The first source for temple mysticism is the temple itself and what it represented. There are several descriptions of the temple in the Bible (1 Kings 6–8; 1 Chron. 28:11–19; 2 Chron. 3–6) and the detailed accounts of building and erecting the desert tabernacle also include features from the temple (Exod. 25–40). Outside the Bible there are the writings of Josephus, who described the desert tabernacle1 and the temple he knew in the first century ce;2 and those of Philo, his older contemporary, who often mentions the temple and its symbolism. There are also writings such as 1 Enoch, which the first Christians regarded as Scripture but are no longer in the Bible of most churches. The Enoch tradition is especially valuable for our quest, because much of what it records is temple tradition. Or so it seems. Many ‘temple’ texts do not proclaim themselves as such, and so the process of recovering the temple and its mystical tradition can mean reconstructing a possible context for apparently isolated texts.
One of these reconstructions is as certain as anything can be: the tabernacle and the later temple were built to represent the creation. Ancient sources differ as to the detail, but the six stages of erecting the tabernacle correspond to the six days of creation. The books of Moses begin with his vision of the creation, and so Genesis 1 describes Moses’ six-day vision on Sinai (Exod. 24:16). Then the Lord spoke to him from the cloud and told him to build a tabernacle according to what he had seen on the mountain (Exod. 25:9). The account of erecting the tabernacle (Exod. 40:16–33) corresponds to the six days of creation inGenesis 1.3 The holy of holies screened by the veil represented the beginning of creation, and the outer part of the tabernacle represented the visible creation of the third to sixth days.
Only the high priests were allowed to enter the holy of holies, and they alone knew the meaning of the holy of holies at the heart of creation. The matters ‘within the veil’ were entrusted to them alone (Num. 18:7), and so, apparently, was the meaning of the sacred furnishings and vessels. Origen (died 253 ce), a Christian biblical scholar writing in the early third century, said that even the Levites were not allowed to see the tabernacle objects. The high priests had to wrap them before the Levites were allowed to transport them (Num. 4:5–15).4 Jewish tradition said that the furnishings of the original temple had been lost or hidden away in the time of King Josiah (late seventh century bce), and would be restored in the time of the Messiah: the seven-branched lamp, the ark, the cherubim, the Spirit and the fire, according to one version;5 the anointing oil, the manna, the ark and Aaron’s rod according to another.6 In other words, the teaching of the original temple had been lost and would be restored in the time of the Messiah.
The Qumran texts mention the hidden teaching or lost teaching; the community considered themselves the faithful remnant, to whom God had revealed ‘the hidden things in which all Israel had gone astray. He unfolded before them His holy Sabbaths, and his glorious feasts, the testimonies of his righteousness and the ways of his truth …’ God rebuilt their community, the priests who remained faithful when others went astray. They were ‘destined to live for ever, and all the glory of Adam shall be theirs’.7 Another text spoke of teachers who had been hidden and kept secret’,8 and Josephus said that the Essenes took an oath to reveal none of their secrets, to preserve their books and the names of the angels.9 Temple mysticism, then, was the preserve of the original high priesthood, and the Christians emphasized that Jesus was their great high priest who had passed through the heavens, that is, the veil (Heb. 4:14). Texts about the holy of holies were also hidden away: the words of some familiar biblical texts, as we have seen, had another form that referred to the mystical teachings of the temple; and a story written down in the early Christian period, about 100 ce, shows that many sacred texts were deliberately concealed and kept only for the wise.
The story is that Ezra, a Jew who came to Jerusalem from Persia in the fifth century bce, heard a divine voice speaking to him from a bush, telling him that he was, in effect, the new Moses.
I led [Moses] up on Mount Sinai, where I kept him with me many days; and I told him many wondrous things, and showed him the secrets of the times and declared to him the end of the times. Then I commanded him, saying, ‘These words you shall publish openly, and these you shall keep secret.’
This distinction between secret things and what could be taught to everyone was not new. As early as Deuteronomy, Moses had said: ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law’ (Deut. 29:29). The Deuteronomists did not deny the existence of ‘secret things’; but they questioned their relevance to the everyday business of life and keeping the Law.
Ezra complained that the Law had been burned when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, and that nobody knew of the great works the Lord had done. He was then told to take five scribes and, inspired by the Most High, to dictate the lost books to them.
So during the forty days ninety-four books were written. And when the forty days were ended, the Most High spoke to me, saying, ‘Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people. For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the river of knowledge.’ And I did so.
Ezra had to restore everything, but only about a quarter of the holy books would be for public reading. Most of the inspired texts, according to this story, were only for the wise. Since the 24 were the Hebrew scriptures, this story shows that the most important teachings—understanding, wisdom and knowledge—were not in the Hebrew scriptures.
The Mishnah, collected about 200 ce, preserves the traditions and customs of the late second temple period. Among them are listed the passages of canonical scripture forbidden for public reading or for public explanation. Some were scandalous passages, for example the story of Reuben taking his father’s concubine (Gen. 35:22), the story of Tamar seducing her father-in-law (Gen. 38:13–19), and the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:2–17). Others were forbidden for another reason; they were temple texts about the holy of holies: Ezekiel’s vision of the chariot throne (Ezek. 1:4–28), the story of the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:1–3), and even the high priestly blessing which prayed for the Lord’s presence to shine forth (Num. 6:24–26).10 The Aramaic translation of Numbers sometimes left these verses in the original Hebrew, because people were not to know about them.
The story of 70 secret books is consistent with this custom of not reading or expounding certain passages of Scripture. What is interesting for our enquiry is that the Christians clearly did know and use these forbidden temple passages: Ezekiel’s chariot throne vision has echoes in Revelation, and the Lord’s presence shining forth was John’s great proclamation: ‘We have beheld his glory’ (John 1:14). It was also the Christians who preserved the Jewish story of Ezra knowing more books than were in the Hebrew canon and hiding them away, and it was the Christians who preserved the non-canonical Hebrew texts. Who, then, was Ezra?
