Heiser Learning: Michael Heiser’s Response to My Criticisms

I’ve just become aware that Michael Heiser has finally responded to an old piece of mine, in which I critique his reading of Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 82. In his response, Heiser has tried to display that my critique is full of bad logic and straw men, but he has only succeeded in displaying that trouble with logic and fair representation of an interlocutor are problems he himself struggles with. I’ll respond to his claims one by one, and demonstrate why this is the case.

But first, in his blog post, Heiser has this to say:

Some of you might be wondering about why I’d bother to respond to Stark’s response. First, he put a lot of time into it, so I thought I owed it some attention. Although I think that he regularly misconstrues things and uses some startlingly poor logic in places, it was something that deserved not to be ignored. Second, a number of readers have requested it.

So, Heiser has responded in part because he wishes to expose that I “misconstrue things” and use “startlingly poor logic.” In short, I deserved a response because what I wrote was (1) long, and (2) bad. I’ll let that stand the test of analysis. He’s certainly correct about the first item.

Heiser has responded in a PDF document which contains my original critique in its entirety, as well as twelve extended endnotes written by Heiser in response, as well as several shorter comments that appear in sticky-notes in the margins of the document. I’ll respond first to the twelve extended end notes, then to the sticky-notes.

POINT 1

 I wrote:

 Scholars did not begin with the presupposition that Israel’s monotheism evolved from polytheism, and then came with that presupposition to these (and other) texts. Rather, these (and other) texts display a polytheistic cosmology, and texts like Deuteronomy 32 are argued to be earlier not on theological grounds but on philological grounds. Heiser claims that “the alleged transition is then used in defense of the exegesis.” Heiser never demonstrates the truth of this claim.

Smith et al. do not appeal to the “presupposition” in order to justify their exegesis. They do their exegesis, then make their conclusions. Only once their conclusions have been established (as the consensus, which Heiser acknowledges) do they then become presuppositional. This is the way scholarship works.

Heiser responds in red, with my counter-responses in black:

This is not incorrect. Thom argues that the idea that Israelite religion moved from polytheism to monotheism is made on “philological grounds.” For those unfamiliar with the term, “philology” is, for the sake of this paper, basically equivalent to “exegesis”—that is, an examination of features of the text itself. I would ask Thom what those philological grounds are.

Heiser should be asking himself, since he provides some of them later in this selfsame response.

This is a fundamental question, and one that Thom will be unable to answer. He is not alone. What I mean when I ask for “what grounds” is this:

Please show me the features of the text that, apart from the assumption of an evolution from the start, self-evidently show this evolution. I would suggest there are none, and my newest paper on this issue, coupled with this response, make that evident. Put even more directly, there is nothing in the texts themselves that show an evolution from polytheism to monotheism. Rather, the argument is made (contrary to Thom’s first objection) by looking at features of the text and then interpreting them to point to an evolution. Here are some examples that will get fleshed out as we go:

1. Deut 32:8-9’s use of Elyon and Yahweh. Nothing in the text *says* they were different deities. The argument is made on two primary trajectories:

(a) That Deut 32:8-9 are older than Deut 4:19-20 (see my paper for why Deut 4:19-20 is argued as later). I would agree that it is likely that Deut 32 is older than Deut 4 – there are philological markers for that.

There you have it. Heiser offers up the fact that there are philological grounds for dating Deut 32 prior to Deut 4. So my statement that Deuteronomy 32 is argued to be earlier not on theological but philological grounds is unsupported . . . how? I’m not able to provide an answer to the question that Heiser asks and then himself answers (in support of my claim) . . . why?

But anyone who knows anything about the difficulty of dating texts via morphology and other philological markers will tell you just that – there is evidence pointing in different directions in any given passage. But let’s go with it for now – Deut 32 is older than Deut 4.

(b) That Deut 4 is to be dated after the exile. I would disagree with this; there is nothing in the text that makes this evident – BUT this is a crucial idea for the evolutionary view, since Israel’s presumed polytheism needs some point in Israel’s history. That point is posited as the exile or shortly after the exile. Israel’s response to exile is considered the impetus for the leap to monotheism. But I challenge Thom, or anyone else, show me why Deut 4 must be exilic or post-exilic – AS OPPOSED TO merely later than Deut 32. I am on firm ground with other scholars (Frank Moore Cross of Harvard for example) in placing Deut 4 late in the PRE-exilic period.

Actually, no. The argument does not at all stand or fall on an exilic or post-exilic date for Deut 4 as Heiser curiously claims here. A late pre-exilic date is perfectly compatible with the consensus view on Deut 32, since, as Heiser will acknowledge below, scholars who hold the consensus view also hold that Yahweh and Elyon were conflated as early as the 8th century. This is not the first time Heiser has made a mistake like this. I pointed other instances in my original critique. Will it be the last time?

These points will make little sense here to the reader. Please read my 2011 ETS paper on this topic, and the importance of this distinction will become clear.

Thus, both of Heiser’s objections are baseless.

2. Interpreting Psalm 82 as having both Yahweh and El (Elyon) as characters. There is nothing actually *stated in the text* (you need the text for philology to happen, Thom) that has both as characters.

Oh, thanks for that clarification. I wasn’t aware that philological work was done in texts. And right, “nothing actually stated in the text,” except for the multiple clues I pointed out in my original critique.

This idea is read into the text based on two items:

(a) The idea that Psalm 82 is a courtroom scene (“lawsuit genre”), in which there is a judge and a prosecutor figure. I would agree with this genre classification, but there is nothing self-evident in the text that has Yahweh and El (Elyon) as distinct characters. See “b” below.

Since “a” is just a bald assertion that depends on “b,” there really is only one point being made here, and it hasn’t been made yet. In point of fact, the posture of Yahweh in the text is a clear indication (given the literary genre that Heiser concedes) that Yahweh is not the judge in this myth.

(b) The idea that Psalm 82 is exilic or post-exilic (for the same necessary reasons noted above in 1-b).

Actually, no. Yahweh and Elyon are not argued to be separate characters in Psalm 82 based upon an exilic or post-exilic dating of the psalm. They are argued to be separate characters based upon all the actual reasons I detailed in my original critique, none of which have made their way into Heiser’s response.

