Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Hazon Gabriel – Who is ‘The Prince of Princes’?

Posted by NT Wrong on July 14, 2008

Line 81 of Hazon Gabriel (“The Vision of Gabriel”) refers to Sar Hasarin (“The Prince of Princes”). The sentence in which the phrase appears, as reconstructed by Israel Knohl, reads Leshloshet yamin hayeh, ani Gavriel, gozer alekha, sar hasarin (“In three days, I, Gabriel, command you, prince of princes: live!”).

As discussed elsewhere, Israel Knohl’s reading of the inscription has not (yet?) received widespread acceptance, and he relies on a reconstruction of some key gaps in the text. In particular, the all-important translation “live!” relies on a word for which only the first letter is partially visible according to the original editors, has to be understood in the imperative for Knohl’s interpretation to work, and is an unusual use of the verb if it refers to resurrection (wouldn’t “stand!” be more likely?). I haven’t seen a photograph of the original, but if the first het of the word is only partial, the word could be almost anything.

What is more, Knohl’s “Prince of Princes” must be understood as a mortal, for his interpretation to be feasible. But the term first appears in Daniel 8.25, where it refers to an angelic being against whom Antiochus IV Epiphanes dared to act arrogantly (cf. Dan 8.11). In Daniel, Michael is identified as the angelic “prince” of Israel (Dan 10.13, 21; 12.1). The angel who reveals this to Daniel in a vision is likewise identified as Gabriel (Dan 8.16; 9.21; 10.5-6).

Most of the contemporary literature supports the identification of the Prince of Princes with Michael, the primary eschatological defender of Israel. Michael’s essential function in Jewish tradition was as “heavenly protector and champion of the Jewish nation”. He was the archangel responsible for the protection of the chosen people against other hostile powers, and the sole contender against the angelic evil “princes” of Israel’s enemies (1 Enoch 20.5; Dan 10.21). Michael undertakes his role of protector as the highest and chief angel of heaven, and commander-in-chief of the heavenly angels (Dan 12.1; 1QM, Rev 12.7; 3 Bar 11.4-8; 2 En 22.6; 33.10; T. Abr). Darrell Hannah notes that, “already by the beginning of the first century AD, Michael had become the principal angel, if not everywhere, at least in many circles” (Michael and Christ, 48). He is called archistrategos (“commander-in-chief”) throughout the Testament of Abraham (A). In the Similitudes of Enoch, Michael is described as “the first” angel. Michael is the highest archangel in 3 Bar 11.4-6, receiving veneration from fellow archangel Phanuel. He is recognised as head angel in all but a few texts (Pr. Jos, Apoc. Abr, Apoc. Zeph., Astrom. Bk 74.2; 75.3; 79.6).

Michael is attacked by the evil king in the eschatological end-times battle, which gives occasion to his arrival on earth for the deliverance of the righteous and receipt of the kingdom from the powers of evil (Dan 8.10-11; 11.36; Dan 12.1).

In the Book of Dreams (c. 164 BC), Michael binds the leader of the rebellious angels in the abyss, records the actions of the shepherds who overstep the mark against God’s chosen people, and intercedes for his “sheep”, assisting the righteous Israelites in the final battle, and delivering the evil powers for judgment in the heavenly court (1 Enoch 88-90).

In the Assumption of Moses, when the Kingdom of God appears at the end of times, an angel “who is in the highest place appointed” will “avenge [Israel] of their enemies”, and “then the devil will have an end”, before raising the people of God to the heavens (10.1-2, 9). The close parallel with the angel Michael’s role in Dan 12.1 identifies the angel of the Assumption of Moses as Michael. Hannah also notes that the reference to “his hands will be filled” (implebuntur manus) refers to priestly ordination (cf. Exod. 28.41; 29.9; Lev. 21.10; T. Levi 8.10), which agrees with Michael’s role in the heavenly sanctuary. Again, in T. Dan 6.1, the “angel who intercedes for you” who is “the mediator between God and men for the peace of Israel” is predicted to “stand in opposition to the kingdom of the enemy”, and bring Satan’s kingdom to an end.

Likewise, in the War Scroll, God is described as destroying Belial (also referred to as “the Prince of the Kingdom of Evil”) in an eschatological battle, through the agency of the archangel Michael. The Priestly Messiah tells his soldiers that God will humiliate Belial “through the power of the majestic angel of the authority of Michael” and that God will “exalt the authority of Michael among the gods” in order to restore the people of God (1QM 17.5-8).

In 11QMelchizedek, Melchizedek is presented as “an angelic figure and eschatological saviour”, who stands at the head of the angelic Sons of Light, exercises a priestly function in heaven, makes atonement and delivers judgment, in a way that identifies him with the lead angel Michael (2.8). As in the War Scroll, Melchizedek is said to “exact the vengeance of God’s judgments and … protect all the sons of light from the power of Belial and from the power of all the spirits of his lot” (2.13). Melchizedek conquers Belial, proclaims liberty, and provides relief from iniquities (2.6) and expiation for the sons of light (2.8), and then reigns as king. Of course, Melchizedek is also employed in the Christian Letter to the Hebrews, in order to identify the nature and functions of Jesus Christ.

