Angels? Angels.

Kosior, Wojciech 2013. The Angel in the Hebrew Bible from the Statistic and Hermeneutic Perspectives. Some Remarks on the Interpolation Theory. The Polish Journal of Biblical Research 12(1): 55-70.

After getting acquainted with these treatises one is left with an impression that the biblical text conveys a complex and fairly developed angelology. The HB [Hebrew Bible] however is a compilation of narrations originating from the span of over one millenium and as such cannot be expected to convey coherent and systematic teachings on any given subject. It is one of the tasks of systematic theology, be it Christian or Jewish, to recover or - more appropriately - to impose certain categories on the extremely diversified textual material. In other words, the "angel" is a category constructed by means of additional data coming from the sources other than the HB. This is particularly apparent in various thematic concordances which under the entry "angel" include totally different terms: "seraphs", "cherubs", "ghosts", "sons of God", etc. (Kosior 2013: 56)
Blasphemy! All of god's self-contradictory word is true!
The initial purpose of the present paper is therefore to reach the basic semantic complex of mal'akh with the help of the linguistic statistics method. The analysis shall cover the noun itself in its various forms and juxtapositions as well as the verbs related to mal'akh. Thus it will be possible to challenge the popular representation of angel with the linguistic data extracted from the HB or, in other words: to confront "the angel of theologians" with "the angel of linguists". (Kosior 2013: 57)
I like that the angel of linguists appears not only in the use of a single word but in the grammatical context of that word.
Since the biblical times and with the development of the literary basis the idea of angel gradually acquires new meanings. It is thus possible to show the continuity between the Hebrew term mal'akh and the word "angel". The latter comes from angelus which itself is Latinized form of the Greek angelos used by default to render the Hebrew mal'akh in the LXX. In other words there is a semantic line connecting all these terms. In the Vg however this line becomes bifurcated: when mal'akh or angelos is supposed to denote a human messenger, words like nuntius or legatus are applied. If the word refers to some supernatural being - the word angelus appears. Such differentiation has been taken over by later vernacular translations of the Bible, early Christians and Jewish exegetes and eventually modern scholars. Hence strictly speaking, the semantic ranges of "angel" and mal'akh do not overlap although the former originates from the latter. This subtle difference has far reaching consequences in the sphere of theology and is rarely acknowledged in a satisfactory manner within the literature of the subject. (Kosior 2013: 57-58)
I like the metalanguage here, and might consider approaching the semantic differentiation between phatic communion and phatic function in much the same terms.
Metaphorization plays a crucial role in the religious language. It allows to grasp extraordinary phenomena (the essence or the target domain of metaphor) by means of categories supplied by everyday mundane experience (the tool or the source domain of metaphor). In this particular case of the term mal'akh its target domain is the legation - challenging and dangerous function demanding well developed diplomatic skills. A commissionaire however, no matter how eloquent and wordy, partly disappears behind the message he conveys and in the shade of his sender. In other words, by acting on behalf of his overseer he becomes his semantic "extension", being at least partly deprived of his distinctiveness. As such, the messenger-metaphor fits well within the broader context of portraying the biblical deities as human. There are three core-metaphors which constitute and organize the network of divine descriptions: (1) god is like a patriarch, (2) god is like a creator and (3) god is like a king. The last one seems to be the most influential in the biblical context and paints the image of the deity as a typical Near Eastern tyrant. By his nature then he owns his own court (sod), his hosts (tzeva'ot) and his messengers (mal'akhim). All these institutions however need to be treated as metaphors, in line with the methodological challenge of the theological "as above - so below" with the linguistic "as below - so above". (Kosior 2013: 59)
Interesting stuff. Legation is "a diplomatic minister, especially one below the rank of ambassador, and their staff." (st saadik)
The etymology of angelos is at best unclear. It is usually derived from the Persian angaros - "horseman" or from Sanskrit angiros - "mediator". [...] The motives for choosing this particular term to denote the Hebrew mal'akh are of course subject to speculation. (Kosior 2013: 57; fn. 7)
Well, horsemen are sometimes messengers.
Now, if to agree that the worldly institution of messenger serves as the source domain of this metaphor, then the question arises, what is its target domain. The answer seems to remain concealed in the so called "angel of the Lord": a figure perceived by generations of exegetes and interpreters as theologically troublesome due to its obscure and perplexing identity. Almost every appearance of mal'akh Yahveh in the HB complies to the following pattern: (1) the narration introduces the angel of the Lord who (2) behaves as if he was a deity e.g. promising bewildering fertility (e.g. Genesis 21:18), wiping out the whole army with a single blow (e.g. 2 Kings 19:32-36) or merely delivering a speech where he presents himself as Yahveh or Elohim (e.g. Exodus 3:2-4). (3) The interlocutors of this character on the other hand address and revere him in a way reserved exclusively to deity. As such, the incident leaves the reader with the question whether it was an anger or god himself who had just appeared. (Kosior 2013: 59-60)
Before there was a single god there were many.