But if we want Psalm 82 to be exilic or post-exilic, then its writer and editors would have to split Yahweh and El, since by all accounts (cf. Mark Smith here, among others) Yahweh and El had been identified with each other as early as the 8th century BC, two centuries before the exile. But I ask Thom – where are Yahweh and El re-divided in Psalm 82? Point to the verse, please. Actually, this has to be read into the scene, something that Thom is objecting to in his response at this point. And so I ask: Thom, where is the philological point in the text – minus the assumption of an evolution – that separates Yahweh and Elyon in Psalm 82, in defiance or reversal of two centuries of Israelite thinking?

I’m not going to repeat myself if Heiser is not going to respond to the verses I’ve already pointed to (along with numerous scholars who have dealt with this text).

As for the argument that (1) if Psalm 82 is exilic or later, and (2) if Yahweh and Elyon were already conflated prior to the exilic period, then (3) why would Yahweh and Elyon be de-conflated centuries later?, the response has already been given by scholars more capable than I. In fact, Mark Smith more than adequately explains this in Origins of Biblical Monotheism, and Heiser quotes Smith’s response in his latest paper, but offers no rejoinder whatsoever. He merely quotes it dismissively. The problem is not with an inconsistency in the consensus position, but with an inability on the part of Heiser to allow that remnants of an older idea are preserved in this later text. Heiser’s objection does nothing to disturb Smith’s view or mine. It can only pretend to do so by caricaturing our view. Our view is that the myth in Psalm 82 reflects older material, while at the same time reconfiguring it. Only Heiser is interested in the question of which is “inspired” and which is not. Heiser wishes to argue that the biblical authors all have a consistent view, even if not all Israelites did. Smith, I, and others have no interest in securing the integrity of biblical theology over against its various extra-biblical sources. We’re interested in tracing the development of Israel’s theology, and the biblical texts are one set of resources for that purpose.

So, for Thom, by way of summation, you object that I am wrong in saying that this evolution is read into the text from the get-go, arguing that it is based on philology. Please produce the philology, divorced as it is from the evolutionary assumption.

Heiser has done this on my behalf.

What readers will discover is that this is an impossible task.

Except when Heiser does it himself on my behalf.

There is nothing in the text that, devoid of certain assumptions, will self-evidently *yield* the evolution I criticize, or the separations between Yahweh and Elyon that are the critical points to this idea. In today’s world of scholarship on Israelite religion, basically everyone DOES begin with this presupposition. I object to it because I see its circularity, and want something that isn’t circular.

And my point is that none of the arguments Heiser has offered to expose this alleged circularity are valid. Heiser has done nothing to salvage the arguments I’ve already established as invalid. He’s been a bit cheeky, which is fine when accompanied by objections of any substance.

POINT 2

I wrote:

The idea that Yahweh was a “species unique” is fallacious, based on statements that claim there is “no other god like” Yahweh, and the like. But these sorts of statements are replete throughout broader ancient Near Eastern literature and are hyperbolic in nature. They do not imply that the god in question is sui generis.

Heiser responds in red and my counter-responses appear in black:

Thom doesn’t understand my argument here, but that isn’t completely his fault. I do not believe Yahweh is species unique based on denial statements.

Well, I can’t very well misunderstand an argument Heiser didn’t make, and the argument he’s now making is not the argument he made in the article I critiqued. Nevertheless . . .

I believe that the denial statements ought to be understood as incomparability statements, not denials of the existence of other elohim.

On this we agree.

I further believe that Yahweh is described with words, phrases, longer descriptors, etc., with which other elohim are not described, nor would be described, by the biblical writers. That second idea is really the basis for the “species unique” idea, not the denial statements. That may not have been clear, so I give Thom a pass on that point.

But my critique covered this as well. Other nations used similar descriptors to describe specific deities they revered most of all, yet this, as I showed, did not constitute any idea of “species uniqueness.”

However, I would challenge Thom with the basis of my species uniqueness idea. Here is what Thom needs to demonstrate to overturn this idea:

Show me textual examples (back to philology!) where the biblical writers describe another deity besides the God of Israel as the creator, the ultimate sovereign, the lone object of legitimate worship (“Israelite orthodoxy”), that sort of thing. These are identifiers of uniqueness.

These may be identifiers of “uniqueness,” but not “species” uniqueness! Of course, I argue that Yahweh is not the creator in Deut 32:8-9; Elyon is. And of course, I argue that Yahweh is not the “ultimate sovereign” in Deut 32:8-9; Elyon is. And of course, language identifying Yahweh as “the lone object of legitimate worship” is irrelevant. That does not establish Yahweh as unique at all. Israel owed their worship to Yahweh as their patron deity. Other nations owed their worship to their own deities. We wouldn’t expect to find injunctions to praise Baal or Kemosh in the Bible, any more than we would expect to find injunctions to praise Yahweh in Canaanite or Moabite literature. That doesn’t mean any of them saw their deities as “species unique.” Let’s get honest.

If only the God of Israel is described this way, then that makes my point.

No, I’m afraid it doesn’t.

Of course, some will say, “well, the Israelites came to see things this way, but at other points in their history, they didn’t think this way.” Fair enough – show me the texts for that. Where are the other *legitimized* cults of other deities in the mind of the biblical writers? Who are the other deities that exist outside the creation of the heaven and earth they made? Inquiring minds want to know.

This whole argument is a red herring.

Note that my emphasis here is the biblical writers. My position has always been that there was a good deal of theological diversity (including polytheism) among Israelites living hither and yon in the deserts, hill country, coastal plains, etc. – but not with respect to the biblical writers. Archaeology shows us that well enough. But it is logically fallacious to superimpose archaeology on the biblical writers when the biblical writers reject such ideas. This “hermeneutic of suspicion” operates on assumptions, assumptions that are then brought to the text to make the text agree.

If Heiser says so.

I am interested only in items derived from the text that yield XYZ fact without and apart from any imposed interpretive grid.

Good luck with that.

I reject that approach within the church, and I reject it outside as well. This is why I titled my blog “the Naked Bible”; I could care less about creeds and doctrinal statements (I’m not antagonistic to them, just apathetic toward them). Thom seeks [sic] to have rejected such things as well, but then adopted a new set of dogma from the academy.

If Heiser says so.

Thom, on a personal note, you would do well to remember that methods and conclusions are two different things.

OK. Thanks.

This is a point you stumble over later in your critique of my article, failing to see the distinction.

If Heiser says so.

But I think you and I would share some irritations with the way things are in the “believing” church. We just would not share many conclusions or solutions. (I suspect anyway).

So, for Thom, by way of summation, I would like to see (and I’m sure readers would as well) data from the text that answers the above – proof that the biblical writers could embrace the idea that other gods were commensurate with Yahweh, drawn right from the biblical text.

