A METHODOLOGY FOR STUDYING DIVINE MEDIATORS
(Summary of a lecture by J. Davila on 3 February, 1998)
The purpose of this lecture is to give the students and listmembers one possible overarching theoretical structure for analysing ancient divine mediator figures. The approach outlined here is not the only one possible (although it has informed some of the recent secondary literature) and I present it primarily as a heuristic aid for putting the vast masses of primary material into some kind of preliminary order. I’ve drawn particularly on two bibliography items for working out this approach:
Larry W. Hurtado, _One God, One Lord_ (London: SCM, 1988)
P. G. Davis, “Divine Agents, Mediators, and New Testament Christology,” _Journal of Theological Studies_ 45 (1994) 479-503
(The latter, of course, is the reading assignment for this session, and it summarizes the parts of Hurtado’s book important for us at the moment. Later this week I will post my top-ten reading list for this course.)
The fundamental question behind this course module is: how did the man, Jesus, come to be worshiped as a divine being by communities who nevertheless regarded themselves as monotheists (worshipers of only one God)? I mean this as an historical rather than a theological question. What were the historical and cultural factors that caused the worship of Jesus to make sense to some people in the first century CE?
I should note as an aside that this is not quite the same question as, who was the historical Jesus. The quest for the historical Jesus tries to work backwards from our sources (primarily the four Gospels, but also Paul and the Gospel of Thomas and maybe some other things) to reconstruct the life and teachings of the man Jesus. For our purposes the historical Jesus may be more or less irrelevant. Our focal point is the worshiped Jesus. How did Jesus come to be viewed as a divine mediator between God and human beings? The answer may not pertain to the historical Jesus at all, even if tendencies toward his worship started shortly after the crucifixion, or even in Jesus’ lifetime. I myself tend toward a Bultmanian scepticism of all reconstructions of the historical Jesus, so I will try as much as possible to sidestep the question during this course.
Instead, we will look at a series of figures (some mythic, some legendary, and some more or less historical) described in contemporary texts, who also functioned as divine mediators and we will ask how each of them helps to make sense of how Jesus is presented as such a mediator. The historical question for any of them is generally somewhere between tangential and irrelevant. Melchizedek or Solomon or the Sibyl may or may not have been real people and we may or may not have historical information about those people, but their portrayal as mediators between the divine and human worlds in ancient literature is a brute fact we can start with.
(I) A reasonable first step in coming to terms with this material is to work out some basic types of divine mediator found in this literature. Larry Hurtado has suggested three:
(1) Personified Divine Attributes. These are elements of God’s character as portrayed in the Bible and Israelite tradition which receive such focused attention that they function as virtually separate beings (“hypostases”), to some degree having their own character and volition. Philo of Alexandria’s LOGOS is a good example; God’s word or speech or reason (or something) functions as a separate being, a “god” associated with the creation of the world.
(2) Exalted Patriarchs & Matriarchs. These are figures of Israel’s past who have been glorified to a superhuman position and who are sometimes even referred to as a “god” or “angel.” Hurtado, for his own purposes, limits his discussion to figures exalted to the status of God’s chief angel (e.g., Enoch, Moses, and Jacob), but I want to cast my net more widely and include all figures treated as more or less superhuman. Solomon, for example, is never treated as a chief angel, as far as I know, but he has amazing powers as exorcist and magician that make him effectively more than human.
(3) Principal Angels. These are high angels that stand in a close relationship with God and may even be called “gods” themselves. Metatron, for example, is called the “lesser YHWH” in 3 Enoch.
These three categories served Hurtado’s purpose (to try to understand the origins of the verneration of Jesus), but I want, very tentatively, to add another two categories of mediators in a somewhat broader sense, with the goal of illuminating divine mediation in general:
(4) Charismatic Prophets and Royal Pretenders. These are historical figures roughly contemporary with Jesus who claimed to have a prophetic ministry or consecrated royal calling, and who gathered a group of followers more or less in defiance of the Roman overlords and even their fellow Jews. A case in point would be Theudas, a prophetic figure mentioned by Josephus (Ant. 20.97-98) and Luke (Acts 5:36) who appeared in about 45 CE, promising his followers that he would divide the Jordan River (and thus harking back both to Joshua and Moses as prototypes).
(5) Future Ideal Figures. These are mediatorial archetypes based on earlier biblical characters and offices (e.g., the Davidic king, the Mosaic prophet, and the Aaronid high priest) but whose incarnation as an individual is projected into the future, becoming the Davidic Messiah (to be discussed this semester), the Mosaic Prophet (cf. John 1:21 and Theudas), and the eschatological High Priest (at Qumran). The historical individuals in category 4 generally draw on these archetypes to create their own messianic or prophetic identities.
It’s important to note in passing that some of the mediator figures we’ll look at may belong to more than one of these five categories. Enoch, for example is both an exalted patriarch and a principal angel, and he draws on some of the archetypal images in category 5.
