Monday, June 15, 2015

Jesus As Noahic Mediator: The Adaptation Of Noah As A Messianic Figure In Early Christianity

The following post is a guest post by Carlos A. Segovia of Saint Louis University.

CAS: During the Second Temple period, mediators abounded in Judaism. We see them especially, but not exclusively, in apocalyptic Judaism and the literature that came from it. We find in that literature a series of eschatological mediators. Some are angelic, some human, and sometimes they were both angelic and human simultaneously. These mediators play different roles.

Sometimes these mediators taught the righteous about the secrets of the universe and of history based on God's workings with Israel; in other cases, they are the ones who arrest the rebellious angels that were responsible for bringing evil into the world and destroy its progeny; and we even find texts suggesting that one and the same mediator will rise in the last days, who will vindicate the righteous, revealing to them the secrets of wisdom, sit on a divine throne, presiding over the final judgment and cleansing the earth of all impurity, bearing from his seed a new generation that is indestructible.

One of those figures is "Noah." We are not talking about the biblical Noah, but the apocalyptic Noah, presented with surprising characteristics in a number of different texts–features that we find in the New Testament and early Christian literature applied to Jesus.

You can read chapters 106 and 107 of 1 Enoch, which deals with Noah, at the Wesley Center Online. In those chapters, we find:
1. The history of Noah's miraculous birth.
2. The confusion and distrust of Noah's father, Lamech. 
3. The dialogue between Lamech and Methuselah concerning the child, Noah. 
4. The parallel dialogue between Methuselah and Enoch, in which we read that Noah will be pure, that he will erase all wickedness from the earth, and that he and his children will be saved from the flood.
5. The response of Methuselah to Lamech, to which a brief explanation of the symbolism of the name of Noah is added. 
The exceptional qualities of the child Noah are surprising:
"And his body was white as snow and red as the blooming of a rose, and the hair of his head and his long locks were white as wool, and his eyes beautiful. And when he opened his eyes, he lighted up the whole house like the sun, and the whole house was very bright. And thereupon he arose in the hands of the midwife, opened his mouth, and conversed with the Lord of righteousness." (1 Enoch 106:2-3)
The author of 1 Enoch revisits and expands various passages from the Enochian corpus (i.e., from the set of apocalyptic writings about the patriarch Enoch), pertaining to the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 10:1-3 = corresponding to 4Q201, precisely of this "Book of the Watchers" = 1 Enoch 1–10), to the Book of the Parables (1 Enoch 60:1-10, 23-25; 65:1–69:1), to the Book of Dreams (1 Enoch 83–84; 89:1-8) and the Epistle of Enoch (1 Enoch 93:4-5, 8). But that's not it! The same can be said of the authors of some manuscripts of Qumran such as the Apocryphal Genesis of the Cave 1 (1QapGen) and various other texts from this same cave, as well as Cave 4 (1Q19-19bis and 4Q534-6).

At the same time, the story told in 1 Enoch 106–107 was adapted in numerous other redacted Jewish texts, some of which were written before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, others after said date. Included in these texts are, for example, 2 Enoch 71–72, Apocalypse of Abraham 11:2, and various Midrasnhic and Talmudic texts. The only difference in these texts is the protagonists is already someone else–Melchizedek, the angel of Yahweh, Moses, etc.

Nevertheless, the most interesting parallels we have are possibly the ones given to us in the New Testament and other early Christian texts. In them, the figure of Noah is applied to Jesus, who receives the apocalyptic traits we read about in 1 Enoch 106–107.

Joseph's distrust of Mary in Matt. 1:18-19 is similar to Lamech's. The miraculous birth of Jesus in Matt. 1:20, Luke 1–2, and Protoevangelium of James 19:2 is akin to what we find concerning Noah, though there are some differences. Revelation 1:14 reads: "His head and his hair were white like white wool, like snow; and his eyes were like a flame of fire." The Arabic Infancy Gospel says that Jesus spoke from his crib, praising God and announcing his mission. Add to that last one two passages in the Quran (3:46 and 19:29-30), which represent further proof of the pre-canonical Christian substrata of that text.

We should also consider, on the other hand, that the presentation of Christ by the authors of the New Testament texts and other early Christian literature is fully indebted not only to Jewish apocalyptic literature (which is improperly referred to as "Christian"), but also the pre-rabbinic Jewish messianism by extension. In the latter, the Messiah could be a semi celestial figure like an angel or a prophet, a priest, a teacher, an interpreter of the law, even a man. What's really new with "Christianity" (at least until the second century) is the identification of the Messiah and various other eschatological figures not just with one man, but specifically with Jesus of Nazareth.

This is pretty clear to many of us today. But, unfortunately, the figure of Noah has not received its due attention among scholars of Christian origins . . . despite the fact that Luke equates the flood in Noah's day with the end of time! And this connection with Noah is very important because this figure is probably the earliest of all messianic figures known to pre-rabbinic Judaism. Hopefully what's written here has highlighted the importance for further study in this area. If so, it's been worth it.

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