Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Great Angel by Margaret Barker, Part 1

The Great Angel by Margaret Barker

Margaret Barker's book The Great Angel is incredibly dense, so I'm unable to provide a full summary of everything. I highly recommend everyone get a copy and read it for themselves. Her book does assume a readership with some knowledge of Biblical studies, so if you're not already familiar with the scholarship, parts may be confusing.

Chapter 1

In the Old Testament, the phrase "son of God" is sometimes used to refer to angels, and sometimes used to refer to kings or the people of Israel. However, there are different words for God in Hebrew. Sons of El Elyon, El, or Elohim are always heavenly beings, i.e. angels, whereas sons of Yahweh, Lord, or the Holy One are always humans. This indicates that Yahweh is not the Most High God, but rather one of the sons of El Elyon.

Turning to the New Testament, Jesus is called the son of the Most High, that is the son of El Elyon (Luke 1:32, Mark 5:7), but not the son of Yahweh or the son of the Lord. In fact, Jesus is called Lord himself, which is the phrase New Testament writers use to refer to Yahweh (compare Deuteronomy 6:5 with Luke 10:27).

Yahweh is the most prominent son of El Elyon in Biblical literature, but other sons of El Elyon also make appearances. The sons of El Elyon in Genesis 6:2-4 who fathered children with human women are named in 1 Enoch 6:7 and 59:2.

In the LXX and Qumran version of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, El Elyon divides the world up into different nations, one for each of his sons. Yahweh gets Israel, while the other gods get the other nations. These sons of god also appear in Deuteronomy 32:43, LXX and DSS versions, and are referred to in Hebrews 1:6. These rival gods, also called messengers or angels, also appear in Isaiah 14:32. They are called princes in Daniel 10:13-14 where they fight against Yahweh and the archangel Michael.

These rival gods challenge Yahweh in Job 1:6, although you can't tell that from most English translations: "Now there was a day when the sons of El Elyon set themselves against Yahweh and Satan came also among them." Here we learn that Satan is one of the other sons of El Elyon, making him Yahweh's brother and fellow god. In the Book of Job, Yahweh is not the highest god, but rather just one amongst many and he is challenged to prove that Job is loyal only to him. The sons of El Elyon get mentioned again in Job 38:7: Yahweh asks Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? [...] when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of El shouted for joy?" The creation of the other sons of El (angels) are mentioned in Jubilees 2:1,4.

Psalms also mentions the sons of El Elyon. In Psalm 29:1, they are told to acknowledge Yahweh (often translated as Lord in English). Psalm 89:6 tells us Yahweh is feared amongst the council of gods. Psalm 58 and 82 describe the judgement placed upon the sons of El Elyon. "You are Elohim (plural form of God in Hebrew), sons of Elyon (the Most High), all of you..." (Psalms 82:6)

One like a son of God appears in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3:25. 2 Esdras 13:22-26, and 2 Esdras 2:42:-48 present one of the sons of Elyon as the deliverer of Israel. There is also the Qumran fragment 4Q Son of God: "He shall be hailed as the son of El and they shall call him the son of Elyon." In apocalyptic literature such as Daniel and Revelation, the sons of El are referred to as being like men (for example, Daniel 9:21 calls the angel Gabriel a man), whereas mortals are called animals.

Chapter 2

A great reform occurred in ancient Israel when the Book of Deuteronomy was "discovered" (2 Chronicles 34-35, 2 Kings 22-23). History was rewritten to conform to the new laws, although books such as 1 Enoch and parts of Isaiah preserve the pre-Deuteronomic religion of Israel. Interestingly, there is no mention of Moses in any Jewish writings until after the Babylonian exile. He appears to have been introduced by the writers of Deuteronomy as part of their attempt to elevate the Law above Wisdom (Deuteronomy 4:5-6).

Part of this new Law was the prohibition against worshiping gods other than Yahweh. Thus history had to be rewritten to remove reference to the other gods, although, as we have seen, traces of Israel's previous polytheism remain.

I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but by my name Yahweh I did not make myself known to them. (Exodus 6:2-3)

"You are my witness," says Yahweh, "I am El, and also henceforth, I am He." (Isaiah 43:12-13)

Yahweh thundered in the heavens, and Elyon uttered his voice. (Psalms 18:13) 

The Israelite and Canaanite myths are very similar. The theophanies of Yahweh resemble the appearances of the Canaanite storm god Ba'al Haddu (Job 38, Ezekiel 1:4, Isaiah 24:19-23, 34:8-10, 42:13-15, 59:16-19). Yahweh's heaven resembles the Canaanite court of El. The son of man vision in Daniel 7 has similarities to the depictions of Ba'al and El in the Ugaritic texts. This relationship gets carried over into the New Testament in the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46) where the king (the Son of Man) acknowledges a superior Father.

