Saturday, July 16, 2011

A tale of two Tuggies

One of the ways that Dale Tuggy tries to salvage unitarianism is by appealing to exalted intermediaries in 2nd Temple Judaism. But there are several problems with this move:

i) He’s classified agential/instrumental categories under subordinationist unitarianism, which he distinguishes from his own position (i.e. humanitarian unitarianism). So why is he appealing to harmonistic devices which he himself rejects?

ii) Before he can invoke sectarian Intertestamental literature, he’d need to show that the NT writers who use deific ascriptions for Jesus thought that sectarian literature was sufficiently authoritative to supply a precedent for Christology.

iii) Darrell Bock has written a standard monograph on the subject: Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism (Baker 2000). Even the most exalted creatures in 2nd Temple Judaism fall far short of what’s said about Jesus. And even these lesser ascriptions provoked a pushback. As Bock says, summarizing his documentation and analysis:

The image of an exalted Enoch appears to have been countered by other Enoch traditions arguing that he only observed and recorded the judgment, was punished as Metatron-Enoch, or even failed to be among the righteous (Tps-Jon to Gen 5:25; 3 En 16:4-5; TOnq to Gen 5:24; Gen R 25:1). The exalted Moses imagery also seems to have received attention as needing clarification that prevented a misunderstanding (Philo, Questions on Exodus 2:29). These counter traditions indicate that some had a degree of discomfort with placing someone so close to God (162).
Enoch-Metatron is given great authority over heavenly affairs, but he also is disciplined when that authority is misused in a way that might confuse him with God (3 En 3–16)…[This] also indicates the intense fear and reaction such exaltation texts produced when they were seen as giving too exalted a position to someone other than God.
As noted, these final two portraits of Enoch-Metatron and Enoch-Son of Man produced controversy. These figures appear in other passages in ways that show great nervousness about the extent of exaltation attributed to them (Tabr 11:3-8[B]- for Enoch; 3 En 16; b Hag 15a; b Sanh 38b; and b AZ 3b- for Metatron). God’s honor is unique and is not to be confused with anyone else’s status. To equate anyone else with God is to risk thinking blasphemously…The highest forms of exaltation apparently also met with some strong opposition or clear qualification of such claims (182-83).


  1. Here are two things I regularly note in conversation with people who appeal to intermediary agents:

    1. No single intermediary comes close to being described in the programmatic way that Jesus is, i.e., no intermediary, be it a personified divine attributed like Wisdom, an exalted Patriarch like Moses, Adam, or Elijah, or an angelic figure like Yahoel/Metatron possesses the divine titles, receives the worship reserved for God, exercises divine prerogatives, sits on the divine throne, etc. like Jesus. Even if we took every intermediary known from 2nd Temple Jewish texts and morphed them into one single figure we still wouldn't see the programmatic exaltation that we find with reference to Jesus across the entire NT and early Christian corpus.

    2. Of all the intermediary agents in 2nd Temple literature, not one of them was honored with actual cultic reverence. In other words, it's all good for them to be exalted on paper, but in real life they had no following. There are no examples of life imitating art, so to speak. To my mind this is one of Hurtado's strongest arguments against those who want to place too much emphasis on intermediaries.

  2. i) He’s classified agential/instrumental categories under subordinationist unitarianism, which he distinguishes from his own position (i.e. humanitarian unitarianism). So why is he appealing to harmonistic devices which he himself rejects?

    I'll take this as a serious question rather than a taunt.

    The subordinationist unitarian takes what you can call apparent Christ-creator texts this way. I don't think they in fact teach Jesus to have created. My point was that even if they teach that he created, you would need to rule out this rather obvious, agential way to take them, which was so popular with the 2nd c. "fathers." Until you rule this out, it's hard to see why such would imply that Jesus is God himself, or even that he's divine in the same sense the Father is divine.

    Of course, humanitarian unitarians have every right to help ourselves to the Jesus as God's agent idea, for it is central to the NT the Jesus acts as God's agent, on God's behalf. This is why Jesus emphasizes that he's been given authority to do things one might assume only God himself could do - e.g. forgive sins, send God's spirit, judge humanity, giving new life, speak God's word, etc. (John 5:27, John 12:49, 17:2; Mt. 9:8, Mt. 28:18; Lk 10:19) Of course, if Jesus were YHWH himself, or were equally divine, he wouldn't need to have such authority granted to him by another.

    Paul prophesies a sort of climax of all this authority-giving by God:

    1 Cor 15:24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power. 15:25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 15:26 The last enemy to be eliminated is death. 15:27 For he has put everything in subjection under his feet. But when it says “everything” has been put in subjection, it is clear that this does not include the one who put everything in subjection to him. 15:28 And when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.

    ("God" throughout is the Father, as is normally the case in the NT.)

    About "divine" intertestamental intermediaries. I don't put much weight on them; this is a dark subject. I only cite them for examples of beings other than YHWH, but who serve closely with him, "bearing his name". This, of course, being done to Jesus at his exaltation. (Phil 2:9) I suppose that in your view, he should have had this name restored to him; but, that's not what it says.

    Nick: Of course the case of Jesus is unique! I'm not arguing that the early Christians pinched their ideas about Jesus from earlier sources.