Examining the nature, function, and history of angels in the Dead Sea Scrolls and two intertestamental books to find a connection with St. Paul’s reference of the tongues of men and angels.
Paul and the authors behind the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Testament of Job, and the Book of Enoch are products of a milieu that believed in the divine interplay between angels and the worshipper. So, if one wants to find an answer to Paul’s mysterious reference about angelic tongues, the highest probability exists in these texts.
The subject is especially important to those of the Renewalist persuasion (Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third Wave Christians). They believe that the tongues of angels Paul refers to is to the mystical rite of speaking in tongues. The explanation is this: when a person is divinely inspired and begins speaking tongues, they are speaking in a heavenly language that angels speak.
It is not a major teaching in either Pentecostal or Charismatic camps, but the idea does infrequently surface.
The nature of this claim all comes down to discovering and unlocking historical literature on the subject. Do the ancient Jewish writers support such a claim or is this a modern revision of history to fit a certain theological framework?
The answer from the texts analyzed is a modern revision. The rest of the document demonstrates why. This exploration also gives a first opportunity for many readers to explore the Dead Sea Scrolls and a brief look at two intertestamental writings on the nature, function, and history of angels. The initial readings within the relative literature were surprising and engaging. The language and style are comparable to New Testament writings. The wording for the regular Bible reader is familiar, much simpler than grasping classical Greek or later ecclesiastical authors.
The Qumran communities responsible for collecting or writing these works is technically known as the Yahad—Hebrew for unity and oneness. Whether these Yahad perceptions of angels are fact or fiction is up to the reader to decide.
Table of Contents
- The Yahad and Angels
- Intertestamental literature on speaking in tongues
- Paul on Angels
- The origins of angelic worship in Jewish literature
- Structure of this study
The Yahad and Angels
When studying the liturgical texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, one will naturally come across the writings of Daniel K. Falk. He is a Pennsylvania State University Professor who specializes in first-century prayer and liturgy. He noted the communion between humans and angels in the Qumran liturgy and especially pointed out a collection of Dead Sea Scrolls called the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice:
In a highly formulaic structure, the songs portray the heavenly worship of angels without ever revealing the content of angelic praise. Through-out the cycle of thirteen songs, the worshippers are led through detailed descriptions of the organization and praise of the angelic priesthood, the heavenly sanctuary, and ﬁnally to the sacriﬁcial service of the angelic high priests.1
Falk also noted angelic references in a Dead Sea Scroll text called Words of the Luminaries and a few small fragments of a liturgical calendar.2
Cecelia Wassen, a department of theology professor at Uppsala University, has greatly pondered about angeology in the Jewish traditions and has noted a similar finding:
Thus, during the last few centuries leading up to the turn of the era, angels take center stage in Jewish speculations about heavenly realities. At the same time, they are not alone in the supernatural world; at this time Satan is seen as a powerful force who is controlling his evil angels and demons. Speculations about good and evil angelic powers form part of a cosmic dualism that was widely popular at the time. Like many Jewish documents from this time, the Dead Sea Scrolls display considerable fascination with angels.3
At first glance, the connection between the Dead Sea Scrolls and angeology appeared sketchy. If one completes a word search in the source texts found in The Dead Sea Scrolls: Study Edition4 there are some references, but none come out demonstrating a heightened interest about angels.
This view changes as one reads Carol Newsom’s work, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice: A Critical Edition; an excellent work which contains pieced together transcribed texts, English translations, and analysis. She agrees both with Falk and Wassen that angelology was central at least to the first century Yahad communities and likely throughout traditional Judaism during this time.
The series of Qumran liturgical documents named the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice is exemplary for the study of angeology in Judaism.
The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice or alternatively known as Sabbath Shirot, is a collection of hymns reserved for Sabbath worship that is performed “during the first thirteen Sabbaths of the year according to the lunar calendar of Qumran.”5 It is considered a widely distributed liturgy outside of the Qumran community. How extensive throughout first-century mainline Judaism is not known.6
The thirteen sets of hymns are unique. It is a liturgical invitation inviting angels to join in on the praise. There is no content on how the angels responded within this invocation.7
In this instance, one has to put on a mystical hat instead of a linear, rationalist methodology and think about the possibilities. Carol Newsom understands that the Sabbath Songs or portions of them are quasi-mystical and therefore, one must carefully approach them this way.
