Tag Archives: Psalm 82

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.”

Gods Die

I’m working on a section of my thesis wherein I inductively try to piece together common ideas from the ancient Near East regarding the nature and function of divinity. The portion on I worked on yesterday had to do with the common idea that divinity is distinguished from humanity by immortality. Gilgamesh’s famous lament is that the gods made humans mortal and kept immortality for themselves. We find this distinguishing mark of divinity just about everywhere in the ancient Near East. We also find exception to this rule, though. Gilgamesh would later fall in with Utnapishtim and his wife, who were the divinized Mr. and Mrs. Noah of Assyria-Babylon. They were going to live forever. Psalm 82 has the gods condemned to mortality. The Kirta Epic has Ilhau wonder how it is possible that his father, a son of Ilu, could die. Marduk kills Tiamat and Qingu to create the universe and humanity. God died.

Jonathan Z. Smith, in his insightful article on dying and rising gods for the Encyclopedia of Religion, states that immortality cannot be considered one of the chief attributes of divinity:

Despite the shock this fact may deal to modern Western religious sensibilities, it is commonplace within the history of religions that immortality is not a prime characteristic of divinity: gods die.

I think Smith is wrong here, and I’m not the only one. In The Origins of Biblical Monotheism, Mark Smith comments that, in addition to modern sensibilities, such a notion would have also been a shock to ancient readers. He cites Ilhau’s comments as a sign that immortality certainly was a fundamental expectation vis-à-vis divinity. I would expound on this a bit and say that it has to be a fundamental characteristic of divinity, otherwise the death of the gods is rhetorically weak. The very notion that some gods die is what creates the literary tension that captures a reader or listener’s attention and produces the desired rhetorical effect. It’s the reason writers have bad guys doing good, good guys doing bad, etc. For a biblical example, compare Exod 33:20, which says no man can see God and live, to the numerous examples of people seeing God and marveling that they did not die (Gen 16 and 32, Exod 3, Judg 6 and 13). Exceptions to rules are what mark specific narratives or characters as significant. Jonathan Z. Smith is usually sensitive to these literary dynamics, but I think he’s overlooked them here. Immortality is a fundamental attribute of divinity, even if exceptions abound.


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!

Both SBL Proposals Accepted

I was notified today that both my SBL paper proposals were accepted. The first will be presented in the Book of Psalms section and is entitled “Psalm 82 within the Psalms of Asaph.” The second will be presented in the Latter-day Saints and the Bible section and is entitled “Psalm 82 in the Modern Latter-day Saint Tradition.” I will have to track down the abstracts, but when I do I will post them here.

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.

Psalm 82 Paper Online

I recently submitted a term paper on Psalm 82 that I’ve put online here. I hope to further develop the paper (my term papers are usually only half-baked), so I appreciate any feedback. I would point out that I have shifted positions on what I think to be one of the more important aspects of modern study of the psalm, namely the distinction in the psalm between Yhwh and Elyon. I have concluded that the psalm likely comes from the exilic period, which is much too late for Yhwh to be distinguished from Elyon. Rather, I feel the author has drawn his narrative framework from an older northern tradition that likely made the distinction, but understood the two deities to be identical, and organized the content of the psalm accordingly. I also provide what I believe to be a rather unique discussion of the psalm’s genre. I hope you are able to get something useful out of it.

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.