The original Ezra was sent by the king of Persia in the fifth century bce to re-establish the Jewish community in Jerusalem. King Artaxerxes sent ‘Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven’ (Ezra 7:12) to enforce ‘correct’ religious beliefs and observances. Exactly when he came is not known, as the chronology of the books Ezra-Nehemiah is not clear, but the story is that he read out the Law to the assembled people of the city, and the Levites helped the people to understand. Thus Ezra the priest restored the scriptures to his people, and his Levites gave the official interpretation (Neh. 8:1–8). This was a new role for the Levites; according to the Chronicler, David had appointed them originally as temple musicians, to praise and thank the Lord, and to invoke his presence (1 Chron. 16:4). Ezra was associated with the restored written text and with its meaning. ‘Ezra’ the high priest and scribe became a symbolic figure; just as Moses gave the Law, so Ezra restored the scriptures.
Ezra himself is a mystery. He was not mentioned by Ben Sira in his list of famous men, where the great figures of the early second temple period are Zerubbabel, Joshua and Nehemiah (Ben Sira 49:11–13). Nor is his genealogy beyond suspicion. Ezra was presented as a high priest, but the family line was altered. According to one high priestly genealogy, the line was Azariah, Seraiah, Jehozadak who was taken into exile, then Joshua, the high priest who returned from exile (1 Chron. 6:14; Hag. 2:2). According to Ezra’s genealogy, the line was Azariah, Seraiah, Ezra (Ezra 7:1); Jehozadak and Joshua have gone. ‘Ezra’ and his scriptures replaced the old high priestly line just as his Levites had a new role as interpreters of the text rather than as musicians calling on the divine presence.
The more detailed account of Ezra restoring the scriptures is found in 2 Esdras, which is the older Jewish Apocalypse of Salathiel, expanded and then preserved by Christian scribes.11 The scriptures were restored 30 years after the fall of Jerusalem, and we are invited to believe that this was the first destruction of the city in 586 bce. In fact, the story was written after the second destruction in 70 ce, but ‘history repeating itself’ was a well-known literary style. ‘Ezra’ restoring the scriptures was really describing how they were collected and preserved around 100 ce, and this story was part of the original JewishApocalypse of Salathiel. It is not known if there was a formal process at this time to collect and preserve the scripture, led by the rabbis at Jamnia (‘The Council of Jamnia’),12 but the emperor Vespasian did allow this centre of Jewish learning to survive the destruction,13 and the scholars there must have been involved.
There were three developments. First, the canon of Hebrew scriptures was defined. There is no precise list of what books were considered holy in the time of Jesus; Josephus said there were 22 books: 5 books of Moses, 13 of history and prophecy, and 4 of hymns and guidance for life, but none is named.14The current way of counting the Hebrew scriptures and the Ezra story give 24 books.15 Did Josephus divide the books differently, or did he know a different list? At Qumran there is evidence for 21 copies of Isaiah and 30 of Deuteronomy, but none for 1 Chronicles and Nehemiah,16 and none for Esther. There is, however, evidence for 20 copies of 1 Enoch and 15 of Jubilees, and it is likely that both 1 Enoch and Jubilees were Scripture in the Qumran library, but again, there is no list. Fifty years after the destruction of the temple, R. Akiba taught that anyone reading the excluded books would have no place in the world to come,17 and so there must have been a recognized canon of Hebrew scripture by his time. Furthermore, not only had the canon of Scripture been defined by the early second century ce, but the other books, presumably the books for the wise, were prohibited.
Second, the form of the Hebrew text was fixed. It is sometimes said that the text of the Hebrew scriptures ‘stabilized’ after about 100 ce, but this is not a natural process like decay or regrowth. It means that someone stabilized it. The scripture texts found at Qumran are sometimes different from those that became the MT , and it is reasonable to ask what criteria determined the eventual form of the text that was chosen by the stabilizers and became the ‘standard’ Masoretic text. There is good reason to believe that the MT was a text chosen from several available alternatives and that some of the older readings were removed or changed in response to the claims of Christianity.
Some of the evidence for this is that new Greek translations of the Hebrew text were made in the second century ce.18 The Christians had adopted the old Greek translation, the Lxx , which had originally been accepted by the Alexandrian Jewish community as a miraculously accurate translation of the Hebrew text. Anyone who changed it would be cursed.19 By the second century ce, however, the Lxx translation was condemned: ‘The day of its translation was as grievous for Israel as the day when the golden calf was made …’20 The Lxx was no longer thought to be accurate, and so the new Greek translations were necessary. This can only mean that the Hebrew text used for the Lxx had been superseded, such that the older Greek no longer represented the current Hebrew. ‘Christian’ terms were avoided; Aquila, for example, would not use the word christos, anointed, in any Old Testament text, but made a new word eleimmenos, oiled.
Furthermore, it was ruled that any scrolls written and used by minim, i.e. Christians, had to be destroyed, and should not be rescued from a fire.21 ‘The revelations, gilyonim, and the books of the minim do not defile the hands’, i.e. are not sacred.22 ‘Revelations’ then were characteristic of the Christians, and the Jews mocked them with bitter wordplay: evangelion, the Greek word for gospel, was pronounced as two similar sounding Hebrew words avon gilyon, meaning ‘iniquitous revelation’, or aven gilyon, ‘worthless revelation’.23
The process of altering scripture was not new. Sometimes described as ‘rewritten scripture’, the practice shows how the holy texts were used as vehicles for new interpretation and teaching. A comparison of well-known texts shows that the story of David and Bathsheba is found in 2 Samuel 11 but not in the corresponding part of 1 Chronicles. The story showed David in a bad light. Descriptions of the holy of holies in 1 and 2 Chronicles do not appear in 1 Kings, as we shall see. The return of the exiles from Babylon—Ezra being a leading figure24 —was described by 1 Enoch as the return of blinded sheep whose temple service was polluted, a generation of apostates.25 The Third-Isaiah, who prophesied at this time, described the leaders of the temple as ‘his watchmen’, but blind and without knowledge, shepherds without understanding (Isa. 56:10, 11). The final chapters of 1 Enoch warn of sinners altering the texts: ‘Woe to those who tamper with the words of truth and distort the eternal covenant and yet consider themselves without sin.’ ‘Sinners will tamper with and distort the words of truth and pervert many …’26 As was the custom in these texts, nobody was named, but the events were recorded.
