Saturday, August 28, 2010

Angels & Demons 20: Jacob’s Ladder, with the Guardian Angels of Each Nation—Rising and Falling

Jacob’s Ladder figured into the Sinless Fallen Angel Story I mentioned earlier in my commentaries—in which the righteous young maiden tricked the angels into giving her their wings and teaching her to pronounce the unpronounceable name of God. She flew away to Heaven and they were left on the earth—UNTIL they found Jacob’s Ladder and climbed back into Heaven. Jacob’s Ladder now, once again, figures into a Fallen Angel Story. This story is related to my previous commentary in which Satan (as the Raiser of World Empires) is chained in the Abyss for 1000 years, “so that HE MIGHT NO LONGER LEAD THE NATIONS ASTRAY until the 1000 years are ended.” Here, however, the angels do not actually “fall”; instead, they just “descend.”

John the author of Revelation is, of course, familiar with the Jewish concept of the guardian angels of each nation—ascending and descending on Jacob’s ladder—and he even agrees with the end of the Jewish story. The story ends with the angel of a certain nation ascending the ladder, but never descending. This is the story of the ascending and descending national guardian angels (also called “princes”) of history’s world empires. Piska 23.2 of Pesikta de-Rab Kahana [hereafter, PRK] provides the following interpretation of the Jacob’s Ladder account from Genesis 28:12:

“Rabbi Berechiah, with Rabbi Ḥelbo, the son of Rabbi Simeon, the son of Yosina, in the name of Rabbi Meir, said: ‘It teaches that the Holy One—Blessed be He—caused Jacob, our Father, to see the prince of Babel (Babylon) ascending and descending, (then the prince) of Media ascending and descending, then (the prince) of Yavan (Greece) ascending and descending, then (the prince) of Edom (Rome) ascending and descending. The Holy One—Blessed be He—said to him (Jacob), ‘Jacob, you are ascending, too.’ In that hour, Jacob, our Father, was afraid, and he said, ‘Would you say that just like what happened to these—a descending—will also happen to me—a descending?’ The Holy One—Blessed be He—said to him, ‘You will not come down, Israel (Jeremiah 30:10). If you go up, there will never be a descent for you.’ But he did not believe, and he did not ascend.”

Clearly, this passage hints at an eternal kingdom by Israel, following upon the fall of Rome. John, in Revelation, paints virtually the same picture. In John’s account, however, the Lion from the Tribe of Judah does, indeed, “conquer” (5:5), ascend to reign over the earth (5:10), stand on Mount Zion (14:1), with his 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel (7:4-8), leading the New Jerusalem (21:2) to power. And, he shall reign forever and ever (22:5), John predicts.

A parallel of the PRK account is Leviticus Rabbah 29:2. This version attributes the story again to R. Berechiah (5th generation Amora) and R. Ḥelbo (4th generation Amora) and ultimately to R. Meir (3rd generation Tanna), in agreement with the PRK passage. It identifies Rabbi Simeon ben Menasya (4th generation Tanna) as the secondary source of the story, thus varying from PRK which mentions a Simeon ben Yosina as the father of R. Ḥelbo.

The word “Amora,” incidentally, refers to a Jewish academy leader/scholar who lived and wrote from 219-500 AD. The word “Tanna” refers to a Jewish academy leader/scholar who lived and wrote from 10-220 AD. Therefore, the Tannaim (plural of Tanna) lived closer in time to the New Testament period than did the Amoraim (plural of Amora). Rabbi Meir, for example, lived between 120 and 165 AD. Nevertheless, the rabbis claim that they are simply passing on information that they received from their teachers, so the teachings are understood to have been generated earlier in history than the recording of the teachings.

The Leviticus Rabbah passage is a more abbreviated form of the story. It omits the directive from God for Jacob to ascend and also Jacob’s resulting fright. This time, Jacob addresses God as “Lord of the Worlds,” and proceeds to express his concern about a similar descent for himself. The language used agrees (nearly verbatim) with PRK. God, in reply, again quotes Jeremiah 30:10, but drops the direct address (“Israel”). The conclusion is phrased as follows:

“‘Once you ascend, there will be no descent for you!’ Nevertheless, he was fearful, and did not ascend.”

