Digital “On Angels, Guys and Priests (Ben Sira, the Qumran Sabbath Songs and the Yom Kippur Avodah)” (A newly published write-up)


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I have just received my copy of the papers from a conference in Zürich in 2015 committed to worship and angels in ancient Judaism and early Christianity (Gottesdienst und Engel im antiken Judentum und frühen Christentum [eds. J. Frey & M. Jost; Mohr-Siebeck: Tübingen]). I was invited to speak to the conference on the back of my 2002 book All the Glory of Adam, in which I investigated the function of angels and human transformation in worship in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In All the Glory of Adam(chapters 8–11) I make these 3 claims about the so-referred to as Angelic Liturgy (or the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice—4Q400–407 11Q17):

  1. There is a genuine neighborhood in between angels and human worshippers in the Songs, such that significantly of the language that other people (esp. Carol Newsom the principal editor of the Songs) had taken to refer to non-human, angelic, beings, basically refers to exalted and transformed humans worshipping with the angels.
  2. The Songs presume two ideas that define the worldview and liturgical knowledge of the Qumran neighborhood ideas that had hitherto been ignored, or denied a location in the interpretation of the Songs. These are, firstly a liturgical worldview in which the temple and sacred space correspond to creation—as a microcosm to the macrocosm, and, secondly, an anthropology according to which human beings have been produced, in the original order of creation, to be God’s image and likeness divine in each becoming and function.
  3. The Songs offer for a type of liturgical ascent to heaven that climaxes in Song XIII with a vision of God’s glory, not above the throne of God, but in the human priesthood that to a degree now manifests the presence of the Glory of God of Ezek 1:26–28.

I was grateful for the chance to engage the texts as soon as extra in the light of other specialists’ interaction with, and criticisms of, my arguments. And it is encouraging to report that pretty a handful of other people have now adopted an strategy to the Sabbath Songs along the lines I advocate, even if not everybody is prepared to go as far as I do. Other folks have been important of my strategy. Most notably Philip Alexander has laid out a series of criticisms in his The Mystical Texts: Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and Associated Manuscripts (2006).

Everyone who reads Alexander’s Mystical Texts meticulously will see that, in portion, he is persuaded by my strategy. For instance, he is not quite far from my reading of Song XIII when he thinks that, on analogy with what we have in three Enoch 9–13 (and two Enoch 22:8–10), the human “mystic” is transformed at the climax of the liturgical cycle. Nevertheless, all round, Alexander is not persuaded by my strategy and other people have at times appealed to his criticisms of it.

In the bulk of the Zürich conference write-up I take every of Alexander’s criticisms and clarify why I reckon them to be invalid and reflective, alternatively, of erroneous assumptions that he and other people usually bring to such Jewish texts. In brief, I say,

resistance to the complete force of my revisionist, non-dualistic reading comes, I contend, from mistaken judgements about the nature of Biblical theology and emerging post-biblical Judaism especially what we assume Jews believed about the identity of God, of human beings, of the priesthood, and of the which means and goal of temple worship and liturgy.

Alexander thinks that, in essential methods, the Sabbath Songs are a departure from the shape of biblical theology, which has, for instance, he thinks, no genuine ascent to heaven. Rather, they anticipate the theology and spirituality of rabbinic-era mysticism (as represented by the Hekhalot texts). I agree that there are essential connections in between the Songs and later Hekhalot texts, on the other hand, I create the argument of All the Glory of Adam that the Sabbath Songs are deeply indebted to scriptural suggestions about what it is to be human and the nature of worship in God’s presence—in the heaven on earth of the temple-as-microcosm.

In addition to a point-by-point response to Alexander’s criticisms, one particular substantially new contribution I make in this write-up is a series of observations on the methods in which the Sabbath Songs anticipate the piety of the later Synogogue liturgy as that is reflected in the piyyutim for Yom Kippur. For the vision of the higher priesthood manifesting the glory of God of Ezek 1:26–28 in Song XIII there is a later parallel in the Mareh Kohen (or Emet Mah Nehadar), an acrostic poem from the Avodah service, that identifies the priest emerging from the sanctuary at Yom Kippur with the glory of God that Ezekiel saw by the river Chebar (Ezek 1:26–28). Right here are the very first six lines of that acrostic, with the language of Ezek 1:26–28 in the fourth line (line Dalet):

Aleph: As a tent (keʾohel) stretched out amongst the dwellers on higher, was the look of the [high] priest (marʾeh kohen).

Beth: As lightning (keberaqim) flashes from the radiance of the living creatures (hahayyot), was the look of the Priest (marʾeh kohen).

Gimel: As the greatness of the fringes on the 4 corners, was the look of the Priest.

Dalet: As the likeness of the bow in the midst of the clouds, was the look of the priest (kidmut haqqeshet betok ʿanan, marʾeh kohen).

He: As the splendour with which the Rock clothed these he had produced (tsur litsurim) was the look of the Priest.

Waw: As a rose planted in the midst of a delightful garden, was the look of the Priest.

A equivalent identification in between the higher priesthood and God’s glory is currently produced in Ben Sira 50 (v. 7), a text that nicely illustrates the type of cosmology and theological anthropology that the Sabbath Songs take for granted and which anticipates the liturgical theology of the Mareh Kohen.

Alexander was at the conference and gave his paper soon after my presentation. I am grateful for the lively interaction there was in between us.

I wonder, reading his Mystical Functions and other people’s responses to All the Glory no matter if in portion resistance is due to a misunderstanding of my arguments. Surely, I have been struck by how conveniently important readers have missed, and failed to interact with, my contention that these Dead Sea Scrolls should really be interpreted in the light of a unique, scriptural, theological anthropology and temple cosmology. I hope that setting out, and supplying fresh arguments for, the major lines of my argument in this write-up will advance discussion of this essential material.


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