Background/The Divine Council
As I have discussed in a series of posts on creation in Genesis 1-3 (see: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), the vast majority of biblical scholars now recognize that the ancient Israelites viewed the cosmos as being formed from a primeval chaotic state, and not ex nihilo. This may be best understood, perhaps, by taking a closer look at their worldview of the order and structure of the cosmos. Biblical scholar Bernhard Anderson briefly summarizes their cosmological world-view as follows:
The Bible takes for granted a three-storied structure of the universe: heaven, earth, and underworld (Ex. 20:4). According to this Weltbild, the earth is a flat surface, corrugated by mountains and divided by rivers and lakes. Above the earth, like a huge dome, is spread the firmament that holds back the heavenly ocean and supports the dwelling place of the gods (Genesis 1:8; Ps. 148:4). The earth itself is founded on pillars that are sunk into the subterranean waters (Ps. 24:2; 104:5), in the depths of which is located Sheol, the realm of death. In this view, the habitable world is surrounded by the waters of chaos, which unless held back, would engulf the world, a threat graphically portrayed in the flood story (Genesis 7:11; c.f. 1:6) and in various poems in the Old Testament (e.g., Ps. 46:1-4; 104:5-9).  Continue reading “Wait, that’s (not) in the Bible?! Creation Ex Nihilo, Israelite Cosmology, and Science”
God [‘elohim] has taken his place in the divine council [‘adat ‘el];
in the midst of the gods [‘elohim] he holds judgement.
Ps. 82.1 (NRSV)
References to a divine council or heavenly assembly are found frequently throughout the Hebrew Bible . Simply, the divine council is the heavenly royal court over which Yahweh, the God of Israel, presides as heavenly king. The members of this heavenly court or assembly are referred to in the Hebrew Bible by such terms as: bene (ha)’elohim “sons of God” (Gen. 6.2, 4; Deut. 32.8-9; Job 1.6, 2.2, 38.7), ‘elohim “gods” (Ps. 82.1, 6), bene elim “sons of gods” (Ps. 29.1, 89.7), and bene ‘elyon “sons of the Most High” (Ps. 82.6). Moreover, the council itself is referred to by such appellations as the adat ‘el “council/assembly/congregation of ‘El/God” (Ps. 82.1), sod qedoshim rabbah “great council of the holy ones” (Ps. 89.8), sod YHWH “the council of Yahweh” (Jer. 23.18), and sod eloah “council of God” (Job 15.8). Continue reading “Wait, that’s in the Bible?! Israelite Polytheism or Monotheism?”
In much of the modern Judeo-Christian tradition, including LDS Christianity, Satan is seen as the personification of evil, a being who purposely defies God and attempts to thwart his plans for the world. Because Satan is such a prominent figure in especially the Christian tradition, it is quite shocking that the notion of this archenemy to God is not really found anywhere in the Hebrew Bible, and doesn’t clearly appear until the intertestamental period (i.e., the period between the writing of the Old and New Testaments).
There is an interesting tradition found in many biblical texts that affirms that Yahweh, the God of Israel, genuinely consults with others and considers their voice despite the fact that he is eminently more powerful and knowledgeable than they. This is especially evident in those texts where Yahweh reasons or dialogues with a prophet and, at times, even changes his intended course of action after hearing their argument(s) and opinion(s). As one example, consider Exodus 32.7-14 (NRSV) which records a dialogue between Yahweh and Moses after the people of Israel–whom Yahweh had just powerfully delivered from the land of Egypt–worshiped and offered sacrifices to a golden calf: Continue reading “Wait, that’s (not) in the Bible?! God’s Omniscience”
This important title, often found in connection with name ‘El, is found in several biblical passages in reference to Israel’s God (e.g., Gen.17.1; 28.3; 35.11;49.25; Ex. 6.3; Num. 24.4, 16; Ps. 68.15; Job 8.3,5, etc.).  ‘El-Shaddai is P’s favored title for God before the revelation of the divine name to Moses. But what is its meaning, and what is its historical derivation? Traditionally, following the LXX (i.e., the Septuagint, or ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), which uses pantokrator, and the Vulgate (a Latin translation of the Bible by St. Jerome), which uses omnipotens, the term has often been rendered in English translation as “Almighty,” but it is now generally considered that this interpretation is fallacious, and possibly stems from a similar sounding Hebrew root $-d-d, meaning “to destroy.” Some modern scholars have suggested several other possibilities, such as connecting it with the Hebrew word $ad, meaning breast. However, since ‘El-Shaddai was a male diety, this seems somewhat unlikely. Another suggestion is that it is related to the Hebrew word sadeh, meaning “field.” However, this root uses a different sibilant (sin) in its root than does Shaddai (shin).
Deuteronomy 6.4-9, also known as the Shema because the first word of the passage in Hebrew is the imperative shĕma‘, meaning “Listen,” is probably one of the most well known passages in all of biblical literature. In Jewish tradition this passage is frequently recited as a prayer, a practice that goes back at least to the early rabbinic period . The broader Judeo-Christian tradition, moreover, has often taken the first verse of this passage as a statement of Israel’s (and its own) radical monotheistic faith. This verse reads: “Listen, O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one.” However, this common Judeo-Christian interpretation which claims that Israel maintained a radical monotheistic stance, or a belief that there is only one G/god in existence (in this case, Yahweh, the God of Israel), has been subject to severe criticism by modern biblical scholars.
There has been serious discussion among Mormon scholars over the past several years regarding the divine council in the Hebrew Bible and its implications for Mormon thought. For instance, very recently Blake Ostler published his third volume of Exploring Mormon Thought, in which, among other issues, he discusses at length various aspects of the heavenly council in the Hebrew Bible and what their implications might be for Mormon theology. David Bokovoy, a Mormon PhD student studying at Brandeis University under noted biblical scholar Marc Brettler, also had a lengthy exchange with Evangelical scholar Mike Heiser in a recent issue of the FARMS Review that included serious discussion of the council motif. Moreover, this exchange itself was provoked by an even earlier essay by BYU Professor Daniel Peterson that included an analysis of the heavenly assembly and its relevance for Mormonism. Kevin Barney also mentions the topic in his article “Examing Six Key Concepts in Joseph Smith’s Understanding of Genesis 1:1” for BYU studies. There has also been some discussion here at FPR regarding this topic. Given, then, the importance of this topic among Mormon scholars in recent years, I thought that in addition to pointing out these articles to those who might otherwise be unaware of them, I might also briefly describe the divine council as referred to in the Hebrew Bible, as well as some of its historical analogues. I invite any comments following that reader’s might feel to be of relevance to the divine council and/or its relationship to Mormon thought.
As scholars have noted for some time, and as I shall argue here, there are quite clearly two creation stories that presently exist side by side in Genesis chapters one through three, and which derive from two different sources which have been edited or redacted together. The first source is the account of creation found in Genesis 1.1-2.4a (or, as some scholars might argue, Genesis 1.1-2.3), and is typically known as “P” (which stands for “Priestly,” as it is believed to have been written and edited by a group or “school” or priests) among critical scholars. The second source follows thereafter and continues, for present purposes, up to Genesis 3.24. This source is known as “J” among biblical scholars (after its use of the divine name YHWH/Yahweh which is spelled with an initial J in German, the language in which much of the early research on this topic was conducted).