Sunday, June 26, 2011

The High Priest and the Worship of Jesus

By Margaret Barker

[1]We are here to consider the problem of how Jesus came to be worshipped. Two assumptions have created this problem: first, that first century Judaism was monotheistic in the generally accepted sense of that word, and second, that a human being could not have been the object of worship.

The first evidence of belief in apotheosis is found in [1Chro 29]…The people worship the LORD [YHWH] and the king. Any possible ambiguity is removed a few lines later when we are told:
‘Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD as king” (1Chron 29:20, 23)
The king was the visible presence of the LORD in the temple ritual and Solomon’s enthronement was his apotheosis. Whatever they believed happened to the king at this time, anointing, enthronement, a mystical experience, this is what they meant by becoming divine, becoming the LORD, and it is a mistake to import into these ancient texts our ideas of what divinity should mean. They spoke of an adult being begotten as a son of God, but we prefer to use the term “adopted” thus importing alien ideas into the text, and with them, problems of our own making. The Chronicler, writing early in the second temple period and long after the events he was describing, knew that the king had been worshipped. This belief survived to the end of the second temple period as can be seen from Matthew’s account of the wise men who brought gifts to the infant Jesus. Matthew is said to be the most Jewish of the gospel writers and yet he could write:
“Where is he who is born King of the Jews for we have seen his star in the east and [have] come to worship him?” (Matt. 2.2)
The king was believed to be divine…he had a star…and the wise men brought offerings and worship…The King of the Jews was worshiped.

The image of the king going up into the holy of holies, that is into heaven, and then taking his place on the throne of the LORD, left an indelible impression in the memory of Israel. The ascending king became the “one like a son of man” who came with the clouds of heaven and was given “dominion and glory and kingdom” (Dan 7:13-14)…As long recognized, Daniel’s vision of the son of man was closely related to Psalm 2, or to the events that psalm describes. It was a memory of the enthronement of the David kings when they were declared to be the divine Son. Psalm 89 [19-27] also described the enthronement…The Chronicler reports this vision of ascent in David’s prayer after Nathan had said he would not build the temple [1Chron 17.17]. The text is obscure [the corresponding passage in 2Sam 7.19 is also obscure] and usually translated rather differently, but the Septuagint recognizes that there was a vision here and that it was David who had been taken up. These ascents were recorded in two ways: there were some who only observed the ascent, for example Daniel…but others actually experience the ascent, for example Enoch [1 Enoch 14:8]…The frequent reference to the clouds suggests that the experiences were induced by the incense of the sanctuary which had to be made according to a special formula and its use was forbidden anywhere but inside the temple (Exod 30.34-38).

A similar sequence to the account of Solomon’s coronation in 1Chron is found in [Rev 4.11; 5.12]…The words of the two doxologies are in a different order and the Lamb’s is the more elaborate but there can be no doubt that the Lamb is being worshipped as the LORD. There follows a joint doxology: “to him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb, be blessing and honour and glory and might” a double form similar to that used in the account of Solomon’s coronation; “obeisance to the LORD and to the King”, but here, “to the one on the throne and to the Lamb”.

There is no description in this chapter of the Lamb being seated on the throne, but the frequent repetition of a double phrase similar to “the LORD and the King”, shows that the Lamb was indeed enthroned. The LORD and the Lamb have become identical, giving rise to textual problems elsewhere in the book, e.g. “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their (or was it his?) wrath has come” (Rev 6:17). The multitude in white robes who stand before the throne cry out: “salvation belongs to our God on the throne and to the Lamb” (Rev 7:10). But the seer notes that they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, with no mention of the Lamb (Rev 7:11). What has happened to the Lamb here, if he is distinct from God? He is identical with God and enthroned, as can be seen from the hymn which follows:
“The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:17).
The enthronement of the Lamb is unambiguous in the final vision of the Book of Revelation, where the river flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev 22.1-3; [there is similar ambiguity at Rev 5.13; 11.15; 14.4; 20.6]).

