Saturday, September 4, 2010

Angels & Demons 21: One Final (Sinless) Fallen Angel Story

In my two previous commentaries, I discussed the fall of angels who were involved in the rise and fall of world empires. According to Revelation, Satan (a.k.a., the Dragon) is the one who raises the world empires. After his Fall from Heaven, he fought (and lost) a few earthly battles, culminating with the Fall of the Roman Empire. Then, he was chained for 1000 years and thrown into the Abyss. During this time (The Dark Ages?), he was not permitted to raise up world empires. According to Rabbinic sources, (the angels of) the empires who ASCENDED (Jacob’s Ladder) and were in power also DESCENDED or FELL from power as, for example, Rome fell. This perspective on angels may, therefore, be considered a Fallen Angel Story. The primary source for this Fallen Angel Story appears to be Rabbi Meir, a third generation Tanna (from the first or second century AD), who served as Hakam (speaker) of the academy of Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel II. The details of the number of rungs ascended by each guardian angel is probably not traceable to Meir, according to Hermann Strack, so I will not follow that tangent.

What is clear, however, is that the Fallen Angels of this account were SINLESS, just as were virtually all other fallen angels of the New Testament period. The question of sin does not even enter the account of the descending princes/guardian angels. The vision is to be interpreted as a prophetic account of world history. The descent of the princes is not understood to be related to any moral impropriety on the part of the angels. Even if the nations which the various guardian angels represented did themselves (the nations) behave immorally, their princes were not considered sinful by association. Otherwise, Israel’s own prince would have been indicted often.
On the contrary, Midrash Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah 2.1, in an account attributed to Rabbi Eleazar the Modiite (2nd generation Tanna), the guardian angels are very much part of the divine economy (though playing a near-satanic role), and are accusing and defending men, not cognizant of any need to defend themselves. A translation of that text follows:

“The time will come regarding the princes of the nations of the world, in the future to come, that they will enter to accuse Israel before the Holy One—blessed be He. And they say, ‘Lord of the World, these (the heathen) certainly worshipped idols and these (the Israelites) certainly worshipped idols; these (the heathen) uncovered nudities and these (the Israelites) uncovered nudities; these (the heathen) shed blood and these (the Israelites) shed blood. For what reason do these (the heathen) go to hell (Gehinnom), but these (the Israelites) do not go down?’”

These national guardian angels are often hostile to Israel, a trait that makes them similar to the angels of Truth and Peace in the final Fallen Angel Story of this period, which I shall now recite. Bereshit Rabbah 8.5 provides an account of an angel who was cast to earth because his conclusion regarding the wisdom of creating man conflicted with God’s. The account of groups of angels being “consumed” because of their opposition to the creation of man can be found in other locations (see Ginsberg, Legends of the Jews, V, 69). Here, however, the Angel of Truth temporarily became a “fallen angel” because of his opposition to the creation of man. The biblical text that serves as the basis for the Bereshit Rabbah 8.5 account is Psalm 85:11-12a:

“Mercy and Truth met each other; Righteousness and Peace kissed each other. Truth will arise from the Earth.”

According to H. Freedman, however, the rabbinic account “interprets ‘met’ in the sense of ‘fought,’ and derives ‘NASHAḲU [kissed]’ from ‘NESHEḲ [arms]’, rendering: ‘have taken arms against each other.’” This combat between Mercy and Truth, and Righteousness and Peace, is then presented as an argument over the creation of man:

“Mercy says, ‘Let him be created; for he does merciful things.’ Truth says, ‘Let him not be created; for he is all lies.’ Righteousness says, ‘Let him be created; for he does righteous things.’ Peace says, ‘Do not let him be created; he is all quarrel.’ What did the Holy One—blessed be He—do? He took Truth and cast him down to the Earth. This is that which is written: ‘And it cast Truth down to the Earth’ (Daniel 8.12). The angels who attend before the Holy One—blessed be He—said, ‘Lord of the worlds, why are you spurning [the rank of] your worthy Truth? Let Truth rise up from the Earth.’ This is that which is written: ‘Truth will arise from the earth’ (Psalm 85.12a).”

The ambivalent character of mankind provides the material for this angelic debate. Obviously, each contestant in the matter could easily produce evidence to substantiate his claim. Mankind is, of course, merciful-yet-false, righteous-yet-quarrelsome. The Angel of Truth was not lying here; he was being truthful. He has not broken any of the biblical commandments. Neither is he presented as a “rebel” against God. He is not even arguing with God (even though his conclusion is in disagreement with God’s)—he is arguing (battling?) with other angels. His ultimate opponent, however, is neither God nor angels; he is opposed to “man.” He does not favor the creation of man.

The concept of angelic-human rivalry is not at all uncommon in our period. I have already mentioned (in previous commentaries) Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 88b-89a, Midrash Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah 8.11, Mdrash Tehillim 8.74, and Pesikta Rabbati ch. 25, p. 128a, which all have some concern with the angels’ opposition to mankind’s receiving the Law/Torah. In Midrash Agadat Bereshit (Buber edition, Introduction, p. 38), Yalkut (I, p. 44), and Chronicles of Jerahmeel (p. 53)— parallels of the BHM account, in which the young girl tricked the angels into giving her their wings—the angels’ motive for descending to earth was to prove their superiority to man (their rival). Additionally, the Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 38b speaks of hosts of angels who were “consumed” because of their opposition to the creation of Adam. Peter Schȁfer wrote an entire book on the rivalry between angels and humans, Rivalitȁt zwischen Engeln und Menschen, published by Gruyter, in 1975. I commented in my Angels & Demons 18 commentary that Satan also has a rivalry with man:

“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.’”

In addition to Revelation’s presentation of Satan’s Fall as linked to his enmity toward man, rabbinic literature presents the Fall of Satan (also known as Sammael) as the result of his enmity toward man. In Midrash Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, chapters 13-14, Sammael fell because of his conspiracy against Adam in which he misled Adam to sin. Jewish scholar Louis Ginzberg (in Legends of the Jews, V, 85) believes this “corresponds to Revelation 12:9,” as do I. The Koran also agrees, to a certain extent. In Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation of The Holy Qur-an (Volume I, pp. 24ff., there is an angelic debate concerning the advisability of creating man, Iblīs’s (the Devil’s) refusal to bow down to Adam, and Satan’s causing the couple to slip from the Garden.

Returning to the “Angel of Truth” story, however, I conclude that “opposition to man” was not necessarily considered a sin. It is evidently quite unsatisfactory to God, since the Angel of Truth was cast down to earth for his opinion. But, if this is a Fallen Angel Story, we find that in the resolution of the story, Truth “arises from the Earth.” Apparently, then, this angel—like the angels who gave up their wings to the young girl—was not guilty of any sins. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for him to return to God’s Throne.

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