Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bauckham's "Jesus and the God of Israel": Chapter 1A (Monotheism)

I am continuing my review of Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the God of Israel. I am dividing the rather lengthy first chapter into three posts (and they themselves are a bit long). You can see my introductory remarks here.

Chapter 1 consists of a barely revised version of his booklet from ten years ago, also from Eerdmans (and even with the same cover design), entitled, God Crucified.

In the first third of this chapter, he discusses ancient Jewish "monotheism," something that will be elaborated in chapters 2 and 3.

He argues that the key issue for understanding New Testament Christology is Second Temple monotheism. He gives two views of monotheism among modern scholars: “strict” and “revisionist.” In the former, Jesus cannot be divine in a Jewish context—Jesus’ divinity threatens monotheism. In the latter, there is a denial of any strictness to monotheism: categories of being between human, angelic, and divine are all blurry (blurred by principle angels, exalted humans, divine attributes as emanations, etc.). This latter group sees Jesus as a highly exalted angel, divine, and entirely within the blurry Jewish context. This is a fairly “flexible” view of divinity.

Bauckham admits that this characterization is somewhat a caricature, but then casts himself as providing the golden mean. This is a rather typical rhetorical trope in scholarship: caricature two positions and present oneself as wisely in the middle.

This middle position is that Second Temple Jewish monotheism was strict: “most Jews in this period were highly self-consciously monotheistic” (3). As such, they drew a clear line between God and all other reality with “clearly articulated criteria.” I continue to tire of his adverbs. This criteria differentiates the creator from all creation (being a “creature” disqualifies one for divinity—except Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, I guess). Even highly exalted creatures in the heavenly sanctuary that are close to God are differentiated from God in this way; therefore, Bauckham claims, they are of limited use in New Testament Christology—again, assuming that Jesus could never be a mere exalted angel in any Christology. Rather than exalted semi-divine intermediaries (whom Bauckham claims never existed), New Testament Christology only makes sense by identifying Jesus directly with the one God of Israel. By the way, he seems to “prove” “monotheism” more by repeating “one God” or “one unique God” or “one true God” ad nauseum. God, therefore, is divided from all other reality, but did not prevent early Christians from including Jesus within this “unique divine identity” (3-4). I do think, however, that Melchizedek/Michael from 11Q13 (11QMelch) seems to fit in this definition.

At this point, he raises an issue of methodology: those scholars who invoke “blurred boundaries” between divine and all other reality with semi-divine intermediaries can only cull a “very small amount” of evidence, whereas, he claims, he will use broad evidence (4-5). I wonder how much is small? How much is broad? Moreover, if this evidence exists, then we have to account for its existence, no matter how small. How do we account for its smallness? Is it that few had this opinion, or was their opinion not copied out by later generations (who may have had a more “monotheistic” position and therefore did not wish to keep older documents that compromised such a view)?

He writes, “There is every reason to suppose that observant Jews of the late Second Temple period were highly self-conscious monotheists…” (5). What counts as “observant” in such a period in which there were such highly variegated form of Jewish practice and interpretation? Who defines what is observant and what is not? Perhaps there were Jews who thought “strict monotheism” was an utter heresy! Observance/non-observance is perspectival.

This is important for the key evidence he begins with: the shema. It turns out that the “broad evidence” is the recitation of the shema and the first two commandments (Deut. 6:4-6; Exod 20:2-6; Deut. 5:6-10). The key verses here are Deut. 6:4: שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד, and Deut. 5:7/Exod. 20:3: “You shall have no other Gods before me.” But this evidence is ambiguous (not the “unambiguous” and “clear” that he constantly claims). Firstly, it is not proof of monotheism, but monolatry: it is not the idea that God is differentiated from all other reality; it is the worship of only one God. I quote the first passage in Hebrew to make a point. Sometimes it is understood as “Hear, Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one.” But it can also mean, “Hear, Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD alone.” In this sense, it is the command only to listen to/obey this God, YHWH, rather than the other gods. The two passages from the two version of the ten commandments have the same gist: do not put any other gods before me recognizes the existence of other gods, but demands worship of one alone.