Certain scribes were authorized to ‘restore’ the text, changing passages that they deemed blasphemous or inappropriate. Traditionally, there are 18 of these tiqqune sopherim,27 restorations of the scribes, and the scribes claimed the authority of Moses for the changes: ‘Words read but not written, words written but not read, all these are halachah from Moses at Sinai.’ All the later conventions for reading the text and ‘fixing’ its meaning, they said, went back to the work of Ezra described in Nehemiah 8:8: ‘ “They read from the book, from the law of God” refers to scripture, “clearly” refers to the Targum, “and they gave the sense” refers to the division into sentences, “so that the people understood the reading” refers to the accents or, some say, to the masoroth.’28 These latter were originally the bonds or fetters (as in Ezek. 20:37) by which the meaning of the text was fixed, but later the word was said to come from masarmeaning to hand down, in other words, the traditional reading.
The work of these scribes was sophisticated and governed by strict rules. Existing letters could be rearranged, and one letter (even two) could be replaced by another. One of the list of ‘eighteen’ corrections is found three times: a dispersing army was told to return ‘each man to his tents’ (2 Sam. 20:1, my translation; 1 Kings 12:16; 2 Chron. 10:16). The original had been ‘each man to his God’, but this implied polytheism in Israel and so it was removed by transposing the two letters l and h: l’lhyw, ‘to his God’, became l’hlyw, ‘to his tents’. Sometimes the change was to remove an offensive name: Saul’s son was Eshba‘al, man of Baal (1 Chron. 8:33), but changing the two final letters made it Ishbosheth, man of shame (2 Sam. 2:8). Sometimes the theological motive is clear: ‘Let us make man in our image’ became ‘I will make man …’ by changing one letter. There were 13 of this type of alteration, made when the Lxx was translated, said Jerome, so that King Ptolemy of Egypt would not think there had been mystical prophecies of the Messiah and that the Jews worshipped a second God.29 So too with the ‘sons of God’ in the Song of Moses, clearly the ancient angels of the nations. Here two letters were changed and the sons of God became in the MT the (in context) incomprehensible ‘sons of Israel’. Both the Qumran text and the Lxx have the original ‘sons of God’ (Deut. 32:8). The scribes changed h and m for ś and r, making ’lhym, God, into yśr’l, Israel.
These scribes were associated with Ezra and a body known as the ‘men of the Great Synagogue’.30 The tradition was that a group of 120 elders, including some prophets, came back from exile with Ezra and re-established the correct rules for observing the Law. This group was, in effect, the bridge between the prophets and the later teachers of the Law. ‘Moses received the Law from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets committed it to the men of the Great Synagogue.’31 Simon the Just32 was the last of the original body, but the tradition of teaching and interpreting the Law continued for centuries. The heirs of the ‘Great Synagogue’ were responsible for deciding which books (and which versions) should be included in the canon, and their changes could well have prompted Jesus’ remark that with his teaching, not even the smallest letter would change in the Law (Matt. 5:18). An agraphon, a saying not found in the Gospels but attributed to Jesus, was: ‘Become experienced bankers’, meaning that his followers had to recognize forgeries, to distinguish true from false Scripture.33
The heirs of the Great Synagogue were responsible for establishing how the oral law, also given by Moses on Sinai, was to be studied and observed, and Jesus, according to Mark, criticized the ‘tradition of the elders’ for losing sight of the commandments of God through their concern for ‘the tradition of men’, ‘making void the word of God through your tradition’ (Mark 7:5–8, 13).
They were also responsible for establishing the forms of synagogue worship, especially the ‘Eighteen Benedictions’. Nobody knows when these Benedictions were composed, but R. Gamaliel II, the great teacher of the Jamnia period, said they should be prayed every day.34 It was in his time that a nineteenth was added, the so-called ‘benediction for heretics’ which was, of course, a curse on them.35 Now positioned twelfth in the list, one version from this period prays that Christians, noşerim, and heretics, minim, should perish and be blotted out of the book of Life.
This, then, was the heritage of ‘Ezra’, who is said to have known but kept hidden certain holy books, and whose genealogy was composed such that he took the place of Joshua (that is Jesus) as the high priest who restored temple worship in Jerusalem.
The great high priest
During this period when the Jews were stabilizing their scriptures, collecting and writing their oral law, and cursing the ‘heretics’ in the synagogues, the Christians were also telling their story.
First, they claimed to be the heirs of high priestly teaching, and that Jesus had taught with authority and not like the scribes (Mark. 1:22). Many priests joined the Church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:7), and Jesus was proclaimed as a great high priest (Heb. 4:14). James and John (but not Peter) were remembered as high priests who had worn the golden seal engraved with the divine name.36 This implies that the Christians had a parallel to the temple hierarchy, and a tradition of secret teaching associated with the holy of holies. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch around 100 ce, taught: ‘To Jesus alone as our high priest were the secret things of God committed.’37 Clement of Alexandria, writing a century later, distinguished true Christian teaching from false using the same holy of holies imagery: ‘they do not enter in as we enter in, through the tradition of the Lord, by drawing aside the curtain …’38
There was another agraphon, quoted by Peter in a book attributed to Clement of Rome: ‘We remember that our Lord and teacher, commanding us, said: “Keep the mysteries/secrets for me and the sons of my house.” Wherefore also he explained to his disciples privately the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.’39 There are hints of this in the Gospels, when Jesus explained to his inner circle why he taught in parables: ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables’ (Mark 4:11). The kingdom, as we shall see, was the holy of holies and what it represented. Jesus then quoted the oracle to Isaiah about the punishment for rejecting Wisdom: they would see and not perceive, hear and not understand. They would not see the kingdom.
