Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins

an Interdisciplinary Humanities Seminar
in its twenty-fifth year under the auspices of
The University of Pennsylvania
Department of Religious Studies
Philadelphia PA

PSCO Minutes
October 29, 1987

The following paper was presented to PSCO on October 29, 1987 to introduce the year's topic, "Principalities and Powers: Demons and Angels in the World of Late Antiquity".

"Overview of the Study of Angels and Demons"

David Frankfurter

I was originally struck by this topic, the functional reality of angels and demons, in examining two cases of early Jewish and Christian ritual. The first was Paul's proscription of women's uncovered hair in the Corinthian ekklesia ... dia tous angelous. It appeared to me, from a Qumran parallel to the phrase dia tous angelous, that Paul was presupposing the presence of angels during Corinthian worship. Angels, it seemed, were an indicator and "benefit" of the pseudo-cultic purity Paul enjoined upon the Corinthians. (Women's hair, therefore, denoted impurity by virtue of its "nakedness" — 1 Cor. 11.10, cf. 1QM 7.6 & Dt. 23.15 re: `erwat).

The second phenomenon that I found significant was the in the function of the Kedushah and Trisagion hymns in the third century liturgies. This hymn "holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; heaven and earth are full of his glory" from Isaiah 6.3, was combined early in Jewish apocalyptic tradition with the throne-chant of the Cherubim from Ezekiel. It is not clear that humans were "meant" to participate in this chant. And thus it seemed from the particular arrangement of the Trisagion hymns in the liturgy that they carried the power to summon the highest angels by describing them, to raise the congregation to the level of Throne angels, and to transform the liturgical space into a heavenly throne room. It also occurred to me that the strange and repetitive descriptions of cherubim and seraphim, the "angels of the face," in apocalyptic ascent literature might have more than a simply literary function — that perhaps there was a mystical or contemplative aspect to the forms these angels took in their "particularly divine" status.

In both cases liturgical space appeared to signify angelic space, and implied a kind of participatio — if not imitatio — angelorum. And in both of these particular cases — Corinth and early liturgical literature — it was Qumran angelology that provided the comparative key to understanding.

There have been four basic ways in which the angelology of the Qumran Essenes has been understood.

I. In the War Scroll angels and Essenes are cast as military comrades in the great eschatological war — "Warrior angels are in our muster, and He that is Mighty in War is in our throng. The army of His spirits marches beside us" (1QM 12.9). But since, as far as the Qumran text the "Rule of the Community" is concerned, this great battle is already at hand, we can assume that angels and Essenes were already supposed to be interacting as fellow soldiers.

II. In the Hodayot, or Thanksgiving, Scroll several hymns express the idea that knowledge of heavenly secrets actually signifies participation with angels. This would be unremarkable, since angels in general were the transmitters of special divine revelation; but here at Qumran knowledge from the angels explicitly made one like one of the angels — an angelic status through gnosis (1QH 3:19-23; 6:12-14).

III. Qumran sectarians must keep to an obsessive purity befitting only a Temple priesthood and a Holy War army precisely because "the Angels of Holiness are [with] their [congregation]" (1QSa 2:8-9a; cf. 1QM 7:6 ("fount"); 4QDb).

IV. Finally, the Essenes' priestly activities, performed as they imagined them to be, before the heavenly temple and altar, bring the sectarians into contact and participation with the angels of the heavenly cult (1QSb 4:25-28; cf. Rev. 8:3-5; III Bar 11-12).

It is necessary to realize that at Qumran all four "indicators" or "reasons for the presence of angels mutually imply one another: a realized eschaton, a holy war army in purity, knowledge of heavenly secrets, and the priesthood of the heavenly temple — all of these aspects of Qumran ideology intrinsically suggest one another, and imply the presence of angels.

This brings me to Carol Newsom's work [who unfortunately will not be here], on the liturgical texts of the Qumran Essenes. Here we find a kind of ritualization of angelic participation, for Newsom has found that the hymns' specific descriptions of angels in liturgy before God's throne functioned quite vividly as invocation for the Essenes, who were singing out in the hills: by describing a heavenly liturgy they are supposed to have entered into it, and have participated in the songs of the highest angels actually within the heavenly throne room of God. Newsom finds the series of Qumran Sabbath songs to work in a seven-tiered and thirteen-stage structure, based on descriptive elements, repetitive language, and attention to angelic beings and behavior. Each song thus brings the congregation progressively closer to the heavenly throne room, and the liturgy as a whole worked on several levels to reinforce the angelic/priestly ideology of the Qumran Essenes, probably as their major vehicle of participatio angelorum (Newsom, pp. 14-18). I have included one of the more well-known fragments of the angelic liturgy in the handout [4QShirShabb], which was recognized early as being one of the first appearances of Merkavah contemplation in post-Biblical Judaism. You can see the repetitive and ecstatic nature of the descriptions.

