Why do you bother speaking at conferences and doing radio shows that cover subjects like the weird things people believe about the Bible and the ancient world, occult worldviews, and the paranormal?
I’ve done a lot of interviews where those things come up (or take center stage) and do them for a couple of reasons. I’m a believer that scholars should serve the public interest. Too many scholars ignore strange subjects and bogus research that fascinates people whose worldview revolves around such ideas. They claim they’re too busy or it’s not important. In doing so, they allow people to think poorly and believe things that have little basis in primary texts, logic, and even reality. I can’t think of anything much more potentially paradigm-shifting than the question of whether there is extraterrestrial life or whether aliens came to earth in antiquity (i.e., the ancient astronaut strangeness). Such topics quickly take one into religion, politics, physics, metaphysics, etc. They potentially redefine reality as we know it. I don’t like seeing people base their worldviews on ideas that are demonstrably wrong. People should not be duped, and scholars and scientists who know better should not stand on the sidelines allowing them to be duped.
Spiritually speaking, I want to minister to those whose experiences or exposure to strange ideas have caused them to feel abandoned by their church or family. I also think that reality is stranger than most people think. If, for example, we find out down the road that alien life really does exist, those who have a high view of Scripture need understand how biblical theology can accommodate it.
Have you ever had a paranormal experience? Has he ever seen a UFO?
No. (Does watching my kids grow up count?)
Are you available for speaking?
Yes, but only occasionally. You would have to contact me through my website. My schedule is tight. I do not require an honorarium, though it is appreciated. I do require all expenses paid.
Do you do any teaching or writing on the Bible that is available online?
Yes. I blog on biblical studies at my Naked Bible blog. I have a podcast for biblical studies (Naked Bible Podcast) and one that discusses paranormal topics (Peeranormal). There are also some videos of classes I have taught where I go to church.
Are you a rabbi or ordained?
No, and no. I’m also not Jewish, either by faith or ethnicity.
Do you believe aliens really exist?
No – not if we’re talking about aliens the way most do (an intelligent biological life form from a planet other than earth that has to draw nutrition, reproduce, and poop, and must use technology that conforms to the laws of physics to move around the universe). I know of no credible scientific confirmation that such extraterrestrial life either has existed or does exist. Equations (like the overblown Drake Equation) are not evidence for aliens. Every element in the equation is a guess (i.e., has no real data support). I reject the idea that the Bible affirms aliens (disguised as angels). ET life forms would be biological entities that need to perpetuate their species, draw nutrition, and are subject to dimensional laws of physics or else they would die. The Bible does not describe angels this way. Until science verifies (rather than speculates about) an intelligent ET life form, I see no reason to affirm their existence. But I’m not theologically alarmed by the possible existence of intelligent extraterrestrials.
UFOs and Your Paranormal Thrillers, The Façade and The Portent
Aren’t people who are into aliens and UFOs all nuts?
Hardly. I can count the people I’ve met at such events that I suspected were mentally ill or dangerous on one hand. Most are just like people at your church, your school, your job, etc. I’ve found there are, broadly, four kinds of people in the “UFO community” at large:
(1) The nuts-and-bolts scientists and serious researchers. These are folks dealing with questions of interstellar travel, propulsion systems, and the scientific possibility of ET life. The category also includes serious investigators doing the grunt research in classified / de-classified documentation relating to UFOs and rounding up first-hand witness testimony (some in category #4 like to think they are among this number, but they aren’t). The religious dimensions of the issue are barely on their radar. Some have already dismissed God because of their faith in non-theistic Darwinism. Some in this category are also politically active for the cause. Some are trained academics.
(2) The UFO or abduction experiencer (or wannabe experiencer). There are three subcategories to this one:
- The experiencer with a Christian testimony who wants to keep their faith. is the person who wants to keep their Judeo-Christian faith but is struggling with that. These are the people who have some experience and have tried in vain to get help from their pastor or other Christian friends to process the experience, to fit it into their faith worldview. They may or may not leave the organized church, but they surely are left on their own to deal with the experience. They rely on alternative sources of information and fellow experiencers to make spiritual sense out of it. They are vulnerable to nonsense like that of Zecharia Sitchin since some see it as the only way to make sense of things from their Bible. They are also vulnerable to redefining their faith in Gnostic terms.
