Maybe someone out there will find this useful. I’ve been analyzing the semantic ranges of the different ways the authors use the words that mean “deity.” As part of this research, I’ve been putting together a document that lists every occurrence of the three Hebrew words and one Aramaic word that mean “deity,” both generic (“god[s]“) and appellative (“God”): elohim, el, eloah, and elah. I finally finished and thought I would share. You can find the Word doc here and the PDF here. I list the word, the number of occurrences, the individual references, and then the number of occurrences by book. I go from the most common word (elohim: 2600 occurrences) to the least common (eloah: 58 occurrences). The next step is to separate out the references to Yhwh from the references to other deities.
Tag Archives: Gods
In my previous post I mentioned two books that I bought at SBL and have already begun to read, namely Reconsidering the Concept of Revolutionary Monotheism and The Son of God in the Roman World. Both touch in some way on my thesis topic, the development of monotheism, and both treat contemporary academic positions regarding the nature of divinity in very similar ways. Specifically, both highlight a trend away from viewing divinity and humanity as separated by an ontological barrier, and toward viewing them as somewhat overlapping fields within a continuous spectrum. This insight is borrowed by both authors from scholarship on Roman emperor worship (both even cite the same author), but both insist it has explanatory power in their respective spheres (Assyro-Babylonian religion and early Christianity). I’ve found this understanding also alleviates a lot of issues scholars have had with understanding early Israelite and formative Jewish ideologies. Both authors go on at length about how this insight informs their particular interest in the divine, but two quotes show the similar approaches and similar influences. From Pongratz-Leisten’s article, “Divine Agency and Astralization of the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia”:
Ittai Gradel’s approach to the notion of the divine in his book Emperor Worship and Roman Religion is inspiring when applied to religions of the ancient Near East. In the introduction to his book, Gradel cautions us against viewing ancient religions as an independent dimension, separable from other spheres of human experience and capable of being independently dissected. Based on the practice of ritual and sacrifice, he interprets the man-god divide, which clearly existed also in antiquity, as a reflection of a distinction in status rather than a distinction between their respective natures of “species.” He suggests that we speak of divinity as a “relative category” rather than beginning with the rather diffuse notion of “the Holy” and the “Numinous” and from the concept of the gods as a species. . . . Rather than conceptualizing the divine and human worlds as distinct realms, the human sphere gradually merges with the realm of the divine.
And from Peppard’s book:
Scholars such as Simon Price, Ittai Gradel, and Clifford Ando articulate interpretations of divinity that confound the categories customarily used by Roman historians and scholars of religion. In their view, divinity in the Roman world was not an essence or a nature, but a concept of status and power in a cosmic spectrum that had no absolute dividing lines. The realm of the gods was not, in the famous maxim of Rudolf Otto, “wholly Other.” In this chapter, I survey and synthesize the current conclusions of this burgeoning field of research, in order to encourage fellow scholars to question their presuppositions about divinity in the Roman world, just as I have scrutinized and reoriented my own. My approach to the matter draws especially from recent studies of emperor worship, while also making some analogies to scholarship on Judaism and Christianity in their Roman context.
In the study of ancient Near Eastern religion, it’s widely recognized that deities which rule over other deities tend to assimilate the attributes and responsibilities of their subordinates. In early Israel Yhwh likely had a consort named Asherah, who was a mother goddess and fertility deity of some kind (the boundaries of these deities are blurry and overlap). By the end of the exile she seems to have been scrubbed clean from Judaism’s theological landscape, and Yhwh seems to have absorbed her attributes. There are a few different metaphorical references to Yhwh as a mother and even a midwife in exilic literature, for instance. This process likely began as far back as the monarchic period, though. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the asherim which were ostensibly taken from the temple and destroyed during Josiah’s reforms may have had no connection to Asherah by that time period, but rather may have been residual cultic representations of divine power over fertility and childbirth, now attributed to Yhwh.
Other ways this kind of assimilation seeps into Israelite literature is in Yhwh’s nature as both storm god and sun god. A fascinating article by Paul E. Dion (“YHWH as Storm-God and Sun-God: The Double Legacy of Egypt and Canaan as Reflected in Psalm 104,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 103.1 (1991): 43–71) points out elements of both storm-god imagery and sun-god imagery in Psalm 104. This psalm is famous for its relationship to the much older Hymn to Aten, but Dion argues there is a great deal of storm-god imagery as well. We know Yhwh was viewed as a storm deity very early in Israelite history. Yhwh is said to make the “clouds his chariot” (עבים רכובו – Ps 104:3) echoing Baal’s title as “Rider of the Clouds” (rkb ‘rpt – KTU 1.2 iv 8). Psalm 29 shares very close affinities with praise given to Baal for his storm-god status.
