Unnecessary Angels

The Škand Gumānīg Wizār (ŠGW) contains Middle Persian Zoroastrian literature’s most extensive polemic against Judaism. This article explores the ŠGW’s polemic in light of recent scholarship demonstrating the connection between Babylonian rabbinic Judaism and Zoroastrianism in late antique Iran. Taking this connection as a starting point, the article considers the ŠGW’s critique of three angelic citations that are all closely paralleled by passages in the Babylonian Talmud. After demonstrating that the ŠGW citations depict angels as weaker and more oppressed than the rabbinic parallels, the article sets these portrayals of weakened angels in the context of the widespread belief among Jews in this period in Metatron, an angelic coequal to the divine. The article argues that the ŠGW’s depictions of downtrodden angels are not borrowed from rabbinic polemics, found in the Talmud, against this theology, but is an independent reaction to the same belief in Metatron’s co-regency, a belief that sources testify was still common in the early Islamic period. The ŠGW’s motivating theological imperative to portray Judaism as radically monotheistic, and thus the binary opposite of Zoroastrianism, underlies the text’s descriptions of angelic suffering and degradation.

Read the whole article from 2015 in Iranian Studies.