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Archive for the ‘Early Jewish literature’ Category

Jewish and Greek Afterlife – No Great Difference

Posted by NT Wrong on December 10, 2008

Is immortality exclusively a Greek concept and bodily resurrection exclusively a Jewish concept? No. There’s not such a great separation between Jewish and Greek conceptions of the afterlife according to an article by Stephen J. Bedard in the latest issue of the Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism.

“Traditionally Greek thought has been put in the category of the immortal soul and Jewish thought in the category of a bodily resurrection. However, this oversimplification disguises the true picture. In reality, both Greek and Jewish writings express both an immortal soul and some kind of transformation of the body or at least a second stage of afterlife.”
– Stephen J. Bedard, ‘Hellenistic Influence on the Idea of Resurrection in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature.’ Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 5 (2008): 174-189, 188.

Bedard discusses Greek ideas of a two-stage afterlife in the Platonic Myth of Er, or what N. T. Wright refers to as “life after life after death”. He then discusses the Egyptian myth of the bodily resurrection of Osiris, opposing those who would reject its description as bodily resurrection. Bedard then discusses Greek concept of apotheosis, relating them to angelic transformation in Daniel. Lastly, he provides a couple of examples where Greek concepts influenced Jewish literature.

The article thus contains some good counterexamples to the oversimplification of the concept of Jewish/Christian “resurrection” that appears in many apologetic works of New Testament scholarship. So why has there been such a concerted effort to pretend that the early Christian conceptions of resurrection were unique? Bedard provided his own answer towards the end of his article:

“Despite the best effort of scholars such as N. T. Wright, foreign influence on Jewish theological development cannot be denied… The only reason to deny Greek influence, as Wright attempts to do, is the mistaken notion that Jewish equals truth and Greek equals falsehood.”
– Stephen J. Bedard, ‘Hellenistic Influence on the Idea of Resurrection in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature.’ Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 5 (2008): 174-189, 189.

Spotted on Ekaterini’s informative blog.

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Posted in Death, Early Jewish literature, Greek texts, Resurrection | 4 Comments »

Christmas Comes Early – From Margaret Barker

Posted by NT Wrong on October 23, 2008

Available from today, October 23, 2008, is Margaret Barker‘s latest book, Christmas: The Original Story. Margaret Barker is former President of the Society for Old Testament Study and author of a number of books on Enochic Judaism and the Jewish Temple.

“I’ll be interested to see how the public reacts to it, because, the Christmas story is something that’s got a lot of emotional capital tied up in it. I think if I were to write a radical book about Obadiah, no one would worry as much. But when you’re doing a Christmas story people [say], ‘oh hands off, that’s ours, don’t touch it’. But I hope I have set it in its real historical and cultural sense, so that people can glimpse maybe what the authors were really writing…”
— Margaret Barker

Margaret Barker discusses her new book in a taped conversation over lunch with William Hamblin. You can even watch Margaret Barker eating!

It is entirely coincidental that the date of release coincides with the date the world was created, as cleverly determined by Bishop Ussher.

Posted in Books, Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Christian literature, Early Jewish literature, Jesus & Christ | 2 Comments »

April DeConick answers my question: Early Jewish and Christian polytheism?

Posted by NT Wrong on October 15, 2008

The prolific and discerning April DeConick has kindly provided an answer to my question concerning the nature of Jewish and Christian belief in the divine in the early centuries of the Common Era.

“My point is this. Early Judaism and Christianity were not monotheistic religions, but were at best monolatrous (=worshiped one god but allowed for the existence of other gods). It was because of this that Christianity was able to be born out of Judaism as a Jewish expression of a new form of Yahwehism, and Gnosticism could become the fancy of Jewish intellectuals living in first-century Alexandria.”
– April DeConick, ‘Early Jewish and Christian polytheism?’

Have a read of her whole response here. I’m largely in agreement with her. But I like the distinctive way she has expressed it.

Is this how you have been led to understand early Jewish and Christian religions?

Posted in Divine Intermediaries, Early Christian literature, Early Jewish literature, God, Jesus & Christ | Comments Off on April DeConick answers my question: Early Jewish and Christian polytheism?

