Category Archives: Jewish Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha

Apocalyptic literature on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha blog (End 1.11)

The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha course blog has now been going for a while and includes a number of entries on apocalyptic literature:

Apocalypse of Abraham: Online Translations of the Apocalypse of Abraham, Apocalypse of Abraham Abstract, Summary of The Apocalypse of Abraham Seminar

Apocalypse of Elijah: Elijah Materials Online, Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah Abstract, Summary of Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah Seminar

Origins of an apocalyptic sect at Qumran: Teacher of Righteousness vs. Wicked Priest (End 1.6)

The difficulty in studying groups that lived two thousand or so years ago is that we often know very little about them, let alone knowing how they came to form in the first place. The discipline of “Christian origins” is a case in point regarding just how difficult it is to explain the origins of a movement. When it comes to the apocalyptic sect that left civilization to live out its life in the desert on the edge of the Dead Sea, we happen to get some hints as to the origins of this group at Qumran, which may or may not be a group of Essenes (see my earlier post on Josephus and the “sects” within Judaism).

The writing known as the Damascus Document (written around the early to mid first century BCE) begins precisely with a description, however loaded with metaphors, of the origins of a penitential group of Judeans, probably around the 190s BCE:

“[God] remembered the covenant of the very first, he saved a remnant for Israel and did not deliver them up to destruction. And at the moment of wrath, three hundred and ninety years after having delivered them up into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, he visited them and caused to sprout from Israel and from Aaron a shoot of the planting, in order to possess his land and to become fat with the good things of the soil . And they realised their sin and knew that they were guilty men; but they were like blind persons and like those who grope for the path over twenty years. And God appraised their deeds, because they sought him with a perfect heart and raised up for them a Teacher of Righteousness in order to direct them in the path of his heart” (Damascus Document = CD 1.4-11; italics mine).

This little passage tells us quite a bit, even though we need to be careful in how literally we approach this. It speaks of a particular group among the Judeans as the remnant and goes on to speak of a penitential movement that emerged as a “sprout” (with the years mentioned roughly lining up with the turn of the second century, around the 190s BCE). It speaks of a time when these men who recognized their “guilt” felt a lack of direction until a special leader emerged just decades later (20 years), the “Teacher of Righteousness”. So far so good: we have a penitential movement among the Judean population around the 190s BCE and a leader emerging perhaps around the 170s BCE.

We hear more of this “Teacher of Righteousness”, who was evidently a central figure of the past in the view of the group that lived at Qumran, from other biblical commentaries (pesharim) found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (on pesher as a form of interpretation, see this post). In the commentary on Habbakuk we gain further glimpses into some aspects of the origins of this splinter group, as well as the centrality of apocalyptic expectation in connection with these origins. The author of this commentary interprets a passage in Habakkuk as referring to the Teacher of Righteousness himself:

Its interpretation concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God has disclosed all the mysteries of the words of his servants, the prophets. For the vision has an appointed time, it will have an end and not fail [Hab. 2:3]. Its interpretation: the final age will be extended and go beyond all that the prophets say, because the mysteries of God are wonderful (1QpHab 7.1-8).

Here we see the centrality of the expectation of an apocalyptic end among these particular Judeans. The Teacher of Righteousness, it is thought, had special access to interpreting the mysteries of God concerning the prophets and the coming end. Through this teacher, the Qumranites believed, they alone had access to secrets about how to interpret scripture and about how and when the final intervention of God would come.

Added to this scenario is the “Wicked Priest”. It seems that disagreements between this priest, likely a Hasmonean (Maccabean) high-priest of the temple in Jerusalem (in the 150s BCE), and the Teacher, who was also a priest, led to a fall-out that inspired members of the penitential movement to leave “wicked” society altogether and to found the community at Qumran. The sort of tensions and conflicts that led to this foundation are evident when the author interprets a passage in Habakkuk in terms of the “Wicked Priest who pursued the Teacher of Righteousness to consume him with the ferocity of his anger in the place of his banishment, in festival time, during the rest of the day of Atonement” (11.4-7). The language of consume here suggests violence, perhaps even an attempt to kill the “Teacher”. The Qumran group emerged out of contentions among priests in the temple of Jerusalem.

The negativity toward the Wicked Priest and the leadership of the temple generally which made these Judeans feel a need to abandon society altogether is further confirmed in the comment that the priest “did not circumcise the foreskin of his heart and has walked on paths of drunkenness to slake his thirst; but the cup of God’s anger will engulf him, heaping up [shame upon him]” (11.11-14).