Peter Schäfer, a well-known scholar on ancient Judaism, early Christianity, and Jewish mysticism posits that the Qumran idea of angels changed the concept of immediate revelation. They received divine guidance directly through angels while past periods had mediators like Moses or Elijah:
. . .angels and humans are not only physically together on the same (geographical) plane; they are (ontologically) identical because they understand each other immediately without a mediator. This is an extremely bold step if we consider the biblical concept of the prophets–and Moses in particular–mediating between Israel and (Pg. 42) God, or the ascent apocalypses with the prae-mortem ascent to heaven of an elect hero. The members of the Qumran community do not need a Moses any longer, who mediates between them and God and communicates the divine revelations; they are like angels–not only very close to God but enjoying the direct access to the angelic knowledge of God. Nor do they need to undergo the complicated procedure of physical transformation into an angel. As a priestly community on earth they are angels, privileged to share the angels’ liturgy and knowledge.8
Schäfer then further explains the condition the Yahad must attain to worship with angels. He concluded the following while examining the Community Rule text:
However, the text makes it very clear, that this wonderful destiny is not granted for ordinary humans (“sons of men”, “assembly of flesh”); it is reserved for the “chosen ones”, who belong to the community of the elect. It is granted them forever and consists in the communion (“[common] lot”) with the angels, who are called again “holy ones” and “sons of heaven”. Angels and humans together form a joint community, which is specified as a “foundation of the building of holiness” (sod mavnit qodesh) and and “everlasting plantation” (matta’at ‘olam). . . . Hence, the everlasting communion of angels and humans, which guarantees a perpetual flow of divine knowledge, is again visaged in priestly terms.9
Philip Alexander, Co-Director, University of Manchester Centre for Jewish Studies10 and author of Qumran Mysticism: Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and related texts, connects these groups with mysticism and why the word Yahad is one of the best descriptors for them.
The constant reappearance of the term yahad in this context is striking. It points to reflection and theorizing about the nature of the experience involved. The mystics strive for yihud (“union”) with a transcendent reality; in this case, however, the union is not with God, but with the angels who worship God in purity and perfection. From a comparative perspective this is highly suggestive. The yihud with the angels cannot be an end in itself. The human mystic desires this union only so that he can enjoy the same close and privileged relationship to God that the angels enjoy. The angels represent the ultimate perfection in nearness to God. Union with the angels is the mystic’s way of achieving the supreme communion with God. 11
Angels go beyond the idea as divine messengers. The Qumran communities viewed them as cosmic agents able to change or influence political, environmental, and physical elements. They were considered the mechanism that God used in directly managing or altering earthly and personal affairs. Therefore, their relationship with angels was a considered major key to success or lack thereof. Exact observance to laws and rituals that would appease the angels was a priority.