Later in Israelite history Yhwh seems to be associated with solar imagery. Hezekiah’s seals on a number of jar handles discovered in and around Jerusalem have a scarab with a sun disk or a bird with a sun disc. This is closely related to Egyptian iconography, which makes sense given his relationship with Egypt at the time. It goes back further than this, though. In the 10th century Taanach cult stand Yhwh appears to be represented as a horse below a sun disc (I discuss these issue here). The popularity of these two divine attributes goes back even further in the wider ancient Near East. In the Amarna letters the pharaoh is sometimes addressed as “My Sun” (EA 45, 49, 60, 61), but is also addressed at least once as “My Storm-God” (EA 52). At Ugarit the king as addressed as “the Sun” as well (KTU 2.81.19, 30). Mark Smith suggests Byblos and Tyre represent the points of contacts for the ideologies of Egypt and Iron Age Syria-Palestine (p. 72 here). It seems Yhwh’s assimilation of these roles is not just a result of his perceived kingship over the gods, but may also be part of a campaign to make sure Yhwh is represented with all the popular imagery.
Most informed readers of the Bible are familiar with the witch of Endor’s reference to the deceased Samuel as an אלהים, or “deity.” She uses the plural participle עלים (“ones rising up”) with אלהים, but Saul asks מה תארו “what is his (singular) form,” in response. The participle may then be morphologically assimilating to the plural form of אלהים. Another text that may provide a few more clues regarding Israel’s view of its deceased is found in Ezekiel 32:21, which reads as follows:
ידברו־לו אלי גבורים מתוך שׁאול את־עזריו
ירדו שׁכבו הערלים חללי־חרב
The mighty gods shall speak to him out of the midst of Sheol with those that help him
They descend. The uncircumcised lay down, slain by the sword.
Most translations render אלי גבורים with “mighty chiefs,” or “the strong and the mighty” or something similar, but I don’t believe this reading is warranted. I’m not convinced אל ever means anything other than “divinity,” although it is often presupposed by exegetes. The phrase is the plural of אל גבור, which is found in reference to Hezekiah in Isa 9:6 and in reference to God in Isa 10:21.
The context is a prophecy about the destruction of Egypt, who will descend to Sheol and find the uncircumcised nations of the earth there. I suggest the אלי גבורים are the deceased kings. This would align with Assyro-Babylonian and Syro-Palestinian ideologies concerning kings as deities both in life and death.
CSBS, the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, is holding their annual meeting at the University of New Brunswick on May 29–31. I’m submitting to the general programme, which requires a 100 word paper proposal. Here’s what I managed to shrink down to around 100 words:
Monotheism—Still a Misused Word in Jewish Studies?
This paper will take up Peter Hayman’s 1991 Journal of Jewish Studies discussion of “monotheism” as an inadequate descriptor for ancient Jewish belief regarding deity. It will align with Hayman’s argument against the applicability of the term from an etymological point of view, but will depart from Hayman in suggesting that “monotheism,” which developed as a descriptive term, can still adequately describe formative Judaism. It will show that “monotheism” comprises a specific view of the nature and function of other divine beings in relation to Yhwh, and will describe this view and its development within formative Judaism.
Hayman’s paper, which I highly recommend, is briefly described here.
I recently submitted a term paper on Psalm 82 that I’ve put online here. I hope to further develop the paper (my term papers are usually only half-baked), so I appreciate any feedback. I would point out that I have shifted positions on what I think to be one of the more important aspects of modern study of the psalm, namely the distinction in the psalm between Yhwh and Elyon. I have concluded that the psalm likely comes from the exilic period, which is much too late for Yhwh to be distinguished from Elyon. Rather, I feel the author has drawn his narrative framework from an older northern tradition that likely made the distinction, but understood the two deities to be identical, and organized the content of the psalm accordingly. I also provide what I believe to be a rather unique discussion of the psalm’s genre. I hope you are able to get something useful out of it.
