Tag Archives: Angels

The Angel of Yahweh in Early Hebrew Bible Narrative

There are two general approaches to explaining the angel of Yahweh in the early biblical narratives where his identity seems to be conflated or confused with the identity of God himself. The most prevalent view is that the angel, as a divine messenger, represents his patron so completely that he may be referred to and even described as the patron. The other view is that the word “angel” is simply an interpolation where it was originally Yahweh himself interacting with humanity. As I have been compiling research I have come across the former position more and more in recent research (two examples are Erik Eynikel, “The Angel in Samson’s Birth Narrative: Judg 13,” in Angels: The Concept of Celestial Beings—Origins, Development and Reception [Friedrich V. Reiterer, et al., eds.; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2007], 109–23; Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009]). In this post I’d like to explain why I find the latter view to be far more convincing.

I count 36 occurrences of מלאך יהוה in Gen-Judg, with an additional six occurrences of מלאך אלהים. The first of all occurrences (canonically) is in the story of Hagar’s fleeing from Sarah. The confusion of identity here occurs in v. 13, where the narrative explains that Hagar “called upon the name of Yahweh who spoke to her.” Hagar’s next comment in the Hebrew is unclear, but we should probably read after the NRSV (based on the name given to the well), “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” This would echo sentiments found in our other angel of Yahweh pericopes (Gen 32:30; Exod 3:6; Jdg 6:2223; 13:22). Exod 33:20, which states that no human will see God and live, is alluded to in each example. This particular story makes more sense with the word “angel” removed from vv. 7, 9, 10, and 11, and with Hagar speaking directly with Yahweh.

The next occurrence of the angel of Yahweh is in the Akedah from Genesis 22. The angel of Yahweh is said to stop Abraham immediately before he sacrifices Isaac. The narrative again makes perfect sense with the word “angel” removed from vv. 11 and 15. In v. 16 we have Yahweh speaking, but the phrase “says Yahweh” appears. This does not necessarily indicate reported speech, though, and is unlikely to be original. It appears nowhere else in Genesis and it never appears anywhere else associated with any angel of Yahweh. In v. 14, the explanation of the name of the mountain could be “On the mountain of Yahweh it shall be provided,” or “On the mountain of Yahweh he will be seen.” In both these stories the notion of seeing God appears to have been obscured to hide God’s own presence.

Exodus 3 is our next pericope. In that story, Moses speaks with the angel of Yahweh. The angel is only mentioned in v. 2, and afterward God himself is the interlocutor. In v. 6 God even states, “I am the God of your father . . .” Moses even lowers his gaze because he is afraid to look upon God. Of considerable importance here is that v. 2′s statement “and the angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush” does not fit the narrative. It preempts Moses’ noticing the bush (which follows “and he looked, and behold!”) and his moving close enough to it for the entity to speak out of it. The most likely reason is that that statement is a late interpolation meant to contextualize the comments that followed. Without the statement, it is God himself speaking to Moses.

Next we move to two narratives from Judges, namely Gideon’s call and Samson’s birth narrative. In the first (Judg 6:11–24), the angel comes to Gideon, who appears not to recognize him, and states that Yahweh is with him. He then announces Gideon’s call to lead the Israelites. In vv. 11, 12, 21, and 22 the text has “angel of Yahweh,” but in vv. 14 and 16 Gideon is represented as speaking directly to Yahweh. In v.  17, Gideon actually asks for proof that he is speaking specifically to Yahweh. In v. 20 it is “angel of God.” This is peculiar, and the only other uses of “angel of God” in Gen-Judg also appear in places where the identity of God is mixed up with that of an angel (Gen 21:17; 31:11; Exod 14:19; Judg 13:6, 9). As with other stories, Gideon’s angel speaks as God in the first person with no messenger formula to indicate it is a mediated message. Again we have the allusion to Exod 33:20, but here Gideon laments, “Help me, O Yahweh God, for I have seen the angel of Yahweh face to face!” Exod 33:20 does not place a restriction on seeing the angel of Yahweh, however, it explicitly states that no human can see God himself (and specifically his face, given the context). Gideon’s lament is completely unique, and the story fits perfectly with the other reconstructed narratives if we simply remove each instance of “angel.”

In Samson’s birth narrative (Judg 13:3–23) the interlocutor is described as an angel of Yahweh throughout, but when Manoah realizes to whom he has been speaking he laments, like the others, “we shall surely die, for we have seen God.” Now, the comment could be translated “for we have seen a deity,” in reference to an angel, but, again, this is not what Exod 33:20 says, and the allusion is clearly to that text. V. 19 also provides an interesting problem. It states that, on the angel’s orders, Manoah offered a meat offering on a rock “to Yahweh. And [?] did wonders/wondrously.” There is no subject attached to the participle מפלא, “to be wonderful.” Many translations assume the angel is understood, since he is overseeing the sacrifice (thus, “the angel did wondrously”), while others believe the statement refers to Yahweh, and want it to act as a relative clause (thus, “to Yahweh, to him who works wonders”). The most straightforward reading would probably be, “to Yahweh, and he did wondrously.” This would identify the one who commanded the sacrifice as Yahweh.