- The experiencer who rejects the faith afterward, and who becomes antagonistic toward the faith. These people often operate out of anger toward the Church and may become openly hostile toward it. The reason is typically that pastors and Christian friends marginalized their experience or gave otherwise inept responses to questions — about the larger religious implications of a (presumed) alien reality or certain biblical passages that the experiencer now has questions about. This includes wannabe experiencers who vicariously come to hate Christianity because of what they read or hear from the experiencers who reacted in that way.
- The experiencer whose processing of an experience (or prior worldview) is now best described in modern terms as monistic (“all is one”), pantheistic, gnostic, etc. (“new ager”). They define God as a force or some other impersonal entity that permeates everything, including us. The aliens are here to enlighten us that we can evolve toward gods like they did / are doing. Along the way they can save us from ourselves (they warn us about nuclear weapons and global warming). Some in this category fancy themselves as avatars. This is the ancient astronaut believer (the ancient astronaut researcher is in category 4). They don’t care about things like logic and real data. They do truth by intuition and anomaly (99 of 100 data points one direction, but the one that doesn’t, or is an outlier, must be the truth … they just feel it.
(3) Military and Intelligence community folks (mostly ex-) who are either curious and like to lurk, or who are still getting paid for information and disinformation. (Yes, these people are really there; I’ve met them).
(4) The anti-Christian hucksters – people who see the UFO / ET issue as the platform they’ve wanted for years to vent their hatred toward Christianity and make money while doing it. These are the self-styled pseudo-scholars in the movement (usually with respect to ancient texts that they can’t actually translate). This crowd treats those of the Judeo-Christian faith with contempt and ridicule. These are the people whose bluff needs to be publicly called.
I’m guessing most of you in the Christian realm (academic or not) will consequently understand why I do this. If not, please feel free to email me and tell me why I should let the people in this community continue on in their Christ-less or God-less worldview, or why I should refuse to help them in their spiritual struggle. I do what I do to minister to or confront people in all the categories, whatever applies.
Is it true that Art Bell asked you to debate the late Zecharia Sitchin when he was the host of Coast to Coast AM?
Yes, this is true. The request was made in 2002 as I recall. I of course agreed immediately. As far as why Sitchin never agreed, I think the answer would be that he wasn’t stupid. He had nothing to gain and a lot to lose. But it was nice of Art to ask.
Do you review UFO books?
Yes, if they have importance to my own areas of interest. I don’t review manuscripts sent to me in any form. Here are titles of interest I have reviewed in the past:
Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection, by Gary Bates (Master Books, 2005)
Lights in the Sky & Little Green Men: A Rational Christian Look at UFOs and Extraterrestrials, by Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples, and Mark Clark (NavPress)
Body Snatchers in the Desert: The Horrible Truth at the Heart of the Roswell Story, by Nick Redfern (Paraview-Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, 2005)
Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times, by Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck (Tarcher / Penguin, 2009)
Mirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare, and UFOs, by Mark Pilkington and John Lundberg (Skyhorse Publishing, 2010)
Final Events and the Secret Government Group on Demonic UFOs and the Afterlife, by Nick Redfern (Anomalist Books, 2010)
Do you believe aliens are demons?
I don’t believe there are aliens, as noted above. If we find out there are intelligent extraterrestrials at some point, I don’t see any reason to conclude they are demons. But this question typically has the “alien abduction” phenomenon in view, which is addressed below.
Do you believe aliens are literally abducting people?
No, and this would extend from my answer to the previous questions. However, I do think most people who claim to have had this experience are not lying or hoaxing. I believe they experienced something, but I see no reason to conclude alien abduction is the correct way to parse the experience.
My research into what is called “alien abduction” leads me to conclude that there are a range of possible explanations:
(1) Direct demonization of people. I think this is rare, but possible given (a) the nature of the victim testimony, (b) the anti-Christian messaging that is associated with the experience. The CE4 Research Group has made this the focus of their work with abductees. So, to tie this in with the preceding question, I think the “are aliens demons” question is poorly worded. If the question is “could what happens to people in alleged alien experiences be demonic?” my answer is yes, but that isn’t the only option or, in my view, the most likely explanation. If the question is “could there be entities behind what people think is alien contact, and might those entities be demonic?” I’d again say yes. I believe in a supernatural world that includes forces hostile to God and people, so that’s on the table for me. But keep reading.
(2) Sleep paralysis. This is a common experience, and there is good research to connect this to some “abduction” experiences (see here and here). Sleep paralysis has been reproduced in lab conditions and those reproduced experience has included “seeing” aliens and other entities.
