Divine Disguise: Disguised God Stories in Ancient Jewish and Early Christian Narrative Literature

Bultman, Rebecca, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Halvorson-Taylor, Martien, AS-Religious Studies (RELI), University of Virginia
Spittler, Janet, AS-Religious Studies (RELI), University of Virginia

From mysterious heavenly visitors in human form in Genesis, to the archangel Raphael masquerading as a travel guide in the book of Tobit, to Jesus’s clever impersonation of a ship captain in the Acts of Andrew and Matthias, divine disguise punctuates ancient Jewish and early Christian narrative literature. This dissertation charts the persistent use of divine disguise in ancient Jewish and Christian narrative texts in a non-linear and non-chronological manner, with a special interest in the occurrence of the trope in the ancient Jewish novels.

The aims of this dissertation are two-fold. One, I collect and classify the disguised angels of the ancient Jewish novels as a particular class of characters and demonstrate that they are depicted according to a certain compositional pattern, which I have called the disguised god type-scene. To do this, I offer a close reading of three ancient Jewish novels, paying particular attention to the motifs and narrative patterns that construct the angels’ disguise and, ultimate, revelation of their identity. I categorize the angels according to the purpose for which they visit mortals, terming them divine helpers or, in the case of satan from the Testament of Job, divine opponents.

With the type-scene and its incumbent character types established, my second aim is to trace this compositional pattern in early literature of the Hebrew Bible and in the apocryphal acts of the apostles, material roughly contemporary to or slightly later than the Jewish novels. My interest is in discovering what we can learn about the narrative pattern in these other literatures if we have the developed, and, in some cases, exaggerated examples of the disguised angels in the Jewish novels in mind. In this way, I seek not to tell how the type-scene developed, per se, but how it was employed by Jews and Christians over time and to what purpose. By tracing the type-scene across its different trajectories in the novels, the Hebrew Bible, and the apocryphal acts, this dissertation helps us recognize the artistic ways in which Jewish and Christian authors made this compositional pattern their own, and how it functions to allow its authors to make sophisticated claims about the workings of the divine world and its active concern for and participation in human affairs.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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