Tag Archives: Deuteronomy

Heiser on the Authorship of the Pentateuch

Mike Heiser has a new post up that addresses the Mosaic authorship of Exodus–Deuteronomy, and he uses some bible software to make his point (imagine that!). You should check it out.

Michael Heiser on My SBL Paper

Michael Heiser has been kind enough to take the time to respond to a paper I presented in Atlanta entitled “What is Deity in LXX Deuteronomy?” I appreciated his attendance at my paper and I appreciate his comments on his blog. I’ve got to finish some exams over the next week and finally put a fork in my coursework, so I won’t be able to really engage his thoughts until then, but check out what he has to say in the mean time.

Monotheism – Still a Misused Word in Jewish Studies?

I recently finished a paper for a conference up in Canada and thought I would share it. It’s a response to Peter Hayman’s 1991 Journal of Jewish Studies article, “Monotheism—A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?” You can find my paper here. I appreciate any comments.

Richard Hess on Monotheism

Richard Hess has an interesting post up on Bible and Interpretation on monotheism in the pre-exilic period. The title of the post is “Did Anyone Believe in One God before the Greeks?” although Hess states in the second paragraph that he is not discussing philosophical monotheism, “such as emerged in the world of Classical Greece,” but the practice of worshipping only one deity. I felt a little duped by the title of his paper, since it was explicitly about belief in one deity and the relationship to the Greeks, but the paper is thought provoking nonetheless.

Hess’ thesis is basically that monotheism should be understood as the worship of a single deity to the exclusion of all others. In that sense, Egypt was monotheistic during the Amarna period, and Israel was monotheistic from the reforms of Josiah and afterward. Simple enough. Interestingly, both Tom Thompson and Niels Peter Lemche come to Hess’ defense in the comments (note also Philip Davies’ and T. S. Verenna’s comments).

I take issue with Hess on a few grounds. First, what, specifically, comprises worship? Sacrifice? Prayer? Any kind of gesture or address? I think this is a crucial issue, but it’s glossed over (granted, it’s a blog post and not a monograph). Moving past that, I cannot agree with his argument about pillared figurines. If pillared figurines are not representative of Asherah, but are votive offerings to a deity, which deity is it? Are we simply to assume it is Yhwh? Does “votive offering” comprise cultic worship? Second, the fact that they are cheap and mass produced hardly indicates they are not intended to represent deities. Poor people wanted images of deities, too, and worship was not the sole purview of the state. Third, what of Anat-Yahu? What of prayers offered to saints? What of the reverence of angels in the Greco-Roman period? What of James Spinti’s mug? (ZING!) I don’t think those issues are aberrant enough to just be dismissed.

Hess states in his article, “The textual evidence from outside the Bible provides a uniform witness that only Yahweh was officially worshiped in Judah and its capital.” I find the notion that the state’s “official” worship is alone determinative for this question quite problematic. John Barton and Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s recent volume, Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah, did an excellent job of breaking down the false dichotomy of “official” vs. “popular” religion. Even within that dichotomy, though, shouldn’t “popular religion” have a say in what a nation collectively believes? If the question is just one of any significant segment of the Israelite demographic adhering to the worship of only one deity, then certainly it goes back further than Josiah.

Next, I am not convinced that monotheism is best defined in terms of worship. The term “monotheism” was coined in reference to belief in a single deity (specifically, as opposed to atheism). Scholarship has been trying for years to nail down a useful way to apply this term to ancient Judaism, but as Peter Hayman’s 1991 JJS article has shown, that attempt has largely failed. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have manifested belief in numerous divine beings since their inception and down to this very day. The notion that monotheism should be viewed as exclusively expressed through worship rather than belief is, in my opinion, an attempt to skirt that fact. In saying this I’m not arguing that monotheism is inapplicable to Judaism and Christianity. I believe it can be applied to ancient Judaism, but I think one shouldn’t be looking only at worship to identify the genesis of a phenomenon that is rather universally understood as a belief first and a practice second (and to mark a distinction between “monotheism” as a practice and “philosophical monotheism” as a belief is to classify the latter as conceptually subordinate).