This is further supported by the actual command in v. 16, where the text states, “The angel of Yahweh said to Manoah, ‘If you detain me I will not eat your food, but if you want to prepare a burnt offering, offer it to Yahweh.’ (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of Yahweh).” There is only one scenario in which I can see the narrator providing the explanation if the angel is not actually Yahweh himself, and that’s if the angel is promoting sacrifices to a specific deity to which Manoah otherwise wouldn’t have offered his sacrifice (“‘Oh, and make sure you offer it to Yahweh specifically’ [and Manoah didn't know that the guy actually worked for Yahweh]“). To me it makes much more sense that the narrator is explaining that Manoah didn’t know he was speaking to Yahweh himself, since it would sound weird for Yahweh to say “offer a sacrifice to Yahweh” if he knew he was speaking to Yahweh.

Three more considerations support the interpolation theory. First, as Samuel Meier has pointed out, there is textual instability among the versions in these narratives. For instance, in Gideon’s narrative, the Septuagint has “angel of Yahweh” throughout. The Septuagint also has additional occurrences of “messenger” all by itself in Samson’s birth narrative and in Hagar’s story, and an additional “messenger of the Lord” at Gen 16:8. Josephus only presents God interacting with Abraham in Genesis 22. The Vulgate makes no mention of an angel in Exod 3:2, mentioning only God appearing. Second, in none of these instances is any self-identification or messenger formula present. Some have claimed that the messenger was so fully identified with his patron that it was not necessary, but there is simply no evidence for this notion. The closest we get is the anomalous “says Yahweh” in Gen 22:16. Third, later versions frequently interpolate the word “angel” where they want to avoid God’s presence, visibility, or participation in something of questionable morality. For instance, in Exod 4:24 both the Septuagint and the targums interpolate the angel to avoid the notion that Yahweh would have come down to kill Moses. In Num 22:20 and 23:4 the Samaritan Pentateuch changes “and God met Balaam” to “and the angel of God met Balaam.” He does not change Num 22:9 or another phrase in Num 23:4, however. In the Palestinian Targum God tells Moses that his angels will pass by him, not that he himself will pass by, as in Exodus 33. Numerous other examples could be brought up, but this should do.

In conclusion, the notion that  the angel is a hypostasis of God or so closely represents him that their identities merge without comment or explanation is simply a rationalization that is subordinate to the necessity of a synchronic or univocal reading of the text. Without such a demand the only logical conclusion is that the angel of Yahweh in these early biblical narratives is a late interpolation, probably from some late- or post-Deuteronomistic writer.


Angels and Demons (and Michael Heiser)

I appreciate Michael taking the time to respond to my paper and to provide a number of helpful insights. For those interested, it can be found here. I was especially happy to have him comment that he felt the writing was clear and concise. That’s something I struggle with sometimes, and it’s great to see that the attention I pay to it is producing results. Michael disagrees with some of the main conclusions I reached, but that was expected. I’m glad to have an informed response, and Michael’s comments will provide great food for thought as I develop this research for presentation at a regional SBL, at CSBS, at SBL in November (although in the latter it’s mainly Psalm 82 I’m discussing), and in my Trinity Western masters thesis.

Michael first has some concerns with the preciseness of my language in a couple places. I’ll reproduce them below. I see where he is coming from, but I also have some reflections to share that will hopefully illuminate my thinking on the issues:

On page 3 we read:

“That the Israelite El had a consort is supported by textual and archaeological evidence.”

This is overstated, but reflects what the consensus would say. To correspond to reality, the statement should say this: “That some Israelites believed Israelite El had a consort is supported by textual and archaeological evidence.” Now it’s accurate.

The facts on this statement are as follows: (1) There are indeed textual and archaeological data for an Israelite El with a consort; (2) There is no way short of omniscience to know from those data that ALL Israelites believed El had a consort — including the biblical writers. All the data show for sure is that someone from the period to which the material dates expressed this belief. That’s it. There is simply no way to make such a sweeping generalization, but many scholars do just that.

The criticism is well taken, and I am happy to provide a more precise description of the Israelite pantheon, although I would point to much more than just Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom as indicating an early Israelite view of Asherah as the consort of El. The Taanach cult stand; the 1000+ Jerusalem pillar figurines; the his and her cult stands, incense altars, and standing stones at Megiddo room 2081 and the Arad temple; and the numerous biblical references to the ubiquity of Asherah worship among the Israelite monarchs and laity point in the same direction. It’s the prohibition of those practices that is far more rare prior to the eighth/seventh centuries, and I would argue that it is not insignificant that the few mentions of that prohibition all come from Deuteronomistic writers. Perhaps that’s a debate for another day, though.

Another example from page 3 (speaking of the divine council):

“All three of these tiers were populated by anthropomorphic deities according to both the Ugaritic literature and the Hebrew Bible.”

This is also worded imprecisely, or perhaps unconsciously reflects Dan’s Mormon theology (and that isn’t a moral evil; we all fall prey to our predispositions at times). What I mean here is that Dan’s wording presumes deities are anthropomorphic. The line should say, to be more accurate (and less theologically stilted): “Deities populating all three of these tiers were anthropomorphized according to both the Ugaritic literature and the Hebrew Bible.”

