Ep47-Monotheism and the Hierarchy of Divine Beings in 2nd Temple Judaism (Pt 1) - Of God and Gods Ch 3

Topics Discussed:
• Jewish Views of the Hierarchy of Divine Beings
• The Council of Gods in the Dead Sea Scrolls
• Divine Beings in Second Temple Judaism

Show Notes:


“The view that there was a hierarchy of divine beings—with the one God as the Most High accompanied by a principal divine agent second only in authority to God, surrounded by a court of divine beings who serve in the Holy of Holies of the temple in the highest heaven—was universal in Second Temple Judaism, the Judaism that gave rise to Christianity. The council of gods continued in this form throughout the period that gave rise to Christianity.”

Jewish Views of the Hierarchy of Divine Beings

“Was Second Temple Judaism characterized by the same view of God that was prominent in pre-exilic texts of a head God presiding in the council of the sons of God?”

“Larry Hurtado summarizes the evidence regarding Second Temple “Jewish monotheism” as follows:
I propose that Jewish monotheism can be taken as constituting a distinctive version of the commonly-attested belief structure described by Nilsson as involving a “high god” who presides over other deities. The God of Israel presides over a court of heavenly beings who are likened to him (as is reflected in, e.g., the OT term for them, “sons of God”). In pagan versions, too, the high god can be described as father and source of the other divine beings, and as utterly superior to them. In this sense, Jewish (and Christian) monotheism, whatever its distinctives, shows its historical links with the larger religious environment of the ancient world. There are distinctives of the Jewish version, however, both in beliefs and, even more emphatically in religious practice. As Nilsson has shown, in pagan versions often the high god is posited but not really known. Indeed, in some cases (particularly in Greek philosophical traditions), it is emphasized that the high god cannot be known. Accordingly, often one does not expect to relate directly to the high god or address this deity directly in worship or petition. In Greco-Roman Jewish belief, however, the high god is known as the God of Israel, whose ways and nature are revealed in the Scriptures of Israel.”

“Adela Collins stated: "...Many Jews of that period evidently did not conceive of God as absolutely unique in a metaphysical sense. Instead, they seem to have placed the deity at the top of a pyramid, so to speak, of divine beings who were the agents of God in creating, sustaining and interacting with all things.”

The Council of Gods in the Dead Sea Scrolls

“The Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran demonstrate that the belief in the head God who is surrounded by divine beings and sons of God continued among some Jews virtually unchanged into the era of Second Temple Judaism that gave rise to Christianity.”

“The Dead Sea Scrolls also evince a belief in human deification or theosis, for the author expresses his conviction that he has been granted a seat in the council of El Elyon among the gods. He has been exalted to a divine glory that is shared by the gods in this council. However, such a view is not isolated among the scrolls.”

“If a form of “pure” monotheism arose in the writings of Second Isaiah during the exile, it is evident that the view of Most High God as surrounded by a divine council of gods had been reconciled with such a form of monotheism by the end of the exile ”

...“Moreover, it was the lot of the Qumran saints to join the gods in this council to sing praises to God and to be exalted to the same godlike nature that these gods shared with God. The vast ontological gulf between humans and gods that characterized later Christian theology had not yet extinguished such possibilities.”

“The notion that there was a “strict monotheism” which prevailed universally in Second Temple Judaism (in the sense that no other beings could be conceived to be gods except the one God, Yahweh) is false. The Qumran saints called Melchizedek and the heavenly hosts “gods” and yet, with the same breath, proclaimed the incomparable majesty and oneness of God.”

“The word “god” and the concept of “divinity” were more flexible and broader in meaning than the notion of metaphysical monotheism permits. There was no bright ontological line between God, the gods in the council of gods, divine heavenly agents, and humans. The view of an ontological gulf between the uncreated order and created beings is foreign to these texts and also alien to the way they characterize the relationship with God and gods.”

Divine Beings in Second Temple Judaism

...“divinity is not seen as exclusively predicated of the one God, but rather as a relationship of glory that can be shared in varying degrees. ”

“The description of Yaoel is similar to descriptions of God in Ezekiel 1:26–28 where God appears on the throne/chariot; to the vision of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9; to Enoch’s vision of God upon the throne/chariot and surrounded by the “most holy ones” (1 Enoch 14:18–25); and significantly the vision of Christ in Revelations 1:14. There can be little question, despite recent attempts to downplay the divine presentation of Yaoel, that he presents himself as divine by invoking the name of Yahweh and applying it to himself: “I am Yaoel” (Apoc. Abr. 10:8), especially in light of attributing the very same name to God in Apocalypse of Abraham 17:13.”

“Similarly, Moses was seen as a “mediator for your people” and God’s chief agent or vizier in the Scrolls (4Q37472). The Assumption of Moses 11:16–17 and several fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls attribute to Moses the role of divine messenger as well as divine status in the council of the gods.”

Talk about the "Son of Man" meaning

“the Son of Man is preexistent and receives the very name of God, based upon which the holy ones worship him. Wisdom is embodied in the Son of Man/Elect One (49:3). He is described as having a face “like the appearance of a human being” (46:1). He exercises the divine prerogative of delivering judgment from God’s throne (45:3; 55:4; 61:8).”


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