Here we have, then, a sectarian group who felt the end of the world and the end of the evil leadership of the temple was coming soon. They went out to the desert to prepare and await the “visitation” of God that is spelled out most clearly in the “two spirits” material in the Community Rule. Soon, they thought, the “dominion of Belial” (Worthless one = Satan) or the Prince of Darkness would end with the destruction or eternal torment of evil and those who aligned themselves with the way of the wicked (“the sons of darkness”), including the current “wicked” leadership of the Jerusalem temple. The destiny of the “sons of light”, namely the members of the Qumran sect, was much better: “eternal enjoyment with endless life” (1QS 4.7).

For more on the Qumran community’s apocalyptic worldview, including their notions of where evil came from, see the post: Enter the serpent: Adam, Eve, and the Devil (Satan 8). For more on the sects within Judaism, including the Essenes, see the post: Let’s talk about sects: Diversity in Second-Temple Judaism (NT 2.3). Jim Davila’s blog on Qumranica provides useful links and discussion of various issues relating to Qumran. For photographs of Qumran and other information, including a tour of the caves, see the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature.

All translations in this post are from Florentino García Martínez, trans., The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English (2d ed.; trans. Wilfred G.E. Watson; Leiden/Grand Rapids: E.J. Brill/Eerdmans Publishing, 1996).

Rebellious, fallen angels and the flood: 1 Enoch (Satan 4)

A very important part of Satan’s identity within Christianity is the notion that Satan is the chief angel among a group that rebelled against God and fell from their original position in the heavenly realm. We first have clear signs of this critical component in Satan’s story around 200 BCE in a Jewish writing in the Pseudepigrapha known as 1 Enoch (text and introductions online here). 1 Enoch is an apocalypse in terms of genre and is a composite work, divided into five books, with book one (chapters 1-36) being among the earliest (on which go to my earlier post here for further clarification).

What is most important here is that book one of 1 Enoch presents a midrash (interpretation) and considerable expansion of a few mysterious verses in Genesis (6:1-8): the account of the “sons of God” (angelic figures) mating with human women that immediately precedes the story of God sending the flood. “Enoch’s” visions explain the origins of evil and sin among humanity, and in this case suggest that ultimately evil came from the divine realm by way of fallen angels. Issues regarding the degree to which humans, on the one hand, or divine beings (angels), on the other, were responsible for the introduction and continuation of evil and sin among humanity would continue to occupy those who told and re-told the story of Satan in subsequent centuries. Some would configure things differently than book one of 1 Enoch does.

In the process of explaining the origins of evil, this author seems to blend together two separate traditions that existed before his time concerning a conspiracy among certain angels (perhaps drawing on a lost work called the “Book of Noah”, mentioned in the book of Jubilees ch. 10, for one of these traditions). The reason we can detect these traditions is that, in 1 Enoch, there are inconsistencies in who was the leader of the rebel angels (see further John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination). At times the author speaks of Semyaz (Semihazah) as the chief and at others of Azazel (Asa’el). Not only that, but the author seems to have preserved the different emphases of each tradition. The Semyaz material portrays the conspiracy against God as centred on the sexual act of union with humans and the Azazel tradition focusses on how the fallen angels subsequently reveal secrets of heaven to humanity, including skills that led to war and seduction, to the general chaos that brings the flood. For this author, the offspring of the mixing of divine and human are giants whose spirits after death are demons that continue to mislead humanity (15:8-12).

The result of this whole conspiracy is war and chaos on earth. God consults with his trusted angels, such as Michael and Raphael, to arrange punishment of both the humans and the fallen angels, referring to the end of days in the process:

“then spoke the Most High. . . ‘the earth and everything will be destroyed. And the deluge is about to come upon all the earth; and all that is in it will be destroyed.’ . . . And secondly the Lord said to Raphael, ‘Bind Azazel hand and foot and throw him into the darkness!’ And he (Raphael) made a hole in the desert. . . he threw on top of him (Azazel) rugged and sharp rocks. And he covered his face in order that he may not see light; and in order that he may be sent into the fire on the great day of judgment.” (1 Enoch 10:1-7; trans. by E. Isaac in James H. Charlesworth, ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1983-85], p. 17)

The imprisonment and end-time fate of this fallen angel here resembles the fate of “the ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan” in John’s Apocalypse (20:1-10), as we shall soon see. As in other apocalyptic writings, the flood of long ago becomes a precursor or foreshadow of God’s final intervention in the end times, the “great day of judgment”, when the angels who rebelled, along with the humans who sided with them by doing evil, will meet their end. The righteous ones, on the other hand, will go on to live in a new world cleansed “from all sin and from all iniquity” (see 10:17-22).

