Book Review: Angels and Warriors in Late Second Temple Jewish Literature

michalakTitle: Angels and Warriors in Late Second Temple Jewish Literature

Author: Aleksander Michalak

Bibliographic info: xvi + 254 + 68 of biblio and indices

Cover: Soft Cloth

Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2012.

Buy it at Amazon

With thanks to Mohr Siebeck for the review copy.

The introductory chapter to this volume covers the usual ground one would expect. A key point in this chapter is how Michalak reveals how even a cursory glance at Second Temple literature shows the significance of the motif of the celestial army accompanying the Divine Warrior. Yahweh, similarly to other Near Eastern deities, was perceived as a Man of War. And he didn’t kick butt and take names by himself; he had at his disposal an impressive and dreadful host of heavenly warriors. Though, as Michalak notes, this concept of a Deity who had at his disposal a formidable heavenly retinue is not to be unanticipated when seen in light of the pervasiveness of this model in ancient Near Eastern monarchies.

Chapter One focuses in on the concept of heavenly beings in the Hebrew Bible, followed by in Chapter Two by a zeroing in by limiting the discussion of angelic figures to principal angels, angelic hierarchies, military names associated with angels, and their military functions in Second Temple literary sources. Next up in Chapter Three is a focused discussion on everyone’s favorite angels, and the two angels most often associated with martiality, Michael and Gabriel.

Chapters Four through Eight then discuss how angels are presented in various texts: 1 Enoch, the Qumran writings (esp. the War Scroll, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, and 11QMelch), Daniel, Jubilees, 2 and 3 Maccabbees, the writings of Pseudo-Philo and Josephus, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.

It is obvious why the Qumran writings are examined for militaristic angels; just read the War Scroll. Angels are imagined by the Qumranites as being organized into military troops, with the principal angels being Michael, Gabriel, Sariel, and Raphael. Michalak’s investigation into the writings of Josephus and Pseudo-Philo was interesting as he reveals how that while the former omitted some of the angelophanies to be found in the Old Testament, the latter had a decidedly more obvious fixation on angels.

What I learned from this book is the (somewhat previously neglected) literary presentations of militaristic and warlike functions of angelic beings. Michalak presents his study in such a way so as to show how the growth of militaristic angelology may be the result of an increasing focus on particular biblical motifs, e.g. the divine council and the Divine Warrior depiction of Yahweh. The increasing representation of angels as warriors should not come as a major surprise, however, when one takes into account the trend in the Second Temple period of angels adopting functions that were originally ascribed to Yahweh. Thus, Yahweh’s role as the Divine Warrior gradually shifts onto his heavenly retinue.

Michalak also does a good job in presenting the various conceptions of angels as militaristic warriors that existed in early Judaism, such as the notion that angels participate in our earthly wars (as found in Joseph and Aseneth, 2 Maccabees, 1 Kings), or the alternative idea of how there are battles waging on in the heavens between angels that parallel our battles here on earth (as seen in Daniel and Revelation).

The book ends with a concluding chapter, followed by two appendices, bibliography, and indices (ancient sources, modern authors, and subjects).

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