I understand the potential issue with my particular faith, and I’m sure I can’t entirely erase doubts in this area, but my interest in this topic is as purely academic as I can make it. I stumbled onto research related to anti-anthropomorphism while doing some text-critical work on Exodus 24 after reading a paper by Ted Lewis on the chapter. I noticed a pretty big variant in Exod 24:10 between the Hebrew and the Greek and felt the Greek indicated the variant in the Vorlage. I couldn’t find any discussion on the significance of the variant in the Vorlage and felt it might be a fun research project. It turned into an SBL paper I presented in New Orleans and it ultimately became my Oxford masters thesis. Clearly the broader topic of anti-anthropomorphism intersects with Latter-day Saint ideology, and in a general sense I am more interested in research topics that resonate with my personal background with the Bible, but that resonance does not go any deeper than the broader topic. My thesis arrives at far more conclusions that directly conflict with LDS religious belief (and in more significant areas) than that align with it.

I’m a little hesitant regarding “anthropomorphize,” and here’s why. I understand “anthropomorphize” as “to render anthropomorphic,” and in my mind to say that the biblical texts did this would be to presuppose one of two things: (1) the actual existence of a non-anthropomorphic deity apart from the text, or (2) that the Israelites understood God to be non-anthropomorphic, but anthropomorphized him in their literature for the sake of accommodation to literary conventions or for widespread comprehension or something like that. The former conflicts with my general approach to biblical scholarship (I approach it from an exclusively academic point of view and have no interest in espousing any position about a deity apart from the text), and the latter conflicts with what I believe the evidence supports regarding early Israelite conceptions of deity. We are likely to disagree on what the evidence supports, but again, that may be a debate better saved for another day. If I misunderstand Michael’s use of “anthropomorphize,” however, then I am happy to stand corrected.

Dan’s position assumes that one either must read Deut 32:8-9 as having two deities or, perhaps more importantly, that Israelites would not or could not have seen Yahweh and El/Elyon as the same deity in Deut 32:8-9 before Deut 4 was written. So the question is, could Israelites have read Deut 32 and come out with an identification of El/Elyon with Yahweh? I believe so because of the two preceding verses, Deut 32:6-7.  I have argued this position before in a paper published in the HIPHIL online journal. Readers can download it for free.

In a nutshell, the writer of Deut 32 utilizes several El epithets and familiar El language evident in vv. 6-7 if one reads Hebrew and is familiar with the corresponding Ugaritic vocabulary. What this means is that Israelite readers of Deut 32, prior to Deut 4 being added, who would have been familiar with El descriptions and motifs, would have readily discerned that these descriptions and motifs were being applied to Yahweh in verses 6-7 — because Yahweh is mentioned by name in v. 6. Any Israelite familiar with El/Elyon epithets would not have missed the message that Yahweh and El were the same deity. And Dan cannot argue that Israelites would not have been familiar with El language, because he presumes that Israelites were familiar with El/Elyon as distinct from Yahweh in vv. 8-9.  You can’t say they saw the theological descriptions for keeping El/Elyon and Yahweh separate, but would have missed the same El signage applied to Yahweh two verses earlier. That’s simply inconsistent reasoning.

This is, I believe, the meat of Michael’s disagreement with my paper. This I think is a great topic, and I appreciate his contribution to it. At some other time I would like to dig deeper into the nature of Deut 32:6–7’s use of those terms. Another paper I presented in Atlanta was entirely focused on the meaning of the phrase ’l qn ’rs. In this instance, though, I think Michael may have overlooked what now seems to me to be too subtle a clue as to my position regarding Deut 32. I state the following in the portion he quoted:

This statement is said by the preceding verses to come down from years long past, and points to an archaic distinction between Yhwh and  Elyon, or El.

Later I state this:

Verse 7 may provide a key. In it the author tells Israel to ask their fathers, and to hear from their elders the story of Yhwh‘s acquisition of Israel. What follows is likely a piece of communal memory predating the Song of Moses. This story ends at v. 14, following which the focus shifts to Israel’s negligent behavior vis-à-vis their God.

I believe the author of Deut 32:6–7 could very well have read vv. 8–9 as a reference to Yahweh, but I also think he didn’t originally compose vv. 8–9. He states that they (and the following verses) come down from the fathers, and from years long past. Note also that Deut 32:10 states that Yahweh found his people in the desert. This conflicts with Yahweh as Israel’s begetter and creator, per vv. 6–7. In Deut 4:20 Yahweh took Israel out of Egypt to become his people. This is also a distinct idea. I believe the author of vv. 6–7 is quoting a tradition that has come down to his generation, which has renegotiated its meaning. This, however, isn’t what primarily leads me to conclude that Yahweh was originally distinct from El. A number of other considerations contribute in more fundamental ways to that conclusion, and I guess here is as good a place as any to discuss them.

First, a god named El predates the arrival of the Israelites into Syria-Palestine. Biblical usage shows El was not just a generic noun, but often a proper name for Israel’s God (e.g., Gen 33:20: “El, the God of Israel”). That this deity is analogous to the Syro-Palestinian high god is supported by the numerous epithetic and thematic parallels between biblical and Syro-Palestinian representations of the deity (Gen 14:19, 22, for instance). Yahweh, however, is represented by quite distinct imagery, and is epithetically and thematically analogous to the storm deity Baal. Psalm 29 is a clear Yahwistic version of storm deity literary conventions. Michael has elsewhere appealed to v. 10 in that psalm as indicating Yahweh’s kingship over the flood, a motif ostensibly associated with El, but the word for “flood” there refers to the Noahide deluge, not to the waters of heaven. Additionally, I would suggest the context is better suited to a storm deity reading, which is in fact supported by the wider literary context in light of Rendsburg’s reading “Yahweh sit enthroned since the deluge,” which he asserts is made necessary by the psalm’s northern provenance. The storm deity’s accession to an eternal throne finds an analogy in Kothar-wa-Hasis’ proclamation of Baal’s eternal kingship upon defeat of Yam in the Ugaritic literature. Given the clear association of Yahweh with the storm deity and El with the high god, the relationship of El and Baal in other Syro-Palestinian literature provides an attractive analogy that is only further supported in Deut 32:8’s ostensible reference to Yahweh as one of the “sons of El.” I would reject the rabbinic notion of different epithets and imagery for highlighting different aspects of the Deity.