The enthronement and apotheosis in Rev 5 inaugurates the great judgment…This is the scene depicted in Psalm 82.1…its significance for our enquiry is that this was a key verse in the Qumran Melchizedeck text (11Q Melch)…the ancient enthronement scene in Rev 5 was first and foremost a description of Melchizedeck but adopted by a Christian writer to depict the heavenly Jesus. This is the argument of [Hebrews].

According to Luke, Jesus in his synagogue address at Nazareth claimed to fulfill another key Melchizedeck text, Isa 61.1 [cp. Luke 4.18]. This is why Ps 110, the Melchizedek psalm, became the most frequently cited text in the NT.[2] Enthronement in heaven was the means whereby the king had been appointed to the eternal priesthood of Melchizedek, and the king was worshiped after his enthronement.

The main theme of [Hebrews] is that Jesus is the Melchizedek high priest and the catena texts which introduces the letter shows how the Melchizedek priesthood was described at the end of the second temple period. The entire epistle is set in the temple, which was believed to be a microcosm of the creation, its liturgy and rituals mirroring those of heaven. To say mirroring is a concession to our ways of thinking and the limitations of our language, because the temple was believed to be heaven itself and its priests the angels. This was the world view of the ancient priests of Israel and owes nothing to Platonism…Events on earth and in heaven coalesce, a sign that we are dealing with temple ritual…Philo had a similar understanding of [Lev 16.17], the prescription for the high priest entering the holy of holies. The verse is usually read today as “There shall be no man when he (the high priest) enters to make atonement in the holy place until he comes out”, but Philo understood it to mean: He shall not be a man when he enters the holy of holies…(On Dreams 2.189, 231). For Philo, the high priest was more than human, and the titles he uses show that he was still thinking in terms of the old royal cult. The Logos was the High Priest, the King, the Firstborn, the Beginning, the Name, and the Man after God’s Image and his archangel.[3]

The writer…goes on to say that this Son of God has “obtained a greater name than the name of any angel”, and there follow, by way of explanation, lines from Psalm 2…and from Ps 110.1…The reference here is to a remembered sequence of temple ritual: the royal high priest entered the holy of holies was given the Sacred Name and enthroned. He was “born” as a Son of God; that is, he became more than human and greater than any angel, he was enthroned and, by implication, since this is the climax of Psalm 110, he became the Melchizedek high priest.[4]

This is confirmed by what follows: “the first born is brought into the world”, i.e. in the ritual the high priest emerges from the holy of holies, and then “all the angels worship him”. In the temple, this would have been obeisance described by Hecataeus; “the Jews worshipped their high priest as an angel of the commandments of God”…The words quoted here in Heb 1.6, “Let all God’s angels worship him”, do not appear in the MT, which has only:
“Praise his people O you nations; for he avenges the blood of his servants, and takes vengeance on his adversaries and atones his land his people”.
The Qumran text, however, shows that a longer version was known and used in first century Palestine which included the line “Bow down to him, all you elohim”.[5]

It is important at this point to note two things; first, the Day of Judgment and the Day of Atonement were one and the same, the time when the LORD, that is the high priest, emerged from the holy of holies carrying the blood with which he sprinkled and smeared certain parts of the temple. Since the temple was a microcosm of the creation, the ritual was one to cleanse and heal the creation from the effects of human son. The Song of Moses tells of the LORD coming to atone the land of his people and take vengeance on their enemies, and as he emerges, the angels are commanded to worship him. It is also important to note that these two texts, which are crucial for reconstruction this aspect of the older temple cult, showing that the LORD was one of the sons of Elyon and that he received the homage of the elohim as he came to atone the land (literally soil) of his people (Deut 32:8, 43) have been taken from the Qumran text of Deuteronomy (4Q Deutq). The MT is significantly different and raises the question why? Justin, in his [Dial. 71[6], 72[7], 73[8]]…said that certain verses which were important for Christian claims about Jesus had recently been removed from the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Assumption of Moses 10 is thought to be an expanded version of this part of the Song of Moses.
And the his kingdom shall appear throughout all his creation,
And then Satan shall be no more
And sorrow shall depart with him.
Then the hands of the angel shall be filled
Who has been appointed chief
And he shall forthwith avenge them of their enemies.
For the Heavenly One will arise from his royal throne,
And he will go forth from his holy habitation
With indignation and wrath on account of his sons. (Assum. Mos. 10:1-3)
The one who emerges from the holy place to bring vengeance is described as the heavenly one leaving his royal throne, the chief angel whose hands have been filled. In other words, the figure who is the LORD in the Song of Moses is here described as the warrior priest, who has been enthroned in the holy of holies and appointed high priest. He then emerges to bring judgment on those who have shed the blood of his people. Note the similar sequence of events in Deut 32.43, the Assumption of Moses 10, and the first chapter of Hebrews.