Thanks to the generosity of a reader, I received a copy today of Thom Stark’s new volume, The Human Faces of God. I’m planning on reviewing the book on my blog, and since my term ends this week I should actually have time to read it. Many thanks to Ed.
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.
I recently commented on Michael Heiser’s posts about ETS, Psalm 82, and James White, and his discussion has catalyzed further posts from others that I thought merited some attention. I’d like to comment more fully on the arguments put forth by the Alpha & Omega Ministries vis-à-vis Psalm 82, as well.
A&O Ministries Responses
I’ll start with James White and Alpha & Omega Ministries. I’ve written a post responding to James’ critique here of Michael’s position regarding deities vs. humans in Psalm 82. It is rather lengthy, and deals point by point with his comments, so I’ve put it in PDF form and posted it online here. I will summarize by stating James’ criticisms fall well short of substantiating his position. Heiser’s thesis, that Psalm 82 refers to gods and not humans, is supported by the literary and grammatical context, and James doesn’t really engage either. I’ve not rehashed Michael’s discussion in the post, but those interested in his argument can find his ETS paper here. I agree with Michael that one would have to address the issues he brings up in order to undermine his reading. Simply asserting a different reading with only token jabs in the direction of his argument will not do the trick.
One of James’ colleagues, going by the moniker Tur8infan, has also posted a response to Michael (here). This post makes a much more concerted effort to respond to the literary context, but also misses the mark with some rather peculiar exegesis. For instance, he states, “God accuses these judges of judging unjustly, and particularly accepting the bribes of the wicked.” I find no mention of bribes anywhere in Psalm 82. Ps 82:2 asks (literally), “How long will you render iniquitous judgment and lift up the faces of the wicked?” To “lift up the face” of someone is to show them favor or partiality. The notion that bribery is compelling this partiality is not found in the text. Why does Tur8infan read it into the text? It’s a lot easier to read the text as a reference to human judges if it references bribery. Gods would have no need of bribery. Whether Tur8infan simply misreads the text or intentionally skews it in favor of his reading is unclear.
Tur8infan then goes on to argue that Michael’s argument regarding Ps 82:6–7 is problematic. Michael argues (as do I) that the combination of אמרתי and אכן in those two verses combine to rhetorically assert a stark and unexpected contrast. Since the first verse highlights the divine nature of the beings in question, and the second highlights the fact that they will die “as humanity,” we must understand the contrast to be between their nature as gods and the fact of their impending deaths (which are never narrated anywhere). Tur8infan argues, however, that כאדם, “as humanity,” is used elsewhere (Job 31:33; Hos 6:7) in ways that point to identification with humanity and not distinction from it. This is specious reasoning, though. The two examples use the term in drastically different contexts, and the end result is still a reference to behavior characteristic of humanity (or of a particular human). That’s exactly the usage in Ps 82:7, only parallel passage contrasts that behavior with the nature of divinity. He goes on to argue that reading “one of the princes” in the second half of Ps 82:7 supports reading the first half “as a man,” or even “as Adam,” rather than the collective “humanity,” since the former are singular. How this argument undermines Michael’s reading is beyond me, but the collective “humanity” is still morphologically singular in Hebrew, and so his argument has little force. He concludes this section:
The best sense of the text is that God is warning these judges of their impending doom. We might paraphrase God’s comment as: “Everyone dies (both ordinary men and princes), and you won’t be an exception.” Dr. Heiser views the comment from God as a sentence imposed on the judges, and – of course – death is a sentence for sin. It is sufficient, however, to simply view this as a proclamation of the doom that awaits unjust judges. They must die and come before the Judge of judges to answer for their injustice.
This neglects to respond to the problem of the contrast drawn between vv. 6 and 7, and it doesn’t really explain how the two previous arguments support this conclusion. At the conclusion he appears to respond to the question of this contrast, but seems to misunderstand the difference between a “contrast” and a “negative consequence”:
Dr. Heiser’s comment that “This sounds as awkward as sentencing a child to grow up or a dog to bark,” seems to fail to appreciate the very different negative consequences of dying as opposed to growing up (unless one is Peter Pan) or barking. A better comparison would be the comparison in the Proverbs:
Proverbs 26:11 As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.