Second, there is a clear chronological threshold before which Yahwism simply does not appear to have existed in Israel. El was the sole God before that threshold, which is delineated primarily by Exod 6:3 and the onomastic evidence (most clearly in Tigay). Both show that there was a time when the name Yahweh was unknown or insignificant to the nation of Israel. Around the rise of the monarchy Yahwistic names begin to pop up, and by the end of the monarchy they are the predominant theophoric naming convention. Exod 6:3 insists that Yahweh’s name was not known prior to Moses’ revelation at Horeb/Sinai. Another literary tradition places the revelation of Yahweh’s name during the time period of Adam’s grandson. If we divide the creation accounts, the patriarchal genealogies, and the flood accounts according to their clear literary seams, however, we get two different versions of those narrative arcs: one that calls God Yahweh, and one that does not. That an editor has retrojected Yahweh’s name into older traditions is, as far as I am aware, pretty standard among scholars. The revelation of Yahweh’s name at Horeb/Sinai is significant also because several scriptures that appear to be older than Exod 6:3 (like Deut 33:2) associate Yahweh’s origins with those southern regions.

Michael continues:

And so I ask: which is more coherent:

A. That the writer of Deut 32:8-9 distinguished Yahweh and El/Elyon, but fused them in the two prior verses, and let this separation – fusion tension stand (the two are fused and separated back-to-back) … OR

B. Deut 32:6-7 portray Yahweh and El/Elyon as one and vv. 8-9 are to be read in light of that messaging (there is consistency of presentation over these four verses).

The second option is my view. I would therefore suggest that an Israelite didn’t need Deut 4 to see Yahweh and El/Elyon as the same deity.

I would suggest that the change in the beginning of Deut 32:9 from wayehi to ki indicates a contemporary concern for the identification of Yahweh with the sons of God.

Deut 4 simply echoes that point; it doesn’t filter Deut 32 to make that point. This is why I believe Dan’s position, the consensus position, assumes what it seeks to prove. It assumes a separation in 32:8-9 and then uses Deut 4 to prove that separation. But it doesn’t explain why vv. 6-7 refer to Yahweh with El/Elyon language.

I disagree, however, that vv. 6–7 use Elyon language. They seem to me to use El language alone. There’s nothing that I know of in the Hebrew Bible that ties Elyon—independent of El—to that imagery. The Sefire inscription distinguishes El from Elyon, as does Phylo of Biblos’ Phoenician History. In the Ugaritic texts the closest analogue to Elyon is Aliyn, an epithet for Baal.

Michael follows with a lengthy discussion of the term elohim that I think would be valuable freading. I don’t have much to quibble with in that section that isn’t communicated elsewhere in this post, so I’ll move on to some comments closer to the end of his paper.

1. Dan’s note about the Greek wording in Deut 4 and elsewhere for the host of heaven (tov kosmov tou ouranou) proves nothing except that some Jew somewhere would no doubt have seen what Dan sees there — a de-deification. And that would have made his day. But how do we move from that to a neat theological evolution at a nation-wide, cultural level when there is so much data to the contrary (showing diversity)? See below.

If I had the time and space I would have unpacked some of this quite a bit more in my paper. I think there were tow or three different approaches to deities during the post-exilic and Greco-Roman periods. One approach simply sought to demote deities to a lesser divine station, as with Deut 32:43, while another was to de-deify them, as with Deut 4, John 10:34–35, and Psalm 82 in the rabbinic tradition. A third approach might be the Deutero-Isaiah approach of just saying they are impotent and irrelevant. Obviously it cannot in the end be boiled down to such convenient compartmentalizing, but I think this gives us adequate preliminary models.

Michael summarizes another lengthy section with the following:

All of that is a windy way of saying that you just can’t prove a neat evolution from polytheism to monotheism when there is terminological confusion and so much “polytheistic” material in later Jewish periods. The solution is not to bend the data to a prevailing paradigm — it’s to fix the paradigm. Dan would be an asset for rethinking it, too. Otherwise, we end up making assumptions based on data we’re trying to use to prove the assumptions. I think my views are just more reality-based: (1) Israelites and Jews believed different things about God and the spiritual world throughout their history; (2) Many Israelite and Jews were capable of using elohim to speak of a wide variety of spiritual entities, knowing the whole time that Yahweh was species unique among those elohim; and so (3) Reading and writing texts that had multiple elohim in them was no threat to their monotheism, and wasn’t polytheism. They didn’t parseelohim the way we parse G-o-d, and they weren’t stupid, either.

Diversity among believers. Now why does that sound familiar?