Similitudes – Their Binitarian Nature – Visions and Cultural Context – Steven Richard Scott

Posted by NT Wrong on October 9, 2008

The Book of Similitudes, now found in 1 Enoch 37-71, was written in ca. 20 B.C. Various contributors to Boccaccini’s Enoch and the Messiah Son of Man (2007) provide about half a dozen reasons for this dating. This makes the work a very important one for understanding the influences on the early Jesus Movement, including Jesus’ self-understanding, and his followers’ understandings of Jesus.

Steven Richard Scott has written a good article entitled ‘The Binitarian Nature of the Book of Similitudes’ in the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha (18: 55-78). He looks at the distinction made between the Lord of Spirits and the Name of the Lord of Spirits, and concludes that the Similitudes evidence binitarian — not monotheistic — worship of God. God is worshipped in two different persons, in Judaism, before Christianity. Moreover, the ‘other power in Heaven’ is to be identified with the Son of Man or Chosen One — the very figure that Jesus self-identifies with in the canonical Gospels.

The article is well worth reading. But I just want to draw attention to one comment he makes which, I think, is quite correct. In discussing the prominent role of visionary experiences of the heavenly exalted Jesus for his worship alongside the Most High God, Scott notes that it is not enough for there to be visions of Jesus alone. Visions don’t come out of nowhere. Visions come from people’s heads. And in order for the information to be in those heads, they must have already been a part of the person’s cultural beliefs. What is needed in order to make the argument of the origin of Jesus’ worship as God as derived from visions is both (1) proof of the belief in a second power in heaven, and (2) proof of visions. And in fact, there is significant proof for both.

“Hurtado is correct in pointing to the extensive literature on mystics and how their visions and experience lead to changes within religions, and the formation of new religions… However, the change is too great to be accounted for primarily by mystical experience, because of [the] inherently contextual nature of mystical experiences. The study of mystical experiences shows that almost all the content of mystical experience can be explained by the religious tradition that the mystic belongs to: by and large, the mystic experiences what his tradition says she or he should experience.”
– Steven Richard Scott, ‘The Binitarian Nature of the Book of Similitudes’ Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 18 (2008): 55-78, 58.

And did I note his firm disagreement with Crossley (2005)?

Posted in Apocalyptic, Divine Intermediaries, Early Jewish literature, Gospels, Jesus & Christ, Judeo-Christian Practices | 1 Comment »

Dreams of Ascent and Resurrection: New Book from Frances Flannery et al

Posted by NT Wrong on October 3, 2008

The SBL October 2008 Newsletter announces the publication of Experientia, Volume 1: Inquiry into Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Christianity, edited by Frances Flannery, Colleen Shantz, Rodney A. Werline. Frances Flannery (aka Flannery-Dailey) is author of the masterful guide to ancient Jewish vision reports, Dreamers, Scribes, and Priests: Jewish Dreams in the Hellenistic and Roman Eras (2004) and founding editor of GOLEM: Journal of Religion and Monsters. The new book looks a useful resource, especially in light of recent discussions on this blog of visionary experiences of Jesus’ resurrection.

Publisher’s blurb:

This collection investigates the phenomenon of religious experience in early Judaism and early Christianity. The essays consider such diverse phenomena as scribal inspiration, possession, illness, ascent, theurgy, and spiritual transformation wrought by reading, and recognize that the texts are reflective of the lived experiences of ancient religious peoples, which they understood to be encounters with the divine. Contributors use a variety of methodologies, including medical anthropology, neurobiology, and ritual and performance studies, to move the investigation beyond traditional historical and literary methodologies and conclusions to illuminate the importance of experience in constructions of ancient religion.