Nonetheless, without any evidence, Bauckham writes of the Decalogue, “Both passages were clearly understood in this period as asserting the absolute uniqueness of YHWH as the one and only God” (5). This just seems hardly to be the case—or there just is not evidence for this interpretation in this period for these rather ambiguous passages. While the two Decalogues and the Shema assert allegiance to YHWH alone, they do not assert that YHWH was alone. It is a mistake to assume that exclusive worship indicates monotheism. Monolatry (worship of one god) does not necessarily lead to monotheism (the existence of one god), although monotheism would lead to monolatry. So far, there is no evidence for monotheism, only exclusive worship.

Moreover, we need to address when the recitation of the Shema became used, by whom, how widespread it was, and how the practice became disseminated. Such information is also not cited. What is the evidence? Again, since were are dealing with a great deal of variety in ancient Jewish social groupings, especially in the latter part of the second temple period, this information becomes crucial. I am still looking for that “broader evidence.”

At this point, he inserts an interesting phrase, “practical monotheism”: “a whole pattern of daily life and cultic worship formed by exclusive allegiance to one God” (6). Again, this is just monolatry in new language that begins to edge itself into monotheism. But, he claims, it “presupposes a god who is in some way significantly identifiable,” meaning, not some abstract concept in Greek thought, but a personality, or an identity defined in terms of an identity of self-continuity (see 6 n. 5). God acts much like a character in a story (like, I might add, all stories of gods in world literature). I think this much is fair. Bauckham does recognize “identity” as an etic term, but still finds it useful (“monotheism” is also an etic term, but he never notes that).

Because God is a character in a story, so to speak, you cannot define the “uniqueness of one god” in terms of nature, but in terms of how God acts and who he is (as a character) rather than what God is. Bauckham isolates two ways of characterizing God: (1) God’s relationship to Israel—Exodus events; God as the one who acts generously towards his people; all the covenantal language; (2) God’s relationship to all reality (as Creator and Ruler of all things). As his argument progresses, it will be clear that he is more concerned with (2) rather than (1). While, however, I think that for ancient Jews, the covenantal aspect was probably the most important (as perhaps illustrated by the Shema, if it was so widespread), for the arguments of monotheism, the Creator/Ruler with its universalizing tendencies will become more important.

It is with this distinction, in fact, that Bauckham finally is able to adduce a wide range of evidence (for Creator: 2nd Isaiah (with 8 references alone), Neh., Hos. (LXX), 2 Macc, Sir., Bel, Jub., SibOr., 2 Enoch, ApocAbr, Ps-Sophocles, JosAsen, T.Job; for Ruler: Dan., Bel, Add.Esth, 3 Macc., Wis., Sir., Sib.Or., 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, 2 Bar., Josephus Antiquities). Note, however, that the only overlap between creator and ruler are Bel and the Dragon and 2 Enoch. While these are two ways to express God’s “uniqueness,” it appears that some texts prefer to talk about creator God and others ruler God. It, therefore, isn’t that all Jews refer to God as unique creator and unique sovereign. It is that a lot refer to God as Creator of all, a lot refer to God as Sovereign of all, but very few do both. It would be interesting to evaluate the significance of this divergence of interest, a divergence Bauckham never acknowledges. Perhaps we have separate traditions.

