Israel’s second God. 1: The Son of God

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by Neil Godfrey

Margaret Barker wrote an interesting book, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God, a few years back, in which she argued that prior to the rabbinic Judaism that emerged after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. the Jewish concept of God was not so monolithic as understood today. A bit of serendipitous googling shows that Barker’s research has a certain popularity among Mormons today, but I know of no reason to think that Barker herself is associated with Mormonism or supports the uses they make of her work. I have other reasons to be interested in her work that have more to do with searching for explanations for the development of Christianity, and am finally getting around to editing and posting up here some notes I took from The Great Angel some years back. Will just look at chapter one here: The Son of God chapter. Barker comments on previous discussion about the Son of God:

It is customary to list the occurrences of “son of God” in the Old Testament, and to conclude from that list that the term could be used to mean either a heavenly being of some sort, or the King of Israel, or the people of Israel in their special relationship with God. (p.4)

But Barker remarks that these studies have ignored the distinction between two different words for God in the Jewish Scriptures, and have consequently ignored “a crucial distinction”. According to Barker (and I am taking her word for it here, and her citations as complete and accurate, not having taken the time to date to check the details for myself):

All the texts in the Hebrew Bible distinguish clearly between the divine sons of Elohim/Elyon and those human beings who are called sons of Yahweh. (p.10 – Barker’s italics)

(Someone has posted a link on an IIDB discussion thread that may help others check this for themselves.)

Yahweh and Jesus, two sons of El Elyon (God Most High)

Yahweh was one of the sons of El Elyon; and Jesus was also in the Gospels described as a Son of El Elyon, God Most High (p.4). According to Barker this descriptor designates Jesus as a heavenly being. Note:

Luke 1:32 calls Jesus the “Son of the Most High”

Mark 5:7 narrates a demon calling Jesus “Son of the Most High God”

In the New Testament, the word Yahweh was translated by Kyrios, Lord. Example:

Deuteronomy 6:5 “You shall love Yahweh your God . . .”

is translated in

Luke 10:27 “You shall love the Lord [Kyrios] your God . . .”

And in the NT Jesus is not called the son of Yahweh nor the son of the Lord, but he is called Lord. (p.4-5)

Barker concludes:

This suggests that the Gospel writers, in using the terms ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of God Most High’, saw Jesus as an angel figure, and gave him their version of the sacred name Yahweh. (p.5)

Heavenly Sons of God

Genesis 6:2, 4

that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. . . . The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

Either this is an abridgment of 1 Enoch or 1 Enoch builds on the Genesis passage. Enoch lists the names of these angelic sons of God.

1 Enoch 6:7-8

And these are the names of their leaders: Samlazaz, their leader, Araklba, Rameel, Kokabiel, Tamiel, Ramlel, Danel, Ezeqeel, Barakiel, Asael, Armaros, Batarel, Ananel, Zaqiel, Samsapeel, Satarel, Turel, Jomjael, Sariel.

Note that most end in -el, meaning god. Kokabiel = star of God; Tameil = perfection of God; Barakiel = lightning of God, etc. (Barker asks: “Were these angels, then, envisaged as aspects of God, manifestations of God, rather than as separate divinities?”)

The only such son of God with a name compounded with Yahweh is found in the Apocalypse of Abraham. That is the great angel called Yahwehel.

Deuteronomy 32:8

When the Most High [Elyon] gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he separated the sons of men,
he fixed the bounds of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God [‘el].

The “Sons of El” is found in the Qumran Hebrew, and the LXX also speaks of “sons of God”. The much later (and post 70 c.e.) MT text, however, appears to have replaced “Sons of God” with “Sons of Israel”.

The sons of God in the earlier text are here described as the patron deities of the nations. Elyon the High God has allocated the nations to the various sons of God, one of whom was Yahweh. Elyon gave Yahweh the nation of Israel:

Deuteronomy 32:9

For the LORD’s [Yahweh’s] portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.

