menu
August 5, 2020

BEN: I am not much convinced by the new exodus readings of especially the beginnings of Jesus ministry by Watts and Wright etc. It seems rather clear to me, especially for example in the genealogy in Luke 3, that Jesus is portrayed not as Israel gone right, but rather as humanity rebooted, the Son of Man is his preferred term. He even disputes whether Son of David is an adequate title for him. This is also why Paul calls Jesus the last or eschatological Adam and only once in Rom. 1 mentions a connection of Jesus with Davidic ancestry. I do see the association of wilderness with wild animals and demons as having an OT background, but that is another matter. Nothing is said in the Pentateuch about God’s people encountering demons in their wilderness wanderings. Furthermore, what is being tested in Jesus’ temptations is his being the divine Son of God, not him being a Moses like figure leading God’s people through and beyond the wilderness. Even Moses had no capacity to turn stones into bread, but the divine Son of God did, and he was being tempted to push his God button, and thereby cease to accept the limitations of the incarnation— the normal limitations of being human— limitations of time, space, knowledge, power, and even mortality.

MICHAEL: I know now that, in the wake of Wright, “everything” is parsed as new exodus. If you’re objecting to the over-statement of this case, I’d agree. That said, I do think there is something to the new exodus hermeneutic, but even where it seems to make good sense I think it would be a mistake to say it overrules or eliminates other hermeneutical trajectories. I see little coherence in the notion that New Testament writers had hermeneutical limitations places on them (“you can use new exodus or something else, but not both or it’s points off”).

BEN: Let’s talk about Mt. 4 for a minute. The Devil shows Jesus ‘all the kingdoms of the world’, which surely must include Israel! The term all, means all, not all the other non-Jewish kingdoms of the world. This is why Paul calls Satan simply, ‘the ruler of this world’ not the ruler of the rest of the world. The whole world, including Israel is the fallen world ruled by Satan, not merely the other nations mentioned at Babel….. Further, Jesus says his kingdom is not the kingdom of Israel, it’s the kingdom of God, meant to claim all the kingdoms of this world for God, including Israel. Comments?

MICHAEL: I don’t know that “all” means “all” here in the sense you describe, though if it did, I don’t think it changes the messaging. To illustrate, the Abrahamic covenant language we find in many places in the Old Testament uses “all nations” as the referent of the blessing of Abraham’s seed or nation (Israel). And so Israel wouldn’t be included in “all nations” there (the intent of the covenant language isn’t to bless itself along with the nations – and yes, I’m aware of the Hithpael / Niphal issues in Gen 12:3; I think the passive nuance for both is in view here, and that’s also the way Paul takes it via the passive verb form of LXX). But let’s take your interpretation and see how it could also work. Sure, “all” nations means “all,” including Israel. The titling of the rebel is still coherent because all need deliverance from death (including Jews). Since Satan was fishing for information in this scene (readers can listen to my episode on Psalm 91 and its use here via the Naked Bible Podcast, Episode 324), and since that information (which Jesus never surrenders) is key to the redemption of all who believe (including Jews), your trajectory is workable. I’m just not specifically persuaded of it in this instance.

July 31, 2020

BEN: In regard to the cosmic geography, it seems to me there is plenty of evidence in the NT to associate Satan with the heavens, or at least the ‘air’ above the earth, and really none to associate him with the land of the dead, at least as a dwelling place. Even in Revelation there is a threefold fall of Satan, and only the last two in Rev. 20ff. involves him being thrown into a sealed off pit, and then finally into the lake of fire. I agree with you that Rev. 12 is about ‘Satan falling like lightning from above’ as a result of the Christ event. Are you suggesting that there is not a consistent understanding of the domain of Satan? The NT of course also calls him the ruler of this world, yet another domain.

MICHAEL: I think I’ve hit this earlier in regard to the problem / need for “spatial” language being used for placeless places. I’ll add one item here, though. I think the reason that Satan deserves “god of this world” and “ruler of this world” titling is death. Since everything dies, the original rebel is lord of everything in that sense. To him everything will go—unless it is redeemed from death by God, which strategy requires the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. My view is that the “I saw Satan fall like lightning” comment of Jesus is uttered in tandem with the launch of the kingdom precisely to juxtapose the two. If you are a member of God’s kingdom (and Jesus is the means by which that is possible), then you are by definition no longer destined to be a forever member of the other kingdom whose locus of authority extends from the realm of the dead.