He also notes the claim that there is “no god besides me” is common in Second Temple Jewish literature. I think we ought to take care with this phrase—it is one of those instances where “lumping” can overshadow a great deal of variation of meaning and how those meanings change. This can mean “no God beside me,” meaning next to me (worship only me) or it can mean “there is no other God” (Deut. 4:35, 39; 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 7:22; Isa. 43:11; 44:6; 45:5, 6, 14, 18, 21, 22; 46:9; Hos. 13:4; Joel 2:27; Wis. 12:13; Jdt. 8:20; 9:14; Bel 41; Sir. 24:24; 36:5; 4Q504 5:9; 1Q35 1:6; Bar. 3:36; 2 En. 33:8; 36:1; 47:3; Sib.Or. 3:629, 760; 8:377; T.Ab. A8:7; Orphica 16; Philo, Leg., 3:4, 82). Some texts, particularly Second Isaiah probably do mean what Bauckham claims, but others may not. But the evidence has finally become impressive, in my view. Bauckham now has a sure measuring rod for the portrayal of God as Creator and Sovereign of all—aspects God shares with no created being, or, so it seems. God as Creator and Ruler of all denotes God’s unique status—and it is, for the most part, exclusive. So, now Bauckham has established a substantive differentiation between God and all other reality. Whether this is “monotheism” or not, at this point, becomes irrelevant: whether other exalted beings are gods, angels, or whatever, they are still differentiated in this respect from the “God of gods” (a surprisingly common phrase in ancient Jewish literature, and, interestingly, a designation given to Jupiter in the Aeneid).

“However diverse Judaism may have been in many other respects, this was common: only the God of Israel is worthy of worship because he is the sole Creator of all things and the sole Ruler of all things. Other beings who might otherwise be thought divine are by this criteria God’s creatures and subjects” (9).

This differentiation as Creator and Ruler of all, and not the Shema, is the key. So, for example, in my earlier posts on “monotheism” (here and here), I have objected to the idea based upon the pervasive language of “gods” and I would add “sons of God” (which designates exalted figures as divine—perhaps even “begotten and not made”) in ancient Jewish literature, particularly the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, as undercutting any idea of monotheism. At the same time, however, in those same texts, particularly the Songs, these “gods” praise and worship the “god of gods”; thus, the “sovereignty” point of Bauckham holds no matter what I decide to term these celestial beings. I will still call them “gods” because the ancient sources do—and if they had no problem doing so, why should I?

Bauckham claims God has no help in creation (does anyone know any texts to the contrary off-hand?). Moreover, the “angels” or “gods” or whatever you want to call them are servants; they do not have their own will (except maybe in Job!). Sometimes God delegates limited responsibility to some sphere of activity, but God never delegates ultimate sovereignty.

Now, is this formulation of creator and sovereign unique to Judaism? Bauckham primarily searches Greek “philosophical monotheism” to compare and contrast (but mostly to prove how the Jewish form is different). He points out, for example, that in contrast to the spectrum of divine being, in which there is an all powerful God at the top in Hellenistic philosophy, God in Israelite literature is explicitly unique: if there is a chain or spectrum of divinity, there is a huge line between God and the others marked out in Jewish literature that is not so clearly demarcated in Greek literature. God is at the summit, but not merely at the summit, but completely unique. Indeed, in texts he does not invoke (from the Dead Sea Scrolls) other “gods” like the “gods of knowledge” still worship God. Even when the highest god in Greek philosophy is creator and ruler, the exclusive worship in Judaism still makes the Jewish conception unique.

Nonetheless, I wonder if he is looking in the wrong place. It may seem counterintuitive, but “mythic” stories might be the best place to go. How does this distinction make YHWH any different than, say, Marduk? Marduk is the creator of the world, and, because of it, he is the sovereign of the world and all the other gods must pay obeisance to him (Enuma Elish); they are his servants. So many Egyptian texts do the same thing, setting up Re, Amun, or whomever as the ultimate god, from whom all things derive and ruler over all things (we tend to call this “henotheism”—one god at a time). “Monotheism” versus “polytheism” is really, I think, a red herring in scholarship. The terms should be thrown out. There are so many more interesting interconnections between ancient mythologies (Canaanite, Israelite, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, etc.) that are opened up when we stop trying to defend Israelite uniqueness—of course it is unique, but so is Egypt, Rome, Babylonia, Canaan, etc.

