Tag Archives: Sons of God

Angels and Demons (and Michael Heiser)

I appreciate Michael taking the time to respond to my paper and to provide a number of helpful insights. For those interested, it can be found here. I was especially happy to have him comment that he felt the writing was clear and concise. That’s something I struggle with sometimes, and it’s great to see that the attention I pay to it is producing results. Michael disagrees with some of the main conclusions I reached, but that was expected. I’m glad to have an informed response, and Michael’s comments will provide great food for thought as I develop this research for presentation at a regional SBL, at CSBS, at SBL in November (although in the latter it’s mainly Psalm 82 I’m discussing), and in my Trinity Western masters thesis.

Michael first has some concerns with the preciseness of my language in a couple places. I’ll reproduce them below. I see where he is coming from, but I also have some reflections to share that will hopefully illuminate my thinking on the issues:

On page 3 we read:

“That the Israelite El had a consort is supported by textual and archaeological evidence.”

This is overstated, but reflects what the consensus would say. To correspond to reality, the statement should say this: “That some Israelites believed Israelite El had a consort is supported by textual and archaeological evidence.” Now it’s accurate.

The facts on this statement are as follows: (1) There are indeed textual and archaeological data for an Israelite El with a consort; (2) There is no way short of omniscience to know from those data that ALL Israelites believed El had a consort — including the biblical writers. All the data show for sure is that someone from the period to which the material dates expressed this belief. That’s it. There is simply no way to make such a sweeping generalization, but many scholars do just that.

The criticism is well taken, and I am happy to provide a more precise description of the Israelite pantheon, although I would point to much more than just Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom as indicating an early Israelite view of Asherah as the consort of El. The Taanach cult stand; the 1000+ Jerusalem pillar figurines; the his and her cult stands, incense altars, and standing stones at Megiddo room 2081 and the Arad temple; and the numerous biblical references to the ubiquity of Asherah worship among the Israelite monarchs and laity point in the same direction. It’s the prohibition of those practices that is far more rare prior to the eighth/seventh centuries, and I would argue that it is not insignificant that the few mentions of that prohibition all come from Deuteronomistic writers. Perhaps that’s a debate for another day, though.

Another example from page 3 (speaking of the divine council):

“All three of these tiers were populated by anthropomorphic deities according to both the Ugaritic literature and the Hebrew Bible.”

This is also worded imprecisely, or perhaps unconsciously reflects Dan’s Mormon theology (and that isn’t a moral evil; we all fall prey to our predispositions at times). What I mean here is that Dan’s wording presumes deities are anthropomorphic. The line should say, to be more accurate (and less theologically stilted): “Deities populating all three of these tiers were anthropomorphized according to both the Ugaritic literature and the Hebrew Bible.”

I understand the potential issue with my particular faith, and I’m sure I can’t entirely erase doubts in this area, but my interest in this topic is as purely academic as I can make it. I stumbled onto research related to anti-anthropomorphism while doing some text-critical work on Exodus 24 after reading a paper by Ted Lewis on the chapter. I noticed a pretty big variant in Exod 24:10 between the Hebrew and the Greek and felt the Greek indicated the variant in the Vorlage. I couldn’t find any discussion on the significance of the variant in the Vorlage and felt it might be a fun research project. It turned into an SBL paper I presented in New Orleans and it ultimately became my Oxford masters thesis. Clearly the broader topic of anti-anthropomorphism intersects with Latter-day Saint ideology, and in a general sense I am more interested in research topics that resonate with my personal background with the Bible, but that resonance does not go any deeper than the broader topic. My thesis arrives at far more conclusions that directly conflict with LDS religious belief (and in more significant areas) than that align with it.

I’m a little hesitant regarding “anthropomorphize,” and here’s why. I understand “anthropomorphize” as “to render anthropomorphic,” and in my mind to say that the biblical texts did this would be to presuppose one of two things: (1) the actual existence of a non-anthropomorphic deity apart from the text, or (2) that the Israelites understood God to be non-anthropomorphic, but anthropomorphized him in their literature for the sake of accommodation to literary conventions or for widespread comprehension or something like that. The former conflicts with my general approach to biblical scholarship (I approach it from an exclusively academic point of view and have no interest in espousing any position about a deity apart from the text), and the latter conflicts with what I believe the evidence supports regarding early Israelite conceptions of deity. We are likely to disagree on what the evidence supports, but again, that may be a debate better saved for another day. If I misunderstand Michael’s use of “anthropomorphize,” however, then I am happy to stand corrected.