July 30, 2020

BEN: O.K. so on p. 164 it seems to me that there must be a mistake— it reads “The notion that the OT does not include that God wanted the nations led astray is an inventive thought that makes God’s denunciation of the gods of the nations in Psalm 82.2-5 duplicitous.” Surely, it is his ultimately NOT wanting the nations led astray that would make his denunciation of the naughty angels in Ps. 82 who misled them understandable. It seems to me that this goes back to a misreading of the Babel story. There, God is preventing a greater human rebellion by confusing the languages. And the NT certainly does not suggest God deliberately wanted the ‘sons of God’ to mislead anyone into idolatry. That just doesn’t make any sense. The Babel story is yet another example, it seems to me that one needs hindsight to better read that text, a hindsight not always exhibited in texts which do not yet reflect a viable sense of the independence of secondary causes… i.e. the need to understand progressive revelation.

MiCHAEL: Correct – that’s a typo others have reported.

BEN: I would guess that the real surprise when one turns the page to the Gospels, if one knows the background material is that the holy land, supposedly the domain of Yahweh alone, seems to be infested with demons, at least in Galilee. Why is that?

MICHAEL: I think there are several things going on that the gospel writers want their readers to detect. There’s the cosmic-geographical implications of “Galilee of the Gentiles” (as though that turf has more of a demonic problem than anywhere else – I’m betting you can come up with a catchy “holier than thou” line as it pertains to geography than I could). But there are other strands, some of which I don’t get into in the book. There’s theological messaging that messianic rule extends beyond “Jewish” geography. It’s about deliverance of all peoples, not just Jews. I think there’s also a strand of “Josephite messiah” thinking there (cf. Mitchell, “Messiah ben Joseph: A Sacrifice of Atonement for Israel,” Review of Rabbinic Judaism 10:1 [2007]: 84), as Galilee was specifically associated with that expectation, and so conquest of the powers of darkness had to be demonstrated.

July 29, 2020

BEN: So let’s reflect for a moment on the 3 rebellions you are analyzing in this book. If I am understanding you rightly, in each case the rebellions are acts of angelic beings who, before the act of rebellion, are simply good angels or supernatural beings, a part of the heavenly council. But then, one after another, they seize the opportunity or self-aggrandizement and rebel, first in the garden of Eden, then before the flood, then in association with the tower of Babel event, after God had assigned these previously good supernatural beings the roles of governing justly the non-Israelite nations. Why, exactly, did they all go wrong? Is this an example of ‘all power corrupts, and ultimate power corrupts ultimately? Are we to think that while they were created good by God, because they were also created with a limited amount of freedom of choice, that freedom went to their heads and rebellion resulted? It would seem you are saying that inexplicably they all went South on their own, and we are no closer to understanding why, or what the real source of such evil is. Shall we follow Pascal and say it is a matter of ‘the heart turned in upon itself’ the primal sin being narcissism? Help us understand why these rebellions happened.