Lastly, if monotheism finds its genesis in the exclusion of other deities from worship, what shall we call the development of the notion that God is, in a significant sense, the only god that exists? This notion did in very fact develop, just ask any Christian or Jew on the street what monotheism means. What happens if you point out that other entities are called “gods” in the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls? “Those are just angels,” or some variation will likely be the response. “They’re only contingent/created/subordinate beings.” See a similar comment from Deuteronomy Rabbah which responds to the fact that angels are called “gods” in the text: “‘Do not go astray after one of these angels who came down with me; they are all my servants. I am the Lord, your God.” See James Spinti’s comment on the matter:

I believe in the gods (and goddesses). Yes, all of them, Ba`al, ‘El, Zeus, Jupiter, Apollo, etc. OK, you can get up off the floor now and let me finish. I believe that they are divine beings, but that they are created ones, under the thumb, so to speak, of YHWH. I suspect I am in the minority in the Western world, bordering on insane, but in the 2/3 world, I would be considered sane and reasonable.

In a recent paper I tried to show that this identification of the gods with angels occurred at a specific point in time, and accomplished a sort of ontological distinction between “the One God” and another group of “gods” to a sufficient degree that subsequent Jews and Christians were (and remain) perfectly happy to insist that only one God exists.

In my opinion, and I welcome comments, this development is far more intimately linked with the common ancient or modern Christian or Jew’s notion of monotheism than the worship of a single deity without necessarily denying the existence of other deities. I think the latter is an important step in the development of monotheism that deserves attention, but since the word “monotheism” was intended to describe a belief, and is most commonly used to describe a belief, I think it more useful to allow it to apply to a significant development in belief, not in religious practice.

Second SBL Paper Online

I’ve posted my second SBL paper online here. This paper seeks to answer the question, What is deity in LXX Deuteronomy? It was presented in the section Unity and Diversity in Early Jewish Monotheisms, and suggests that the threshold of monotheism ought to be placed at the conflation of the angels and the Sons of God in the Hellenistic Period. Unlike the other SBL paper I posted, this one has been posted in a more formal format with full citations and a bibliography (which I was told after the session was quite informative). This paper will be revised and significantly expanded for my next master’s thesis, so your feedback is greatly appreciated.

Deuteronomy Bibliography

I was poking around the internet for some publications that might discuss some of the textual variants in LXX Deuteronomy and came across this 66 page Deuteronomy bibliography by Ted Hildebrant (FYI the link opens a Word doc). It’s from 2003, so it doesn’t have anything from the last six years, but it’s a helpful resource.

Angels and Gods at Qumran

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.


Second SBL Proposal Accepted

I was very pleased to see this morning that my proposal to the newly approved Early Jewish Monotheisms unit has been accepted. Here is the program as it looks at this point:

Key Terms in the Debate about Monotheism
Joel Burnett (Baylor University): What is an elohim? Reflections on Chronicles’ Use of the Term
Larry Hurtado (Edinburgh University): What comprises ‘Jewish Monotheism’ in the late Hellenistic and early Roman Period?
Daniel O. McClellan (Oxford University): What is Deity in LXX Deuteronomy?
Mike Hundley (Cambridge University): What is divine presence?
Rob Barrett (Göttingen University): What Does it Mean to Follow Other Gods?

Here is my abstract:

What Is Deity in LXX Deuteronomy?

The book of Deuteronomy provides a number of valuable and unique insights into early Israelite perspectives on the nature of God, his relationship to other divine beings, and the diachronic development of both. For example, Deut 32:8–9, as found in 4QDeutj, attests to a likely early distinction between Yahweh and Elyon and presents the latter as the overseer of the gods of the several nations of the earth. Deut 4:19 represents a later recasting of the relationship of Elyon (now identified with Yahweh) with those deities (now represented astrally). Multiple historical layers and theologies are represented.

The Greek translation of Deuteronomy, however, redefines and harmonizes the nature of God and his relationship to the deities of the surrounding nations. Whether as the result of dynamic equivalence, translator exegesis, or a variant Vorlage, the perspective offered is one of the earliest of developing Hellenistic-Jewish monotheism. The unique nature of Deuteronomy’s references to other deities provides a rich backdrop against which to read the Greek translation. This paper will examine the view of divinity presented in LXX Deuteronomy and evaluate its relationship to that of the Hebrew text as it has been preserved to us.