In another parallel, Midrash Tehillim 78,347 supplies the number of rungs each of the princes climbed, and attributes these details also to Rabbi Meir, as quoted by Rabbi Berechiah, Rabbi Levi (3rd generation Amora), and still another Simeon—Simeon ben Jose (4th generation Tanna). PRK 23.2a provides those same details, but in a midrash belonging to Rabbi Samuel bar Naḥman (3rd generation Amora), paralleled also in Leviticus Rabbah 29:2.

In a similar vein, Bereshit Rabbah 68end refers to the princes of the four empires who ascended and descended and relates this Ladder vision to Nebuchadnezzar’s “image” vision (Daniel 2:31-45). According to the Nebuchadnezzar’s “image” vision, after the fifth kingdom (beginning with the Babylonian Empire) falls, God will establish an eternal kingdom that will never fall.

It is striking that Jewish scholars of the First to Fifth Centuries after the birth of Jesus who continued a tradition that suggests a plan of God to establish an eternal kingdom with a Jewish leader at the helm following the fall of the Roman Empire, failed to recognize that such a kingdom was developing. With the Roman Empire effectively “Christianized” by Constantine, shortly after 300 AD, this tiny sect, led by a Jewish teacher (Jesus)—a child of Israel—was finally catapulted to a position of international repute. It was not until the Renaissance of a thousand years later that Greco-Roman literature would begin to rebound from a situation in which Judeo-Christian literature and thought dominated much of the world. One can almost envision the scene of Jacob’s Ladder:

“The Holy One—Blessed be He—said to him (Jacob), ‘Jacob, you are ascending, too.’ In that hour, Jacob, our Father, was afraid, and he said, ‘Would you say that just like what happened to these—a descending—will also happen to me—a descending?’ The Holy One—Blessed be He—said to him, ‘You will not come down, Israel’ (Jeremiah 30:10). If you go up, there will never be a descent for you.’”

Friday, August 20, 2010

Angels & Demons 19: Satan Temporarily Laid Off (From 2nd Job)

According to Revelation, Satan lost his first job—that of “accuser of the brothers”—due to the “Blood” of Jesus. Revelation, therefore, places the Fall of Satan somewhere around 30 AD. The Hebrew word “SATAN” means “prosecuting attorney.” Prosecuting attorney was Satan’s FIRST job. There is no need for a prosecutor, if all of the accused have been “pardoned.” While John the writer of Revelation is familiar with virtually all of the Fallen Angel Stories I have been discussing—angels sin, angels marry human women, angels bring culture to mankind, angels rebel against God, angels refuse to worship Adam, etc.—he seems to reject them all in favor of a progressive “outmoding of Satan’s jobs” approach. The first job to go was that of accuser/prosecuting attorney. The loss of this job resulted in Satan being cast to earth because there was no longer a job for him “in Heaven.” No longer did Satan’s job(s) require him to be in the presence of God. Before whom else would Satan have accused and prosecuted the brothers? God is the ultimate Judge. Satan needed to be in His presence to present the prosecution’s case against the brothers. There is no sin in this task, but it is certainly a task God and “the brothers” were happy to see ended. Yet, Satan has other jobs: tempter, executioner, and raiser of world empires. There has never been a time in human history in which Satan’s jobs as tempter and executioner were put on hold. The end of those two jobs will eventually occur, according to Revelation, when Death and Hades are cast into the Lake of Fire. There was a time, however, in which Satan’s 2nd job--as the raiser of world empires--was temporarily withdrawn.

John predicted the temporary elimination of Satan’s 2nd job in Revelation 20:1-3:

“And I saw an angel descending from Heaven, holding in his hand the key to the Abyss and a gigantic chain. He overpowered the Dragon—the ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan—and bound him for 1000 years. He hurled him into the Abyss, which he closed and sealed above him, so that HE MIGHT NO LONGER LEAD THE NATIONS ASTRAY until the 1000 years are ended. After that, he must be released for a little while.”