(3) Abductions by military personnel (i.e., MILABS) who implant an alien screen memory into the victim’s mind, using technology that has been known (and further developed) since the 70s. “Abduction” might not be the right word here, though in some cases I’ve read it fits. This could also include unwitting test subjects who have a paranormal or traumatic experience induced without their consent. One researcher to watch here is Leah Haley. Leah has recently concluded, after years of work with abductees, that it has nothing to do with extraterrestrials. What I’m thinking here is the governments long and lurid (and well-documented) history with mind control, mind altering drugs, and psychotronic weapons. See here, here, here, and here.
(4) Abductions where the victim’s mind replaces their actual traumatizer with the alien – traumatization where the victim responds by what is known in psychology as dissociative identity disorder (DID) – what used to be called multiple personality disorder).
I am well aware of the work of scholars in alien abduction research, like the late Dr. John Mack of Harvard and Dr. David Jacobs (Temple University) on the subject, but what I’d need to believe we were really dealing with aliens would be (a) actual evidence there are real aliens and (b) some sort of hybrid offspring — again, tested and verified by a credible laboratory. I don’t expect any such thing to be brought forth. I also think that the recent Emma Woods incident (see here — it is a large file) has tarnished Jacobs’ work beyond the inherent criticisms of repressed memory therapies. Jack Brewer’s recent expose, The Greys Have Been Framed: Exploitation in the UFO Community, is must-reading in this regard.
I still believe the best academic reading available on the subject of alien abduction are the papers from the 1992 MIT Conference on the alien abduction phenomenon: Alien Discussions : Proceedings of the Abduction Study Conference Held at M.I.T.
Do you believe there is currently some sort of secret government program (or other program) designed to produce literal alien-human hybrids (i.e., modern nephilim)?
No. I think the idea is nonsense. In any event, it’s a claim that demands empirical evidence (e.g., some sort of biological proof). The fact that xeno-transplantation exists in labs today is not proof of this for two simple reasons: (1) Logic – that a scientific capability exists is quite different from a particular application of that ability — those are two different things. Wireless technology exists; the idea that my neighbor is using his iPhone to talk to aliens in the Pleiades is a different situation altogether. (2) You’d need alien (or “demonic”) DNA for this presumed hybrid. So where’s the proof for that? You can’t use something that doesn’t exist to argue in favor of something else you believe exists.
How do you handle the plural pronouns in Gen 1:26 (“Let us create humankind in our image…”)? Doesn’t that verse show we were made by aliens like von Daniken and Sitchin insist?
Have you received any recognition for this research in ufology?
Yes. FATE Magazine named me to its list of “The 100 Most Influential People in UFOlogy” in 2005.
In your opinion, what are the best (i.e., most credible) books on UFOs?
Here are some recommendations for the subject of UFOs, aimed at the interested newbie:
UFOs and the National Security State: Chronology of a Coverup, 1941-1973, by Richard Dolan
UFOs and the National Security State: The Coverup Exposed: 1973-1991, by Richard Dolan
These volumes by Dolan are quite good for documenting the U.S. government’s burning interest in UFOs and its deliberate duplicity in informing the public about that interest. Rich is an academic (runner-up for a Rhodes scholarship as a grad student). If I had to pick one book to recommend to someone who said “convince me UFOs are worth looking into,” Rich’s first book would be it, or perhaps the shorter work by Leslie Kean below.
UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry, by Michael Swords, Robert Powell, Barry Greenwood, et al.
This book is (to date) the most comprehensive review of official government documents related to the UFO phenomenon. It was put together by interested academics (some are or were professors at various universities in the US and abroad) who are veteran UFO researchers. The book proves beyond a doubt that the official government line about being disinterested in the topic is simply put, a lie.
UFOs and Nukes: Extraordinary Encounters at Nuclear Weapons Sites, by Robert L. Hastings
An important book documenting the most serious UFO cases in the US – UFO encounters at nuclear bases. Much of the material in the book comes from de-classified government documents and interviews from military witnesses to the events. At nearly 600 pages, there are more than just one or two of these cases.
The UFO Enigma: A New Review of the Physical Evidence, ed. Peter Sturrock, PhD.
Also quite good. If you think there is no physical evidence for UFOs, you are uninformed. This book isn’t about fuzzy photographs.