I would agree with all of points one and three and the first half of point two, but it is in the arena of species uniqueness that I see the conflict and development between the late pre-exile and the Greco-Roman period. In my first masters thesis I argued in one portion that anti-anthropomorphism developed slowly and in inconsistent steps as a result of ongoing attempts to rhetorically exalt Israel’s God over the gods of the inner- and inter-cultural demographics with which the biblical authors were interacting. Every time an author pushed Yahweh just a bit further away from other deities, a subsequent generation of authors had a modified view of God upon which they also felt compelled to operate. I think here may be a point of departure between our two approaches to the issue. I am treating a lot of Israelite and Jewish beliefs as growing out of literary traditions as much as, and sometimes more than, cultic and other traditions. In my opinion, when authors modified their literary representation of the deity, it modified future conceptualizations of the deity as well, which translated into modified cultic and liturgical perspectives.

Michael ends with a couple notes.

  1. I’m well aware of the proposed “crisis catalysts” for the “movement” toward monotheism. I critiqued them in my dissertation. My view is that there is nothing said in the wake of the presumed crisis that many Israelites would not have said prior to said crisis.
  2. Every time I think of this I think of Carol Newsom’s oxymoronic “angelic elim” term — it shows the desperation to keep the consensus paradigm in the face of all the contrary evidence. The scrolls and their divine plurality language is my regional SBL paper topic this May.

I also don’t like the “crisis” model for the development of monotheism, but I have different reasons. I do think the Dead Sea Scrolls equated the elim with angels. In fact, I think that identification became so widespread that there was no need to conduct much boundary maintenance, and thus no immediate juxtaposition of the two terms at Qumran, as Michael notes elsewhere. As evidence of this, I would point to 11Q10 30:5 (11QtgJob), which replaces “sons of God” with “angels of God,” and to 4Q180, which describes Gen 6:2, 4 as references to angels. Additionally, “Holy Ones,” “Angels,” “Watchers,” and elim are used interchangeably in the scrolls.

I’m sure Michael and I will continue to disagree on many of these points, but this kind of discourse helps me to refine and revise my arguments. For that I’m grateful for Michael’s participation and hope that I can contribute in some small thing to his view of the issue.


Michael Heiser on My SBL Paper

Michael Heiser has been kind enough to take the time to respond to a paper I presented in Atlanta entitled “What is Deity in LXX Deuteronomy?” I appreciated his attendance at my paper and I appreciate his comments on his blog. I’ve got to finish some exams over the next week and finally put a fork in my coursework, so I won’t be able to really engage his thoughts until then, but check out what he has to say in the mean time.


CSBS Paper Submission

CSBS, the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, is holding their annual meeting at the University of New Brunswick on May 29–31. I’m submitting to the general programme, which requires a 100 word paper proposal. Here’s what I managed to shrink down to around 100 words:

Monotheism—Still a Misused Word in Jewish Studies?

This paper will take up Peter Hayman’s 1991 Journal of Jewish Studies discussion of “monotheism” as an inadequate descriptor for ancient Jewish belief regarding deity. It will align with Hayman’s argument against the applicability of the term from an etymological point of view, but will depart from Hayman in suggesting that “monotheism,” which developed as a descriptive term, can still adequately describe formative Judaism. It will show that “monotheism” comprises a specific view of the nature and function of other divine beings in relation to Yhwh, and will describe this view and its development within formative Judaism.

Hayman’s paper, which I highly recommend, is briefly described here.


Richard Hess on Monotheism

Richard Hess has an interesting post up on Bible and Interpretation on monotheism in the pre-exilic period. The title of the post is “Did Anyone Believe in One God before the Greeks?” although Hess states in the second paragraph that he is not discussing philosophical monotheism, “such as emerged in the world of Classical Greece,” but the practice of worshipping only one deity. I felt a little duped by the title of his paper, since it was explicitly about belief in one deity and the relationship to the Greeks, but the paper is thought provoking nonetheless.

Hess’ thesis is basically that monotheism should be understood as the worship of a single deity to the exclusion of all others. In that sense, Egypt was monotheistic during the Amarna period, and Israel was monotheistic from the reforms of Josiah and afterward. Simple enough. Interestingly, both Tom Thompson and Niels Peter Lemche come to Hess’ defense in the comments (note also Philip Davies’ and T. S. Verenna’s comments).

I take issue with Hess on a few grounds. First, what, specifically, comprises worship? Sacrifice? Prayer? Any kind of gesture or address? I think this is a crucial issue, but it’s glossed over (granted, it’s a blog post and not a monograph). Moving past that, I cannot agree with his argument about pillared figurines. If pillared figurines are not representative of Asherah, but are votive offerings to a deity, which deity is it? Are we simply to assume it is Yhwh? Does “votive offering” comprise cultic worship? Second, the fact that they are cheap and mass produced hardly indicates they are not intended to represent deities. Poor people wanted images of deities, too, and worship was not the sole purview of the state. Third, what of Anat-Yahu? What of prayers offered to saints? What of the reverence of angels in the Greco-Roman period? What of James Spinti’s mug? (ZING!) I don’t think those issues are aberrant enough to just be dismissed.