Carol Newsom breaks into some very important details about the role of angels; their primary function was dispensing knowledge and to elicit praise:
In general terms the functions of the angels as described in the Sabbath Shirot correspond with what is known of contemporary Jewish angelology from other sources. The primary task of the angels is the praise of God, a motif ubiquitous in the Shirot and prominent in most Jewish and Christian descriptions of the angels (cf. e.g., T. Levi 3:8; 1 Enoch 61:10-12). Of all the qualities which are associated with the angels in the Sabbath songs, however, knowledge is the most prominent. The angels are repeatedly designated as “angels of knowledge” ) (אלי עדת), as “those who know” (ידעים), “those who establish knowledge” (מיסדי דעת), etc. In fact the superiority of the angelic praise arises precisely from their more exalted understanding of divine mysteries. They “declare the splendor of His kingdom according to their knowledge” (4Q400 2 3). One is reminded of the similar motif in the apocryphal Hymn to the Creator from Qumran Cave 11 (“Separating light from deep darkness, by the knowledge of His mind He established the dawn. When all His angels had witnessed it they sang aloud, for He showed them what they had not known,” trans. Sanders. מבדיל אור מאפלה שחר הכין בדעה לבו אז ראו כול מאלכין וירננו כי הראם את אשר לוא ידעו; cf. Jub. 2:3). While “the chiefs of praise offering” have “tongues of knowledge” (בראשי תרומות לשוני דעת, 4Q405 23 ii 12), the human worshippers reflect on the poverty of their own praise. “What is the offering of our mortal tongue (compared) with the knowledge of the angels?” [מ]ה תרומה לשון עפרנו בדעת אל[ים]), 4Q400 2 7). Even the cherubim, by virtue of their nearness to God are described as having “wings of knowledge” ( כנפי דעת 11QShirShabb3–4 5). The angels are the instruments through which heavenly mysteries are revealed, presumably to the faithful human community (4Q401 14 ii 7). 12
What kind of knowledge are the angels in the Sabbath Songs transferring to mankind? Their knowledge of praise is an obvious transfer, but the heavenly mysteries revealed as mentioned in the quote above, goes beyond praise.
Christopher Rowland, author of The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity adds that apocalyptic revelations along with understanding and applying Scripture were part of the angelic mandate.
But the means whereby these secrets were ascertained were certainly not confined to apocalyptic revelations. Indeed, the understanding of Scripture itself was intimately bound up with the unfolding of the divine mysteries. . . . The attempt to give divine authority to the interpretation of Scripture adopted by the sect is not an uncommon device in Judaism, though it is clear that the degree of flexibility which is normally apparent in the diversity of rabbinic opinion is almost totally absent from the Qumran exegesis.13
The dispensation of knowledge may not be restricted to interpretation of Scripture, revelations, or apocalyptic disclosure. It could be other communications in a diverse range of areas. Joseph being warned in a dream to flee Israel and go to Egypt and afterwards in another angelic dream to return is one example of how diverse this dispensation was.14
It could also have extended about personal issues like authorization or a choice for a marriage partner, questions of sexual purity, request for healing, financial decisions or solutions, problems of procreation, or settling certain disputes. The knowledge may have extended to internal political decisions, farming techniques (when and what to plant), and scientific or intellectual inquiries. There is no evidence for any of these. However, in the realm of mysticism, these factors may have played a role in how these societies operated.
One of the better reasons so far on why the Yahad had such a greater emphasis was a political one. The subjugation of Israel to Greek, and then to Roman authorities, and the perceived weakness of leadership in the Temple courts, led to a switch away from the Temple, and its power. The threat of cultural assimilation was also an important factor. The angels represented a future restoration of their status and free identity.15
The question then arises, how did the angels manifest themselves within the Qumran community to teach these deep secrets?
The Qumran documents are silent on this point. If we are to use the small sample of Biblical texts as a case study, then it is dreams (angels speaking or giving imagery while you sleep),16 or visions (a trance-like condition while you are awake.)17 There are also physical manifestations of angels such as an appearance to Paul during a storm with advice to avoid a potential shipwreck.18 A physical presence is not noted in any Qumran documents or Paul’s personal letters to the churches.
Another conjecture is a perceived telepathic connection between the two parties—a direct transfer of thoughts. The precondition for such an exchange would be an absolute emphasis on purity and concentrated forms of worship. The Qumran assemblies had a high priority on purity and met this obligation by the inclusion or exclusion of participants based on physical traits, moral certitude, and absolute devotion.
There is no mention in the Qumran documents on the type or nature of language employed by angels.
The following citations are Tongues Passages found in the Sabbath Songs that may have some semblance to angelic voices. These are the closest ones found in the Sabbath Songs. This effort was for demonstrating to even the most skeptical reader that there is no element promoting speaking in an angelic language. All of the following quotations are from the Dead Sea Scrolls: Study Edition which contains both the English and transliterated Hebrew texts.19
“[What] is the offering of our tongue of dust (compared) with the knowledge of the divinit[ies? …” 20
12 on the tongue of the fifth, to [the King of glory with its seven wonderful thanksgivings.]