I have been emphasizing, through Qumran, the liturgical experience of participatio angelorum. But this is not the only domain in which one can find angels in life. One of the more general implications of Newsom's work is that in ritual situations description of heavenly forces continues invocation or realization of those very forces. What other evidence do we have for this invocational description of angels?

On the one hand, we might follow the history of liturgy from, for example, the angel hymn in the Colossian (1:16) letter or those in the Apocalypse, through the Apostolic Constitutions and on into Byzantine liturgy. On this trajectory it is clear that lists, ordered hierarchies, of divine beings (a kind of taxonomy of the heavenly strata) played the vital role of bringing together the heavenly and earthly cults. In fact, we might say that this "conflation of realms" underlay the whole concept of liturgy; and the recitation of angels' names made the experience of conflation much more explicit.

But the lists of angels, whether in hierarchical terms ("thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, authorities") or by their very names ("Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, Yaoel") seem to have played an equally "invocational" role in apocalypses (e.g. II En 21:1; III En 14:4; 17:3; 48:1; TSol) and certainly in the Sepher HaRazim and the Greek Magical Papyri (e.g. PGM III.146ff; VII.1017ff). How are we to understand the function of "invocation" for these diverse genres of literature? Are they in fact different? I would say, rather, that viewing the use of angel-lists, whether in formal liturgy or in ritual more generally conceived, we can see a quite wide phenomenon of "magical" lists of angels. When one is dealing with lists or "pronunciations" of angelic names it is difficult to distinguish between their respective functions in liturgy, magical spell and apocalypse. A long Biblical tradition of guarding divine names as powerful and dangerous culminates in such First Century warning as are voiced by the heavenly anthropos Michael in the Romance of Joseph and Aseneth: "My name is in the heavens in the book of the Most High, written by the finger of God…And all names written in the book of the Most High are unspeakable, and man is not allowed to pronounce nor hear them in this world, because those names are exceedingly great and wonderful and laudable" (15:12, cf. TLevi 5:5, Judges 13:6b, 17-18; Gen 32:29). Sefer HaRazim, which appears to be halfway between an apocalypse and a series of practical spells, epitomizes this difficulty. In each case the description of angels seem to constitute what Wade Wheelock has called "situating speech" — the creation of a sacred reality through the ritual description of that reality (JAAR 50, 1982, 49-71).

One context for the use of angel names and descriptions, will frame Alan Segal's presentation on February 4th. This context I might crudely call "mystical." Certain texts containing heavenly ascents not only describe the divine beings of each heavenly stratum, but allude to the transformation of the ascending patriarch (be he Enoch, Isaiah, Zephaniah, etc.) into a fellow being of that stratum: a kind of gradual apotheosis. He receives angelic robes, he knows the songs and the languages of each heaven up to the seventh, and most of these heavenly voyagers get to go "where no angel has gone before" — into the heavenly throne room (e.g., I En 14:21f; ApZeph 8). This makes the seer essentially equal to the "angels of the face," the highest beings, and a human of extraordinary privilege — actually more of a divine nature than privilege. It is at this point where the divinely transformed visionary — and now I refer mostly to Enoch, after the works of Christopher Rowland and Alan Segal — loses much of his distinction from what we might call the "Principal Angelic Mediator." This figure, familiar to us variously in the form of Metatron, Yaoel, Parakletos, and the "One like a Son of Man" from the Book of Daniel, seems to represent a tradition whereby an anthropomorphic or angelic figure was endowed with the attributes (for example, the name or the enthronement) of God himself. Although it is rarely said explicitly that a merging of visionary and Principal Angel takes place, the traditions of Enoch, Melchizedek, and even Moses' apotheosis show that there was some fluidity in the contemplation of the Principal Mediator. Hebrew Enoch, on the handout, quite specifically identifies Metatron and Enoch.