These accounts for the description of Simon the high priest in Ben Sira 50:5-7.
How glorious was he when the people gathered round him
As he came out of the inner sanctuary!
Like the morning star among the clouds,
Like the moon when it is full;
Like the sun shining upon the temple of the Most High,
Like the rainbow gleaming in glorious clouds…
He emerges from the sanctuary, (literally the house of the veil), so this, too, is a description of the Day of Atonement. The imagery is theophanic; [he is] like the Morning Star among the clouds…a title used in the book of Job [38.7] to describe the sons of God who sang at the creation [and also of Jesus in Rev 22.16]. This must have been a title of some significance in the temple, even though this is now lost to us. Simon’s very presence, we are told, brought glory to the court of the sanctuary [Sir 50.11]…The curious observation recorded in Diodorus Siculus quoting Hecataeus of Abdera, adds weight to the possibility that the high priest who emerged from the holy of holies was worshiped. The authority of a king is vested by the Jews in their high priest, says Hecataeus, and “they believe that he acts as an angel to then of God’s commandments. It is he who, in their assemblies, announces what is ordained and the Jews…straightway fall to the ground and worship the high priest as he expounds the commandments” (Diodorus Siculus 40.3.5-6[; Cf. Mal. 3.1 where the angel of the covenant is to appear in the Temple]).

Elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, the one who emerges from the holy place is unambiguously the LORD [Isa 26.21; Micah 1.3; Hab 2.20] and 1 Enoch begins in a similar way: the Great Holy One emerges from his dwelling to bring the judgment but also the renewal of the earth. The emerging warrior priest is seen most clearly in Rev 19.11-16…He wears the many diadems of the high priest, one of which bears the Sacred Name, and his robe is sprinkled with the atonement blood he has brought in to the holy of holies.[9] As in the ancient theophanies, he emerges, followed by the armies of heaven (e.g. Deut 33.2; Ps 68.17. Hab 3).

The importance of the heavenly priest can be seen also in Rev 8…Since the sequence of the seven seals corresponds to the sequence in the synoptic apocalypse, the seventh and final seal is the coming of the Man in clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13.26). In other words, it is the coming of the Man who is the LORD…the warrior high priest has emerged from his holy place. He is described as a mighty angel, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head and his face like the sun, which is exactly how Ben Sira had described Simon the high priest emerging from the house of the veil…then the seventh trumpet brings the seventh woe, which is the establishing of the kingdom, and the destruction of the destroyers of the earth (Rev 11.18, corresponding to Assum. Mos. 10.1).

The high priest wore on the front of his turban a golden plate inscribed with…what? The usual way to understand this prescription in Ex 28.36 is that the engraved words were Holy to the LORD, but at the end of the second temple period it was believed that there were simply four letters engraved, those of the Sacred Name. Philo wrote of the golden plate, showing a name “which only those whose ears and tongues are purified may hear or speak in the holy place and no other person nor in any other place at all. That Name has four letters” (Life of Moses 2.114; cf. Migration of Abraham 103). Aristeas wrote of a royal diadem full of glory with the Name of God, inscribed in letters on a plate of pure gold (Ep. Arist. 98) and the Book of Wisdom says that Aaron wore on his diadem the majesty of the LORD, with which he protected Israel against the plague (Wis 18.24). this suggest that the high priest wore the Name, hence the elaborate descriptions in 3 Enoch which tell how the exalted Enoch, himself a high priest figure, was transformed into the great angel Metraton, was enthroned, given a crown and the name The Little LORD. On his crown were inscribed the letters by which the world was created, that is, the Sacred Name, and once he had received the crown, all the angels worshipped him (3 Enoch 13-14)…the traditions preserved there must have been adopted by Jews from Christians. The sequence in 3 Enoch is exactly that presupposed by [Phil 2.9]…The Name Jesus received was the Sacred Name, the four letters that were placed on the forehead of the high priest. All in heaven and earth acknowledge that Jesus the Anointed One was the LORD and they worshipped him.