Posted in Apocalyptic, Books, Early Christian literature, Early Jewish literature, Gospels, Jesus & Christ, Judeo-Christian Practices | Comments Off on Dreams of Ascent and Resurrection: New Book from Frances Flannery et al

The Beer of Death: Samael’s Ale

Posted by NT Wrong on September 28, 2008

From June 2008, Avery Brewing, of Boulder Colorado, have offered a strong ale by the name of “Samael’s Ale”. Samael is the angel of death in early Judaism, the Demiurge according to the Gnostic Apocryphon of John, and one of the seven archangels according to Pope Gregory the Great (ca. AD 540 – 604). At 14.5% alcohol, Samael’s Ale may well live up to its name.

Samael’s Ale is one of the ales in Avery Brewing’s ‘Demons of Ale’ series, which also includes ‘The Beast’ and ‘Mephistopheles’ Stout’.

Posted in Divine Intermediaries, Early Christian literature, Early Jewish literature | 2 Comments »

Resurrection: From Visionary Ascent to Vision Of Ascent

Posted by NT Wrong on September 26, 2008

In many early Christian texts, there is a curiously close connection between the complex of Christ’s crucifixion, death, and heavenly exaltation on one hand and the visionary ascension experiences of the authors who describe this complex on the other. For example:

    In The Ascension of Isaiah 6, Isaiah induces a trance that results in the separation of his visionary soul from his stationary body. David Halperin describes the scene as a “vivid and realistic-sounding account of a shamanistic trance”, which most probably reflects the author’s actual visionary experience(s) (Faces of the Chariot, 1988:66). The requirement for passwords during descent, physical transformation of the visionary into angelic form, and angelic opposition to human ascent all suggest a visionary experience. The Ascension of Isaiah alternates between the ascensions and transformations of the visionary ‘Isaiah’, and the ascension of Christ – a strong indication of the influence of the author’s visionary experiences on his depiction of the ascension of Christ.

    A wide range of visionary ascent motifs is again present in the Odes of Solomon, where Christ’s descent to Hades and ascent to heaven is celebrated in hymns or odes. Likewise, the visionary or odist experiences transformation into a heavenly figure, mystical union, ascension in a merkavah, avoidance of evils and dangers in ascent, and engages with an angelus interpres figure. All of this strongly suggests that the description of Christ’s victory of evil and ascent to heaven were created from visionary experiences which themselves involved overcoming evil in an ascent to heaven.

    The Revelation of John provides yet another mixture of visionary heavenly ascent with an account of Christ’s own ascent. In Revelation 4.1, John sees a “door opened in heaven”, and for the remainder of the book is “in the spirit”, experiencing a series of visions. John’s vision of his ascent to heaven involves a vision of Christ’s descent, defeat of Satan and ascent into heaven and exaltation (Revelation 12.1-9). In Revelation 1.13-18, John’s initial vision of the One like the Son of Man makes reference to his death providing freedom from Death and Hades.

David Catchpole contends that the first Synoptic account of Christ’s ascension, in Mark 16.1-8, is itself in the genre of a vision or epiphany, suggesting its original source in a visionary experience (“The Fearful Silence of the Women at the Tomb”, 1977). I argued that this provides a sound historical-critical understanding of how Mark 16.1-8 came to be written. As Jane Schaberg points out, many of the elements of an apocalyptic vision are present: an early morning time conducive to induction of visions, report of amazement, angelic calming, angelic message, commission to tell others, and resulting terror and silence (Resurrection of Mary Magdalene, 2003: 359). In addition, Christopher Rowland argues that the baptism, temptation and transfiguration all bear the mark of autobiographical visionary reports – the last of which, the transfiguration, has often been read as a form of resurrection account (The Open Heaven, 1982: 359).