(II) Our second step is to devise a typology of mediation. In what ways do these figures mediate between God and the human realm? Here, I adopt the typology worked out by Davis, who categorizes on the basis of when in time the mediator is expected to act:
(1) “The Legacy Pattern.” The figure acts solely in the past, but he or she leaves a legacy. The effect of the mediator’s work lasts long after the figure is gone–indeed, until the present. The Solomon tradition is a good example of the legacy pattern. Solomon is long dead and gone, but his magical seals and exorcism spells continue to be efficacious for the magicians of antiquity and the Middle Ages (and of the present for that matter–go look in a New Age bookstore sometime.)
(2) “The Intervention Pattern.” The figure acts in the present. This pattern generally applies to prophets and priests, but also to angels–in fact angels can act at any time, since unlike patriarchs and matriarchs, they are immortal. I would add that my category 4 fits best here as well. Self-appointed prophets and kings contemporary with Jesus acted to intervene in current affairs, but usually (not quite always) were defeated before a legacy pattern could be established. In the case of Theudas, for example, the alert governor of Judea promptly sent out soldiers to behead the aspiring prophet and butcher his followers and, in the words of R. Gamaliel, “they came to nothing.”
(3) “The Consummation Pattern.” The figure is expected to have some important mediatorial function in the future. This pattern is relatively rare in Hurtado’s typology. One example is Melchizedek, who is expected to be active at the eschatological judgment according to 11Q13. My category five usually comes under this pattern; a king descended from David, or even a king like David, who will come and re-establish righteousness in the land, is anticipated or hoped for by scholars and peasants in various ways.
The combination of Hurtado’s and Davis’s typologies, slightly modified as above, produces a two-dimensional grid within which we can locate any divine mediator figure we study. Again, any single figure can carry out more than one kind of mediation (Melchizedek leaves a legacy and promises a consummation). The grid could be made more complex by factoring in other criteria, perhaps types of scriptural exegesis or social location of exegetes, to produce multidimensional grids. But this is enough to get us started. Working out a full grammar of mediation is an important scholarly desideratum, but it’s beyond the scope of this module. We will use the grid outlined in this lecture as a preliminary basis for our analyses of the various divine mediators and comparisons of Jesus with them. Comments on and criticisms of the typologies are, of course, welcome.
There’s one other issue important for our endeavour, which I’ve only mentioned in passing thus far, but before I get to it I want to say something about next week. On Tuesday, 11 February, I will be giving two lectures that will be posted online, one on Enoch and one on Melchizedek. Specific assignments in the primary texts are now listed on the Divine Mediator Figure web pages, with more details (translations, etc.) in the annotated basic bibliography. Please read these primary texts carefully. I am assuming that all members of the list have access to a modern translation of the Bible, the Charlesworth edition of the OT Pseudepigrapha, one of the complete translations of the Qumran corpus, and Robinson’s edition of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic texts. Some of these are available online in part, or in alternate translations (see Torrey Seland’s web pages for more info–these are linked to the Mediator Figure Page), but some material we’ll be using can be found only in printed editions. During the semester we will also refer to Josephus (available online–see my link to this), Philo of Alexandria (not online), and sometimes other ancient texts. If you can’t find everything, just do the best you can.
There are also two articles assigned for next week, both online (I promise). The first is “The Enoch Literature,” by Professor James VanderKam. You can read it on the OT Pseudepigrapha web page (http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~www_sd/enoch.html) or have it sent to you by e-mail, by sending the case-sensitive message:
get otpseud enoch
The second article is one that I published a couple of years ago in the SBL Seminar Papers (1996) and which I expect to have available in web and e-mail versions in a couple of days. It’s title is “Melchizedek, Michael, and War in Heaven,” and it translates much of the primary material assigned for the Melchizedek lecture. I’ll send out a message to the list as soon as it’s available.
(III) Now for that other important issue I promised to return to: monotheism. It’s remarkable that the creators of the pantheons of deities and intermediaries we’ll be studying firmly asserted that they were monotheists. The Qumran sectarians called Melchizedek and the angels “gods,” yet virtually in the same breath proclaimed the majesty and oneness of God. Another group even took to worshiping a deified Galilean executed to sedition (or something), but one of them asserts “yet for us there is one God, the Father” (1 Cor 8:6). To put it simply, what were they thinking? As veterans of last year’s otpseud list know, I like to begin these courses with a provocative question for discussion. So here it is: We have groups, including early Christianity, who firmly assert their monotheistic beliefs, yet hold views that don’t really seem monotheistic to us. What did they mean by belief in/worship of one God and how might it differ from our instinctive view today?
I will put one significant limit on this discussion–that it be textually based. By that I mean that any attempts to answer this question should focus on a specific text (Pseudo-Philo, the Parables of Enoch, Ezekiel the Tragedian, etc.) or corpus of texts (Paul’s letters, the Qumran library, Philo of Alexandria, etc.) and should be supported with specific references from those texts. Gross generalizations without specific textual basis will be shot down without mercy.
Let’s begin the discussion.
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