Review of A.R. Angel, Chaos and the Son of Man

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9 (2009) - Review

Angel, Andrew R., Chaos and the Son of Man: The Hebrew Chaoskampf Tradition in the Period 515 BCE to 200 CE (LSTS 60; New York, London: T&T Clark, 2006). Pp. xiii+ 261, Hardcover, US$140/£70, ISBN 978 0 567 030986.

This monograph is a revision of Angel’s dissertation thesis at the University of Nottingham, originally written in 2004. As Angel’s title suggests, this work is a systematic survey of the use of the Hebrew Chaoskampf tradition (hereafter, HCT) in the period spanning 515 BCE to 200 CE. Angel’s goal in providing this systematic survey is to “demonstrate that the HCT existed” in this period and to provide a “description of the nature and meaning of the HCT in this period” (2). Angel goes on to explore the implications of the HCT for the development of the Jewish and Christian apocalyptic, arguing for a more historical than eschatological approach to the writings of the Second Temple period. Finally, Angel points to the HCT as the background for the apocalyptic Son of Man, suggesting a way forward for future research.

Towards this end, Angel begins his book in the typical fashion of a dissertation thesis, by establishing his terminology and the past research in the field. Since the end of the nineteenth century, many scholars have examined the influence of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) Chaoskampf mythology on the Old Testament. As Angel explains,

The Chaoskampf is the battle of the warrior god with the monstrous forces of chaos. The research has demonstrated that a form of the ANE Chaoskampf mythology is present in the OT. It depicts Yahweh (and/or El and/or Elohim) in the imagery of the god of the storm (e.g., Ps 18:8–16). He defeats the forces of chaos in battle—a battle often referred to as the Chaoskampf. The forces of chaos are sometimes personified as chaos waters and at other times as monsters...The monsters and chaos waters are generally depicted as enemies of the Divine Warrior (DW), Yahweh. The DW comes in the storm and conquers his enemies. As a demonstration of his power over the forces of chaos, the DW is enthroned above the flood (e.g., Ps. 29:10)" (p. 1).

Angel’s work follows in the foundational footsteps of Gunkel in suggesting that such a tradition exists not only in the Old Testament, but also remains a “living” tradition throughout the Second Temple period (p. 24). Angel’s goal is to provide the much-needed evidence that the HCT does exist within this period, supplying and analysing texts spanning the hundreds of years between the eras represented in Gunkel’s original analysis of the OT, Daniel 7, and Revelation 12. Angel’s work also engages with the debates surrounding the models of the rise of the apocalyptic, put forward by scholars such as Cross and Hanson (pp. 12–18).

Angel’s method is characterized by nine criteria that he uses throughout the book. He proposes that these criteria must be met to demonstrate the presence of the HCT in this period. Angel’s goal with these criteria is to be “deliberately rigorous” to avoid the pitfalls of previous scholarship (p. 30, n.222). These criteria are: date, cultural provenance, geographical provenance, similarity, reference, creativity, number, multiplicity of sources, and continuity. These criteria are then applied in the following chapters to Qumran texts (Chapter 2); pseudepigraphical psalms, prayers, and wisdom literature (Chapter 3); apocalyptic literature, gospels, and testaments (Chapter 4); and Jewish historiography (Chapter 5).

The criteria of date and provenance (cultural and geographical) establish in each case that the text fits within the period of 515 BCE to 200 CE, is culturally Hebrew (i.e., Jewish, Christian, or Samaritan), and comes from a community geographically close to Jewish and Christian communities. These three criteria tend to be established quickly at the beginning of each chapter. The criterion of similarity points to similarities between the HCT and the imagery used within each of the texts, while reference suggests what these texts may be referencing with their use of the HCT imagery. The criterion of creativity describes the freedom with which the author of each text adapts or transforms the traditional HCT for his/her own purposes. The criteria of similarity, reference, and creativity tend to provide the bulk of Angel’s argument within the chapters. The criteria of number, multiplicity of sources, and continuity are part of the conclusions of each chapter. The criterion of number looks for the amount of texts using the HCT, while the multiplicity of sources notes the diversity of authorship and texts using the HCT within a given community. Continuity is established by noting that texts exist across the entire era from 515 BCE to 200 CE and are not concentrated in a particular time period. In the concluding chapter, Angel provides lists with numerous texts and diverse authorship and texts to demonstrate the criteria of number and multiplicity of sources, while Table 6.4 demonstrates the evidence of continuity (pp. 197–199).

One important element of Angel’s study is the relationship between the Son of Man (SM) and the HCT. Yet one may be surprised that, for a book entitled Chaos and the Son of Man, Angel spends relatively little time examining this connection, discussing it almost exclusively in one chapter (Chapter 4, though it is also discussed in the introduction and conclusion sections). Angel addresses the figure of “a son of man” in Dan 7:2–14 and argues that this use represents a use of traditional HCT imagery, rather than an original invention of the author. This conclusion, in turn, informs Angel’s treatment of the use of the SM imagery in the gospels and in 4 Ezra. Angel argues that in referencing Daniel these other sources are actually depending on the more basic HCT tradition in creative ways. For example, in examining Mark 13:24–7, Angel asserts that the author is original in identifying the SM as the DW and that this marks an important theological shift toward two figures in the Godhead––“a remarkable move in the cultural context of Jewish monotheism” (p. 134).