In 2 Corinthians 12.2-4, Paul claims he could receive ecstatic visions that allowed him to travel even to the highest heaven, to uncover the secrets and mysteries that laid within that realm. The account refers to visions and revelations received from the Lord on his ascension to the third heaven or “Paradise”. In that place Paul heard heavenly secrets and mysteries, or αρρητα ρήματα (with assonance, “words that cannot be spoken”) or words ουκ εξоν ανθρώπω λαλησαι (“not permitted for a person to speak”). Paul believed that the visionary appearance of the post-resurrection Christ to him vindicated his equal status as apostle. Paul claims to “see” the resurrected Christ just as Jesus’ companions had seen him. Paul uses the same word (“see”) to describe resurrection appearances to himself that he does for the appearances to Jesus’ companions (Galatians 1.1; 1 Corinthians 9.1; 15.8-9). Given that the earliest understanding was the Jesus had appeared to apostles from heaven, the use of the same vocabulary is completely understandable. Furthermore, in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul claims that his direct acquisition of knowledge by way of his personal visionary experiences provide a defence of his apostolic status (Galatians 1.1). Just as Jesus appeared from heaven to the other disciples, calling them to apostleship, now Paul believes that Jesus has appeared to him in the same way.

“Paul therefore does not distinguish between the kind of appearance made known to him and those made known to his forebears” (Alan Segal, Paul the Convert, 1990: 15).

Visionary experiences of ascent and descent constantly coincidence with the narrative descriptions of the ascended, victorious and exalted Christ in earliest Christianity. It is therefore very probable that such experiences greatly influenced the earliest conceptualisations of Christ’s own ascent and victory over the powers of evil.

From his examination of New Testament and other early Christian works, Timo Eskola finds that “[t]he writings of Jewish mysticism were exploited in the construction of early Christology” (Messiah and the Throne, 2001: 289). Early Jewish mysticism centred on ascension to the throne of God, that is, the merkavah. The Jewish mystical experiences can be traced back to the merkavah visions narrated in Ezekiel. For example, in the Self-Glorification Hymn from Qumran, an unidentified person relates how he ascended to heaven in order to receive instruction, boasts of his exalted position above the angels, sits down on the heavenly throne, and believes he will be vindicated against his enemies. Philip Alexander concludes that the text, which was used hymnically to induce visionary experiences, demonstrates an active and ongoing practice of ascent and heavenly transformation in Qumran (Mystical Texts, 2006: 85-90). Given the Christian theme of exaltation by heavenly enthronement at the right hand of God, which was inseparably a part of resurrection and ascension to heaven in earliest Christianity, Eskola concludes, “Merkabah speculation is a most suitable environment for the description of Christ’s heavenly enthronement”. For example, the very vision of ‘Isaiah’ in which Ascension of Isaiah 6-11 is set provides “the context to which [exaltation Christology] originally belonged” (Messiah and the Throne, 286, 288). That is, these writings about heavenly exaltation and vindication of enemies were created by visionaries who had experienced very similar mystical experiences. The first visions were of an exalted Christ who had ascended to the throne of God. It follows that there is no real ’empty tomb’ or ‘stone in front of the tomb’ at this stage. Such details were only added when the visionary story of a heavenly ascended Christ was developed into a story of an earthly resurrected Christ.

So arguably, therefore, the development of Christian traditions about Christ’s resurrection and exaltation are most explicable as developing from the imaginative visionary ascent practices of Christians who wrote about Christ’s own ascent. Beginning with passages such as Daniel 12.1-2, Jewish ascent traditions made strong links between martyrdom/suffering, resurrection, ascent, and exaltation, astral and otherwise (Segal, “Heavenly Ascent in Hellenistic Judaism”, 1980: 1369). The popular Christian apologetic — that the idea of an human ascending to heaven before the end-times is a ‘new idea’ which could only be conceived through a physical post-resurrection appearance — is therefore soundly refuted. Jesus’ claim to be the Enochic Son of Man, combined with his followers’ celebration of his death as victory over evil, and their visions of his ascension into glory all combined to produce a variant of Enochic Judaism now centred on Jesus of Nazareth. The Christian use of the martyrdom-ascension-visionary tradition involved a “real interplay” between the inherited Jewish pattern and the particular Christian visions and reflections concerning Jesus’ death and the particular claim he was the exalted Son of Man. In this way, traditional Jewish visionary practices of ascent and descent produced the Christian tradition of Christ’s own incarnational descent and ascent.

