I just got an email from someone who asked very sincerely if Mormons are using my divine council material responsibly. Apparently the answer is (predominantly) “no” so I thought I’d post on this.
Many of you are aware that my academic specialty is the divine council in Israelite religion / biblical theology. It was the focus of my dissertation (along with the matter of divine plurality and monotheism in Israelite religion). I focused on late canonical material and Second Temple Jewish material (the two powers in heaven theology in Judaism also figured in my dissertation).
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 also do not believe that humans will become gods (like Yahweh) or that Yahweh was once a human. Those denials pretty much disqualify me as a Latter Day Saint.
What I actually think about Mormonism and the divine council is readily available online. A few years ago a Mormon friend of mine who teaches at BYU asked if I would publish a paper of mine in their journal. The paper was a critique of Mormonism’s use of Psalm 82, a key divine council passage. I agreed. A Mormon scholar, David Bokovoy (whom I think is nearly done with his dissertation at Brandeis – divine council in the book of Amos) wrote a response to my paper, and then I was allowed to write a response to David. All of these papers are available for free in that journal issue (they appear consecutively). The prefatory material in that issue (the Introduction) also made it clear that I am an evangelical, not a Mormon.
All in all, the folks at the FARMS journal and Maxwell Institute were very gracious and handled this very well. I’d certainly write another exchange with David again (or someone as capable) for their journal. It’s too bad “lay” Mormons apparently are misrepresenting me. So if you have a Mormon friend or acquaintance and you hear them claiming me too enthusiastically, send them this link.
But then again my views have been distorted by evangelicals, too, so I can’t complain too loudly.
For other posts on Mike’s work on the divine council, click here for the archive.
Yep, read the exchange before. There’s a lot in all three exchanges, especially with Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 82, which shows his deity, above the council.
Funny, I read Daniel B. wallace’s article on Inerrancy minutes ago ( http://bible.org/article/my-take-inerrancy ) and how many people have misrepresented his view(s) and statements on several matters and now I read this.
Depends on which Mormons you are talking about.
Random LDS bloggers on the Internet are going to have all sorts of opinions and sometimes misuse scholarly sources. It happens.
But that doesn’t mean all “Mormons” are misusing your stuff. What Mormon scholarly publications have misused your arguments? That seems like it would be a more fruitful line of inquiry.
LDS belief posits that human beings can become one with God in the same way Jesus Christ is one with God. We also believe that we existed before physical conception and birth in heaven with God the Father, and that we assisted him in the creation of the world.
On those grounds, scholarly writings on the “divine council” in the Old Testament are of interest to us for obvious reasons.
But I don’t know any Mormon scholars who think the existence of a divine council proves that God the Father had a father.
Either the Mormon that was reported to you was acting erroneously on his own, or the person debating with him misreported what he was actually arguing (also likely).
I think you are over-reading my post. I’m talking about the Mormons I was talking about. I didn’t say all Mormons were misusing it, nor did I say any scholars were misusing it. Please pay attention to what is said. I agree on how odd it sounds that Mormons would think the council points to Yahweh having a Father. I’m not sure what the reasoning process would be there.
@Seth: I think Mike does understand that. Some Mormons, especially the uninformed or misinformed (as I was an uninformed/misinformed young evangelist) are misusing and misrepresenting him material. Not scholarly publications. I myself have seen “evangelicals” (?) online misrepresent Mike’s material about the divine council, I think I pointed it out months ago on this very blog.
People don’t research and read carefully and don’t even attempt to get clarifications from the author (e.g. by email).
…misrepresenting *his* material…
ha ha ha;
Mormons, evangelicals, new agers, none of the above. Seems like when I think about it MSH, there are knuckleheads in EVERY spiritual camp that misrepresent your interpretation of biblical material.
John Wooden said once that it was important to ignore what was said about you in the papers, because sometimes they will give you credit for something you didn’t do right, and you’ll like that. Then, sometimes they will lambast you for something you did do right, and you wont like that.
Seems like its always best to let the truth lead you wherever it goes, and let the chips fall where they may.
Yeah, I hear you, Tom. I don’t worry about pleasing anyone since no matter what I produce someone won’t be happy with it. If I worried about that I’d be intellectually paralyzed and completely unproductive.
You state above that you don’t understand what the reasoning process would be which arrives at the conclusion that the divine council points to Yhwh as a son of El. Non-Mormon scholars have arrived at this conclusion in the past, and their reasoning has been published. Why would it be odd for a Mormon to arrive at the same conclusion?