Cautioning the fool that he will return to his folly or a dog to his vomit is not an empty statement devoid of negative connotation. Indeed, the apostle Peter refers us to this very proverb:
2 Peter 2:22 But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
Even so, contrary to Dr. Heiser’s suggestion that “The point of verse 6 is that, in response to their corruption, the [elohim] will be stripped of their immortality at God’s discretion and die as humans die,” the point is that these judges should be aware of their mortality and the impending judgment of God.
Tur8infan then discusses allusions to earlier sections of the Pentateuch. He states,
Dr. White has already addressed more than sufficiently the relationship of this text with the New Testament. That by itself should be a sufficient basis for rejecting Dr. Heiser’s position. Nevertheless, the Old Testament also provides additional light.
First, James White does not hold a recognized doctorate. I don’t know why he is called “Dr.” here. This page lists a “Dr. James White” as a “Critical Consultant for the NASB Update.” If this refers to the same James White, it is also mistaken. Perhaps this has slipped by James, but I wonder if he is willing to offer a correction.
Next, James’ arguments from the New Testament only hold if one presupposes the univocality of the Bible. I do not. In fact, biblical univocality is flatly precluded (see here). There are far too many ideological and factual disagreements between the testaments and books, and even within books, to assert that the Bible is unified from beginning to end. Tur8infan goes on:
The question is, where did God describe these unjust judges as “gods” (elohim)? It seems unlikely that this is simply a reference back to verse 1 of the psalm, though we cannot completely eliminate the possibility.
There are several places where judges are referred to as “elohim” in the Pentateuch:
Exodus 21:6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges (elohim); he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.
If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges (elohim), to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods. For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges (elohim); and whom the judges (elohim) shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour.
Exodus 22:28 Thou shalt not revile the gods (elohim), nor curse the ruler of thy people.
And beyond the Pentateuch:
1 Samuel 2:25 If one man sin against another, the judge (elohim) shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall intreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them.
It should be noted, of course, that although that is the KJV’s translation of the verses, as is so often the case, many of the modern translations disagree, using “God” instead of judges. Probably the strongest of these verses is Exodus 22:28, in that it provides a parallel between “reviling the gods” and “cursing the ruler of thy people,” which serves to demonstrate that the two concepts are analogous.
I’ve dealt with these texts here, and will reiterate that the word elohim simply does not mean “judges” or “rulers.” There is plenty of scholarship on this issue (see pp. 255–58 here, for instance), but Tur8infan does not address it and is likely not aware of it. I’ve come across a single publication from the last 75 years which defends the reading “judges” at Exod 21:6 and 22:8–9. It dismisses reading the text as a reference to deities simply because teraphim are “almost always condemned directly” by the biblical text, and thus, “It is inconceivable that this law, or any of the laws, of which God has said, ‘these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them’ (Ex. 21:1), would contain an injunction to go before the teraphim” (J. Robert Vannoy, “The Use of the Word ha-elohim in Ex 21:6 and 22:7, 8,” in The Law and the Prophets [Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1974], 228–29). The author then goes on to list texts from Exodus 20 and 23 which he feels preclude reading “gods” in Exod 21 and 22. Again, univocality is presupposed. That the texts in question might represent older laws which were incorporated verbatim into the Covenant Code (a well established practice) is not addressed. The author rejects the idea that the text refers specifically to Israel’s God (the conclusion favored by most these days) because the verb in Exod 22:8 is plural (which is not unheard of in reference to God), and because bringing someone “before God” sounds vague to the author and might just refer to bringing someone before God’s representatives. See Wright’s book, linked to above, for further discussion of why “judges” is unacceptable.
James White’s most recent post on A&O Ministries chides Michael Heiser for what James calls “scholarly hubris.” Because Michael would prefer to engage this discussion on an academic level rather than a purely devotional one, James takes issue. He states,
Heiser is basically attempting to “pull rank” based upon some kind of academic authority
Never mind that Michael has provided a rather detailed argument that James’ post manages to never acknowledge. James is also in disagreement because he feels their debate must presuppose the univocality of scripture, and that Michael isn’t playing by the rules:
I do not apologize for calling for an interpretation of sacred scripture that actually takes the entirety of its revelation into consideration.
Can James defend this presupposition on academic grounds? Certainly not. James appears to be criticizing Michael for his academic integrity. For James, such “integrity” is worthless, as it neglects what James believes to be the primary (sole?) purpose of Evangelical scholarship:
Christian scholarship is a practice of SERVANTHOOD, period, end of discussion.
