Tag Archives: Michael Heiser

Heiser on the Authorship of the Pentateuch

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

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.


Heiser on Monotheism

This is a bit older, but it bears mention. David Burnett has an interview with Michael Heiser on the subject of monotheism up on his blog, The Time Has Been Shortened. Check it out, as well as the previous interview with Nathan MacDonald, who heads up the Early Jewish Monotheisms project at Göttingen University.

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.

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 reading. 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 two 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.

Cosmic Kingship and Political Kingship

In a paper I recently wrote on Psalm 82’s form and function, I very briefly touched upon a distinction between a deity’s political kingship and their cosmic kingship. I haven’t seen this discussed much, but it seems to me an important distinction to make. Yhwh, for instance, is understood exclusively as the deity of Israel well into the exile (Ps 79:1, 6; Amos 3:2; etc.), but he is asserted to be the High God and king well before (Ps 18:13; 29:10). Even the name יהוה אלהים suggests his creation of the gods (according to some).

Many scholars equate kingship over the gods and heaven/earth with political universalization (see, for instance, Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature,” 77), but I think this is a mistake. When Baal and Marduk accede to their divine kingships in the Baal Epic and Enuma Elish, respectively, there is no indication they do not remain national deities. Kemosh remained the national deity of Moab, and Yhwh the deity of Israel, even in the Mesha inscription, where Yhwh’s temple vessels are dragged before Kemosh. I would point out, too, that in the ancient Near Eastern pantheons there was nothing problematic about multiple “kings.” Baal’s accession to his “eternal kingship” (KTU did not undue El’s sovereignty.

For this reason I see nothing in the Hebrew Bible that undermines the conclusion that Yhwh was politically universalized during the Exile as a means of rationalizing Israel’s deportation and protecting Israel’s relationship with Yhwh and her national identity. Yhwh’s kingship over the gods in pre-exilic periods does not complicate that theory.

Scholarly Hubris, James White, and Psalm 82

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.

Exodus 22:8-9

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.

Scholarly Hubris

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.

A Rarity

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.

Michael Heiser, SBL, and the Divine Council

Michael Heiser has two new posts up at The Naked Bible which discuss his experience at ETS and SBL last week. One discusses papers he presented at ETS entitled “Should the Plural אלהים of Psalm 82 be Understood as Men or Divine Beings?” and “What is an Elohim?” The papers are available here and here, and are closely related to other papers published previously here and here. Michael (I hope he doesn’t mind if I use his first name for convenience) also addresses an old Alpha & Omega Ministries post critiquing his view of Psalm 82. As Michael points out, James White misses the mark on a number of issues. I may write a response to it myself one day.

Michael’s other post mentions the second Early Jewish Monotheisms section from SBL, which he attended from beginning to end. He had promised to attend the paper I read in that session after a short discussion earlier this year on his blog about Mormonism and the Divine Council. I hope he wasn’t disappointed in my paper.

A bit on that Mormonism discussion, by the way: Michael’s work is often quoted among lay and academic Latter-day Saint crowds as a result of his position on “the gods” in texts like Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32. Someone evidently emailed Dr. Heiser to ask if Mormons were representing his work accurately online. He states,

I answered the above question negatively since the emailer informed me that some Mormons on the web are thinking that I believe Yahweh had a father distinct from Himself. Nope. No idea how anyone who’s read my material could come away with that one.

I agree that it’s hard to imagine that someone could come away from his material thinking he espoused such an idea, which is one of the primary reasons I believe the person who emailed him either misunderstood or misrepresented the LDS position they described. I’ve personally never seen anyone so misrepresent Michael’s position. The Latter-day Saints who participate in online discussions of this nature are well aware of his position.

Anyway, it was nice to meet Michael (taller than I thought), and I’m glad he enjoyed hearing Larry Hurtado. Before the session began I was anticipating a question or comment from Michael on my view of Yhwh and El as originally distinct deities, but the issue was raised several times in the other papers, and my view was reiterated each time. It probably would have been a little tedious to bring it up after all that. Michael’s dissertation was mentioned several times, and both Larry and I made reference in our papers to his phrase “species uniqueness.” On his blog Michael mentions he’d like to return to his dissertation and see it published. I think it would be a great idea. It was nice to see so much interaction on these topics, and I look forward to future sessions. I’m told Mark Smith is interested in the question of monotheism in wisdom literature for next year’s session, which sounds like it could be interesting.