MICHAEL: Anything we say here is speculative given the absence of biblical data. So with that caveat, I’ll add some speculation to Pascal, confessing I’ve been influenced in places by Second Temple material (which of course is also speculative) and some biblical passages that could suggest certain ideas. I think Pascal’s trajectory is on the table. The desire for autonomy of the sort that yearns to be free from authority, seems to be a pattern. That’s more of a sad eventuality than a surprise. Given that all created beings (supernatural and human) are lesser than the Creator, those created beings, even those made as his imagers, by definition lack his perfections, including his own perfect nature. The combination of a less than perfect nature with freedom and other shared attributes distributed by God to his imagers so they can perform the imaging responsibility will inevitably lead to failure. Of the three rebellions, the one where this is seen most readily is what happens in Eden. It is interesting in this regard that Scripture makes specific the point that humanity is lower/lesser than (the) elohim. I don’t think we’re given that information to round out our firm grasp on the obvious. Psalm 8 drops that nugget amid creation imagery and then asks why God should be mindful of humans and make them partners in the rulership of creation. The implied thought is, of course, “instead of the other elohim, who are superior.” Second Temple texts like the Life of Adam and Eve (chs 13-14) pick up on this and see resistance, hubris, and bitterness in the original rebel, who refuses to worship the human creatures at Michael’s command. If Isaiah 14 and Ezek 28 have a rebellion in council as part of their backdrop, then hubris on the part of the rebel is inescapable. This idea is less apparent in Genesis 6, but if (as it seems) the perpetrators should have been able to anticipate God’s reaction to their transgression, than hubris is once again hard to eliminate from that equation. If it’s not ignorance and was deliberate, what else could you call it? As I note in the Demons book, at least one Second Temple writer thought the transgression included the element of supernatural beings making their own imagers. I don’t think we can read this as innocent toddlers making like daddy. If the “angelic realm” doesn’t require procreative behavior (and Jesus presumed as much), then wanting to raise up one’s own people or imagers as it were is to presume the right-ness of moving past a boundary, transgressing one’s “rightful estate” to use KJV language. Again, if it’s not accidental, what would you call it? It’s further easy to speculate that, given the statement in Psalm 8 about the lowly estate of humanity and the irony of God’s commitment to them (ongoing as it is, now past the debacle of Eden and the proclivity of human depravity), the third rebellion could be as much a case as supernatural beings giving humans a taste of the chaos they deserve or just failure due to imperfection, or both. Why should we administer these embodied failures justly? They deserve misery. And if it’s giving humans what they deserve, it’s also supernatural beings taking / receiving the worship they presume they deserve—idolatry is, after all, connected to the “Babel situation” in the biblical storyline. But while it’s easy to imagine these trajectories and develop them, they are primarily speculative.

July 28, 2020

BEN: Things certainly get more complex when one takes into account the intertestamental Jewish literature. Just to be sure I understand the implications are you in fact saying that ‘demons’ are the evil spirits of the departed giants or Nephilim, and that not only is this what a text like 1 Enoch believes to be true (rather than just a playing with ANE mythology, grasping for an explanation of evil in the world), but also that this is what the NT writers assume to be true about the origins of demons in the world…. and so we as Bible-believing Christians should believe this, in particular the connect of evil spirits/demons with the Nephilim, which I do not really find in the Bible?

MICHAEL: I think the data points for the idea are in the Old Testament in those passages that have the Rephaim in Sheol (again, the death / realm of the dead connection). You also get them with connections between Og and the sacred marriage bed of Marduk, the cosmic geography of the Transjordan (places dis-associated with holy ground), and other threads. The Hebrew Bible is unique in treating the Rephaim this way (using the term for both giant clans and residents of the underworld – Ugarit for example does only the latter). I think the reason for that is that Genesis 6 and the subsequent giantism passages that play off Genesis 6 have clear, discernible Babylonian roots whose own backdrop combines the two elements (half-breed giants who derive from Underworld beings). The work of Annus, Stuckenbruck, Fröhlich, and others have demonstrated this. Since the biblical writers are responding to Babylonian religion and its use of these tales, it’s no surprise that we’d find both strands in the Hebrew Bible and not elsewhere where no such polemic is in play.

July 27, 2020

BEN: Let’s talk about the Watchers in 1 Enoch, or as I prefer to call them ‘the Insomniacs’ in view of the derivation of that term, meaning they never sleep. I wonder if you knew that these guys show up in Marvel comics as supernatural beings from other galaxies who are supposed to guide and steer things in the universe, only occasionally intervening. Stan Lee mush have read 1 Enoch somewhere along the line. Marvel Comics is where I first came across them as a kid, and they are portrayed as giants with humongous heads. But on a more serious note, I wonder what you make of the identification of Enoch with the Son of Man, which seems to even surprise Enoch in that body of literature. And do you really see the Watchers, at least in 1 Enoch as entirely evil, or are they also tour guides in heaven for Enoch? I would assume some good angel is his tour guide.

