Monday, October 25, 2010

Angels & Demons 26: The Angel of Truth (and the Spirit of Truth)

There is no “Angel of Truth” mentioned in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, neither “truth” in Psalm 85 nor “truth” in Daniel 8 is called an angel. Rabbi Simon, however, possibly interpreted Daniel 8:12 and Psalm 85:10-13 as referring to a Fallen Angel Story, featuring the Angel of Truth. When Psalm 85:11 reports “Truth springs forth from the earth,” Rabbi Simon assumes that (the Angel of) Truth had previously been cast to the earth. In Daniel 8:12, he finds corroboration of his assumption. Daniel had seen a vision of a he-goat (interpreted as the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great) who grew great and powerful. This he-goat had one prominent horn (Alexander) that eventually broke off (indicating Alexander’s death) and was replaced with four horns (the four divisions of the Greek Empire after Alexander-- the one of Seleucus (Asia), Ptolemy (Egypt), Lysimachus (Thrace), and Cassander (Macedonia, including Greece). From one of these four horns (Seleucus), a small horn (Antiochus IV Epiphanes) emerged, that attacked Jerusalem, abolished the daily sacrifice and profaned the temple. It is this small horn (not God) who, as Daniel reports in 8:12, “cast truth to the earth.” This is clearly not a Fallen Angel Story in the Old Testament; it is socio-political commentary. However, it may well be a Fallen Angel Story in Rabbi Simon’s interpretation.

One indication that Rabbi Simon's story is a Fallen Angel Story is the severity of the punishment of other angels who opposed man’s creation. The account of groups of angels being “burnt” because of their opposition to the creation of man can be found in Sanhedrin 38b. By comparison, having Truth “cast to the Earth” (or thrown out of Heaven) would be closer to the severity of the punishment of the other angels who opposed man’s creation. The exception to this severe punishment, however, is the other angel in this story who opposed man’s creation on the basis of his quarrelsome nature—the Angel of Peace. He apparently receives no punishment at all.

The idea of “casting” an angel down is immediately reminiscent of the fallen angel theme. The exact term for “casting down” (SHALAK) used by the rabbi in the account (as borrowed from Daniel 8:12) is employed in the Fallen Angel Stories in the Hebrew “version” of I Enoch (Kahana I.29-91). In 10.4, regarding the punishment of Azazel, the angel Raphael is instructed to “CAST him DOWN to darkness, and make an opening to the desert which is in Dudael, and CAST him DOWN thither.” In verse 6, we continue: “On the day of the great judgment, he will be CAST DOWN to the midst of the fire. Chapter 21 relates Enoch’s journey to a place of chaos where he saw the fallen angels (stars) in bonds. Enoch asks in verse 4: “And for what reason were they CAST DOWN here?” This chapter may be the basis for I Peter’s homiletic aggadah, if the Enoch-related Nestle-Aland textual suggestion on I Peter 3:19 is accepted. Chapter 88 (verses 1 and 3) of the Hebrew Enoch also relates the casting of the fallen angels (stars) into the abyss. As verse 3 puts it, “He caused them to be CAST DOWN to the abyss of the Earth.”

In trying to accumulate evidence regarding the usage of the form ERTZAH (to the earth/ground), as it relates to Fallen Angel Stories, we face two major complications. First, in all likelihood, the form as used in Daniel 8:12 denoted a casting “to the ground.” To illustrate, I cite the “Hebrew text” of Apocalypsis Mosis (Kahana I.1-18) chapter 27, verse 5: “And the angels fell TO THE GROUND and prostrated themselves to the Lord.” This refers to the worship of God by his angels, and therefore, demands the translation “to the ground.”

While I think it is clear that the original meaning of the Daniel 8:12 passage is “to the ground,” the purpose of the Jewish practice of “midrash” is often to give a new twist to the meaning of a given text. In the Rabbinic midrash, Rabbi Simon chooses a different term to express where his “Angel of Truth” was cast. The term LA-ARETZ (to the earth) can more easily accommodate a fallen angel interpretation.