Angel’s work provides important insight into an often neglected period of study for the use of the HCT. The combination of careful analysis, thoughtful engagement, and breadth of sources allows this book to maintain both depth and breadth of study in careful balance. Issues of contention are well-argued and varying positions carefully cited. Angel humbly admits when his position is conjecture or when conjecture would be problematic and balances any conjecture with a multiplicity of other solid examples. Angel is able to provide solid conclusions in his final chapter that the HCT does exist in the period from 515 BCE to 200 CE, conclusively based on his nine criteria. He demonstrates this with an impressive collection of tables, tying together his findings in the previous four chapters. Further, Angel is able to critique present models of the apocalyptic genre and its development based on his findings. Besides these solid conclusions, Angel’s study allows him to propose several ways forward for subsequent research. For example, Angel’s findings regarding the SM and the HCT lead him to provide suggestions toward further study in SM in his conclusion. Angel suggests that, instead of studying the development of the SM concept per se, scholars should look back at the HCT where the basis of the SM begins. Angel suggests similar insights regarding future study in synoptic eschatology and the development of Christology along these same lines.

Yet for all its evident strengths, Angel’s work is not without its weaknesses. First, one wonders at Angel’s choice to write an entire book about the use of a metaphorical construct (as HCT certainly is) without making use of any theories of metaphor, simile, allusion, or intertextuality developed in the field of literature. Recent advances in metaphor have been successfully applied to OT texts in the works of scholars such as Pierre van Hecke and D. H. Aaron and such advances would no doubt enhance Angel’s assertions. This is particularly necessary in the area of Angel’s criterion of similarity. At times, this criterion is based on individual words which Angel himself is translating against other potential translations (e.g., in some cases bolstering his argument according to the “best” translation that fits his theory, see pp. 46–47). Further Angel makes the linguistic error of assuming the cognate of a word has the same significance as the original word (e.g., “roaring” for “he roars,” pp. 42–43), a move critiqued by James Barr in his Semantics of Biblical Language (Barr, Chapter 6, pp. 107–160).

Angel’s criterion of reference is also subject to critique. Angel is insistent on the present historicity of the HCT in the Second Temple period in terms of its reference. Yet one wonders why historicity need be preferred over an eschatological reference. In fact, at times Angel’s interpretations turn almost allegorical to persuade his reader of historicity when an eschatological reading would be the more simple and clear solution (e.g., the necessity of describing the second half of 1QH 11:27–36 as a “mythological presentation” of the theme of the covenant community to make a historical reading fit, p. 53). Simply because the HCT is often historical in its presentation within the OT, one need not force such an interpretation on later uses nor is the use of the HCT within the OT always clearly historical, as Angel himself concedes in his introduction (pp. 8–9). These issues with “eschatological” interpretation may stem from Angel’s assumptions regarding what he terms “eschatological”. Seemingly based on Hanson’s definition of eschatology (p. 202), Angel views eschatological interpretation as denoting the “end of history” and a “literalistic” reading (p. 139). Yet such a monolithic depiction of eschatological interpretation is an unnecessary over-statement as scholars discussing eschatology are not necessarily terminative in their view nor are they necessarily literalistic.

Finally, a more clear description of Angel’s meaning of a “living HCT” would be helpful at the outset of the book. Angel frequently uses this term in seemingly different ways. It usually appears to refer to the creativity with which an author uses the HCT in his work, yet one wonders if such creativity would be expected of any form of allusion. Here a careful definition of “living” along with a careful description of allusion would be a great asset. This would also allow Angel to more clearly point to how a living tradition grows from its roots in the HCT to its tradition in the Second Temple period. Though outside the confines of Angel’s study, this may include a deeper look at the impact of Hellenism on Second Temple Judaism. Yet, with all these critiques, the work itself is solid nonetheless and could be improved by these minor refinements.

The cost of the book as well as its highly focused content lends itself to an academic audience. However, the academic audience should be broad for this book. First, the subject matter appeals to past research within OT studies and builds upon it, suggesting this book as an excellent resource for OT scholars. Second, the book’s focus on Second Temple Judaism places it squarely in the field of Second Temple studies, providing further insight into Qumran studies, pseudepigraphical studies, apocalyptic studies, and Jewish historiography. Finally, New Testament scholars would benefit not only from the sections specifically on the NT texts, but also on the broader texts within the same cultural milieu represented here.

Though Angel provides an excellent bibliography and two helpful indices of ancient sources and modern authors, his index of subjects is sorely lacking. Including only 27 subject headings, Angel overlooks many headings that would greatly assist the interested scholar including “sea,” “chaos waters,” “dragon,” and “apocalyptic,” among others.

These critiques aside, Angel provides a well-researched and well-executed piece of work, filling a long neglected gap in biblical studies, providing new insight into the problem of the apocalyptic genre, and suggesting a way forward for the study of the Son of Man in the future.

Beth M. Stovell, McMaster Divinity College