During the period of Deuteronomic reform, multiple gods were combined into a single entity, however not all the Israelites went along with this. Worship of El and Yahweh as two separate gods fulling the roles of Father and Son continued all throughout Jewish history and eventually spun off into the new religion of Christianity.

Chapter 3

Psalm 89 depicts Yahweh as the greatest of the Holy Ones in heaven. In Daniel, these Holy Ones or Watchers bring Yahweh's decrees to earth (Daniel 4:14). Two of them discuss the fate of Jerusalem in Daniel 8:13 and they are promised the kingdom of Elyon (Daniel 7:18, 25, 27).

The Holy Ones are Yahweh's entourage when he comes as King (Deuteronomy 33:2-3, Zechariah 14:1-9, 1 Enoch 1:2,9, also quoted in Jude 14). The early Christians expected Jesus to come just like Yahweh and refer to him as a Holy One (Mark 1:24)

The house of David shall be like Elohim, like the angel of Yahweh at their head. (Zechariah 12:8)

In some sections of the Bible, the words god and angel are used interchangeably (Psalms 34:7, Psalms 35:5-6, 2 Samuel 24:16-17, 2 Kings 1:3, 2 Kings 15, Exodus 14:19), although in later sections a clear distinction is made between angels and gods. However, there are far more passages in which Yahweh and Angel of Yahweh are used interchangeably (Zechariah 3:1-7, Genesis 16, Genesis 18, Genesis 48:15-16, Judges 5:23, Judges 6:11-16, Judges 13:3,22, Genesis 22:12, 2 Kings 19:34-35, Isaiah 37:35-36). When Moses talks to the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-7), the Angel of Yahweh, Elohim, and Yahweh all speak to him at different times, indicating these terms were used as synonyms, although early Christians may have read the trinity into this story.

Yahweh had the form of a man and carried a sword filled with blood (Isaiah 34:6). He protected Israel and did battle with their enemies. He appointed their high priest and was their redeemer and judge. Ezekiel described Yahweh as being bronze from the waist up and made of fire from the waist down with a rainbow surrounding him (Ezekiel 1:27-28). Daniel describes a similar figure made of bronze and fire (Daniel 10:5-6). In Daniel 7, Yahweh (Son of Man) is depicted as the young warrior god succeeding the elderly El Elyon (Ancient of Days).

The four names of the Messiah, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) are summarized in the LXX as simply "The Angel of Great Council." This great fourfold angel was divided up into four different angels: Gabriel (Literally Strength of God. This is Yahweh as El Gibbor or Mighty God as in Isaiah 10:21), Raphael (Healing of God. This is Yahweh as healer as in Exodus 15:26 and Psalms 30:2), Phanuel (Presence of God, later became Uriel, Light of God invoked in the high priestly blessing of Numbers 6:25), and Michael (Who is Like God? the incomparable Yahweh of Isaiah 40:18,25). Michael was the Wonderful Counsellor (since Yahweh's incomparability lay in his wisdom Job 38-39, Isaiah 40, 43), Gabriel was Mighty God, Raphael was Everlasting Father and Phanuel was Prince of Peace.

Throughout the Bible, kings are said to be the sons of Yahweh and worshipped as if they were Yahweh (1 Chronicles 29:20,23, 1 Chronicles 28:6, Zephaniah 1:5). Kings of other nations are also described as gods. The Babylonian king is associated with a god called the Day Star, one of the sons of El in the Ugaritic texts. Day Star is also called Lucifer, not to be confused with Satan who is a different god altogether (Isaiah 14:12). Just like the planet Venus (a.k.a the morning star) is the brightest object in the sky before sunrise, so too Day Star appears to be the mightiest god. However, when the sun does rise, Babylon's god, like Venus, will disappear in the face of the sun (Yahweh). Yahweh vows to destroy another god in Ezekiel 28:12-19, this one associated with the King of Tyre. Moses is said to be a King and a God in some extra canonical sources (Philo's Life of Moses 1:155-158, the Exodus of Ezekiel the Dramatist).

The word "branch" is used to refer to kings, such as the King of Babylon (Isaiah 14:19), Ptolemy III Euergetes (Daniel 11:7), and the royal prince of the house of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1).

Leviticus 16 describes a ritual in which the sins of the people are placed upon a goat which is driven out into the desert "for" Azazel, although the Hebrew can also be translated "as" Azazel, meaning the goat is being punished for Azazel's rebellion in 1 Enoch 10:5 and The Book of Giants from the Dead Sea Scrolls. A second goat, perhaps representing Yahweh, is slain for purposes of atonement. Thus, the god symbolically dies for the sins of the people which becomes a major idea in Christianity later on.

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