13 They will give thanks to the God of glory seve[n times, with seven words of wonderful thanksgivings.]
14 [Psa]lm of exultation, on the tongue of the sixth, to [the God of goodness, with its seven wonderful exultations.]
15 [He will exult] in the King of goodness seve[n times, with seven words of]
16 won[derful exultation. Psa]lm of singing, on the tongue of the seve[nth of the chief princes,]
17 a powerful song to the God of holiness with [its] seve[n wonderful songs.]
The above English is only a sampling. Here is the complete Hebrew text:22
1 ל[א]לוה[י עולמים בשבעה ברכות פלאיה וברך
2 למל[ך כול קדושי עולמים שבעה בשבעה]
3 דברי[ ברכות פלא תהלת גדל בלשון השני למלך]
4 אמת ו[צדק בשבעה גדולות פלאיה וגדל לאל]
5 כול אל[והי נועדי צדק שבעה דברי]
6 גדול[ות פלא תהלת רומם בלשון השלישי לנשיאי]
7 רוש[ רומם אמתו למלך מלאכים בשבעה רומי פלאה]
8 רומ[ם לאלוהי מלאכי רום שבעה דברי רומי]
9 פלא[ תהלת שבח לאלוהי לגבור על כול]
10 אלהים[ בשבע גבורות פלאה ושבח לאלוהי גבורות]
11 שבעה ב[שבעה דברי תשבוחות פלא תהלת הודות]
12 בלשון החמישי ל[מלך הכבוד בשבעת הודות פלאיה]
13 יודו לאל הכבוד שבע]ה בשבעה דברי הודות פלא]
14 [תת]לת רנן בלשון הששי ל[אל הטוב בשבעה רנות]
15 [פלאיה ורנן] למלך הטוב שבע[ה בשבעה דברי רנות
16 פ[לא תה]לת זמר בלשון השב[יעי לנשיאי רוש]
17 זמר עוז לאלוהי קודש בשבע[ה זמרי נפלאותיה]
18 וזמר למלך הקודש שבעה בש[בעה דברי זמרי]
19 פלא שבע תהלי ברכותיו שבע ת[הלי גדל]
20 שבע תהלי רום מלכותו שבע תהלי ת[שבחות כבודו]
21 שבע תהלי הודות נפלאותיו שבע תה[לי רנות עוזו]
22 [שב]ע תהלי זמיר[ו]ת קודשו תולדות רא[שי רום]
23 [… ש]בעה בשבעה דברי פלא דבר[י …]
24 [לנשיאי רוש יבר]ך בשם כבוד אלוהים לכ[ול גבורי]
25 [שכל בשבעה ג]ברי פלא לברך כול סודי[הם במקדוש]
26 [קודשו בשבעה דברי פלא וב]ם לידעי עולמים[ …]
This quotation, found in a different manuscript, is very similar to the one above:
27 seven mysteries of knowledge in the wonderful mystery of the seven regions of the hol[y of holies … The tongue of the first will be strengthened seven times with the tongue of the second to him. The tongue of the second to him will be strengthened]
28 seven times with (that) of the third to [him. The tong]ue of the thi[rd will] be strengthened seve[n times with (that) of the fourth to him. The tongue of the fourth will be strengthened seven times with the tongue of the fifth to him. The tongue of the fifth will be strengthened seven times with the tongue of]
29 the sixth to him. The tongu[e of the sixth will be strengthened seven times with the] to[ngue of the seventh to him. The tongue of the seventh will be strengthened … holy, sanctuary …]
30 And according to the heptad of w[ords …]
31 with wonderful psalms with [won]derful wo[rds …]
32 wonder. Blank [Psalm of] blessing on [the tongue of the first …]
33 wonder, and praise the Lord of all the divinitie[s of …]
34 his wonderful choice, for great praise […]
35 to those who make knowledge shine among all the divinities of light […]
36 (of) praise [on the] tongue of the fourt[h …]
37 wonder. Ps[alm of thanksgiving on the] ton[gue of the fifth …]
38 thanksgi[ving …]
39 Psa[lm …]
40 … […] ; 41-44 […] 45 […] dwelling[s of …] 46-48 23
Why were the angels in the Qumran community and not in the Temple?