The high priest wore the Name for a reason. According to [Ex 28.38], it enabled him to be the sin bearer…The high priest, when he wore the Name of the LORD, carried the guilt of the people [same word used for both “to bear” and “to forgive”; cp. Num 17.6-12; Lev 16.15-19; Wis 18.21]. This was dangerous [thus Ex 20.7].

The greatest act of atonement was the self-offering of the royal high priest. How this was done in the first temple is still a mystery, but the two goats in the latter Day of Atonement ritual were clearly substitutes, the one for Azazel, who was banished bearing sin, and the other for the LORD, the high priest whose blood served to cleanse and hallow the holy place. In other words, they restored the eternal covenant and renewed the creation. Israel was brought back within the bond of the covenant as the LORD himself, the sin bearer, carried away the iniquity that would otherwise have cut them off.

With these aspects of the high priest’s role in mind let’s return to Phil 2…The problem with this story has always been: which prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures spoke of the suffering of an Anointed figure and his subsequent glory? There was, we have been told, no suffering Messiah. The Qumran Isaiah Scroll, however, has enabled us to see that some people in first century Palestine read the Fourth Servant Song as a messianic text and that the suffering Servant was a messianic figure.[10] [Note again that it is a Qumran reading not in the MT which enables us to understand this aspect of Christian origins.]

The Fourth Servant Song is frequently cited in the NT, identifying Jesus as the Servant…Isaiah’s original poem interpreted the suffering of a historical figure, almost certainly Hezekiah, in terms of the high priest on the Day of Atonement…The text of [Isa 52-53] is obscure in many place but certain allusions are unmistakable. The servant was raised up in heaven, as was the royal high priest, when he ascended into holy of holies. He became wise, an attribute of divine beings in the cult of the first temple. He sprinkled many nations, a difficult line, but the sprinkling was part of the atonement rite. He carried the transgressions and iniquities of his people, as did the high priest when he wore the Name, he made himself the sin offering, and he saw the light of God’s glory after his suffering. This is the explanation of the much debated passage in [Phil 2.6-11], where Jesus the Servant empties himself, that is, pours out his life as the high priestly atonement offering. He is then exalted and worshiped by the whole creation who acknowledge that he is the LORD [Adam, who is most frequently offered as the explanation of this passage, gives no ground for the central idea of self emptying].

The second question is: How did a human being become the LORD? Hints in the Psalms and elsewhere are all that we have. There are the royal psalms which describe the king raised up from the people and anointed [Ps 89.19-27; 2.7; 110.3 LXX]…he was Melchizedek [Ps 110.4]. There is David’s enigmatic prayer [at 1Chro 17.17]…presumably a reference to the vision of kingmaking described in Ps 89. There is the mysterious Qumran text 4Q 491.11, the words of someone who has a throne of strength in the congregation of the gods: “My glory is incomparable and apart from me none is exalted”, he says, “I am reckoned with the gods”…In 2 Enoch there is the extraordinary account of how the LORD commanded Michael to remove Enoch’s earthly clothing and then anoint hi8m and clothe him with garments of glory (2 Enoch 22). Irrespective of the date of this text, it bears a striking resemblance to the account of vesting Joshua, i.e. Jesus, the high priest. The LORD, also described as the angel of the LORD, commands his attendants to remove Joshua’s filthy clothes and dress him in the rich robes and turban of the high priest (Zech 3.1-5). Joshua then has the right to enter the holy of holies, “the right of access among those standing there”.