The second complication in this “to the earth/to the ground” discussion is that the two accounts of fallen angels that seem to parallel most closely the terminology in this midrash are not available in the Hebrew text. The (Latin) Books of Adam and Eve 12.1 and 16.1 relate that the devil (and the devil and his angels) were respectively “cast out in the earth” and “hurled on the earth.” Unfortunately, this is a Latin text for which we lack any Hebrew parallel/original. This passage in the Books of Adam and Eve also lacks any close parallels in the Apocalypsis Mosis. The other account which seems to parallel the terminology of the Angel of Truth midrash is the fall of the devil and his angels in Revelation 12:9b: “He was cast TO THE EARTH and his angels were cast out with him.” In both the Angel of Truth midrash and the Fall of the Devil in Revelation, we have angels who were cast TO THE EARTH. Nevertheless, there is no Hebrew text of the Revelation passage with which to compare the Angel of Truth story.

There is no “Angel of Truth” mentioned in the Old Testament, nor is there an Angel of Truth in the New Testament. There is, however, a Spirit of Truth in the New Testament—in John 16:13--also known as the Comforter. We will consider the terminology “Spirit of Truth” in the next commentary.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Angels & Demons 25: Angels as the Personification of God’s Intrapersonal Communication

Four commentaries ago, I discussed my final Fallen Angel Story. Bereshit Rabbah 8.5 provides an account of the Angel of Truth, who was cast to earth because his conclusion regarding the wisdom of creating man conflicted with God’s. It appeared to some rabbis that the Angel of Truth temporarily became a “fallen angel” because of his opposition to the creation of man. The Bereshit Rabbah account is based on Psalm 85:11-12a. A combat between Mercy and Truth, and Righteousness and Peace is 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.’”

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.

Not all rabbis agree, by the way, that this is a Fallen Angel Story. The common interpretation understands Truth as having been cast to the “ground,” rather than to the “Earth.” The Hebrew word is translated either way. On the other hand, Ginzberg apparently took the passage to mean “Earth,” for he states (in I.53): “God cast the Angel of Truth down from heaven to earth . . . .” It is, nevertheless, likely that Rabbi Simon was as intent to give meaning to the difficult Daniel 8:12 and Psalm 85:12a passages in an ethics-centered homily (recall my discussion of “homiletic aggadah” in Angels & Demons 10: The Fallen Angels of Jude and 2nd Peter) as he was to create a “new” theology. The term translated “will arise” is generally used with reference to plants, which sprout or spring up or grow up from the earth (ground), according to major Hebrew dictionaries. The term translated “from the earth” offers no help in deciding the issue. It can be translated either “from the Earth” or “from the ground.”

In my next commentary, I shall offer an extended critique of the issue of whether the fall of the Angel of Truth was indeed a Fallen Angel Story. For now, I suggest that this story affords an excellent perspective to see how Jewish angelology depicts angels as the personification of God’s intrapersonal communication.

For those not familiar with the term “intrapersonal communication,” it is the equivalent of talking to (even arguing with) oneself. The Jewish psychologist Sigmund Freud believed that a constant conflict is occurring in the human psyche between a pleasure-principle Freud calls the Id and a morality principle Freud calls the Super-ego. A third force in the psyche—the Ego—mediates between the other two frequently opposing forces. This is bedrock “intrapersonal communication.” If “INTERpersonal communication” is communication between two persons, then “INTRApersonal communication” is communication within one individual person.

As I discuss on pages 75-76 of my book Disneology: Religious Rhetoric at Walt Disney World, humans may be said to be the image of God in the sense that they have free will, as God does. For a human, this free will stems from having the option to listen to his or her two inclinations: the good inclination and the evil inclination. These two inclinations are not far removed from Freud’s notions of the Id and the Super-ego. Humans (by exercising their Ego) are free to choose between and moderate alternatives. Similarly, God, as he decided to make man into His image, may be pictured as listening to the arguments of an (inner) Angel of Truth, an Angel of Mercy, an Angel of Righteousness, and an Angel of Peace. All of these angels had legitimate arguments, but despite the contrary arguments of Truth and Peace, God chose to create man.

Angels, of course, were unnecessary in order for God to have gone through His decision-making process. One might just as easily depict God as considering in His own mind the pros and cons of creating man. Yet, this concept of angels—as personifying the various considerations that may have occurred INTRAPERSONALLY in God’s own mind—allows humans to understand all sides of an issue God resolved using his own free will.

If we envision every “word” God utters as creating an angel, what is to prohibit us from envisioning every “thought” God thinks as being personified by an angel?