More Michael Heiser: “No Other Gods Besides Me”

Here I reproduce a portion of Heiser’s “Introduction to the Divine Council”. This section comments on the nature of monotheistic statements in the bible:

Analysis of the Hebrew text demonstrates that several of the most common phrases in the Hebrew Bible allegedly used for denying the existence of other gods (e.g., Deut 4:35,39; 32:12,39) appear in passages that affirm the existence of other gods (Deut 4, 32). The result is that these phrases express the incomparability of Yahweh among the other elohim, not that the biblical writer contradicts himself, or that he is in the process of discovering monotheism. The situation is the same in Isaiah 40-66. Isaiah 40:1-8 is familiar to scholars (via the plural imperatives in 40:1-2) as a divine council text (Cross, Seitz). Isaiah 40:22-26 affirms the ancient Israelite worldview that described heavenly beings with heavenly host terminology (Heiser, “Divine Council,” 114-118). That Isaiah’s “denial statements” should be understood as statements of incomparability, not as rejections of the existence of other gods, is made clear in Isaiah 47:8, 10, where Babylon boldly claims, “I am, and there is none else beside me.” The claim is not that Babylon is the only city in the world, but that she has no rival.

Some would argue that the descriptions of a divine council are merely metaphoric. Metaphoric language, however, is not based on what a writer’s view of reality excludes. Rather, the metaphor is a means of framing and categorizing something that is part of the writer’s worldview. When the biblical writer asserts, “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods (‘elohim, ‘elim; Deut 10:17; Ex 15:11)?” these statements reflect a sincere belief and are neither dishonest nor hollow. Comparing Yahweh to the ancient equivalent of an imaginary or fictional character cheapens the praise. The Psalms contain many exclamations of the incomparability of Yahweh to the other gods (Ps 86:8, 95:3, 96:4, 135:5, 136:2). David (Ps 138:1) proclaims that he will sing the praise of the God of Israel “before the gods” (neged’elohim), a declaration that makes little sense if lesser ‘elohim did not exist.

I have links to two great articles by Heiser, both taken from www.thedivinecouncil.com. The first is titled “Introduction to the Divine Council“, and the second is entitled “God and the gods of the Old Testament“. The former is a draft of Heiser’s 2008 IVP Dictionary article, and the latter is a section from Heiser’s forthcoming book.

EDIT: Here is a link to a third, and excellent, article by Heiser. “Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible

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23 comments on “More Michael Heiser: “No Other Gods Besides Me”

  1. Aaron says:

    “Lesser ‘elohim” being the key phrase. Traditional Mormonism fosters a belief in the existence (or at least the possibility of the existence) of equal elohims, something Heiser rejects.

    Thus, in the end, appealing to Heiser backfires for Mormons.

  2. James says:

    Aaron, I’m happy to see you poke your head in here. I’ve bumped into you around the bloggernacle before.

    As for the elohim in the OT being “lesser” elohim than YHWH, I don’t disagree. They certainly are. The question is, are they inferior due to being of a separate “species” from YHWH? That is Heiser’s position (and yours), but in an earlier post here I disagree with it.

    I don’t agree that an appeal to Heiser backfires. Simply pointing out that Heiser disagrees with Mormonism on some level does not negate the fact that on other levels he agrees with Mormonism. Heiser himself pointed out 8 theological ideas that he espouses that Mormons would also espouse.

    It is as if one must agree 100% with someone in order to use their research. If that were the case, science could hardly advance. In fact, you would very hard pressed to find any two scientists (or biblical scholars) who agree on every particular. Nonetheless, they feel no hesitancy to use each other’s research regularly in specific discussions.

  3. Aaron says:

    Of course comprehensive agreement isn’t required here for significant overlap. But Heiser doesn’t merely disagree “on some level”. The species issue is a fundamental level.

    Also, accepting the traditional account of the Sermon in the Grove widens the divide, since in it Smith teaches that God the Father as a spirit father, and so forth. Neither Heiser (nor Ostler) agree with that.

  4. Aaron says:

    *has a spirit father, I meant of course

  5. James says:

    Aaron,
    The subject of this post was not about any similarities or differences between Yahweh and the members of his council. The subject is simply to point out that there IS a council of deities. If we can agree on that much, we have made great strides.

    The portions of Heiser that I quote are not dependent on any agreement with him about Yahweh’s “species-uniqueness”. This is simply about whether or not the Bible (specifically the OT) teaches that YHWH is the only god in the heavens. Heiser enthusiastically says no.

    I am aware of the doctrines taught by Smith in his two famous sermons, and of Ostler’s unique interpretation of them. I agree that the traditional view of Smith’s doctrines (not Ostler’s) widens the divide between Mormonism and Heiser.

    Nonetheless, Heiser’s work has done wonderful things to bridge that gap. He has pointed out to those of his own theological camp that their traditional view of monotheism is flawed, and I perceive a small shift towards a view closer to Mormonism’s on the part of Evangelicals like you. Heiser’s work would have been absolute blasphemy not that long ago, and still is for most Evangelicals.

  6. James says:

    To clarify, I am suggesting that some Evangelicals are beginning to recognize the presence of a literal divine council of gods in the OT. Even if they interpret the nature of the individuals in that council differently than Mormons, they have still shifted significantly from a previous “Yahweh-is-the-only-god” position.

    I find that important.

  7. Blake says:

    James: I respond to Heiser’s “disparate species” argument in chapter 8 of Of God and Gods.

    Heiser’s argument against the Mormon view is basically unsustainable proof-texting — it is strained and attempts to make connections between various texts that are hundreds of years apart and have very different views. He basically abandons his willingness to put the texts in their Near Eastern context as a basis for exegesis. That tendency on his part in arguing against the Mormon view of common species is surprising because it is the basis of his arguments against the propositions he asserts evangelicals will have a hard time accepting.