Evans, Annette Henrietta Margaretha 2007. The Development of Jewish Ideas of Angels: Egyptian and Hellenistic Connections ca. 600 BCE to ca. 200 CE. Dissertation Presented for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Ancient Egyptian myth and ritual associated with solar worship, together with Divine Council imagery, provides a pattern of mediation between heaven and earth via two crucial religious concepts which underly Jewish beliefs about the functioning of angels: 1) the concept of a supreme God as the king of the Gods as reflected in Divine Council imagery, and 2) the unique Egyptian institution of the king as the divine son of god (also related to the supremacy of the sun god). The blending of these two concepts can be seen in Ezekiel 1 and 10, where the throne of God is the source of angelic mediation between heaven and earth. (Evans 2007: ii)
More on the context of god as king and angels as messengers of the king.
For instance, in 586 BCE Jerusalem was finally defeated and the Temple destroyed by the Babylonians. This was a cataclysmic event, because in the ancient Near East temples functioned as bridges between the heavens and the earth, with the priests functioning as “living conduits between divine and human beings” (Deutsch 1999:28). The consequent exile and physical separation from the Temple, which had been the centre of Israelite life, must have resulted in “cognitive dissonance” (Carroll 1979:111). Carroll suggests that in view of the problem of theodicy an adaptation in the Jewish concept of access to the presence of God would have been imperative, and this may have contributed to the reconceptualization of the temple at Jerusalem as the heavenly Temple or Throne of God. (Evans 2007: 2)
Upon first reading I thought that since the temple was destroyed Jews looked toward more mundane ways of communion with god, e.g. through "angelic visitations". But this merely explains the duality of Jerusalem (a theme familiar from "the text of St. Petersburg" by J. Lotman).
Many authors have ascribed the development of apocalypticism and merkabah mysticism to the necessity for a reorientation of the Jewish concept of monotheism. Even though the Hebrew Bible frequently denies the reality of other gods, it sometimes also acknowledges their existence, albeit in subordination to the one Living God (Fletcher-Louis 1997:3). The prominence of the issue of monotheism in Judaism goes hand in hand with a variety of concepts of angelic mediation. (Evans 2007: 3)
This curiously parallels the situation in semiotics, where language is given primacy over other (nonverbal) sign systems, while at the same time affirming the others' importance.
The study of beliefs about angels has on the whole been neglected (Sullivan 2004:1). The only recent examination of the development of Jewish belief in angels before the rabbinic era is by Mach (1992). In his work he noted the way the LXX, and other authors of that time, tended to guard against polytheism by translating elohim as angels. (Evans 2007: 3)
This remained murky in the previous paper. Wikipedia attests that Elohim is a few examples refers to other singular pagan deities, e.g. "the children of El" (the children of God).
To the Greek translator the terms “Elohim” and “El” were interchangeable, both
meaning “God”. Elohim is surrounded by a council of gods who appear to be his servants and messengers. (Evans 2007: 15)
God is a kind of gods.
Mark Smith (2001b:143) suggests that El may have been the original God of early Israel, as witnessed by the name Israel. In this context the role of God as judge corresponds to the role of the Ugaritic El. (Evans 2007: 18)
Haha, isra El.
The earliest biblical descriptions of Yahweh reveal that he was originally conceived of as a warrior/creator god with his divine host, like the Phoenician description of El: “El, who creates the (heavenly) armies”. (Evans 2007: 19)
Is this the same guy that instructed Jews to exterminate whole people groups?
According to Morgenstern (1939:60) the prevailing concept of YHWH in the pre-exilic period was that He dwelt in heaven, but regularly descended from there upon the New Year’s Day, and surrounded by the bene elohim entered the Temple and pronounced judgement. This was closely associated with the coming of the first rays of the rising sun upon the morning of the day of the fall equinox, i.e. the New Year’s Day, shining through the eastern gate of the Temple, which was kept closed during all the remainder of the year, (except for the other equinoctial day of the year). The Temple at Jerusalem was oriented so precisely that only upon these two days the first rays of the rising sun would shine through the open eastern gate and straight down the long axis of the Temple into the debir where its contents would be bathed in light. This phenomenon has been documented for the Egyptian pyramids by Wilkinson (2000:16-17). (Evans 2007: 23)
Huh. I guess I knew this about the pyramids, but not about the Jewish temple.


Post a Comment