Over His Dead Body

Angel_vs_Devil_C

But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 9)

In this corner—he’s big, he’s bad, he’s the alpha of the angelic pack, head of the heavenly host, the undisputed champion of the Chosen People, one of only two named angels in the Bible—ladies and gentlemen, heaven’s number one bouncer, Michael the Archangel!

And in this corner—the royalty of rebellion, the sultan of subversion, hero of the hellish horde, Nero of the netherworld, the master of disaster, the don of damnation, the director of defamation—some call him Lucifer, some call him Satan—ladies and gentlemen, the Devil!

Some things are just too strange. There they are, head to head, Michael and the devil, arguing about—Moses’s dead body? What the heck was that all about? I looked it up; here’s Moses’ actual obit as it was published sometime after 1451 BC:

obit

The report is simple and clear. Moses is dead and God himself buries the body simply, secretly, and without fanfare.

Jude, however, takes a sad song and makes it better. What he gives us is one of the weirdest asides in all of Scripture. According to Jude, the disposing of Moses’ body was no easy proposition, and it certainly wasn’t a private affair. Apparently the archangel Michael and his nemesis the devil had different ideas about how to deal with the corpse. Why they would even care is beyond me. Did the devil want to mutilate it out of spite? Was Michael, being the protector of Israel, taking it upon himself to preserve the dignity of the dead guy? Perhaps they were arguing over the nature of decomposition.

That they were even disputing in the first place implies that the devil felt he had some kind of claim on the body. God may get Moses’ soul but the rest of him, empty shell though it was, reverted to the Prince of Putrification. That Michael would engage the devil in dispute implies a remarkable familiarity between these prestigious power players. Not only that, the fact that Michael—an archangel, mind you—did not dare to diss the devil suggests just how mighty the fallen angel still was. This is bizarre stuff.

Considering that none of this is in the original Biblical account, you have to wonder where in the world Jude got his information. Origen, an early church father and scholar, says that it came from some lost work called The Assumption of Moses. Sounds like religious fiction to me. I guess Jude wasn’t too particular about his sources. (He probably would have loved The Da Vinci Code.) At any rate, he gives us one of the Bible’s funkiest side stories and we’re stuck with it.

No wonder God buried the body where nobody could find it. He’d had enough of this nonsense too.

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One Response

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