September 10, 2023

Priest as an Angel in Malachi


by Interfaith

No doubt Thomas read the text in context – the prophet is speaking out against false priests (Malachi 2:1), and the true priest:

 “The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me (The Lord) in peace, and in equity, and turned many away from iniquity. For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they (the people) shall seek the law at his mouth: because he is the angel of the Lord of hosts.”

Angel is the sense that he fulfils the angelic function of messenger, as do prophets, as ministers of God, and mouthpieces for, in this instance, to the Angel of the Law.

In my opinion this position that the “angel is the sense that he [the priest] fulfills the angelic function of the messenger” is an inadequate explanation for the following reasons:

-The Hebrew text can be read to mean the priest is an angel of the Lord

-Jubilees 31 takes it in such a sense

-A separation between being and action appears to be absent from Jewish thought during that time

-Entering the inner sanctuary and being closer to God implies an ontological difference

-In relation to this idea of angelic priests, Philo and others read Lev. 16.17 to mean the priest is angelic

And, as always, I am happy to share my source. See Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis’ All the Glory of Adam.

“One of the most important biblical texts which gave canonical authority to the belief in an angelomorphic priesthood is Malachi 2:5-7 which says of Levi:

My covenant with him was a covenant of life and peace, which I gave him; this called for reverence, and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in integrity and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek from his mouth, for he is an angel of the LORD of hosts.

Although English translations usually give the last expression of verse 7 a purely functional translation (the messenger of the LORD) the Hebrew can be taken to mean that the priest is an angel of the LORD of hosts. This reading is consistent with the emphasis in the preceding verses on the true priest’s own character, personal integrity and physical proximity to God which implies more than simply his functional role as God’s messenger. This text was widely interpreted in priestly circles to mean that the priest has an ontological identity akin to that of a (suprahuman) angel [see Jubilees 31, the DSS, and Lev. Rab. 21:12]. The designation of the priest as מַלְאַךְ is attested in the near contemporary Ecclesiastes 5:5 (LXX 5:6), where the different versions attest the fluidity of interpretation such language allows . . .

The importance of Malachi 2 for the development of a belief in an angelomorphic priesthood can be clearly seen in Jubilees 31:

And he [Isaac] turned to Levi first and began to bless him first, and he said to him: ‘May the Lord of all, i.e. the Lord of all ages, bless you and your sons in all ages.

May the Lord give you and your seed very great g/Glory. May he make you and your seed near to him from all flesh to serve in his sanctuary as the angels of the presence and the holy ones. May your sons’ seed be like them with respect to g/Glory and greatness and sanctification. May he make them great in every age.

And they will become judges and rules and leaders of all of the seed of the sons of Jacob. 

The word of the Lord they will speak righteously, 

and all his judgements they will execute righteously. 

And they will tell my ways to Jacob, 

and my paths to Israel. 

The blessing of the Lord shall be in their mouth,

so that they might bless all of the seed of the beloved.

(As for) you, your mother has named you ‘Levi’,

and truly she has named you.

You will be joined to the Lord 

and be the companion of all the sons of Jacob.

His table will belong to you,

and you and your sons will eat (from) it,

and in all generations your table will be full, 

and your food will not be lacking in any age.

And all who hate you will fall before you,

and all your enemies will be uprooted and perish,

and whoever blesses you will be blessed,

and any nation which curses you will be cursed.

This is the first half of a two part blessing upon Levi and Judah (31:11-17 and 18-20) in which the former is obviously superior to the latter. Isaac’s blessing of his two grandsons is deliberately modelled on the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh in Genesis 48 as James VanderKam has shown. Just as Ephraim was made pre-eminent over Manasseh so here, in Jubilees 31, Levi is superior to Judah.

The patriarchal blessing is also one of four episodes collected in chapters 30-32 of Jubilees which explain and justify how Levi was appointed to the priesthood. This particular passage is therefore reflective of the author’s attempt to give greater authority to the Levitical priesthood than scripture, which focuses on Aaron, allows. Biblically, the closest parallel to this elevation of Levi is Malachi 2, which claims a ‘covenant’ with Levi. It is not, therefore, surprising that Malachi 2:5-7 should have exerted some influence on the Jubilees text . . .

There are those who have been unwilling to see here anything more than a parallelism of action between the human priesthood and the angels. In the previous chapter, one of the angels of the presence says ‘the seed of Levi was chosen for the priesthood and Levitical (orders) to minister before the Lord just as we do’ (31:18). So clearly the priests’ action in their ministry is central to their comparison with angels. However, other considerations suggest that the author of Jubilees was not really aware of any distinction between being and action. Levi and his seed are separated ‘from all flesh’ to serve God in his sanctuary. This should probably not be taken as purely idiomatic. Judging by the use of this phrase in Sirach 45:4 and several other Dead Sea Scrolls (see below) it means a real ontological transfer from one realm of being to the other. The new realm of being characterized, in particular, by ‘glory’ (‘and greatness of sanctification’) as it was for Moses (Sirach 45:2a, 3bd). The nature of this glory, whether narrowly anthropological (honour, fame) or overtly theological (Glory), is not stated. Near contemporary texts, such as Sirach 50, which we shall discuss later, suggest that since God is the giver of the glory it is his own and that this is one example of the belief that the priesthood somehow embodies God’s own Glory.

Within the Jewish temple graded space marks out qualitatively different spheres of reality. The inner sanctuary utterly transcends the reality of the outer courts. That Levi is brought near to God thus means a spatial relocation which, in turn, implies an ontological one.

The extent of the influence of such ideas upon the theology of priesthood was widespread. Philo and the rabbis share a tradition in which Leviticus 16:17 (‘no man shall be in the tent of meeting from the time he (the high priest) enters . . .’) is taken to mean that the high priest is not a man, but is angelic . . . Although, as we shall see, the belief in an angelic priesthood is particularly dear to mystical and apocalyptic circles exemplified by the Qumran community, the theology was shared far beyond such communities. So, for example, it is clearly presumed in the Letter of Aristeas, a propagandist work which shows little interest in matters apocolyptic, but for whom the high priest is a thoroughly otherworldly figure. In the letter’s account of the Jewish temple and its service the sight of the high priest ‘makes one awestruck and dumbfounded’ and gives the impression that ‘one had come into the presence of a man who belonged to a different world (99).”

Ahanu Aug 28, 2023

View thread: https://www.interfaith.org/community/threads/20772/


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