Angels as Intermediary Figures

In Larry Hurtado’s One God, One Lord he cites Wilhelm Bousset’s discussion of angelology in Die Religion des Judentums im späthellenistischen Zeitalter. According to Hurtado, Bousset sees the expanded role of angels in postexilic literature as a sign of “a weakened sense of God’s availability to the pious.” For Bousset, angels filled a gap between humanity and the now far-removed deity. Hurtado heavily criticizes Bousset’s view, especially his claim of “eine Engeldogmatik, eine Angelologie.” He then argues that God was not removed from humanity, evinced by several instances of prayers being offered directly to God and answered directly by God. His primary example is 2 Bar. 48:1–24.  He concludes that the expanded angelology of the Second Temple Period is an indicator of God’s absolute authority over the universe and not of his distancing from humanity.

I agree that there was no systematic angelology. The Second Temple Period, in my estimation, is best characterized as a period of intense literary and theological exploration. It seems to me the explosion of texts in this time period evinces a desire to find answers to the moral and theological questions catalyzed by the exile and amplified by the new philosophical outlook of Hellenized Judaism. It was as variegated as it was prolific.

On the other hand, I cannot see how one can reject the notion that God is further from humanity in this time period. The Greek Bible shows in numerous places a reticence to portray deity as meeting with humankind or as at all linked to it. In Num 24:19 the Hebrew tells us “God is not a human,” but in the Greek he is not even “as a human.” In Exod 17:6 God says to Moses, “I will be standing before you on the rock,” but the Greek takes the spacial לפניך and renders it temporally: “I stood there before you came.” Similarly, G Exod 24:10 shows a change from MT’s “they saw the God of Israel” to “they saw the place where the God of Israel stood.” The Greek phrase in this verse uses a resumptive adverb that is unique to Hebrew (ου εστηκει εκει = אשר עמד שם), showing a literal translation of an anti-anthropomorphism that existed in the Vorlage. In Exod 25:22; 29:42, 43; and 30:6, 36 the verb יעד, which makes reference to God’s meeting with Moses, is rendered as if it were ידע, precluding a physical meeting. The metathesis only takes place in the Greek Pentateuch in cases where humans meet with deity, and the metathesis takes place in every case.

These changes, coming both from the translators and from their Vorlage, show a reticence to present God descending to meet with humanity. This is a clear move away from the  worldview that had Adam, Jacob, Abraham, Moses, and even Manoah and his wife, speaking face to face with God.

Now, I disagree with Hurtado’s rejection of a universalized and distant God, but I don’t disagree with the idea that God’s command over the universe is emphasized in the expanded role of angels. I think these are two sides to the same coin. Where I believe Hurtado goes wrong is in not differentiating between communication with God and visitations from God. Praying and receiving answers to prayer shows God does communicate with his creations, but mitigation of his presence on earth and his visibility to humanity (attested as far back as Exod 33:20) shows he is indeed distant from us. In that sense angels fill an intermediary role. They are the visible and tangible aspect of an increasingly invisible and transcendent deity.


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