Job 1:6

Now there was a day when the sons of God [El] came to present themselves before the LORD [Yahweh], and Satan came also among them.

The image we generally take from this passage is that Yahweh is superior to the sons of El, the angels, who are presenting themselves before him. But Barker notes that the same verb translated to mean “present themselves” here is used in Psalm 2:2 to mean “set themselves against” Yahweh!

Psalm 2:2

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD [Yahweh], and against his anointed, saying . . . .

With this meaning, the Job passage actually depicts a heaven where Yahweh is one among many, and is challenged to test his servant. This is a world of heavenly rivalries, and suffering is a test of loyalty to one’s one god, not a punishment for wrongdoing. “It is almost a pre-moral polytheism, and Yahweh, one of the sons of God, is a part of this world.” (p.6)

Job 38:7

When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Compare Jubilees 2:2, 4

For on the first day He created the heavens which are above and the earth and the waters and all the spirits which serve before him -the angels of the presence, . . . . And on the second day He created the firmament

Job and Jubilees thus appear to know of a creation of a heavenly world before the creation of the material earth. Angels from the first world were present at the creation of the second. (Genesis speaks of a serpent without explaining his origin, suggesting the Genesis author was bypassing his knowledge of a prior creation here.)

Psalm 29:1

Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of the mighty, ascribe to the LORD [Yahweh] glory and strength.

Psalm 58:1

Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods [‘elim]?

Psalm 82:1, 6

Elohim has taken his place on the council of El, in the midst of Elohim he gives judgement

You are Elohim, sons of Elyon all of you

Psalm 89:6

For who in the skies is comparable to the LORD ?
Who among the sons of the mighty is like the LORD,

Daniel 3:25

He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!”

2 Esdras 13:22-26

He that shall endure the peril in that time hath kept himself: they that be fallen into danger are such as have works, and faith toward the Almighty. Know this therefore, that they which be left behind are more blessed than they that be dead. This is the meaning of the vision: Whereas thou sawest a man coming up from the midst of the sea: The same is he whom God the Highest hath kept a great season, which by his own self shall deliver his creature: and he shall order them that are left behind.

Compare 2 Esdras 2:42-8

Esdras saw upon the mount Sion a great people, whom I could not number, and they all praised the Lord with songs. And in the midst of them there was a young man of a high stature, taller than all the rest, and upon every one of their heads he set crowns, and was more exalted; which I marvelled at greatly. So I asked the angel, and said, Sir, what are these? He answered and said unto me, These be they that have put off the mortal clothing, and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God: now are they crowned, and receive palms. Then said I unto the angel, What young person is it that crowneth them, and giveth them palms in their hands? So he answered and said unto me, It is the Son of God, whom they have confessed in the world. Then began I greatly to commend them that stood so stiffly for the name of the Lord. Then the angel said unto me, Go thy way, and tell my people what manner of things, and how great wonders of the Lord thy God, thou hast seen.

An angel figure, the Son of God Most High, crowns the martyrs in heaven. The same Son of the Most High has been kept hidden and is to be revealed as the Man coming from the sea. This Son of Elyon has human form, but is the same as the angelic figure crowning the martyrs in the earlier chapter.

Qumran 4Q Son of God:

He shall be hailed as the son of El and they shall call him the son of Elyon.

This person is identified only as one who is to rule the earth and be a conqueror, and is found at an apocalyptic time with comets falling and the people of God triumphing.

The above sons of God Most High are angel figures manifested in human form. Even though described as men or like men or as a son of man, this is clearly apocalyptic language for angel-like beings.

Earthly Sons of Yahweh

The Son of Yahweh is never directly called a “son of Yahweh”. This status is always only implied.

The King

Psalm 2:7

“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, `You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.'”

Compare the last words of David in 2 Samuel 23:2

“The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me,
And His word was on my tongue.”