In 11Q11 (11QApocryphal Psalms a) 3-4, Yahweh is to send “a powerful angel” or “the chief of the army” to evict Belial from “the whole earth”, to hurl Belial into the great abyss, where he will be shut in forever. A further text from Qumran, 4Q‘Amram, pits “Belial, The Prince of Darkness and Melchiresa” against “Michael, The Prince of Light and Melchizedek” in a battle over the soul of ‘Amram after his death.

Michael is also the chief legal advocate for the people of God against Satan. In the lost ending to the Assumption of Moses (identified from Jude 9 and Origen, Princ. 3.2.1), Michael contests Satan’s claim to the body of Moses, opposing Satan’s claim that Moses belongs to him because Moses had sinned by murdering the Egyptian, and Michael denyies that Satan has a right to humanity as Lord of Matter.

Michael also functions as intercessor for humanity at the right hand of God. His righteousness, together with Abraham’s righteousness, atones for the sins of certain souls in the Testament of Abraham.

Rabbinical literature denounces the practice of praying to Michael or Gabriel as an intercessor (y. Ber 9.13a; Abod. Zar. 42b). An earlier instance of prayer to Michael is recorded in Joseph and Aseneth. Aseneth’s prayer of repentance is heard by the Morning Star, the pre-eminent star/angel in the host of heaven. In Joseph and Aseneth, the Morning Star is identified as “the chief captain of the Lord and commander of the whole host of the Most High” (14.8). This results in Aseneth’s veneration/worship of the lead angel (15.11), and praise to him for rescue “from the abyss” (15.2). Although not explicitly identified as Michael, the identification is highly probable, and the angel is prayed to and venerated by Aseneth, and described by Aseneth as “(a) god” come down from heaven (17.9). Likewise, Jesus takes for himself the title of pre-eminent host, the Morning Star in Rev 2.28; 22.16 (cf. 2 Pet 1.19). “Morning Star” is the title given to Satan before his fall, according to first-century exegesis of Isa 14.12. Justin claims that Jesus existed before the Morning Star as well as other angelic hosts such as the moon (Dial. 45). Ignatius explains that Jesus had been hidden from Satan, and when he became incarnate, it was announced to the world/aeons by “a star that shone forth” in heaven brighter than all the stars” (Eph. 19.2). The other stars, the sun and moon “formed a chorus around the star”, yet it outshone them all (Eph. 19.2). Melito explains that Christ “is the firstborn of God, who was begotten before the Morning Star” and in fact created the stars and angels (82).

So, on the one hand, line 81 of Hazon Gabriel is not likely to refer to a resurrection after three days, because “The Prince of Princes” is more likely to refer to the angel Michael, who is not subject to death. But on the other hand, Hazon Gabriel adds to the traditions about an angelic being who descends to earth and effects an eschatological salvation – the very traditions that the Jesus Movement adopted and adapted in respect of Jesus. Michael was identified as occupying the top position in heaven at the right hand of God the Most High, protecting the people of God against attacks by Satan in the intermediate period between Satan’s fall from heaven and his eventual defeat, interceding on their behalf for their sins as heavenly high priest, able to receive prayers and forgive sins, and worthy of veneration. He was the heavenly agent who would be sent down from the highest heaven to defeat Satan in the final eschatological battle, after which Satan and all evil would be eradicated, and the righteous would ascend to be in heaven for all eternity with Michael. It is obvious that the Christian tradition about Christ’s defeat of Satan has taken over the bulk of earlier Jewish traditions about Michael’s victory over Satan, and attributed them to Christ. As Hannah summarises:

    “Christians adopted nearly all of the Jewish apocalyptic Michael traditions”
    – Hannah, Michael and Christ, 54

This is not to deny that there are changed emphases and different ways of combining the traditions in the Christian tradition which differentiate the Christian tradition from others. The Christian tradition cannot simply be reduced to its background, but instead the distinctive way it interprets and rearranges the tradition must be acknowledged. Given Christ’s identity with The Angel of Yahweh, and also with the exalted attributes of God’s Glory, Name, Wisdom and Word, his affinity with God was unequalled in the contemporary literature. But given the extent of continuity with the angelic traditions, the function, if not the person, of Christ should be viewed more as a natural evolution than dramatic mutation from the earlier Jewish traditions.

As for Hazon Gabriel – if genuine (and although unprovenanced) – it adds to our knowledge of first century apocalyptic and messianism. But it probably doesn’t do so in the precise and direct way that Israel Knohl proposes.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: