MEDIATOR (Greek, Μεσίτης):

Mosaic Map of Palestine, Probably of the Fifth Century, Found at Medeba. (Plan of Jerusalem, Enlarged, in Upper Right-Hand Corner.)

An agent that goes between; one who interposes between parties at variance; in particular, an intercessor between God and man. Judaism recognizes in principle no mediatorship between God and man. "The Lord alone did lead him [Israel], and there was no strange god with him" (Deut. xxxii.12). "See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal" (ib. 39). "In his love and in his pity he redeems them; and he bare them and carried them" (Isa. lxiii. 9). "What nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for?" (Deut. iv. 7). When told by God that Israel should henceforth be led by an angel, Moses replied: "If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence" (Ex. xxxiii. 15). Still for the people the distance between the Deity and frail humanity was too great to be overcome by the spiritual effort of the multitude or of the common individual. Hence the prophet, believed to be in constant communion with God, is viewed in Scripture as the fit person to intercede on behalf of men in trouble. Thus Abraham is empowered by God to pray for pardon and restored health for Abimelech (Gen. xx. 7, 17; comp. ib. xviii. 23-33). Moses intercedes on behalf of Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Ex. viii. 5-8, 24-26; ix. 28-33; x. 17-18) and also on behalf of his own people (ib. xvii. 11, xxxii. 11; Deut. ix. 18); likewise Samuel (I Sam. vii. 5; xii. 19, 23; comp. Ps. xcix. 6), Jeremiah (Jer. xv. 1), and Job (Job xlii. 7; comp. Ezek. xiv. 14-20). Noah, Daniel, and Job save their generations by their righteousness.

In Apocryphal and Hellenistic Literature.

In the Apocryphal and Hellenistic literature the idea of mediatorship is more pronounced. Jeremiah is frequently mentioned as the one who "prayeth much for the people" (II Macc. xv. 14); "whose works are to this city [Jerusalem] as a firm pillar and whose prayers as a strong wall" (Apoc. Baruch, ii. 2; "Rest of the Words of Baruch," i. 2, ii. 3; comp. Jer. vi. 27; Pesiḳ. 115b). According to Tobit (iii. 26), angels bring the prayers of men before God's throne. Enoch is asked by the fallen angels to intercede for them (Enoch, xiii. 4-7). Abraham is described as interceding for the sinners in a state of suspense (Testament of Abraham, xiv.; comp. Luke xvi. 24). Moses was "the advocate of Israel who bent his knees day and night in prayer to make intercession for his people" (Assumptio Mosis, xi. 17, xii. 6). The Patriarchs in heaven were believed to be intercessors for the living (Philo, "De Execrationibus," § 9; Lam. R., Introduction, 25; comp. Josephus, "Ant." i. 13, § 3); for all the righteous souls (Sibyllines, ii. 331). Remarkable is the warning of Enoch to his children: "Say not our father stands before God and prays for us to be released from sin; for there is no person there to help any man that hath sinned" (Slavonic Enoch, liii. 1; comp. Isa. lxiii. 16).

In Rabbinical Literature.

In principle the Rabbis were against prayers to angels for intercession. Says R. Judan: "A man in trouble who has a great man for a patron stands at the door awaiting the answer the servants will bring, whether or not he will be permitted to approach him for aid. He who needs God's help ought not to ask the assistance of either Michael or Gabriel or any other angel, but should turn immediately to God; for whosoever shall call on the name of God shall be delivered" (Yer. Ber. ix. 13a, after Joel iii. 5 [A. V. ii. 32]). "However exalted the Most High is, let but a man enter His house and whisper a prayer and the Almighty listens as a friend to whom a secret is confided" (Yer. Ber. l.c.).

Nevertheless, to judge from the early Christian writers (Col. ii. 19; Origen, "Contra Celsum," i. 26, v. 6; Clement, "Stromata," vi. 5, 41; Aristides, "Apologue," xiv.), angels were often invoked by certain (Gnostic?) classes of Jews. The passage in Job xxxiii. 23 (comp. v. 1) also led the Rabbis to assume that angels plead for men at the throne of God (Yer. Ḳid. i. 61d). Shab. 12b reads: "He who prays in the Aramaic language will lack the aid of angels, whose language is Hebrew," while from Tosef., Ḥul. ii. 18 (comp. Mek., Yitro, Ex. xx. 4) it may be learned that angel-worship was not unknown in certain Jewish circles. And this led eventually, notwithstanding the opposition of many rabbinical authorities (see the passages in Zunz, "G. V." pp. 147-149), to the introduction even into the liturgy of prayers addressed to the angels and seeking their mediation. The Ineffable Name, the divine attribute of mercy, the thirteen attributes of God (see Middot; Shelosh 'Esreh), the holy throne, the gates of heaven, and the Torah were also appealed to in the liturgy (see Zunz, l.c.). A great sinner in the Talmud invokes the mountains and the stars to pray for him ('Ab. Zarah 17a).

Especially was Michael invoked as intercessor for the Jewish people (Dan. xii. 1; see Lücken, "Michael," 1898, pp. 11-25). Meṭaṭron (Mithra) also is frequently mentioned in Gnostic circles together with Michael as mediator of the Revelation (Sanh. 38b, with reference to Ex. xxiii. 21; Gen. R. v.; comp. Tan., Mishpaṭim, ed. Buber, p. 12). Righteous souls also appear as intercessors (Tanna debe Eliyahu R. iii.).

The Rabbis, however, insisted upon not allowing God's absolute sovereignty and power to be infringed through the interference of angels. "The angels were created on the second day so that it should not be believed that they had a share in the creation of the world" (Gen. R. i., iii.). The Lord Himself, and no angel, or seraph, or other messenger of His, smote the Egyptians at the time of Israel's redemption from Egypt (Passover Haggadah; Mek., Bo, 7); though in the destruction of Sodom, Gabriel assisted (Gen. R. li. 3).

Moses the Mediator of the Law.

That the Law was given to the people or to Moses through angels is a belief ascribed to the Jews by Josephus ("Ant." xv. 15, § 3), by Paul (Gal. iii. 19; Heb. ii. 2), and by Stephen (Acts vii. 38, 53; comp. Apoc. Mosis, i.; Book of Jubilees, i. 27; Hermas, "Similitude," viii. 3, 3, where Michael is mentioned as mediator of the Book of the Law). Rabbinical teaching, on the other hand, consistently opposed the idea of such a mediatorship. "When the Lord spoke with Moses the angels who stood between them did not hear a word" (Num. R. xiv., end; comp. Sifre, Num. 58). Moses alone is viewed in rabbinical literature as the mediator ("sirsur" = "go-between") between God and Israel (Pesiḳ. R. vi.; Ex. R. iii. 6, vi. 3; Num. R. xi. 5). In Hellenistic literature also Moses is called "mediator," Μεσίτης (Philo, "De Vita Moysis," iii. 19; Assumptio Mosis, i. 14, iii. 12; Gal. iii. 19). The Samaritans call Moses the "Mesites" (see Baneth, "Marqah," 1888, p. 48), and he is actually invoked as intercessor by them (see "J. Q. R." viii. 604). At the same time the Midrash (Leḳaḥ Ṭob on Deut. xxxiii. 4) says: "No one knows the place where Moses is buried, so that no one should ever sacrifice at his grave, or worship him, or bring incense-offerings to him." "Wherefore criest thou to me?" (Ex. xiv. 15) is thus explained by the Rabbis: "There is no need of asking God concerning His children, as He Himself is in distress when His children suffer." "My children have already prayed to Me, and I have heard their prayer," said God to Moses (Ex. R. xxi.; Cant. R. i. 2; Mek., Beshallaḥ, 3).

Philo's Logos.

Philo, however, speaks of "The Word" ("Logos") as the mediator between two worlds. "The Fatherwho created the universe has given to His archangelic and most ancient Word a preeminent gift to stand on the confines of both; while separating the created things from the Creator he pleads before the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race which sins continually, and is the ambassador sent by the Ruler to the subject race. He exults in this office and boasts of it, saying: 'I stood in the midst between the Lord and you'" (Num. xvi. 48). From this it was but one step to claim for Jesus the same cosmic mediatorship, as Paul and his followers did while presenting him as the mediator of the new covenant and the restorer of the relations between man and God which had been broken through sin (I Tim. ii. 5; Heb. viii. 6, ix. 15, xii. 24). Against this teaching R. Akiba declares: "Happy are ye Israelites! Before whom do ye cleanse yourselves, and who cleanses you from sin? None but your Father in Heaven; for Scripture says: 'I shall sprinkle upon you clean waters, and ye shall be clean' (Ezek. xxxvi. 25), and 'Israel's hope ["miḳweh"] is the Lord' (Jer. xvii. 13). Like the miḳweh, 'the Fountain of Water,' so is the Lord the source of purification for all impurities" (Yoma viii. 9).

Regarding the function of the priests, Judaism is also very outspoken in denying to any human being the power of conferring any blessing upon the people. The words "And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them" (Num. vi. 27) are thus commented upon (Sifre, Num. 43; Num. R. xi., end): "Israel is not to believe that its blessing depends upon the priests, nor should the priests claim the power of blessing for themselves; but God alone is He who confers the blessing."

Maimonides in the fifth article of his creed lays especial stress upon prayer being offered exclusively to God and to no other being; and in his commentary (Sanh. xi.) he points out particularly that the angels should not be appealed to as mediators or intercessors between God and man. In the same manner Naḥmanides declares it wrong to pray to angels as intercessors (see his discourse "Torat Adonai," ed. Jellinek, pp. 30-31). Lipman of Mühlhausen in his "Niẓẓahon," pp. 12, 132, writes: "Our rabbis have rejected every kind of mediatorship, referring to the Scripture: 'Him alone shalt thou worship, and to him shalt thou cleave' (Deut. x. 20). Every appeal to intercessors leads to idolatry and to impurity." The remark of Abraham ibn Ezra (commentary on the Pentateuch, Introduction), "The angel that mediates between man and God is reason," is characteristic of the spirit of Judaism.

  • Hamburger, R. B. T. ii. 138-142, s.v. Mitteloder Unmittelbarheit Gottes.