2010-10-28

Israel (Jacob/James), an archangel created before all other creation

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by Neil Godfrey

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel
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If Christianity mutated out of Jewish beliefs it is good to understand just how different many Jewish beliefs were before rabbinic Judaism came to dominate. (This post follows on from Divine human-like figures in Hellenistic Judaism.)

Origen preserves for us a Jewish text that offers us a glimpse of beliefs about angels and the nature of biblical heroes among the Jews in the late second century/early third century, and that appear to be consistent with what we know of Jewish sectarian views throughout the Second Temple period (that is, at the time of the emergence of Christianity.) While we have no evidence that this prayer is itself older than the second century, it is certainly Jewish and not Christian, and does serve to illustrate how different were early Jewish beliefs from what most of us tend to assume. I conclude with a few questions that one might ask in connection with early Christianity.

The prayer speaks of an archangel who is identified with the biblical patriach Israel (Jacob). Alan F. Segal in his Two Powers in Heaven draws out some significant details:

  • An archangel of the power of the people of God is called Israel and is identified with the patriarch Jacob
  • He was created before all the works of creation
  • He claims ascendancy over Uriel as a result of personal combat
  • By virtue of that personal combat over Uriel he now possess the divine name

Israel is here identified with

  • an angel of God
  • a ruling spirit
  • a man who sees God
  • the first-born of all life
  • the archangel of the power of the Lord
  • the heavenly chief captain
  • the high priest before the face of God

Israel is also shown to be an angel who descends to become the human patriarch in Genesis. Origen is using this Jewish prayer to support his argument that John the Baptist was also an angel who descended to earth to appear in human form.

Since this same archangel named Israel was created before any other creation,. I am reminded of that curious passage we read in the Gospel of Thomas:

The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that You will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?”
Jesus said to them, “Wherever you are, you are to go to James the righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.”

This James is the apostle and head of the church, but we should not forget James is the anglicized form of Jacob. I have not read anything to connect the two, so this comment is nothing more than a layman’s observation of what looks like a possibility. Such an idea might sound totally off the planet at first, but when one recalls the teachings of some early Christians that one was to become “as Christ”, to even surpass the master if possible, and when one recalls that the disciple’s name Thomas meant “Twin” and was meant to indicate a character-twin of Jesus, maybe a small measure of tolerance to at least ask the question might be permitted.

Here is the Prayer of Joseph as found in Origen’s commentary on John 2:31:

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, am 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 wroth 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; Art not thou 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?” . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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 he is an angel who assumed a body for the sake of bearing witness to the light. So much about John considered as a man.

Does not this sort of sectarian Jewish belief throw a different perspective on the earliest synoptic gospel narratives (Gospels of Mark and Matthew) that portray Jesus as a representative or personification of Israel going into the wilderness for 40 days/years after passing through the waters of the baptism/the Red Sea? Matthew’s gospel mines the prophet of Hosea to tie the name of Israel to Jesus when he refers to the infant Jesus returning to Judea after fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod. We do know that Jesus was believed by many early Christians to have existed before all creation. It is a little startling to see evidence that some Jewish sectarians believed Israel himself was such a pre-existent angel.

In another context Alan Segal writes:

This leads one to suspect that Christianity was the first to synthesize the various divine agents at creation by identifying all of them with the Christian messiah. (p. 190)


Origen, a 3rd century proponent of Universal R...
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Neil Godfrey

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13 Comments

  • 2010-10-28 00:44:26 GMT+0000 - 00:44 | Permalink

    This also makes me wonder what was going on in the background when the author of John has the Jews bewildered that Jesus had “seen Abraham” and wasn’t yet 50 years old. And how they could have been whipped into a frenzy when the author had Jesus proclaim that he existed before Abraham.

    Could Abraham also have had some sort of semi-divine status in one strand of Judaism?

    • 2010-10-28 08:23:23 GMT+0000 - 08:23 | Permalink

      It’s intriguing. In the prayer Jacob says: “Thus Jacob says: “I, Jacob, who speak to you, am 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.” Unless I am misreading this, or there is something misleading in the translation I am reading, this seems to be saying just what you are wondering — that Abraham and Isaac were also created before all else, yet after Jacob.