The Christians also knew of sealed books and scrolls that had to be eaten, that is, scrolls of secret teaching. John saw the One on the throne holding a book sealed with seven seals.40 The description is not clear, but it seems that the Lamb took his place on the throne at the same time as he took the book, and then all creation in heaven and earth worshipped the Lamb who was holding the sealed book (Rev. 5:1–14). After the seven seals had been opened, the mighty angel brought the opened book41 and gave it to John, who was told to eat it and then speak as a prophet (Rev. 10:1–11). This sequence—the Lamb receiving the book and opening it, and then the mighty angel bringing the book to John—is summarized in the first verse of Revelation. ‘The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him to show to his servants what must soon take place’ means that the visions were given to Jesus who had to reveal them to the ‘servants of God’. This is the vision of the Lamb receiving the book and opening the seals. ‘And he [Jesus] made it known by sending his angel to his servant John’ means that Jesus entrusted/explained the meaning of his visions to John. This is the vision of the mighty angel bringing the opened book to John.
Recognizing that Jesus himself received visions in the manner of temple mystics, and that these form the core of Revelation, is important for recovering temple mysticism and for establishing its key role in the early Christianity. John implies in his Gospel that Jesus had received visions before he began his public ministry: ‘He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony’ (John 3:31–32). He also implies that there will be more revelation in the future:
I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
He defined the early Christian community as the other offspring of the woman clothed with the sun (in addition to the Messiah), those who kept the commandments of God and who had the testimonies of Jesus, already defined as ‘the things that he saw’ (Rev. 12:17, translating literally, and Rev. 1:2).
There are glimpses elsewhere of Jesus the temple mystic: he saw the heavens open at his baptism (Mark 1:10), and the heavenly voice named him as the divine Son. Origen knew that at his baptism, Jesus saw the chariot throne that Ezekiel had seen by the River Chebar (Ezek. 1:4–28).42 Jesus then spent 40 days in the wilderness ‘with the wild beasts and the angels served him’ (Mark 1:13, my translation). He was alone and so must have reported these experiences to others, and presumably not in Greek. This is important because in Hebrew, the ‘wild beasts’ would have been the same word as the ‘living creatures’ of the chariot throne, ḥayyot (Ezek. 1:5; Rev. 4:6), and the serving angels would have been the worshipping hosts in the throne vision since ‘serve’, ‘ābad, also means ‘worship’ in Hebrew (Rev. 5:11). Jesus’ mystical experience in the desert is described more fully in the opening scene of Revelation: he took the book, was enthroned among the living creatures and then served/worshipped by the angels (Rev. 5:1–14). Thus it was that John could say of him at the very start of his ministry: ‘He bears witness to what he has seen and heard …’ and could claim that the Christians kept these testimonies (Rev. 12:17).
When Ezekiel saw the fiery chariot throne and its attendants by the River Chebar, this must have been how he envisaged the holy of holies. His experience is important for understanding what is written between the lines in the New Testament, and for glimpsing what the early Christians might have understood when they read the same words as we read. An early illustrated gospel, for example, shows the Ascension as Jesus being taken up in the chariot that Ezekiel saw.43 Some said there had been a fire in the Jordan when Jesus was baptized.44 This was a sign of the chariot vision, since fire had appeared when a disciple of the R. Johanan ben Zakkai (a contemporary of Jesus) was expounding the mysteries of the chariot throne.45
Ezekiel saw the One seated on the chariot throne, a fiery human figure wreathed in a rainbow. The figure offered him an open scroll to eat and then told him to speak to people who would not listen (Ezek. 2:1–3:11). Origen commented:
Our prophets did know of greater things than any in the Scriptures, which they did not commit to writing. Ezekiel, for example, received a roll written within and without … but at the command of the Logos he swallowed the book in order that its contents might not be written and so made known to unworthy persons. John is also recorded as having seen and done a similar thing.46
Note that Origen thought that the fiery human figure on the throne was the Logos, the Second Person, another feature of temple mysticism, and this is clearly the same figure as the mighty angel whom John saw offering him the little book to eat (Rev. 10:1). After eating the scroll, Ezekiel was lifted up by the Spirit and carried away to his people (Ezek. 3:12–15). Origen knew of the Gospel according to the Hebrews47 which says that Jesus too was carried away by the Holy Spirit, described as ‘his mother’, and taken to Mount Tabor.48 We cannot know how much of this underlies the brief Gospel descriptions of Jesus’ baptism and time in the wilderness, but temple mysticism is very much the context of the ministry of Jesus the great high priest.
There are many versions of the Old Testament, and the Hebrew-based English translations are different in several important ways from anything that Jesus or the early Church would have known. Any attempt to reconstruct or to understand Christian origins that is based on the Old Testament found in English Bibles is less likely to succeed than one that is more broadly based. We now look at how Christian writers told the story of forming the Old Testament canon.
Justin, a convert to Christianity, wrote his Dialogue with Trypho in the mid-second century ce. He was setting out the points of disagreement between Jews and Christians at that time, and Trypho the Jew may or may not have been a historical figure. Justin came from Samaria; he was born about 100 ce and raised about 40 miles away from Jamnia, the centre of Jewish learning. His comments to Trypho about the changes being made to the Hebrew scriptures are therefore of considerable interest. First, he knew of the Greek translations being made to replace the older Lxx , by that time deemed by the Jews to be the golden calf that led Israel astray.
I certainly do not trust your teachers when they refuse to admit that the translation of the scriptures made by the seventy elders at the court of King Ptolemy is a correct one and attempt to make their own translation. You should also know that they have removed entire passages from the version composed by those elders.49
He also knew that they had rejected the word ‘virgin’, parthenos, for the unnamed mother in Isaiah 7:14, and said it should be ‘young woman’, neanis.50 ‘Virgin’ had been acceptable to the Jewish community in Alexandria when the older translation was made—perhaps they still remembered who the woman was—and so it must have been Christian use of the text that necessitated the new translation. Justin also claimed that passages had been removed from Jeremiah and the Psalms. Before the discovery of the Qumran biblical texts, it was said with some confidence that the ‘differences’ between the Lxx and the current Hebrew text were Christian additions, inserted to add weight to the prophecies of Christ. This can no longer be considered as a possibility.
