Angels and Veneration in Ancient Judaism

The following excerpt is from Monotheism, Principal Angels, and the Background of Christology by W. Hurtado, University of Edinburgh. This is a pre-publication version of an invited chapter to appear in The Oxford Handbook to the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by Timothy H. Lim and John J. Collins.


Jewish traditions place stress on God’s uniqueness and authority compared to other heavenly beings. He the Creator and the King.

“Bauckham’s astute observation about the topos of angelic refusal of worship in certain Jewish texts was followed up in Stuckenbruck’s published doctoral thesis (1995), an important study in which he conducted a thorough survey of all references to the veneration of angels, and the limitations of it, in ancient Jewish texts, inscriptions and magical material.  Stuckenbruck noted that there was no evidence of a fixed ‘cultic devotion’ to angels, in the sense of angels being the recipients of corporate worship in the ways that God was in ancient Jewish settings. But he also contended that there were various uses of ‘venerative language’ with reference to angels: e.g., (1) occasional invocation of angels (but usually with God) for help, vengeance or protection, (2) angels presented as exemplary worshippers of God (e.g., 4QShirShabb), and (3) expressions of thanksgiving (to God) for actions attributed to angels (Stuckenbruck 1995: 200-3).”

“Yet he judged that none of these various kinds of ‘angel veneration’ was conceived as a substitute for, or infringement on, the worship of the one God, noting that ‘most often the venerative language [for angels] is followed by an explanation which emphasizes the supremacy of God’ (Stuckenbruck 1995: 201).”

“In summary, in second-temple Jewish tradition a firm commitment to the uniqueness of the one God, expressed both in religious rhetoric and in cultic practice clearly sat easily with beliefs about powerful and exalted adjutant figures, among which principal angels were prominent, sometimes portrayed as uniquely deputized to act in God’s name as God’s chief agent.  In its earliest expressions, Jesus-devotion was a distinctive example of this, albeit novel in ways noted and, of course, particularly noteworthy in terms of its historical impact, the risen/exalted Jesus portrayed as God’s uniquely glorious agent of creation and redemption.  The Qumran texts have added enormously to our store of evidence concerning second-temple Judaism, and help us thereby to reconstruct the religious context of earliest circles of the Christian movement.”

Christian monotheism and Pagan polytheism: Can they be reconciled?

In case any of you are wondering how I reconcile Christian monotheism with Pagan polytheism, here’s a brief if somewhat incomplete explanation of how I understand deity.
In essence, I differentiate between an uncreated One, who is the source of all life, and many created ones, who influence life in all its many aspects. Whether these created ones, these intermediaries, are knowns as gods or angels or spirits or otherwise is of secondary concern to me. I tend to think in more functional terms, recognising that many of these functions tend to translate across cultures even if the names don’t.
So, do I worship these created ones? No, I reserve worship for the uncreated One alone. However, I do consider them worthy of respect, and although their influence is limited in both space and time and in relation to the uncreated One it is still considerable. So I pay my respects where appropriate.
So, how do I understand Jesus in relation to deity? I recognise Jesus as the embodiment of the uncreated One – not in his masculinity, for the uncreated One is the source of all gender, but in his unconditional love and faithfulness which he demonstrated when he was amongst us, for that is the true character of the uncreated One.
As for the uncreated One, I get why the Jews were reluctant to name this one casually. Naming tends to limit and we are talking here of the limitless. If I use the word God or Deity or Spirit it is with the recognition that this word can confuse as much as enlighten.

How many orders of angels were there?

seraphim-angelsI know some may consider this heretical but I have to wonder if the burning ones (seraphim), mighty ones (cherubim) and the living creatures (hayyot) referred to in the visionary experiences of the prophets are synonymous, not different ranks of angels (malakim) at all. Take for example Ezekial 10:15 where the living creatures and cherubim are explicitly identified with one another.

Antiphon for the Angels by Hildegard of Bingen

Antiphon for the Angels

Spirited light! on the edge
of the Presence your yearning
burns in the secret darkness,

O angels, insatiably
into God’s gaze.

Perversity

could not touch your beauty;
you are essential joy.

But your lost companion,
angel of the crooked
wings – he sought the summit,
shot down the depths of God
and plummeted past Adam –
that a mud – bound spirit might soar.

– Hildegard of Bingen

The Art of Indifference

In Difference - by yiuokami
“In Difference” by Yiuokami

This image, by yiuokami, is called “In Difference”. The artist explains the symbolism as follows:

The radiant angel
Inspired by a text in the bible that says the devil will present himself as an angel of light. It can be interpreted as the manifestation of all that is wrong with the human subconscious, with false guidance that promotes blindness, or simply the flock motions of the human race towards its glorious self-destruction.