Passport to Magonia : On UFOs, Folklore, and Parallel Worlds by Jacques Vallee, PhD
The above title by Vallee is one of his early efforts at dealing with his view that “aliens” may not be truly extraterrestrial – but entities of a spiritual or inter-dimensional nature. The following three titles by Vallee are a trilogy and, as you can tell by the titles, reveal his less-than-optimistic verdict about the “goodness” of the visitors. Vallee’s works are especially significant since he has no religious axe to grind.
Dimensions: A Casebook of Alien Contact by Jacques Vallee, PhD
Confrontations: A Scientist’s Search for Alien Contact by Jacques Vallee, PhD
Revelations: Alien Contact and Human Deception by Jacques Vallee, PhD
UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse by John Keel (Putnam, 1970)
A classic by the author of The Mothman Prophecies. Like Vallee, Keel argues strongly that UFOs are a demonic presence–and he is not a Christian.
A fascinating look at how the government systematically used now-deceased electrical physicist Paul Bennewitz to perpetuate disinformation about UFOs. Various government agencies fed Bennewitz lies to keep him believing in an imminent alien invasion until he was completely discredited and utterly insane. Eventually, author and UFO researcher Bill Moore was recruited to help in the disinformation campaign.
In your opinion, what are the best (i.e., most credible) websites and blogs for UFO research? Besides his own blog, UFO Religions, of course)
My answer here is about which sites are doing research and which ones are waxing eloquent about aliens (for which there is no proof). Here are the web resources I find most useful:
This is the motherlode for genuine government documents relating to the UFO phenomenon. The site consists of its owner’s scanned Freedom of Information Act requests, the scanned responses, and text-conversions of those scans. Literally tens of thousands of pages (most of which are unspectacular) demonstrate both the military’s disingenuous attitude toward the UFO phenomenon and its own documented experiences.
Leslie Kean’s UFOs on the Record Research Site
CUFOS (Dr. J. Allen Hynek’s Center for UFO Studies)
This site reports on UFO news. There’s pretty much a sighting a day, every day, though who knows what they actually are. It also provides good coverage to UFO research news of importance.
Bad UFOs (Robert Sheaffer)
These last three sites are skeptical blogs and sites, but very well-informed and serious (i.e., it’s not about silly swamp gas debunking).
What do you think about the work of Zecharia Sitchin and the idea of ancient astronauts?
Not much. I can’t think of a more data-starved belief than ancient astronauts (non sequiturs and anecdotes are not data). As for Zecharia Sitchin, I actually don’t think he knew any ancient languages. He probably knew modern Hebrew, but reading ability and grammatical analysis (exegesis and philology) of ancient texts is entirely different. Think about it. You can sight-read English if you’re reading this now — but can you analyze the grammar? Can you talk intelligently about verb tenses, syntax, modifiers, etc.? Reading and academic analysis are quite different. I don’t believe Sitchin could do any such thing in any ancient language. His books suggest that much. I have a whole website devoted to Sitchin’s nonsense, and have blogged a number of times about the myth of ancient astronauts.
Can you recommend any website that debunk ancient aliens content?
Yes. There are my Paleobabble and UFO religions blogs (accessible by searching my homepage), Jason Colavito’s site and blog (arguably the best resource for ancient alien nonsense), and the homepage for the free 3-hr documentary in which I appeared, Ancient Aliens Debunked.
Biblical Studies and Divine Council, Ancient Studies
Are you really a scholar in biblical studies and ancient languages? What are your credentials?
Yes, I really am. You can read my CV here.
If elohim is a plural word, how can it describe the singular God of Israel?
The Hebrew word elohim is morphologically plural (that is, it’s “shaped” as a plural, or “spelled” as a plural). However, in roughly 2,200 cases (by far over 90% of the biblical occurrences), the word elohim is used as a proper name for the ONE God of Israel. We know this because it’s a cold, hard fact from the text. In those 2,200 or so cases, elohim is the subject of a SINGULAR verb (all languages have subject-verb agreement) or is referred to by a SINGULAR pronoun (him, his). Don’t take my word for it; you can see the data for yourself here.
What this means is that, most of the time in the Hebrew Bible, although elohim has plural FORM, it’s MEANING is singular. It all depends on the sentence in which it’s found and the surrounding grammar and context. We have words like this in English. If I say “sheep”, by itself you can’t tell if I am referring to one sheep or more than one sheep. I need to put it in a sentence where the grammar tells you what is meant. “The sheep is lost” refers to ONE sheep since “is” = a singular verb form. “The sheep are lost” refers to more than one sheep because the verb form is plural.