Hess states in his article, “The textual evidence from outside the Bible provides a uniform witness that only Yahweh was officially worshiped in Judah and its capital.” I find the notion that the state’s “official” worship is alone determinative for this question quite problematic. John Barton and Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s recent volume, Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah, did an excellent job of breaking down the false dichotomy of “official” vs. “popular” religion. Even within that dichotomy, though, shouldn’t “popular religion” have a say in what a nation collectively believes? If the question is just one of any significant segment of the Israelite demographic adhering to the worship of only one deity, then certainly it goes back further than Josiah.

Next, I am not convinced that monotheism is best defined in terms of worship. The term “monotheism” was coined in reference to belief in a single deity (specifically, as opposed to atheism). Scholarship has been trying for years to nail down a useful way to apply this term to ancient Judaism, but as Peter Hayman’s 1991 JJS article has shown, that attempt has largely failed. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have manifested belief in numerous divine beings since their inception and down to this very day. The notion that monotheism should be viewed as exclusively expressed through worship rather than belief is, in my opinion, an attempt to skirt that fact. In saying this I’m not arguing that monotheism is inapplicable to Judaism and Christianity. I believe it can be applied to ancient Judaism, but I think one shouldn’t be looking only at worship to identify the genesis of a phenomenon that is rather universally understood as a belief first and a practice second (and to mark a distinction between “monotheism” as a practice and “philosophical monotheism” as a belief is to classify the latter as conceptually subordinate).

Lastly, if monotheism finds its genesis in the exclusion of other deities from worship, what shall we call the development of the notion that God is, in a significant sense, the only god that exists? This notion did in very fact develop, just ask any Christian or Jew on the street what monotheism means. What happens if you point out that other entities are called “gods” in the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls? “Those are just angels,” or some variation will likely be the response. “They’re only contingent/created/subordinate beings.” See a similar comment from Deuteronomy Rabbah which responds to the fact that angels are called “gods” in the text: “‘Do not go astray after one of these angels who came down with me; they are all my servants. I am the Lord, your God.” See James Spinti’s comment on the matter:

I believe in the gods (and goddesses). Yes, all of them, Ba`al, ‘El, Zeus, Jupiter, Apollo, etc. OK, you can get up off the floor now and let me finish. I believe that they are divine beings, but that they are created ones, under the thumb, so to speak, of YHWH. I suspect I am in the minority in the Western world, bordering on insane, but in the 2/3 world, I would be considered sane and reasonable.

In a recent paper I tried to show that this identification of the gods with angels occurred at a specific point in time, and accomplished a sort of ontological distinction between “the One God” and another group of “gods” to a sufficient degree that subsequent Jews and Christians were (and remain) perfectly happy to insist that only one God exists.

In my opinion, and I welcome comments, this development is far more intimately linked with the common ancient or modern Christian or Jew’s notion of monotheism than the worship of a single deity without necessarily denying the existence of other deities. I think the latter is an important step in the development of monotheism that deserves attention, but since the word “monotheism” was intended to describe a belief, and is most commonly used to describe a belief, I think it more useful to allow it to apply to a significant development in belief, not in religious practice.


Second SBL Paper Online

I’ve posted my second SBL paper online here. This paper seeks to answer the question, What is deity in LXX Deuteronomy? It was presented in the section Unity and Diversity in Early Jewish Monotheisms, and suggests that the threshold of monotheism ought to be placed at the conflation of the angels and the Sons of God in the Hellenistic Period. Unlike the other SBL paper I posted, this one has been posted in a more formal format with full citations and a bibliography (which I was told after the session was quite informative). This paper will be revised and significantly expanded for my next master’s thesis, so your feedback is greatly appreciated.


Sons of God or Angels?

I’m looking around for a post-Septuagint reference to the divine stewards over the nations (Deut 32:8-9) as anything other than angels (specifically as בני אלהים or אלים). I’ve not found such a reference yet, but I haven’t been able to be comprehensive in my search. Can anyone out there think of an instance where an allusion to Deut 32:8-9 calls the divine stewards “gods” or “sons of God,” and not angels (or spirits, rulers, etc.)?


Review: Sang Youl Cho, Lesser Deities in the Ugaritic Texts and the Hebrew Bible

Sang Youl Cho, Lesser Deities in the Ugaritic Texts and the Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Study of Their Nature and Roles. Deities and Angels of the Ancient World 2; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2007. Pp. xxvii, 352. ISBN: 978-1-59333-820-6. $124.00.

Gorgias Press

Amazon.com

Blackwells

This publication comprises a revision of sections of San Youl Cho’s Edinburgh dissertation. Its aim is to compare the nature and roles of the lesser deities of the divine assembly within the Ugaritic texts and the Hebrew Bible, and identify whatever affinities exist. The book has five chapters, which evaluate (1) the membership of the lesser deities, (2) kinship of the lesser deities, (3) messenger deities, (4) warrior deities, and (5) other lesser deities. Each chapter is divided into sections which evaluate the Ugaritic evidence followed by the biblical evidence. Each section has a brief summary, as does each chapter.

Chapter one focuses on membership of the lesser deities in the divine assembly. Several designations are evaluated from the Ugaritic texts which refer to groupings of deities, like ’ilm, “gods,” dr dt šmm, “circle of heaven,” sd, “council,” and several others. Their biblical counterparts, where they exist, are also discussed. The position of the various deities within these groupings is also evaluated. As with the entire book, a great deal of lexical information (sometimes excessive) is provided in these evaluations.

