Thursday, April 8, 2010

Angels & Demons 3: Where Have All the Fallen Angels Gone?

Although I never met him, Bernard Bamberger is the author of the most authoritative book from the late 20th century on Fallen Angels written from a Jewish perspective. I have a few things in common with him:

• Bamberger was the Rabbi of Temple Israel of Lafayette, Indiana, from 1929-1944; I was a member of the West Lafayette Christian Church that met temporarily in the Temple Israel building in West Lafayette from 1979 to 1981, when I was there.
• I had gleaned a great deal of information from Bamberger’s book throughout the 1970s, as I wrote my master’s thesis on Anamartetous Fallen Angels in partial fulfillment of my Master’s in Hebrew from Indiana University.
• Bamberger reached very nearly the same conclusions with regard to official Jewish literature that I reached with regard to New Testament literature as these literatures dealt with the issue of Fallen Angels.

Here is Bamberger’s conclusion from page 55 of his book: “The astounding thing is that, after some centuries of experimentation with this idea, the authoritative teachers of Judaism dropped it altogether. . . . The main line of Jewish thought returned to an uncompromising monotheism in which there was no room for satanic rebels.”

In the Old Testament, there were no fallen angels. Then, right after the Old Testament, hundreds of fallen angels emerged. Then, by the New Testament, the fallen angels have disappeared again! That’s amazing. In light of the flood of literature on fallen angels from the period between the Old and New Testaments, the obvious disqualification of the bulk of the fallen angel material from the official/codified scriptures of Judaism and the literature surrounding them is striking. The Hebrew Bible is silent on the subject and the official Jewish literature from the early Christian era is virtually silent on the subject. Furthermore, with the exception of a few very brief references to the story (which I shall explain in future commentaries) the New Testament is virtually silent on the subject. Where have all the fallen angels gone?

One possible explanation is as follows. Judaism did not get along with their Roman rulers in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, as they had gotten along with their Greek rulers in the early Greek Empire. They experienced a devastating seven year war with the Romans that included the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. Many Jews were taken into captivity; all of Israel was crushed by the Romans. It may well be that the increased tensions between the Jews and their Roman rulers provided the rationale for the abrupt discontinuation of many of these Hellenistic themes in Jewish angelology. In fact, it is interesting that the Church Fathers were the first to restore some of these Greek and Roman religious concepts of fallen angels. Christianity was fast becoming the new religion of the Roman Empire. There would be no real obligation on the part of the Church Fathers to divorce these western concepts from their theology. Rather, the opposite (attempts to show the reasonably close resemblance) would appear to be beneficial to the Church’s cause.

However, I think that early rabbinic Judaism and New Testament Christianity just became apprehensive about the dangers of Persian, Greek, and Roman religions and how these pagan religions had been instrumental in producing the fallen angel stories during the time Jews had been under the control of these cultures. Whatever the reason, the fallen angel stories are virtually gone by the time of the New Testament. We are hard-pressed to produce any material from the tannaitic-amoraic period of Judaism (the period just after the New Testament) or from the New Testament itself to support the Greek, Roman, or Persian themes in the fallen angel stories.

Since the Roman gods are, more often than not, just renamed Greek gods, I will not spend time discussing Roman religion. Next time, however, I will address Persian religion as it affected fallen angel stories. As we consider Greek and Persian religion, I think you will see how erroneous concepts of Satan and Fallen Angels developed, and how the New Testament and rabbinic Judaism countered these developments.

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