The Qumran texts have shown beyond reasonable doubt that what Justin claimed did happen. Texts to verify or otherwise the actual examples he gave to Trypho have not been found, but many others do confirm that Hebrew texts of special interest to Christians were changed or disappeared. One of the proof texts at the beginning of Hebrews is in the Lxx and in a Qumran fragment,51 but ‘Let all God’s angels worship him’ (Lxx Deut. 32:43; Heb. 1:6) is not in the MT . This key verse shows that Jesus was identified as Yahweh, the first born. Yahweh, the Lord, is not usually identified as the firstborn son, but that was the original belief. Yahweh was the son of God Most High—as Gabriel announced to Mary (Luke 1:32)—and so the Hebrew scriptures witness to Father and Son. The Christian proclamation ‘Jesus is Lord’ meant Jesus is Yahweh. The human manifestation of the Lord, the son of God Most High, was at the heart of temple mysticism, but was one of the crucial pieces of evidence that did not become part of the MT . Nor did the verse about God Most High dividing the nations among ‘the sons of God’, of whom Yahweh received Jacob (Deut. 32:8). The sons of God became in the MT the incomprehensible ‘sons of Israel’. There are many examples, as we shall see, in the course of reconstructing temple mysticism.
Origen wanted to establish the correct text of the scriptures. He collected all the known versions in his huge work set out in six colums, the ‘Hexapla’. It is likely that this work was compiled as a basis for discussion with Jews. He was all too aware of differences between the Jewish and Christian scriptures in his time and took care ‘so that in our debates with the Jews we do not use passages that are not in their texts and so that we do not use those passages which are in their texts but not ours’.52 Note that he agreed to debate the issue on the basis of the Jewish canon and text forms, but he did not intend that these should become the Christian scriptures. ‘Should we suppress the texts used by the churches and order the community to reject the sacred books which they use and flatter the Jews and persuade them to give us pure texts in their place, without any forged additions?’53 Origen assumed that the Hebrew text he was given was the original; he was not aware of the variety of older Hebrew texts, and consequently he ‘corrected’ the Lxx that the Christians were using in the light of both the post-Christian Hebrew and the three later Greek translations made from it. The result was a disaster for any knowledge of the original Christian scriptures.
And then there was Jerome. When he was asked by Pope Damasus to make a new Latin translation, around 400 ce, he chose the post-Christian Hebrew text as the basis for his work. Augustine warned him that this was a mistake, since it implied that the Greek text was less valuable than the Hebrew.54Jerome went ahead, using both the current Hebrew text and the Hebrew canon. His reason? So that the Jews would not be able to say that the Church had false scriptures.55 Again, a Christian writer had accepted the Jewish canon and text in the interest of ‘discussion’ with the Jews, and as a result, all Bibles based on Jerome’s work, and those from the Reformation based directly on the post-Christian Hebrew text, are not the Old Testament as Jesus and the first Christians would have known it. What has been lost is temple mysticism, which is the key to understanding Christian origins.
Some early Christian writers quote ‘Scripture’ that cannot now be found in the Old Testament. The Letter of Barnabas, for example, a Christian text from the second or third generation,56 quotes frequently from unknown scriptures: ‘A heart that glorifies its maker is a sweet savour to the Lord’; ‘I am now making the last things even as I made the first’; ‘If my sons keep the Sabbath I will show mercy upon them’ and many more.57 Of considerable interest is a quotation about the day of atonement Sacrifice that would link it directly to the original understanding of the Eucharist. ‘And what does it say in the prophet. “Let them eat of the goat which is offered for their sins at the fast, and [note this carefully] let all the priests but nobody else, eat of its inward parts, unwashed and with vinegar.” ’ Jesus drank vinegar just before he died, said Barnabas, to prepare himself as the atonement Sacrifice that the priests consumed.58 This would explain why the Eucharist has the imagery of consuming blood, an otherwise un-Jewish practice. Blood was consumed with the unwashed Sacrifice on the day of atonement. Thus the Eucharist is not drawn just from Passover, but, as set out in Hebrews, from the day of atonement also (Heb. 9:11–14). But which ‘prophet’ was Barnabas quoting, and why has this crucial ‘temple’ text not survived elsewhere?59
The Christians were also expelled from the synagogues, just as the ‘blessing on the minim’ required. Justin, who was born in Samaria and had lived in both Ephesus and Rome, said this many times in his debate with Trypho. ‘You curse in your synagogues all those who are called from him Christians, and other nations effectively carry out the curse by putting to death those who simply confess themselves to be Christians.’ ‘You curse [Jesus] without ceasing, as well as those who side with him, while all of us pray for you and for all men, as our Lord and Christ has taught us to do’ (cf. Matt. 5:44).60 This was the situation inthe mid-second century but it was not new. Paul had taught that nobody who cursed Jesus could claim to be inspired, whereas anyone who proclaimed ‘Jesus is the Lord’ was speaking with the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3, my translation). John linked expulsion from the synagogue with recognition that Jesus was theLord (John 12:41–42), and Jesus warned his followers that the Jews would consider it a pious duty to kill them (John 16:2). Thus he could say that Jerusalem the harlot city was drunk with the blood of the saints and martyrs (i.e. witnesses) of Jesus (Rev. 17:6), and that the heavens rejoiced when Jerusalem was burned, when the Lord avenged the blood of his servants (Rev. 19:1–3, alluding to the mutilated text Deut. 32:43).
This is the history that makes any quest for early source material so difficult.
