Monday, May 14, 2007

war in heaven

Just out of curiosity: Can anyone give me the basis for the story about the war in heaven?

From what I've been able to tell, the story about Satan leading a third of the angels in rebellion in an attempt to supplant God makes a great Christian myth about hubris, but it is thoroughly extrabiblical. The notion of Satan being an adversary of God and not his underling doesn't even appear until some time after the Babylonian exile, when Jews came into contact with Zoroastrianism and its dualistic view of the world.

The actual passages describing the revolt appear to be taken grossly out of conquest. It wasn't until Jerome (I think) that Isaiah 14 was ever construed as referring to a fallen angel; prior to that, it generally was understood as referring to the actual king of Babylon. The passage incorporates elements of a well-known Babylonian myth about the morningstar Venus, and uses this myth to taunt the king of Babylon.

Similarly, when I read the passage about the "war in heaven" in the book of Revelation, I understand it refers to the spiritual events that took place at the Cross. I'm not aware of any sound reason for interpreting it as a pre-Creation event.

But of course, I may be wrong. I've read a lot, but I've never formally attended seminary, nor even Bible college.

And actually, now that I'm on a roll, there's the whole matter of all the angels that supposedly rebelled and fell at the same time. Again, it makes a terrific story, but there's nothing but tradition and supposition to identify the unclean spirits of the New Testament with fallen angels. Other interpretations I'm aware of claim that the unclean spirits were the souls of a pre-Adamic race of men (Gen. 1:2, "Now the earth became formless and void"), and that the term simply refers to a medical condition like epilepsy or a mental condition like schizophrenia.

For those who want to equate ha-Satan with the serpent and the Devil, though, there's still the interesting question of when Satan "fell from heaven like lightning" and why. Scripture places ha-Satan in the roll of a prosecutor or accuser, telling God that Job's piety isnt' all it's cracked up to be, and claiming that David relies more on the military might of Israel than on God's favor (or least that's how I'd interpret the parallel accounts of David's census in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles).

So did Satan get overzealous in his accusations and become more adversarial, did he fall for some other reason, or did something else happen?

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