Novak (novak) wrote,

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Theological Notebook--Apocalyptic Literature

Whew! This is all getting away from me! But it certainly didn't help that my medications were making me incredibly tired over the last week. Last week saw a number of different articles and readings taking us into the roots of apocalyptic literature, centering around such figures as the "Son of Man" and "Baal" as precursors for taking us into the Enoch tradition, which seems to be the roots of this type of writing. "Son of Man" might be familiar as a title Jesus uses to refer to himself: it's tied to the figure of the "Son of Man" who appears with "the Ancient of Days" in the vision recounted in the book of Daniel in the Hebrew Scriptures. "Baal" might be recognized also from the Hebrew writings as the name of a god whose worship was strongly opposed by the Jewish prophets, most memorably by Elijah.

What's kind of fascinating is the way the two seem to be kind of related in ancient literature: that the Son of Man and Baal both appear as lesser figures next to an ultimate figure, the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days, and Baal to El, his father in the Ugaritic pantheon of gods. It highlights the "messiness" or the slow character of the process of revelation. If God is revealing himself to humanity, it has been through a long processes of cultural apprehension, as opposed to one quick "download" of information, the way some people seem to express it at times, as though the Bible fell out of the sky and was picked up and understood as the blueprints of the universe. The truth is that instead you see the Jews not becoming immediate rabid monotheists at Sinai, and that is the end of the story. Instead, their history reveals a long, slow, organic evolution of having to come out of paganism, even if some far-seeing individuals, the prophets, were trying to guide them in the right direction. Their paganism slowly morphs into an understanding of One God, but along the way they use a lot of their pagan-influenced culture to arrive at this point as their stories become the give-and-take of their reasoning and educational process. If the Son of Man owes some of his form in Jewish writing to Baal worship, that doesn't seem to be so scandalous. All along the way, Jewish and Christian thought would benefit from the surrounding culture, taking and adapting any insights to the truth that they could find, whether coming from Greek philosophy, or Celtic nature-worship, or the insights of contemporary physics.

Later in the week, the early chapters of Ezekiel were important for us as a prelude to the later development of apocalyptic literature: Ezekiel has a vision of angels, of God and of a Heavenly Temple--not the Temple in Jerusalem where he was a priest--that seems to set the stage for the style and method of later apocalyptic writing, where the literature's point seems to be to use the idea of a vision (whether real or simply literary) to describe in cosmic terms some truth that is important to understand about a crisis here on an earthly level.

Just coming in from Mass where Fr. Joe Mueller, SJ preached a helluva good sermon on all the money texts that were the readings today. The intertwining themes of honesty and community, both in our mundane economic dealings, as well as in our more important spiritual and relational lives was highlighted nicely. This, he argues, is the point of Jesus' "If you're untrustworthy with small matters, who will trust you with greater ones?"--not that Jesus was terribly concerned about people moving up to higher-level jobs.
Tags: apocalyptic literature, jewish mysticism, theological notebook

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