I attended a David Patterson Seminar last night here at Yarnton Manor. The speaker was James Kugel, who has been doing a series of lectures over the last couple weeks and is staying here on the manor. His paper was titled, “The Moment of Confusion: A Glimpse at How Some Ancient Israelites Conceived of God.” In it he discussed angelic manifestations in the Hebrew Bible which were accompanied by moments of confusion, that is, when the angels weren’t recognized, but were thought to be human beings. His three primary pericopes were Joshua and the captain of YHWH’s hosts, Abraham entertaining the three angels, and Manoah’s visitation.
He began by discussing two models of God’s nature. One is the more recent, in which God is omniscient, omnipresent, and incorporeal. The second was a model he proposed could be better understood through a proper understanding of his pericopes. In them, the angels are not just heavenly messengers, but literary representations of God himself, who had finite and human form, and is portrayed asking questions and moving from place to place to see what is happening. For Kugel, angels did not exist as independent and separate entities from God, but as a means of portraying God’s physical presence on earth. Around the time of the Babylonian exile and exposure to other worldviews, these angels take on a life of their own and develop an entirely distinct literary tradition.
I happen to disagree on his main point. I think these pericopes, for the most part, originally had no mention of angels at all, but were later emended to support a less anthropomorphic view of deity. I spoke with him briefly about it after the presentation and he thought it would be a good idea to get together next week and go over some ideas. (Cool, huh?) It was an interesting lecture, and it was great to listen to Prof. Kugel speak. They also had soy chicken nuggets at the reception, which were tasty (all the food they serve at the manor is kosher, so they don’t allow meat at these receptions because it may contaminate the dishes).