This would be proof for a position I do not hold. The only reason Heiser expects me to offer proof for this is because he doesn’t understand how confused his own position is. The fact that a nation reserved certain language for their patron deity and their patron deity only does not constitute evidence that they saw their deity as “species unique.”

 

POINT 3

I wrote:

This is fallacious. It is not the case that “every phrase in Deutero-Isaiah that is taken to deny the existence of other gods has an exact or near linguistic parallel in Deuteronomy 4 and 32.” But Deuteronomy 4 is irrelevant, since it’s from a later period than Deuteronomy 32. Scholars like Rollston and Smith don’t base their argument that Deutero-Isaiah is monotheistic solely on the language which denies other gods. This language is hyperbolic, as Smith rightly notes. Rollston and Smith see Deutero-Isaiah as monotheistic in large part because of the polemic in Isa 44:9-20, which clearly characterizes other gods as merely fashioned by human hands. This takes the rhetoric much further than anything seen in Deuteronomy 32. The argument is that the standard hyperbolic language (“there is no other god besides me,” etc.) came to be read as monotheistic language at this time. The shift is clear from the polemic against other gods as merely the wooden products of human hands.

Heiser responds in red, with my counter-responses in black:

Sorry, but that is the case. How did my dissertation readers miss this, Thom? Perhaps they needed to consult you.

No, it is not the case. Here is the language in Deuteronomy 32:

See now that I, even I, am he;
there is no god besides me.
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and no one can deliver from my hand.

Here is the language in Deutero-Isaiah:

 I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
7 Who is like me? Let them proclaim it,
let them declare and set it forth before me.
Who has announced from of old the things to come?
Let them tell us what is yet to be.
8 Do not fear, or be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
You are my witnesses!
Is there any god besides me?
There is no other rock; I know not one.

9 All who make idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit; their witnesses neither see nor know. And so they will be put to shame. 10Who would fashion a god or cast an image that can do no good? 11Look, all its devotees shall be put to shame; the artisans too are merely human. Let them all assemble, let them stand up; they shall be terrified, they shall all be put to shame.

12 The blacksmith fashions it and works it over the coals, shaping it with hammers, and forging it with his strong arm; he becomes hungry and his strength fails, he drinks no water and is faint. 13The carpenter stretches a line, marks it out with a stylus, fashions it with planes, and marks it with a compass; he makes it in human form, with human beauty, to be set up in a shrine. 14He cuts down cedars or chooses a holm tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15Then it can be used as fuel. Part of it he takes and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Then he makes a god and worships it, makes it a carved image and bows down before it. 16Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he roasts meat, eats it, and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, ‘Ah, I am warm, I can feel the fire!’ 17The rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, bows down to it, and worships it; he prays to it and says, ‘Save me, for you are my god!’

18 They do not know, nor do they comprehend; for their eyes are shut, so that they cannot see, and their minds as well, so that they cannot understand. 19No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, ‘Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals, I roasted meat and have eaten. Now shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?’ 20He feeds on ashes; a deluded mind has led him astray, and he cannot save himself or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a fraud?’

I’m sorry, but it’s quite clear that Deutero-Isaiah takes the incomparability language quite a few steps further than anything found in Deuteronomy 32.

At any rate, some weren’t in agreement with my view, but could not refute it (there was this thing called my dissertation defense – that would have been the place to nail me on something so presumably evident).

I can’t speak to that. I wasn’t there.

Thom states in this regard: “This language is hyperbolic, as Smith rightly notes. Rollston and Smith see Deutero-Isaiah as monotheistic in large part because of the polemic in Isa 44:9-20, which clearly characterizes other gods as merely fashioned by human hands. This takes the rhetoric much further than anything seen in Deuteronomy 32.”

This shows less-than-clear thinking in several respects.

First, does Thom really want to say that ancient Semites didn’t actually believe in other elohim?

No. And I never made such a claim.

Thom wants his readers to think that after the exile the Israelites abandoned this idea, having leaped to the intellectual echelon of monotheism (defined as the idea that only one god exists). But why, then, do we have 200 references to elim and plural elohim in the Dead Sea Scrolls (many in the context of a divine council). I guess they didn’t get the memo.

I guess Heiser hasn’t gotten the memo. This is an obfuscation he’ll return to later on, and I’ll repeat myself there. The consensus position to which Heiser isn’t giving a proper introduction is that by the time of the DSS, elim and elohim had taken on a different meaning for Jews when used to refer to beings other than Yahweh. They are used interchangeably with angels. Prior to the arrival of monotheism, elim and elohim referred to beings comparable to Yahweh.

Second, on this hyperbole idea – does Thom really want to say that ancient Semites are exaggerating in their belief that their god was incomparable? (They can’t be guilty of hyperbole that only one god exists for Thom, since that is what he wants them to be affirming).

Right. I’m the one who misrepresents Heiser. Not the other way around! OK. Forgive the sarcasm. Let’s make it clear: Deutero-Isaiah is exaggerating, because monotheism didn’t exist yet. The same language in the DSS is not an exaggeration. I can’t bring myself to believe that Heiser really doesn’t know this is my position, as it’s the position of most of the scholars Heiser uses as a foil in his treatises for the Evangelical Theological Society.

So, let me see if I understand. The same people who believe the earth was round and flat, that celestial bodies might be deities or powered by deities (a later Jewish view), or the residence of deities (another later Jewish view), and who thought the seat of intellect was their intestines, or that one’s ancestors lived in the loins of their fathers, etc., etc. – THAT same bunch would not really believe their god was the best and incomparable?

Huh?

Huh?

Right. I’m the one with “tortured logic.” Let’s collapse different time periods into one string of sentences and try to make Thom look silly, hoping no one notices what we’ve done. Moreover, I never claimed that Israelites didn’t really believe Yahweh was the best. Nor did I claim that they didn’t believe he was incomparable. Heiser loves to accuse me of arguing against straw men. I’m thinking there’s some projection going on. I said that the denial that other gods really existed was hyperbole, expressing their belief that Yahweh was the best deity; I did not say that their statements that Yahweh was the best deity were hyperbole. Are we straight? After Heiser’s attempt to make me look silly, does he feel silly?

On what grounds is this language an exaggeration? Don’t quote me someone who agrees with you – give me the evidence from the text. You are the one who wants philology, so let’s have some on this point. What gives you as a modern intellectual the right to impose your own skeptical dismissal in this regard on an ancient Semite?

