Tag Archives: Angels

Bible Heroes in Heaven Before They Came to Earth

300px-leloir_-_jacob_wrestling_with_the_angel
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Alexander Leloir

Looking beyond the books of the Bible and into other ancient Jewish writings containing some very different views of biblical heroes can be a most interesting experience.

Have a look at The Prayer of Joseph (1st or 2nd century CE):

[1] “I, Jacob, who is speaking to you, am also Israel, an angel of God and a ruling spirit.

[2] Abraham and Isaac were created before any work.

[3] But, I, Jacob, who men call Jacob but whose name is Israel am he who God called Israel which means, a man seeing God, because I am the firstborn of every living thing to whom God gives life.

[4] And when I was coming up from Syrian Mesopotamia, Unel, the angel of God, came forth and said that I had descended to earth and I had tabernacled among men and that I had been called by the name of Jacob.

[5] He envied me and fought with me and wrestled with me saying that his name and the name that is before every angel was to be above mine.

[6] I told him his name and what rank he held among the sons of God.

[7] ‘Are you not Uriel, the eighth after me? and I, Israel, the archangel of the Power of the Lord and the chief captain among the sons of God?

[8] Am I not Israel, the first minister before the face of God?

[9] And I called upon my God by the Inextinguishable Name.”

Even Moses appears to have had a pre-existence in heaven before he appeared on earth to deliver the Israelites from Egypt: read more »

When God Commanded the Worship of Adam

jesusMonotheismThe Judaism prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE and that was the Judaism known to those responsible for the birth of Christianity was not the rabbinic Judaism that emerged in ensuing centuries. In recent years scholars Hurtado and Bauckham have attempted to defend the historical roots of contemporary Christian orthodoxy in relation to monotheism by focusing on evidence that suggests Second Temple Judaism (i.e. the Judaism prior to 70 CE) did not know of cultic worship of any figure other than The One God. Other scholars have criticized Hurtado and Bauckham for being too restricted in their selection of the evidence and for being too pedantically narrow in their question framing. One of these critics, and the latest one whose work has been added to my “to read” shelf, is Crispin Fletcher-Jones. His 2015 work is Jesus Monotheism: Volume 1. Christological Origins: the Emerging Consensus and Beyond.

While it is too early for me to outline his arguments in this post, both those contrary to Bauckham’s and Hurtado’s theses and his own interpretations and broader implications for our understanding of Second Temple Judaism, I can at least for now quote the critical section of a Latin manuscript of the Life of Adam and Eve. (I’ll save the reasons for dating this text to the pre-70 CE era and other discussions of the various language manuscript lines till later.)

What is fascinating in this text is the reason God commands all the angels to worship Adam at the time of his creation — that is, before his “Fall”. The text throws us the first time we read it if we have always assumed that the Jews had as strict and narrow a conception of monotheism as we do and as we believe they have had ever since Moses.

The account of the command to worship Adam (Fletcher-Louis points out this analogy) reads remarkably like the challenge presented to Daniel and his friends by Nebuchadnezzar:

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold . . . 

Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

. . . 

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar . . . we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. (Daniel 3, NIV)

Setting up an image and commanding worship at its feet is a no-no — we all know that’s the rule of the God of the Bible. But think a moment about the creation of Adam who was made “in the image and likeness” of God.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness. . . “ (Gen 1:26)

Adam is the image made by God. God made him in “his” image and in “his” likeness. The angels were commanded to worship the image of God. read more »

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

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel
Image via Wikipedia

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: read more »

Divine human-like figures in Hellenistic Judaism

Damiane. The Ancient of Days. A fresco from Ub...
Image via Wikipedia

If we rely on the Gospels and Josephus for our understanding of Jewish religious beliefs of the first century we would miss some of the most colourful and relevant details that were the background to the emergence of Christianity. Summing up Jewish religion in terms of a neat threefold division of Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes probably had more to do with Josephus’s interest in portraying Judaism as a respectable, even superior, counterpart to non-Jewish philosophical systems of his day. Alan F. Segal lists some of the varieties of beliefs that appear to go back to the time before rabbinic Judaism established itself after the destruction(s) of Jerusalem and throughout the second century. I bypass his arguments for the pre-rabbinic (pre 70 CE) provenance of these beliefs in this post and simply list here some of the ideas making up the rich constellation of “Judaism” at the time.

Four “Dangerous” Scriptures

Later rabbinic evidence points to four Scriptural passages in particular at the centre of beliefs that proved to be heretical at least to those later rabbis.

It is worthwhile to point out that many of these dangerous exegetical traditions may never have been entirely separate at any point in their development. Biblical scholars have recently noticed the relationship between all works describing the divine warror figure (including both Exodus 15 and Daniel 7) and ancient Near Eastern mythology. (p. 184) read more »

Demons 101 – Early Christianity’s Middle Platonic Background

In my previous post I cited a “Distinguished Scholar”‘s textbook summary of Middle Platonic ideas that formed part of the background to early Christianity. I continue this post with a discussion of the philosopher who introduced ‘demonology’ into Platonic philosophical views during the century preceding that of Paul and the earliest Christians.

In an earlier post I quoted translated passages from two Middle Platonist authors given prominence by Everett Ferguson, Philo and Plutarch, that depicted their particular views of cosmology and the place of demons in the universe. That post upset some readers who appeared to take exception to the posting of evidence from primary sources that lent support to the discussion of Earl Doherty in his publications arguing that the Jesus originated as a mythical construct. A significant part of Doherty’s discussion focuses on the way certain Middle Platonic views informed the intellectual background to the New Testament epistles.

Since that post I’ve had more time to look a little more closely at one of Earl Doherty’s sources, The Middle Platonists, by John M. Dillon. read more »

Two Adams, Human-Divine Mediators and Angels, and a very different view of early Judaism

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.

  1. The human form of the Logos, God’s first-born, and Heavenly Man
  2. The Heavenly Man and the Earthly Man
  3. The human form of Wisdom
  4. The heavenly Adam
  5. Melchizedek and other vice-regents of God
  6. 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. read more »