New Master’s Thesis on the Divine Council

I just ran across a new master’s thesis related to the Divine Council. It’s from a Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary alum named Daniel Porter and is entitled “God among the Gods: An Analysis of the Function of Yahweh in the Divine Council of Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 82.” Here’s the abstract:

The importance of the Ugaritic texts discovered in 1929 to ancient Near Eastern and Biblical Studies is one of constant debate. The Ugaritic texts offer a window into the cosmology that shaped the ancient Near East and Semitic religions. One of the profound concepts is the idea of a divine council and its function in maintaining order in the cosmos. Over this council sits a high god identified as El in the Ugaritic texts whose divine function is to maintain order in the divine realm as well on earth. Due to Ugarit‟s involvement in the ancient world and the text‟s representation of Canaanite cosmology, scholars have argued that the Ugaritic pantheon is evidenced in the Hebrew Bible where Yahweh appears in conjunction with other divine beings. Drawing on imagery from both the Ugaritic and Hebrew texts, scholars argue that Yahweh was not originally the high god of Israel, and the idea of “Yahweh alone” was a progression throughout the biblical record. However, there are scholars who understand the divine council motif as a common image among all ancient Semitic peoples, and while the biblical writers use the imagery of divine council, they do not adopt the theology. The questions that arise are: do the Hebrew Scriptures allow for Ugaritic parallelism? Is the divine council in the Hebrew Scriptures an import from Ugarit? And if so, what is the function of Yahweh in these council settings? To answer these questions, this thesis explores the views and responses presented by scholars who analyze two key passages in the debate where the Yahweh/El polemic is suggested: Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and Psalm 82.

I will get to details shortly, but the thrust of Porter’s thesis is neatly conveyed in the following:

What can be observed is the tendency of scholars such as Smith and Parker to insert the Ugaritic myth into the Hebrew texts where it does not belong. It was observed that to separate Yahweh and El in Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 82 is incoherent with Old Testament theology.

Guiding this conclusion is obviously the presumption of a univocal biblical text. For the author, Old Testament theology as a whole must be coherent. I have discussed this previously, but will address it again in this post.

Now, as a master’s thesis it’s not expected to have an absolutely comprehensive bibliography, but some rather striking omissions from Porter’s bib include Jan Joosten’s VT article, “A Note on the Text of Deuteronomy xxxiii 8,” Smith’s God in Translation (now available in paperback!), the vast majority of Nicolas Wyatt’s publications (only one is referenced), and numerous Divine Council articles by scholars like Kee, Cross, Kingsbury, Cooke, Morgenstern, Patai, van der Toorn, and others. The bibliography is also heavy with commentaries (some of them very old), although the author does aim his thesis at past academic treatment of the topic.

Regarding the text itself, I found it quite rudimentary and peppered with assumption and specious argumentation. For instance, this unsupported assumption is found near the conclusion:

Given the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures clearly present Yahweh as the supreme creator deity, he alone possesses true immortality.

Where “true immortality” is ascribed exclusively to the “supreme creator deity” in Hebrew Bible theology is left for the reader to guess. This is found in the introduction:

In Mesopotamia, the Gilgamesh Epic, Epic of Atrahasis, and the Enuma Elish are examples of the use of divine council imagery. In these accounts, Anu is the high god of the pantheon who presides over the council until Marduk is chosen as king of the gods in the Enuma Elish.

This presumes an entirely unified and consistent worldview between these three texts, as if Enuma Elish is the concluding chapter of a book comprising all three texts. Porter seems to view all the religious texts of each culture as reflecting a single, unified worldview. Thus, he says of the Ugaritic texts, “The Baal Cycle and the Keret Epic give the clearest understanding of divine council in the Ugaritic texts.” This neglects the fact that the DC in Ugaritic texts takes on various forms. For instance, Baal is said both to be the son of Dagan and the son of El. Whether intentional or otherwise, the ideologies are not perfectly consistent. It is not helpful to impose upon one’s evaluation of the texts the notion that they univocal. Unfortunately, all our data does not plug into a single equation for each culture.

The language of the thesis is also basic and in many places, confusing. The following illustrates this:

Excavations have unearthed remnants of metal workers along the coast which provided weapons for export and use in the army.

Have excavations unearthed remnants of the workers themselves (their corpses), or of metallurgy as a practice? The above indicates only the former, but the latter is clearly intended. Elsewhere:

The kingdom comprised of approximately 200 villages.

This is simply poor grammar. Again:

He explains the reason why Baal became superior was due to the area‟s total dependency on rain.

Another lengthy section on the geography and history of Ugarit is entirely superfluous. It feels to me like little more than fluff.

In other places Porter misunderstands the scholarship. The author criticizes scholarship’s use of Ugaritic literature as a way to inform our reading of the biblical texts in the following manner:

The evidence these scholars use are the similarities in terminology, and characteristics between the gods (more specifically El and Baal) and Yahweh. These scholars see the parallels specifically in the divine council references as indications of polytheism in the biblical record. Their understanding is the Ugaritic council, with El as high god, was the source of the Israelite council.

