Margaret Barker

Biblical scholar

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Margaret Barker
Publications history
On this page:

Overview and works pre-1987 · The Older Testament (1987) · The Lost Prophet (1998) ·  The Gate of Heaven (1991) · The Great Angel (1992) · On Earth as it is in Heaven (1995) · The Risen Lord (1996)  · Commentary on Isaiah (1996) · The Revelation of Jesus Christ (2000)  ·  The Great High Priest (2003) · Temple Theology (2004)  · An Extraordinary Gathering of Angels (2004) · The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom (2007) · Temple Themes in Christian Worship (2008)  · Christmas, The Original Story (October 2008) · Creation (2009)  · Temple Mysticism (2011)

Although she did not publish any book until 1987, she had at that time been engaged for many years on the study of the Jerusalem temple and the apocalypses, accumulating the material which became the basis for subsequent books. The results of the research into temple mythology and symbolism proved to be more significant than she could have anticipated when the work began, and she finds herself redrawing the map of biblical studies and particularly of Christian origins. She is concerned at the gulf that has opened up between biblical scholarship and the churches.
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The Older Testament

Barker's first book, published in 1987 was The Older Testament. The Survival of Themes from the Ancient Royal Cult in Sectarian Judaism and early Christianity (London: SPCK 1987, reprinted Sheffield: Phoenix Press 1985). This was a study of the Enochic tradition, written long before Enoch became fashionable, and the ideas were first published as ‘Some Reflections on the Enoch Myth’ in The Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 1980. She proposed that the Enochic mythology was that of the first temple, the pre-Deuteronomic and pre-Mosaic religion of Jerusalem. With a basic pattern established, she was able to detect several places in canonical texts where an older tradition had been suppressed and rewritten, and a comparison of ancient versions suggested that this tension between the older mythology and the newer Mosaic monotheism was a living issue well into the second temple period. It was crucial for understanding the roots of Christianity. She offered new readings of Isaiah, later developed as the Isaiah section in Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids and Cambridge UK, 2003), and new readings of Deuteronomy and Job, making her initial proposals about temple symbolism and divine names. Her subsequent study of the early Enochic material and the Parables of Enoch has shown them to be a deposit of high priestly tradition, many of the motifs and allusions being drawn from the pre-Deuteronomic cult of the first temple. Of special importance here is Robert Murray’s theory of a ‘Cosmic Covenant’ (The Cosmic Covenant, London: Sheed and ward, 1992). which underlies and antedates the better known covenant patterns of the Old Testament. She built on one aspect of his work to reconstruct the priestly world view fundamental to her theory of the atonement and to any reconstruction of the biblical view of creation. Further comparative study is revealing more first temple elements; evidence of light mysticism, evidence of a female divinity, [who has already been the object of much interest on the part of other scholars, but with a very different approach and conclusion], evidence of a concept of resurrection and evidence of a possible antecedent to the second temple Day of Atonement ritual.
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The Lost Prophet, 1988

Barker's second book, The Lost Prophet. The Book of Enoch and its Influence on Christianity, (London, SPCK 1988, reprinted Sheffield: Phoenix Press 2005) introduced the then virtually unknown book of Enoch to a wider public. Its teaching on the fallen angels and the origin of evil, the vision of God, the Son of Man and the original Cosmic Covenant, were shown to be key elements in the earliest Christianity.
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The Gate of Heaven, 1991

She then turned her attention to temple symbolism and published The Gate of Heaven. the History and Symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem (London SPCK, 1991) testing the hypothesis that, as priestly lore tended to be conservative, Philo, the son of a first century CE priestly family, was more likely to have drawn his temple symbolism from the ancient tradition than from a recent fashion for Hellenisation. Using evidence from the deutero-canonical and pseudepigraphic texts, Qumran and rabbinic material, as well as early Christian texts and liturgies, she proposed: that apocalyptic writing was the temple tradition; that temple buildings were aligned to establish a solar calendar, thus explaining the astronomical texts incorporated in 1 Enoch; that the temple symbolism of priest and sanctuary antedated the Eden stories of Genesis; that the temple buildings depicted heaven and earth separated by a veil of created matter; that the throne visions, the basis of the later Merkavah mysticism, originated as high priestly sanctuary experiences, first attested in Isaiah but originating in the royal cult when king figures passed beyond the temple veil from earth into heaven, from immortality to the resurrected state, and then returned; that the Day of the Lord/the Day of Judgement was the myth of the Day of Atonement and that atonement was the rite of healing and recreation rather than propitiation; that a characteristic concept of time and eternity was crucial to understanding this material as the area beyond the temple veil was beyond time; that much temple symbolism survived in Gnostic texts, suggesting that the bitterness apparent in many of them derived from the upheavals and exclusions which followed the establishment of the second temple.
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The Great Angel, 1992

