Tag Archives: Divine Council

The Gods-Complaint

Very happy to see that my paper, “The Gods-Complaint: Psalm 82 as a Psalm of Complaint,” has now been published in the Journal of Biblical Literature. The abstract is below. I would love to hear what you think of the article.

“Psalm 82 has long resisted a consensus regarding its genre. While some scholars have noted that the psalm’s language overlaps with that of the complaint genre, several features of the psalm appear to complicate that reading. As a result, the framework of the divine council is frequently given interpretive priority, which has resulted in a variety of solutions to the psalm’s several interpretive difficulties and has also contributed to a general reluctance to consider the psalm within the literary context of the psalms of Asaph. I argue that the psalm’s interpretive difficulties are best resolved by understanding the psalm as a complaint, specifically a complaint put into the mouth of YHWH and addressed to the gods of the nations—a “gods-complaint.” This reading provides a new interpretive framework that may help resolve important questions related to the psalm’s compositional background, rhetorical function, and theological influence.”


Mike Heiser’s Book on the Divine Council

Mike announced today that he has a first draft of his book on the divine council available for a limited time on his blog. It’s aimed at a popular audience, and from what little I’ve been able to glean from just scrolling rapidly through the document, it has a lot of words in it. Take note, though, if you do decide to read it, that Mike does not want it distributed through any means other than by linking to his blog.

Psalm 82 in the Contemporary Latter-day Saint Tradition

I’m making my paper from the LDS and the Bible section available a bit early. It is entitled “Psalm 82 in the Contemporary Latter-day Saint Tradition.” You can access the PDF here. The paper is in my own presentation format, which means there are minimal references and the paper is written in a less formal voice (contractions, etc.). I’m interested in your thoughts.

SBL Paper Handout – LDS and the Bible

This is an extended bibliography with links to complement the handout distributed during my SBL paper, Psalm 82 in the Contemporary Latter-day Saint Tradition (which will be available later).

Ackerman, James S. “An Exegetical Study of Psalm 82.” Th.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1966.

————-. “The Rabbinic Interpretation of Psalm 82 and the Gospel of John.” Harvard Theological Review 59.2 (1966): 186–91.

Alexander, Philip. “The Targumim and Early Exegesis of ‘Sons of God’ in Genesis 6.” Journal of Jewish Studies 23 (1972): 60–71.

Barlow, Philip. “Unorthodox Orthodoxy: The Idea of Deification in Christian History.” Sunstone 8.5 (1983): 13–19.

Bokovoy, David. “‘Ye Really Are Gods’: A Response to Michael Heiser concerning the LDS Use of Psalm 82 and the Gospel of John.” FARMS Review 19.1 (2007): 267–313. (link)

————-. “שמעו והעידו בבית יעקב: Invoking the Council as Witnesses in Amos 3:13.” Journal of Biblical Literature 127.1 (2008): 37–51.

Budde, Karl. “Ps. 82,6f.” Journal of Biblical Literature 40 (1921): 39–42.

Burnett, Joel S. A Reassessment of Biblical Elohim. Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 183; Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001.

Chalmers, R. Scott. “Who is the Real El? A Reconstruction of the Prophet’s Polemic in Hosea 12:5a.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 68.4 (2006): 611–30.

Cho, Sang Youl. 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.

Cole, Robert L. The Shape and Message of Book III (Psalm 73–89). JSOTSup 307; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.

Collins, John J. “Jewish Monotheism and Christian Theology.” Pages 81–96 in Aspects of Monotheism: How God is One. Edited by Hershel Shanks and Jack Meinhardt; Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1997.

————-. “Powers in Heaven: God, Gods, and Angels in the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Pages 9–28 in Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2000.

Collins, John J., and Adela Yarbro. King and Messiah as Son of God. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008.