For James, Evangelical scholarship must “edify the body.” He concludes:
We have different audiences, to be sure. But I refuse to give up the middle, balanced ground we have staked out over the decades. On the one side you have the likes of Dave Hunt, who mocks all study of the original languages (except when it suits his purposes). He represents the reprehensible attack upon serious study of the biblical text that is so common in certain elements of evangelicalism. On the other hand you have the attitude expressed by Heiser here, which elevates the academy above the church, makes “peer review” the standard rather than the expression of the mind of the church in the wisdom of those men called as elders whose duty it is to actually teach and preach the Word of God, so that the edification of the body and training in godliness and truth becomes a mere “by-product” of the all-important intellectual activity of the academy. Hebrew and Greek are vital, but if you become so focused upon the languages so as to lose the balance and harmony of all of Scripture, well…you are not helping yourself or anyone else.
In other words, facts are only useful insofar as they support one’s religious dogmas. Once they stop doing that, they’re “unbalanced,” and useless.
Nick Norelli has responded to Michael’s comment by pointing out that he didn’t find James’ original post to be impugning Heiser. After reading over it carefully, I must agree that I don’t see much in the way of impugning (aside from his implication concerning Michael’s “scholarship”). The tone, for the most part, is not unlike the tone of many academic papers, although you do get the sense James feels he is condescending to address these questions, as if his time is much to valuable for those misguided academicians. James’ more recent response, however, appeals with much more regularity to ad hominem to mask its refusal to respond to the points of Michael’s argument. Regarding Nick’s agreement about Psalm 82 referring to humans and not deities, I would point to Michael’s ETS paper and my discussion here and in the short response to James that I put online. I think Psalm 82 is a fascinating text and would love to see more discussion of it on the blogs.
I think Michael is doing an important service to his faith community by bringing these issues to light and trying to help them understand the biblical text better. I have attended universities with Latter-day Saint and Evangelical biases, and a primary concern among students and professors in both is how to help wider lay audiences come to better understand what the Bible really says instead of just letting them perpetuate traditional dogmas, especially where they are at odds with the texts (I’ve also attended a strictly secular university). Michael is taking a big step in that direction, and I appreciate that.
Sang Youl Cho, Lesser Deities in the Ugaritic Texts and the Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Study of Their Nature and Roles. Deities and Angels of the Ancient World 2; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2007. Pp. xxvii, 352. ISBN: 978-1-59333-820-6. $124.00.
This publication comprises a revision of sections of San Youl Cho’s Edinburgh dissertation. Its aim is to compare the nature and roles of the lesser deities of the divine assembly within the Ugaritic texts and the Hebrew Bible, and identify whatever affinities exist. The book has five chapters, which evaluate (1) the membership of the lesser deities, (2) kinship of the lesser deities, (3) messenger deities, (4) warrior deities, and (5) other lesser deities. Each chapter is divided into sections which evaluate the Ugaritic evidence followed by the biblical evidence. Each section has a brief summary, as does each chapter.
Chapter one focuses on membership of the lesser deities in the divine assembly. Several designations are evaluated from the Ugaritic texts which refer to groupings of deities, like ’ilm, “gods,” dr dt šmm, “circle of heaven,” sd, “council,” and several others. Their biblical counterparts, where they exist, are also discussed. The position of the various deities within these groupings is also evaluated. As with the entire book, a great deal of lexical information (sometimes excessive) is provided in these evaluations.
Chapter two establishes the filial nature of the lesser deities with the high God El. As the phrase bn ’ilm (בני אלהים), “sons of El,” can also be read simply as “deities,” scholars have long disagreed over the relationship shared between El and the lesser deities, especially as it bears on their representation in the Hebrew Bible. Cho reviews the theogonic aspects of El’s literature from Ugarit and the various ways in which the deities are described as “sons of El” to show their clear filial relationship with him. He also shows the biblical use of the terminology associated with the divine council appeals to the same relationship. The physical appearance of the gods (described as having wings or horns, for instance) is also discussed in this chapter.
Chapter three is devoted to messenger deities. After a review of the associated Ugaritic terminology, Cho discusses named messenger deities and binomial deities, focusing primarily on the messenger deities Gupan and Ugar (gpn w ugr), which Cho suggests are related to later archangel ideology. The methods of message delivery are also discussed. The associated terminology and named messenger deities from the biblical corpus are also discussed, as are the methods of message delivery within that literary tradition. Cho finds a simplification of the role of the divine messenger in the Hebrew Bible.
