Humans as Gods in Ancient Jewish Literature

I’m going to approach this post a little differently from my last one.  Here, I am not expressly arguing for any comparisons.  I am merely presenting some research that has been done by a scholar whose work I enjoy reading.  Feel free to come to your own conclusions.  The following comes from a book by British scholar Crispin Fletcher-Louis, entitled All the Glory of Adam: Liturgical Anthropology in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Brill, 2002). I posted this recently on my blog Heavenly Ascents, but I thought it would be appropriate to share again here for this audience.

Fletcher-Louis had the following to say about the early Jewish belief that all of humanity was meant to be divine, a potential that could be fully realized in the elect:

Studies driven by New Testament concerns have tended to focus attention on the singular angelomorphic hero of old or the future messiah whose identity prefigures early Christian beliefs about Jesus. However, the fact that so often the angelomorphic identity is grounded in that of Adam before his exit from Eden, the existence of a continuity of angelomorphic identity through the generations of God’s elect and the focus on Israel as an angelomorphic people of God speaks for a theological perspective which should not be missed: there seems to be a claim which is usually implicit, but, as we shall see, is at other times explicit, that true humanity, as it is restored among the elect, is both angelomorphic and divine. In the rush to explain the origins of early Christian beliefs about Jesus sight can be lost of the fact that the peculiarly divine, angelic or exalted status of a particular righteous individual is fundamentally an expression of a universal theological anthropology. (Crispin Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam, 12)

(Note: angelomorphic = being or appearing in the form of an angel/divine being)

Later on, he begins to explore how individual human beings are described as angelic or divine in the texts, both biblical and extra-biblical:

There are many texts from the Second Temple period which describe the righteous in angelic or divine terms. Three figures stand out in the heroes gallery of angelic fame: the king, Moses and, above all, the priest. The characterization of humans in such angelic terms has its roots in the biblical text, but it is clearly being developed in the material from the 3rd-2nd centuries B.C. Many of the texts we have examined (e.g. Sirach, I Enoch) were read if not cherished at Qumran and these exhibit a particular interest in both Moses and the priesthood… (All the Glory of Adam, 32)

This next one is really great. After he has analyzed a number of texts that attribute to humans an angelic identity, or that suggest a belief that humans could be transformed into angels, Fletcher-Louis notes that some texts go beyond granting select humans an angelic glory:

More startling are those statements to the effect that the transformed humanity are “gods”. This is a more persistent and widespread feature of the texts than would permit us to conclude such language is merely an accommodation to Hellenism in which some Jews on the periphery of “orthodoxy” indulged. Already in the biblical texts Moses is “as God [elohim, theos] to Pharaoh” (Exo. 7:1) and the king is hailed as (a) god in Psalm 45:6 (cf. Zech 12:8). Exodus is probably behind Sirach’s ascription of the [elohim] status to Moses in Sirach 45:2. In Jubilees Joseph is acclaimed “god, god, mighty one of God” and in Joseph and Aseneth Jacob is “a god [theos]” to Aseneth.

The existence of god language for humanity within Jewish texts is more remarkable than angel language because of the way in which in the Second Temple period angelology replaced the polytheism of the pre-exilic period. However, just as many biblical and post biblical texts continued to speak of many “gods” (elim, elohim, theoi) with the understanding that these were “angelic” beings on a distinctly lower level of reality than God himself, so it seems there remained the freedom to speak of human as “divine” in similar terms and in certain circumstances. In texts such as those gathered around Moses and Exodus 7:1 there is stressed the fact that Moses’ “divinity” is no independent of that of God himself but is strictly bestowed by the creator of all. This may offend traditional Jewish and Christian views of divinity as a strictly independent, uncreated reality, but it should be remembered that in the ancient world the begetting and creating of gods (theogony) was a much more acceptable notion then than it is now.

The presence of “god” language for humanity in texts as far apart as Sirach, Jubilees, Philo and the rabbis testifies to the degree to which such language was widely spread and accepted in late Second Temple Judaism. (All the Glory of Adam, 85-86)

What is even more significant, in my view, is that Fletcher-Louis places the “principal socio-religious life setting” of these beliefs squarely in the theology of the Jewish Temple and its Priesthood (Ibid., 5).

10 thoughts on “Humans as Gods in Ancient Jewish Literature

  1. David, there are so many hints at this in the Bible itself. Who exactly is Michael, and what is an archangel? There are all of these mysterious characters like Melchezidek and Enoch who seem important but are not explained (how could Melchezidek be so imporant that Abraham would pay him tithes, yet he is never mentioned again in the OT?). As with your other post, there are layers of information here that were discussed in past dispensations that seem to have connections to modern-day revelation. I think there is a lot to study and learn in this area.

  2. Good points. Enoch and Melchizedek are diminished to just a minimal mention in the Old Testament canon, while in OT Pseudepigrapha they are hailed as divine beings. Why the discrepancy? For example, we get, as you mention, that brief incident describing Abraham and Melchizedek. Then in Psalm 110 we have Melchizedek as some sort of ideal figure whose priesthood role the Israelite king is supposed to emulate. Then in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Melchizedek is portrayed as the divine warrior — a god. James Davila argues that this is not a case of the development of some insignificant figure from the distant past into a divine figure in the Second Temple period, but that it is more likely that his divine status was obscured in the development of the Old Testament canon. You’re correct to say that there are many layers of information here, which I certainly consider worthwhile to dig through.

  3. Thanks for this great post! I’m excited to dig in a bit deeper.

    Having served a mission in the evangelical heartland, it was a nessesity that I study this topic. I didn’t do it with an end to prove other wrong, or to win arguments, but to bolster my understanding. Therefore, I can say that the bible is rife with this doctrine, perhaps even more so than more modern scriptures (although arguably the D&C is more explicit).

  4. Oh, one thing, David. You are taking some older posts material on this and the links to the scriptures are broken now thanks to the upgrade on the LDS website.

  5. If one pays close attention, I believe the New Testament is rather more explicit about all this than the Old Testament is, often about aspects that the D&C doesn’t even touch on.

    Although it seems that the NT writers were of two minds about Christology, however that happened – and only the more conventional perspective seems to have any currency in the Church.

  6. You are taking some older posts material on this and the links to the scriptures are broken now thanks to the upgrade on the LDS website

    The one lesson every website operator should learn is that you should never ever break a link to a perfectly good URL. That is also why URL should be meaningful rather than look like line noise. Line noise isn’t likely to be portable from one system to another. Meaningful URLs usually are, or can be made to be.

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