We know that the point of Satan’s being bound for 1000 years is to see that the NATIONS are no longer led astray, because John repeats the rationale in 20:7 & 8:

“When the 1000 years have ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out TO LEAD ASTRAY THE NATIONS in the four corners of the Earth—Gog and Magog—to muster them FOR BATTLE.”

Going along with John’s concept of an end to the world empires who affect God’s people is the concept that each NATION/world-empire has its own guardian angel who rises, then falls. This teaching is strong in Rabbinic literature. I will discuss the Rabbinic sources of this teaching in future commentaries. There is insufficient room in this commentary to address them.

I mentioned in my commentary “Angels and Demons #4” the great world empires that had affected the Jewish nation:

The BABYLONIAN Empire 627-539 B.C. (King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon carried the Jews away into captivity in 567 B.C. The prophet Daniel and his friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—were among the young men who were captured. Daniel predicted the eventual Fall of Babylon to the Persian King Cyrus.)

The MEDO-PERSIAN Empire 539-323 B.C. (Jewish princess Esther becomes the Queen of Persia from 492 to 460 B.C. Around 400 B.C., under the rule of Persia, the last two books of the Bible were written—Ezra and Nehemiah—as these two men reestablished the Jewish religion in Jerusalem.)

The GREEK Empire 323-146 B.C. (In a period entirely between the Old and New Testaments, the Greek religious influence was strong. This is called the Hellenistic period. During this time, the Maccabees mounted a successful Jewish revolt against Greece and Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes defiled the Jerusalem Temple with Greek religious practices and forbade the practice of the Jewish religion.)

The ROMAN Empire (146) B.C.-476 A.D. (While the Romans conquered Greece in 146 B.C., they really did not become an “Empire” until their first “Emperor” Augustus Caesar in 27 B.C. Augustus was the Emperor during whose reign Jesus was born. Christians will certainly remember the decree that went forth from Augustus Caesar. Augustus was most likely the First Head of the seven-headed Beast of Revelation.)

John seems to be predicting that (with the Fall of the Roman Empire) there would be a 1000 year period during which time there would be a relative absence of world empires affecting the people of God.

John is not alone in predicting this period of freedom from the domination of world empires. As Daniel had predicted the Fall of Babylon to Persia, he can be understood to be predicting the succeeding empires and their falls. The conclusion of Daniel’s prophecies is invariably a period dominated by God and his servants. Daniel 7:13-18 speaks of “One coming with the clouds . . . like a son of man” to whom was given” a universal “kingdom for ever and ever.” Isaiah 11 describes this period of peace in such terminology as lambs lying down with lions, leopards, wolves, cattle, bears, and oxen. Isaiah 2:2-5 describes the period:

“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all NATIONS shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the NATIONS, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; NATION shall not lift up sword against NATION, neither shall they learn war anymore” (NIV).

The prediction from Isaiah “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation” may well be what John had in mind when he wrote of Satan “no longer lead[ing] the nations astray.” I see in John’s interpretation of the messianic reign, as presented by Isaiah and Daniel, the following elements:

• The temporary period will last 1000 years.
• It will be a time of relative peace in the sense that major “national” conflicts will not occur (nation will not rise against nation).
• A universal kingdom shall be led by a “son of man,” a representative of the Lord.
• Instead of studying war, many people will study the ways of the God of Jacob.

