Friday, February 02, 2018

Cosmic fall

I received some interesting feedback from several commenters on this post:

What do you think of Heiser's books on the subject of fallen angels in the OT? If I recall he thinks The accuser in Job is not a devil or demon at all.

I would think the book of Job would be a prima facie counterexample. Whatever else it is, it isn't intertestamental! At least it shows the concept of a cosmic bad guy around earlier.

i) I'm inclined to date the Book of Job to the time of Solomon's international court, which had contacts with neighboring countries. A little Renaissance. I'm guessing the historical Job, while not an ethnic Jew, was a worshiper of Yahweh in the way some NT gentiles ("Godfearers") were converts to Judaism. That may also account for the Hebrew dialect Job is written in. 

ii) I don't have a firm opinion regarding the identity of the antagonist in Job 1-2. He's morally ambiguous. He clearly has no concern for Job's welfare. 

Moral ambiguity is consistent with the Devil in the sense that the Devil conceals his malevolence to lull the unsuspecting. 

iii) One hermeneutical issue is whether it's anachronistic to ID the antagonist as the devil based on NT theology. Is that retrojecting later developments into Job?

That depends in part on how we regard the Bible. Some scholars simply view the Bible as uninspired sectarian fiction. For them, the devil evolves in the same way literary characters like Faust and Mephisophiles evolve. Or Batman. 

iv) But even if we affirm the plenary inspiration of Scripture (as we should!), some conservative scholars think it's illegitimate to use the NT to interpret the OT. Rather, we ought interpret each book of the Bible according to the information available at the time of writing. This distinction crops up in debates over amillennialism and dispensationalism. 

I'm not going to adjudicate that general issue in this post. Rather, I'd like to make a narrower point in relation to Job. Let's take a comparison. At one stage of his career, Dwight Eisenhower was MacArthur's chief of staff. He went on to become a top general, and then a two-term president. 

Suppose you were reading a period newspaper report about MacArthur which mentioned Ike. You know things about Ike which the reporter didn't at the time of writing. You know about the rest of his career. You know what he became. You read the account from a retrospective viewpoint. In a sense that's anachronistic. That's not something the reporter could have had in mind. Nevertheless, it's the same person. Ike has diachronic identity. He's the same individual moving forward and backward in time. So even if there's a hiatus between the viewpoint of the reporter and the viewpoint of the reader, there's nothing wrong with bringing later information to bear when reading that earlier account.

By the same token there's nothing inherently illicit about interpreting the antagonist in Job in light of NT theology. That's assuming they are, in fact, the same individual. That would still have to be established. My point is that there's nothing illegitimate in principle about taking that later frame of refernce into consideration when we attempt to identify the antagonist in Job.

I guess another option (maybe?) is if the false prophet could have been naturally born with certain abilities a la what people like Stephen Braude say?

i) One issue is whether paranormal abilities are extraordinary abilities which some humans naturally have–or mediumistic abilities, which they acquire directly (e.g. dabbling in the occult) or indirectly (inherited from ancestors who dabbled in the occult). 

ii) In addition, the paranormal is a grab bag, so it's possible that some paranormal abilities are natural abilities while other paranormal abilities are mediumistic abilities. 

1. Could the signs and wonders that the false prophet performs simply be smoke and mirrors, without a supernatural cause? The false prophet may have gotten lucky in predicting an event, or been able to facilitate an illusion of a sign and wonder.

2. Could the false prophet perform the sign and wonder with the help of another god in the pantheon? I struggle somewhat with this solution. There are places in Deuteronomy that acknowledge the existence of other gods. At the same time, Moshe Weinfeld presents a cause in Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School that those are Deuteronomy's sources, and the author of Deuteronomy himself depersonalized the others gods.

3. Could the false prophet perform the sign and wonder with the help of a demon? I am not sure if they believed back then that demons could do miracles. My understanding is that demons could be souls of dead people who did not have a peaceful transition in the afterlife, and they mainly afflicted people rather than trying to deceive. 

Then again, doing a search, Deuteronomy 32:17 appears to equate false gods with shedim (which English translations renders as devils or demons); the word does not appear often in the Bible, and I do not know much about it offhand. It is in the same song that appears to acknowledge the existence of other gods (Deuteronomy 32:8-9).

i) It's my impression, based on cross-cultural ethnographic data, that magic is typically attributed to empowerment by an external agent. A common paradigm is temporary possession. Or dream incubation. Or incantations to compel or manipulate supernatural agents to do the bidding of the witchdoctor. A different but related example is ritual cannibalism to absorb the courage of a enemy warrior. 

Within the thought-world of the ancient Near East, I assume a successful false prophet would be viewed as a sorcerer. Someone channeling occult power. To my knowledge, that's the standard paradigm of witchcraft.

ii) In heathenism, that could be viewed as ancestral spirits, evil spirits, or "gods". In Christian theology, the taxonomy is based on a protological narrative of fallen angels, as well as an eschatological narrative regarding spiritual warfare. Pagans didn't have that narrative, so they will have a different taxonomy. 

How does the OT classify pagan numina? Given the view of Yahweh as the sole Creator, pagan numina would be at best supernatural creatures. Heavenly or fallen angels. Of course, that's a bit circular since the question at issue is the extent to which the OT has a doctrine of a cosmic fall. In that regard, a neglected text is Isa 24:21-22, which seems to allude to a "war in heaven" motif. 

No comments:

Post a Comment