The over-confident straw man attack continues.

Back to my dissertation, I asked in its pages (and at my defense, with my professorial reviewers all present), WHY is it that the language of denial is hyperbole in pre-exilic texts, but when we see the same phrases after the exile, then they deny the existence of other gods? I doubt you can explain this since my reviewers could not. It sounded odd to them because they had the evolutionary template guiding their thinking on it – but that was ALL they had. If they had more, I would have been asked to re-submit the dissertation.

Well, I know Heiser has talked with Daniel McClellan about this at length, and Daniel has done a fine job explaining to Heiser the point he’s missing, but Heiser hasn’t gotten it yet, apparently, so why should I bother? The answer is the LXX and the DSS transform the meaning of “gods” by making elim and elohim synonymous with “angels,” effectively demoting all of the “gods” to an inferior status and rendering Yahweh (finally) “species unique.” In earlier periods, this isn’t the case.

Note: This issue was what actually led me to my dissertation topic. At a Second Isaiah seminar at the UW-Madison, I asked our special speaker, Peter Machinist from Harvard, an expert on Second Isaiah, this question: “If the evolution toward monotheism and the denial of the existence of other gods is so clear, why is it that Second Isaiah, writing after the exile, still had traces of the divine council, and the material from Qumran had over a hundred references to other gods along with divine council scenes?” His answer? “That’s a very good question; I’m not sure.” I knew I had my topic – and what a blessing that he was so honest. This was a wonderful thing to experience—a scholar at such a high level in the profession (department chair at Harvard) being so forthright. I’m not saying he would be won over to my view, but I am saying that he knew there was a problem here (who knows?) and that the textual material was not self-evident in this regard.

Well, that’s a question that Machinist may not have been able to answer at the time, but others had answered it before then, and since then the answer has become quite commonplace.

 

POINT 4

I wrote:

This again is not accurate. Rollston, for instance, argues that there is a loose four-stage development, from Yahweh as junior deity, to Yahweh as head of the pantheon (though still subservient to El Elyon), to the conflation of Yahweh with El Elyon, to out and out monotheism. Only the last stage does Rollston place in the exilic period, but Rollston actually argues that this shift to monotheism began with Jeremiah, just prior to the exile. But the middle two stages are much earlier for Rollston, occurring during the monarchical period. There is in fact nothing surprising about this, within a polytheistic framework. After all, the same pattern appears with Baal and with many other ANE deities. A junior member asserts himself and takes the throne as king of the gods, though still subordinate (if only technically) to the high god/s.

Heiser’s response is in red, and my counter-responses in black:

Yes, it is.

Actually, no it isn’t accurate. Heiser originally wrote: “The consensus thinking argues that Yahweh assumes a new role as judge over all the world and its gods as Israel emerges from the exile.” I responded by pointing out that Rollston argues that the shift Heiser describes occurred late, but still well before the exile. This is also the view of Cross, Smith, and all of them consensus-making folk. So, no, Heiser’s statement was not accurate.

On what textual basis does Rollston argue for the four stages? I’ll tell you – on the basis of the interpretations that have been canonized by the scholarly guild. This evolution is not self-evident in the text (see # 1, and I would ask Dr. Rollston the same questions, along with those posed in my paper or dissertation).

Well, if you already knew the answer to your question, why did you ask it? Of course, your “answer” is condescendingly dismissive, and not to mention ignorant of Rollston’s actual textual basis for his loose four-stage development.

In short, show me the textual evidence that does not depend on these presuppositions.

What presuppositions? The presuppositions you insist are controlling the thinking of the consensus, without providing any legitimate evidence in support of your condescending accusation? Conspiracy theorize much?

 

POINT 5

Heiser wrote:

As F. M. Cross noted over thirty years ago, “The kingship of the gods is a common theme in early Mesopotamian and Canaanite epics. The common scholarly position that the concept of Yahweh as reigning or king is a relatively late development in Israelite thought seems untenable.”

I wrote:

Yet Cross himself argued that monotheism was a late development, as Heiser should well know. This displays the fallacy in Heiser’s argumentation here.

Heiser responds in red, with my counter-responses in black:

This is probably the most disturbing part of Thom’s response, because it stands upon hopelessly flawed logic.

Oh boy! This is going to be a good one.

Incredibly, Thom assume that, because I utilize an observation made by a particular scholar, that I must draw the same conclusion as that scholar.

Bbzzzz. Wrong answer! Once again, my “tortured logic” turns out just to be another case of Heiser missing the point and jumping to false conclusions. I’ll explain after Heiser concludes his latest rant:

How is that even close to coherent? Scientists and scholars (and just plain-old good thinking “normal” people) use sound observations from a spectrum of resources and then draw different conclusions every day of the year. I shudder to think how science would work if scientists were forced to draw the same conclusions from the same data or the same conclusions drawn by other scientists. I think that’s a fine way of describing the mind in atrophy. This is utterly incoherent. Of course I might draw different conclusions using the work of scholars who have gone before me – it’s called research and (better) thinking.

All right. Heiser thinks I was saying that because he used Cross in support of one point, Heiser is therefore obliged to agree with Cross’s conclusion. Nope. Not what I was saying. At all. Huh-uh. But it’s entertaining to behold Heiser launching a string of bottle rockets into the straw man.

What I meant, of course, is that Heiser’s critique of the consensus position entailed the confused conflation of the issue of kingship with the issue of monotheism. One can hold that Yahweh was enthroned as king in Israel’s theology as early as Moses; that says nothing about when monotheism (a totally different idea) developed. In reality, and pace Heiser, the consensus on the emergence of the idea of Yahweh’s universal kingship is that it took place in the pre-exilic period, beginning in the eighth century, and the consensus is that “intolerant monotheism” (the term used by Heiser in his article) did not emerge until the post-exilic period. So my point was that when the idea of universal kingship emerged is irrelevant to Heiser’s critique of the consensus on monotheism, and yet he treats it as relevant. That Cross (who Heiser quoted in order to show that the kingship motif need not have emerged late) allowed for kingship to be earlier than monotheism should have indicated to Heiser that his argument was confused, unless, of course, his opinion of Cross is that Cross is as dumb as a rock. We know that’s his opinion of the “Thom Stark” against whom Heiser is arguing. But I think that Thom is (conveniently) dumb as well.

