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9 Michael and the Body of Moses

MICHAEL CONTENDED WITH THE DEVIL. CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA : This proves that Moses
was taken up into heaven. The one who fought with the devil as our guardian angel is here called
Michael. ADUMBRATIONS.30
THE BURIAL OF MOSES. PETER CHRYSOLOGUS: The angels were present at the death of Moses,
and God himself took care of his burial. SERMONS 83.31
ANTHONYS VISION. ANDREAS: Here Jude shows that the Old Testament agrees with the New
and that they were both given by the same God. For the devil objected, claiming that the body
was his because he is the lord of matter. But Michael would not accept this and brought on the
devil a punishment worthy of his blasphemy, though he abandoned him to the discretion of his
own master. For when God brought Moses to the mount of transfiguration, the devil said to
Michael that God had broken his promise, because he had sworn not to do such a thing. Michael
is said to have taken care of the burial of Moses, and the devil is supposed to have objected to
this. God then came to the rescue and wanted to show those who at that time saw only a very
little that eventually our souls would be changed and we would all ascend into heaven. But the
devil and the evil spirits with him wanted to cut off the way to heaven and tried both to do their
evil deeds and at the same time weaken the righteous by this angelic warfare. This is what the
blessed Antony saw in his vision. CATENA.32
SEARCHING FOR JUDES SOURCES. BEDE: It is not easy to see what part of Scripture Jude got
this tale from, though we do find something like it in Zechariah, who says: Then he showed me
Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand
to accuse him.33 However, it is easy enough to see that in the Zechariah passage, Joshua wanted
the people of Israel to be set free from their captivity in Babylon, and Satan resisted this. But
when it was that Michael fought with the devil over the body of Moses is unknown. There are,
however, some people who say that Gods people were called the body of Moses, because
Moses was a part of that people, and if this is the case, it may be that in saying this Jude is
referring to the whole nation. But whatever the case may be, here is what we have to learn from
this incident: if the archangel Michael refrained from cursing the devil and dealt gently with him,
how much more should we mere mortals avoid blaspheming, especially as we might offend the
majesty of the Creator by an incautious word. ON JUDE.34
1

30 FGNK 3:84.
31
FC 17:133.
32 CEC 16061.
33 Zech 3:1.
34 PL 93:126.
1Bray, G. (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture
NT 11 (252). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

MICHAEL AND THE DEVIL


The source of Judes scene of conflict is not extant, although ancient commentators such as
Clement of Alexandria identify it as stemming from the Assumption of Moses: Hic confirmat
assumptionem Moysi. Michael autem hic dicitur, qui per propinquum nobis angelum altercabatur
cum diabolo (GCS 3.207; see Origen, De Princ. 3.2.1). The substance of Michaels remark to the
devil derives from Zech 3:2. More important, however, is the general tradition about angels and
contests, which is reflected in Jude 9. Michael in particular enjoyed the role of Israels patron and
defender (Dan 12:1; 1 QM 17:68; Rev 12:7); and many writings tell of a contest between Gods
angels and Beliar or his angels (Zech 3:1; CD 5:1718; T. Asher 6:46; 1 QS 3:1825; Hermas,
Mand. 6.2.1). Bauckham (Jude, 2 Peter, 6576) collected a detailed list of ancient legends about
Moses death, whereas Berger (Der Streit, 118) gathered texts illustrative of angelic judgment
scenes. There is no doubt that Jude is drawing on distinctively Jewish lore at this point.
Ancient lists of noncanonical books often contain reference to both a Testament of Moses and
an Assumption of Moses (J. Priest, OTP 2.92425), presumably two different documents. R. H.
Charles argued that the two works were conflated and the whole came to be known as the
Assumption of Moses (The Assumption of Moses, xlv1; APOT 2.4078). In a recent study,
Bauckham (Jude and the Relatives of Jesus, 23870) analyzed a host of fragments and excerpts
from catenae which seem to deal with the battle over Moses body. He posits two distinct
traditions which are embodied in two distinct works, the Testament of Moses and the Assumption
of Moses. In the former, Sammael contends that Moses body should not receive an honorable
burial because Moses committed murder (Exod 2:1214). In the latter work, the devil, as a type
of Demiurge, demands Moses material body. Bauckham maintains that both works contain
Michaels response to the devil, The Lord will rebuke you. According to his reconstruction,
Jude 9 would appear to derive from the Testament of Moses primarily because of the remark
about the devils slander (blasphmias). Bauckham has offered a plausible way to distinguish and
separate the conflated traditions of Moses death, which offers a reasonable historical answer to
the source of Jude 9. Yet because our extant texts of this ancient work are all fragmentary, no
conclusive judgment can be made at this time about the precise contents of either the Testament
of Moses or the Assumption of Moses.
The context into which Jude inserts this scene has much to say about how Jude understood
and used it. If Jude 8 contains a slate of crimes, v 9 records their eventual punishment; or if v 8 is
the challenge to the Lords orderly system, Jude 9 is the formal riposte. Indeed there are many
links between vv 8 and 9 that help us discern the authors point: (1) although the glorious ones
are insulted (v 8), the archangel Michael acts out his role in v 9; (2) although authority is
flouted in v 8, the Kyrios exercises it in v 9; (3) insults (blasphmousin, v 8) are eventually
avenged (krisin blasphmias, v 9). Hence, Jude seems uninterested in the state of Moses soul at
death, but rather focuses both on Michaels not daring and especially on the Lords eventual
judgment.
Although in some cases daring reflects the classical virtue of courage, we can best
understand it here in cultural terms. From the perspective of honor and shame, those who
challenge Jesus dare to do so; and when Jesus has given adequate riposte, they do not dare to
GCS Griechische christliche Schriftsteller
OTP James H. Charlesworth (ed.), The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha
APOT R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament

challenge him anymore (Matt 22:46; Mark 12:34; Acts 5:13; 7:32). Those who dare are
perceived as stepping beyond group norms and so making honor claims or challenges (1 Cor 6:1;
2 Cor 10:12; 11:21). From the perspective of purity systems, Michael does not dare to overstep
the role and authority ascribed to him, in contrast to other angels who did not keep to their place
(v 6). Michael, then, serves as a foil to Judes opponents: they challenge the honor of the Lord
and his agents and they step out of place by virtue of their claim to role and status.
If Michaels role does not consist in judgment, that role belongs to the Lord. Hence, the
heavenly agent defers to his Masters honor when he proclaims, The Lord will rebuke you, the
same Lord who was denied according to v 4. Honor challenged requires a defense. The
judgment predicted in v 9 probably echoes the proscribed judgment announced in v 4, for
Michaels words derive from Zech 3:2.
Since dualistic contrasts constitute much of Judes perception, Michael versus the devil might
well serve as a cipher for Jude himself versus his opponents. Hence, he would be implying their
association with the devil and accusing them of sorcery (B. J. Malina and J. H. Neyrey, Calling
Jesus Names [Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1988], 34); such accusations, whether implied or
expressed, are important weapons of social control in situations of intense rivalry.
If there is any substance to my arguments that Jude perceives a general attack on authority
(and judgment) by his opponents, the choice of this specific legend serves an apologetic purpose.
We suggested that Judes understanding of the insulting of the glorious ones had to do with
challenging their role in the Lords judgment, either as recorders of good and bad deeds, gatherers
of the flock for judgment, weighers of souls, or so forth. Bergers collection of materials on the
role of angels concerning the souls of the dead confirms this. The scenario in Jude 9 affirms some
specific role of both Michael and the devil over the dead Moses in regard to judgment; that role is
not the judgment itself, which is reserved for the Lord. Hence, Michaels remark serves to
confirm the traditional roles which Jude perceives as threatened, either those of the Lord, the
angels, or Jude himself.
2

2Neyrey, J. H. (2008). 2 Peter, Jude: A new translation with introduction and commentary (65).
New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

9. . But Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed
about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a sentence of blasphemy, but said, May the
Lord rebuke thee. That is to say, may the Lord rebuke thee for thy blasphemy. Peter says that
the angels will not bring against dignities a railing accusation ( ), which is
quite a different thing. See Introduction to 2 Peter, p. 217. is used here in its proper
sense, to get a dispute decided, contend with an adversary in a court of law. The dative
is governed by . For see 2 Pet. 2:11. is, of course, optative.
The incident is taken by St. Jude from the Assumption of Moses, as we are informed by
Clement of Alexandria (Adumb. in Ep. Judae), Origen (de Princ. iii. 2. 1), and Didymus. The
passage as given, perhaps loosely, by a Scholiast on Jude (text in Hilgenfeld, Nouum
Testamentum extra Canonem receptum, i. p. 128) runs thus:
.
, ,