While all other reality is differentiated because they have no role in creation (again, texts to the contrary?), I am not so sure about the point that God never delegates sovereignty in a broad sense. The counterpoint is 11Q13, where Melchizedek acts as God in the divine council and appears to have full sovereignty. Melchizedek in this text shows that Bauckham’s claims are a trend, a tendency, perhaps the dominant trend/tendency in ancient Jewish literature, but it is not completely comprehensive or without exception. While citing this, one might note a general lack of engagement with Dead Sea sectarian literature, although he does cite it in those huge blocks of sources for “no god besides me.”

This overall monotheistic distinction (as creator and ruler of all without help) lines up with the monolatrous distinction, of singling out this god as the only one worthy of worship. He does allow for marginal cases of veneration of angels (perhaps a concession to Loren Stuckenbruck), but claims that these cases are insignificant in degree compared to the worship of God (11 n. 17). Even if monolatry is the broad trend, such cases need to be explained and cannot be simply brushed away. Again, it shows that not all of these things are ubiquitous and comprehensive.

I agree that monolatry is most distinctive—it is the most distinctive aspect of ancient Judaism (and not their theology). They worshiped exclusively because of the unique relationship to the most powerful God (which comes under the “covenant” issues), but as evidence of monotheism, it falls short. Many groups have a high god, an all sovereign god distinct from other gods, but still worshiped other gods—it is the worship that made Jews distinctive. By contrast, Bauckham writes that this is a confusion, but rather “the exclusive worship of the God of Israel is precisely a recognition of and response to his unique identity” (12). Exclusive worship, then, recognizes the absolute distinction between God and all other beings. I hate to break the news to Bauckham, but those of us who think this way are not confused; we simply disagree. I completely understand his position and do not think it necessarily works. I think it is confusion to equate monolatry with monotheism. Unfortunately, there are NO SOURCES cited to substantiate the claim that ancient Jews worshiped God because of his unique aspect as creator and ruler; but there is evidence that they worshiped God because he brought them out of Egypt. I agree that worship designates divinity, but I disagree that lack of worship designates “not divine”; thus, monolatry does not equal monotheism. It merely designates a special relationship between this god and this people (called a covenant). An analogy to kingship might be instructive (especially since ancient theologies were modeled off of kingship): I may pay allegiance to only one king (Lord), but that is not a denial of the existence of other kings. In the case of ancient Judaism, they claim their "king" (YHWH) is the emperor (who rules over the other kings). Nonetheless, he is right that they worshiped this god and not others (as noted in some sources—the Shema and the first two commandments) and that some sources saw God as supreme ruler and others as supreme creator—but what sources put these things together? I am still looking for the convergence of these concepts somewhere in the sources and not in his rhetorical positions.

When discussing the “so-called” intermediary figures, he makes another point of method when analyzing the “general consensus” versus “a small amount” of evidence (13):

“it is imperative to proceed from the clear consensus of Second Temple monotheism to the more ambiguous evidence about so-called intermediary figures to which we now turn. The question that needs to be addressed in the case of such figures is: By the criteria which Second Temple Jewish texts themselves consistently use to distinguish the one God from all other reality, do these figures belong to the unique identity of God or doe they fall outside it? Are they, so to speak, intrinsic to God’s own unique identity as the one God, or are they creatures and servants of God, however exalted?” (13)

This raises a number of interesting points. Firstly, he notes he is making an ancient distinction. The criteria come from the ancient texts themselves and are not imposed using later categories. This, I think, is an important issue! Secondly, however, this method could lead to confuse rather than clarify the sources by normalizing the exceptions to conform to the rule. Why not apply the first point to the ancient documents themselves—we should not impose one set of texts’ criteria onto another set of texts, but interpret them by their own criteria. Their ambiguity is important—why are they ambiguous? Why do they lack the clarity of distinction that so many other texts have? Does this ambiguity suggest a different view of the divine? Maybe these texts do not see the ruler/creator distinction as significant. Then again, maybe they do. In point of method, I would suggest something that is the very opposite of Bauckham (and something he directly opposes): take the evidence on a text-by-text basis and then build up the broader patterns from there. The result might end up being a bit more complex (and it may not), but, then again, that would be an important discovery. So, it would be important to note whether the texts that are used to bring evidence of intermediary figures are the same texts that speak of creator or the same texts that speak of ruler (since, as already noted, ruler and creator rarely appear together).