The hidden Wisdom
Ezra’s 70 books, therefore, are very important. As with the public canon of 24 books, no list of them survives, and we have to sift among the other material that seems to belong to this period and to this context. Some of the books may be represented among the Dead Sea Scrolls, such as the otherwise unknownBook of Hagu, which was compulsory study for members of the Qumran community.61 There are also books of Wisdom teaching which have been pieced together and published under various titles,62 the many fragments of Enoch texts, the Temple Scroll, the various hymns and prayers and much more.
The first problem is labels and dating. Scholars labelled the canonical Hebrew texts as ‘prophecy’, ‘wisdom’, ‘history’ and so on, on the basis of the limited sample of material that became canonical. They dated them on the unacknowledged premise that canonical texts were as old as they claimed to be, but that all others were only as old as the oldest known physical evidence for them. Thus Isaiah in the eighth century bce could not possibly have known 1 Enoch, for which there is no manuscript evidence until the mid-second temple period. The earliest manuscript evidence for Isaiah is rather later, but this was not mentioned. The first misgivings arose with the apocalyptic texts, when it became clear that the canonical apocalypse, Daniel, was in no way typical. What were all the hitherto unknown texts found at Qumran? Sectarian, it was assumed, because the canon was thought to determine ‘orthodoxy’ long before the canon existed. Other questions then arose: what criteria determined that one apocalypse but not another was accepted into that canon, one Wisdom text but not another, and so on. What, then, was the criterion for ‘Ezra’ keeping ‘wisdom’ texts away from the general public? ‘In them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom and the river of knowledge’ (2 Esd. 14:47).
The Wisdom texts in the Hebrew canon are Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, together with a few psalms and passages in the prophets. In the Deutero-canonical texts (‘the Apocrypha’) there are the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus), the Wisdom of Solomon, and parts of Tobit. It is possible that these texts are ‘late’—second temple—and compiled by scribes as collections of traditional teaching; or they could be the work of scribes in the royal court and therefore from the first temple period. Material of similar style and content was produced by scribes in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and so scholars have toyed with ideas such as that of gentleman scholars of the ancient Jerusalem foreign office. What is clear is that the Wisdom texts in the Hebrew canon are only a remnant of the original wisdom; they have no concern with history or covenant, have a largely secular application, no real theology, and show no possible reason for Deuteronomy offering the Law as a replacement for Wisdom (Deut. 4:6).
It is likely that such Wisdom material as survived into the canon had been modified in the light of the later emphasis on the Law—‘Ezra’ again. This is clear in the reworking of the great hymn in Ben Sira 24, where the praise of Wisdom has been clumsily changed into praise of the Law of Moses (Ben Sira 24:23). The absence of theology in the canonical Wisdom texts was because no compromise was possible with the original Wisdom theology. There is no way that the platitudes of the Wisdom texts in the MT would have been reserved only for the wise because they were ‘the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the river of knowledge’ (2 Esd. 14:47), but the speech of the archangel Raphael to Tobit and Tobias reveals the original context of these apparently isolated pieces of advice. At the end of the story, Raphael recites a sequence of Wisdom teachings: ‘It is good to praise God … Do not be slow to give him thanks … Do good, and evil will not overtake you … A little with righteousness is better than much with wrongdoing …’ (Tobit 12:6–8). He then reveals who he is: Raphael, who had been invisibly present when Tobit did each of his good deeds and who took his prayers (implying that his good deeds were the prayers) up into the glory of the Holy One. Wisdom was the teaching of the angels who then watched as the teachings became reality and thus a part of the glory on earth. In Revelation, John explained that the glorious garments in which the Bride appeared were the good deeds of the saints, another way of saying the same thing (Rev. 19:8).
The image of Wisdom as water—understanding, wisdom and knowledge—is also found in Ben Sira’s poem about Wisdom, although now applied to the Law. Unfortunately, 2 Esdras is a Latin text and this part of Ben Sira is only known in Greek, so precise comparisons are not possible. Ben Sira’s Wisdom compares herself to a river bringing wisdom, understanding and knowledge (Ben Sira 24:25–27),63 and the context of the poem implies that this flows from the temple where Wisdom has her dwelling. Compare now Enoch’s vision of the holy of holies, described as ‘the vision of Wisdom’.64 After seeing the heavenly counterpart of the day of atonement, he described the ever-flowing fountain of righteousness and the many fountains of wisdom that were flowing near the throne, so that the thirsty could drink from them.65 This is the context for ‘Let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price’ (Rev. 22:17); for ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ (Matt. 5:6); and for Jesus’ invitation: ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink.’ He then quoted from Scripture we no longer have: ‘Out of his heart [i.e. his mind] shall flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:37–38).
Next Enoch saw how the Man was given the Name before sun and stars were made; in other words, he saw how a human figure was named as Yahweh in the holy of holies that represented the state before and beyond the material creation. This was theosis, and this Chosen One became the source ofwisdom, understanding and knowledge.66 Isaiah had learned that the punishment for those who had rejected Wisdom was the loss of understanding and knowledge (Isa. 6:10), and that this would be restored through the Anointed One with his gifts of, among other things, wisdom, understanding and knowledge (Isa. 11:2). The Proverbs of Solomon were to give knowledge of wisdom, instruction and understanding (Prov. 1:2), but we best glimpse the older Wisdom in the Priestly writer’s description of Bezalel, the designer and contractor for the desert tabernacle. The Lord filled him with a spirit of the’elohim, with wisdom, understanding, knowledge and ‘craftsmanship’, mela’ka’. This latter is an interesting word, being the feminine form of the word ‘angel’, and so suggesting that craftsmanship was the partner or reciprocal of the angel. The wisdom of the ’elohim is better translated ‘the wisdom of the angels/heavenly beings’ than ‘the wisdom of God’.
Water, that is, Wisdom, streaming from the throne and the holy of holies was a recurring theme in the Hebrew scriptures, but the expectation changed. For the psalmist it was a present hope:
The children of men take refuge in the shadow of thy wings.
They feast on the abundance of thy house,
And thou givest them drink from the river of thy delights.
