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The Great Angel: A Study of Israel's Second God

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | The Great Angel: A Study of Israel's Second God.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Margaret Barker(Author Preface)

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In this groundbreaking book, Barker claims that pre-Christian Judaism was not monotheistic and that the roots of Christian Trinitarian theology lie in a pre-Christian Palestinian belief about angels derived from the ancient religion of Israel. Barker's beliefs are based on canonical and deutero-canonical works and literature from Qumran and rabbinic sources.

Margaret Barker is a Methodist preacher and biblical scholar. A former president of the Society for Old Testament Study, in July 2008 she was awarded a Doctor of Divinity Lambeth degree by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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Book details

  • PDF | 272 pages
  • Margaret Barker(Author Preface)
  • Westminster John Knox Press; 1st American Ed edition (19 Sept. 1992)
  • English
  • 6
  • Religion & Spirituality

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  • By Ashtar Command on 9 June 2012

    "The Great Angel" is a book by maverick Methodist theologian Margaret Barker. It's a fascinating but super-scholarly study, and hence very difficult to read. I haven't read literally the whole book, let alone assimilated the arguments. If true, they are revolutionary. If not, we have a new heresy on our hands!Oh sorry, did I say "new"? ;-)Barker argues that ancient Judaism wasn't monotheistic, at least not in the way we usually understand monotheism. While she never uses the terms "polytheist" or "henotheist", her view of what ancient Judaism entailed certainly sounds closer to paganism than to Orthodox Judaism or traditional Christianity.Barker believes that Yahweh wasn't the only god, or even the highest god. Rather, Yahweh was the great angel of Israel, alongside countless of other angels, each ruling a nation of his own. The supreme god was El or El Elyon (God the Highest). Further, Yahweh had several different aspects. This can be seen in Ezekiel's visions, where the prophet sees four strange creatures flanking a humanoid figure. The different aspects of Yahweh were sometimes seen as angels in their own right (for instance, Michael). There was also a female aspect of Yahweh, known as the Queen of Heaven or Asera, worshipped in the form of a sacred tree. Yahweh somehow incarnated in human form during the coronation of the Israelite king, who thus became divine and was worshipped by the people. "Wisdom" was yet another aspect of Yahweh, often personified as a woman. Barker believes that Yahweh was originally present in the Ark of the Covenant inside the holy of holies of the First Temple. The cherubs at the ark symbolized Yahweh in two of his aspects, probably the male and the female one. Part of this ancient religion was the idea that humans can become divine. The legends surrounding Enoch are an expression of this. The old religion was attacked during the reforms of King Josiah and replaced by a strict monotheism, but the older strands of Judaism never really disappeared. Thus, traces of the older notions can still be seen in Ezekiel, Daniel or the Wisdom of Solomon.Since Barker is a Christian, her real point is that Christianity is the true heir - or at least one of the true heirs - of the ancient wisdom religion of Israel. Jesus was Yahweh, not in the Trinitarian sense of Yahweh being the Father and Jesus being the Son, both being the very same God, but in the literal sense of Jesus being identical with the entity known as Yahweh in the "Old Testament". This can be most clearly seen in the Pauline epistles, where Paul makes a distinction between God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. The former is El Elyon, the latter is Yahweh. God the Father is the "real" god, while Jesus Christ is the Great Angel, subordinate to God the Father. Jesus is both a distinct (and presumably created) person, and yet in some sense nevertheless divine.Barker believes that her perspective explains why Jesus was so quickly deified by his followers, and why there was an entire theology around his divine status so shortly after the (supposed) resurrection. The theology had existed already before Christianity, in the form of the surviving strands of pre-Exilic Judaism. The idea of Yahweh the Great Angel incarnating as a human king was applied to Jesus. In the same way, the transformation of the human Enoch into an immortal being at the right hand of God could be transferred to Jesus. The curious speculations about Jesus being a high priest after the order of Melchizedek also comes from original Judaism, where the high priest in the Temple (according to Barker) somehow experienced theosis during certain rituals.From a historical-critical viewpoint, these ideas do indeed have a certain intrinsic appeal. Unless I'm mistaken, both Richard Carrier and Robert Price references "The Great Angel" in some of their atheist attacks on Christianity. But, of course, Barker's agenda is different. For instance, she claims that her perspective makes it possible to dispense with the notion that Christianity was heavily influenced by mystery religions, or that Philo was adapting the Jewish message to Middle Platonism. In reality, the "polytheist" traits of Christianity have deep Jewish roots, going all the way back to the First Temple period.Maybe.However, I fail to see how this can exonerate Christianity from being "pagan"? Rather, it opens up the possibility that the religion of ancient Israel itself was pagan. Divine kings, higher and lesser gods, a goddess, priests worshipping God in the form of idols in a temple, an unclear distinction between the human and the divine...surely this is paganism? It may be a refined form of paganism, but its paganism nevertheless. (Incidentally, note the similarity between the creatures seen by Ezekiel and the theriocephalous deities of Egypt!) Ironically, Barker's ideas make it *easier* to explain why a "monotheist" religion would so readily be amenable to "polytheist" influences. It makes it even easier to comprehend Philo, Christianity or certain curious strands of Jewish mysticism.I'm not sure what kind of impact Margaret Barker's ideas might have. Many of her ideas are compatible with Mormonism, and the LDS Church is seriously interested in her works. This is hardly surprising, since Joseph Smith did develop a polytheistic-henotheistic understanding of God, believed that humans could become gods, laid special emphasis on Melchizedek and Enoch, and created a new temple cult. In Mormon folklore, there is even a "Mother in Heaven", a kind of pseudo-goddess. Joseph Smith made an explicit connection between his "restored gospel" and Egypt. Apart from ultra-conservative Mormons, Barker might interest very liberal Christians, including feminist theologians. Jews will presumably be less amused, since Barker's thesis entails that Christianity is the true continuator of pre-Exilic Judaism, while current Judaism is a deviation. This could be seen as a kind of really deep replacement theology. (The reactions of Kabbalists might be more interesting, but they are supposed to be silent about the esoteric message.)As already indicated, "The Great Angel" is a hard read, but I will probably continue to sift through its chapters. It seems to be ultimately rewarding, regardless of whether you agree with its thesis or not.


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