Dan’s position assumes that one either must read Deut 32:8-9 as having two deities or, perhaps more importantly, that Israelites would not or could not have seen Yahweh and El/Elyon as the same deity in Deut 32:8-9 before Deut 4 was written. So the question is, could Israelites have read Deut 32 and come out with an identification of El/Elyon with Yahweh? I believe so because of the two preceding verses, Deut 32:6-7.  I have argued this position before in a paper published in the HIPHIL online journal. Readers can download it for free.

In a nutshell, the writer of Deut 32 utilizes several El epithets and familiar El language evident in vv. 6-7 if one reads Hebrew and is familiar with the corresponding Ugaritic vocabulary. What this means is that Israelite readers of Deut 32, prior to Deut 4 being added, who would have been familiar with El descriptions and motifs, would have readily discerned that these descriptions and motifs were being applied to Yahweh in verses 6-7 — because Yahweh is mentioned by name in v. 6. Any Israelite familiar with El/Elyon epithets would not have missed the message that Yahweh and El were the same deity. And Dan cannot argue that Israelites would not have been familiar with El language, because he presumes that Israelites were familiar with El/Elyon as distinct from Yahweh in vv. 8-9.  You can’t say they saw the theological descriptions for keeping El/Elyon and Yahweh separate, but would have missed the same El signage applied to Yahweh two verses earlier. That’s simply inconsistent reasoning.

This is, I believe, the meat of Michael’s disagreement with my paper. This I think is a great topic, and I appreciate his contribution to it. At some other time I would like to dig deeper into the nature of Deut 32:6–7’s use of those terms. Another paper I presented in Atlanta was entirely focused on the meaning of the phrase ’l qn ’rs. In this instance, though, I think Michael may have overlooked what now seems to me to be too subtle a clue as to my position regarding Deut 32. I state the following in the portion he quoted:

This statement is said by the preceding verses to come down from years long past, and points to an archaic distinction between Yhwh and  Elyon, or El.

Later I state this:

Verse 7 may provide a key. In it the author tells Israel to ask their fathers, and to hear from their elders the story of Yhwh‘s acquisition of Israel. What follows is likely a piece of communal memory predating the Song of Moses. This story ends at v. 14, following which the focus shifts to Israel’s negligent behavior vis-à-vis their God.

I believe the author of Deut 32:6–7 could very well have read vv. 8–9 as a reference to Yahweh, but I also think he didn’t originally compose vv. 8–9. He states that they (and the following verses) come down from the fathers, and from years long past. Note also that Deut 32:10 states that Yahweh found his people in the desert. This conflicts with Yahweh as Israel’s begetter and creator, per vv. 6–7. In Deut 4:20 Yahweh took Israel out of Egypt to become his people. This is also a distinct idea. I believe the author of vv. 6–7 is quoting a tradition that has come down to his generation, which has renegotiated its meaning. This, however, isn’t what primarily leads me to conclude that Yahweh was originally distinct from El. A number of other considerations contribute in more fundamental ways to that conclusion, and I guess here is as good a place as any to discuss them.

First, a god named El predates the arrival of the Israelites into Syria-Palestine. Biblical usage shows El was not just a generic noun, but often a proper name for Israel’s God (e.g., Gen 33:20: “El, the God of Israel”). That this deity is analogous to the Syro-Palestinian high god is supported by the numerous epithetic and thematic parallels between biblical and Syro-Palestinian representations of the deity (Gen 14:19, 22, for instance). Yahweh, however, is represented by quite distinct imagery, and is epithetically and thematically analogous to the storm deity Baal. Psalm 29 is a clear Yahwistic version of storm deity literary conventions. Michael has elsewhere appealed to v. 10 in that psalm as indicating Yahweh’s kingship over the flood, a motif ostensibly associated with El, but the word for “flood” there refers to the Noahide deluge, not to the waters of heaven. Additionally, I would suggest the context is better suited to a storm deity reading, which is in fact supported by the wider literary context in light of Rendsburg’s reading “Yahweh sit enthroned since the deluge,” which he asserts is made necessary by the psalm’s northern provenance. The storm deity’s accession to an eternal throne finds an analogy in Kothar-wa-Hasis’ proclamation of Baal’s eternal kingship upon defeat of Yam in the Ugaritic literature. Given the clear association of Yahweh with the storm deity and El with the high god, the relationship of El and Baal in other Syro-Palestinian literature provides an attractive analogy that is only further supported in Deut 32:8’s ostensible reference to Yahweh as one of the “sons of El.” I would reject the rabbinic notion of different epithets and imagery for highlighting different aspects of the Deity.