In The Great Angel. A Study of Israel’s Second God (London: SPCK, 1992) she tested the hypothesis that when the early Christians read the Old Testament as an account of the pre-incarnate Christ, they were reading in a traditional way and were not innovators. She proposed that pre-Christian Judaism was not monotheistic in the generally accepted sense of that word. From a comparison of ancient versions of the OT she proposed that Israel had known a High God and a second, national God, known as the Son of God Most High. Since crucial textual variants arose relatively late, as can be seen from the Qumran evidence, the second God remained a living issue during the second temple period. The hypothesis was tested in Philo, early rabbininc texts (building on the work of A Segal Two Powers in Heaven Leiden: Brill, 1978, but reaching very different conclusions), in Gnostic texts and, with unexpected success, in the Christian writings of the first three centuries. Finally she tested the hypothesis in the New Testament where the results convinced her that this was the key to understanding Christian origins. She concluded that when the Christians declared ‘Jesus is the Lord’ they were affirming that Jesus was the final manifestation of Yahweh, the national God of Israel in the Old Testament. Thus the origins of Trinitarian belief are pre-Christian, and the heir to temple tradition is Christianity. The sensitive nature of these results made further study imperative, but nothing she has discovered since has in any way altered these conclusions. The Lord of the Old Testament as the Lord of the New Testament was fundamental to all her subsequent work. This book caught the attention of  Mormon scholars [Latter Day Saints] who now take a great interest in Margaret Barker's work.
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On Earth as it is in Heaven, 1995

As the Second God was a high priestly figure in human form, she returned to temple symbolism research in order to reconstruct more of the role of the high priest, especially in the atonement rituals. She published these results in On Earth as it is in Heaven. Temple Symbolism in the New Testament (Edinburgh T&T Clark, 1995) in effect a supplement to The Gate of Heaven. She proposed that the high priest had been a divine figure, and not, as is usually held, a representative of the people. The controversy surrounding this claim to divinity was demonstrated from the variant traditions about the high priestly vestments. He was an angel, the manifestation of the Lord on earth, and thus the divine Son. Temple rituals ‘were’ the realities of heaven, and atonement was the high priest, as the Lord, absorbing the effects of evil into himself and destroying them by dying symbolically in the vicarious death of the goat. Thus he renewed the creation with his own blood/life. She considered this to be the greatest but unacknowledged problem of Christian origins, namely how the animal sacrifices of the temple related to the human sacrifice of someone declared to be the Son of God. Evidence in Origen confirmed that the earlier church had known the true significance of the goats on the Day of Atonement. It was at this point that she realised that the light mysticism of the temple was crucial for understanding resurrection.
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The Risen Lord, 1996

The fourth stage of her work was assembled in outline to deliver as the Scottish Journal of Theology lectures in 1995, and published as The Risen Lord; the Jesus of History as the Christ of Faith (T&T Clark, Edinburgh, 1996). She applied the results of earlier temple research to the figure of Jesus and concluded that even the canonical materials described Jesus as one who lived and died within the tradition of the high priesthood. She challenged much of the scepticism of recent scholarship - hence the book’s subtitle The Jesus of History as the Christ of Faith - arguing that the texts should be read on their own terms and in the context of first century Palestine. She proposed that Jesus saw himself as one of the high priestly initiates, one of the resurrected ones, and that this mystical experience is recorded in the Gospels as his baptismal vision. After this experience he believed himself to be the Lord, the Son of God Most High, the high priest who had come to perform the final act of atonement at the end of the tenth Jubilee. Thus the whole of the ministry was the post-resurrection period, a position confirmed by material in Gnostic texts, especially the Gospel of Philip, but also in early Christian writers such as Irenaeus. Re-reading the New Testament, early Christian and early Gnostic texts with this paradigm gave remarkable results; it explained much of Paul’s salvation imagery, which derived from the older covenant beliefs; it explained the Parousia hope, as the return of the high priest from the holy of holies; it explained the origin of the belief that Jesus’ death effected atonement; it explained the form of the early baptismal liturgies; it accounted for the high priestly imagery of the Letter to the Hebrews. Evidence emerged of an esoteric tradition in the early church in which the arcana of the temple were transmitted. Her initial work in this area was published in an article ‘The Secret Tradition’, in The Journal of Higher Criticism 2.1 (1995) pp.31-67.

