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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Ascent to Heaven

The Hebrew Bible does not contain accounts of any ascents to heaven beyond the brief mention of Elijah's departure for heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kgs. 2.11 ), but the claim of the prophets to participate in the divine council provides the seed for the growth of the ascents of the apocalypses. In Isaiah 6 , for example, the prophet sees God enthroned in the Jerusalem temple surrounded by angels. God is conducting a meeting, seeking volunteers from among the heavenly host to deliver the divine message of warning to Israel. In the end it is Isaiah who volunteers to bear the message. The claim to have stood in the council of the Lord is a central aspect of prophetic self-understanding, a mark of the prophet's exalted status and a guarantee of the authenticity of the words spoken by the prophet.

Isaiah (see ch. 6 ) found God's council meeting in the Jerusalem temple. With the destruction of the first temple, God and the angelic attendants lose their meeting place on earth. The prophet Ezekiel (see ch. 1 ), who exercised a profound influence on the authors of the apocalypses, transforms the throne of cherubim, God's seat in the holy of holies in the Jerusalem temple, into a wheeled chariot. In his visions he sees God depart from the temple on the chariot-throne immediately before handing it over to the Babylonians for destruction.

In the concluding chapters of his book, Ezekiel sees the chariot once again, returning its occupant to the new temple he visits in a vision. But the temple that was finally built by the Jews who returned from exile was not the eschatological temple for which Ezekiel longed. The second temple never enjoyed the prestige of the first temple, and many who were unhappy with the conduct of the priests in charge came to view it as polluted. Often these critics of the temple were themselves priests, though outside the ruling circles.

The temple in Jerusalem had always been understood as modeled on a heavenly prototype. For those dissatisfied with the earthly temple, the heavenly temple becomes the focus of increasing attention. In the apocalypses, visionaries no longer enter God's presence by going to the Jerusalem temple. Rather they ascend to heaven and the heavenly temple. In the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1–36), the first apocalypse to contain an ascent, Enoch passes through an awesome temple-like structure of hailstones and fire to stand before God's cherubim throne; when he joins the divine council, it consists of angels understood not so much as heavenly courtiers but as heavenly priests.

The Book of the Watchers was an extremely influential work. Several of the later ascent-apocalypses are directly dependent on it. All show the influence of its understanding of ascent and its picture of heaven, although some do not share its attitude toward the temple on earth.

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