Scholars don’t posit the Ugaritic DC as the source of the Israelite DC, they see both as separate manifestations of a shared worldview. Both cultures draw from the same ideological matrix, adapting them to their particular cultural characteristics and expediencies. There is not a linear and genetic relationship between the two.

Other misunderstandings are more basic. In the following the author confuses Mark Smith’s argument for the conflation of Yhwh and El as an argument simply for Yhwh’s identification with El:

Scholars note that there are many similarities between the Ugaritic god, El and the Israelite deity, Yahweh. The similarities are so convincing that some scholars equate Yahweh and El as being the same deity. Mark Smith argues that the similar characteristics and designations for El and Yahweh command their unity. He presents two arguments: first, “Israel is not a Yahwistic name” and “Yahweh and El were identified at an early stage since there are no biblical polemics against El.”

Elsewhere the author begs the question. A key discussion in the thesis is the identification of Yhwh and El within the DC. Given that, it is odd to find the following at the beginning of the discussion of the biblical manifestation of the DC, rather than after the conclusion, since it presupposes it:

In the previous chapter, attention was given to the Ugaritic pantheon. However, the biblical council is not as complex as their neighbor‟s to the north. Instead, the Bible presents Yahweh as the sole authority for the functions of the council and ultimately the functions of the cosmos. Therefore, it is only necessary to discuss how Yahweh and his council functioned.

Then again:

Unlike El of the Ugaritic texts, Yahweh is classified as an “active” god.

Here the author presupposes Yhwh is to be identified with the Ugaritic El, an “authoritative deity,” rather than to Baal, an Ugaritic “active deity.” He completely dismisses the theory against which he is trying to argue.

Elsewhere dogmatism more explicitly governs his interpretation of the material. Regarding 1 Kings 22, Porter dismisses the most common critical reading (Yhwh sought counsel, received it, and accepted it) in favor of a more orthodox reading, characterized by Paul R. House, which precludes the notion that Yhwh would ever send someone to lie to Ahab, or would ever be in need of counsel.

After discussing the “critical scholar’s” assessment of Deuteronomy’s provenance, Porter states, “Most confessional scholars attribute the book and therefore the Song to Moses which will date the Song to the fifteenth century B.C.” This is based on a rather fundamentalist reading of the text. I don’t know any mainstream scholars, confessional or otherwise, who prefer a 15th century date for Moses. A 13th or even early 12th century date (Rendsburg) is far more common among those who accept his reality (at least as far as I am aware).

Elsewhere Porter shows rather superficial familiarity with his sources. For instance, he explains that scholars who accept an adversative reading of the כי in Deut 32:9 conclude it presents a contrast between Elyon and Yhwh. Although he elsewhere cites Paul Sanders’ The Provenance of Deuteronomy 32, he fails to mention that Sanders finds the adversative as indicative of the identification of Yhwh and El. Heiser points this out as well in another article that Porter cites.

Porter rejects that the adversative indicates a distinction between the two by simply asserting that the context simply precludes a distinction:

The overall context of the verse in relation to the whole song supports the view that the two epithets refer to the same God.

He cites Christopher Wright: “there is no possibility that Yahweh is simply one of the ‘sons of god’ to whom nations are allocated.” He also cites Richard Nelson: “both the context and poetic parallelism make clear that these two designations refer to the same God.” He also argues that Elyon is never used in reference to El in the Ugaritic texts (which is completely irrelevant—Yhwh is also never used in reference to El in the Ugaritic texts). The fact that the כי is not original doesn’t enter the equation (v. 9 originally began with ויהי – see LXX Deut 32:9). The subordinate clause manifested in the original version supports the identification of Yhwh as one of the בני אלהים. This discussion is far more complicated that Porter seems aware. He attributes the entire disagreement to the כי, despite the fact that the scholars he cites give far more reasons for their reading. Additionally, no real argument is given by Porter, he simply asserts that it cannot be so and cites other scholars who assert the same with no further argument.

Regarding the context of the Song of Moses as a whole, Porter states that it comprises a rib, giving the following incredibly myopic definition for an ancient Near Eastern rib:

The rib was a formal lawsuit document presented to a rebellious vassal accusing them of disloyalty to their overlord.

This narrow definition becomes critical later, however, when it is all that holds together the notion that Yhwh cannot be subordinate in Deut 32:8:

If the rib pattern is understood to be of royal judiciary proceedings as demonstrated earlier, this would indicate that Yahweh as supreme deity was issuing a complaint, not as the accuser, but as the offended suzerain.

In truth, a rib can be logged by more than just an offended suzerain. Parker points to two examples of a rib brought forth by a subordinate; one from the Hebrew Bible, and one from Ugarit. Neither Porter nor Heiser mentions either.

