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.

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