Because of these occasional thin lines between human and angel even in the heavenly throne room we might consider that the apotheoses described did not only pertain to the character in the book. It is possible that even in this exalted angelology mystical contemplation of the historical seer's transformation and ascension led up to the reader's own experience of imitatio angeli principati. Alan Segal will be concentrating on the relevance of this "mystical" context of ascent literature for Paul; we might also consider its applicability to individual apocalypses, and even to Magical texts such as the Poimandres. Again, I am thinking towards a functionality of angelic description, a social context for the experience of angels. I am not thinking in this case of validating "actual ascent experiences."

Before I turn from angels in ritual (widely defined) to other topics in angelology, I should mention that this ritual use of names for invocation has an analogue in the realm of demonology. If you recall, the classic method of exorcism (if one is so qualified for the job) is to learn the possessing demon's name, and then to adjure that demon by the name of an authoritative power, to leave the patient. In both stages of the exorcism, knowledge of the right name is an empowering weapon. Early Christian literature shows the potential problems that can happen on either end of the process: Mk 5, where the demon gives a number, "legion," instead of a name; and Acts 19, when an exorcist adjures the demon under a name he is unqualified to use, with severe consequences.

There is also a strange variation on the recitation of angelic names in PGM VII.593-619, which is in your handout. Here the practitioner of a "fetching spell" recites the principal divine names but with insulting attributes, and then says "I am not the one who says such things, master, but she, the godless NN." The idea seems to be that the daimon will be angered enough to perform the request.

My next general heading for topic in angelology might be called "the angel and the community" — that is, how could the collective devotion to a particular angel form a kind of cult?

Most important for this topic is a consideration of the tradition of "the angels of the nations" — an idea merely alluded to in the Book of Daniel, but set out in more detail in Jubilees and the Enochic literature. The notion is that each nation of the world has its "guardian angel," and that this role is not in the least figural: rather, the interplay of the angels of the nations literally control the destinies of their respective peoples. The origins of this notion are certainly much more subtle than simply an extension of the Septuagint's Dt 32:8: "When the Most High divided up the nations…he set the boundaries of the nations according to the number of angels of God" (Rowland, p. 89f). But apocalyptic writers ran with the theme to explain the entire history of the Near East (Jub 15:31f; I En 89:59-62; III En 17:8, 14:2, 26:12, 18:3); and it is interesting how Daniel merely assumes the fact of "Princes" over Israel and Persia (10:13; 12:1).

But to get back from the realm of literature to life I must again refer to Qumran, which for all intents and purposes would appear to be a "cult" of the archangel Michael. Michael was traditionally not only God's chosen warrior, but also (cf. III Bar) a high priestly figure, so his particular adoration is easy to understand. But the concept of a real "archangel cult" does spring to mind with Michael's appearance throughout the texts: as the "Prince of Light" in their Two Ways discourse (1QS 3:20), and throughout the War Scroll as the personal commander and standard of the Holy War Host (1QM 17:7ff; cf. 5.1). For example: "Thou didst appoint from old the Prince of Light to assist us, [since all the sons of justice are in his lot] and all spirits of truth in his dominion" (1QM 13:10YY). The Essenes' particular devotion and status to Michael is given an added dimension by the archangel's apparent alter-identity as Melchizedek, the archetypal priest from before the flood, considered at Qumran as one of the Elohim, or "heavenly ones" (11QMelch).

The second form of angel "cults" would appear to be represented by Archangel church-naming traditions in the Christian Near East. I know very little about this subject, except that at some early stage it became traditional to place shrines to St. Michael on high places. Also, by the sixth century the hills of both Syria and Egypt were full of chapels dedicated to particular archangels. In fact, it would appear that some reciprocal influence went on between the conception of archangels and that of ordinary saints: their expected functions in peoples' lives become the same in Late Antiquity, and the whole Coptic tradition of "Rider Saints" would appear to be based on military angel descriptions and iconography. My early observations on the Jewish associations between visionary patriarchs and principal angels might also shed light on the saint/angel phenomenon. In fact, it would be useful to look at how the two categories, "saint" and "angel" were maintained independently or merged by the authorities.

An archangel cult is easier to understand and explain when there is positive evidence of syncretism — between Christianity, Judaism, and either local divinities or simply the holy place itself [see A. R. R. Sheppard, "Pagan Cults of Angels in Roman Asia Minor," Talanta 12/13 (1980/81): 77-101.] On April 7th, Frank Trombley of Dumbarton Oaks will be addressing this question, and why such local traditions evolve into either angel/Mary traditions, or (more often) demon traditions.