Something similar had been the experience of Jesus. All the gospels agree that Jesus’ ministry began with his baptism when he saw the heavens open and heard the voice saying: “You are my Son”. This was his experience of ascent and consecration as high priest, a merkavah experience. Only traces of this survive in the gospels, but other material associated with the baptism makes this the most likely explanation of what happened. There was the fire on the Jordan reported by Justin (Trypho 88 PG vi 686) and in two witnesses to the Old Latin of Matthew 3.15.[11] Origen compared Ezekiel’s vision of the chariot to what Jesus saw at his baptism.[12] Hyppolytus used day of Atonement imagery in his account of the baptism. When the heavens opened, “a reconciliation took place of the invisible and the visible…the diseases of the earth were healed”.[13]

Jesus knew well what the heavenly high priesthood entailed and there are echoes of this in all the gospels, a sign of dominical tradition…In the Fourth Gospel he claims to have been consecrated and sent into the world (John 10.36), consecrated being the word used in the Septuagint of [Lev 8.12] for the making of the high priest. Jesus speaks of what he has seen and learned in heaven [John 3.12, 32]. John knew that the true high priest had to sacrifice himself, hence the bitter irony of Caiaphas’s words [11.50]…John adds, by way of explanation, that this was to fulfill the Servant’s role of gathering in Israel [11.51-2; cf. Isa 49.6]…John’s account of Good Friday is steeped in allusions to the royal high priest. Jesus emerges dressed as a king and Pilate says: “Behold the Man” (John 19:5). The chief priests protest: “…he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” (John 19.7); and then they declare “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).

The theme of high priesthood permeated the synoptic gospels too [Mat 8.17; 26.28; Mark 8.31; 9.31; 10.33-4]…The expected Parousia was the return of the high priest from the holy of holies, from heaven, and so the churches prayed “Come LORD” (1Cor 16.22; Rev 22.20) and the prophets received oracles: “I am coming soon” (Rev 22.12, 20).

[Revelation] is about the return of the high priest. It begins with a vision of the Great Hall of the temple, with the sevenfold lamp and the high priest. He is barefoot, as were the priests when they served in the temple, and “clothed in a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast” (Rev 1.13). He is wearing the long robe and the curiously wrapped golden girdle which was the dress of the high priest. Josephus, who was of a high priestly family (Life 1) described these vestments as a linen tunic reaching to the ankles—and girded at the breast—a little above the armpits, with a long sash. For ordinary priests, this sash was multicolored, red, blue, purple and white, but only in the case of the high priest was the sash interwoven with gold (Ant. 3: 159)…[Revelation] opens with a vision of the high priest in the temple, newly emerged from the holy of holies. He speaks of himself as the LORD, “the First and the Last” (Isa 44.6; 48.12) and the seer falls at his feet. When the seer of the later visions falls at the feet of the angel, he is forbidden to worship him [Rev 19.10; 22.8-9]…In the first vision, however, the vision of the emerging high priest who speaks of himself as the LORD, the seer is not forbidden to worship.

I began this paper by asking some question: Who first made the claim that Jesus was the LORD? My answer is that Jesus made this claim for himself, since he believed himself to be the Melchizedek high priest. I also asked: dies this hypothesis account for the other titles given to Jesus—Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, and Servant? The answer is “Yes”. The high priest was anointed and the curious (but undateable) evidence of 2 Enoch suggest that anointing was the rite of apotheosis when the man, originally the Davidic king, became son of God, Melchizedek and the Man who emerged from heaven…The high priest had to offer himself as the atonement sacrifice, hence the logic of Heb 9.12

In short, the origin of Christianity is to be sought within the temple traditions, not those of the second temple, but those of the first, when the king became divine and was worshipped by his people as the LORD in their midst.

[1] The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, ed., C.C. Newman, J.R. Davila, G.S. Lewis, 1999.

[2] There are 20 quotations from, or allusions to, Ps 110.1; Matt. 22.44; 26.64; Mark 12.36; 14.62; (16.19); Luke 20.42f.; 22.69; Acts 2.33f.;5.31; 7.55f.; Rom 8.34; 1Cor 15.25; Eph 1.20; Col 3.1; Heb 1.3, 13; 8.1; 10.12f.; 12.2; 1Pe 3.22.

[3] On the Migration of Abraham 102; On Dreams 1:215; On Flight 118: On the Confusion of Tongues 41, 146.

