I & thou & them

A theme in the Hebrew scriptures that more liberal and secular readers of the Bible often talk about is the evolution of God from a very concrete, very human (or superhuman) image to something less and less personal, more and more abstract. Another theme they emphasize is the evolution from a tribal god to a universal god.

I do find all of that interesting, but what really catches my attention is the Biblical evolution not of God but of humanity. We in the West get our individualism from the Greeks and from the Jews, but the farther back in time you go with either tradition, the less evidence you can find of anything we’d recognize today as individualism. In fact, two very individualistic things I associate with the Judeo-Christian worldview — guardian angels and Judgment Day — started out as thoroughly collectivist concepts.

From Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, pp. 615–6, on the Book of Daniel:


In Daniel’s next vision, he is helped by a heavenly messenger who reaches him only after resistance from one angel and help from another:

Daniel 10:13. … the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me…

Here we have the late Jewish view that each nation had a guardian angel of its own (a kind of henotheism reduced to a subsidiary level). Michael ("who is like God?") is the guardian angel of Judah. The angel tells Daniel:

Daniel 10:20. … now will I return to fight with the prince of Persia: and … lo, the prince of Grecia shall come.

Daniel 10:21. … there is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince.

Naturally, in his capacity as the guardian angel of Judah, Michael is considered by the Jews to be the greatest of the angels. In the legends concerning the fall of Satan from heaven (see page 540), Michael is viewed as the leader of the loyal angels, fighting for God against he devil. This is mentioned in Revelation:

Revelation 12:7. And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon: and the dragon …

Revelation 12:8. … prevailed not …

Revelation 12:9. And the great dragon was cast out … into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

Another mention of Michael and the devil, contending on earth, is to be found in the New Testament Book of Jude:

Jude 1:9. … Michael the archangel … contending with the devil … about the body of Moses …

And from pp. 632–3, on the Book of Joel:

The Day of the Lord

Joel begins by describing a plague of locusts and then moves on to consider this a disaster symbolizing a much more awful event that will strike the world as the equivalent many times over of the locust plague:

Joel 1:15. … for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.

The day of the Lord, to which Joel refers, is, of course, the apocalyptic accounting (see page 543) at which the tyrants who oppress the Jews will be punished, while the Jews themselves will be compensated with an ideal state and eternal security.

Because the day of the Lord is viewed as a day on which the nations are judged, it has come to be called "Judgment Day."

The Valley of Jehoshaphat

God is quoted as describing the events of Judgment Day:

Joel 3:2. I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people … whom they have scattered among the nations …

God is not pictured as pleading like a suppliant but rather like a prosecuting attorney and judge. The Revised Standard Version makes this clearer by translating this portion of the verse "I will enter into judgement with them there, on account of my people."

No one has succeeded in definitely identifying the valley of Jehoshaphat and it is probably not a real place. The word Jehoshaphat means "Yahveh has judged" and perhaps the verse does not refer to king Jehoshaphat of Judah but should be translated "and will bring them down into the valley of the judgment of the Lord."

Joel pictures the judgment as involving nations as a whole and the punishment as being made to fit the crime:

Joel 3:4. … what have yet to do with me, O Tyre and Zidon …

Joel 3:6. The children … of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians …

Joel 3:7. Behold, I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them, and will return your recompense upon your own head:

Joel 3:8. And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them … to a people far off.

Gradually, this notion of judgment by nations was still further etherealized to the point where judgment became individual and personal. This is expressed, for instance, in the final verse of Ecclesiastes, a late addition to a book that is itself post-Exilic:

Ecclesiastes 12:14. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

The notion of individual judgment is also implied in the late-written Book of Daniel:

Daniel 12:2. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

We can see the idea of individual judgment even more explicitly in the Book of Amos:

Like the later prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah [Amos] denounced mere ritual and demanded ethical behavior. He quotes God:

Amos 5:21. I hate, I despise your feast days …

Amos 5:22. Though ye offer me burnt offerings … I will not accept them …

Amos 5:23. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs …

Amos 5:24. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.

With this view it is reasonable to suppose that Amos did not believe that the day of the Lord ("Judgment Day") could possibly be a day of great joy for all Jews alike; since he could not believe that all Jews alike would be saved by the mere existence of the Temple ritual. Righteousness was required and for those in whom it was absent all the ritual in the world would not help. Therefore he warned:

Amos 5:18. Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness and not light.

This seems to foreshadow the notion of individual judgment and salvation, rather than national judgment. (p. 637)


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