Yahweh is present in the King and speaks through the King. Other contemporary nations believed the king was divine, and it may be the case here, too. The same Psalm says the king has been set on a holy hill and has received an oracle. Psalm 2:7-8:

“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”
“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, `You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.”But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

Psalm 110:1-3

The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”

Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power;
In holy array, from the womb of the dawn,
Your youth are to You [LXX: “I have begotten you“] as the dew.

Again, as with the passage in Deuteronomy 32:8 discussed above, the LXX has “I have begotten you” but this appears to have been changed in the later MT to “youth”.

Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.

The LXX has one title, not four as above:

The Angel of Great Counsel

And this angel was to be the ruler of Israel.

These names may have been throne names given at the Kingmaking ceremony, or some have suggested they were given by a heavenly host rejoicing at the birth of the king. The earlier passage in Isaiah 7:14-17 suggests that this child was a sign of God’s presence from the moment of his birth. There he is to be called Immanuel — “God with us”.

Psalm 89:26-27

“He will cry to Me, `You are my Father,
My God, and the rock of my salvation.’
I also shall make him My firstborn,
The highest of the kings of the earth.

The king is “made” the firstborn. He is to be supreme among kings as Yahweh is supreme among the gods.

2 Samuel 7:14

I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me

This descriptor of the king excludes the possibility of a literal sonship.

1 Chronicles 28:6

He said to me, `Your son Solomon is the one who shall build My house and My courts; for I have chosen him to be a son to Me, and I will be a father to him.’

The People of Israel

Hosea 1:10

Yet the number of the sons of Israel
Will be like the sand of the sea,
Which cannot be measured or numbered;
And in the place
Where it is said to them,
“You are not My people,”
It will be said to them,
“You are the sons of the living God.”

Hosea 11:1, 9

When Israel was a youth I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son. . . . For I am . . . the Holy One in your midst

Israel is the Son of the Holy One here.

Exodus 4:22

Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My firstborn

Jeremiah 31:9

For I am a father to Israel,
And Ephraim is My firstborn.

Isaiah 43:6

Bring My sons from afar
And My daughters from the ends of the earth

Deuteronomy 14:1

You are the sons of the LORD [Yahweh] your God

Isaiah 63:16

For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us
And Israel does not recognize us.
You, O LORD, are our Father,
Our Redeemer from of old is Your name.

Wisdom 9:7

Thou hast chosen me to be a king of thy people, and a judge of thy sons and daughters:

Wisdom 18:13

For whereas they would not believe any thing by reason of the enchantments; upon the destruction of the firstborn, they acknowledged this people to be the sons of God.

A Righteous One

Wisdom 2:12-20 and 5:5

Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education. He professeth to have the knowledge of God: and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. He was made to reprove our thoughts. He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men’s, his ways are of another fashion. We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father. Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him. For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his patience. Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected.

How is he numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints!

Barker writes: “These passages are based on the Servant poems of Isaiah, especially Isa. 52-3, and the suffering of Yahweh’s servant has been used to explain the sufferings of the righteous man. This later text associates the triumph of the persecuted one with his recognition as a son of God, thus increasing the possibility that the poems originally described the Davidic kings in their relationship with Yahweh. The Psalms of Solomon compare the suffering of the righteous to the disciplining of a firstborn son (Ps. Solomon 13:8; 18:4), and the expected Davidic king would reign over the sons of God (Ps. Solomon 17:30).” (p.10)

Psalm of Solomon 13:8

For He correcteth the righteous as a beloved son, And his chastisement is as that of a firstborn.

Psalm of Solomon 18:4

Thy chastisement is upon us as (upon) a first-born, only-begotten son

Psalm of Solomon 17:30

For he shall know them, that they are all sons of their God.

Sirach gives 3 different examples of the use of the term:

Sirach 4:10 — the righteous is exhorted to be like a son of Elyon, the Most High

Be as a father unto the fatherless, and instead of an husband unto their mother: so shalt thou be as the son of the most High, and he shall love thee more than thy mother doth.

