Prof. Rachel Elior
Hebrew University

Angelic Liturgy -Why?

Angelic liturgy may be found in three different sources of literature dating from antiquity. The primary source is associated with the priest-prophet Ezekiel and his vision of the chariot as related in the Bible. Secondly, it is found in the Qumran literature and the related books of Enoch, Jubilees, and the Testament of Levi. And last, it is present in the corpus known as the Hekhalot Literature. I would like to argue that these three sources are related to priestly traditions which were generated by priests who could no longer officiate in the Jerusalem Temple after its destruction and defilement. This literature may be perceived as an attempt to preserve numinous memory of the temple in heavenly shrines. Ezekiel’s Vision of the Chariot was the transformation of the earthly temple into a heavenly shrine preserving major cultic elements within the heavenly sphere. The Chariot vision served as the foundation for heavenly holy place. The solar calendar, which was understood to be granted from the angels and kept by the priests, served as the foundation for holy time , and the heavenly liturgy of the angels served as holy ritual. Angelic liturgy reflects the inter-relationship between priests and angels as well as the worship which was performed in both the earthly and the heavenly temples. All the principle concepts and values of the priestly literature are concerned with angels; the angels are depicted as the heavenly source of authority for the priesthood and as eternal witnesses for the cosmic order. They serve as an archetype for priestly ritual and the priests viewed themselves as an earthly expression of the angelic entities. The sacred solar calendar was the foundation for all ritual whether performed on earth or in heaven and was preserved and enacted by priests and angels alike. The division of time into seven daily units marked by the holy seventh day is the foundation for the cosmic order. This order is found in the solar calendar and is kept by the angels who perform the seven-fold heavenly ritual known as the angelic liturgy as well as by the twenty-four priestly vigils who calculate and preserve the cycles of the Sabbath on an annual basis. The combination of the sacred cosmic calendar with the establishment of the heavenly chariot shrines as well as the sanctity of the angelic priesthood and its perpetual liturgical order achieved the unification of holy time, holy place, and holy ritual. These three elements, holy time, represented by the solar calendar; holy place, represented by the chariot and its seven shrines and holy ritual represented by the angelic liturgy of the Shabbat Songs are all infused with the sacred number seven and all its permutations. These three holy elements which were united in the temple worship, represent the eternal cosmic order and serve to preserve and sanctify this order on earth as well as in heaven.