The name “Satan” itself does not appear here at all, but the fallen angels story was soon to be linked up with passages involving the angelic adversary (“satan”) in the Hebrew Bible, as we begin to see in the likes of Jubilees (chapters 10-11; c. 150-105 BCE). Still later (in the second and third centuries CE), this notion of fallen angels would also be linked up (by Christian authors) with a passage that originally referred to the Babylonian king as cosmic rebel in Isaiah 14, the “Day Star, Son of Dawn” who falls from heaven (where he imagines himself to belong). Part of the phrase just mentioned was translated into Latin by Jerome (in 410 CE) as “Lucifer”. Looking far ahead to the 1600s, it would be hard to imagine Milton’s Paradise Lost without the story of Satan or Lucifer as the chief rebel angel who fell from heaven’s height.

‘Tis the season . . . : Jewish and Roman holidays

I am presently researching questions of cultural interactions in antiquity, particularly with regard to the ways in which immigrants (including Jews) both found a place for themselves within the cities of the Roman empire and maintained their own specific ties with the culture of their homeland. So I thought I’d write a brief post appropriate to the holiday season while addressing issues of acculturation (adopting and adapting to cultural practices of others) and the simultaneous maintenance of cultural or ethnic identities. And I’ll use two Jewish families to illustrate. (This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive discussion of the Maccabean revolt, Hanukkah, and New Year’s, by the way).

On the one hand is the story of a Jewish family who refused to adapt to foreign deities and led a revolt which successfully “cleansed” and re-dedicated the temple in Jerusalem in the 160s BCE. I am speaking of the Maccabees who are at the centre of the story of the festival of Hanukkah, or Chanukah (“Dedication”; for a brief online article go here). The years following Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Mediterranean (he died in 323 BCE) were a time of complicated cultural interactions as peoples living in various parts of the known world gradually adjusted to and/or reacted against the Hellenistic (Greek) customs that made their way through governmental, trade, and other social networks. As you can imagine there was a variety of reactions to Hellenistic ways and religions on the ground. Some, such as the Syrian soldiers who identified their own god — in this case Syrian Ba’al Shamem (“Lord of Heaven”) — with a Greek deity (Zeus Olympios), more readily adopted Hellenistic modes of expression. At the same time these same Syrians were also clearly maintaining certain aspects of their own specific religious practices and worldviews (it was Ba’al they worshipped under the guise of Zeus, so to speak).

We know from the story of the Maccabees itself that Judeans (Jews) were not universally agreed on what aspects of Greek culture should or should not be tolerated, adopted, or adapted. Some Judeans were willing to establish a Hellenistic-style city (polis) and gymnasium in Jerusalem, for instance. What the Maccabees and most other Judeans agreed on, however, was that their tradition of monotheistic worship in the Jerusalem temple not be compromised by identifying their God with any god of the Greeks (a “syncretistic” custom that was common in most other places where polytheism prevaled). So when the Syrian soldiers stationed in Jerusalem established an altar in the Jerusalem temple in order to offer sacrifices to Ba’al, this was normal for the soldiers but the last straw for the Maccabees and others like them (see First, Second, Third and Fourth Maccabees in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, available online by clicking on the numbers above). The Maccabean revolt resulted in the cleansing and re-dedication of the temple which are, essentially, the institution of the Hanukkah celebration (according to 1 Maccabees):

“Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev. . . they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. . . Then Judas [Maccabee] and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days. . . ” (1 Maccabees 4:52-59 [NRSV]).

Jewish family grave from Hierapolis (IJO II 196)Grave of a Jewish family at Hierapolis (IJO II 196; photo by Phil)

On the other hand is a Jewish family settled in Hierapolis (a Greek city in Asia Minor) who apparently celebrated the Roman New Year’s festival (feast of Kalends), as well as customary Jewish festivals including Passover and Pentecost. Our evidence for this comes from a family grave dating to the third century CE, which happens to preserve for us the arrangements that a certain man made for himself and his family ( IJO II 196, revising CIJ 777). (I have a forthcoming article that deals at length with questions of acculturation and identity among Jews in Hierapolis which I will post, if possible, when it comes out. In the mean time, for more on Jews, Christians and guilds in Hierapolis and the Lycos valley, go here.)