    Aaron: Come on. Do you agree with Heiser’s position fully? Heiser asserts:

    “Position statements on Psalm 82 and the divine council with which many evangelicals would probably disagree and with which many Latter-day Saints would likely agree:

    1. The plural ĕlōhim of Psalm 82:1, 6 are divine beings, not human judges or humans fulfilling any role.

    2. The term monotheism is inadequate to describe what it is Israel believed about God and the members of his council. As the text explicitly says, there are other ĕlōhim.

    3. References to “us” and “our” in passages like Genesis 1:26 do not refer to the Trinity. The plural ĕlōhim of Psalm 82 are also not members of the Trinity.

    4. The denial statements of Isaiah and elsewhere (“there is no god beside me”) do not constitute denials of the existence of other ĕlōhim. Rather, they are statements of Yahweh’s incomparability.

    5. The God of Israel did at times make himself known to people in the Old Testament in ways detectable to the human sense, including the corporeal.

    6. The Mormon understanding of God is not inherently polytheistic. It is polytheistic if Latter-day Saints insist that all ĕlōhim are species-equals, which depends in part on how they parse the divine council.

    7. “Spirit beings,” such as the plural ĕlōhim of Psalm 82, are created and therefore made of something. Invisibility does not mean that the invisible thing is immaterial. All things created were made, and are made of some form of matter, whether we can detect it by our sense or science or not. To deny this would mean that “spirit beings” are not part of the created order.

    8. Jesus’s quotation of Psalm 82 in John 10 is no argument for his deity (or rebuttal to the charge of blasphemy) if it is assumed that Jesus thought the ĕlōhim of Psalm 82 were humans.”

    Do you accept these points?

  8. James says:

    Hello Blake! I’m happy to see you stumbled upon my blog. May I ask how you discovered it?

    I’ve read various chapters in your 3rd volume (I skipped around a bit), but I haven’t yet read chapter 8. I didn’t realize that you address Heiser’s views in it, so now I need to go back and read that chapter. By the way, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read so far.

    As for Heiser’s idea of a “species-unique” Yahweh, I briefly wrote about it here:
    https://lehislibrary.wordpress.com/2009/02/25/is-yahweh-species-unique-heiser-bokovoy-discuss/

    I don’t think Aaron is coming back. Darn.

    Thanks!

  9. Blake says:

    Thanks James. I read your prior post as well and liked it. I think that Bokovoy didn’t address the basic philosophical issues raised by the texts and the anachronistic analysis that Heiser imposed on the texts he dealt with. Heiser should have noted that his term “polytheism” is just as anachronistic as the term “monotheism.” I also would like him to define what he means by “divine beings.” I disagree with his parsing of the use of “elohim” as well.

    I found your blog by noting side-bar blogs elsewhere. I think you’re doing a great job.

  10. GB says:

    Aaron is an anti-Mormon associated with Bill Mc(whats his name)’s “Mormon Research Ministries”.

    He prefers discussions in environments over which he has control.

  11. Aaron says:

    And I eat kittens for breakfast and have a job.

  12. Blake says:

    Aaron: and you didn’t answer my question. And yes, you are an anti-Mormon.

  13. Joe says:

    Through all my conversations with the lds people, I have yet to find an adequate answer to a question, and I’m sorry if this isn’t the correct blogspot, this is just one I found. Question: Is the book of mormon necessary?

  14. Joe says:

    Through all my conversations with the lds people, I have yet to find an adequate answer to a question, and I’m sorry if this isn’t the correct blogspot, this is just one I found. Question: Is the book of mormon necessary?

    (sorry, had to post again, mispelled my address)

  15. James says:

    Hello Joe. The subtitle to the Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”. What this means, to me, is that we already have other testaments of Jesus Christ and the BoM is but another one that adds another dimension to the story.

    For example, I could similarly ask “is the Book of Luke necessary? We already have Matthew, Mark, and John, so do we really need another testimony added to these?”

    We might not *need* another testimony added to these, but what is the harm? Only good can come of it. We learn more and gain added insight from the words of extra witnesses.

    From a different angle, I’d suggest that the Book of Mormon was absolutely crucial to the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in these latter days. It was a foundation stone that set apart a new people of God, and gave Joseph Smith something tangible and concrete to talk about. I love the Book of Mormon, and it has truly brought me closer to God than any other book (though the other testaments of Jesus Christ, aka the New Testament, is a close second).

  16. Hi Joe.

    Not undermine James’s answer, but I thought I would just share my perspective on your question.

    To me it is quite simple. Jesus said that we should live by “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. ” (Matt. 4:4) So, the answer to your question hinges on whether or not the Book of Mormon is the word of God. If it is, then it is necessary to include as part of our lives. If it is not, then despite any good advice it may have to offer, it is not necessary.

    I, for one, have that it is scripture, and so I do consider it necessary to read, study, ponder, and strive to live by. It is up to you to examine the book yourself and draw your own conclusions. I would recommend you do this by way of reading (the Book of Mormon) and praying about it (Moroni 10:3-5), but I’m guessing you have already been told that by Mormons before.

    Anyway, I hope this helped you.

  17. Nelson Chung says:

    Your blog rocks. It’s a rich source of quotations I can just copy and paste on other message boards.

  18. Nelson Chung says:

    James, you are right. That Heiser believes the elohim are divine beings is significant enough. Ignorant fundamentalist Christians believe they are human judges.

  19. James says:

    Thanks Nelson. That is precisely what my blog is all about. It is a place for me to safely file away interesting quotes and notes.

  20. James says:

    Nelson, I’ve gone ahead and added that link to the main body of the post for you.

  21. Nelson Chung says:

    thanks!

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