Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Of all the world's various faiths, the one closest to Christianity would have to be Judaism. We share many of the same sacred books and history up to the birth of Christ. Given that, I had assumed that Jewish cosmology and Christian cosmology would be identical. Not necessarily so.
Unlike Catholicism which looks to the Pope for direction, Judaism is not monolithic. Many voices speak with authority, and those voices do not necessarily agree. To understand Judaism, one has to understand that theology is presented by a number of Rabbis who may be in total disagreement on various points. There is no court of last appeal. There are only the Jewish followers of various Rabbis.
For example, let's look at angels. Catholic angels are described this way in the CCC:
With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. (329)
As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness. (330)
Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are his angels. (331)
Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, serving the accomplishment of the divine plan. (332)
The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels. (334)
From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. (336)
Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church's Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called "Satan" or the "devil." The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: "The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing." (391)
Now turn to Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis' account of Angels in the Encyclopedia Mythica. There you can read that Angels "manifest themselves as pillars of fire and cloud, or as a fire within a bush." The source for that claim is the Book of Exodus. But wait...wasn't it God who manifested Himself in a pillar of fire and a burning bush? Well, Rabbi Dennis sees angels as God: "Perhaps the most ambiguous creature is the Malach Adonai, an angel that may or may not be a visible manifestation of God."
He also states that: "The Book of Daniel includes a number of ideas about angels that would be elaborated upon in post-Biblical texts, including named angels and guardian angels, that all the nations of the world have their own angelic prince, that angels are arranged hierarchically, and that angels have delimited spheres of authority."
And we are told that in Rabbi Dennis' cosmology: "the boundary between human and angelic states is permeable. Elaborating on cryptic passages found in the Bible (Gen. 5:24; II Kings 2:11), it is taught that exceptional mortals, such as Enoch, may be elevated to angelic status (I Enoch)." That is certainly a departure from Catholic Old Testament cosmology.
We can also learn that in Judaism "angels may be invoked and employed by human initiates, later a staple element of Merkavah mysticism..." Rabbi Dennis goes further:
In late antiquity angelology becomes a major element in Merkavah mysticism. Any adept wishing to ascend the palaces of the heavens and achieve a vision of the Divine Glory needed to know how to get past the angelic guardians (usually by knowing and invoking their names) at each level. Perhaps even more important to this mystical tradition, angels can be summoned and brought down to earth to serve a human initiate. Many rituals and practices devoted to this end have been preserved in the Hechalot writings."
That is a significant departure from Catholic cosmology. The departure is magnified by Rabbi Dennis' words here:
Visitations by angels were widely reported among kabbalists. The mystic-legalist Joseph Caro wrote of his maggid, the genius of the Mishna, who visited him in the night and taught him Torah ha-Sod, the esoteric Torah.
The main contribution of Chasidic thought to angelology was a distinctly anthropocentric, even psychological, interpretation of angelic nature. Specifically, early Chasidic masters held that ephemeral angels were the direct result of human action. Goodly deeds created good angels, destructive behavior created destructive angels, etc. In other words, most angels are ontologically the creation, really a byproduct, of humans rather than God!
Such claims need verification. Next I turned to the Jewish Encyclopedia for the entry "Hekalot" and found Hekalot literature is:
based upon the remnants of the apocalyptic books of the mystic Essenes (see Apocalyptic Literature; Eschatology; Essenes) found in Mishnah (Ḥag. ii. 1) and Talmud. They originated, according to Hai Gaon ("Teshubot," No. 1), among the mystics of the geonic period known as the "Yorede Merkabah" (riders in the heavenly chariot), who, by asceticism and prayer, entered a state of ecstasy in which the heavens opened before them and disclosed their mysteries. These mysteries, and the means by which the "Merkabah-ride" can be achieved, are described in the "Hekalot Rabbati," of which thirty fragments have survived....
The "Hekalot Rabbati" begins with praises of those found worthy to see the "Chariot-Throne". Nothing that happens or that is about to happen in the world is concealed from them.
"Hekalot" refers to the seven heavenly halls which are guarded by angels. An "enumeration of the angels, and of the formulas by which they can be invoked" is part of this literature. There is a reference in the encyclopedia to the guardians of the door to the seventh hall, "terrible warriors with drawn swords, whose eyes send forth stars of fire, and from whose mouths issues burning coal; there are also guards who ride on terrible horses, horses of blood and of hail, which consume rivers of fire." It almost sounds as though it has been taken from the Book of Revelation. And it sounds somewhat like the toll booths in Orthodox Christianity, a kind of parallel to Roman Catholic Purgatory. The trick is to get past the guardians:
The seeker of the mysterious Chariot-Throne gains these halls by formulas which have the virtue of compelling the angels to grant him admission. Metatron serves him as guide. To undertake the perilous Merkabah-ride one must possess all religious knowledge, observe all the commandments and precepts, and fast frequently."
Contained in the Hekalot Rabbati are hymns of praise; a conversation between God, Israel, and the angels which confers instant wisdom to those who are initiated into this conversation; and an explanation of the mysteries of charms and prayers.
I'll pick up the discussion of Jewish angels at this point next time.