How do you handle the plural pronouns in Gen 1:26 (“Let us create humankind in our image…”)? Doesn’t that verse show we were made by aliens like von Daniken and Sitchin insist?
What is your view of Genesis 6:1-4? Do you accept the Sethite View? What do you think about the nephilim?
I don’t accept the Sethite interpretation (that the sons of God in Gen 6:1-4 are the line of Seth marrying with the line of Cain). It simply has no merit. It cannot account for the morphology of the Hebrew term nephilim (see here for that). It is contradicted by the New Testament (Jude, 2 Peter 2, which presuppose an angelic sin that is compared to the sexual transgressions of Sodom). This view was not held by anyone, Jew or Christian, prior to the 3rd century A.D. and is internally contradictory. There are a number of decent critiques of this view on the Internet (e.g., here; note that inclusion here does not necessarily mean endorsement of the entire articulation). The best thing I can offer on the nephilim issue are the chapters in my book, The Unseen Realm May 2015).
Nephilim are clearly cast as giants in the Old Testament, though I do not believe any such people were taller than unusually tall people of today (see here). Skeletal remains of alleged giants are unpersuasive, since they are typically fakes and, more importantly, have never undergone scientific analysis. Without the science, there is no more validity to them than reports of aliens.
Do you think Matthew 24:37-38 is a prophecy about the return of nephilim or has anything to do with Genesis 6:1-4?
The short answer to both is no. (I also don’t think it has anything to do with UFOs or aliens). Back around the year 2000 or so I suspected that was the case, but I know better now. It’s not a text-driven argument or position. I blogged about this (and Dan 2:43 as well) back in 2015, but I’ll summarize my thoughts here.
There are several reasons why Matt 24:37-38 does not connect back to Gen 6:1-4. The sons of God are mentioned nowhere in Matt 24. There isn’t a whiff of divine-human transgression. Their presence is assumed on the basis of the phrase “marrying and giving in marriage,” but that’s actually where the idea breaks down. If Matthew wanted readers to think about Genesis 6:1-4 in these comments, he’d use the Greek terms in the Septuagint of LXX for what the sons of God and mortal women were doing. Matthew doesn’t do that even once. The LXX reads ἔλαβον ἑαυτοῖς γυναῖκας ἀπὸ πασῶν, ὧν ἐξελέξαντο (lit: “they took for themselves women from all which they chose”). Matthew doesn’t use any of these terms. Matthew’s Greek for “marrying and giving in marriage” is γαμοῦντες καὶ γαμίζοντες (lit: “marrying and giving in marriage”). Even if you can’t read Greek you can look at the words and know they aren’t the same as Gen 6 LXX.The other significant problem is that saying Matthew 24:37-38 is about a repeat of Genesis 6:1-4 requires you to ignore parts of what Matthew describes — or deliberately not see the disconnections with Genesis 6:1-4. Here is the full list of what Matthew says will be going on when Jesus returns that was going on in the days of Noah:
– eating and drinking
– marrying and giving in marriage
– not watching / being unaware
Only one of those (conceivably — but incorrectly) could be associated with Gen 6:1-4 — the “marrying and giving in marriage.” The others have no association whatsoever with the supernaturalist aspects of Gen 6:1-4. So why impose the supernaturalist character of Gen 6 onto what Matthew says? It’s an arbitrary decision, and one made incoherent and unsustainable by the lack of any connection to the LXX of Gen 6:1-4. When biblical writers want their readers to cross-reference an OT passage with what they are saying, they create connections. Matthew doesn’t do that even once.
Where can I learn more about the divine council? Are there any good books on it?
The best academic (but readable) introduction to the divine council is my book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Lexham, 2015). I’m not saying that to sell books. I’m saying it because it’s true. The reason I wrote the book was to introduce readers to the divine council of biblical theology and make scholarly discussion of that topic accessible to the non-specialist. The Unseen Realm, however, is for people who have reasonable experience in Bible study (and Bible study isn’t Bible reading). For people who only occasionally read the Bible (and then basically the New Testament), I have also written a “lite” version of Unseen Realm called Supernatural. Lastly, there is also my divine council website. It contains a couple of articles I’ve had published elsewhere.