Commentary on Isaiah, 1996

She then wrote a commentary on Isaiah in 1996, as a part of the Eerdman's Commentary on the Bible project, but due to publisher’s delays, this did not appear until 2003. She argued that Isaiah was the crucial influence on Jesus in forming his understanding of his mission, and that the Isaiah tradition continued to be dominant in the early church. In origin, it had represented the world view of the first temple, an Enochic and non- Mosaic faith, and that this was known to the Christians who consciously looked back to the first, the true, temple.
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The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 2000

She then embarked upon her most ambitious project to date - an exposition of The Book of Revelation, showing that it stood in the tradition of the temple apocalypses as had been reconstructed it in her earlier works. The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to Show to his Servants what must soon take place, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000) showed that many of the visions recorded in Revelation were known to Jesus and inspired his ministry. He spoke of these things to the inner group of his disciples, and John was the disciple authorised to reveal the visions and the prophecies as they were fulfilled in the years between the death of Jesus and the fall of Jerusalem. The ‘little apocalypses’ in the synoptic gospels are summaries of this aspect of Jesus’ teaching, but only summaries because the whole corpus was available in Revelation. The Letters to the Seven Churches were sent from the Jerusalem church to Asia Minor, to warn the young churches there against St Paul. They are the oldest material in the NT apart from the visions of Jesus as recorded by John. The whole of Jesus’ ministry was understood both by him, and later by his disciples, as the ministry of Melchizedek described in the Qumran Melchizedek Text. The great high priest was expected to appear at the start of the tenth Jubilee and to complete the final atonement and renewal of the creation. In the life and death of Jesus, the hopes that had been ritualised in the Day of Atonement were being realised in history. The death of Jesus was the first part of the great atonement, and the expected Second Coming was his return from the holy of holies to complete the atonement and renew the creation. John’s vision of the mighty angel in Revelation 10 was his personal vision of the return, after which John taught that the Parousia would be delayed. The Christian prophecies in his keeping were compiled into the Book of Revelation, and as such form a record of the first generation in Jerusalem/Judea, but the prophecies about the second coming were not a part of the final scheme. These were relegated to the fragments at the end of the work.
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The Great High Priest, 2003

The next phase of her work appeared as The Great High Priest. The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London and New York: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2003). This was a collection of papers, some previously published in journals. The catalyst for this new phase in her work had been the Liturgy of the Orthodox church, which she attended for the first time in February 1999, and realised that the ancient church had preserved temple tradition and symbolism. The volume contains a papers on:

  • Secret Tradition, evidence that the church preserved the secret teachings and practices of the ancient high priesthood. Jubilee, and the significance of the Qumran Melchizedek text as the context for the ministry of Jesus in the tenth Jubilee.
  • Atonement, reconstructing the meaning of atonement in the temple context and thus proposing a new way of understanding a fundamental Christian teaching. Atonement was the Lord’s self offering to renew the creation. Liturgy, showing how most of the imagery associated with the Eucharist derived from the Day of Atonement and not from Passover.
  • Priests as angels, and the belief in theosis, humans becoming divine.
  • The holy of Holies in the temple representing invisible creation and the outer hall representing the visible creation. The holy of holies was the unity at the heart of creation, the angel state, and became the model for the idea of the Kingdom of God.
  • The temple veil as the boundary between the two worlds, woven to symbolise matter. The high priest’s vestments had a similar meaning and were came to symbolise incarnation.
  • The Lost Lady of the temple, the mother of the Messiah known as the Holy Wisdom, and how she had been literally removed from the temple by King Josiah and then obscured in the written sources.
  • The link between Pythagoras and temple thought, the patterns of first temple priestly tradition in Plato, especially Timaeus, and how this has led to temple tradition being identified as Platonism in some early Christian writing.
  • The problems of the development of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament early in the Christian era, and its implications for recovering the Hebrew Scriptures as the early Church knew them. The Jewish Scriptural tradition developed in reaction to Christianity and so the Church has the ‘wrong’ Old Testament.

