The Jewish "heavens"

From the New Testament, the OT pseudoepigrapha, Qumran texts, rabbinic writings, etc. we know Jews at the time believed in a wide range and large number of supernatural beings: multiple messiahs, super-angels, superhumans, anti-messiahs, etc., all caught up in a complex "mythology" only vaguely based on the earlier Tanakh. The Jewish heavens were as peopled with super-personages as an X-Men comic book.

We have Adam Kadmon (cf. Ezek. 1:26), an exalted Adam-figure already in the 2nd century BC. Then we have Khokhma as personal creator of the world, according to the Samaritan tradition (cf. Gnostic Sophia, or the Rabbinic Daughters of God, who played before him before the Creation of the Universe). The rabbinic writings claim some "minim" taught that there were two gods: one a demiurge Jaoel "The Angel of the Lord" who sat on a throne next to God. We also have the superhuman transformation of Enoch called Metatron, familiar in pseudoepigrapha & rabbinic writings.

Then we have Philo of Alexandria calling God's Logos the "second god" and "archangel," "the Lord" and "The Name." In the Qumran texts we have a Davidic Messiah and an Aaronic Messiah (cf. Testament of Levi, Zech. 3-4), multiple messiahs also believed in by the later Karaites. In 1 Enoch we have a son of man who is pre-existent, hidden in heaven, etc.

Then we have the full-blown 2nd Temple angelology: Michael guardian of Israel and solider at the last battle, Raphael & Asmodeus (& the devil & his crew as fallen angels, we can't forget - the lord of this world, prince of the power of air, etc.), Gabriel, Uriel, angels, archangels in 4 to 7 orders (all mentioned in the NT), the four guardian angels of the compass points, etc. (cf. Tobit, Dan. 8:16, 2 Esdras, etc.)

None of the supernatural beings I mentioned were considered "God" by the perfectly Jewish sources, that is, the one unique focus of monotheism. My point is to show that sharing some divine characteristics and prerogatives are not necessarily, are not usually, a sign that deity is being attributed to a character in a text, according to many probable NT-contemporary "Judaisms." It may seem shocking to current readers, with their own assumptions about Israel of Jesus' time, that Jews could have believed in a messiah who was not God, and yet who was preexistent, instrument of creation, enthroned next to God, all-powerful, etc., but this is what period texts suggest to us.

All in all, we have many superhuman figures, all of them approaching God in power and purpose above that of ordinary humans. At least one 2nd Temple messiah is a being who existed before the universe (along with his throne), born or created by God, through whom the world was created (that is, God directs and Messiah does the work). In the NT we see this extended only slightly: God has given his all power and authority on earth and in heaven (under God), including Judgment, forgiveness, etc. He says and does exactly what God tells him, and God allows all glory to be given to him to redound to himself.

Source: Greg Jordan (b-greek-digest)