 

POINT 6

I wrote:

This is totally fallacious, a misrepresentation of the scholarly arguments. It ostensibly displays a lack of familiarity with Qumranic cosmology and ignores the clear evidence from the LXX. The LXX, whose translation predates the Qumran corpora, frequently translates ’ elohim and its variants, as well as beney ha- ’ elohim , as angeloi (“angels”). LXX Deut 4:19 and 17:3 translate the Hebrew “hosts of heaven” as “ornaments of the sky,” removing the reference to deities. The Hebrew of Ps 97:7 reads, “Let all the gods worship him,” but the LXX translates this, “Let all his angels worship him.” Clearly at the time of Qumran the shift had already been made. Moreover, appealing to computer generated word searches to show that ’ elohim (“gods”) and malakim (“messengers”) do not appear together frequently tells us absolutely nothing. In the scrolls, “sons of God” (a technical Semitic term for junior deities of the pantheon) is translated “angels of God” (11Q10 30:5; 4Q180). Moreover, elim (gods) is used interchangeably with “Holy Ones,” “Angels,” “Watchers,” etc., throughout the scrolls. Finally, the figure of Melchizedek in the Scrolls is clearly identified as ’ elohim but also is listed among angelic priestly figures, and may in one place be identified with the archangel Michael. These are but a few examples. It is hardly the case that the interpretation of the data here is being driven by a presupposition. I think this may be true for Heiser, however.

Heiser responds in red with my counter-responses in black:

This objection is also irritating, though it blurs into amusing.

That sentence is amusing.

Thom doesn’t like the fact that I have found so many instances of plural elim and elohim in the Qumran material, since that mars the neat evolutionary trajectory.

Yeah, no. This is not in the slightest bit true.

So what does he do? Does he conduct his own search to prove that mine was wrong? No. Instead he starts talking about Greek and tries to argue that the LXX is earlier than the Qumran material. Setting aside the fact that the LXX cannot be dated with that sort of precision in many cases, Thom, the argument you use here is an argument in FAVOR of what I am saying. But I guess I need to explain that.

Yes. Good luck.

I am saying that the idea of an evolution from polytheism to monotheism (denial of other gods’ existence) from before the exile, through the exile, and after the exile (ending with militant monotheism) is incoherent since there are many references to plural elohim well after the exile.

Right. I know that’s what Heiser is saying, and it’s a confused argument that doesn’t succeed. Here we’re revisiting Point 3. Heiser doesn’t understand that elim and elohim took on a different meaning in this period than they had in the earlier cosmology. We know this because these words are used interchangeably with words used to describe a lower tier of celestial beings.

(At least that is one reason it is incoherent – the entire question about a need to evolve to monotheism is specious – see my paper). Thom thinks that because earlier (Hellenistic) Jews began using the term “angel” in place of “gods” prior to Qumran that somehow explains (?) the abundant use of elohim language at Qumran. Think about that for a moment. How does it help Thom? It doesn’t. If the “earlier” LXX (Septuagint) Jews “had it right” by Thom’s thinking, then the guys at Qumran are rejecting this – they are not following suit.

Except, yeah, for the evidence in the DSS which shows that Qumran is doing the same thing with the terms. See my original critique repeated above.

Thus my question is still valid – why didn’t they get the memo? The answer is that there was no “we have now arrived at monotheism and will deny other gods exist” memo to be gotten. That is something modern scholars have constructed.

Michael’s pet narrative.

Thom actually misunderstands what is going on in LXX, too, The LXX is actually uneven when it comes to translating elohim. Sometimes it opts for angels; sometimes it retains plural gods – theoi or uioi theou (“sons of God”). LXX is not consistent in this regard, and so its use of aggelos as an argument for a monotheistic apex is incoherent.

Well there’s a great big non sequitur. The reality is that we understand that theoi and uioi theou have undergone a semantic transformation. This is what scholars argue from the data, an argument Heiser doesn’t seem to understand, let alone refute.

That there was no apex is shown by the fact some LXX translators didn’t care about writing plural gods (theoi). It didn’t faze them.

Again, Heiser’s conclusion is a non sequitur.

My findings stand as they are. There are 200 references in the sectarian literature of Qumran (Hebrew, not Greek) of plural elim and elohim, many of them in divine council contexts. Like Mark Smith likes to humorously say, “I don’t write these things; I just study them.” Readers can get my regional SBL paper on divine plurality in Qumran texts.

Yes, let’s ignore the clear evidence from the Scrolls (only some of which I’ve detailed above) that elim and its variants are translated as and used interchangeably with “angels” and its synonyms throughout.

Lastly, I should note that I am coming to the point (still thinking about it) that for Hellenistic contexts aggelos was an umbrella term for “any being from the disembodied spiritual realm – a “messenger” from that realm) just like elohim actually means (see my recent paper). Elohim is not to be connected with attribute ontology. That is the way *we* think about the term, but it isn’t the way the biblical writers used it. If this is the case, the whole “angel” argument falls flat.

Right. So Yahweh God is . . . where described as an angel?

POINT 7

Skipping point 7 because it’s a minor issue and Heiser only refers us to his paper, which is a pandora’s box of non sequiturs in its own right.

 

POINT 8

I stated that there was a parallel between Psalm 82 and the Baal cycle. Here’s Heiser’s confused response in red, and mine in black:

Thom somehow thinks Psalm 82 is a repeat of the Baal Cycle.

Nope. Not what I said. I said there was a parallel. I didn’t argue for direct borrowing. I said that there are parallels and that the motif is in the background.

It isn’t. The biblical writers are very capable of quoting portions of the Baal cycle when they want to, but that doesn’t happen here – unless Thom wants to produce that for us.

Wouldn’t need to, since Heiser is mischaracterizing my claim. Never argued or claimed Psalm 82 was quoting the Baal cycle. I used the Baal cycle to elucidate the motifs found in Psalm 82.

Put another way, Thom, where is the evidence that Psalm 82 is intentionally following the Baal cycle? Be careful here! Arguing this too much will get you a surprise you won’t want to affirm – see the last note of my recent paper. What’s good for Baal is good for Yahweh.

This is confused on so many levels.

 

POINT 9

I wrote:

Thus we see that Heiser’s objection—that El does not issue a judgment here—is irrelevant when the background material is considered. El does not issue a judgment against Yamm, either. In both cases, the young warrior deity (Baal, Yahweh) asserts himself and takes judgment into his own hands, and in both cases, this is how the deity ascends to the throne.

