Background/The Divine Council
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).  [Read more...]
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). [Read more...]
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: [Read more...]
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.
Mormons are not the only prophetic tradition in America. The African American spiritual community also has its own prophetic roots, and Martin Luther King, Jr. is the paradigmatic figure from that tradition. It is true that these two traditions define prophetic leadership differently. For Mormons, today even more so than in our past, the prophetic mantle is held by right of institutional authority. The prophetic responsibility is to testify to the world of Christ, and to teach the faithful. This vision of prophesy hearkens back to ancient prophetic schools which saw prophesy as a vocation, and moreso in recent times, as a tool for the preservation of traditional social values. In the African American tradition, the prophetic tradition takes the role of charismatic cultural critic, especially around issues of injustice. This tradition hearkens back to a biblical tradition of speaking out against authority in the hopes of transforming society.
NB: This post compares and contrasts a set of books that I have never read (just like a true academic, or a true fundamentalist, er, a true ideologue of some sort ), so any feedback would be extremely helpful.
It is useful to compare the Left Behind series that has been so popular since 1995 in evangelical circles, with the Work and the Glory series since its release in 1990. Both are multi-volume epics that are aimed at the faithful as didactic literature that inculcates its audience into a theological and cultural insider status. Left Behind represents “apocaliterature” while the Work and the Glory takes part in the historical fiction genre. I am interested in the ways that these two series are expressions and producers of popular culture in each community represent different relationships to the presence of God.
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.