Chapter two establishes the filial nature of the lesser deities with the high God El. As the phrase bn ’ilm (בני אלהים), “sons of El,” can also be read simply as “deities,” scholars have long disagreed over the relationship shared between El and the lesser deities, especially as it bears on their representation in the Hebrew Bible. Cho reviews the theogonic aspects of El’s literature from Ugarit and the various ways in which the deities are described as “sons of El” to show their clear filial relationship with him. He also shows the biblical use of the terminology associated with the divine council appeals to the same relationship. The physical appearance of the gods (described as having wings or horns, for instance) is also discussed in this chapter.

Chapter three is devoted to messenger deities. After a review of the associated Ugaritic terminology, Cho discusses named messenger deities and binomial deities, focusing primarily on the messenger deities Gupan and Ugar (gpn w ugr), which Cho suggests are related to later archangel ideology. The methods of message delivery are also discussed. The associated terminology and named messenger deities from the biblical corpus are also discussed, as are the methods of message delivery within that literary tradition. Cho finds a simplification of the role of the divine messenger in the Hebrew Bible.

The next chapter discusses the final main taxonomy of lesser deities, namely warrior deities. In relation to the Ugaritic texts, Qadesh-and-Amurr is the most important named warrior deity and he receives the majority of Cho’s attention. That the warrior deity may also act as a messenger deity is an important contribution in this chapter. There are a number of warrior deities mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, but the only named deity that Cho finds is Michael. Unfortunately, little discussion of the מלאך יהוה occurs.

The final chapter discusses other lesser deities, such as mediator, guardian, chanter, and servant deities. Guardian and chanter deities in the Hebrew Bible deservedly receive a great deal of attention in this section. This chapter also shows one of the strongest relationships between the deities of the Ugaritic texts and the Hebrew Bible.

A critical weakness in this book is Cho’s synchronic perspective and his reticence regarding the many textual layers of the Hebrew Bible. In discussing the מלאך יהוה, for instance, Cho presupposes the integrity of the text: “Although the messenger of Yahweh is recognized apparently as the sender in the Hebrew Bible, it is obviously the divine messenger himself who appears before a mortal . . . . Thus, the ‘first person’ speech of the divine messengers can be understood as a delivering technique” (p. 190). Despite citing Wyatt on the interpolation of the messenger (“Originally El himself appeared.”), Cho ignores the discussion so he can find a link to the Ugaritic method of “first person speech.” On p. 123, note 235, Cho cites Morgenstern regarding Elyon’s distinction from Yhwh in Ps 82:6 and dismisses the claim, stating that Elyon “appears explicitly as an epithet of Yahweh in Gen 14:22 (cf. v. 18).” Cho forgets that the name Yhwh that appears in v. 22 is a late interpolation that is not found in the Greek, the Syriac, or in the Genesis Apocryphon. That the identification of the two developed at a later time period is not considered (see also p. 120).

At points the footnotes were unnecessarily excessive. They seemed to me to indicate the book was anticipating a largely lay audience. On p. 125, for instance, note 243 alerts the reader that אלהים should be read as the plural “gods” since the pronoun is the second person plural אתם. On p. 117, n. 200 tells the reader that the Hebrew ב can introduce a “temporal infinitive-clause.” Some of Cho’s footnotes also seemed quite lopsided. Nicolas Wyatt’s scholarship plays a central role (27 publications of his are cited). There are also some gaps in the bibliography—Samuel Meier’s “Angel of Yahweh” entry in DDD, Mark Smith’s 2001 Origins of Biblical Monotheism, and Michael Heiser’s 2004 dissertation, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” for instance. The author also would have done well to refer to the Göttingen editions of the Septuagint, rather than exclusively Rahlfs.

The layout, typesetting, and editing also suffer from a number of problems. The transliteration font does not accommodate the ayin very well, especially in the name b‘l (see the bottom of p. 97, for instance—it appears they tried to remedy this by adding a space after the ayin in the subheading on p. 15). In the bold section headings and subheadings the Hebrew font is sloppy. There are also numerous errors in the Hebrew. For instance, in note 6 on p. 10 there is no semicolon separating סוד יהוה from עדת אל. Instead a patah appears under the samek. The typesetter failed to switch the keyboard configuration back to English. Additionally, the typesetter, with Hebrew texts that run over a single line, has the beginning of the Hebrew on the bottom line, and the end on the top. In note 170 on p. 279 three phrases listed from Ezek 41:18–19 are in reverse order. The period that should have ended the sentence is in the middle of the Hebrew. In the bibliography, David N. Freedman’s 1995 כְּרוּב article from TDOT is listed as כְּרוּם. On page 117, Qumran’s attestation to Deut 32:8 is simply listed as “4QDeut,” rather than 4QDeutj. There is no index of modern authors, which would have been helpful, and the subject index is spotty and incredibly short (despite the padding added by listing every individual page, even if the subject appears on over 20 consecutive pages). In the scriptural index, the book of Judges has two sections, one labeled “Judg,” and the other “Judges.” Although some of the same verses are listed in both sections, different page numbers follow.

Despite a number of editorial deficiencies, this book consolidates an impressive amount of data and reviews important discussions on different concerns related to the nature and organization of the lesser deities of the Ugaritic and biblical pantheons. For that alone it provides a useful reference for future research. The author’s conclusions, however, add little to the scholarly discourse.