Heiser responds in red, and I in black:

This is again poorly argued. I address this in my most recent paper (see the second half in regard to Psalm 82). I like how Thom says that my objection is totally relevant [sic] “when we look at the biblical text.” Thom, please produce the *philological* arguments from verse 6 that show a change of speaker. Mind you, don’t read the speaker into it; show us how the grammar and syntax give us that change, apart from anything we might want to see there. Grammar and syntax are the stuff that philology is made of, you know.

Here’s another case of Heiser thinking I’m totally blind when in reality he can’t even grasp my actual position. Heiser points me to his recent paper. His position is articulated on p. 13. Lo and behold, Heiser argues that the psalter is the voice in verse 1 and verse 8 (beginning and end), and Yahweh is the voice in the remainder of the psalm. Astounding. If Heiser cared to read me more carefully, he’d recognize that’s my position too! So, no, Heiser, I do not need to provide a philological justification for a change of speaker from verse 6, since I agree with you that it’s one voice, the voice of Yahweh, in verses 2-7. My criticism of your objection to Parker was that El (the presider) need not speak at all. Heiser wants to conflate El and Yahweh, but Yahweh is the prosecutor who stands in the midst of the gods; he does not preside over them. So, I agree with Heiser that it’s Yahweh from 2 to 7, and Asaph in 1 and 8. Where we disagree is on whether Yahweh and El are one entity or two. Now maybe if Heiser will slow down and read me with care, he will be able to avoid making “poorly argued” rebuttals of a “straw man” position.

 

POINT 10

Here I critiqued Heiser’s strained argument about why Yahweh would have to be seated in order to “rise up” at the end. I said “rise up” is just metaphorical, and Heiser conceded the point and says he doesn’t really care about it. So much for Point 10.

 

POINT 11

Regarding the lamed in Psalm 29:10. I won’t bore you with my original comments, but you can read them if you like. Here’s Heiser’s response:

This one takes me by surprise. What an odd argument – Thom defends his view on the basis of a preposition, the most notoriously elastic critters to translate. Very poor.

No, Heiser. Try reading what I actually wrote. I’m not “defending a view.” I’m critiquing you for deriving a very definitive view from a passage that is very difficult to translate which could yield multiple readings. Please try reading what I actually wrote.

Thom wants to argue that lamed cannot mean “over”? Think about this Thom – in ancient Israelite cosmology, the flood waters (mabbul) were ON TOP OF the firmament dome (the raqia’), which dome was “heaven” to the ancient Israelite (Gen 1:6-10). The nations are logically UNDER that dome ON THE EARTH. That would mean Yahweh’s realm is logically conceived as being OVER the dome. It doesn’t matter what preposition is used, Thom. Yahweh’s domain is beyond the dome. This is standard pre-scientific cosmology. You are simply confusing the issue and, no doubt, readers, by this sort of sophistry.

Right. I’m a sophist, who quoted other scholars whose only conclusion was that the translation of this verse is very tricky. I didn’t argue for a specific translation. I said there were multiple possibilities. I cited another scholar who pointed out that mappul is a happax in the sense of “flood,” but let’s ignore all that, and everything I actually said, and just call me a sophist so we can call it a day. In reality, I’m the one exercising conservative scholarship here. Heiser seems to need the verse to yield a specific meaning; meanwhile, other scholars have offered reasons why we should be more reserved. I’m such a sophist.

 

POINT 12

I wrote:

Once again, Cross, Rollston, and numerous other scholars argue that the enthronement of Yahweh took place during the monarchical period, not the exilic period. Moreover, Yahweh and El were conflated prior to monotheism. This is hardly astonishing. Deities were conflated all the time in the ancient world. Baal eventually totally replaced El, even while initially he and El were distinct, even while Baal became king over the gods. Why is it surprising that we see the same sort of thing taking place in Israel and Judea’s theologies? Especially since the texts so clearly indicate that the same sort of thing did take place. All of this has nothing to do with monotheism, of course. In the ancient Near East, gods ascended to thrones, were conflated with high gods, were said to be immeasurably superior to all other gods—this happened all over the place. But none of this amounts to monotheism.

Heiser responds in red, I in black:

This whole paragraph obscures the issues.

Ha.

I don’t think Thom realizes how crucial the lateness of global kingship is to the evolutionary view. He certainly doesn’t understand how weak the idea for lateness really is. This goes to Psalm 82, and so I refer readers to my most recent paper (second half) for some clarity here.

Right. The “lateness of global kingship” is so crucial to the “evolutionary view” that the most detailed articulators of that view argue that global kingship occurred well prior to the exile. That makes sense. Or perhaps, as I pointed out repeatedly in my original critique, Heiser wrongly believes that the evolutionary view needs global kingship to have developed in the exilic period.

I love the idea of identifying Yahweh with the storm god, though. Yes, let’s do that, Thom. That helps make my case just fine. You’ll understand why in view of the last note of my paper.

Oh brother. OK. Let’s look at the last note of Heiser’s paper:

See Context of Scripture, 1.86 (the Baʿalu Myth) where the relevant phrases associated with Baal are ʾil klh (―god [over, of] all of it [earth in context] and Baal‘s title zbl bʿl arṣ, ―the Prince, lord of the earth‖). The phrases are somewhat controversial, but most scholars would presume they denote a cosmic-geographical rule extending from Baal‘s council mountain of apanu over the affairs of all humankind—something quite in concert with Psa 82 (and by extension, Deut 4 and 32). Dennis Pardee notes in relation to the issue: ―The phrase here is ʾil klh, precisely the same as was used twice above with reference to Kôtaru-wa-Ḫasīsu‘s hegemony in Memphis (see note 19). Because they assume that Baʿlu is king of the earth, some scholars have felt constrained to take ʾarṣ here as denoting a particular land (cf. Caquot, Sznycer and Herdner 1974:258, n. o). On the other hand, a formal claim to kingship of the earth is not to be found in the various statements regarding Baʿlu‘s kingship. The closest one comes to the expression of such a concept is in one of his standard titles, zbl bʿl arṣ, ―the Prince, master of the earth,‖ and in the phrase ʾarṣ drkt, ―the land of (his) domain‖ [CTA 4 vii 44]). Because of the very specific terminology used in this passage, viz., that ʿAṯtaru climbs (ʿly) Mount apānu to take Baʿlu‘s throne and descends (yrd) from there when he abandons that throne, it does not appear implausible to interpret ʿAṯtaru‘s rôle as king of the earth as referring to the earth as flatlands. Such a limited kingship may already have been referred to in CTA 2 iii 17–18 (see above, note 50). This hegemony, though ultimately granted by ʾIlu, may have been seen as a vice–regency under Baʿlu‘s control (in normal times, of course, when Baʿlu is in control). The facts that (1) goddesses have claimed Baʿlu as their king (CTA 3 v 40 [here line 32]; 4 iv 43); (2) Baʿlu‘s kingship is stated in this and other passages to be ―on the heights of apānu‖; (3) the members of one of the so–called ―pantheons,‖ the best known, are described as ―the gods of apānu‖ (RS 1.017:1 = CTA 29:1), lead to the conclusion that Baʿlu was somehow seen as the king of the earth in the context of divine contact with the earth at Mount apānu. Descriptions of his activities also indicate that the link between mountain tops, storm clouds, and his function as provider of rain were inextricably linked (see particularly the link between the window in his palace and the phenomena of thunder and lightning, above CTA 4 vii 25–37). It appears plausible, therefore, to posit a Ug. conception of Baʿlu as king of mountains and storms and ʿAṯtaru as king of the flat earth, under Baʿlu‘s control‖ (William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, The Context of Scripture [Leiden; New York: Brill, 1997-], 269-70, note 250). [Emphasis Thom’s]