See also:
Part One: The Resurrection of Jesus as Mass Hallucination
Part Two: Women Witnesses – Visions of The Resurrection of Jesus

Posted in Early Christian literature, Early Jewish literature, Gospels, Historiography, Jesus & Christ | 1 Comment »

Judaism as Fissiparous Heteropraxis in the First Century BC

Posted by NT Wrong on September 23, 2008

‘Fissiparous Heteropraxis’ is Matthew Black’s mellifluous description of the ‘sectarian’ nature of Judaism in the first century BC. Nice phrase. I like it (although, less so, his judgment of it as ‘dangerous’).

Here’s the sentence in which it appears:

“The actual situation in Judaism in the first century B.C. appears, in fact, to have been one of a widespread and dangerously proliferating and fissiparous heteropraxis, a kind of baptizing nonconformity, with many splinter groups, extending from Judea to Samaria and beyond into the Diaspara itself.”
– Matthew Black, The Scrolls and Christian Origins: Studies in the Jewish Background of the New Testament. 1961: 8.

Posted in Apocalyptic, Early Jewish literature, Judeo-Christian Practices | Comments Off on Judaism as Fissiparous Heteropraxis in the First Century BC

Review of Biblical Literature – Sep 13, 2008

Posted by NT Wrong on September 14, 2008

There’s some interesting stuff in the latest Review of Biblical Literature, including:

Wazana, Nili, כל גבולות ארץ All the Boundaries of the Land: The Promised Land in Biblical Thought in Light of the Ancient Near East (Hebrew) (2007)

Wazana’s study of biblical descriptions of Israel’s borders provides comparisons to aNE data and detailed studies of the biblical texts. Interestingly, she finds that some ancient descriptions of borders refer to actual ‘lines’, contrary to what you find in a lot of scholarly literature. She also examines the ideological function of the various types of texts. Invaluable for understanding books like Joshua.

Fishbane, Simcha, Deviancy in Early Rabbinic Literature: A Collection of Socio-Anthropological Essays (2007)

There are ten essays in the collection, four of which are previously unpublished. Fishbane covers a number of ‘deviants’ in Rabbinic literature: bastard mamzerim, long-haired Nazirites, leaky menstruating women, Rabbinic magicians and female witches, skanky ho’s, spazzy physically handicapped people, dirty Samaritans, perverse Goyim, etc.

Crook, Zeba A. and Philip A. Harland, editors, Identity and Interaction in the Ancient Mediterranean: Jews, Christians and Others: Essays in Honour of Stephen G. Wilson (2007)

Comprising …

Kim Stratton – curse rhetoric in early Judaism and Christianity
Adele Reinhartz – why is Caiaphas ignored by historians of 2nd T Judaism?
Willi Braun – meals and social formation
Philip Harland – how meal stereotypes were used as polemical social labelling
Richard Ascough – not only Christians were involved in missionizing activities
John Barclay – ioudaios in Josephus = ethnic ‘Judean’
John Kloppenborg – the author and recipients of the Letter of James as Jewish-Christians
Laurence Broadhurst – newly discovered musical papyri and Gnostic musical texts
Larry Hurtado – textual transmission and Christian identity
Edith Humphey – naming as crafting identity in Revelation
Michele Murray – evidence in Apostolic Constitutions for continued Christian attendance at synagogue, observance of festivals and Sabbath, and no ‘parting of the ways’
Roger Beck – 8th -century AD ‘Horoscope of Islam’
Graydon Snyder – Ethiopian Jews, including DNA analysis supporting their conversion to Judaism rather than ancestry in Dan
Alan Segal – Daniel Boyarin on division between Christianity and Judaism
Robert Morgan – theological and historical approaches to biblical studies should be kept separate
William Arnal – the need to separate traditional biblical studies into seminaries, as distinct from comparative religious studies of Jewish and Christian religions in the Academy

Posted in Academia, Books, Early Christian literature, Early Jewish literature, Historical Books | Comments Off on Review of Biblical Literature – Sep 13, 2008

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.

Posted in Apocalyptic, Early Christian literature, Early Jewish literature, Eschatology, Gospels, Hazon Gabriel, Jesus & Christ | Comments Off on Hazon Gabriel – Who is ‘The Prince of Princes’?