Book Review: Are Yahweh and El Separate Deities in Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32?


Title: Are Yahweh and El Separate Deities in Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32?

Author: Michael S. Heiser

Publisher: BlindSpot Press

 

 

Back Cover: Are Yahweh and El Separate Deities in Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32?

The polytheistic nature of pre-exilic Israelite religion and Israel’s gradual evolution toward monotheism are taken as axiomatic in current biblical scholarship. This evolution, according to the consensus view, was achieved through the zealous commitment of Israelite scribes who edited and reworked the Hebrew Bible to reflect emerging monotheism and to compel the laity to embrace the idea. One specific feature of Israelite religion offered as proof of this development is the divine council. Before the exile, Israelite religion affirmed a council of gods which may or may not have been headed by Yahweh. During and after the exile, the gods of the council became angels, mere messengers of Yahweh, who by the end of the exilic period was conceived of as the lone council head over the gods of all nations. Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and Psalm 82 are put forth as rhetorical evidence of this redactional strategy and assumed religious evolution. The argument is put forth that these texts suggest Yahweh was at one time a junior member of the pantheon under El the Most High, but that he has now taken control as king of the gods.

The focus of this paper concerns the idea that Yahweh and El are cast as separate deities in Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32. This paper argues that this consensus view lacks coherence on several points. 

 

Book Review: Are Yahweh and El Separate Deities in Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32?

Admittedly, this was another book that equally frustrated and challenged me. Here are the topics discussed:

  • Backdrop To The Problem
  • Yahweh and El, Or Yahweh-El in Psalm 82?1
  • Yahweh and El, or Yahweh-El in Deuteronomy 32:6-9?2

The argument laid out is that Yahweh and El are separate and Heiser is working to disprove that notion, based on Scripture. Overall, it’s a good book, containing 26 pages. Brief and concise, just as long as it needed to be for Heiser to develop his argument.

 

My thoughts about Are Yahweh and El Separate Deities in Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32?

I don’t have any arguments that Yahweh and El could be separate deities and yet, they are the same. Truly, I don’t have any qualms about Israelites going from polytheistic to monotheistic, as they did vacillate between the two throughout history. I do however fully disagree that Yahweh was ever a junior member of anything, period. And I appreciate that Heiser argues, There are several reasons why separating Yahweh and El here does not appear sound.3

As the text unfolds, it becomes apparent that I’m not going to fully agree with the arguments that Heiser presents from other scholars. I do agree Yahweh and El can appear to be  separate, based Scripture, but who the scholars point to is beyond my understanding. Once again, the scholars attributes this role to…Ba’al. Sigh. I cannot help but disagree and find myself again, frustrated. Not with Heiser or his work, but that in our world, it’s so much easier for us to ascribe so much to the pagan gods, rather than Jesus. When Heiser lays out his argument, honestly, I see Jesus being described time and again.

It appears that the scholarly consensus view holds, During and after the exile, the gods of the council became angels, mere messengers of Yahweh,4 and is a statement that simply does not sit well with me. How does a god become an angel? To me, they are first angels and upon falling into rebellion and sin, they then set themselves up to be gods, which I believe God (El) allows, for His own purposes. He allows the members of the diving council to oversee the foreign nations. But, as Psalm 82 shows us, there will come a time for them to be judged for their unjust ruling over the people God (El) placed under their rulership.

The scholars also contend, The argument is put forth that these texts suggest Yahweh was at one time a junior member of the pantheon under El the Most High, but that he has now taken control as king of the gods.5  What?! Seriously, where do they come up with these things? This conjecture simply is not consistent with the totality of the Bible. This show how dangerous it can be to use one or two verses to draw doctrinal conclusions, in this case about the deity and rule of God (El) There are far more passages that show that God sits and presides over all things and is the same, yesterday, today and forever—unchanging in all His ways, from everlasting to everlasting.

The assumptions of some scholars really concern me. But, this is the risk that I also feel comes from using extra-biblical text to define the Bible, rather than the other way around. For me, if there is any separation to be had between Yahweh and El, it would be God, the Father and God, the Son (whom the Father, gave the right to rule and reign over the world and to ultimately judge it.) They would be seen as both separate and yet, one and the same. That would be more consistent with Scripture than to separate Yahweh and El and ascribe one of them (Yahweh) to Ba’al. 

I believe Heiser did a good job refuting these unsubstantiated claims. 

Would I Recommend Are Yahweh and El Separate Deities in Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32?

Yes, but not for the new believer. I believe this book could confuse them. This is for anyone that would like to see Jesus, in my opinion, in a new light. Jesus said that the Laws and Prophets spoke of Him and I believe Heiser has stumbled across an area that I’d not previously heard ascribed to Jesus, but certainly fits with who He is and the roles that God ascribed to Him for all eternity.

 

And, that’s a wrap…Are Yahweh and El Separate Deities in Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32?

I hope you found this review helpful. If so, please share it with your family and friends, so they can learn about this great book too. You can click here or on any image of the book on this page to see it on Amazon. Thanks for taking the time to read this review and God bless!

Ally

 

I came to the position that Israelite religion included a council of gods (אלהים) and servant angels (מלאכים) under Yahweh-El from its earliest conceptions well into the Common Era.   This conception included the idea that Yahweh was “species unique” in the Israelite mind, and so terms such as henotheism, polytheism, and even monolatry are not sufficiently adequate to label the nature of Israelite religion.6

 

 

 

 

Notes:

 1 Psalm 82 YLT: God Presides in the Great Assembly

1A Psalm of Asaph. God hath stood in the company of God, In the midst God doth judge.
2Till when do ye judge perversely? And the face of the wicked lift up? Selah.
3Judge ye the weak and fatherless, The afflicted and the poor declare righteous.
4Let the weak and needy escape, From the hand of the wicked deliver them.
5They knew not, nor do they understand, In darkness they walk habitually, Moved are all the foundations of earth.
6I — I have said, ‘Gods ye [are], And sons of the Most High — all of you,
7But as man ye die, and as one of the heads ye fall,
8Rise, O God, judge the earth, For Thou hast inheritance among all the nations! 

2 Deuteronomy 32:6-9 NASB

6“Do you thus repay the LORD,
            O foolish and unwise people?
            Is not He your Father who has bought you?
            He has made you and established you.
7“Remember the days of old,

            Consider the years of all generations.
            Ask your father, and he will inform you,
            Your elders, and they will tell you.
8“When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,

            When He separated the sons of man,
            He set the boundaries of the peoples
            According to the number of the sons of Israel.
9“For the LORD’S portion is His people;

            Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance.

3 Heiser, Michael S., Are Yahweh and El Separate Deities in Psalm 82 and Deuteronomy 32?: A Conference Paper (Kindle Location 256). BlindSpot Press. Kindle Edition.

4 Ibid., Kindle Locations 9-10

5 Ibid., Kindle Locations 12-13

6 Ibid., Kindle Locations 30-35

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