  • 2010-10-28 10:31:40 GMT+0000 - 10:31 | Permalink

    Thanks. ThomStark asserts that a passage like this is not to be read literally, but I don’t know if that is largely an attempt to make the meanings more compatible with modern concepts. Origen’s point in quoting the prayer was to demonstrate John had a prior angelic existence — literally. Origen may have misunderstood the prayer’s meaning of course. But it’s not something I’d want to be dogmatic about till I learned a lot more.

    Further, the ancient concept of the earthly reflecting the heavenly realities is something I’m not sure we can get our heads around completely. What I’ve read so far has left me with as many questions as answers.

  • GakuseiDon
    2010-10-28 09:51:43 GMT+0000 - 09:51 | Permalink

    Neil, I don’t know if you’ve read Thom Stark’s series of early Christology, but he touches on the topic you raise here in his article on the pre-existence motif:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20110831034756/http://thomstark.net/?p=988

  • 2010-10-29 14:54:10 GMT+0000 - 14:54 | Permalink

    Hi, Neil. No, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that I read these sorts of statements metaphorically in “an attempt to make the meanings more compatible with modern concepts.” It is true that later interpreters took these pre-existence statements literally, but the pervasiveness of the kinds of things to which Jews ascribed preexistence says to me they couldn’t have been meant literally. For instance, “the message of repentance” is said to have been pre-existent, as was the bridal gown of Joseph’s wife Aseneth. To say that something was created before the foundation of the world is to say that it was predestined to happen. In the same way, Jesus is said to have been “the lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” This doesn’t mean he was crucified before creation; it means it was always God’s plan to redeem the world through the sacrifice of his Son.

    I have no stake in whether these texts should be taken literally or metaphorically (it doesn’t affect my own personal beliefs one way or the other). I just think it is clear from the way these pre-existence claims function as well as from the kinds of things that are said to have been pre-existent, that a literal pre-existence was not usually envisioned.

    • 2010-10-29 18:44:30 GMT+0000 - 18:44 | Permalink

      So what do you do with the “as above so below” understanding that was pervasive then? Is there any clear evidence that the terminology meant predestination as we understand that term?

  • James Bond
    2011-09-07 01:32:26 GMT+0000 - 01:32 | Permalink

    Jacob as the largest Angel in heaven

    In a variety of ancient sources, the figure of Jacob-Israel is identified as the most important angel or as the vice regent of God. When Philo speaks of the Logos does in the following terms: “Your word firstborn, the highest of the angels, the archangel supreme, and that has many names because it is called: The Beginning, the Name of God, the Logos The Man in the Picture, and one who sees or Israel (Conf. 146). Origen also speaks of Jacob-Israel angel using many of the terms used by Philo in a text that appointment is called “Prayer of Joseph” (OrJos): “And Jacob said, I, who is talking to you, I’m Jacob and Israel. I am the Angel of God and the Spirit Chief. Abraham and Isaac were created before any work, but I, Jacob, whom men called Jacob, my name is Israel. I am who has been called by God, Israel, the man who has seen God, because I’m the firstborn (Exodus 4.22) of every living creature that has been quickened by God. And he added: As I rose from Mesopotamia Syria, Uriel, the angel of God came and told me I had dropped and dwelt among men, and I was called by the name Jacob. He was jealous of me and challenged me. And fought against me, saying his name, being the pre-eminent angel was superior to mine. And I said his name and rank among the sons of God: Not a chance Uriel, the eighth after me? I Israel, the archangel of God’s power, and Captain Chief among the children of God? Am I not Israel, Prime Minister before the face of God? And I called upon my God Name Indestructible “. Note that the titles “Archangel” and “Captain in Chief” has clear parallels with those for Michael, Metatron, and other prominent angels in the mystical literature of the time. Otherwise, let us also to overcome Uriel, Jacob-Israel should tell his name and prove his superiority high priestly calling on God through its “Name Indestructible”.