“Worship Him, All You Gods”

Following is the proposal I just submitted for the upcoming annual meeting of the SBL. Feel free to share any thoughts, criticisms, chistes, or chismes:

“Worship Him, All You Gods”: The Role of the Gods in the Development of Jewish Monotheism

The meaning of monotheism and its development remains one of the most important areas of inquiry in the study of the theology of the Hebrew Bible. Most scholars today find the first explicit manifestations of strict monotheism in the rhetoric of Isaiah 40–55. According to this consensus, Deutero-Isaiah explicitly denies the existence of other deities, which constitutes the most common definition of monotheism. However, the existence and value of multiple divine beings remains affirmed in numerous biblical and extra-biblical texts. Postexilic Judaism found no significant theological conflict between those texts and the rhetoric of Deutero-Isaiah. In addition, that rhetoric is best understood as a rejection of potency, not of ontological existence. A proper definition of biblical monotheism must account for the recognition of other deities.

This paper proposes the threshold of monotheism is found not at the rejection of the existence of other deities, but at the conflation of the gods with a theologically harmless classification of divine being, the angels of God. The clearest example of this conflation is found in LXX Deut 32:43, where the original “worship him all you gods” (4QDeutq: השתחוו לו כל אלהים) is expanded to two cola which place the sons of God (υἱοὶ θεοῦ) parallel to the angels of God (ἄγγελοι θεοῦ). This text manifests an attempt, either on the part of the translator or his Vorlage, to accommodate Judaism’s scriptural heritage to a theology which was comfortable with the existence of other deities, provided they were confined to a distinct taxonomy that existed only to obediently serve Israel’s God. The early Hellenistic period, not the Babylonian exile, thus marks the transition from the monolatry of the Hebrew Bible to the monotheism of early Judaism.

UPDATE: Duane has pointed to some abnormal parallels in Deut 32:43a to Akkadian formulas of praise.

On Monotheism and Other Gods in the Hebrew Bible

I’m listening to an excellent podcast on monotheistic origins by Steve Wiggins and I thought I’d explore a couple of the points he discusses. First, Steve briefly refers to the tacit recognition of other deities by the authors of the Hebrew Bible and their reticence to rationalize or justify these literary references to them. That their existence just seems to be presupposed for the authors and thus for the readers is the most logical explanation of this reticence. Later, Steve mentions a common theory regarding crisis as the catalyst for the development of a monotheistic theology; specifically, the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. According to this theory, this crisis leads to a reevaluation of YHWH’s interaction with humanity and with Israel specifically. The end result is a theology that rejects the existence of other deities competing with YHWH (Babylon’s national deity, primarily) and attributes Israel’s destruction to their own failure to live up to their responsibilities vis-à-vis YHWH, and the resulting punishments.

I’d like to propose a slightly different theory that treats ideological utility as the catalyst for monotheism and moves it forward in time a few centuries. It seems to me that the putative monotheism of Deutero-Isaiah and parts of Deuteronomy supplies the former theory with the chronological markers that point to the Babylonian captivity as a primary suspect for this crisis/catalyst. I think that this crisis did influence Israelite theology, but not straight toward monotheism. I don’t interpret Deutero-Isaiah and Deuteronomy as monotheistic texts, but rather as indications of a universalized YHWH that only set the stage for the adoption of a more monotheistic theology[1] at a later crossroads with Hellenistic culture.

Michael Heiser, I believe, has the best treatment available of the rhetorical function of the so-called monotheistic sections of Deutero-Isaiah and Deuteronomy (found here). To paraphrase (and expound a little), Deutero-Isaiah is not denying the ontological existence of other deities; rather, he is denying their efficacy and legitimacy.[2] The language used by Deutero-Isaiah and Deuteronomy (“I am and there is no other,” “there is none beside me,” etc.) is also used in reference to Babylon, Moab (Isa 47:8, 10), and Nineveh (Zeph 2:15). The vernacular is placed in the mouths of Israel’s opponents, but the point is clear: these cities are not denying the existence of other cities, but rather that they are at all relevant in comparison (see Ps 89:6 and Isa 40:25). Deuteronomy 32 provides further indication that this is the correct reading. In v. 21 YHWH states, “They made me jealous with a non-god (בלא־אל) . . . so I will make them jealous with a non-people (בלא־עם).” The nation being referenced (Assyria-Babylon) is not one that does not exist, but one that is inconsequential in the eyes of YHWH. That this is part of the same propaganda is supported by v. 39 (ואין אלהים עמדי) and by Isa 40:17: “All the nations are as nothing (כאין) before him, he considers them as less than nothing (מאפס) and deserted (ותהו).”