It was customary for wealthier people in Asia Minor to make arrangements (leave money) for particular people or a group, such as a guild, to come to the family grave on a regular basis and to care for the grave itself. What stands out in this case is that Glykon and his wife, Amia, who were apparently Jews, arranged to have local guilds of purple-dyers and carpet-weavers (who likely included non-Jews in their membership) attend to the grave-ceremonies on both Jewish and Roman holidays. The Roman New Year festival, a precedessor of our New Year celebrations, took place in early January and, as Ovid emphasizes, centred on the exchange of “good wishes” and gifts, including “sweet” gifts (e.g. dates, figs, honey), as well as cash, indicating an omen of a sweet year to come (Fasti 1.171-194). The celebrations were also associated with the Roman god Janus (hence January). Here, then, is a family that clearly maintained Jewish aspects of its identity and arranged for others to continue to remember them on Jewish holy days, but also a family that adapted to some Roman practices, in this case the New Year celebration.

I’ll post again in the new year. Have a good one.

UPDATE (Dec 23): For two different media takes on the Maccabees and Hanukkah (mentioned by Jim Davila), see Hanukka and Hellenization (Jerusalem Post) and The Maccabees and the Hellenists (Slate).

(Dec. 27): Even more media reflections on the Hasmoneans a.k.a. Maccabees (thanks to Jim Davila’s keen eye) here and here.

A guided tour of the heavens: The Ascension of Isaiah (NT Apocrypha 21)

When scholars of early Judaism and Christianity identify a writing as an “apocalypse” (in terms of genre), they usually have in mind a first-person visionary report that claims to narrate a “revelation” (apocalypsis) from God himself. Almost always the content of the visions that are narrated also presuppose or directly pertain to an apocalyptic worldview, namely, an ideology in which this present world is dominated by evil forces (headed by Satan, or Beliar, or what have you) which will ultimately and imminently be destroyed (or perpetually punished) in the final intervention of God and his angelic forces (there is a thoroughgoing dualism in this way of thinking).

One of the two main types of apocalyptic writing that have been identified is the so-called “historical apocalypse”. Here the focus of the visions relates to the unfolding of God’s historical plans (on this, see John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, which is browsable online here). The Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible (written about 160s BCE) and John’s Apocalypse or Revelation (written about 70-90 CE) in the New Testament are largely characterized by this historical focus: both relate the unfolding of God’s plan for history in relation to actual political powers (Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors, respectively), and these political powers are cast in the role of the ultimate evil opponents of God (on John’s Apocalypse see my earlier post on Worshiping the Beast / Honouring the Emperor or my article here).

The second main type of apocalypse is the “otherworldly journey”. Here the visionary is taken on a tour of the far reaches of the world and beyond, usually a tour of either the heavens or the underworld (hell). The earliest surviving example of this type is the first book (chs. 1-36) of 1 Enoch (online here) written about 200 BCE, in which the Enoch of Genesis is presented as the visionary who expounds the story of the fallen angels (Gen 6) and is guided by an angel in order to witness the workings of the universe.

In its present Christian form, the Ascension of Isaiah (reflecting materials ranging from the second century BCE to as late as the fourth century CE; online here) consists of the story of the prophet Isaiah’s martyrdom (who is sawn in half) and a report of Isaiah’s vision in which Isaiah is taken on a journey through the seven heavens with an angel as guide (chs. 1-5 and 6-11 respectively). The martyrdom and the vision are linked in their present form, since it is because Isaiah had gone on the tour, witnessing God’s plan to send his Beloved (Christ) to destroy the evil powers, that Beliar (Satan) seeks to have Isaiah killed (through the evil angel Sammael and king Mannaseh) (3:13).