You can imagine how I was impressed, then, when my professor of Greek Lyric Poetry at Indiana University, Willis Barnstone, made a comment in class, nearly 40 years ago, to the effect that for a thousand years, secular Greek and Roman literature was systematically destroyed and that Christian literature was the only thing that was preserved. If one desired to study anything, the only thing available to him/her was Christian literature. Barnstone was referring to the Dark Ages—the period from the Fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. His comments were in line with a quotation attributed to him on Wikiquote concerning Sappho, a Greek poet from the sixth and seventh centuries BC. The Barnestone/Wikiquote calls her a “prolific and much acclaimed writer, she is credited with either seven or nine long books of poetry, but over a thousand years of neglect and hostility destroyed most of her work” ( Barnstone appeared to me to be unhappy that Christians had destroyed so much of Greco-Roman civilization during this thousand years. Yet, it occurred to me that Barnstone had just identified a 1000 year period in which there was a time of relative peace-in the sense that major “national” conflicts did not occur—and during which many people studied the ways of the God of Jacob. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam were all Abrahamic religions that flourished during this period and became the three largest religions in the world.

One could actually say that the Satanic job of raising world empires was temporarily eliminated for a thousand years. Nevertheless, with the Renaissance came a rebirth in interest in Greco-Roman culture. With the Renaissance came a rebirth in NATIONALISTIC spirit, and as John predicted, THE NATIONS in the four corners of the Earth have once again mustered FOR BATTLE.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Angels & Demons 18: God Commanded Angels to Worship Jesus, but Not Adam

In my two previous commentaries, I considered the pseudepigraphal Book of Adam and Eve, in which angels were expected to worship Adam, because he was the “image of God.” Satan and his angels supposedly “sinned” because they refused to worship Adam, thus rebelling against the will of God. There was never, however, any “law” or “command” given to angels that they must worship Adam. The New Testament is consistent with the writings of the Jewish rabbis in the period following the New Testament, in this regard. Although Satan is certainly considered the adversary of mankind in the New Testament, nowhere is he presented as the adversary of God. I Peter 5:8 warns the readers: “Be on guard! Your adversary, the Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Nevertheless, I Peter calls him YOUR adversary, not the adversary of God. Revelation 12:10 calls him the “accuser” of the “brothers,” but does not paint him as a challenger to God. Instead, he seems to be doing exactly what God allows him to do: He “accuses them before our God, day and night.”

That is, until God has a justification for ending the accusing and casting “Satan out of his presence. Jesus’ blood secured forgiveness for those whom Satan was accusing: “And they overcame him by reason of the blood of the Lamb and through the word of their testimony, and they loved not their life unto death.” Unlike Adam, who disbelieved God’s warning, rebelled against God, and thus lost his life, Jesus and his followers (the martyrs) believed God, voluntarily gave up their lives, and defeated Satan, their accuser. Adam, although he was made in the “image of God,” never fulfilled the role. It remained for one of Adam’s offspring or “seed” (Genesis 3:15) to perfect the role of the true “image of God.”

Here is what the Jewish rabbis had to say about Adam-worship. Kohelet Rabbah 6.10 offers a parable of a king and a governor who were riding together. The people wanted to address the king with respect, but did not know which of the two men was king. The king therefore pushed the governor out of the chariot. Therefore, the people knew they should pay respect to him, rather than to the governor. Kohelet Rabbah was offering this as a parable pertaining to the question of whether angels should worship God or God’s image (Adam): “At the time when the Holy One—Blessed be He—created the first man, the ministering angels were mistaken in him and they wanted to pronounce before him, ‘Holy!’ What did the Holy One—Blessed be He—do? He caused a sleep to fall upon him. And [the angels] recognized that he was man. And [God] said to [Adam], ‘For dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return’” (Genesis 3:19). This story also occurs in Bereshit Rabbah 8:10, where it is attributed to Rabbi Hoshaya. Bernard Bamberger, in Fallen Angels, page 94, says that this account “seems to be directed against this [Adam-worshipping] . . . legend.” Bamberger states: “This tale rules out the notion that the angels had to worship Adam.”