Sirach 23:1 — he prays to the Lord, Father and Ruler of his life

O Lord, Father and Governor of all my whole life, leave me not to their counsels, and let me not fall by them.

Sirach 51:10 — he prays to the Lord, the father of his Lord, using kyrios each time.

I called upon the Lord, the Father of my Lord, that he would not leave me in the days of my trouble, and in the time of the proud, when there was no help.

“The ‘two Lords’ will prove to be a very important piece of evidence.” (p.10)

The Two Gods

Thus there is a clear distinction between the divine sons of Elohim/Elyon and the human sons of Yahweh.

The conclusion from the above that Barker draws is that the terms must have originated at a time when the god Yahweh was distinct from whatever was meant by the god El/Elohim/Elyon.

(to be continued . . . .)

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8 thoughts on “Israel’s second God. 1: The Son of God”

  1. It’s an important book — years ahead of the game in its ideas about Enoch, original, good to ‘think with’, even though there’s plenty to question at the same time. As there should be.

  2. Very useful notes. Thanks for making them available.

    I’ve been much taken with Margaret’s work since chancing upon The Great Angel in a Half Price Books during a visit to Dallas in 1999. I also know something about her interactions with the Mormons, being personally involved in getting that going. She’s a Methodist, a lay minister herself. A thoroughly charming person, and a producer of consistently enthralling scholarship. All of her 13 books explore the origins of Christianity. It seems to me that those Christian scholars who endorse her work like it because she provides a Jesus that they can not only believe in as scholars, but have faith in as Christians. The Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, recently awarded her an honorary doctorate. It’s the serendipitous connection between her looking back to the first temple, and Jerusalem circa 600 BCE as the key period for Christian origins, that invites the ongoing comparisons between her work, and the LDS texts. The Book of Mormon begins its account in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah. Two fresh pictures of the same period, independently composed using vastly different methods and resources. How do they compare? She’d not imagined the issue before 1999, but she presented and published her own take on the topic in 2005.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  3. Thanks for the background, Kevin.

    When you say “those Christian scholars who endorse her work like it because she provides a Jesus that they can not only believe in as scholars, but have faith in as Christians”, are you referring to Mormon scholars?

    Is her 2005 paper online?

  4. I include Mormons among the Christian scholars who endorse her work. The Archbishop of Canterbury likes her work, but he’s not LDS. I consider myself Christian, but I’ve had that disputed by some. I’m thinking of various reviews and appreciations I’ve seen by people from various denominations.

    A trancript of her 2005 talk at a conference in Washington DC is available at http://www.thinlyveiled.com, under the Margaret Barker links. The printed version in BYU Studies vol 44 n 4 (2005) has a few additional points.

    Kevin Christensen
    Bethel Park, PA

  5. The biblical accounts of the pantheon of gods with nothing more than a re-telling of the ancient Sumerian epic of creation. It was well known the the hebrews during their exile in Sumer/Babylon and when they were allowed to leave, they borrowed many stories and used them in a convoluted form as their own history. Yahweh and Satan most likely are the brothers Enlil and Enki of the Sumerian epic and their father had many sons and his name was Anu. The good brother was the one who freed the Adamu from the garden the wicked brother had enslaved them to till the ground and produce food for the gods. Enlil was the one who decided to let them all drown in a flood he knew was coming, but Enki warned his part human son to take his family and flee in a boat.

    Are people so needy and helpless they will remain in a religion that has long been proven a myth and much is a forgery? It is high time humanity grew up and realized they have the ability to do good without a religious security blanket or a devil to blame their own mistakes on. I won’t even go into how many innocent people have died due to the hate and division religion has wrought upon this world. Children are dying as I type this due to religious lies about land that was not given to any single group by any god. What is the purpose of religion? To divide and control masses of people by the few who know the truth. As with all things, follow the money.

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