I recently discovered that, as a member of staff at the University of Edinburgh, I have access to the New College library, one of the biggest theological libraries in Europe. So rather than waste that opportunity, I went and borrowed some books.
The first one I read, largely because it was the slimmest of the books I borrowed was "The Lost Prophet" by Margaret Barker. I've previously read her book "The Great Angel" and found it fascinating, and really want to read her first book "The Older Testament", but sadly New College don't have that, so I settled on this.
The book is an examination of the ancient book of 1st Enoch. Exactly how ancient it is is one of the conundrums of the book. It is in five parts, four of which were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, making those parts pre-Christian. The other part is only found in later, Christian, documents, so it is unclear if this bit is pre-Christian or not. This is a bit annoying as this part contains a lot of material about a character called "The Son of Man". If this could be shown to be pre-Christian then this book might yield understanding of what Jesus and the early church meant when they used the phrase.
Conventional thinking about this book is that it is later to, and derivative of, the Old Testament writings. Barker makes the opposite case, that the book of Enoch could be contemporary with some of the Old Testament books, perhaps even earlier. She makes a good case for, at the very least, not assuming the priority of the OT books, just because they're in the canon. The OT books, like Daniel and some of Isaiah, could basically be products of the same kind of thinking that also gave us the book of Enoch. That is to say, in evolutionary terms, that they share common ancestry.
Barker claims that if we read the New Testament through the lens of this Enochic view of the world, then we can gain insight into many parts of the NT, not just Jude and 2Peter, which refer to it explicitly, but also all the Son of Man stuff in the gospels and some of the thinking of the epistles.
Its all interesting stuff, and might give insights on a few obscure passages, but its not going to set the world on fire...
What I am much more interested in, having read this, is the content of her earlier book, and the thesis contained therein. You see, Barker claims that the stories, rituals and beliefs, etc. of the pre-exilic period in Israel and Judah have been deliberately modified and rewritten with a different agenda in the post-exilic period when the OT was compiled. The Old Testament, she claims, misrepresents the first temple period and, essentially, rewrote history saying that what they did back then was the same as what we do now...
Barker believes otherwise. She seems to hold that the first temple worship was directed to more than one divine being, and that the King was considered by his people as divine and literally the Son of God.
Its frustrating reading this between the lines of this book when, I guess, she makes her full case for this in her earlier book. Must read it.
Anyway, I've also listened to a couple of talks by her on YouTube. Here she implies the same sort of ideas, again without fully spelling them out. One of the most fascinating ideas that she mentions in the talks and also in this book, is the idea that the Adam and Eve story is a relatively new addition to the OT, and that this picture of the origin of the world, sin, etc. was not part of first temple thinking. She points out something surprising - after the first few chapters of Genesis, Adam and Eve are never mentioned again in the OT. This is one of the things which suggests that this is a late story, even though it comes first in our book. She suggests that all the Abraham and the patriarchs stuff is much older.
But her main thesis is that the system of worship from the first temple period has been written out of the bible, and only teasing hints remain. I think her basic thinking goes like this:
The 'reforms' of Josiah's day changed the Jewish religion. The rewriting of the story, as told by post-Josiah and post-exilic writers, says that God instructed Moses in a particular system of monotheistic worship, in the tabernacle, which was later set in stone, as it were, in Solomon's temple. But Solomon and those who came after him allowed 'foreign' worship of other gods into the temple, which corrupted the original, pure monotheistic system. So Josiah's reforms were, as seen from a 2nd temple viewpoint, the restoration of the old ways and the expulsion of the foreign gods.
Barker claims otherwise. She notes that in 1 Enoch, it is the 'reformers' who are portrayed as the bad guys who corrupted the original system. Not the original Mosaic system, which may be a later invention, pushing 2nd temple thinking back into a fabricated history, but rather the original Abrahamic and Messianic system of worship where the King was The Lord and The Lord was the King, and where the divine goddess of wisdom, Ashera or Astarte, was worshiped alongside Yahweh and his anointed one, the King.
Barker goes on to claim that these ideas, while written out of the priestly history books, were not written out of public belief, and that these ideas formed the basis of Christianity, with Jesus as the divine messiah, wisdom personified as the Holy Spirit, and the temple 'rebuilt' out of the living stones of believers. Its a shocking thought.
But where Barker doesn't go, is to explain why this way of thinking gets lost from the New Testament. Why don't we know this stuff? Why do we not believe what Barker claims the early Christians did believe? Here's where I have to speculate. What if this stuff got written out again in the 2nd century during all the battles between orthodoxy and heresy? The 'catholic' Christianity that emerged at the end of the 2nd century seems to be a fusion of different strands which went before - what happens if you try to fuse a Christianity based on 1st temple thinking, with a 2nd temple Judaic way of thinking? Something would have to give. Something would have to get left out, or changed, or rewritten. We might very well end up with what we have now.
Of course, nothing is proved here, this is all speculation, but it is fascinating speculation...