I was thinking in more material terms.
I assume that your response is a reference to the notion that Yahweh and El are separate deities — of which I am very familiar, and have published my own response to that. Aside from the items that muddy that view (see the link below), El is actually never referred to as the father of Yahweh even if one wants to take certain passages as separating them. That “fatherhood” notion has to be brought to the text. (This view depends on seeing Yahweh as one of the sons of God in Deut 32 – see the paper on that – the idea is not supported by Deut 4, the parallel passage, and has other problems; but El is never called the father to Yahweh; the final form of the text merges the two, and so it is speculative to say they were separate deities before – though I’m guessing some Israelites may have thought that; my focus in denying this is “orthodox” Israelite religion of the biblical authors — the text we actually have).
My article is located at: http://www.see-j.net/index.php/hiphil/article/viewFile/29/26
This was a paper read on two occasions before publication: the Pacific Northwest regional meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, and the International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Edinburgh. It was fun presenting at both. Mark Smith (a very well known Ugaritic and divine council scholar) was at the first presentation, and Nicholas Wyatt (another scholar with the same areas of expertise) was at the latter. Smith and I have disagreements here, and the whole Q&A time was basically a conversation between us (and then another hour out in the hall – he’s a great guy). Wyatt really liked it. This isn’t a “done deal” issue (as I am sure you know as well). If you are going to have El as father and Yahweh as son, it would be nice to have clear language to that specific relationship.
Thank you for the reply. I’m aware of your Hiphil article and responded briefly to the main points last year on my blog:
In my opinion, the question of their separation is more critical than that of their filial relationship. It seems to me that once they are separated, that filial relationship is the most logical relationship they could share within the context of the Syro-Palestinian pantheon.
Deut 4:19 seems to me to represent a much later allusion to the more archaic Deut 32:8-9. I see no reason to have the former govern our reading of the latter, and I think the argument is easily made that the authors of the different layers of Deuteronomy did not share the exact same theological outlook. The final form of the text represents, in my estimation, a reconciliation on the part of the final redactors of the texts of the literary traditions they inherited and their own contemporary ideologies. I’m interested in the beginning and end of this developmental process. At this year’s SBL I will present a paper entitled “What is Deity in LXX Deuteronomy?” which will discuss that very process within the Hebrew and between the Hebrew and the Greek. I recognize the paucity of texts that directly address these questions, but I think there’s enough context and cognate literature to arrive at somewhat comfortable conclusions.
David Bokovoy’s dissertation, by the way, ended up focusing on the sexuality of deity in the Hebrew Bible. The working title is “The Biblical God as Sexual Deity: Absence of Evidence is not the Evidence of Abstinence,” and he hopes to finish very shortly.
Boy – I’m disappointed. Why did David not follow through with the DC dissertation? He had a great JBL article on the Amos topic. I’ll ask him at SBL (I assume he’ll be there).
On Deut 4 — you’re missing the issue. I’m arguing that the text we have — the final form — shows Yahweh and El (Elyon) as the same deity. Any sort of appeal to chronology in texts has to *assume* that *orthodox Yahwism* had to fuse them because they were originally separated — but we can’t know that from the orthodox text, since we don’t have the assumed earlier “un-orthodox” texts. It’s all an argument from both silence and from the trajectory of various Yahwisms that did not produce the final form of the text. In other words, you are assuming what you seek to prove – a developmental process from separation to fusion, trying to used “fused texts” to do so. I will look for your SBL session so I can hear the paper and we can finally meet. See you in November!
I would like to see an interaction between McClellan and Heiser, indeed.
See my reply; if Daniel is kind enough to give me a copy at SBL 🙂 I’ll blog it!
Thanks for the comments. I disagree that we can’t legitimately reconstruct an earlier reading of the text. We do it all the time in source criticism. Until one imposes Deut 4:19 on their reading of 32:8, the simple reading of the passage has the two deities separated. We know that Deuteronomy 32 wasn’t written by the person who wrote the rest of Deuteronomy, and no effort was made to align other divergent ideologies with the rest of Deuteronomy. The layers can be identified, and I see no reason to hold that an informed conclusion about the meaning of vv. within each identifiable layer cannot also be made. We can certainly discuss this more at SBL though. My Deuteronomy paper is on that Monday.
What you’d have to do is establish that the scribes had to “correct” a separation to a fusion. I doubt that you can do that. Looking forward to it!
That they were separated and then reconflated is actually the position espoused by Wyatt and Cross. Miller seems to hint at it too. I don’t personally think any of this can be *proven* one way or another, but I think there are plenty of reasons to conclude they were originally considered separate.