Connerton, Paul. How Societies Remember. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Diez, Sebastian. “‘Nun sag, wie hast du’s mit den Göttern?’ Eine Forschungsgeschichte zu Ps 82.” Ph.D. dissertation, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, 2009. (link)

Dunn, James D. G. Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence. London: SPCK, 2010.

Eissfeldt, Otto. “El and Yahweh.” Journal of Semitic Studies 1.1 (1956): 1–30.

Emerton, James A. “The Interpretation of Ps lxxxii in John x.” Journal of Theological Studies 11 (1960): 329–32.

Frankel, David. “El as the Speaking Voice in Psalm 82:6–8.” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (2010): 2–24. (link)

Gieschen, Charles A. Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence. Leiden: Brill, 1998.

Goulder, Michael D. The Psalms of Asaph and the Pentateuch. Studies in the Psalter, III. JSOTSup 233; Sheffield,: Sheffield Academic Press,1996.

————–. “Asaph’s History of Israel (Elohist Press, 725 BCE).” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 65.1 (1995): 71–81.

Hanson, Anthony. “John’s Citation of Psalm LXXXII Reconsidered.” New Testament Studies 13 (1966): 363–67.

Hadley, Judith M. “The De-deification of Deities in Deuteronomy.” Pages 157–74 in The God of Israel. Robert P. Gordon, ed.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Handy, Lowell K. “Sounds, Words and Meanings in Psalm 82.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 47.1 (1990): 47–56.

Hannah, Darrell D. “Guardian Angels and Angelic National Patrons in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity.” Pages 413–35 in Angels: The Concept of Celestial Beings—Origins, Development and Reception. Edited by Friedrich V. Reiterer, Tobias Niklas, Karin Shöpflin; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2007.

Heiser, Michael S. “Deuteronomy 32 and the Sons of God.” Bibliotheca Sacra 158.1 (2001): 52–74. (link)

————-. “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature.” PhD diss., University of Wisconsin – Madison, 2004. (link)

————-. “Are Yahweh and El Distinct Deities in Deut. 32:8–9 and Psalm 82?” Hiphil 3 (2006): 3–9. (link)

————-. “You’ve Seen One Elohim, You’ve Seen Them All: A Critique of Mormonism’s Use of Psalm 82.” FARMS Review 19.1 (2007): 221–66. (link)

————-. “Israel’s Divine Council, Mormonism, and Evangelicalism: Clarifying the Issues and Directions for Future Study.” FARMS Review 19.1 (2007): 315–23. (link)

————-. “Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible.” Bulletin of Biblical Research 18.1 (2008): 1–30. (link)

————-. “Jesus’ Quotation of Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34: A Different View of John’s Theological Strategy.” Paper presented at the Pacific Northwest Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, 13 May 2011, Spokane, WA. (link)

Himbaza, Innocent. “Dt 32,8, une correction tardive des scribes Essai d‘interprétation et de datation.” Biblica 83.4 (2002): 527–48. (link)

Hossfeld, Frank-Lothar, and Erich Zenger. “The So-Called Elohistic Psalter: A New Solution for an Old Problem.” Pages 35–51 in A God So Near: Essays on Old Testament Theology in Honor of Patrick D. Miller. Edited by Brent A. Strawn and Nancy R. Bowen; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2003.

————-. Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51–100. Hermeneia Commentary Series; Minneapolis, Min.: Augsburg Fortress, 2005.

Hurtado, Larry. “New Testament Christology: A Critique of Bousset‘s Influence.” Theological Studies 40 (1979): 306–17.

————-. One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism, Second Edition. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2003.

————-. “Monotheism, Principal Angels, and the Background of Christology.” In the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2010.

Hwang, Won-Ha and J. G. van der Watt, “The Identity of the Recipients of the Fourth Gospel in the Light of the Purpose of the Gospel.” HTS Theological Studies/Teologiese Studies 63.2 (2007): 683–98. (link)

Jones, Christine. “The Psalms of Asaph: A Study of the Function of a Psalm Collection” (Ph.D. dissertation, Baylor University, 2009).

