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More on Divine and Human Angels

In chapter two of How Jesus Became God, I have some more things to say about angels who are sometimes called “God” and sometimes appear as humans (in addition to what I’ve already said about the  “Angel of the Lord”).   This is only a draft, but it should give an idea of what I have in mind.

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Other Angels as God and Human

There are numerous other examples both in the Bible and in other Jewish texts where angels are described as God and, just as importantly, where angels are described as humans.  One of the most interesting is in Psalm 82.   In this beautiful plea that justice be done to those who are weak and needy, we are told, in v. 1, that “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.”  Here God Almighty is portrayed as having a divine council around him; these are angelic beings with whom God consults, as happens elsewhere in the Bible – most famously in Job 1, where “the Satan” figure is himself reckoned among these divine beings.  In the Job passage the divine beings making up God’s council are called “sons of God.”  Here too they are called “children of the Most High.”  But more than that, they are called “Elohim” (82:6) – the Hebrew word for “God” (it is a plural word; when not referring to God it is usually translated gods).   These angelic beings are “gods.”   And here they are rebuked because they have no concern for people who are lowly, weak, and destitute.  And because of the failures of these “gods,” God bestows upon them the ultimate punishment: he makes them mortal, so that they will die and cease to exist (82:7).

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Humans Who Become Angels
Angels as Divine

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Comments

  1. driddle007  April 15, 2013

    Warring factions in heaven is pretty fascinating. Bringing peace to warring factions doesn’t connote defending against attack from Satan – are there other biblical or non-biblical references to heaven being not so heavenly? I’ve missed this entirely if so.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 16, 2013

      Yup, 1 Enoch has a good bit….

      • driddle007  April 16, 2013

        Thank you – of course. It is astounding how much I forget now that I’m not in school and haven’t been keeping up with my reading on a regular basis.

  2. hwl  April 16, 2013

    This passage is strong evidence of monolatry. Does your book discuss the distinctions between Trinitarianism, monotheism, monolatry and henotheism, and show all 4 ideas are held by different authors of the Bible?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 16, 2013

      Not exactly in that way.

      • hwl  April 16, 2013

        After “How Jesus became God”, if you ever do a follow-up book focusing on the OT, it would make for interesting topic to discuss “how Yahweh became God” – just as christology underwent a (fairly rapid) evolution, so too over centuries of Israelite history the notion of an Ancient Near-East tribal deity became the all-powerful creator of the cosmos.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 17, 2013

          It’s a great idea! Someone should definitely do it. Unfortunately, I’m not qualified….

          • hwl  April 18, 2013

            I look forward to the forthcoming bestselling trilogy: “Misquoting Moses”, “Moses interrupted” and “How Yahweh became God”.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  April 19, 2013

            Me too!

  3. Wilusa  April 16, 2013

    Amazing – I’d never heard of legends(?) like this.

    When was it first claimed that there are several different ranks of angels – Seraphim, Cherubim, etc? Once the idea developed, was the Church consistent in teaching it?

  4. Xeronimo74  April 16, 2013

    Bart, you may have mentioned this before but what about the ‘man’ that Jacob wrestled with in Gen 32? That’s also God appearing as a human, no? Gen 32:30 “So Jacob named the place Peniel, explaining, “Certainly I have seen God face to face and have survived.””

  5. gavm  April 16, 2013

    while we will never know exactly what paul meant, it seems a decent argument can be put forward towards angel. cant wait for the book prof ehrman.

  6. Robertus  April 16, 2013

    “But Jesus was actually *born*, which made him unique….”

    Apparently not so unique for the author of the Prayer of Joseph, who presumably thought of Jacob as having been actually born.

  7. dewdds  April 16, 2013

    The reference to Ps 82 is interesting. I recall from Mark Smith’s “Origins of Biblical Monotheism”, that he inferred a polytheistic substrate to this passage, rather than reading the other gods as being angelic beings. I’m assuming the latter view was derived from rabbinic interpretations, as a means to scrub these verses of their pagan roots.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 16, 2013

      Yes, I agree there’s a polytheistic substratum. My hunch is that the angelic interpretation was pre-rabbinic though, but I don’t have proof off hand.

  8. talitakum
    talitakum  April 16, 2013

    Regarding gods in Psalm 82:6, in John 10:33-36 we read Jesus quoting exactly that Psalm passage for theological purposes and to refute the accuse of blasphemy. Therefore your example is very appropriate!

    Even more interesting, in the “Apocalypse of Abraham” (that in any case is a forgery, since it’s a pseudepigrapha!) there is an amazing passage in chapter 29 regarding “a man” worshiped by many, including Azazel (!). I believe that this parallel with Jesus is very interesting, because we have traces of worship of a special/divine man by jewish people.
    Such worship is missing for Jacob and the others “angelic” figures like Uriel., as far as we know.

    Also, I wonder if there’s a way to demonstrate any influence of apocrypha like “Apocalypse of Abraham” on NT writings. For example, it is possible to find some “Book of Enoch” influence (e.g. in the Epistle of Juda), but I’m not sure regarding the Apocalypse of Abraham or the Prayer of Joseph.
    Thank you.

  9. kidlat  April 17, 2013

    I consulted the New Oxford Annotated Bible RSV (Dr. Bart I still wish that someday you publish your own annotated bible) for comments on Ps 82 and it says, “Making use of a conception, common to the ancient Near East, that the world is ruled by a council of gods, the poet sees, in a vision, the God of Israel standing up in the midst of the council…..Does it mean that the writers of the OT used pagan myths as a model to tell their story? Does this explain why the story of Noah is similar to a story in an earlier Sumerian text, Gilgamesh?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 17, 2013

      Yup, I think that’s what it means; and yup, that is the normal explanation of the flood stories (and creation stories, etc.)

  10. Ron  April 17, 2013

    There is abundant anthropomorphism in scripture with respect to the various gods, as well as conflation of qualities or attributes of those gods provided by the storytellers. Even the pantheon changes depending on the source or time period, e.g., the warrior-god Yahweh conflates with El probably during the early years of the monarchy whereas before they were separate gods – El is distinguished as the father of Yahweh in the Ugarit pantheon, and we’re told in scripture that Yahweh was not known to the Patriarchs (Exod. 6:2-3). So, with this in mind it’s somewhat perilous to draw conclusions about these gods, their attributes, or their positions in the pantheon or council based simply on the stories. It may be all that most scholars have to go on, however, as is evident from their published works.

    With respect to Ps. 82, it’s probably better to view certain gods and goddesses as simply created or destined for a shorter life than their more perennial partners in the sky. It’s better, in my opinion, than to view them, for example, as condemned for “no concern for the lowly and weak.” How they are determined to be erratic or consistent, benevolent or pernicious, awesome or run-of-the mill, immortal or not, etc., is not done simply through analyzing scriptural, mythological or folkloric material. This is useful but what I see as dismally lacking among scholars is a knowledge of how to associate these deities with their physical counterparts in the heavens – in other words, to astralize them. It has become quite easy to do this over the past few decades with the advent of computers and more sophisticated optical equipment. Prior to the late ’70s it was 99% guesswork.

  11. Xeronimo74  April 23, 2013

    Bart, some of the Jews at the time obviously thought that certain dead people could ‘reincarnate’ or at least ‘take over bodies of the living’ (people thought Jesus might be the resurrected John, the incarnation of some ancient prophets or even the undead Elijah). Does that somehow play into all these discussions about angels and about what or who people thought Jesus was?

    Because John, and surely the prophets, had DIED. So if people thought they had come back, in the FORM of Jesus, then that would imply some ‘soul migration’ or something like that, no?

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