MICHAEL: Great. Now you have me stealing something else from you. (I love “Insomniacs”!) To answer the first question, the answer is yes. There are a number of instances where Marvel and DC dip into Enochian (and other) material for supernatural beings. Your readers may find Knowles’ book, Our Gods Wear Spandex interesting in that regard. This is something of an interest of mine in general, growing out of my own paranormalist interests: how science fiction and what passes for “speculative non-fiction” today (i.e., Ancient Aliens) is really a competing meta-narrative that intentionally presents a middle worldview between Judeo-Christianity’s meta-narrative and godless, materialist Darwinism. Late 19th century horror literature is also a big part of this mix, as Colavito’s book, Cult of Alien Gods shows. On the second question, I do see them as evil (that is, that particular term in the plural is used of the villains), though there are a handful of instances where Nickelsburg, for example, will argue on text-critical grounds that a singular Watcher (akin to the use in Daniel in apposition to “holy one”) might be in view for a good supernatural entity.

July 26, 2020

BEN: Two of the conclusions of your detailed exegetical work which will surprise many are: 1) there is no record in the Bible, including not in Rev. 12, of a primeval fall of Satan from heaven, and 2) there is no evidence in the Bible of Satan having a multitude of angels under his control. The first evidence of this actually comes in 1 Enoch. What are some of the implications of these conclusions? Where and when does evil get a toe hold in God’s good creation?

MICHAEL: When death enters into the world. The original rebel is cast down to the earth / Underworld (Hebrew: ʾerets). The same term speaks to both and the cosmology assumes the link (the Underworld is deep inside the earth in ancient cosmology). The original rebel is at home in the realm of death and the dead. Everything is now anti-Eden. There is no Eden. There is death and chaos is either in no threat of diminishment of chaos (which one could say would be the result of the expansion of Eden), or chaos is worse. So his influence is felt from the point of transgression and the curses. Earlier I said a few things about how subsequent rebels could be conceived of being part of the “death culture” that is now present via depravity, idolatry, spreading chaos, etc. If one asks the right questions (or, better, certain questions) about the data points, the Second Temple and New Testament ideas become comprehensible, having their source in the Old Testament data. It’s really about how the data are framed and considered.

July 25, 2020

BEN: In my book Jesus the Seer, I dealt with the interesting interpretations of Gen. 6.1-4 in NT passage such as Jude, 2 Pet. 2, and 1 Pet. 3, not to mention the beginning of Rev. 20. Satan ends up in a hermetically sealed off pit, and the naughty angels end up similarly in Tartarus. But where exactly do you think the Biblical writers envisioned these places being— in the ground, i.e. Sheol, the land of the dead or in some celestial prison in the supernatural realm that Jesus visited to proclaim his victory over the evil Powers on the way to heaven? My students point out ‘of course Hell is not in the depths of the earth, any more than heaven is just above the earth’s atmosphere.

MICHAEL: This is addressed in the earlier question about how biblical writers are forced to use the language of spatiality, height, depth, length, width to describe placeless places. The afterlife / Underworld “places” have no literal latitude and longitude. Consequently, they can’t be located. God’s heavenly throne doesn’t have a latitude and longitude, either. Biblical writers are in a situation of “forced metaphor” to talk about these things.

BEN: In other words, people bound by the space-time continuum have to use space and time language to describe the spiritual universe. This doesn’t mean they thought the spiritual universe had the same dimensions or limitations.

July 24, 2020

BEN: I imagine some readers of Chapter 4 are going to wonder why you went straight to the intertestamental stuff on ho diabolos and then backtracked to the OT in the following chapters to deal with the other two supernatural rebellions. I can see the conceptual logic of this, but some may not. And of course some Biblicistic readers will want to know why you even bother with non-Biblical material like that. But of course the answer is clear— it shows the development of thought by early Jews about Satan, and helps explain a good deal of what we find in the NT. For me perhaps the most interesting bit in the chapter is that hardly any of those sources directly connect the serpent in Gen. 3 to later reflections about Satan. And in fact dealing with modern day Jewish OT and NT scholars, many of them deny you can even get a Fall of humanity out of Genesis. They just talk about the yetzer hara and the yetzer tov. Why do you think the NT writers connected the dots they way they did, and leaving 4 Ezra out of the discussion, what would point to in the material covered in Chapter 4 that suggests a theology of human fallenness based on Gen. 3?

MICHAEL: I think the connection is death. For a Second Temple writer (and a NT writer in turn), if death didn’t come as a result of what happened in Genesis 3, then where did it come from? I think this is why they so readily connect the uninhabitable places that threaten human existence (i.e., desert wilderness, dark places) with the original rebel figure.




Browse Our Archives