What kills me about this is the assumption that orthodox Israel could not have had an independent thought OR that they were thinking in a hypostatic way (talk about unprovable). Hypostatic thinking is well known from elsewhere in the ANE. Yes, there is no way to prove what they were thinking prior to finalizing the text; we cannot psychologize them in either direction. BUT what we do have is the final form of the text. The merging is crystal clear there. And “polytheistic vestiges” in the text (often in the eye of the beholder, too) simply do not and cannot prove that they orthodox Israelite prophets EVER thought in terms of polytheism — they could have been tweaking or reacting to the belief of others, or deliberately including such things as a polemic. One of the really irritating things I encountered in writing my dissertation is that sort of herd mentality among scholars. It’s amazing how so many are incapable or unable to think outside the little box that the consensus has created. My favorite example still is Carol Newsom’s “angelic elim” – she so desperately wanted an evolution from gods to angels that in the face of dozens of “elim” references in the (late) Jewish material of Qumran she came up with that term. And other scholars didn’t even blink. It’s absolutely oxymoronic the way she wants to use it.
Mike….what did you expect.
Of course some of them would use your material to help support thier theology
Its what heretical cults do.
Theyre Mormon for crying out loud…theyve got ALOT of things messed up about scripture…lol
Have you ran into any JWs that have misused your material yet….I’m sure if you send it to them they’ll try….lol
No JWs. The two powers thing pretty much torpedoes them, so they wouldn’t find it useful.
I recently bought your dissertation and was happy to see someone actually flush out the specifics of this concept. I also wondered or at least noted that some Mormons could use this topic to advance their doctrine. I also started reading some of Margeuret Barker’s material as pertains to the temple. The thing I am finding difficult to understand (only because it is new to me) is the things floating around about El and Baal being the same as the father and YahwehYeshua. I was always under the impression that Ba’al was a false god. Also I am finding Melchizedek is intermingled a bit more predominately in the Qumran texts, and that the theories are he was an angel, or Yahweh before His physical incarnation… On top of all this mass of confusing new concepts, I am trying to see where this Trinity works in all this. I am finding it more logical and comfortable with a dual aspect then a tri-unity. I say only because I see the OT is quite silent about the third piece…
Other then that, keep up the great topics.
For those who haven’t read my dissertation (!): El and Baal aren’t the same as the Father and Yahweh. Yahweh is also not Yeshua in strictest terms. El and Baal are two deities whose leadership was shared in a co-regency in Ugaritic religion. They were not considered “ontologically” the same. It was never a question. Two deities, one is ultimate sovereign (El); the other is the one who does all the work, the chief regent (Baal). Israelite religion could not tolerate two separate deities in such a structure since orthodox Yahwism had Yahweh as ultimate sovereign and active lord of all. Orthodox Israelite religion had an invisible Yahweh and a visible Yahweh. The latter frequently met with humankind in human form. In this way the structure of the divine council was retained or very similar, but Yahweh remained as the lone “species unique” deity to the orthodox Israelite (which is what the orthodox Israelite really believed about Yahweh — not that there were no other elohim. Yahweh was incomparable and unique in attributes. For that reason, “monotheism” isn’t all that useful a term to describe this, since we have attached so much non-Israelite thinking to it (monotheism was coined in the 17th century). That second embodied Yahweh eventually came as incarnate man, truly human, in Jesus. And so Jesus “is but isn’t” Yahweh. He is the same in essence but incarnate and human. Since in the OT both Yahwehs could appear in the same scene, and both figures were spoken of as Yahweh, this is the Israelite forerunner to God and Jesus (as incarnate deity). Terms like “father” and “son” are used to sort out a hierarchical relationship.
During the Second temple era, Jews knew all this and speculated about the identity of the second Yahweh. One of those speculations was Melchizedek. Some messianic overtones get applied to him in 11QMelchizedek at Qumran. And it is clear that they viewed Melchizedek as a deity figure since they insert him into Psalm 82:1 in that text. Jews had no problem with the idea of “two Yahwehs” until the 2nd century, when it was declared a heresy in response to Christianity, which declare the second power to be Jesus.
Thank you for clearing that up, it makes more sense now. Sorry no doctorate here just a BA in IT, so it takes me time to digest. Can you offer any work, or sources for the Hebraic understandings of the tri-unity? I have heard that the idea itself is of pagan origin and so would assume that there is deep research into that as well.