Joosten, Jan. “Une théologie de la septante? Réflexions méthodologiques sur l‘interpétation de la version grecque.” Revue de théologie et de philosophie 132.1 (2000): 31–46.

————-. “A Note on the Text of Deuteronomy xxxii 8.” Vetus Testamentum 57.4 (2007): 548–55.

Jüngling, Hans-Winfried. Der Tod der Götter: Eine Untersuchung zu Psalm 82. Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1969.

Kaminsky, Joel, and Anne Stewart. “God of All the World: Universalism and Developing Monotheism in Isaiah 40–66.” Harvard Theological Review 99.2 (2006): 139–63.

Kee, Min Suc. “The Heavenly Council and Its Type-Scene.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 31.3 (2007): 259–73.

Kharlamov, Vladimir. “Theosis in Patristic Thought.” Theology Today 65 (2008): 158–68. (link)

Kirk, Alan. “Social and Cultural Memory.” Pages 1–24 in Memory, Tradition, and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity. Semeia 52; Alan Kirk and Tom Thatcher, eds.; Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005.

Klink, Edward W., III, The Sheep of the Fold: The Audience and Origin of the Gospel of John. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 141; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Larson, Stan. “The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text.” BYU Studies 18.2 (1978): 193–208.

MacDonald, Nathan. “Aniconism in the Old Testament.” Pages 20–37 in The God of Israel. Robert P. Gordon, ed.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., 2007.

————-. Deuteronomy and the Meaning of ‘Monotheism.’ Forschungen Zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe 1; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Machinist, Peter. “How Gods Die, Biblically and Otherwise: A Problem of Cosmic Restructuring.” Pages 189–240 in Reconsidering the Concept of Revolutionary Monotheism. Edited by Beate Pongratz-Leisten; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2011.

McClellan, Daniel O. “What is Deity in LXX Deuteronomy?” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, 22 November 2010, Atlanta, GA. (link)

————-. “Monotheism—Still a Misused Word in Jewish Studies?” Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, 29 May 2011, Fredericton, New Brunswick. (link)

Meier, Samuel A. “Angel I מלאך.” Pages 81–90 in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Second Edition, Extensively Revised. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, eds.; Leiden: Brill, 1999.

————-. “Angel of Yahweh מלאך יהוה.” Pages 96–108 in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Second Edition, Extensively Revised. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, eds.; Leiden: Brill, 1999.

Mosser, Carl. “The Earliest Patristic Interpretations of Psalm 82, Jewish Antecedents, and the Origin of Christian Deification.” Journal of Theological Studies 56 (2005): 30–74.

Neusner, Jacob. “Conversation in Nauvoo about the Corporeality of God.” BYU Studies 36.1 (1996–97): 7–31. (link)

Neyrey, Jerome H. “‘I Said: You Are Gods’: Psalm 82:6 and John 10.” Journal of Biblical Literature 108.4 (1989): 647–63.

Nasuti, Harry P. Tradition History and the Psalms of Asaph. Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1988.

Niehr, Herbert. “Götter oder Menschen—eine falsche Alternative. Bemerkungen zu Ps 82.” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 99.1 (1987): 94–98.

Nispel, Mark D. “Christian Deification and the Early Testimonia.” Vigiliae Christianae 53 (1999): 289–304.

Oosting, Reinoud. “The Counsellors of the Lord in Isaiah 40–55: A Proposal to Understand their Role in the Literary Composition.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32.3 (2008): 353–82.

Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Parker, Simon B. “The Beginning of the Reign of God—Psalm 82 as Myth and Liturgy.” Revue Biblique 102.4 (1995): 532–59.

Paulsen, David L. “Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses.” Harvard Theological Review 83.2 (1990): 105­–16.