For with thee is the fountain of life;
In thy light do we see light.
This may be the river whose streams ‘make glad the city of God’ (Ps. 46:4), of which Isaiah spoke when he said that the righteous would see the king in his beauty and majesty, in a place with broad rivers and streams on each side (Isa. 33:15, 17, 21).
Jeremiah knew of a change and lamented that his people had rejected the fountain of living water:
A glorious throne set on high from the beginning
Is the place of our sanctuary.
[But] … they have forsaken the Lord
The fountain of living water.
For the prophets it became a future hope, for the time of the Messiah:
… the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea.
On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem … And the Lord will become king over all the earth.
And for the ‘new’ Wisdom teachers it became just a proverb:
The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life …
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life …
Similar imagery is found in the Qumran Hymns, which describe the life of the community in a desert place; this may be a literal description of their home, but it was more than that. They had been living in a spiritual desert but had rediscovered the spring, fountain and river that ‘Ezra’ withheld from the public canon of Scripture. They sang of ‘the eternal [spring], the well of glory, and the fountain of knowledge’;68 ‘A source of light that becomes a flowing eternal fountain’69 and in this they put their trust; ‘My heart shall be open to the everlasting fountain; my support shall be in the strength from on high.’70 And they gave thanks to the Lord:
You have set me by a source of streams in a dry land,
By a spring of water in a desert …
Trees of life by a spring of mystery, raz,
They had not yet caused (it) to bud,
But they sent out their roots to the watercourse,
And the stem was opened to the living waters
And it was like an eternal fountain.71
The poem continues with tree of life imagery: mighty ones, spirits of holiness and whirling flames of fire prevent access to the fruit of the tree; and nobody could approach the ‘well-spring of life’ or drink the ‘holy waters’ unless he discerned and believed in the fountain of life. All this is Eden imagery; the curse on Adam and Eve had been removed so they had access again to the tree of life (Gen. 3:22–24), just as Jesus promised the faithful Christian: ‘To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God’ (Rev. 2:7, cf. 22:14). The teacher, maśkil, in the Qumran community listened to the secret council by means of the holy Spirit: ‘In the mystery of your wisdom you have opened knowledge to me, And in your mercies you have opened for me the fountain of your might.’ They said of him: ‘You placed (understanding) in his heart/mind to open the source of knowledge for those who discern.’72 John described the same experience; he was in the Spirit on the day of the Lord (Rev. 1:10), and then received revelations.
The Community Rule set these hymns in their context, which was the holy of holies.
My eyes have looked at eternal things,
which are hidden from a man,
knowledge and prudence
[hidden] from the sons of Adam,
a spring of righteousness, a store of strength, with a fountain of glory,
[hidden] from the assembly of the flesh.
All this had been given to the community, described as the chosen ones, the holy ones, who had been joined to the assembly of the sons of heaven.73 They were angels on earth.
The Qumran Wisdom texts had some things in common with the biblical Wisdom texts, such as advice about daily living: ‘Do not sell yourself for money’, or ‘Do not count a man of iniquity as your helper’.74 But there was other material that set this Wisdom teaching in a wider context; not as the secular wise sayings of the ancient royal courts that enabled young men to succeed in life, but as knowledge of the eternal truths that enabled the initiate to live in harmony with the creation and know the divine secrets. This was the knowledge revealed by angels that we glimpsed in Tobit. In the Qumran texts, advice to a poor person was set alongside the exhortation to study the raz nihyeh, the mystery of existence (if that is how to translate the words), so that he could understand the divine plan.75 This was nothing new; the psalmist had pondered the problem of evil people, but only received an answer when he went into the sanctuary of God, and there he perceived what would happen afterwards (Ps. 73:17). So too with Second-Isaiah, when the Lord reminded him what he had been taught ‘from the beginning … from the foundations of the earth’ (Isa. 40:21). The prophet had stood in the holy of holies, the source of creation, whence he could look out and see all history. John was summoned to stand before the throne, to be shown ‘what must take place after this’ (Rev. 4:1).
The raz nihyeh involved, among other things, the link between the pattern of creation, human conduct and the day of judgement. A tentative reconstruction of the great Qumran Wisdom text76 suggests that the teaching was set in ‘a cosmic and eschatological theological framework’ and the instruction enabled a person to ‘align himself with the correct order of the cosmos’.77 Isaiah’s Servant, who was also a maśkil (Isa. 52:13),78 was high and lifted up and became wise and understanding. He made many righteous by his knowledge. In other words, his knowledge put people back into harmony with God’s plan—which is what righteousness means (Isa. 53:11). We shall return to this later, but suffice it here to note that this was the subject of the great hymn in heaven when the seventh angel blew the last trumpet: the kingdom was established on earth, the servants and saints of the Lord were rewarded, but the dead were judged and the destroyers of creation were destroyed (Rev. 11:15–18).