That the authors of this rhetoric in no way deny the existence of other deities is also made clear by the proximity of explicit mentions of other gods. Deut 32:8–9 and 43, for instance, mention the sons of El and command “all the gods” to bow before YHWH, respectively. In Deut 4:19 the gods of the nations are explicitly said to have been established by YHWH for the worship of the people of those nations. Divine council imagery is also present in Isaiah 40 and 45.

If Deutero-Isaiah and Deuteronomy do not reject the existence of other deities, their theology is not monotheistic, but rather henotheistic, or monolatrous, or whatever you want to call it. It accepts the existence of other deities, but avers their incomparability with YHWH. This leaves little reason to insist monotheism was born of the Babylonian captivity. That the authors of exilic and post-exilic texts continue to seem to presuppose the existence of other gods undermines the assertion that they are now operating under monotheistic ideologies. Better indications, in my opinion, of the development of monotheism would be the removal of references to other deities, or the manipulation of literary conventions away from traditional henotheistic readings. Neither practice is found in exilic texts, but I find both rampant in Second Temple Judaism, when Judaism was most actively interacting with Hellenistic ideologies. Strict monotheism, as far as I can tell, was developed by Greek philosophy, not by Judaism, which, in my opinion, most likely appropriated philosophical monotheism from Hellenism. The monotheism of Xenophanes and others may have seemed enticing to Jews working hard to emphasize the transcendence of their deity and the irrelevance of other gods.[3]

Two quick examples of this Second Temple Period paradigm shift come from Deuteronomy 32 and the re-conceptualization of the divine council. It is well known that MT Deut 32:8–9 is a corruption of the original text (Heiser discusses this here). LXX also emends the verse away from its polytheistic overtones, but a text from Qumran supports longstanding theories that we are dealing with an original reference to the “sons of El.”[4] LXX Deut 32:43 manipulates the text away from polytheism, but, in my opinion, also attempts to recast the traditional identification of the “sons of El” (offspring of El and second-tier deities) as a reference to mere angels. I discuss this here. Satan is also recast as a fallen angel rather than a member of God’s offspring (see here). Other Second Temple Period literature supports the move on the part of the Septuagint toward the identification of the sons of God of Deut 32:8–9 as angels (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Deut 32:8). Sirach 17:17; 1 Enoch 89:59–77; 90:22–27). All of these emendations and theological innovations date to the Second Temple Period.

I think the prevalence of this propaganda supports the notion that a radical theological shift had taken place in the closing centuries of the first millennium BCE. I find no such paradigm shift in the theology of exilic literature. The proliferation of monotheistic emendations and ideological novelties during the Second Temple Period also provides a better context for the Jewish adaptation of monotheism. The evidence supports the appropriation of monotheism from Hellenism rather than the development of the idea in Judaism independently and chronologically prior to its development within the far more philosophically productive speculation of Greek philosophy.


[1] I say “more monotheistic” because I don’t believe the Judeo-Christian tradition has room for literal monotheism. The existence of angels and cherubim and so forth undermines the strict definition of “monotheism,” even though society has long used the Judeo-Christian paradigm as the de facto definition of the word.

[2] Heiser cites J. T. A. M. van Ruiten, “The Use of Deuteronomy 32:39 in Monotheistic Controversies in Rabbinic Literature,” in Studies in Deuteronomy in Honor of C.J. Labuschagne on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 223: “The existence of other gods is not denied, however, only their power and significance for Israel.”

[3] “If God is the mightiest, He must be One; for were He two or more, He would not have dominion over the others, but, not having dominion over the others, He could not be God.  Thus were there several, they would be relatively more powerful or weaker, and thus they would not be gods, for God’s nature is to have nothing mightier than He” (see Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy (trans. E. S. Haldane; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1896), 244).

[4] Jan Joosten’s reconstruction is preferable, in my opinion. See here.


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