, . Here we see from
that the dispute did not occur in the presence of the Lord; hence Jude omits St.
Peters : again the meaning of comes out very clearly. Satan
blasphemed Moses, claiming his body as that of a murderer. Michael would not tolerate his sin of
blasphemy against the saint, yet abstains from openly charging him with blasphemy. The date of
the Assumption is variously given; but as it was probably used by St. Paul in Gal. 3:19, where
Moses is called the of the law (the phrase in the Assumption as quoted by Gelasius Cyz.
Acta Syn. Nicaen. ii. 18, p. 28, is : in the existing Latin version arbiter
testamenti), it is also probably considerably older than that Epistle. Hilgenfeld thinks that it was
written after 44 A.D.; others place it as early as 2 B.C. It is possible that Jude refers to the
Assumption again in ver. 16.
3

3Bigg, C. (1901). A critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude
(330). Edinburgh: T&T Clark International.

Jude 1.9.
To prove his case against these godless people, Jude cites the example of the archangel Michael,
who in confrontation with the Devil did not pronounce a severe judgment on him, but simply said
The Lord rebuke you. The logic seems to be as follows: Michael, who is the chief angel, did
not claim for himself the right to pronounce judgment on the Devil, who is the chief of all evil
forces, but left the whole matter up to God; therefore there is no justification at all for ordinary
human beings to treat the angels in such an insulting way.
The title archangel means chief angel or ruling angel. In some literature written during the
period between the Old Testament and the New Testament, there is a great deal of reference to
angels and how these are classified into grades in a descending scale, with archangels at the top.
There is also mention of seven archangels, and six of them are named in 1 Enoch 20.2-8:
Raphael, Raquel, Michael, Saraqael, Gabriel, and Ramiel. To each of these archangels God
assigned a province. Archangel can also be translated as the chief of Gods messengers. The
phrase when the archangel Michael may be rendered in some languages as when Michael, who
is one of the angels that is greater than the others.... Michael is mentioned in Dan 12.1 as the
guardian of Israel. He was thought of primarily as the angel who protected the people of Israel
from the power of Satan or the Devil. In Rev 12.7 Michael is the churchs protector against the
dragon.
This is the first time in the letter that Jude refers to the Devil. References to the Devil are rare in
the Old Testament; they are found in later compositions, as for example in Zech 3.1 and 1 Chr
21.1. During the period leading up to the New Testament, the idea developed that the Devil is the
prince of evil, and New Testament usage echoes this understanding. In fact New Testament
teaching about the future asserts that, immediately before the final days of this age, the Devil will
display his power in order to lead astray even those who already trust in Christ (see for example
Matt 24.418; 2 Thes 2.312; 2 Tim 3.19; Rev 20.78). By the time of the writing of Judes
letter, the devil has already become a technical name for the prince of evil, and that is the reason
why TEV capitalizes the word.
The story about Michael and the Devil fighting over the body of Moses is not found in the Old
Testament, which simply states that the burial place of Moses is not known by anyone (Deut
34.6). However, in a composition called The Assumption of Moses (written about the first
century a.d.), it is related that, when Moses died, Michael was given the task of burying the body.
The Devil, however, claimed power over the body, since he was lord of the material order. When
Michael refused to hand the body over, the Devil threatened to accuse Moses of being a murderer
for having killed the Egyptian (as recorded in Exo 2.12). Michael, however, did not respond by
rebuking the Devil, but simply proceeded to bury Moses with his own hands.
The fact that Jude makes reference to this story without any background material for his readers
indicates that he assumes his readers are familiar with the story; this need not be because they
know of The Assumption of Moses but because this story was probably widely known among
the Jews at that time.
The words contending and disputed refer generally to a discussion or argument, but they are also
used in relation to a legal dispute. In this story it is the Devil who brings a legal case against
Moses, accusing him of murder, and therefore of not being worthy of a decent and honorable
burial. So the word contending does not really have the sense of quarrel as in TEV, which
refers to a violent argument, but suggests that Michael challenged the Devils right to take
Moses body. Another translation model, then, is as follows: When he disputed with the Devil,
TEV Todays English Version