Oh yes. I’m very terrified of what I’ve found here. Not really of course. All of this is perfectly compatible with the view I’m defending, and its connection to the rise of monotheism in Israel is, well, nonexistent. More confusion from Heiser.

 

STICKY NOTES

The first sticky note of any relevance is another one where Heiser says I have “disturbed logic.” Here I’m pointing out that the distinction between the conflation of El and Yahweh on one hand, and monotheism on the other, is one that Mark S. Smith makes himself, and thus Heiser’s claim that the distinction poses a problem for Smith’s position is, well, “disturbed logic.” But Heiser seems to think that I’m saying that because he agrees with Smith on one point, he’s obliged to agree with Smith down the line. Yeah, no. That’s not what I said. Heiser misses the point, is blind to his own bad logic, and based on a baseless misreading of me accuses me of having “disturbed logic.” Whatever.

The next sticky note is in response to my statement that, “nowhere in Deuteronomy 32 is there any statement that the other gods are “under Yahweh’s authority.”

Hesier responds by begging the question:

They didn’t divide the nations among themselves, Thom. Someone with the authority to assign them their jobs did that.

Yeah, obviously they didn’t divide the nations among themselves. Heiser knows full well that my position is that Elyon divided the nations among them, as the text in fact says. This attempt to make me look less than intelligent is very transparent. He’s obscuring the issue, and begging the question of whether Yahweh and Elyon are separate entities.

And while we’re at it — do you realize that Deut 32:8-9 never actually SAY that Yahweh was “given” anything by Elyon? These are *verbless* clauses, Thom — those ideas must, by definition, be read INTO the text, since you need a verb that isn’t there to make that point!

Yes, let’s ignore all of the textual arguments offered by scholars for why Yahweh is given Israel by Elyon in this text, and just state an obvious point that no one is disputing in the hopes that those unfamiliar with the arguments will think Heiser has settled the issue.

The next sticky note is in response to my statement that “Yahweh may be acting as judge here, but emphatically not as judge over other gods in the divine council. Rather, Yahweh acts as judge against his own people. This is within Yahweh’s domain, just as it is within the domain of any patron deity to judge his own people.”

Heiser responds with another obfuscation:

In Deut 32:8-9, when the nations are divided (see Gen 11), Yahweh’s own people don’t exist yet. So your arguments [sic] is nonsensical at this point.

Oh good grief. Heiser is conflating the Gen 11 myth with that of Deut 32, as if they should be telling the same story. In his recent paper, Heiser asks what scholars who take my reading of Deut 32 do with the J source. He asks whether J is later than Deut 32. I thought the answer to that was obvious. Yes. Deut 32 is archaic. J is later. Heiser asserts that Deut 32 draws upon Gen 11 (Tower of Babel). This is false. They are two disconnected aetiologies accounting for the same phenomenon (the fact of many nations). The ANE had many such aetiologies, and the Bible contains several. Heiser has concocted this problem because he doesn’t really seem to understand source criticism very well. Just because J attributes the division to Yahweh at the Tower of Babel doesn’t mean the archaic author of the Song of Moses made that same attribution. And just because J attributes the division to Yahweh doesn’t mean he has rejected polytheism (as Heiser inexplicably thinks is an issue). He then waxes ineloquent on the old “bungling redactor” canard, as if saying that a final redactor wasn’t concerned to reconcile contrasting aetiologies is the same thing as saying he was incompetent. Let’s move on.

You also have a dating problem with the J source here, Thom.

So, no. I don’t.

The next sticky note revolves around Baal and El epithets. Heiser originally said, “Ugaritic scholars have noted that the title ‘Most High’ is never used of El in the Ugaritic corpus. In point of fact it is Baal, a second-tier deity, who twice receives this title as the ruler of the gods.”

I responded, “This is because Baal became the ruler of the gods. Clearly, as the Baal Cycle shows, El originally occupied this position.”

In his sticky note, Heiser calls this a “useless and distracting point,” ostensibly because he doesn’t get it. He says, “So what? The biblical writers identify Yahweh with El and Baal, so their bases are covered.”

Yes, that’s great. Let’s circumvent all the relevant discussions about different theologies in the Bible by homogenizing these under the rubric of “the biblical writers.” Yes, obviously, some biblical writers identify Yahweh with El and Baal. And some don’t. My point, which Heiser missed, is that the fact that “Most High” is applied to Baal is because he came to be seen as king of the pantheon, eventually replacing El. This much Heiser has conceded. So, the fact that Baal is called “Most High” does not mean that “Most High” is an appropriate term for Yahweh until he is depicted as king of the pantheon, which in Deut 32, he isn’t. All of Heiser’s attempts to make Yahweh the king over the other gods in Deut 32 have either begged the question or failed.

The next sticky note responds to a quote I offered from DDD. The portion he responds to reads: “there is a wide range of evidence to suggest that ‘Elyon was a common epithet in the West Semitic region, applied at different times and in different cultures to any god thought to be supreme.”

Heiser responds: “No kidding. Of course one would expect different cultures to believe their own deities were the top god (or dog, if you prefer). Again, this contributes nothing by way of rebuttal.”

