Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice

Posted by Clark Goble on January 2, 2008

Hopefully people don’t mind me returning to our discussion of Revelation from earlier in December. I was, as you may recall, fairly busy but mentioned in passing an interesting merkabah/apocalyptical text from Qumran. The text’s name is Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (also sometimes called the Angelic Liturgy). It’s quite short but fairly interesting relative to John’s apocalypse as well as some sections in the Book of Mormon (such as Alma 13). It basically is a kind of communial mystical text oriented around the 13 sabbaths for 1/4 of the year. There are three sections to the short work. The first is fragmentary (the translation linked above doesn’t show that) and primarily deals with the heavenly priests and their actions. The second section are the prayers and praises of the seven classes of angels. (Possibly, one associated with each ‘level’) and a climax at the seventh section. The final section describes the temple, throne room, and throne of God. The language is primarily taken from Ezekiel and thus is tied to classic merkabah mysticism. (The seven spokes of the wheel with wheels within wheels) but also uses language from other texts such as Daniel, Isaiah and 1 Enoch. I found it so interesting since it can be seen as first establishing priests and then leading them in an ascent to God’s throne. (I probably need not mention why that’s of interest to Mormons.) I found a nice collection of quotes on the text here. (Ignore the authors of the pages – the quotes are all legit and quite informative.) How is it relevant for Revelation? Allow me to quote an extended section from Adela Yarbro Collins Cosmology and Eschatology in Jewish and Christian Apocalypticism. (Well worth getting if you are interested in this stuff – plus it’s finally out in paperback)

As has been noted, the apocalyptic visions of the ascent-type are related to Jewish mystical texts. According to these texts, meditation on the Merkabah, the divine chariot, is an important means of contact with the divine. The root of the activity, which is usually called Merkabah mysticism, is meditation of Isaiah 6 and especially Ezekiel 1. Evidence of this practice can be found in Jewish apocalytpic and other intertestamental literature, especially in a text from Qumran, the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, edited and published by Carol Newsrom. This is a liturgical text consisting of thirteen compositions, one for each of the first thirteen Sabbaths of the year. These thirteen compositions call forth angelic praise, describe the angelic priesthood and the heavenly temple and give an account of the worship carried out in the heavenly sanctuary on that particular Sabbath. The fragmentary condition of the text makes interpretation tentative, but the song seems to progress from the praise sung by the outer parts of the temple to the innermost room, the Holy of Holies. There appears to be a brief description of the divine throne.

The seventh Sabbath song, as the center of the thirteen compositions, is in an emphatic position. The first two Sabbath songs are didactic and informational; in them the role of the worshipping human community is fairly prominent. The language of the sixth through the eighth in contrast, is formulaic and repetitive. Newsom suggests that the repetition had a hypnotic effect on the community reciting the songs. The middle three songs contain several lists and sequences of seven. A list of numbered elements involves an almost involuntary participation of the audience, who anticipate the execution of the sequences. Since the community believed that the number seven was holy and had cosmic significance, the combination of the “external” fact of its being the seventh Sabbath and the “internal” or literary repetition of the number would have had a strong emotional effect. in other words, the song has an ecstatic quality and may have evoked mystical or even visionary experiences for the members of the community.

The book of Revelation is an interesting parallel. The book is an account of a visionary experience of the early Christian prophet John. It was intended to be read aloud to the seven congregations mentioned in chapters 1-3. The reading of the book was a representation of the ecstatic experience of the seer for the members of those congregations. The number seven is used in Revelation as a structuring principle and as an explicit literary device of sequencing. The repetition of the number and its sacred character may have had an emotional impact on the audience of this book as well.

(Collins, 13-14)

7 Responses to “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice”

  1. clarkgoble said

    (Sorry for the formatting. WordPress keeps eating my formating for some reason – even when I set it explicitly)

  2. Cherylem said

    Thanks, Clark. I’ve been thinking of posting my notes on Revelation, which included some stuff on Jewish, Early Christian and LDS apocalyptic . . . . think I will, even though we’re all into BOM now.

  3. brianj said

    [clark: I tried to help with the formatting, but I couldn't tell what was wrong with it.]

  4. Robert C. said

    Thanks for posting this, Clark—fascinating.

  5. Clark said

    Brian, it kept merging all my paragraphs into a single paragraph. So most of the paragraph breaks were lost.

    The main reason I liked it is that the common view among may LDS scholars is that Rev 2-3 is an example of interspersion such that both the characteristics of Christ and then certain other things (partake of manna, sword, etc.) tied to our own endowment rituals are there. The quote in question suggested that Rev 1-3 was intended to be read aloud to the Churches in an almost quasi-ritualistic way. Thus interpreting those chapters one has to account not just in terms of straightforward meaning but also a kind of performance.

    Now the text in question offers only very loose and general parallels to Mormon thought but it does suggest a way of thinking about texts that I find fascinating.

  6. Clark said

    To add. We, especially since the Protestant reformation, tend to think about texts as things to be read and then to give an exposition – usually with an ethical overtone. I’d simply note that the use of texts in the ancient world was almost certainly much, much broader than that with far more overtones than the stripped down version Protestantism gives us. (And in our thinking, despite having all that ritual – even more than the Catholics in many ways – we tend to think in terms of reading and drawing ethical conclusions or applications)

    The question I end up having (tying all this to our current readings) is how this affects the Book of Mormon. Nephi and Jacob clearly have a fairly broad understanding of Jewish approaches to scripture. Yet, by the time of Abinadi, it seems like a lot of it is foreign to the people. By the time Alma takes up his own reformation it seems like Nephite religion has fundamentally been transformed. It might be easier to understand. (Let’s be honest – Alma is the easiest to read and comprehend) But something is lost in terms of the function of texts.

    I think Alma 11-13 suggests some remnants and so perhaps there was a lot more going on in Nephite culture than we have accounted. But there does seem to be some big transformations about religious traditions. (Perhaps a lot of syncrestic influences from other peoples)

  7. Joe Spencer said

    Wait a minute! Do you dare open that can of worms? To suggest, that is, that “drawing ethical conclusions or applications” is perhaps not the absolute aim of all scripture study? Tsk, tsk, tsk! :)

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