In Michael Heiser’s 2004 doctoral dissertation on the divine council (DC) he argues that the ideologies and terms associated with the DC in Second Temple Jewish literature were not a departure from, or redefinition of, those of the pre-exilic DC. Specifically, he takes issue with the conclusion that the gods and sons of God of the early literature are understood as angels in the Second Temple literature. Here are some representative comments:
First, if the divine council had ceased to exist in Israelite religion by the end of the exile, how does one account for the roughly q75 references in the Qumran material to multiple אלהים and בני) אלים)? How are explicit references to the “divine council/council of El” (עדת אל) and the “council of the gods” (עדת אל/אלוהים or סוד אלים/אלוהים) in these same texts to be understood? Why are these exact phrases understood as referring to polytheistic leanings in pre-exilic canonical literature, but redefined after the exile? Moreover, how can the presumed downgrading of the pre-exilic gods of the divine council to servant angels account for a Second Temple heavenly hierarchy that retained the worldview of territorial control by divine beings?
A tagged computed search of the Dead Sea Scrolls database reveals there are no lines from any Qumran text where a “deity class” term (בני] אלים/אלהים]) for a member of the heavenly host overlaps with the word מלאכים. In fact, there are only eleven instances in the entire Qumran corpus where בני] אלים/אלוהים] and מלאכים occur within fifty words of each other.
First, I disagree that we should expect to find the two sets of terms parallel to each other in order to conclude they are being used synonymously. Heiser seems to agree, since at a later point in his dissertation he argues that Yhwh need not be explicitly identified with the מלאך יהוה in order for the latter’s nature as an extension of Yhwh’s identity to be determined. He states (62, n. 307):
By the time of Judg 2:1-4 in the story of Israel’s journey, it is abundantly clear to the audience who the angel represents by virtue of the implication of Exod 23:20-23, that the angel had been guiding Israel since leaving Egypt. In such “late” accounts, there was no need of identification. Indeed, the reader knows who this being represents from his first appearance in the canonical story . . .
In other words, the identification has been established, so subsequent texts have no need to reassert it. I suggest that the identification of the מלאכים with the אלוהים/בני אלים had also already been established by the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls. First, Hosea 12:4-5 uses the terms מלאך and אלהים in parallel, as does Gen 48:15-16. This was a recognition that the מלאכים were taxonomically divine. Judges 13 gives us an apparent reference to the מלאך יהוה as אלהים, although given the utter lack of any reference in the Hebrew Bible to the lethal nature of seeing angels, the מלאך יהוה is much more likely an interpolation where the text originally referred exclusively to God himself.
In the Septuagint the phrase בני אלהים is often translated αγγελοι θεου (Gen 6:2; Deut 32:8-9; Job 1:6; 2:1), showing the identification of the two. In LXX Deut 32:43 the “angels of God” are parallel to the “sons of God” in a text that originally referred simply to “all the gods.” This identification likely preceded the actual translation of the Septuagint. Later texts show awareness and acceptance of this identification, even at Qumran. See, for example, 4Q180.7-8, where the tradition of the בני אלהים and their procreation with human women from Gen 6:2 is described as only involving עזזאל והמלאכים, “Azazel and the angels.” 1 En 6:1 and Jub 5:1-11 manifest the same interpretation of the בני אלהים as angels. In later Jewish tradition Deut 32:8 is thought to refer to angels. See 1 En 20:5 and Daniel 10:13-20, for example.
For these reasons, I have to disagree with Michael that the divine council had undergone no significant evolution by the Second Temple Period. I agree with him that monotheism is not an innovation found in Deutero-Isaiah, but I contend that the above identification of the gods and sons of Gods with angels represents the definitive move toward monotheism as it is understood today. That monotheism is not the rejection of the existence of any divine beings besides Yhwh, but the understanding that other beings described as divinity in the Bible are ontologically inferior underlings confined to the angelic taxonomy.