Peterson, Daniel C. “‘Ye are Gods’: Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind.” Pages 516–53 in The Disciple as Scholar. Edited by Stephen D. Ricks, et al.; Provo: FARMS, 2000. (link)

Porter, Larry C. and Milton V. Backman, Jr. “Doctrine and the Temple in Nauvoo.” BYU Studies 32.1 (1992): 41–56. (link)

Prinsloo, W. S. “Psalm 82: Once Again, Gods or Men?” Biblica 76 (1995): 222–28.

Reimer, Andy M. “Rescuing the Fallen Angels: The Case of the Disappearing Angels at Qumran.” Dead Sea Discoveries 7.3 (2000): 334–53.

Rösel, Martin. “Theologie der Griechischen Bible zur Wiedergabe der Gottesaussagen im LXX-Pentateuch.” Vetus Testamentum 48.1 (1998): 49–62.

———–. “Towards a ‘Theology of the Septuagint.’” Pages 239–52 in Septuagint Research: Issues and Challenges in the Study of the Greek Jewish Scriptures. Wolfgang Kraus and R. Glenn Wooden, eds.; Septuagint and Cognate Studies 53; Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006.

Sanders, Paul. Provenance of Deuteronomy 32. Leiden: Brill, 1996.

Schneider, Thomas. “The First Documented Occurrence of the God Yahweh? (Book of the Dead Princeton ‘Roll 5’).” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 7.2 (2008): 113–20.

Scott, James M. Adoption as Sons of God. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992.

Segal, Alan F. Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism. Leiden: Brill, 1997.

Smith, Mark S. The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel‘s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

————-. The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities of Early Israel. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002.

————-. God in Translation: Deities in Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008.

Strawn, Brent A. “The Poetics of Psalm 82: Three Notes (and a Plea for the Poetic).” Unpublished manuscript.

Stuckenbruck, Loren T. “‘Angels’ and ‘God’: Exploring the Limits of Early Jewish Monotheism.” Pages 45–70 in Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism. Loren T. Stuckenbruck and Wendy E. S. North, eds.; London: T&T Clark, 2004.

Tsevat, Matitiahu. “God and the Gods in Assembly, an Interpretation of Psalm 82.” Hebrew Union College Annual 40/41 (1969–70): 123–37.

Tuschling, R. M. M. Angels and Orthodoxy: A Study in their Development in Syria and Palestine from the Qumran Texts to Ephram the Syrian. Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum 40; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007.

Van Winkle, D. W. “The Relationship of the Nations to YHWH and to Israel in Isaiah 40–55.” Vetus Testamentum 35 (1985): 446–58.

Wernick, Nissim. “A Critical Analysis of the Book of Abraham in Light of Extra-Canonical Jewish Writings.” Ph.D. dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1968. (link)

Widtsoe, John A. A Rational Theology: As Taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, 1915.

Zakovitch, Yair. “Psalm 82 and Biblical Exegesis.” Pages 213–28 in Sefer Moshe. The Moshe Weinfeld Jubilee Volume: Studies in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, Qumran, and Post-Biblical Judaism. Edited by Chaim Cohen, Avi Hurvitz, and Shalom M. Paul; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2004.

Zenger, Erich. “Psalm 82 im Kontext der Asaf-Sammlung: Religionsgeschichtliche Implikationen.” Pages 272–92 in Religionsgeschichte Israels. Gütersloh; Gütersloh: Kaiser, 1999.

Eine Forschungsgeschichte zu Ps 82

I recently ran across a very helpful resource while gathering research for my two SBL papers on Psalm 82. The text is a condensed version of a 2009 Würzburg PhD dissertation by Sebastian Diez entitled “‘Nun sag, wie hast du’s mit den Göttern’: Eine Forschungsgeschichte zu Ps 82.” It briefly summarizes over 170 years of the academic interpretation of Psalm 82. There is also a helpful chart at the end that breaks down the way each scholar has dated the psalm. Check it out!

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.