There are also other dictionary articles in the following sources that will be in any Christian college library and many public libraries (see below):
“Assembly, Divine” in Anchor Bible Dictionary
“Divine Council” (by yours truly) in InterVarsity Press’s Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings
“Divine Council” (also by yours truly) in InterVarsity Press’s Dictionary of the Old Testament: The Prophets
“Council” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible
“Sons of God” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible
Beyond these, the bibliographies in the articles found at my divine council website will provide more resources, many of which are advanced, scholarly monographs and journal articles.
Do you believe the Bible teaches ghosts are real? Aren’t ghosts demons?
I believe the biblical text makes a distinction between disembodied human spirits and disembodied non-human spirits (see here for the data). The latter would fall into the “demon” category as we think of it, though the Old Testament only uses the word “demon” twice, and not specifically in the context of mediums (“mistress of the ‘ob, in biblical parlance). But a malevolent non-human spirit seems conceptually the same as demons of later biblical literature. As far as disembodied human spirits go, other than the case of Samuel (1 Sam 28:13), there is no proof that God sends them back to interact with humans (and that would be his choice; human solicitation of the disembodied human dead was forbidden in the Bible). It may be that God allows a departed loved one to “say goodbye” to other loved ones, but that would be up to God. We have no way of correctly parsing such experiences (and I have heard about several of these first hand, from pastors and other friends and relatives), so we should not assume we can know what’s going on in light of the little said on the subject in the Bible. My advice is let such an event be what it is and not pursue it or make it part of one’s faith.
Do you believe in the Bible code?
No – it’s a proposition that is dead on arrival. Here’s why.
Where can I find quality English translations of ancient Near Eastern texts (i.e., Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian, Ugaritic, Phoenician, etc.)?
There are several scholarly but accessible translations (anthologies of texts). Some are expensive.
The Context of Scripture: Canonical Compositions, Monumental Inscriptions and Archival Documents from the Biblical World, 3 Vol Set – This 3 volume set includes the major texts (from various genres) across the broad range of ancient Near Eastern literature.
The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures – This used to be a two-volume set; this is the combined in one volume edition. Like the item above, it contains translations from a broad range of ANE texts.
The Harps that Once…: Sumerian Poetry in Translation – This is a collection of Sumerian poetic texts (which includes creation epics) in English translation
Before The Muses: An Anthology Of Akkadian Literature – This is the best collection of Sumerian-Akkadian literature in English translation. It used to be two volumes. This is the combined into one volume edition.
From Distant Days: Myths, Tales, and Poetry of Ancient Mesopotamia – This is a condensed version (coverage not as full) of the above (Before the Muses).
Ancient Egyptian Literature: An Anthology – Just what it sounds like; its focus is Egyptian literature only.
Miriam Lichtheim’s three-volume anthology of Egyptian literature can still be found:
- Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms
- Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume II: The New Kingdom
- Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume III: The Late Period
For Ugaritic, it’s hard to beat Wyatt’s Religious Texts from Ugarit: 2nd Edition (Biblical Seminar)
Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition – also very good for Ugaritic texts
What is the proper name of the God of Israel (YHWH)?
The most plausible pronounciation of the divine name name is Yahweh. Find out why here.
What is the “correct” name for “Jesus”? Is “Jesus” derived from “Zeus”?
“Jesus” is not a pagan name, nor is it derived from “Zeus” — it was (and is) just fine for non-Hebrew and Aramaic speakers. Find out why here.
I’ve heard (or seen in study Bibles) that the word elohim is translated “judges” in passages like Exod 21:6 and 22:6-8. Is that a good translation? Is elohim in these verses pointing to humans?
The short answer is no. There is no exegetical justification for “judges” — that’s a camouflage translation to avoid divine plurality (it’s akin to translating plural elohim in Psa 82:1 something like “mighty ones”). I’ve written a peer-reviewed scholarly journal article on this issue: Michael S. Heiser, “Should אלוהים (elohim) with Plural Predication be Translated ‘gods’?” The Bible Translator 61:3 (2010):123-136. The article is NOT available on the internet. You can get a copy of it if you subscribe to my newsletter and use the link at the bottom of each issue for the protected folder.
You have written about your belief that the Genesis creation accounts were not intended to put forth science. If we are not to understand Genesis 1-2 literally (i.e., as a scientific sequence of events), how is it that you advocate taking other passages about supernatural beings as literal?