and argued with him as to who .... Did not presume should not be translated as was not brave
enough to, as the rendering did not dare (TEV and NRSV) may suggest; rather it means that
Michael did not take it upon himself or did not feel that it was his prerogative (that he had the
authority).
The word translated reviling is the same word used for revile in verse 8, which again is a play
on words similar to that on the word keep in verse 6. Taken with judgment, some meanings
suggested are he did not pronounce a sentence on blasphemies spoken by the Devil, in
condemning the Devil, he did not indulge in the language of mere reproach, in challenging the
Devil, he did not revile in turn, he did not condemn him with insulting words, or he did not
use bad words to reprove the Devil. This contrasts Michaels action with that of the godless
people: they insult angels, whereas Michael, the chief angel, refrains from insulting the Devil
himself; they show no respect for supernatural beings, whereas Michael respected even the Devil.
The expression The Lord rebuke you is quoted from Zech 3.2, where the Lord speaks these
words to Satan in reply to Satans accusations against the high priest (Joshua see Zech 3.110).
Rebuke can mean reprove, censure, or reprimand, but perhaps here it has the stronger
meaning of punish or condemn. The whole expression The Lord rebuke you is in the
Greek optative mood, expressing a wish or a hope, similar in form to that of blessing or
benediction formulas, but used in this context in a negative sense.
An alternative translation model for this verse is:
Not even Michael, who is one of Gods chief angels (messengers), resorted to insult (saying bad
things against). For when he disputed with the Devil and challenged his right to take the body of
Moses, Michael did not feel that he had the authority to condemn the Devil with bad words;
instead he said, May the Lord speak severely to (reprimand) you.
4

NRSV New Revised Standard Version


4Arichea, D. C., & Hatton, H. (1993). A handbook on the letter from Jude and the second letter
from Peter. UBS handbook series; Helps for translators (31). New York: United Bible Societies.

9 / The opening words, But even (de) the archangel Michael, imply a close link with what
has gone before. All three accusations in verse 8 concern the rejection of the moral order, so the
slander probably relates to the angels function as mediators of the law of Moses (Acts 7:38,
53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2; Jubilees 1:2729; Josephus, Ant. 15.136) and as guardians of creation (1
Cor. 11:10; Shepherd of Hermas, Similitudes 8.3.3), a responsibility which some angels had
abdicated (Jude 6).
The OT makes no reference to Michael disputing with the devil and simply states that God
buried his servant Moses in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one
knows where his grave is (Deut. 34:6), a secret no doubt designed to prevent the Israelites from
turning the spot into an idolatrous sanctuary.
The dispute referred to by Jude was recorded in the now lost ending of an apocryphal Jewish
work called the Assumption of Moses. But the tradition can be reconstructed from references to
that account in a number of early Christian writings (see Bauckham, pp. 6576). Satan laid claim
to the corpse of Moses for his kingdom of darkness because Moses had killed an Egyptian (Exod.
2:12). He was therefore a murderer, however virtuous his subsequent achievements, and so was
unworthy of honorable burial. Satan, in his ancient role of accuser of Gods people (Rev. 12:10),
was seeking to prove Moses guilt.
In response to the charge, Michael did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against
Satan. Barclay (DSB, p. 188) expresses the opinion of most commentators that Jude means: If the
greatest of the good angels refused to speak evil of the greatest of the evil angels, even in
circumstances like that, surely no human being may speak evil of any angel. This interpretation
takes accusation (blasphmias) as a genitive of quality (Moule, Idiom-Book, p. 175), and as such
it suits the context both in Jude and in the parallel passage in 2 Peter 2:11 (blasphmon krisin,
slanderous accusations). The terms used in this passage are forensic, the language of the
courtroom. Bauckham (p. 43) considers that Judes meaning must be determined by his source,
the Assumption of Moses, and according to that it was Satan who had slandered (eblasphmsei
kata) Moses by accusing him of murder. Michael, in his capacity as a legal advocate, refuted the
slander (blasphmia) and appealed to God for judgment against Satan: The Lord rebuke thee!
Michael refused to take it upon himself to pronounce judgment, for that was Gods prerogative.
5

Barclay W. Barclay, The New Testament: A New Translation, 2 vols., London: Collins, 1969.
DSB Daily Study Bible
5Hillyer, N. (1992). New International Biblical Commentary: 1 and 2 Peter, Jude (248). Peabody,
MA: Hendrickson Publishers.