As he proceeds, he notes some figures are intrinsic to divine identity, while others are not. High-ranking patriarchs and angels are excluded; personifications of aspects of god (Spirit, Word, Wisdom—I might add Glory) are included. The criteria, once again, is whether a being participates in creation and/or sovereignty of the universe. On the issue of sovereignty, he claims that the “vice regent” idea is rare and negligible (again, merely dismissing evidence to the contrary and not engaging with it). He lists Michael in Joseph and Aseneth, Michael in 1QS, and Logos for Philo. We might note, however, that Philo’s Logos is a “second god.” Again, I would reiterate that even though something is rare or a minority position does not mean it is not significant or important for ancient Jewish thought or even for early Christian Christology (Christians could very easily pick up on minority positions), especially since Christology itself was a minor, anomalous development in Jewish thought. The point made, however, is that the highest ranking angel in Jewish thought is never portrayed as being in charge of everything. The most exalted angels, in fact, mostly just serve and worship God and do not participate in his rule. They never share his throne; they stand; and angels do not receive worship, actually refuse worship (although is this a polemic against Jews worshiping angels, proving that Jews did worship angels and it was significant?), but themselves worship, distinguishing servants of God from God. What about good ole Enoch? He notes that the Parables of Enoch (or Similitudes of Enoch), in which Enoch is enthroned and receives worship (1 Enoch 61:8; 62:2; 69:27, 29; cf. 51:3)! What is his response? It is the exception that proves the rule. I would as additional exceptions that prove the rule Adam (Testament of Adam), in which Adam is to be worshiped by the angels, and it was that one who refused worship, Satan, who was thrown down; and as one enthroned and passes judgment, but not necessarily worshiped, Melchizedek (11Q13). He claims that Ezekiel the Tragedian is NOT an exception due to the interpretation of the dream which shows that what God is in relationship to the universe, Moses will be in relationship to Israel. Maybe, maybe not. The willingness to portray Moses as enthroned and ruler of the universe, even in a dream in a drama, is striking nonetheless. I would add perhaps the most striking example: the “self-glorification hymn” (4Q491c 1 6-8) in which a seemingly recent human figure not only claims to be counted among the “gods,” but also to sit (אני ישבתי) among the gods! (“I sit in […] in the heavens, and there is no […]… I am counted among the gods, and my dwelling is in the holy congregation”). It is possible that the phrase can be rendered, “I reside,” but to even come close to using “sitting” language in a heavenly setting is quite an extraordinary claim for an originally human figure to make! It suggests not just transformation into angelic status, but perhaps even apotheosis. How many exceptions that prove the rule do you need to complicate the rule?

Finally, both Word and Wisdom partake in creation, because the Word and Wisdom are parts of himself. Wisdom is also enthroned (sovereignty) and different categorically from other figures—exalted humans and angels. I think he is right on this point.

I apologize for the length of this post. There are just simply so many ideas to engage, and I am hoping that most of the issues with later chapters will already be covered here (although perhaps dealing with slightly different material). Next we will turn to the significance of this view of ancient Jewish "monotheism" on New Testament Christology (still in chapter 1).

1 comment:

Mike Koke said...

Thanks for this solid review. I think Bauckham makes some good exegetical points in his work by showing how Christ is made into the sovereign ruler and creator of all in certain texts and incorporated into the Shema in 1 Cor 8:6, but I think he is too hasty in dismissing the importance of divine mediator figures. You are right, let different groups and texts speak for themselves.