Second, there is a clear chronological threshold before which Yahwism simply does not appear to have existed in Israel. El was the sole God before that threshold, which is delineated primarily by Exod 6:3 and the onomastic evidence (most clearly in Tigay). Both show that there was a time when the name Yahweh was unknown or insignificant to the nation of Israel. Around the rise of the monarchy Yahwistic names begin to pop up, and by the end of the monarchy they are the predominant theophoric naming convention. Exod 6:3 insists that Yahweh’s name was not known prior to Moses’ revelation at Horeb/Sinai. Another literary tradition places the revelation of Yahweh’s name during the time period of Adam’s grandson. If we divide the creation accounts, the patriarchal genealogies, and the flood accounts according to their clear literary seams, however, we get two different versions of those narrative arcs: one that calls God Yahweh, and one that does not. That an editor has retrojected Yahweh’s name into older traditions is, as far as I am aware, pretty standard among scholars. The revelation of Yahweh’s name at Horeb/Sinai is significant also because several scriptures that appear to be older than Exod 6:3 (like Deut 33:2) associate Yahweh’s origins with those southern regions.

Michael continues:

And so I ask: which is more coherent:

A. That the writer of Deut 32:8-9 distinguished Yahweh and El/Elyon, but fused them in the two prior verses, and let this separation – fusion tension stand (the two are fused and separated back-to-back) … OR

B. Deut 32:6-7 portray Yahweh and El/Elyon as one and vv. 8-9 are to be read in light of that messaging (there is consistency of presentation over these four verses).

The second option is my view. I would therefore suggest that an Israelite didn’t need Deut 4 to see Yahweh and El/Elyon as the same deity.

I would suggest that the change in the beginning of Deut 32:9 from wayehi to ki indicates a contemporary concern for the identification of Yahweh with the sons of God.

Deut 4 simply echoes that point; it doesn’t filter Deut 32 to make that point. This is why I believe Dan’s position, the consensus position, assumes what it seeks to prove. It assumes a separation in 32:8-9 and then uses Deut 4 to prove that separation. But it doesn’t explain why vv. 6-7 refer to Yahweh with El/Elyon language.

I disagree, however, that vv. 6–7 use Elyon language. They seem to me to use El language alone. There’s nothing that I know of in the Hebrew Bible that ties Elyon—independent of El—to that imagery. The Sefire inscription distinguishes El from Elyon, as does Phylo of Biblos’ Phoenician History. In the Ugaritic texts the closest analogue to Elyon is Aliyn, an epithet for Baal.

Michael follows with a lengthy discussion of the term elohim that I think would be valuable freading. I don’t have much to quibble with in that section that isn’t communicated elsewhere in this post, so I’ll move on to some comments closer to the end of his paper.

1. Dan’s note about the Greek wording in Deut 4 and elsewhere for the host of heaven (tov kosmov tou ouranou) proves nothing except that some Jew somewhere would no doubt have seen what Dan sees there — a de-deification. And that would have made his day. But how do we move from that to a neat theological evolution at a nation-wide, cultural level when there is so much data to the contrary (showing diversity)? See below.

If I had the time and space I would have unpacked some of this quite a bit more in my paper. I think there were tow or three different approaches to deities during the post-exilic and Greco-Roman periods. One approach simply sought to demote deities to a lesser divine station, as with Deut 32:43, while another was to de-deify them, as with Deut 4, John 10:34–35, and Psalm 82 in the rabbinic tradition. A third approach might be the Deutero-Isaiah approach of just saying they are impotent and irrelevant. Obviously it cannot in the end be boiled down to such convenient compartmentalizing, but I think this gives us adequate preliminary models.

Michael summarizes another lengthy section with the following:

All of that is a windy way of saying that you just can’t prove a neat evolution from polytheism to monotheism when there is terminological confusion and so much “polytheistic” material in later Jewish periods. The solution is not to bend the data to a prevailing paradigm — it’s to fix the paradigm. Dan would be an asset for rethinking it, too. Otherwise, we end up making assumptions based on data we’re trying to use to prove the assumptions. I think my views are just more reality-based: (1) Israelites and Jews believed different things about God and the spiritual world throughout their history; (2) Many Israelite and Jews were capable of using elohim to speak of a wide variety of spiritual entities, knowing the whole time that Yahweh was species unique among those elohim; and so (3) Reading and writing texts that had multiple elohim in them was no threat to their monotheism, and wasn’t polytheism. They didn’t parseelohim the way we parse G-o-d, and they weren’t stupid, either.

Diversity among believers. Now why does that sound familiar?

