Images Are For Worship

Before I jump into today’s post on The Life of Adam and Eve, I want to say a word to those of you who don’t live in the world of biblical studies.

Often, we use ancient parallel material as part of our research. Here’s the point: often when we read scripture we think we know exactly what it’s talking about. But an ancient reader might not have brought the same framework for interpretation to the text. So, studying ancient literature helps us step outside of our current cultural and religious context in an attempt to hear the Bible with fresh ears.

This means that when I look at a text like The Life of Adam and Eve, I’m not citing it because I think it’s “right,” necessarily, but because it opens up a door through which I might see how early Jewish people understood the cosmos and the place of people within it.

One ongoing puzzle in reading the OT, early Jewish literature, and the NT, has to do with what it means to be human; or, what it means to be God’s elect people.

One thing that I have been working out over the past couple of years is the thesis that humanity, as depicted in biblical and early Jewish traditions, occupies a higher place in the cosmic hierarchy than angels.

This means that people can share God’s sovereignty over the earth, and at times even receive worship, because of the role God has given to humanity: it is God’s image and likeness, ruling the world for God.

Enter, the Devil’s fall from glory according to the Jewish story, The Life of Adam and Eve.

The devil replied, “Adam, what do you have to say to me? It is for your sake that I have been hurled from heaven. When you were formed, I was hurled out of the presence of God and banished from the company of the angels.

“When God blew into you the breath of life and your face and likeness was made in the image of God, Michael also brought you and made (us) worship you in the sight of God; and God the Lord said: ‘Here is Adam. I have made you in our image and likeness.’

“And Michael went out and called all the angels saying: ‘Worship the image of God as the Lord God commanded.’ And Michael himself worshipped first; then he called me and said: ‘Worship the image of God the Lord.’ And I answered, ‘I have no (need) to worship Adam.’

“And since Michael kept urging me to worship, I said to him, ‘Why do you urge me? I will not worship an inferior and younger being. I am his senior in the Creation, before he was made was I already made. It is his duty to worship me.’” (LAE 13-14; modified Charles translation)

The image of God is made for worship: the worship of the heavenly host.

This opens up some interesting avenues for exploring the identity of Jesus as exalted and worthy of worship. What if the early Jewish followers of Jesus heard his claims to be “son of man,” “the Human One,” as the CEB rightly renders it, and understood that he was playing this role?

What if they thought, at least in part, that he was restoring humanity to that exalted place from which he fell? What if this embodiment of God’s image and rule accounts for his authority to cast out those fallen angelic host we meet under the rubric of “demons”?

One of the most popular explanations of Jesus’ exalted status, as put on display in the NT at various points, is “angelomorphic”: Jesus takes the form and glory of an angel.

There may be something to that.

But what if there’s another strand of Jewish teaching they’re drawing from? A strand in which “angel” is an insufficiently high category, a more exalted role is needed, and so, they depict Jesus as the idealized human being that Adam was created to be, and whose likeness God intends for all God’s children to one day reclaim?

5 thoughts on “Images Are For Worship”

  1. Well, I’m not quite convinced that all, or even most first century Jews saw themselves as ranking above angels in the cosmic hierarchy. Your text certainly shows that this was one view held by some. But texts such as Rev. 19:10 and 22:8-9 don’t quite fit with this model, do they? Do you think the seer would portray himself in such an unenlightened role, particularly at this climactic point in the narrative? I rather doubt it.

    1. A few things, Jim:

      First, I’m not saying that most Jews saw themselves, individually, ranking above angels. However, there is abundant evidence that humanity as created and/or recreated–idealized in Adam and/or a later Adam-like representative (messiah, eschatological community) would enter into that “higher than angels” standing. Talk about Adam is less about who people are than it is about who people (or, more often, the idealized religious person or community) is destined to be.

      Second, I agree that there is diversity among early Jewish people, and NT writers as well, about humans, Jesus as the Human One, angels, and the like.

      Third, to Revelation itself, I take your point. But unlike the angels in Revelation, the saints (especially those who are martyred) share with the Lamb as the source of victory over Satan (Rev 12:11), and they are given to sit on the throne of the Lamb and rule the nations (2:26-28). So no, worship in particular is not due to people from angels in that scene, but yes, people are given a more exalted role in the story than angels are, despite needing help. This is to my point 1 above, that the idealization of humanity is not so much about what humans are as humans, but what humans may become if they are part of the faithful.

      “All the glory of Adam” is not the current possession of those at Qumran–it is their eschatological future. So no, “most first century Jews” did not see themselves ranking above angels in the cosmic hierarchy. But a large number saw that as the destiny of the Messiah, priest, community, resurrected faithful, etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.