The association of Yahad communities viewed themselves as restorationists to the ancestral height of Jewish faith and liberty during the times of Moses. They held the Temple in high esteem but they also believed the Temple was presently a corrupt and defiled place. They saw themselves as the faithful remnant.
They looked to the Book of Ezekiel where the Cherubim had left the Temple because of Israel’s unrighteousness. Later on in Ezekiel’s vision, there was a promise that the glory of the Lord would return: “Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.”24
The Yahad believed their carefulness to keep the Jewish laws allowed the angels to come in their presence.
The Songs of Sabbath, have a very detailed and hierarchical portrait of angels. Newsom outlines chiefs, priests, deputies, angels of sanctification, holy ones, and ministers of the presence. She cannot tell if there is a single superior angel due to the texts being so broken.25
The following books sit on the outside fringes of Christian and Jewish texts. They rest in a religious purgatory where it is neither rejected or accepted by any authorities. They were written around 300 to 1 BC and have important contributions to the perceptions of angels in Jewish theology and worship.
The Testament of Job on the tongues of Angels
A first look into this question explored an ancient document written around 100 BC called the Testament of Job. One prominent Pentecostal academic claimed this document as the antecedent justifying the practice of angelic tongues. However, a further inquiry found this argument weak, lacking any further substantiation and based on a faulty English translation rather than the Greek.
A thorough analysis of this topic can be found at The Testament of Job and the Tongues of Angels
The Book of Enoch on Angels
The Book of Enoch is a Jewish narrative style treatise. It is written from the perspective of Enoch, who is initially found in the Book of Genesis; a righteous man taken to heaven alive instead of the natural means through death.26
The book has a heavy emphasis on angels. So emphatic that many contemporary commentators source this book as the beginning of Jewish mysticism. Angels become a central theme for understanding the creation, fall, and redemption of mankind. The language and imagery is very similar to that of the New Testament writings and show similar traits to that of the Book of Revelations.
There is no reference to the tongues of angels or humanity speaking in a heavenly language in praise or worship.27
The New Testament itself is steeped in this tradition with angelic narratives. Some noteworthy examples are the angel Gabriel speaking to Mary;28 an angel responsible for moving the stone of Jesus’ tomb;29, and freeing Peter from prison.30 Angels are a central part of the book of Revelation.31 There are more instances of angelic visitations in the New Testament but this is not the goal of this study to achieve this. The point here is awareness that angelic visitations and influences are central to the Messianic Gospel—the absence of their contributions would greatly weaken the central theme.
As already noted, the Qumran scrolls revealed that angelic involvement was central to their identity.
Paul shared similar sentiments. He posits a hierarchy of angels (in this case, the bad ones) in his letter to the Ephesians:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.32
On the other hand Paul is cautionary against too much emphasis on angelic intervention:
Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind. . .33
Even the Book of Revelation, one that is inspired by an angelic vision, concludes that one should not worship angels.34
There are many good discussions on the origin and development of angels in Jewish thought; how it started, grew and adapted, and its purpose within the Jewish faith. Although we lack enough detail today for anyone to supply a concrete answer, scholars muse that the concept traces back to the book of Ezekiel written around 580 BC and his highly illustrative visions of the angels surrounding the throne. 35 Others note the history of Jewish angeology traces to Persian or Babylonian influences.36
There is extensive reliance on The Dead Sea Scrolls: Study Edition, along with Newsom’s and other researchers notes because DSS fragmentation and transcription at a manuscript level is a full-time occupation. The scholarly research and publications of the DSS is recent and quite thorough, professional, and accurate.
Neither have I spent any considerable time looking at the actual Hebrew source texts. The major effort was spent reading the English translations and only looking at the critical source words where necessary. This approach is also unique to this study because, in the case of the Greek and Latin texts, I often spent most of my time, and in many cases, all of my time, in the original language (because there was no English translation available or poorly translated).
