Angelification – Becoming an Angel at Death?

Angelification – Becoming an Angel at Death? April 20, 2021

A strand of tradition Jewish tradition represents the dead as becoming angels or angel-like in their postmortem state. The notion of a glorified post-mortem state where one shines like the stars of heaven (Dan 12.3; 4 Ezra 7.97; 1 Enoch 104.2) overlaps with descriptions of angels with resplendent and astral qualities (Apoc. Zeph. 1.1; T.Abr. 13.10) and even coheres with the exalted Jesus’s self-description as a “morning-star” according to John the Seer (Rev 22.16)

In the Qumran community rule, the sons of light who heed the angel of his truth will be transformed into an eternal blessed state with “a crown of glory with a robe of honor, resplendent forever and forever” (1QS 4.6-8) and the yaḥad are to be “heirs in the legacy of the Holy Ones; with the angels he has united their assembly, a yaḥad society. They are an assembly built up for holiness, an eternal planting for all ages to come (1QS 11.7-8). The liturgical war scroll includes a person, perhaps the community or its representative, who experiences something akin to an angelomorphic deification and joins the “gods” ([elim] 4Q491c 12-20). Just as the Qumranites believed that they had angels in their congregations (1QSa 2.8-9; 1QM 12.8), so too did they think that one day they would be part of an angelic congregation.

Turning to the New Testament, in Jesus’s dispute with the Sadducees over the resurrection, he claimed that the dead are “like angels” (([hōs angeloi] Mk 12.25; Mt 22.30) or in Lucan language “equals to angels” ([isangeloi] Lk 20.36). Then, in Acts 12, when Peter escapes from prison, he goes to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, and knocks on the door. The slave girl Rhoda hears Peter’s voice behind the door, runs back and tells the others that Peter is outside the premises, but they don’t believe her that it is Peter, and they infer instead that, “it must be his angel” (Acts 12.13-16). In other words, they think that Peter is already dead and the figure at the door must be his angelic doppelganger.

In later Enochic literature Enoch undergoes his own angelomorphic transformation. In 2 Enoch, Enoch ascends to the seventh heaven and is summoned before the “face of the Lord,” whereupon he does “obeisance to the Lord” (2 Enoch 22.1-3). Enoch, speaking in the first person, reports:

And the Lord, with his own mouth, said to me, ‘Be brave Enoch! Don’t be frightened! Stand up, and stand in front of my face forever.’ And Michael, the Lord’s archistratig, lifted me up and brought me in front of the face of the Lord. And the Lord said to his servants, sound them out, ‘Let Enoch join in and stand in front of my face forever!’ And the Lord’s glorious ones did obeisance and said, ‘Let Enoch yield in accordance with your words, O Lord!’ And the Lord said to Michael, ‘Go, and extract Enoch from [his] earthly clothing. And anoint him with my delightful oil, and put him in the clothes of my glory.’ And so Michael did, just as the Lord had said to me. He anointed me and he clothed me. And the appearance of that oil is greater than the greatest light, and its ointment is like sweet dew, and its fragrance myrrh; and it is like the rays of the glittering sun. And I looked at myself, and I had become like one of his glorious ones, and there was no observance difference (2 Enoch 22.5-10 [J]).

The mention of Enoch as standing in front of the Lord’s face forever indicates a truly privileged position comparable to a principal angel such as Gabriel or Michael. In addition, the change of clothing (cf. Zech 3.7) and anointing with oil (cf. Lev 21.10; Sir 45.15) suggests a priestly vocation. Thereafter, Enoch is seated on the Lord’s left next to Gabriel (2 Enoch 24.1). In the narrative of transformation, Enoch becomes a super-human angelic priest.[1]

In 3 Enoch, Rabbi Ishmael ascends to the heavens and meets the angel Metatron, the Prince of the Divine Presence, whom he discovers was originally the man Enoch (3 Enoch 4.3). Enoch had been taken up into heaven to serve the throne of glory day by day (3 Enoch 4.5; 6.1, 3, 7.1).

In Christian literature too, becoming an angel or angel-like was prevalent, especially in martyrologies. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the author lauds the martyrs who despised the tortures of this world and by their fidelity to the Lord and endurance under suffering “were no longer humans but already angels” (Mart. Pol. 2.3). Tertullian considered ascription of holiness to God in prayer as making people “candidates for angelhood” as angels ascribe holiness to God in his very presence (On Prayer 3). Origen, writing in the third century, referred to person achieving “the rank of angels” or even principalities, powers, and thrones (De Princ. 1.6.2). In the fourth century Acts of Philip, Philip prays, “Now then, my Lord Jesus Christ, make me worthy to meet you in the air, having forgiven me for the retribution which I visited upon my enemies. Transform the form of my body in angelic glory and give me rest in your bliss, and I will receive what was promised from you, what you promised to your saints, forever, amen.” (Acts Phil. 38).

[1] Charles A. Gieschen, “Enoch and Melchizedek: The Concern for Supra-Human Priestly Mediators in 2 Enoch,” in New Perspectives on 2 Enoch: No Longer Slavonic Only, eds. Andrei A. Orlov, Gabriele Boccaccini, Jason M. Zurawski (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 379-82 (369-86).

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