Sunday, March 13, 2011

Angels & Demons 33: Revelation and Aggadah Concerning the Origin of Demons

Bernard Bamberger, in his book Fallen Angels, pages 22-23, summarizes the story of how demons originated, as that story is presented in the Ethiopic book of Enoch, a second century B.C. work:

“One passage states that the giants [who were the offspring of the fallen angels and the daughters of men] became evil spirits; another, that the fallen angels became evil spirits, leading men astray to sacrifice to demons, while the women they married became sirens. But the usual view is that when the giants were slaughtered, in accordance with the punishment decreed for them, the evil spirits emerged from their bodies. In any event, the demons, once they made their appearance, remain at large until the final judgment.”

John, the author of Revelation uses this “usual view” of the origin of demons as a literary allusion, to describe the connection between the Roman Emperor Nero (the last of the Caesarean family) and the three primary Roman emperors who followed him (from the Flavian Dynasty): Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. Revelation 16:12-13 states:

“And the sixth angel poured out his bowl onto the great river Euphrates. And its water was dried up so that the way of the kings from the land of the rising sun might be prepared. And I saw out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits coming out as frogs. And they are spirits of demons doing signs, which go forth to the kings of the land—even of the whole inhabitable world to gather them together to the war of the great day of God Almighty.”

For a thorough analysis of the identities of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, I refer the reader to my book, Revelation: The Human Drama. Nevertheless, in the interest of brevity, I will summarize:

• All scholars agree that the Dragon is Satan.
• The vast majority of scholars agree that the Beast is Nero.
• Ford and others agree that the false prophet is the Jewish High Priestly Family in Jerusalem.

In my book (pages 41-42, and others), I discuss why the Roman Emperor Vespasian and his two sons who followed him as emperors (Titus and Domitian) are the clear referents to John’s literary allusion concerning the origin of demons. With G. B. Caird, I agree that Vespasian, Nero’s general whom he sent to wage war on Jerusalem in 66 A.D. is the easiest and clearest understanding of the Beast (Nero) who received a death blow and then came back to life. Nero committed suicide in 68 A.D., but in 69 A.D. his Jerusalem general Vespasian became Emperor. Vespasian then promptly sent his son Titus as general to Jerusalem to finish the devastating war on the Jews. Titus became Emperor after Vespasian, and then his brother Domitian became Emperor after Titus. It was as if the Beast died, but these three “demons” came out of his mouth (and the mouth of Satan and the mouth of the anti-Christian Jewish High Priest). John is able to tie a very negative connotation to Satan, Nero, the Jewish High Priesthood, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian by the very force of a demonic literary allusion.

While the story of the origin of demons in the Ethiopic book of Enoch is certainly Aggadah (Jewish folklore), John is not using the Aggadah as Homiletic Aggadah, as did I Peter, II Peter, and Jude (See Angels & Demons 10). John is not preaching a sermon as Peter and Jude were doing. Neither does the fact that John is alluding to this Aggadah suggest that John believed the Aggadah to be a true account of the origin of demons. As I pointed out in my previous commentary, Revelation 9:20 appears to agree with Paul—that demons (like idols) are nothing. John writes of unrepentant men who worshiped the “works of their hands”—“demons and golden idols, and silver, and bronze, and wooden, which are not able to see, nor hear, nor walk.” If demons are the works of men’s hands--neither able to see, hear, nor walk—demons do not exist as super-human forces that can take over the bodies of humans.

John is also illustrating the fact that one needs not believe in the historical truth of the stories from the various books of Enoch in order to use them for literary purposes. Likewise, Peter and Jude could use Fallen Angel stories from the various books of Enoch as sermon illustrations without believing them to be true historical accounts.

With this commentary, I conclude my series of commentaries on Angels and Demons. Perhaps, owing to my own scholarship in the field of Communication, I have a perspective on the nature of angels and demons that not many other scholars have. I can see that it is sometimes necessary to “personalize” our communication. We give “names” to our books, speeches, and literary documents and endow them with powers that make them seem to stand alone as separate from those who wrote the documents or spoke the words. Hence, the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence exercise authority over us as if they were actual people—even super-human people. The false teachings that are broadcast over our airwaves may have even demon-like power to possess the minds and behaviors of those who listen to and believe these falsehoods. Let listeners and readers beware! Angels and demons (in the form of godly and false communications) are floating in the air all around you. Be careful about those communications that possess you!

In my next series of commentaries, I will be exploring the “hidden” messages in the films of the Walt Disney Corporation. You may even find some angels and some demons lurking in the messages of those films!

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