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Temple Theology, 2004

Temple Theology, London: SPCK 2004, was developed from her 2003 Cardinal Hume Lectures in Heythrop College, London, and shows how the restoration of the original temple and its teaching is the key to understanding the role and teaching of Jesus. It is the best introduction to four key areas of temple theology: Creation, with the temple built to represent the creation, the significance of the holy of holies and the veil. Covenant, showing that the Eternal Covenant binding all creation together, was the covenant of the Last Supper and thus the basis of the Eucharist. Atonement explaining the original meaning of atonement, the blood/life of the Lord renewing the broken bonds of the covenant of creation. Wisdom, introducing the symbols of the almost lost Wisdom tradition of the temple: the Bread of the Presence, the Tree of Life and the anointing oil.
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An Extraordinary Gathering of Angels, 2004

An Extraordinary Gathering of Angels, London: MQP 2004, explores the world of angels, the beings of the holy of holies and how they relate to the visible creation. By means of 170 coloured illustrations, drawn from Christian, Jewish and Muslim art, together with an anthology of extracts from ancient and modern texts, she describes the role of angels in the Bible and in worship, in cosmology and cosmic harmony, as guides and guardians, and as the agents of inspiration and revelation.
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The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom, 2007

The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom, London: SPCK, 2007 describes the roots of the idea of the Kingdom of God. She locates the original Kingdom ideas in the holy of holies, the place of the throne, and shows how the ideals of the holy of holies were the inspiration for the various later beliefs about the Kingdom. She shows how fashions in scholarship have obscured much of the ancient evidence, and then reconstructs the traditions of the high priesthood - Enoch and Melchizedek as well as Aaron - before reading the gospel evidence with this new paradigm.
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Temple Themes in Christian Worship, T & T Clark, 2008

Temple Themes in Christian Worship, London: T&T Clark 2008, explores the earliest links between Synagogue and Church, and questions the ‘synagogue’ roots of many Christian practices, finding them rather in the temple.  She develops the implications of the ‘Second God’, originally set out in The Great Angel, and then locates the origin of Christian baptism in the high priestly initiation rituals and not in existing Jewish conversion rites.  She relates the Maranatha prayer to the ancient tradition of temple theophanies, and expands on the significance of angels, harmony and music in the liturgy, suggesting the original context of the Sanctus.  The Wisdom tradition is proposed as a formative influence in the Eucharist, to be developed in a future book on Marian imagery. 
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Christmas, The Original Story, SPCK, 2008

The story of Christmas is loved by all Christians, and its cultural influence is felt far and wide, not only in the art and literature of the Church but also in the Qur’an. Much of the original story, however, is not found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and so some of the detail in Christian art and literature is not always understood. Margaret Barker uses her knowledge of temple tradition and Jewish culture in the time of Jesus to set the story in its original cultural and literary context. By examining the widely used Infancy Gospel of James, and by uncovering layers of allusion in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, she reveals what the Christmas story originally meant. She then goes on to show how this understanding can be found in later texts such as the Arabic Infancy Gospel and legends known in mediaeval Europe.
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Creation. A Biblical Vision for the Environment, Continuum, 2009

Drawing on her experiences with the Ecumenical Patriarch’s Symposium Religion, Science and the Environment, she developed from Temple Theology an approach to creation theology that was both Bible-based and related to the traditional liturgies of the Church. 

Since most contemporary issues are very different from those facing the first Christians, she asked the question: what views about the creation and human responsibility were available to  early Church, and how were they presented in the New Testament and the earliest Christian writings?  Several contemporary situations were then related to these fundamental principles, drawing on material gathered by the Patriarch’s Symposium. Some contemporary Christian teaching about the environment was shown to be different from anything the first Christians would have recognised.

HAH Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch, wrote the foreword to the book and gave his blessing to her research and writing.
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Temple Mysticism, Continuum, 2011

In Temple Mysticism, she developed ideas implicit in earlier volumes, beginning with the Unity represented by the Holy of Holies, and how the temple mystics envisaged the One becoming the many. They used the images of fire, light and music, and spoke of the powers of nature as the angels who were all part of the divine Unity. At the centre of the Holy of Holies was the divine throne, and on this were engraved the Forms of everything in the visible world. The Forms became angels who then emerged to shape the visible world. This temple mysticism was earlier than the teaching of Pythagoras and Plato, who were dependent upon it, as then ancient sources testify. The people who entered the holy of holies - literally and in their visions - had access to this knowledge of the mystery of life. There are detailed studies of Isaiah 6, the earliest example of temple mysticism in the Old Testament; and of John 17, which shows that Jesus was a temple mystic. 
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(c) Margaret Barker 2006.