[4] The assertion that the high priest has obtained a higher dignity than any angel appears in 3 Enoch as the initial hostility of Uzzah Azzah and Azael to the exaltation of Enoch/Metraton. The Holy One replies “I have chosen this one…to be prince and ruler over you in the heaven” (3 Enoch 5.8). Enoch/Metraton then explains that he is called Naar, originally meaning Servant, the old royal title, but here in 3 Enoch 4.10 reinterpreted to mean “youth”. Any idea of chronological sequence is out of the question in 3 Enoch, but chapters 13-14 describe how Enoch/Metraton is given the Name and then worshiped by the host of heaven.

[5] 4Q Deutq was first published by P.S. Skehan, “A Fragment of the Song of Moses (Deut 32) from Qumran”, BAZOR 136 (1954) 12-15.

[6] “…I wish you to observe, that they have altogether taken away many Scriptures from the translations effected by those seventy elders who were with Ptolemy, and by which this very man who was crucified is proved to have been set forth expressly as God, and man, and as being crucified, and as dying; but since I am aware that this is denied by all of your nation, I do not address myself to these points…”

[7] “…From the statements, then, which Esdras made in reference to the law of the passover, they have taken away the following: 'And Esdras said to the people, This passover is our Saviour and our refuge. And if you have understood, and your heart has taken it in, that we shall humble Him on a standard, and thereafter hope in Him, then this place shall not be forsaken forever, says the God of hosts. But if you will not believe Him, and will not listen to His declaration, you shall be a laughing-stock to the nations.' And from the sayings of Jeremiah they have cut out the following: 'I[was] like a lamb that is brought to the slaughter: they devised a device against me, saying, Come, let us lay on wood on His bread, and let us blot Him out from the land of the living; and His name shall no more be remembered.' And since this passage from the sayings of Jeremiah is still written in some copies [of the Scriptures] in the synagogues of the Jews(for it is only a short time since they were cut out), and since from these words it is demonstrated that the Jews deliberated about the Christ Himself, to crucify and put Him to death, He Himself is both declared to be led as a sheep to the slaughter, as was predicted by Isaiah, and is here represented as a harmless lamb; but being in a difficulty about them, they give themselves over to blasphemy. And again, from the sayings of the same Jeremiah these have been cut out: 'The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the graves; and He descended to preach to them His own salvation.'”

[8] "And from the ninety-fifth(ninety-sixth) Psalm they have taken away this short saying of the words of David: 'From the wood.' For when the passage said, 'Tell ye among the nations, the Lord hath reigned from the wood,' they have left, 'Tell ye among the nations, the Lord hath reigned.' Now no one of your people has ever been said to have reigned as God and Lord among the nations, with the exception of Him only who was crucified, of whom also the Holy Spirit affirms in the same Psalm that He was raised again, and freed from[the grave], declaring that there is none like Him among the gods of the nations: for they are idols of demons…Here Trypho remarked, ‘Whether[or not] the rulers of the people have erased any portion of the Scriptures, as you affirm, God knows; but it seems incredible.’ ‘Assuredly,’ said I, ‘it does seem incredible…you appear to me not to have heard the Scriptures which I said they had stolen away. For such as have been quoted are more than enough to prove the points in dispute, besides those which are retained by us, and shall yet be brought forward.’"

[9]11Q18 fr 14 The New Jerusalem Text, seems to be describing the fifth, sixth and seventh crowns of the high priest, an explanation of the “many diadems” in Rev 19.12.

[10]1Q Isaa 52:14 has mshty for MT msht.

[11] Codex Vercellensis, 4th or 5th century, has “et cum baptizaretur, lumen ingens circumfulsit de aqua ita ut timerent omnes qui advenerant” and Codex Sangermanensis 7th century “cum baptizaretur Jesus, lumen magnum fulgebat de aqua ita ut timerent omnes qui congregate sunf”.

[12] Origen Homily 1 on Ezekiel: 4-7, PG xiii 672-4. D.J. Halperin, The Faces of the Chariot (Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck 1988) suggested that Origen had recently taken these ideas from Jewish sources. I argued against this in my The Risen Lord, 45-47.

[13] Hyppolitus On the Holy Theophany 6, PG x 857.

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