The phrase raz nihyeh is found many times in the Qumran texts, and the fact that we cannot even translate the words with confidence, let alone explain what they mean, is an indication of how little is known of their matrix in temple and wisdom. The Qumran community criticized some contemporaries because they did not know what they were talking about: ‘For it has been sealed up from you. Sealed is the vision, and on the eternal mysteries you have not looked, and you have not come to understand knowledge.’79 Early Christian writers said much the same, and spoke of the temple tradition as the mysteries. This did not mean that they were drawn from or modelled on the various contemporary mystery cults; it meant only that they were using the same language and therefore had to use the same Greek words. Bishop Ignatius of Antioch, in the second or third generation, emphasized the need for unity among his flock and for the true teaching, which included rather more than we find in the New Testament. He understood ‘celestial secrets and angelic hierarchies and the dispositions of the heavenly powers and much else both seen and unseen …’, yet this alone did not make him a disciple.80 He reminded his people: ‘You are initiates of the same mysteries as our saintly and renowned Paul’,81 but his ‘mysteries’ were compared to those of the ancient temple priests:
The priests of old, I admit, were estimable men, but our own High Priest is greater, for he has been entrusted with the Holy of Holies. And to him alone are the secret things of God committed. He is the doorway to the Father, and it is by him that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the prophets go in, no less than the apostles and the whole Church; for all these have their part in God’s unity.82
Clement of Alexandria is often said to have been adopting contemporary Greek ideas, but he too was writing about temple mysticism. Paul, he taught, clearly revealed that some knowledge was not given to everyone, ‘for there were certainly among the Hebrews some things delivered unwritten …’83 The goal of the Christian was to know these things and to behold them. This gave knowledge of past, present and future, and was Clement’s way of describing the vision of God and the knowledge that this brought. ‘As the Hebrews gazed on the glory of Moses and the prophets of Israel on the vision of angels, so we also become able to look the splendours of truth in the face.’84 The person who attained the vision was transformed by it into a heavenly being. ‘In this way it is possible for the Gnostic [the one who knows] already to have become God: “I said ye are gods and sons of the Highest.” ’85
Origen knew that temple teaching had been concealed from all but the high priests, and that much of the teaching was transmitted through liturgy rather than scripture. Much of the New Testament, e.g. Paul’s letters, were sent to clarify certain points or as part of a dispute; they do not give a full picture of early Christian belief. So too with the Councils of the Church; the liturgies are better evidence of what Christians actually believed. Origen compared certain customs—praying towards the east, baptism rites, words used in the Eucharist—to the secrets of the holy of holies. The Levites who carried the tabernacle through the desert, as we have seen, were not permitted to look at what they were carrying. The high priests had to wrap all the sacred furnishings and vessels, before the Levites could lift them: ‘they must not touch the holy things, lest they die’ (Num. 4:15). Even the Levites did not fully understand what they were transmitting, yet according to the Ezra tradition, it was the Levites who explained the scriptures to the people.
If we take as our norm the ‘Ezra’ canon and interpretation and the Deuteronomists’ account of temple worship—the usual practice—there is little evidence for temple mysticism. The Deuteronomists’ description of the temple in 1 Kings 6–8 mentions neither the chariot throne nor the veil, but the Chronicler does (1 Chron. 28:18; 2 Chron. 3:14). Nor do the Deuteronomists mention temple music, even though the Chronicler makes music the most important part of the cult, with temple musicians established even before the temple itself (1 Chron. 16:1–6). The Chronicler also attributes to David a prayer in which he thanks theLord for something that is now unreadable. A possible reconstruction is ‘You caused me to see in the midst [or in a vision] the Man on high [or the Man ascending]’ (1 Chron. 17:17). This is the figure we shall meet many times in our quest for temple mysticism: he is Adam before he sinned, he is Isaiah’s Servant, high and lifted up, he is Daniel’s Man ascending on the clouds of heaven (Dan. 7:13), he is the unnamed figure who ascends to heaven to acquire understanding, wisdom and knowledge (Prov. 30:1–4, another damaged text), and he is the one of whom John the Baptist said, ‘He comes from heaven … [and] bears witness to what he has seen and heard’ (John 3:31–32).
3 Each stage is marked in Exodus 40 by ‘As the Lord commanded Moses.’
4 Origen, Homily 5 On Numbers.
5 Numbers Rabbah XV.10.
7 Damascus Document CD III.
8 11Q Melchizedek, as translated in F. Garcia-Martinez, ed., Discoveries in the Judean Desert XXIII, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 229.
12 Also called Yabneh or Jabneh.
15 The 12 minor prophets are one book.
16 Although they may have been part of a larger scroll.
MT Masoretic text
MT Masoretic text
18 The translations of Theodotion, Aquila and Symmachus.
20 Mishnah Soferim 1.7.
27 Also spelled tikkune soferim.
MT Masoretic text
30 Or ‘the great assembly’.
32 Probably the Simon mentioned in Ben Sira 50:1–21, about 200 bce.
33 This is found in the Clementine Homilies 2.51; 3.50; 18.20; also in Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 1.28.
40 The Greek biblion can be either book or scroll.
41 The Greek word is biblaridion, a little book.
42 Origen, Homily 1 On Ezekiel.
43 The Rabbula Gospels, sixth-century Syrian. The Ascension can be seen on p. 111 of my book An Extraordinary Gathering of Angels, London: MQ Publications, 2004.
44 Two Old Latin versions of Matthew 3:15, Codex Vercellensis and Codex Sangermanensis; Justin, writing in Rome in the mid-second century ce, Trypho 88: and Ephrem, writing in Syria in the late fourth century ce, Commentary on the Diatessaron.
47 Now lost apart from quotations in ancient writers.
MT Masoretic text
MT Masoretic text
MT Masoretic text
55 Jerome, Preface to Isaiah: ‘ne Iudaei de falsitate scriptarum ecclesiis diutius insultarent’.
56 It is included at the end of the Sinai Codex, which contains the oldest complete copy of the New Testament.
59 There is a hint of the practice in Mishnah Menaḥoth 11.2, that in some circumstances the Jews of Babylon used to eat the atonement goat raw.
62 4Q Instruction and Sapiental Work A are two examples. The main pieces of text are 4Q416, 417 and 418, but there are many other Qumran fragmnents identified as ‘wisdom’.
MT Masoretic text
63 Using P. W. Skehan’s translation in The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira, Anchor Bible, New York: Doubleday, 1987.
68 1QH XX.29. Brackets thus [***] indicate an uncertain piece of text.
69 1QH XIV.17.
70 1QH XVIII.32; ‘heart’ means ‘mind’.
71 1QH XVI.5–8.
73 Community Rule, 1QSa XI.6–7.
75 Thus 4Q416.
77 D. J. Harrington, Wisdom Texts from Qumran, London: Routledge, 1996, p. 41.
78 This verse has the verb, the Qumran hymn has the derived noun.
79 The Book of Mysteries, 4Q300.
Barker, M. (2011). Temple Mysticism: An Introduction. London: SPCK.
Exported from Logos Bible Software, 8:46 AM May 24, 2014.