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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Monday, 14 March 2011

Did ancient Judaism have the concept of a heavenly temple?

OK—This post is more of a question.

1. I have often heard NT scholars speak of the idea of a "heavenly temple" in Second Temple Jewish texts. It is the "temple above", the true temple of which the Jerusalem temple is simply a pale counterpart.

2. It is often said by OT scholars that the Jerusalem temple is a microcosm of the cosmos. In this microcosm the "holy of holies" represents heaven, Yhwh's dwelling, while the other compartments represent the sky/heavens and the land and sea, etc..

Now, if 2 is the case I would expect heaven to be like the holy of holies (i.e., full of the presence of divine glory and heavenly beings and worship). But I would not expect there to be a whole temple in heaven.

However, theology is often messy and so if the evidence suggests that some Second Temple Jews did thing of a whole heavenly temple (with all the different courts and altars and priests, etc) then so be it.

But, it struck me that some of the texts I had heard used to support the notion of a heavenly temple did not speak of anything nearly so full-blown as a whole temple. This made me wonder whether we had misread the evidence.

However, Second Temple Jewish lit is not my speciality. So I was hoping that someone could just tell me where I can get the full evidence for a heavenly temple.

3 comments:

Terry Wright said...

Which scholars tell you that there's a heavenly temple, Robin? With Margaret Barker in mind, I can only recall scholars talking about temples being the gate of heaven - hence the holy of holies being the equivalent to 'heaven'.

Anonymous said...

Yes.

Anonymous said...

Yes there was such a concept. It's even pre-STJ. Isa. 6 speaks of the angelic host presumably in the heavenly realm, giving praise to God , who is presumably within the structure of the heavenly temple.

The best description of STJ's concept of the heavenly temple can be found in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (Shirot 'Olat HaShabbat), which were found among the Qumran scrolls, and a copy was recovered from Masada. But if you read Songs 10, 11 you will get solid descriptions of the heavenly temple. Effectively, it is the earthly temple simply divine. The idea that the earthly cult was reflective of the heavenly world is an ancient one, and it comes out strongly in the Shirot. Moreover, there is an emphasis on the number seven in the Shirot, and sometimes things are described in terms of that number, other times described as singular.

You can also investigate later Heikhalot mystical literature (Jewish mysticism) which reflects on the heavenly temple and how humans can "gain access" to it.