There is nothing about a specialized tongue of angels in Jewish literature. The better argument would correlate Renewalist doctrine with the Yahad concept of praise. The language of praise is what ties both the angelic and human communities together.
Paul, well aware of the emphasis or even over-emphasis of angelic involvement in the affairs of the spiritually aware person, wrote “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels”37 as hyperbole—a figure of speech to get across a point. He was exaggerating the rite of tongues to elevate the concept of love. One of the first translations and analysis contributed to the Gift of Tongues Project was the highly respected third-century Christian writer, Origen who interpreted Paul’s words in this fashion. Origen’s conclusion felt sufficient and became the defacto standard for the duration of the project.
The evidence so far still holds to Origen’s position.
- Daniel K. Falk. Prayer in the Qumran Texts. Cambridge Histories Online. 2008. Pg. 860. See also his contribution: The Ancient Synagogue from its Origins until 200 C.E. As found in Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series. Vol. 39. Edited by Birger Olsson, Magnus Zetterholm. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International. 2003. Pgs. 414-428
- IBID. Daniel K. Falk. Prayer in the Qumran Texts.Pg. 856-857
- Cecelia Wassen. “Celebrating the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Canadian Contribution: Angels and Humans: Boundaries and Synergies” as found in Early Judaism and Its Literature. Peter W. Flint, Jean Duhaime, and Kyung S. Baek, editors. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature. 2011. Pg. 524
- The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition. Florentino García Martínez, Eibert J.C. Tigchelaar eds. Leiden: Brill. 1999
- Peter Schäfer. Communion with the Angels: Qumran Origins of Jewish Mysticism. As found in; Wege mystischer Gotteserfahrung: Judentum, Christentum und Islam: Mystical Approaches to God: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Peter Schäfer, et al., eds. Munich: Oldenbourg. 2006. Pg. 45
- See the Wikipedia intro article, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice
- IBID Peter Schäfer. Pg. 46
- IBID Peter Schäfer. Pg. 41
- IBID Peter Schäfer. Pg. 43
- Online article based on Philip S. Alexander. Qumran Mysticism: Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and related texts, as found in Library of Second Temple Studies: T&T Clark. ND. NP
- Carol Newsom. Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice: A Critical Edition. Harvard Semitic Studies. Frank Moore Cross, ed. Atlanta: Scholars Press. 1985. Pg. 29-30
- Christopher Rowland. The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity. Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers. 2002. Pg. 115
- Matthew 2:13–19
- Harold B. Kuhn, The Angelology of the Non-Canonical Jewish Apocalypses, as found in Journal of Biblical Literature. Society of Biblical Literature. Vol. 67, No. 3, September. 1948. Pg. 230
- Mathew 1:20; 2:13
- Acts 10:3
- Acts 27:23 – 24
- The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition. Florentino García Martínez, Eibert J.C. Tigchelaar eds. Leiden: Brill. 1999
- DSS Study Edition: 4Q401 8 Pg. 810
- DSS Study Edition: 4Q400 12-17 Pg. 807
- DSS Study Edition: Pg. 806
- DSS Study Edition: Pgs. 821, 823; Hebrew is found on Pgs. 820, 822
- Ezekiel 10 and 11 share about the Cherubim and the glory of the Lord leaving the Temple. The quote is from Ezekiel 11:20
- IBID Newsom. Pg. 32
- Genesis 5:21–24
- The Book of Enoch website has a complete English edition for reading online.
- Luke 1:26-38; also foretold of John the Baptist, Luke 1:19. Gabriel appeared on the literary scene in the book of Daniel, 8:16
- Matthew 28:2
- Acts 12:7
- Angels are referred to 23x
- Ephesians 6:12
- Colossians 2:18 NASΒ
- Revelation 22:8
- IBID Carol Newsom. Pg. 42
- Harold B. Kuhn, The Angelology of the Non-Canonical Jewish Apocalypses, as found in Journal of Biblical Literature. Society of Biblical Literature. Vol. 67, No. 3, September. 1948. Pg. 222
- I Corinthians 13:1 NIV