When we do turn to demonology we are presented by two rather contrasting facets to Late Antique demons. On the one hand, there is what we might call "apocalyptic demonology," where there is the experience of a massive onslaught of demonic powers, an entire "dark half" of the cosmos, whose impure origins lie in the antediluvian times of Genesis 6 and its associated traditions. These "associated traditions" about the B'nei Elohim, the daughters of men, and the revolt of the angels under Azazel were evidently quite well known. They are referred to in the Jewish-Christian Epistle of Jude, and reappear in extensive form in the book of Enoch (I Enoch 6-11). Since they had tremendous influence on Late Antique demonology and theodicy (e.g., Origen), I thought it would be worthwhile to have three scholars whose works touch on the legend's use in Late Antiquity discuss the various ways in which people understood the legend as referring to supernatural powers of their own day. This symposium will take place at Princeton on March 10th.

Apocalyptic demonology had great implications for an eschatological view of the cosmos: people with such a view understood the evils of the present both in terms of God's destruction of evil in the imminent future, and in terms of the origins of these evils in the distant past. Demons were not just annoying poltergeists, but part and parcel of the eschatological army of Satan. The Christian gospels bear traces of an apocalyptic demonology: for example, the demon's name "Legion" has an obviously military significance (Mk 5:9b & par); and Jesus' threat to call down twelve legions of angels to defend him shows the military preparation of the angelic side (Mt 26:53).

The "life-world" of apocalyptic demonology would, I'd think, be some kind of chiliastic sect, which would tend in general to view the cosmos in terms of battling forces of good and evil. But this is where we get to my on the other hand — the "other" facet of demonology: what did demons signify for other folks besides the apocalyptists? What do we see when we remove all the eschatological and cosmogonic significance from the demons? Here we run into problems, for while "destructive" spirits do appear here and there in texts such as Tobit, they have a remarkable incoherency. Peter Brown has even suggested that the late antique growth of a coherent demonology — out of earlier notions of sorcery and witchcraft, where evil power lay in humans — came about precisely because of Christian eschatology: by framing the world dualistically, church leaders could subsume every possible kind of local misfortune into a possession/exorcism pattern. The Jonathan Z. Smith article ("Towards Interpreting Demonic Powers in Hellenistic and Roman Antiquity," ANRW II.16.1, pp. 425-439) criticizes the automatic scholarly move from daimon to demon, from a sort of "familiar spirit" to a devil. When we look at the PGM daimon does indeed have a much more ambivalent function than we would expect coming from New Testament literature. Here we will receive some clarification form Morton Smith on May 5th, whose work on magical texts I assume everybody is familiar with.

I have put one particular "exorcism" spell on the hand-out for possible discussion [PGM IV.1227-64], for it seems to assume some kind of demonology, but what exactly the spell aims to accomplish is rather vague. So my question is, for the other side of Greco-Roman demonology, did an actual demonology exist at the pre-or sub-Christian level, or in popular Judaism? Is Tobit's story of the demon Asmodeus killing Sarah's five husbands representative of common beliefs?

I suppose one answer might be found in the history of religions background to angels and demons, which is my final "domain for research" for the evening. I have saved it for last because it is the most researched subject but the least concerned with sitz-im-leben or with popular context. Yet I can say that research on the Iranian or Mazdaian influence on early Jewish demonology and angelology has successfully explained how "popular" Judaism could have a demonology (replete with names such as Asmodeus) without being expressly apocalyptic. Iranian connections also offer some background for that strange Qumran image of the massive cosmic line-up of supernatural armies, each angel and demon with its opponent pre-ordained.

In particular cases other cultural sources for angel and demon traditions can be found: for example, Egypt for the Death demon in the Testament of Abraham. In other cases the ultimate roots for an angel or demon have no relevance for its Greco-Roman personality, for example, the sphinx-like figures originally carried under the Israelite Ark, the cherubim, have no longer any relation to the flaming "living creatures" in apocalyptic throne-theophanies.

This about closes my overview of angels and demons. I'm sure I've left out numerous other topics and angels on the subject of supernatural beings that would be equally relevant to our agenda. I have consciously left of the issues of angelology and monotheism, angelology in the Hebrew Bible, angelology and meteorology, and angelology and images of Christ. These are more standard approaches to the subject, which generally stay at the textual or exegetical level.

For related materials, consult other PSCO presentations and discussions on the topic for the 1987-1988 seminar, "Principalities and Powers: Demons and Angels in the World of Late Antiquity".