A non literal view of Gen 1-2 creation isn’t a non-literal view of creation. God created. How he did it is the issue of disagreement. His creative acts are literal — they happened in real time. The Gen 1-2 description of those acts is something different. I’d argue that God prompted the writer to inform readers that he was the creator — a literal truth. The means to that end (how the writer conveyed the reality of God’s creative work) shouldn’t be conflated with the end itself, the fact of creation.
God picked the writers and knew what he was getting — and didn’t care that the writers weren’t omniscient. The act of producing Scripture doesn’t require God transfer his omniscience about the natural world to the writers. Had God put modern scientific knowledge into the head of the writer for the purpose of satisfying later readers, the original readers wouldn’t have known what the writer was talking about. That defeats the enterprise and purpose of communication.
Since we have such information in the Bible, and that informative isn’t scientific, that tells us the purpose of God prompting people to write wasn’t to produce science — else we would have science. And so the authority of Scripture needs to be assessed in accord with God’s intent (not what we wish was his intent). That means we let the Bible be what it is and not criticize it for not being what it was never intended to be. Atheists do that all the time – criticize the Bible for not being scientific, but in so doing, they criticize it for not being what God intended it to be. That makes as much sense as criticizing your dog for not being a cat. And I tell that to atheists, asking them to justify their approach, since it makes little sense to me. So, if God didn’t care to produce science (and that’s evident in terms of what we have and who he picked to write), we shouldn’t judge God’s decisions. We don’t know better than God.
This was actually very wise on God’s part. Why? because if God inspired Scripture today and the writers wrote with the scientific precision of today, in a thousand years the product would still be criticized — because science changes. By not typing the content to science, God had people produce something that transcends science, and always will.
This was also wise on God’s part because he knew that, as time went on, humanity (in accord with the Edenic mandate to subdue/steward the earth) would discover more and more about the natural world. Knowledge of nature is EXPERIENCED and OBSERVED in the normal course of human life and generations. God knew that. And so his aim wasn’t to tie his revelation to nature, as that would create discord and tension within it. It would be leashed to time and the change of human knowledge and experience.
Two more things in light of all this.
1) The above applies to knowledge gained through experience and observation, made knowable by human endeavor (technology — the tools of science). Knowledge of God and the spiritual world, by definition, is not gained through the tools of science. Therefore we CAN look to Scripture for such information and must judge its validity by its coherence — the coherence of ideas like there’s a God, that God could give information about himself, is capable of doing things (like create other things, become a man, influence people to write books, etc.). These ideas are completely coherent and have been defended logically for millennia (by believers and unbelievers alike). So non-scientific thinking in the Bible on the part of the writers doesn’t damage information about the knowledge that cannot be known via the tools of science.
2) The biblical writers were quite capable of dispensing true, inerrant statements about God and his plan (or historical events) without being scientists. Since when must we know science perfectly (or even well) to be able to say something true? In other words, I can articulate an idea that is completely true by means of using an illustration from the natural world that might not reflect good science. The illustration or argument is a trajectory or conduit leading to the assertion or proposition. The thing claimed and the means of making the claim are not the same things. So a biblical writer can say something unscientific on the way to making a completely true statement about something. We do that all the time because we’re human. I can tell my five year old that God made them because he helped mommy and daddy know how to do that. I’m not being scientific, but the truth proposition (God made you) is still true because God is the source of all life, and our bodies are functioning as God designed them to function when we have sex and mommy becomes pregnant. It’s not a scientifically provable articulation, but the proposition I used it to defend is completely coherent and true. The means of telling can have a flaw but the proposition we’ve uttered can still be completely true. This is how, for instance, I take Hebrews 7 — distinguishing the claim / proposition about the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood to that of Levi despite an unscientific argument used to defend it (that we have whole human persons [Levi] in the loins of a male — that isn’t possible, as we know how human persons are formed — we can do it in a test tube — they are not formed inside a man, only a woman — or a test tube, using my dated language).
One final note. This question and its answer is related to another question I get from time to time: Do I believe the earth is flat? No, I don’t. I think modern belief in a flat earth is willfully ignorant and based on nonsensical conspiratorial thinking. It is also deeply flawed thinking to believe the earth must be flat since Israelite cosmology describes a round, flat earth (for reasons noted above). It’s tragic that anyone in modern times would believe something so stupid and then tie that to biblical faith. That drives people away from the gospel, which has eternal consequences.