I would agree with all of points one and three and the first half of point two, but it is in the arena of species uniqueness that I see the conflict and development between the late pre-exile and the Greco-Roman period. In my first masters thesis I argued in one portion that anti-anthropomorphism developed slowly and in inconsistent steps as a result of ongoing attempts to rhetorically exalt Israel’s God over the gods of the inner- and inter-cultural demographics with which the biblical authors were interacting. Every time an author pushed Yahweh just a bit further away from other deities, a subsequent generation of authors had a modified view of God upon which they also felt compelled to operate. I think here may be a point of departure between our two approaches to the issue. I am treating a lot of Israelite and Jewish beliefs as growing out of literary traditions as much as, and sometimes more than, cultic and other traditions. In my opinion, when authors modified their literary representation of the deity, it modified future conceptualizations of the deity as well, which translated into modified cultic and liturgical perspectives.

Michael ends with a couple notes.

  1. I’m well aware of the proposed “crisis catalysts” for the “movement” toward monotheism. I critiqued them in my dissertation. My view is that there is nothing said in the wake of the presumed crisis that many Israelites would not have said prior to said crisis.
  2. Every time I think of this I think of Carol Newsom’s oxymoronic “angelic elim” term — it shows the desperation to keep the consensus paradigm in the face of all the contrary evidence. The scrolls and their divine plurality language is my regional SBL paper topic this May.

I also don’t like the “crisis” model for the development of monotheism, but I have different reasons. I do think the Dead Sea Scrolls equated the elim with angels. In fact, I think that identification became so widespread that there was no need to conduct much boundary maintenance, and thus no immediate juxtaposition of the two terms at Qumran, as Michael notes elsewhere. As evidence of this, I would point to 11Q10 30:5 (11QtgJob), which replaces “sons of God” with “angels of God,” and to 4Q180, which describes Gen 6:2, 4 as references to angels. Additionally, “Holy Ones,” “Angels,” “Watchers,” and elim are used interchangeably in the scrolls.

I’m sure Michael and I will continue to disagree on many of these points, but this kind of discourse helps me to refine and revise my arguments. For that I’m grateful for Michael’s participation and hope that I can contribute in some small thing to his view of the issue.


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.


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.


Sons of God or Angels?

I’m looking around for a post-Septuagint reference to the divine stewards over the nations (Deut 32:8-9) as anything other than angels (specifically as בני אלהים or אלים). I’ve not found such a reference yet, but I haven’t been able to be comprehensive in my search. Can anyone out there think of an instance where an allusion to Deut 32:8-9 calls the divine stewards “gods” or “sons of God,” and not angels (or spirits, rulers, etc.)?


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.

Thoughts?


Conflating Angels and the Sons of God

Does LXX Deut 32:43 contain an attempt to actively promote the conflation of the angels of God with the “sons of God” of earlier divine council motifs? Following Smith and Handy’s theory of a four tiered Syro-Palestinian pantheon, the bn ‘el were taxonomically distinct from the lowly ml’k. The biblical literature seems to preserve this distinction. The use of the word ‘elohîm on rare occasions to describe angels does not undermine it, as all members of the pantheon, great and small, could be categorized under the term in its generic sense. The benê ‘elohîm, however, were a clear and distinct class of deity. As Israel moved away from polytheism and toward a transcendant view of deity, these tiers were collapsed, and the roles of these deities were conflated. Might one consider repeated appeals to this conflation an indication of opposition?

Deuteronomy 32 shows two examples of propaganda aimed at identifying angels with the sons of God. In v. 8 the original benê ‘elohîm is simply replaced with αγγελλων θεου. The same occurs in Job 2, but elsewhere the phrase is left alone. The translator may simply interpret the phrase as referring to angels. In verse 43, however, there is textual expansion that makes a clear attempt at equating the two. The original verse probably contains an imperative for “all the gods” to bow, but LXX inserts two cola in place of this phrase, putting αγγελλοι θεου and υιοι θεου in parallel. (for the expanded verse as secondary, see Arie van der Kooij, “The Ending of the Song of Moses: On the Pre-masoretic Version of Deut 32:43,” in Studies in Deuteronomy in Honor of C. J. Labuschagne on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday [ed. Florentino García Martínez, et. al.; Leiden: Brill, 1994], 93–100.)

The expanded cola seem intended to evade the mention of “all the gods,” but also to provide a key for the interpretation of “sons of God” elsewhere. They are to be identified with the angels of God. It does not seem unlikely to me that this was a question that remained open in the minds of some during the translation of Deuteronomy into Greek. The translator may have been seeking to provide definitive evidence of the equation of the two groups of divine beings, protecting the transcendant Yhwh and mitigating the polytheistic undertones of the parent text.

Thoughts?


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