Jewish material focuses on binitarianism (two powers) – Segal’s book is great for showing that this was acceptable in Jewish theology until the 2nd century AD — but note that he is Jewish (and likely agnostic) so he views it as heretical, as did his ancient predecessors. Levison has a book on the spirit that (sort of) gets into this, but I actually think it is fairly obtuse, so I don’t recommend it. There’s a lot of scholarly material on binitarianism, though. Nothing popular (that’s what I’m working on). You can check the bibliography at http://www.twopowersinheaven.com for a sampling (this is my site as well).
The idea is not pagan — there are not “sure relationship threads” here (X religion believed this, which was picked up by Y, which was transferred to Z” etc. Many ancient religions had ideas of divine embodiment and physicalized manifestation in “persons” (“hypostases”). It is a literary and “thought” vehicle for processing how the “other” can commune with mere humans in a way they can process. Orthodox Israelite religion showed real care in not surrendering any “high divine office” to any other deity besides Yahweh.
>>>…The vice regent slot in the Israelite council represents the most significant difference between Israels council and all others. In Israelite religion, this position of authority was not filled by another god, but by Yahweh himself in another form. This hypostasis of Yahweh was the same essence as Yahweh but a distinct, second person….
Sorry, doc, but this is an absurdity. You are committing crass eisegesis (pronounce “I-See-Je-Sus.” Time to get out of Sodom and check your valve stems.
if you can’t sound more intelligent (and gracious), you’ll be history. The OT is what it is. The name Jesus doesn’t occur there.
Forgive me wrong but didn’t the rabbi hegel view God in anthropomorphic terms. I am not as knowledgeable as you. (I was raised my entire life in special Ed and probably don’t have the aptitude you do.) Anyway I always thought that Hegel viewed Man as made literally in Gods image. I also This is illustrated by the bath story when he describes how it was a duty to wash the body because man was made in the image of God. I don’t know if it is outdated now but I know that George Foot Moore said that the majority of the Jews didn’t believe in a alien metaphysics. Then again I don’t know the full context of that statement since I read the quote in a different article and I haven’t read that authors books. One thing that I have never understood is how you can think of Yahweh as specious unique. Is it due to the fact that Christianity views God as ontologically unique? Even there though I see nothing in the Old Testament to indicate that God is unique species wise.
God is anthropomorphized in the OT (and more, since he is also not anthropomorphized). God has no body by nature, so humankind cannot have been made to look like him; rather God appeared in the likeness of man so that man could process him (I speak here of the OT and of the later incarnation). There was also the issue of protecting humankind from the divine essence, and so God came in a form that veiled the Presence and could be processed by humans.
No idea what you mean by “alien metaphysics”.
That was the statement made by George Foot Moore. I am assuming that he was arguing that Jews had more literal understanding of God except for some schools of thought in Alexandria. I find it interesting that people define God in terms of properties. In my mind this shows the influence of Greek thought because we are understanding God in terms of categories that have an absolute upper limit. The fact that God is understood in terms that are derived from Greek philosophy like his ontological nature makes me a little suspicious of any answer that is couched in those terms. I don’t have the education you have but it seems strange to me that Christianity by and large understands God in such a hellenized way. Judaism also for that matter.
I haven’t read George Foot Moore outside of the quote I saw in a article. I could be misusing him just as people misuse you as a source. He is dead so I doubt he cares that much.
James Talmage, a Mormon Apostle, said Psalm 82:6 is not about becoming gods.
“In Psalm 82:6, judges invested by divine appointment are called ‘gods.’ To this scripture the Savior referred in His reply to the Jews in Solomon’s Porch. Judges so authorized officiated as the representatives of God and are honored by the exalted title ‘gods.’ Compare the similar appellation applied to Moses (Exo. 4:16; 7:1). Jesus Christ possessed divine authorization, not through the word of God transmitted to Him by man, but as an inherent attribute. The inconsistency of calling human judges ‘gods,’ and of ascribing blasphemy to the Christ who called Himself the Son of God, would have been apparent to the Jews but for their sin-darkened minds.” (James Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 501). — Mormons often quote Psalm 82:6 which Jesus quoted in John 10:30-34 to show that we can become gods.
Rather than them believing the truth from a Christian, perhaps they will believe it from their own apostle.
It’s not about becoming gods. It’s also not making the point the gods are humans. And he misunderstands Jesus’ use of Psa 82 in John 10.
On Mormonism’s misuse of Psa 82 in general, see:
(my article, in a Mormon journal no less).
On Psa 82 in John 10, see: