Priests and Israel as Superhuman

angelIn my research on the reception of the Jewish festivals, I focus on the idea that the festivals are moments when humans can participate in the divine or heavenly life/world. A well-known example: Philo depicts the High Priest on Yom Kippur being divinized upon his entry into the Holy of Holies (Who is the Heir 84; also found in Origen and Leviticus Rabbah).

Along the same lines is an intriguing statement I have been working on this week in Jubilees 50:10. In the midst of a discussion of Sabbath halakah, the text states that Israel should refrain on that day from “any work that belongs to the work of mankind.” This strongly suggests that on the Sabbath Israel is engaging in activities that are super-human or divine. Support for this comes from numerous other places in Jubilees:

cat sabbath

I can haz sabbath?

1) Jubilees sees God as observing the first, archetypal, sabbath (2:1)–thus sabbath observance is properly a divine activity.

2) God commands the highest 2 (of 7) classes of angels to observe sabbath with him (2:17-18). The other 5 classes appear to have the task of governing the elements of the world, thus allowing the two highest classes to rest along with God.

3) God gives the sabbath as a sign constituting Israel as a special nation. Israel observes sabbath along with the higher angels and thus along with God (2:19-20). On the sabbath, they imitate God and the highest angels in resting. They imitate the angels specifically in blessing God, but also in performing other priestly labors (e.g., incense offerings).

The fact that Jubilees allows priestly work on the Sabbath indicates that it does not view such work as “human labor.” For Jubilees, angels are the original priests and Israelite priests are imitating angels when they perform their priestly work–thus it is super-human work. Israel, as a nation, is priestly (Exod 19:6, emphasized throughout Jubilees) and thus angelic, a status made especially evident on the Sabbath and festivals.apotheosis of homer

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About Daniel R. Streett

Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Houston Baptist University
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