The gray humanoids
They are not evil. They are not good. They have not enough identity to have defined themselves and may become either depending on influence and situation. They are part of the flock of sameness, only seeing what they want to see. Their brethren suffer, those that are different are excluded. The embryos are their true selves, underdeveloped and their eyes full of light so they cannot see. They are on the heads, positioned to be demonstrated when necessary, yet not really anything alive yet.

Horns and halos
Halos are not mentioned in the bible, they originate in the worship of solar gods, something “heathen” that become “holy”. Therefore, they make a good symbol for self-deception and self-righteousness. Horns are a symbol of power in the bible and are not associated specifically with either good or evil, but have become a symbol of evil in the same artistic streams that added halos to Christianity. In this image, horns are used in their original meaning and represent a growing power, they allow the embryos to rise above the halo and see. Or not. Similarly, the lamb has seven horns, representing total power.

The red mass around the sphere
These are growing individuals. They may or may not be good, yet or ever. The sphere they are drooping from under is this world, which are severed from if they don’t want you anymore, which it doesn’t when you are different. Yet the tendrils of the angel try to keep them back.

The shadowed angels
They represent good, all different from each other yet united. Their side is full of eyes and can see in all directions, and they help whom they can help, open for all, also alert for danger. They represent those who have reached independence and can see, being humans to their fullest nature. The snakes are there to combat the tendrils, chosen because snakes made for the least crowded counter measure than the original plan I had, and they need some positive attention too for a change.

Eyes and Light
Eyes represent the ability to perceive, so the evil side is full of closed eyes. Both sides have light, but the good side has many colors while the evil side only has gray (no colors) for its creations, and instead has a blinding amount of light, while that of the good side has a healthier balance.

Colors
The colors don’t really have much meaning here, I just chose them cause they’re pretty. I originally meant to have no color for the evil side at all, but while messing with some potential fiery glow for the snakes I liked the effect as it crossed the wing, and just went with it.

Real evil doesn’t tend to come with a dark cloak and cackling voices. The greatest evils in this world are committed by those who think they are not crossing the line. Those who bully or those who slaughter, they all think they are right in their actions, that it’s okay, it’s just a game or it’s for the greater good. Some simply despair because there seems to be no way out, victims themselves. The lines blur, and gray needs to be acknowledged. Yet we’re always learned not to ask questions. Humans generally find it easier to tie everything to simplistic black and white standards, don’t care to ask nor little questions, nor large questions.

A man named Elie Wiesel once said: “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.”

St Michael the archangel as a samurai

St-Michael-the-archangel-as-a-samurai

Well here is an curious mix of traditions. I am not sure who the artist is but I believe the work is entitled “St Michael the archangel as a samurai.” Now, I would have thought if you were going to invoke samurai motifs a more asian looking dragon would not have gone astray. Except that Japanese dragons, like Chinese dragons, have somewhat different spiritual connotations to European dragons. So, well, I give up.

Mikhail Epstein on Post-Atheism

Some interesting remarks by Mikhail Epstein on Post-Atheism in Eastern Europe:

What we are facing is an extreme form of apophaticism, in which God appears as the radically Other, the Stranger, irrevocably distant from humans.

Contemporary culture is religious in the sense that it is looking for nothing other than Otherness itself.

The angel represents the purest form of God-presence in the absence of God himself.

Contemporary angels are messengers without a Message

Angelism is a sort of heavenly pluralism.

In the Postmodern age, pure polytheism, monotheism or agnosticism are impossible. All that remains possible is the condition of possibility itself, embodied in the phenomenon of angels without God, messengers without a Message, and vague metaphysical rumors instead of Revelation reaching us from the beyond.

Atheism, as has already been pointed out, was the crassest and most extreme manifestation of apophaticism. It negated not only the possibility of knowing God but the very existence of God.

For a minimal believer, God exists above and beyond all religions,

Those people who have found God in the wilderness feel that the walls of the existing temples are too narrow for them and should be expanded.

The third is ‘poor’ or ‘minimal’ religion, which is free from historical divisions and seeks the unification of all religions in the gap between existing churches and the fullness of a future Epiphany.

Angelic Art from an Atheist

Mother-of-angels-swiftshanks

One of the guys at the Pagan and Christian Moot, whom I know as Ninecoils, has posted a link to his art gallery, art.swiftshanks.com. I love his use of colour and was particularly drawn to this picture entitled “Mother of Angels”. Believe it or not but he considers himself an Atheist.

Qabalah & Ghosts

Ive been reading and researching Qabalah (Hermetic Kabbalah) over the last few days. Not the silly red string fad, the real stuff, the esoteric pathworking. It is not a subject I’ve previously given a lot of attention too but I’ve been prompted to learn more given its significance for many esoteric traditions and the people who ascribe to them.

I’d be interested to hear for any of you if you have experiences you’d like to share.

Also, I just keep coming across people who’ve had ghost, angel or other less definable form of Spirit encounter. One again the other night. Again, I really interest in hearing your stories if you have any.