The next chapter discusses the final main taxonomy of lesser deities, namely warrior deities. In relation to the Ugaritic texts, Qadesh-and-Amurr is the most important named warrior deity and he receives the majority of Cho’s attention. That the warrior deity may also act as a messenger deity is an important contribution in this chapter. There are a number of warrior deities mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, but the only named deity that Cho finds is Michael. Unfortunately, little discussion of the מלאך יהוה occurs.
The final chapter discusses other lesser deities, such as mediator, guardian, chanter, and servant deities. Guardian and chanter deities in the Hebrew Bible deservedly receive a great deal of attention in this section. This chapter also shows one of the strongest relationships between the deities of the Ugaritic texts and the Hebrew Bible.
A critical weakness in this book is Cho’s synchronic perspective and his reticence regarding the many textual layers of the Hebrew Bible. In discussing the מלאך יהוה, for instance, Cho presupposes the integrity of the text: “Although the messenger of Yahweh is recognized apparently as the sender in the Hebrew Bible, it is obviously the divine messenger himself who appears before a mortal . . . . Thus, the ‘first person’ speech of the divine messengers can be understood as a delivering technique” (p. 190). Despite citing Wyatt on the interpolation of the messenger (“Originally El himself appeared.”), Cho ignores the discussion so he can find a link to the Ugaritic method of “first person speech.” On p. 123, note 235, Cho cites Morgenstern regarding Elyon’s distinction from Yhwh in Ps 82:6 and dismisses the claim, stating that Elyon “appears explicitly as an epithet of Yahweh in Gen 14:22 (cf. v. 18).” Cho forgets that the name Yhwh that appears in v. 22 is a late interpolation that is not found in the Greek, the Syriac, or in the Genesis Apocryphon. That the identification of the two developed at a later time period is not considered (see also p. 120).
At points the footnotes were unnecessarily excessive. They seemed to me to indicate the book was anticipating a largely lay audience. On p. 125, for instance, note 243 alerts the reader that אלהים should be read as the plural “gods” since the pronoun is the second person plural אתם. On p. 117, n. 200 tells the reader that the Hebrew ב can introduce a “temporal infinitive-clause.” Some of Cho’s footnotes also seemed quite lopsided. Nicolas Wyatt’s scholarship plays a central role (27 publications of his are cited). There are also some gaps in the bibliography—Samuel Meier’s “Angel of Yahweh” entry in DDD, Mark Smith’s 2001 Origins of Biblical Monotheism, and Michael Heiser’s 2004 dissertation, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” for instance. The author also would have done well to refer to the Göttingen editions of the Septuagint, rather than exclusively Rahlfs.
The layout, typesetting, and editing also suffer from a number of problems. The transliteration font does not accommodate the ayin very well, especially in the name b‘l (see the bottom of p. 97, for instance—it appears they tried to remedy this by adding a space after the ayin in the subheading on p. 15). In the bold section headings and subheadings the Hebrew font is sloppy. There are also numerous errors in the Hebrew. For instance, in note 6 on p. 10 there is no semicolon separating סוד יהוה from עדת אל. Instead a patah appears under the samek. The typesetter failed to switch the keyboard configuration back to English. Additionally, the typesetter, with Hebrew texts that run over a single line, has the beginning of the Hebrew on the bottom line, and the end on the top. In note 170 on p. 279 three phrases listed from Ezek 41:18–19 are in reverse order. The period that should have ended the sentence is in the middle of the Hebrew. In the bibliography, David N. Freedman’s 1995 כְּרוּב article from TDOT is listed as כְּרוּם. On page 117, Qumran’s attestation to Deut 32:8 is simply listed as “4QDeut,” rather than 4QDeutj. There is no index of modern authors, which would have been helpful, and the subject index is spotty and incredibly short (despite the padding added by listing every individual page, even if the subject appears on over 20 consecutive pages). In the scriptural index, the book of Judges has two sections, one labeled “Judg,” and the other “Judges.” Although some of the same verses are listed in both sections, different page numbers follow.
Despite a number of editorial deficiencies, this book consolidates an impressive amount of data and reviews important discussions on different concerns related to the nature and organization of the lesser deities of the Ugaritic and biblical pantheons. For that alone it provides a useful reference for future research. The author’s conclusions, however, add little to the scholarly discourse.