Only one publication is cited regarding the form and function of Deuteronomy 32. Those of Thiessen, Nigosian, Weitzman, Skehan, Mendenhall, and Britt are completely neglected. The one publication used is preferred because it allows Porter to come to the following conclusion: “the rib pattern does not support Yahweh being subordinate to any other deity.”

The problems with this passage don’t end there. Regarding the most common reading of Deut 32:8, that the sons of God are patron deities assigned to the nations of the earth, Porter states the following:

That conclusion would be acceptable if the biblical texts presented the Israelite religion as another polytheistic system. The fact, however, is that the biblical religion is interpreted as monotheistic.

Again, a unified and consistent theology from beginning to end is presupposed. The Bible presents one single religion. Porter points to Deut 4:19 as an indication that the text accepts Yhwh as the supreme deity. That Deut 4:19 was not written by the same author as Deut 32:8 is never considered.

In his discussion of Psalm 82 Porter continues to beg the question by arguing that a reading that distinguishes between Yhwh and El is unlikely because Yhwh and El were considered the same deity. He then cites Heiser’s notion that the conflation of Yhwh and El “could have been a combining of the high gods of two different religions.” Thus, according to Porter, the father/son relationship espoused by Smith and Parker is unjustified. That his conclusion hangs exclusively on Heiser’s supposition (“could have been”) seems to escape him. That Yhwh represents the Israelite storm deity and thus does not represent the conflation of two cross-cultural high gods is nowhere even considered. He continues to cite Heiser concerning Yhwh’s early kingship over the gods. My discussion of Heiser’s arguments associated with that point is here. Porter finds no reason to even question Heiser, though, appealing, once again, to a univocal reading of the Bible:

The argument that Parker and Smith would take is that v.8 calls for Yahweh to assume authority that previously he was not understood to have. This is incoherent with Old Testament theology as Yahweh is repeatedly proclaimed as universal king.

And again:

While the mythic background to the psalm’s theme is clearly seen, the direct involvement of the Ugaritic El is unfounded. This is a common complaint about Ugaritic studies in that scholars attempt to impose mythic elements where the elements do not belong. It is seen by many scholars that the psalmist sees no other God, but Yahweh as being the active sovereign in the psalm. This conclusion is attested not only from the context of the passage, but also from the whole of Old Testament theology.

Porter next addresses the problem of presenting Yhwh as the main character while at the same time keeping him in a motif where he is subordinate. Heiser states, “neither Smith nor Parker offer any explanation as to why, in the scene they are creating, El the seated judge does not pronounce the sentence. In this reconstruction El apparently has no real function in the council.” Porter need only review his introduction of the Ugaritic pantheon to undermine that point:

The classifications of “active” and “inactive” deities become problematic when discussing the functions of the gods. As Walton states, “a god who does not function or act fades into virtual nonexistence.” El, for all practical purposes, is an “inactive” god. He is the creator god who creates the “active” gods who rule in the natural realm. Walton references J. Assmann in his observation that it was the creator gods‟ inactivity that led to them being replaced by active deities. De Moor explains this dilemma by chronicling the struggle between Baal and El in the Ugaritic texts. He observes that Baal is in constant struggle to overthrow his father-in-law El. He further comments that this progressive move from El to Baal was slow, but by the first millennium B.C. Baal is presented as the victor and El is only mentioned occasionally.

Regarding Psalm 82, Porter also neglects a critical scripture:

The consensus view which attempts to use Psalm 82 as proof text for Israel‟s ancient polytheism is not contextually founded. The psalm only names one deity and the other deities are never given names or fully defined.

Of course, the author of Psalm 82 would have been aware of Exod 23:13:

And you shall keep all things which I tell you, and you shall not make mention of the names of other gods, nor shall they be heard in your mouth.

Porter goes on to conclude that the proclivity of critical scholars to draw parallels between the Ugaritic texts and the Bible neglects the fact that the authors of the Hebrew Bible were all staunch monotheists. This conclusion is not based on any direct confrontation of the arguments against that notion, but only on the evidence brought forth in favor of rejecting the notion that Yhwh and El were considered separate deities. The author, to my pleasant surprise, did not fall back on the tired old notion that the elohim of Psalm 82 and other texts are human judges. He recognizes they were considered divine beings, but this introduces another concern of which Porter seems unaware: what is “monotheism” if other gods were believed to exist? How can he call upon the staunch monotheism of the biblical authors to govern our interpretation of certain texts if he recognizes in other texts the existence of numerous other deities. That Yhwh was superior or over “species unique” (to follow Heiser) does not solve the problem.

Your thoughts?