Of course, one will not find anywhere in the writings of the Jewish rabbis a suggestion that God commanded angels to worship Jesus! Jewish rabbis did not believe Jesus was the Christ. But, even Moslems (who DO believe that Jesus was the Christ) are unwilling to make him the object of worship. Both Jews and Moslems reject the doctrine of Trinity. My Jewish major professor of Hebrew at Indiana University, Henry Fischel, pointed out to me that NOWHERE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT DOES THE WORD “TRINITY” OCCUR. What both Jews and Moslems may find interesting, however, is that the Book of Revelation does NOT RELY ON ANY DOCTRINE OF TRINITY to make Jesus worthy of worship. Revelation chapter 4 describes the scene in Heaven in which all the universe (including angels) worshipped the ONE Lord God Almighty, pronouncing the very word Kohelet Rabbah and Bereshit Rabbah employ in worship: “Holy!” Then, in chapter 5 of Revelation, the Lamb is also deemed worthy of worship (but not by using the word “Holy!”). This is a stunning development. Now, in a sense similar to the (incorrect) pseudepigraphal Book of Adam and Eve, someone besides God is declared worthy of worship by the angels. But, the Lamb is not presented there as a divine being. He is seated “at the right hand” of the One seated on the throne (5:1). He is presented as the “conquerer” (5:5). His conquest is associated with the shedding of his “blood” (5:9). Like God, he is “worthy” to receive praise (5:13). But, throughout the book of Revelation, although the word “almighty” is used several times to refer to the One God, it is never applied to Jesus. I comment, on page 120 of my book Revelation: The Human Drama:

Jesus is “known as ‘the first and the last, the beginning and the end,’ in 3:14; he is called ‘the [beginning] of the creation of God.’ (Similarly, 1:5 calls him the ‘first-born . . . from the dead.’) In 22:13, John provides another formula describing Jesus as [beginning and end]: ‘I am the alpha and the omega.’ Jesus, as ‘the Lamb who was slain’ (5:6,12) would serve as the archetype for John's concept of human . . . perfection. . . . Jesus as the . . . ‘Lamb who was slain’ can stand . . . for all perfect conquerors (martyrs). Hence, . . . he represents the proper response to Rome for every Christian. Jesus is never referred to as pantokratôr (the Almighty) or as the one ‘who was and who is and who is coming.’ However, John connects the phrase ‘ [the first and the last]’ with Jesus in language about his being ‘dead’ and now being ‘alive’ (a similar notion) in 1:17-18 and 2:8.

. . . Not unexpectedly, ‘God’ is also linked with such perfectionist language. In 21:6, apparently God is the self-designated ‘alpha and the omega, the [beginning] and the [end].’ And in 1:8, the phrase just quoted is applied to God along with another equal phrase: ‘who was and who is and who is coming,’ plus ‘the Almighty.’ Likewise, 1:4 identifies God as the one ‘who was and who is and who is coming.’ 4:8 and 11:17 repeat this identification of God and include [almighty.] Other verses which identify God as [almighty] include 15.3, 16:7,14, 19:6,15, and 21:22.”

While these parallels indicate a close resemblance between God and Jesus, so does the terminology “the image of God” as it is applied to Adam. If John were trying to advance a picture of the Trinity, it seems strange that he does not include an extra chapter dedicated to worshipping the Holy Spirit. There are only TWO in Revelation who are worthy of worship--not three. I am reminded of the fact that Revelation does not promote the doctrine of Trinity every time I sing the song “Holy! Holy! Holy!” The lyrics of the song surely come from Revelation 4 and 5, and yet they offer the conclusion: “God in three persons, Blessed Trinity.” This is not found in Revelation.

Any Jew or Moslem who objects to the Doctrine of Trinity need not be offended by the approach of the Book of Revelation. Certainly, Jesus is worshipped by angels (and all other creatures), as is God. But the logic of why Jesus is so worshipped seems not to be related to a doctrine of Jesus’ divinity. It seems closer to the view that the “image of God” should be worshipped. Adam did not fully fit the bill for deserving worship, because Adam sinned and brought death upon mankind. Jesus—Adam’s seed—more clearly fits the bill, because he did not sin and yet shed his blood to nullify the role of Satan in heaven. Satan was cast out because his job as accuser had been outmoded. Jesus' blood defeated the Satan/accuser.