Isaiah’s otherworldly journey begins as he ascends with the angel-guide to “the firmament” above the world, but below the heavens. Isaiah then proceeds through each of the seven heavens. In each heaven he witnesses a throne flanked by angels, and the glory of each heaven and its angels increases until he reaches the final, seventh heaven, the dwelling place of the Most High (God) and his “Beloved” (Lord Christ). There, says Isaiah,

“I saw all the righteous from Adam. And I saw there the holy Abel and all the righteous. And there I saw Enoch and all who were with him, stripped of the garment of the flesh, and I saw them in their higher garments, and they were like the angels who stand there in great glory” (Ascension of Isaiah 9:7-9; trans. by Müller in Schneemelcher)

Isaiah then gains a revelation of what will occur in the future, final intervention of God (the end times). Ascending and descending are important not only for Isaiah here, but also for other key figures in the apocalyptic visions. Isaiah hears the voice of the Most High himself calling on his Beloved (Lord Christ) to descend, to trace the steps that Isaiah had just traversed, in other words:

“Go and descend through all the heavens; descend to the firmament and to that world, even to the angel in the realm of the dead (on the descent to hell see my other posts on Satan) . . . that you may judge and destroy the prince and his angels and the gods of this world and the world which is ruled by them, for they have denied me and said ‘We alone are, and there is none beside us’. And afterwards you will ascend from the angels of death to your place, and you will not be transformed in each heaven [i.e. you will not be affected by the inferiority of each heaven in relation to the seventh heaven], but in glory you will ascend and sit on my right hand. And the princes and powers of this world will worship you” (Ascension of Isaiah 10.7-14).

Almost immediately, Isaiah then witnesses the descent and ascent of the Beloved (Christ). But there is more of this ascending and descending. Earlier in this writing we learn that, as part of the “consummation” of the world, an anti-Beloved (so to speak), Beliar himself, will be sent before the Beloved comes:

“And after it has come to its consummation, Beliar, the great prince, the king of this world who has ruled it since it came into being, shall descend; he will come down from his firmament in the form of a man, a lawless king, a slayer of his mother, who . . . will persecute the plant which the Twelve Apostles of the Beloved have planted; and one of the twelve will be delivered into his hand. . . All that he desires he will do in the world; he will act and speak in the name of the Beloved and say ‘I am God and before me there has been none else’. And all the people in the world will believe in him, and will sacrifice to him and serve him saying, ‘This is God and beside him there is none other’ . . . And after (one thousand) three hundred and thirty-two days the Lord will come with his angels and with the hosts of the saints from the seventh heaven with the glory of the seventh heaven, and will drag Beliar with his hosts into Gehenna” (4:1-14).

In a manner reminiscent of John’s Apocalypse (esp. ch. 13), the author is here presenting an end-time evil figure in the form of an actual king and, more specifically, a king modelled on a returning emperor Nero (Nero redivivus) who is worshipped as a god (alluding to the Roman imperial cult, on which go here for a brief discussion or here for an entire article). It is important to remember that the line between “otherworldly journey” apocalypses and “historical” apocalypses is by no means stark (as with the fluidity of genre as a whole), and there are some apocalypses with the characteristics of each, of course.

The ascending and descending theme is an important component in this apocalyptic author’s worldview, and the apocalyptic seer’s own guided tour gives him a first-hand experience of otherworldly travel himself.

UPDATE (Dec. 15): Now also see Alan S. Bandy’s collection of various scholarly definitions of the apocalyptic genre.

A Hellenistic Twilight Zone episode (and a Jewish parallel story)

Further to my earlier post on Greco-Roman paradoxography, there is another that I thought may be of interest. (See the earlier post two entries below). I talked about the second century author Phlegon. Another was Apollonios, who may have written in the second century BCE. One of his “marvels” (drawing on an author named Theopompos) comes across like a Twilight Zone episode:

It is said that Epimenides of Crete was sent by his father and uncles to their farm to bring a sheep back to town. When night overtook him he left the path and slept for fifty-seven years. . . In the meantime the members of Epimenides’s household died, and when he awoke from his sleep he looked for the sheep he had been sent to bring. . . he assumed that he had awoken on the same day on which he had fallen asleep–but he found that the farm was sold and the equipment was changed(Hansen, p. 6).

Now that’s a good long nap.

UPDATE: Ken Penner (McMaster U.) comments that there is an interesting parallel story in the OT Pseudepigrapha in 4 Baruch, chapter 5. There Abimelech, a contemporary of Jeremiah, gets tired while carrying figs, lies down for a nap, and doesn’t wake up for 66 years. He similarly is confused by all the changes when he returns to Jerusalem. In this case, God sent this “stupor” upon Abimelech so that he would not have to witness the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem and the exile of its people. After the 66 year nap, Abimelech wakes up and (with humorous effect) says, “I would like to nap a little longer, because my head is weighed down, but I’m afraid I might fall fast asleep and be late waking up” (trans. by S.E. Robinson in James H. Charlesworth, ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1983-85). The Greek text is available at the Online Critical Pseudepigrapha (OCP) site.