Satan as a Fallen Angel

Isa 14:12 is commonly appealed to as a reference to Satan as a fallen angel, but this understanding is first promoted in the deuterocanonical literature, not in the Hebrew Bible. In Job 2:1, dated roughly to the third or fourth century BCE, Satan, here a proper noun associated with a divine being, is grouped with the bĕnê ha’ĕlohîm.[1] He is not a messenger there and is never equated with the mal’ākîm anywhere in the Hebrew Bible.[2] His rebelliousness is comparable to that of the bĕnê ’ĕlohîm in Genesis 6 and to the sons of ’Ilu from the Ugaritic pantheon, although his antagonism is aimed at humanity rather than at his divine superiors, which makes the association with Ugaritic literature strained. In all the literature of the Hebrew Bible, the mal’ākîm are never portrayed as disobedient. As with all Syro-Palestinian messengers, they were strictly obedient. Only in early apocryphal and pseudepigraphical literature do fallen angels begin to emerge as Second Temple texts began to explore Judaism’s theological boundaries. Satan’s existence in the Hebrew Bible represents, in my opinion, a middle ground between the earliest attested Israelite theology and the later literature that relegated him to the realms of the angelic hosts.

In the early theology YHWH is the originator of both good and evil.[3] Whether independently or by analogy with other dualistic religions (like Zoroastrianism),[4] Israel slowly developed an individualized divine antithesis to God, who adopted the title Satan (“Adversary”).[5] In 2 Sam 24:1, YHWH, in his anger, compels David to number Israel and Judah. In the post-exilic 1 Chr 21:1 it is Satan who compels David. This verse provides a Second Temple reinterpretation of the event that ascribes the inspiration to sin to an adversary rather than to YHWH. This adversary could hardly be taxonomically related to God in the Second Temple world, and so was demoted to the realm of the angels. This demotion coincided with the relegation of the “sons of God” to angelic status (see here). In this way, Judaism’s recently developed dualism was reconciled with its developing monotheism and YHWH’s universalism.


[1] Prior to this the word śāṭān is used as a generic noun rather than a personal name. See Num 22:22; 1 Sam 29:4; 1 Kgs 11:14. See Zech 3:1–2 for another example of Satan as a personal name.

[2] In the story of Balaam and the angel of YHWH (Num 22:22) the angel is called a śāṭān, but the word is clearly being used in its generic and indefinite sense.

[3] In 1 Sam 2:6–7, for instance, YHWH kills and makes alive, brings riches and poverty, and exalts and makes low. Again in Isa 45:6–7 YHWH forms light and darkness, and makes peace as well as evil. In 1 Kgs 11:14 it is YHWH who establishes an adversary (sāṭān) against Solomon. As was pointed out long ago by Helmer Ringgren (Israelite Religion [trans. David E. Green; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966], 72–73), much of the opposition to Israel and her heroes was actually inspired by YHWH (see Exod 9:12; 10:1; Judg 9:23; 1 Sam 16:14; 19:9–10; 1 Kgs 22:19–23; Amos 3:6).

[4] Isa 45:6–7 (a rather late text) may act as a polemic against Zoroastrian dualism, asserting YHWH is the source of everything, both good and evil. This would provide an intermediate reaction to theological dualism that preceded its appropriation and the development of Satan as a fallen angel.

[5] Shaye J. D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishna, Second Edition (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 79–80; 85–86.


Conflating Angels and the Sons of God

Does LXX Deut 32:43 contain an attempt to actively promote the conflation of the angels of God with the “sons of God” of earlier divine council motifs? Following Smith and Handy’s theory of a four tiered Syro-Palestinian pantheon, the bn ‘el were taxonomically distinct from the lowly ml’k. The biblical literature seems to preserve this distinction. The use of the word ‘elohîm on rare occasions to describe angels does not undermine it, as all members of the pantheon, great and small, could be categorized under the term in its generic sense. The benê ‘elohîm, however, were a clear and distinct class of deity. As Israel moved away from polytheism and toward a transcendant view of deity, these tiers were collapsed, and the roles of these deities were conflated. Might one consider repeated appeals to this conflation an indication of opposition?

Deuteronomy 32 shows two examples of propaganda aimed at identifying angels with the sons of God. In v. 8 the original benê ‘elohîm is simply replaced with αγγελλων θεου. The same occurs in Job 2, but elsewhere the phrase is left alone. The translator may simply interpret the phrase as referring to angels. In verse 43, however, there is textual expansion that makes a clear attempt at equating the two. The original verse probably contains an imperative for “all the gods” to bow, but LXX inserts two cola in place of this phrase, putting αγγελλοι θεου and υιοι θεου in parallel. (for the expanded verse as secondary, see Arie van der Kooij, “The Ending of the Song of Moses: On the Pre-masoretic Version of Deut 32:43,” in Studies in Deuteronomy in Honor of C. J. Labuschagne on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday [ed. Florentino García Martínez, et. al.; Leiden: Brill, 1994], 93–100.)

The expanded cola seem intended to evade the mention of “all the gods,” but also to provide a key for the interpretation of “sons of God” elsewhere. They are to be identified with the angels of God. It does not seem unlikely to me that this was a question that remained open in the minds of some during the translation of Deuteronomy into Greek. The translator may have been seeking to provide definitive evidence of the equation of the two groups of divine beings, protecting the transcendant Yhwh and mitigating the polytheistic undertones of the parent text.

Thoughts?


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