Esoteric Traditions: Thinking About Angels and Demons
Dr. John C. Reeves
Office hours: by appointment only
‘for You made it (i.e., the human) slightly less than the angels (אלהים), and You garbed it with glory and majesty’ (Ps 8:6)
‘The difference between [hu]man and Angel is only one of degree of perfection.’ – Henry Corbin, “Divine Epiphany and Spiritual Birth in Ismailian Gnosis,” in his Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis (trans. Ralph Manheim and James W. Morris; London: Kegan Paul International, 1983), 142 n.209.
‘… we need to study rationally the history of irrationality.’ — Israel Jacob Yuval, Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (trans. Barbara Harshav and Jonathan Chipman; Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 289.
The religions of the Near East are replete with stories and traditions featuring an indeterminate number of supernal entities which do not formally count as ‘deities,’ but which nevertheless exhibit knowledge and behavior which is unmistakably ‘deity-like.’ These entities are typically cataloged under the seemingly self-explanatory labels ‘angel’ and ‘demon.’ In this course we will engage in the close reading of a large number of narrative and ritual texts which feature such characters in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the variegated roles they play in pre-modern Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and other religious contexts. Careful attention will also be given to the cultural issues surrounding the generation and promulgation of competing character profiles of such figures within and outside the scriptures of these kindred religions.
Warning: In this class you will hear or read ideas which may disturb, shock, dismay, or outrage you, and you will be compelled to think using methodological paradigms which you may deem troubling, wrong-headed, blasphemous, or even sacrilegious. If you think you might be uncomfortable in this situation, then this is definitely not the class for you. On the other hand, if you think you can suspend your uncritical attachments to certain notions about scriptures, their meaning, and the circumstances surrounding their production, then you should undoubtedly learn a great deal about the historical and cultural matrices betwixt which Judaism, Christianity, and Islam arose and flourished.
You do not need to buy anything from the bookstore. Web links to many of the texts we will read are available on the course website. Other texts will be distributed by the instructor electronically as needed.
a. Readings. The nature of this course entails a significant amount of close reading and reflection both within and outside of class. Students are responsible for completing the reading assignments (outlined below or assigned in class or via email) in a timely manner. Every student must read and critically engage substantial portions of Bible, Qur’ān, parascriptural works, commentaries, testimonia, folktales, incantations, prayers, hymns, and assorted esoterica which have been englished from texts originally written in Sumerian, Akkadian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Mandaic, Greek, Latin, Coptic, Arabic, Persian, and Ethiopic.
b. Take-home written exercises. An indeterminate number of written exercises (usually one per week; optimally one per class) will be prepared and submitted for in-class discussion and out-of-class evaluation. These exercises vary in length from less than one (1) to a maximum of five (5) pages. All of these exercises will be announced and explained by the instructor during the course of or at the conclusion of a class meeting. The instructor’s evaluation of the student’s collective written exercise performance (using a scale √+ = A-; √ = C+; √- = D) will comprise 65% of the course grade.
c. Individual involvement. Almost perfect attendance (see below) is an essential requirement for this course. Each class meeting builds upon the knowledge gained during previous meetings. Moreover, in-class discussion and analysis comprises a significant portion of every class meeting. Preparation for every class usually involves the completion of a series of assigned readings and/or written assignment(s). Students are expected to contribute in an informed manner to the public analysis and discussion of any assigned topic, and the instructor reserves the right to transform class discussions into unannounced oral ‘pop-quizzes’ should he deem the situation so warrants (grades for such quizzes are averaged with those of the take-home exercises). The instructor’s assessment of one’s attendance, class preparation, and informed oral contributions will constitute 35% of the final course grade.
d. Zakhor (Remember!): Mastery of the assigned readings and diligent class attendance are necessary prerequisites for the successful completion of this course. Each student is responsible for all lectures, class discussions, assignments, and announcements, whether or not he/she is present when they occur.
e. It is the policy of UNC Charlotte for the Fall 2020 semester that as a condition of on-campus enrollment, all students are required to engage in safe behaviors to avoid the spread of COVID-19 in our community. Such behaviors specifically include the requirement that all students properly wear CDC-compliant face coverings while in buildings including in this classroom. Students are permitted to remove face coverings in the classroom only when I explicitly grant permission to do so (such as while asking a question, participating in class discussion, or giving a presentation) and while at an appropriate physical distance from others. Failure to comply with this policy in this classroom may result in dismissal from the current class session. If a student refuses to follow this policy, s/he will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity for charges under the Code of Student Responsibility.
a. The grading scale used in this course is as follows:
91-100 A = demonstrable mastery of material; can creatively synthesize
81-90 B = some demonstrable proficiency in control of material & analysis
71-80 C = satisfactory performance of assignments; little or no analysis
61-70 D = inadequate and/or faulty understanding of material
0-60 F = unacceptable college-level work
b. One of the requirements of this course is to complete the work of the course on time. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for late work—an illness or other emergency. ‘Emergency,’ however, does not include your social involvements, travel plans, job schedule, disk, wi-fi, and/or printer failures, the state of your love life, your obligations to other courses, or general malaise over the state of the world. The world has been in a mess as long as anyone can remember, and most of the world’s work is done by people whose lives are a mass of futility and discontent. If you haven’t learned yet, you had better learn now to work under the conditions of the world as it is. Therefore:
1) All missed quizzes and neglected homework exercises will be averaged as a 0 in the computation of the course grade. There is no such thing as a ‘make-up pop quiz.’ No exceptions will be considered or granted.
2) For accounting purposes, letter grades bear the following values: A=95; A-=92; B=85; C+=78; C=75; D=65; F=30.
3) Homework exercises are due on the date announced by the instructor in class (usually the next class meeting). They must be typed, double-spaced, and submitted by email to me in either Microsoft Word or Adobe format prior to the start of the class for which they have been assigned. No physical copies of homework will be accepted or returned. Since we will normally discuss these exercises together in class on that date, it would clearly be unfair to those who submitted their work on time for me to accept ‘late’ work from those who were privy to our in-class discussion. Hence I will not accept ‘late’ homework submissions (even from those physically absent during our discussion); however, ‘early’ submissions are always welcome and will receive full credit.
4) Attendance at class meetings will be monitored by the instructor. One or two absences are somewhat understandable, three (3) is the limit of tolerability. Each successive absence lowers the Individual Involvement component of your assessment by one letter grade; seven (7) or more earns an automatic F in that component. Please note that the instructor does not distinguish ‘excused’ from ‘unexcused’ absences. Unsanctioned late arrivals and early departures will be tallied as absences.
c. For absences related to COVID-19, please adhere to the following:
- Do not come to class if you are sick. Please protect your health and the health of others by staying home. Contact your healthcare provider if you believe you are ill.
- If you are sick: If you test positive or are evaluated by a healthcare provider for symptoms of COVID-19, complete this form to alert the University. Representatives from Emergency Management and/or the Student Health Center will follow up with you as necessary, and your instructors will be notified.
- If you have been exposed to COVID-19 positive individuals and/or have been notified to self-quarantine due to exposure, complete this form to alert the University. Representatives from Emergency Management and/or the Student Health Center will follow up with you as necessary, and your instructors will be notified.
To return to class after being absent due to a COVID-19 diagnosis or due to a period of self-quarantine, students should submit an online request form to Student Assistance and Support Services (SASS). Supporting documentation can be attached directly to the request form and should be from a student’s health care provider or the Student Health Center, clearly indicating the dates of absences and the date the student is able to return to class. Instructors will be notified of such absences.
If you are absent from class as a result of a COVID-19 diagnosis or quarantine, I will try to help you continue to make progress in the course by providing remote learning resources and/or assignments. Please bear in mind that the final decision for approval of all absences and missed work in this course is determined by the instructor.
d. Assistance and solicitation of criticism is your right as a member of the class. It is not a privilege to be granted or withheld. Do not hesitate to request it nor wait too late in the course for it to be of help.
e. The standards, requirements, and procedures set forth in this syllabus are subject to modification at any time by the course instructor. Notice of such changes will be by announcement in class, or by email, or by changes to this syllabus posted on the course website at https://pages.uncc.edu/john-reeves/course-materials/.
ROUGH COURSE OUTLINE
1. Some issues surrounding methodology and terminology
a. how to read a ‘religious’ text: goals and caveats
b. some initial theses
c. an open swim in the phantasmagoria
Jubilees 2:1-3 (note Genesis 1:1-5; 11Q5 Hymn to Creator)
Syriac Cave of Treasurese §1.3 (note Colossians 1:16; Testament of Adam, ‘Angelic Hierarchy’)
Ascension of Isaiah 1:1-4; 7:1-11:35
Sefer ha-Razim (selections)
Spell to ward off a striga
Genesis Rabbah 36.1//Leviticus Rabbah 5.1
Prayer of R. Shim‘on b. Yoḥai (introduction)
2. Scriptural & parascriptural attitudes toward angels
a. the categorization of angels
b. are angels created beings?
c. the naming of angels
Deuteronomy 6:4; Exodus 20:3//Deuteronomy 5:7; Isaiah 45:5-8; Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:5-7; Deuteronomy 32:8-9 (LXX, Qumran); Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 82:1-8.
Acts 23:8; Josephus, War 2.142; 1QSa 2.8; 1QM 7.6; 4Q266 8i9.
Psalm 104:4; b. Ḥag. 14a; Q 35:1
Gabriel – Daniel 8:16; 9:21; 1 Enoch 10:9-10; 1QM 9.16; Luke 1:19; Q 2:97-98; 66:4
Michael – Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1; 1 Enoch 10:11-11:2; 1QM 17.6-7; Jude 9; Revelation 12:7; Q 2:98
Raphael – 1 Enoch 10:4-8; Jubilees 10:10 (note Sefer Noah); 1QM 9.15
Uriel – 1 Enoch 10:1-3; 74:2; 75:3
3. Three narrative typologies for consideration
a. the Enochic paradigm
1 Enoch 6:1-16:4; 85:1-89:9; 106:1-107:3
1Q Genesis Apocryphon 2.1-5.29
b. the Jubilean paradigm
Jubilees 4:15-5:11; 10:1-17
Midrash of Shemḥazai & Azael
Some Hārūt wa-Mārūt legends (note Q 2:102)
c. the Adamic paradigm
Vita Adae et Euae 12-17
Quaestiones Bartholomaei 4.23-29; 52-56
Syriac Cave of Treasurese §§2.1-3.8
Q 2:30-39; 7:11-27; 15:26-50; 17:61-65; 18:50; 20:116-23; 38:71-85
Pirqe R. Eliezer §§13-14
4. Blurring some boundaries: is God an angel or a demon?
Satorninos apud Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.24.1-2
Exodus 4:24-26 (Hebrew, LXX); Jubilees 48:2-4a
Genesis 32:22-32 (Hebrew, LXX); Josephus, Antiquities 1.331-34; Prayer of Joseph
2 Samuel 24:1-9//1 Chronicles 21:1-7
5. More ‘demon’ texts
b. protective incantations
c. King Solomon, master of demons
Isaiah 13:19-22; 34:5-15 (cf. Baruch 4:30-35); Leviticus 17:1-7; Deuteronomy 32:17 (cf. Baruch 4:7); Psalm 96:5 (Hebrew, LXX); 106:37 (Hebrew, LXX); 1 Corinthians 10:20-21; 1 Enoch 19:1
Numbers 6:24-26; Psalm 91:1-16; 11Q11
Testament of Solomon; Zosimos of Panopolis; b. Giṭ. 68a; Q 21:81-82; 34:12-14; 38:34-40
6. Angelic magic
Sefer ha-Kasdim (selections)
7. An early biblical tale involving demonic attack and angelic aid
8. Revisiting the initial theses & formulating some final theses
SUPPLEMENTAL BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR RELS 3122
In response to student requests for recommendations regarding useful and enlightening discussions of certain topics, themes, and personalities that are presented in class and/or readings, I offer the following suggestions for further study at the student’s leisure. I confine myself to materials which I myself have used with profit and which are currently available at Atkins Library.
It is often helpful for the student to begin with appropriate articles in the standard Bible dictionaries. The most up to date are The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols.; ed. Katherine Doob Sakenfeld; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-09) and The Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1992). Dated but still reliable are The Interpreters’ Dictionary of the Bible (4 vols.) and its Supplementary Volume (ed. George A. Buttrick; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962 & 1976), and the Harper’s Bible Dictionary (ed. Paul J. Achtemeier; San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985). Highly recommended are the relevant articles in the new Encyclopaedia Judaica (22 vols.; Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA/Thomson Gale, 2007); the Encyclopaedia of Islam, Third Edition (Leiden: Brill, 2007- ); the Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān (6 vols.; ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe; Leiden: Brill, 2001-2006), and The Qur’ān: An Encyclopedia (ed. Oliver Leaman; London and New York: Routledge, 2006).
Almost all English-language ‘encyclopedias’ or ‘dictionaries’ of angels (or demons) are worthless. The lone exception is Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter van der Horst, eds., Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2d rev. ed.; Leiden: Brill, 1999), an important research tool which Atkins does not own.