Bernard J. Bamberger. Fallen Angels: Soldiers of Satan's Realm.

Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2006.

 

 

Reviewed by Adam Stewart, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

 

 

Originally published in 1952, the Jewish publication society has re-released Bernard J. Bamberger's, Fallen Angels: Soldiers of Satan's Realm. Bamberger's text is an exceptionally well-researched and well-written introduction to the history of the idea of fallen angels within Judaism and Christianity, with a brief sojourn into Islam. What is most interesting about this book, however, is not necessarily the subject matter, but rather, the fact that Bamberger uses the differing conceptions of fallen angels within Judaism and Christianity in order to offer a critique of the dialectical and post-liberal Christian theology prevalent at the time of the book's original conception and publication.

Bamberger divides his text into nine major parts with thirty smaller chapters, which address the idea of fallen angels in a roughly chronological order from the Hebrew Bible to contemporary Christian theology. In the first part of the book, Bamberger begins by positing that the belief in fallen angels arose within Judaism as a means of explaining the existence of evil in the world, which was largely the result of the Jewish borrowing of Canaanite-Phoenician, as well as Babylonian, Persian, and Greek materials (6-7). Bamberger subsequently examines the most common biblical passages that are cited as evidence for the existence of fallen angels. Such passages include the Nefilim/Nephilim of Genesis 6, the supposed fall of Satan in Isaiah 14, the sin of the fallen angels in Psalm 82, the serpent in the Garden of Eden as Satan in Genesis 3, and the existence of national angels in Daniel 10 and 12 as well as Isaiah 24 (8-12). Bamberger concludes that while these passages contain some of the materials from which the myth of fallen angels was later constructed, that these passages themselves do not actually speak of fallen angels, but are rather, figurative allusions to very corporeal forms of evil in the world. In Bamberger's own words, "The Hebrew Bible does not know an organized realm of spiritual evil arrayed against the Kingdom of God"

(13).

In the second part of the text, Bamberger carefully examines several pseudepigraphal books, such as the Ethiopic and Slavonic Enoch as well as Jubilees, arguing that they are the first examples of Jewish thought to present a cogent belief in an organized group of fallen angels working against the will of God and under the direction of a single leader, Satan (15, 30). In part three, however, Bamberger explains that the tendency towards apocalyptic dualism common in many of the pseudepigraphal books is eventually abandoned in favour of a more rigid form of monotheism. Bamberger clarifies that eventually, Judaism would not even tolerate the kind of controlled dualism that places God in supreme authority over the rebel angels, which Christianity would later arrogate (55, 59).

Bamberger spends the remaining six sections of the text, parts four through nine, setting up a kind of continuum of dualism by examining how various groups and individuals understand the idea of fallen angels. On the one end, Bamberger places Manichaeism and Gnosticism with its extreme form of dualism culminating to the point of polytheism (86, 204, 218, 238-239, 245-246). On the other end, Bamberger places the Talmud and the Midrash with its unwavering monotheism, which Bamberger explains, "never speaks of fallen or rebel angels" (90). Somewhere in between these two extremes, but falling closer to dualism than monotheism, are the New Testament and the Church Fathers with their controlled, yet still distasteful dualism (61-86), Pirke d'Rabbi Eliezer, the Spanish Cabala/Kabbalah, and the Zohar, the most extreme examples of Jewish dualism (132-134, 168-186), and the Christian philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages and the Reformation, particularly Ansélm, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin (201-232). Also between these two extremes, but siding closer to monotheism than dualism, Bamberger places the later aggadic writings, except of course Pirke d'Rabbi Eliezer (128-145), the medieval Jewish thinkers Saadia Gaon, Rashi, and Maimonides (147-161), and both Jewish and Christian nineteenth century liberal thinkers (235-239).

Bamberger concludes his text with some admittedly theological observations regarding the contemporary implications of his study. He surmises that a proper interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, the authority of the Talmud, and the tradition of medieval Jewish philosophy, leave no place for the dualistic belief in fallen angels within Judaism. Bamberger explains that while the belief in fallen angels has failed to gain an authoritative status within Judaism, that conversely, Christianity has incorporated a strongly dualistic understanding of fallen angels as a central part its theology (240).

Bamberger subsequently points out how Christianity's concept of dualism has resulted in the persecution and murder of suspected witches and other suspect individuals, as well as that of the Jewish people. Bamberger goes a step further by claiming that dualistic mythology was also responsible for the rise of Marxian and Freudian thought, as well as National Socialism and Nazism in the latter nineteenth, and early twentieth century (240-243). Bamberger makes the claim that the failure of the liberal myth of progress in the twentieth century resulted in the resurgence of dualistic philosophies in the guise of Nazism and Communism. He writes, "As the lights of humanity and hope went out all over the world, dark and dangerous beliefs again became popular" (241).

By stating that Nazism and Communism were a reaction to, rather than a product of, the failure of the liberal myth of progress, Bamberger is attempting to differentiate nineteenth century modern liberalism from Nazism and Communism, placing the blame for these movements on a rise of dualistic mythology and philosophy. While dualistic elements were certainly apart of these two movements, Bamberger excludes the fact that both Nazism and Communism were both logical extensions of the modern liberal myth of progress, as both political systems were largely built on the teleological Hegelian philosophy of the nineteenth century. Bamberger is a modernist through and through, and is attempting to salvage the legacy of modern liberalism by using dualism as a scapegoat for the most unfortunate events of modern Western history. However, Bamberger fails to recognize the close connections that existed between modern liberal philosophy and the most horrific tragedies of the twentieth century.

Bamberger also criticizes the dialectical theology of Karl Barth and the post-liberal theology of Reinhold Niebuhr, among others, which reject the modern optimism in human nature in favour of an essentially negative view of human potential, sharing a semblance with later postmodern thought. For Bamberger, Christian theology's admission of humanity's essentially evil nature, capable of redemption only through the action of God, is "extremely dangerous" (250). As a modernist with faith in the potentiality of human nature, Bamberger views such dualistic theology as "too easy an excuse for human failure" tempting humanity to "leave this world to the control of the 'god of this world,' and to wait for salvation through some super-earthly power"

(251). In Barth and Niebuhr's essentially anti-modernist theology, Bamberger sees a likeness with Nazi and Communist rejections of economic liberalism and liberal democracy. Bamberger fails to distinguish between Nazism and Communism's totalitarian rejection of central liberal values, and the attempts of contemporary Christian theologians to offer a critique of the modern metanarrative of progress.

Overall, Bamberger's is an excellent book. It provides an accessible and engaging introductory history of the idea of fallen angels within Judaism and Christianity. Bamberger's familiarity with the breadth of Jewish religious and philosophical literature makes this text an illuminating read, which is further enhanced by his knowledge and judicious treatment of the Christian sources. Bamberger's possibly rash and incomplete treatment of his contemporary Christian theologians may be forgiven by both his historical proximity to their own writings and also the strong and important impulse within post-Holocaust Judaism towards taking responsibility for human acts of evil and encouraging moral conduct. As Bamberger explains, "To make truth and right prevail in human affairs is not arrogant meddling with things beyond our competence; for man is God's partner in the work of creation" (251).

 

 

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