    Examples of Jacob-Israel as an angel multiply in Gnostic and Manichaean literature. Often the role of the angel reminds us of that messianic figure described as a young warrior who liberated the people listed in the Red Sea. In a Persian prayer Jacob is called “the God Almighty, the Praised by voice, the Commander in Chief of the heroes, who seeks the Battle of the Brave.” In a Manichean Turfan fragment, in western China, is worshiped as Kavod Jacob enthroned: “We worship the Lord Jacob, the Angel with the principalities, powers, good spirits, which protect us with strong power, which we leading in and out. We rejoice in front of Fort Branch, Jacob the Angel, the leader of the angels. ” This text keeps affinity of Hekhalot where we also find visionary practice of going in and out of the heavenly palaces to worship God on his throne. For more details: The Mystery of God, p. 560-567.

  • 2011-09-07 09:23:47 GMT+0000 - 09:23 | Permalink

    It sounds to me like a natural projection of a sense of one’s own ethnic/’national’ superiority. Ancient peoples would exalt their own god to the most exalted status in heaven when they conquered others. If angelology is an adaption of polytheism it appears that we have the same sort of thing happening: the angel most representative of a people’s identity is the one most exalted before God.

  • James gale
    2018-03-07 01:11:34 GMT+0000 - 01:11 | Permalink

    Hi , I read the work on archangel James, is this true,? Was he jesuses twin brother, and what was the cause that he needed to fight Uriel over the title of archangel? If this is true, isn’t there really 8 archangels now? Was there a struggle with James, or a battle needed to be done for him to earn this? Does this need to come out properly in biblical sense?

  • 2018-10-05 13:46:27 GMT+0000 - 13:46 | Permalink

    There are 8 archangels, and Israel is the firstborn, yet they are octruplets.
    But Jacob was not archangel Israel, but his name Israel was a shortage of Isch Rachel, meaning Rachels husband, which is what he was really called, by the socalled angel.
    Angel was in fact just a methaphore for a good woman who did not want to have sex with him, but he did not take no for an answer. He also fathered Menashe in the process, his 13. Son, which was never acknowledged by Jacob or his sons as a son of Jacob. But God is not asleep, and Jacob needs to set the record straight this time, something the Jews will not like to hear…😉
    Jacob was a notorious liar, lying to his father, cheating on his brother and his wife Rachel, his ONLY wife in Gods eyes, because she was his twinsoul.
    Angels do not come to earth to fight human, and if, than the fight bad human and win. They have better things to do!

    Jacob was in fact an incarnation of a soul-aspect of Raphael, just like Jesus was Michael and Moses was Gabriel.

    All archangels were on regular basis on earth, and not just once, and several of them are here right now, because Raphael was also Elijah who is back with Moses to bring the truth, and the truth will set as free and prepare the way for the return of Jesus.
    The kingdom of God is closer then we think!

    8 Israel
    7 Michael
    6 Raphael
    5 Gabriel
    4 Uriel
    3 Ariel
    2 Daniel
    1 Emanuel
    God bless 💖

    • 2019-04-01 20:28:13 GMT+0000 - 20:28 | Permalink

      No, Jesus, Esau, Enoch and Nostradamus was Michael which means ‘who is like God’, just to name a few of his incarnations

      Archangel Israel was Satan, Salomon.and Casanova, the tempter, or lost son,

      Jacob, Elijah and Saint Nicolas was Raphael.
      Jacob was called Isch Rachel, which means Rachels husband and this was shortened to Israel. This has nothing to do with archangel Israel.

      Moses, Mohamed and Buddha were Gabriel.

      All 8 archangels are regularly on earth. .
      8 Israel
      7 Michael
      6 Raphael
      5 Gabriel
      4 Uriel
      3 Ariel
      2 Daniel
      1 Emmanuel
      All other known archangelnames are soulaspects of the above 8 , because the higher self never incarnates, only the aspects of them, and they and us have all 10 aspects.
      . 5 aspects are with each person including you and me, and our twinsoul has the other 5.
      Religiousliesdebunked.wordpress.com

  • 2019-04-01 19:51:39 GMT+0000 - 19:51 | Permalink

    Are you saying that Jesus was the reincarnation of the archangel Israel, previously named Jacob?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-04-02 08:35:27 GMT+0000 - 08:35 | Permalink

      No. I am trying to share the thought-world of many of the Second Temple era. That is, the intellectual context of the world in which Christianity was born.

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