Readers familiar with me and my work know that I think our theology needs to derive from the text, not tradition. This applies pointedly to the Old Testament — the three-quarters of our Bible upon which our New Testament theology ought to be erected to have any hope of understanding the apostles in context. Readers also know that, for reasons they could not control, early church writers were predominantly ignorant of Hebrew and centuries, even millennia, removed from the worldview and cognitive framework of the Old Testament writers. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have any inkling of Old Testament theology in its own context — things like the divine council.
I was working on the final editorial pass of The Unseen Realm today. I decided to include the following book in a footnote. It relates to the points I just raised:
God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church
McDermott is professor of religion and philosophy at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. He is familiar with the idea of the divine council (he mentions it on page 16 and his third chapter should resonate with readers of my material: “The Lord of Hosts: The Old Testament and the Real Existence of Other Gods”). I had a short correspondence with the author when the book came out in 2007.
The book is about how early Christian thinkers / “church fathers” parsed certain Old Testament ideas about other gods with respect to why God would allow other gods to exist and hold sway over the nations. Opinions varied in their writings. McDermott does a nice job of surveying who said what on the issue. It’s an interesting read. Here’s a review to acquaint you more with the content: Michael S. Jones in Philosophia Christi 12.1 (2010).
Again, the book isn’t a divine council theology. Rather, it shows how early church writers sensed something was going on with that whole “Yahweh vs. the gods” thing that arose in the wake of Babel. It’s a good introduction to their efforts (and struggle) to parse the issue. For my part, I’m going to leave early church interaction with the sorts of things I write about in The Unseen Realm to another book.
I saw you had “father’s” in parentheses, which I assume you do not agree with.
I’m conflicted on this because there are some indicators that the early church used these terms, like in 1 John,1 John 2:1 NET
(My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. ) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One,
He called them “his little children”;
However Yeshua directly said,
Matthew 23:9 NET
And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.
I do have a lot of respect for Eastern and Ethiopian Orthodox, however I disagree on several points and I’ve always felt conflicted over the term “father” in Churches.
I put it in quotation marks because some people use the term freely and others don’t. I don’t have a personal problem with the semantics.
Dr. Heiser, do you know of any scholarly monographs or articles on the divine council (or similar concepts) in Patristic literature?
McDermott (in the post) is the best place to start.
Carl Mosser has a lengthy article on the patristic use of Psalm 82 (in Journal of Theological Studies), but its focus is how patristic writers used it for their doctrine of theosis. In other words, patristic writers were thinking of divinized humans when they read Psalm 82, a view quite foreign to the OT in its ANE context (i.e., the idea of theosis isn’t foreign to the OT — but Psalm 82 isn’t about “human elohim” as other passages about the divine council and its member make clear – e.g., Psalm 89:5-7; 1 Kings 22:19-23 – the council of God is in heaven and filled with spirits/elohim, not humans, whose domain is earth).
I am aware of two dissertations that at least touch on patristic discussion of Psalm 82:
The function of Psalm 82 in the Fourth Gospel and history of the Johannine community: A comparative Midrash study; Vander Hoek, Gerald W. The Claremont Graduate University, ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 1988
Modern Mormon use of patristic sources to validate the Utah-Mormon Church; Welborn, Chris. Marquette University, ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 2006
The former’s abstract notes that patristic quotation of Psalm 82 is part of the study — but it could just be more theosis talk. The second one would likely be of interest, given Mormon theology’s use of Psalm 82 – my critique of which is available online, published in a Mormon journal, no less:
Thank you Dr. Heiser
Michael, do you know of any connection linking the divine council with the 24 elders of Revelation? You may have answered this elsewhere, just haven’t seen it discussed. I have often heard that the 24 elders represent the church, but your work has me questioning a whole lot of stuff (my thanks). Just wondering if the whole imagery in Revelation 4:4 fits with the divine council worldview. Thanks again for all the work you’re doing. God bless you, sir!
Yes. I sketch this out in Unseen Realm in one chapter. That has bibliography, as will the companion website.
Is there a YouTube presentation of this, or a book to download or pay to get it?
It’s a book. You can get it on Amazon.
Dear Dr. Heiser,
How might I get a list of journal articles in German re the divine council that you would recommend?
Your help would be aporeciated.
why German? You could likely find some in JSTOR (see my recent post on that).
Great! Much appreciated.
Dr. Heiser, I’m curious if you have read Ellen White’s book “Yahweh’s Council: Its Structure and Membership” and if so what did you think of it?
I do. I’m tasked with turning in a review of it by March 1. Reading it now. It’s an online journal, so you’ll be able to see it when the issue is published. But I’ll likely put a few sentences online when I’m done.
Sweet! Looking forward to it.
Did you ever finish “The Myth That is True?” Or is it now titled “The Unseen Realm?” If they are two separate works can I purchase the final draft of “The Myth That is True?” Thanks Mike!
It’s now Unseen Realm – substantially better than the Myth draft.