, and memory. Now, expertness is his position in Paradise; memory is the guarding and preservation of holy opinions; perseverance is the effecting of what is good, the performance of virtuous actions. But the factitious mind neither remembers what is good, nor does it, but is only expert, and nothing more; on which account, after it has been placed in Paradise, in a short time afterwards it runs away, and is cast out.
The virtuous were descended from the higher Adam– see Allegorical Interpretations, 53; On the Posterity of Cain and His Exile, 35, 38f, 42, 43, 45, 78; On Flight and Finding, 64; That the Worse is Want to Attack the Better, 32, 68, 103.
3. Divine Wisdom or Sophia had a human form
Wisdom found no place where she might dwell;
Then a dwelling-place was assigned her in the heavens.
Wisdom went forth to make her dwelling among the children of men,
And found no dwelling-place:
Wisdom returned to her place,
And took her seat among the angels.
And unrighteousness went forth from her chambers
Whom she sought not she found,
And dwelt with them,
As rain in a desert
And dew on a thirsty land.
4. Adam enthroned in heaven
The Testament of Abraham ch.11
So Michael turned the chariot and brought Abraham to the east, to the first gate of heaven; and Abraham saw two ways, the one narrow and contracted, the other broad and spacious, and there he saw two gates, the one broad on the broad way, and the other narrow on the narrow way. And outside the two gates there he saw a man sitting upon a gilded throne, and the appearance of that man was terrible, as of the Lord. And they saw many souls driven by angels and led in through the broad gate, and other souls, few in number, that were taken by the angels through the narrow gate. And when the wonderful one who sat upon the golden throne saw few entering through the narrow gate, and many entering through the broad one, straightway that wonderful one tore the hairs of his head and the sides of his beard, and threw himself on the ground from his throne, weeping and lamenting. But when he saw many souls entering through the narrow gate, then he arose from the ground and sat upon his throne in great joy, rejoicing and exulting. And Abraham asked the chief-captain, My Lord chief-captain, who is this most marvelous man, adorned with such glory, and sometimes he weeps and laments, and sometimes he rejoices and exults? The incorporeal one said: This is the first-created Adam who is in such glory, and he looks upon the world because all are born from him, and when he sees many souls going through the narrow gate, then he arises and sits upon his throne rejoicing and exulting in joy, because this narrow gate is that of the just, that leads to life, and they that enter through it go into Paradise. For this, then, the first-created Adam rejoices, because he sees the souls being saved. But when he sees many souls entering through the broad gate, then he pulls out the hairs of his head, and casts himself on the ground weeping and lamenting bitterly, for the broad gate is that of sinners, which leads to destruction and eternal punishment. And for this the first-formed Adam falls from his throne weeping and lamenting for the destruction of sinners, for they are many that are lost, and they are few that are saved, for in seven thousand there is scarcely found one soul saved, being righteous and undefiled.
5. Melchizedek (= Elohim, Messiah, Principal Angel)
The following Dead Sea Scroll excerpts speak of a Prince of Light. This prince appears to be identified with Melchizedek in the subsequent passages — where he is the depicted as the Messianic Saviour of Israel, and the Principal Angel.
1 QS 3:20
All the children of righteousness are ruled by the Prince of Light . . . .
For in ancient times, Moses and Aaron arose by the hand of the Prince of Lights and Belial in his cunning raised up Jannes and his brother when Israel was first delivered.
. . . Melchizedek, who will return them [the captives] there and will proclaim to them liberty, forgiving them the wrong-doings of all their iniquities. . . . And the Day of Atonement is the end of the tenth Jubilee, when all the Sons of Light and the men of the lot of Melchizedek will be atoned for. . . . For this is the moment of the Year of Grace for Melchizedek. And he will, by his strength, judge the holy ones of God, executing judgment as it is written concerning him in the Songs of David, who said, ELOHIM has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment (Ps. 82:1). And it was concerning him that he said, How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah (Ps. 82:2). . . . its interpretation concerns Belial and the spirits of his lot who rebelled by turning away from the precepts of God to . . . And Melchizedek will avenge the vengeance of the judgements of God . . . and he will drag them from the hand of Belial . . . And all the gods of Justice will come to his aid to attend to the destruction of Belial. . . . And your ELOHIM is Melchizedek who will save them from the hand of Belial.
Compare Michael, who also acts as the chief angel:
The Testament of Abraham, 1, 7
Therefore the Lord God, summoning his archangel Michael, said to him: Go down, chief-captain Michael, to Abraham . . .
The chief-captain said to him, I am the chief-captain Michael, that stands before the Lord, . . .
Yahoel, an angel bearing God’s name, and vice-regent to God, second only to God himself, Apocalypse of Abraham 10
And the angel whom He had sent came to me in the likeness of a man . . . . I am called Jaoel by Him who moves those who exist with me on the seventh expanse over the heavens, a power in virtue of the ineffable Name that is dwelling in me.
6. Heavenly Israel
Origen refers to a Jewish Prayer of Joseph in his Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2.25
Should the piece entitled “The prayer of Joseph,” one of the apocryphal works current among the Hebrews, be thought worthy of credence, this dogma will be found in it clearly expressed. Those at the beginning, it is represented, having some marked distinction beyond men, and being much greater than other souls, because they were angels, they have come down to human nature. Thus Jacob says: “I, Jacob, who speak to you, and Israel, I am an angel of God, a ruling spirit, and Abraham and Isaac were created before every work of God; and I am Jacob, called Jacob by men, but my name is Israel, called Israel by God, a man seeing God, because I am the first-born of every creature which God caused to live.” And he adds: “When I was coming from Mesopotamia of Syria, Uriel, the angel of God, came forth, and said, I have come down to the earth and made my dwelling among men, and I am called Jacob by name. He was angry with me and fought with me and wrestled against me, saying that his name and the name of Him who is before every angel should be before my name. And I told him his name and how great he was among the sons of God; Are you not Uriel my eighth, and I am Israel and archangel of the power of the Lord and a chief captain among the sons of God? Am not I Israel, the first minister in the sight of God, and I invoked my God by the inextinguishable name?” It is likely that this was really said by Jacob, and was therefore written down, and that there is also a deeper meaning in what we are told, “He supplanted his brother in the womb.” Consider whether the celebrated question about Jacob and Esau has a solution. We read, Romans 9:11-14 The children being not yet born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of him that calls, it was said, “The elder shall serve the younger.” Even as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say, then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. If, then, when they were not yet born, and had not done anything either good or evil, in order that God’s purpose according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calls, if at such a period this was said, how if we do not go back to the works done before this life, can it be said that there is no unrighteousness with God when the elder serves the younger and is hated (by God) before he has done anything worthy of slavery or of hatred? We have made something of a digression in introducing this story about Jacob and appealing to a writing which we cannot well treat with contempt; but it certainly adds weight to our argument about John, to the effect that as Isaiah’s voice declares Isaiah 40:3 he is an angel who assumed a body for the sake of bearing witness to the light.
The last emphasized section of Origen’s discussion shows us that some early Christians also thought of John the Baptist as an angel in human form. (Did they take his identity as Elijah literally?)
Alan Segal explains further that “almost any righteous person in the past could be called an angel.” (p.186). We find this not only in 1 Enoch but throughout the Jewish scriptures themselves, where righteous ones are promised “ascent to angelhood” and to be with the angels in heaven. Details will have to be reserved for another post. I also omit the many references to more well known archangels Michael and Gabriel, and their heavenly colleagues such as Uriel.