Monday, April 27, 2009

Heavenly Liturgies: Apocalpyse of Abraham

For my chapter on the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, I am revisiting other texts that discuss, depict, or allude to heavenly hymns. Most apocalyptic texts refer to heavenly liturgies sung by heavenly, divine beings (most people call them "angels"), but very rarely tell us what these heavenly beings actually say. When they do report the content of such hymns, they tend to be highly indebted to, or in fact are verbatim quotations of Isaiah 6:1-4:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the hose filled with smoke.

2 Enoch 21:1 (J) repeats this verbatim, but it is being sung by cherubim, seraphim, with six-winged and many-eyed creatures; these creatures’ features can also be found in the adaptation of the holy praises in Rev. 4:8: “And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’” This passage takes the basic angelic liturgy of the Isaiah excerpt, and combines some terminology from Ezekiel 1 (the “living creatures”) and perhaps gives a referent to the revelation of God’s name in Exodus 3:14: the was, is, and coming one perhaps referring to the LXX translation of “he who is.”

By contrast, the Similitudes of Enoch provide a more unique, but just as brief, window into heavenly speech:
And him, the First Word, they shall bless extol, and glorify with wisdom. They shall be wise in utterance in the spirit of life and in the Lord of the Spirits. He placed the Elect One on the throne of glory; and he shall judge all the works of the holy ones in heaven above, weighing in the balance their deeds. And when he shall lift up his countenance in order to judge the secret ways of theirs, by the word of the name of the Lord of the Spirits, then they shall all speak with one voice, blessing, glorifying, extolling, sanctifying the name of the Lord of the Spirits. And he will summon all the forces of the heavens, and all the holy ones above, and the forces of the Lord—the cherubim, seraphim, ophanim, all the angels of governance, the Elect One, and the other forces on the earth (and) over the water. On that day, they shall lift up in one voice, blessing, glorifying, and extolling in the spirit of faith, in the spirit of wisdom and patience, in the spirit of mercy, in the spirit of justice and peace, and in the spirit of generosity. They shall all say in one voice, “Blessed (is he) and may the name of the Lord of the Spirits be blessed forever and evermore.” All the vigilant ones in heaven shall bless him; all the holy ones who are in heaven shall bless him…. (1 Enoch 61:7-12; trans. F.I. Andersen; OTP)

The text continues in the same manner. This, in fact, sounds much like the compilation of praises found in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, except that it is set as an eschatological future event. The temporal dimension is extraordinarily important, as is the mentioning of an enthroned elect one, which sounds much like a Christian intervention—although, in fact, in the Songs themselves, there is a highly exalted divine being, seemingly second to God, who occupies his own tabernacle; this figure may be Melchizedek (a suggestion tentatively put forward by Jim Davila), although the text is too fragmentary for any sure conclusions, the same figure who in 11Q13 is the eschatological judge. For the Songs, the temporal dimension is also extraordinarily important, but it is not eschatological; it is the Sabbath: the sabbath is the most holy time, and it is when one can evoke the most holy, heavenly sanctuary. In fact, perhaps they also resonate with the Berakhot from Qumran.

All of this, however, is to lead up to a hymn that I actually cannot do much with in terms of my dissertation, but I find interesting nonetheless, from the Apocalypse of Abraham 17:8-21:

Eternal One, Mighty One, Holy El, God autocrat
self-originate, incorruptible, immaculate,
unbegotten, spotless, immortal,
self-protected, self-devised,
without mother, without father, ungenerated,
exalted, fiery,
just, lover of men, benevolent, compassionate, bountiful,
jealous over me, patient one, most merciful.
Eli, eternal, mighty one, holy, Sabaoth,
most glorious El, El, El, El, Iaoel,
you are he my soul has loved, my protector.
Eternal, fiery, shining,
light-giving, thunder-voiced, lightning-visioned, many-eyed,
receiving the petitions of those who honor you
and turning away from the petitions of those who restrain you
by the restraint of their provocations,
redeemer of those who dwell in the midst of the wicked ones,
of those who are dispersed among the just of the world,
in the corruptible age.
Showing forth the age of the just,
you make the light shine
before the morning light upon your creation
from your face
to spend the day on the earth,
and in your heavenly dwelling place
(there is) an inexhaustible light of the invincible dawning
from the light of your face.
Accept my prayer and delight in it,
and (accept) also teh sacrifice which you yourself made
to yourself through me as I searched for you.
Receive me favorably,
teach me, show me, and make known to your servant what you have promised me.
(trans. R. Rubinkiewicz; OTP)

I include this in the discussion of heavenly liturgies because Abraham (being guided around the various firmaments) recites this along with his angelic guide, "And the angel knelt down with me and worshiped" (17:2). The conjoining of human and heavenly worship is not unique to this text: it is suggested already in Jubilees in which Sabbath observance is the response of the angels to God's creation; in turn, they teach this practice to humans. Jubilees 2:17-33 highly emphasizes that humans worshiping God on the Sabbath are doing so in conjunction, together with the angels in heaven. It is as if Jubilees provides an etiology for the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice themselves.

Nonetheless, this hymned prayer stands out from so many others because of its length--it is far longer than the praises found in the other apocalyptic texts, which just tend to riff on the trishagion or qedushah or "three holies" from Isaiah 6. This text looks like it stands somewhere between the later Nag Hammadi texts, particularly at the beginning with all the self-originate language (something that sounds like a lot of the "Sethian" texts, such as the Three Steles of Seth), slowly merging with a good old fashioned Psalm. Is this an Egyptian text? Does it stand somewhere between older Jewish (mixed with Christian) interests and emergent Sethian liturgies? I wonder. This is part of the reason I find this hymn so interesting, although it ended up having little bearing on my current research (it will get a footnote, so don't worry). Just some proof that those studying good Nag Hammadi texts cannot operate in a vacuum, but must consider a wide range of ancient literature, even the admitted messy "pseudepigrapha" with their tortuous transmission histories.

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