Sure, Heiser. Pick out one sentence in a three-paragraph rebuttal, ignore all of the other sentences, and say, “this contributes nothing by way of rebuttal.” Anyway, it contributes perfectly well to a rebuttal, but Heiser would have to understand the point being made for him to see that, which he obviously doesn’t. Here’s the point: Baal had a transition from junior deity to head deity. Not until that transition was made was it appropriate to refer to him as “Elyon.” That Baal attributes are sometimes applied to Yahweh doesn’t mean Yahweh is by way of extension being portrayed as the “Most High.” That’s a very simplistic argument. Baal had lots of attributes, and different attributes in different periods. Same is true of Yahweh.

Heiser’s next sticky note repeats a mistake he’s made several times already, on the dating of Deut 4. And he’s responding to an argument I’ve never made. So, yet another straw man from the man who accuses me of concocting straw men.

Heiser’s next sticky note concedes that an argument of his which I called “confused” may in fact be confused. But what Heiser displays is that he still doesn’t understand the point. That Yahweh and Elyon are conflated in the eighth century BCE does not pose trouble for those who argue that they were separate in the eleventh century BCE. Heiser originally claimed it did pose trouble. It doesn’t, for reasons which should be fairly obvious.

In his next sticky note, Heiser responds to my rebuttal of his claim that El epithets are applied to Yahweh in Deut 32. I wrote, “Nowhere is Yahweh said to be the father of any deity; nowhere is Yahweh said to be the father of humankind in general. Yahweh is only identified as the father of his people Israel. This was not uncommon.”

He responds, “Thom, this misconstrues my point. The point was that the writer of Deut 32 is using an El epithet of Yahweh (who is the named deity everywhere else in the chapter). The point was not to claim that Yahweh did all the things El did at Ugarit. You regularly insert issues that aren’t the issues — is that on purpose, or is it just careless?”

No. That Heiser is blind to relevant issues doesn’t mean they aren’t issues. He can dismiss relevant issues by calling me careless, but it won’t change reality. I never said Heiser claimed that Yahweh did all the things El did at Ugarit. So, no, I did not misconstrue his point. The point I made, that was lost on Heiser, is that context gives an epithet its meaning. That Yahweh is identified as the father of Israel does not mean an “El epithet” is being used of him, any more than an el epithet is being used of Abraham when he is called the father of Isaac. When El is called “father,” it means he is the father of the gods, or the father of all humankind. But Yahweh is only identified here as the father of his people Israel. Thus, it’s not an El epithet. It’s a pretty obvious point. Not sure how Heiser missed it. I made it quite clear.

The next sticky note deals with the same issue and Heiser repeats the same confusion. I wrote, “That Yahweh ‘established’ Israel simply means that Yahweh established Israel. Nothing more than that is permitted by the text.”

Heiser responds, “Uh, I wouldn’t be claiming anything more.” But he does claim more. He claims that “father” here is an El epithet. He then continues, “You [Thom] seem to have forgotten in a note above that Israel didn’t exist at the time of the division of the nations, and so of course Yahweh establishes his own people (who else would?).” Again, Heiser conflates Gen 11 with Deut 32. That’s not how exegesis is done. That’s called harmonization. Finally, he writes, “The point was simply the writer’s use of El language; that’s all.” That’s the point I’m contesting. Heiser doesn’t seem to get that “father” isn’t automatically “El language.” No attributes of El’s unique “fatherhood” are ascribed to Yahweh here.

The next sticky note deals again with the same issue, and Heiser continues to miss the point. I wrote, “Thus, Yahweh fashioned Israel from Abraham up. He literally created them from Sarah’s barren womb. This has nothing to do with the concept of the creation of the earth or of humankind or of the pantheon of gods, as with the Ugaritic El epithets.”

Heiser responds, “I never said it did. I’m thinking now that you aren’t being careless, but seek to confuse the issue.” No, Heiser, I’m neither being careless, nor am I confusing the issue. You’re confusing the issue by insisting that “father” is an El epithet when none of the characteristics of El’s fatherhood are here ascribed to Yahweh. He continues, “You have a habit of making me appear to say things I don’t actually say. But I’ll admit that maybe there is a clarity problem in my writing here.” No. I never said Heiser said that Yahweh’s fatherhood was over humankind or the pantheon. I wasn’t attacking a straw man. I was making a very lucid point. The point (I’ll reiterate) is that because “father” in Deuteronomy 32 is not infused with the significance it has when it is applied to El, Heiser has no grounds for asserting that it is an El epithet in Deuteronomy 32. I hope by now that is clear enough. Heiser has conceded all of my points; he just hasn’t comprehended their significance.

Next sticky note deals with another proposed El epithet in Deut 32. I wrote:

The references in Deut 32:7 to “ages past” and “the years of many generations” have nothing at all to do with the El epithet, “father of years.” . . . What is verse 7 saying? “Remember the days of old, consider the years long past; ask your father, and he will inform you; your elders, and they will tell you.” There are no allusions here to any El epithets, no identification of Yahweh as a “father of years,” or even as “aged.” Verse 7 asks Israel to remember an older tradition, one the young people will have to ask their father and elders about. The old tradition says that when Elyon divided up the earth to give one nation to each of his sons as his inheritance, Yahweh’s inheritance was Israel.

Heiser responds, “Better tell some of the writers you’ve been quoting against me that they are wrong, since this is hardly a new view.”

Oh, so after falsely accusing me twice of telling Heiser that he is obliged to follow scholars with whom he agrees on one point all the way to their conclusion, Heiser pulls that card on me. I “better tell some of the writers [I’ve] been quoting against [Heiser] that they are wrong.” Yes, well, I would take issue with Smith on this point.

Heiser continues, “Thom, there’s no way someone like you is going to demonstrate this philological analogy is spurious. Many scholars have noted its plausibility (Note, I said analogy – not equation – trying to head off another insertion on your part).”

Someone like me? I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean. An Australian citizen? A sci-fi nerd? A self-loathing bourgeois? Regardless, this misses the point entirely. Heiser in fact ignores the actual content of my argument here. I’m not denying that there is a philological connection between the words used and certain El epithets. I’m denying (based on a reading of the actual text) that these words are being used as allusions to El epithets here. Such an imposition makes no sense of the use of these words in their actual context, as I pointed out.

In his next sticky note, Heiser continues his response to this argument, but only by missing the point. I wrote, “Thus, v. 7 has nothing to do with any El epithet; it simply and quite clearly asks Israel to recall an older tradition.”

Heiser responds, “So, Israel is being asked to remember her past … and that argues against me … how?  Where did I deny this? Once again, setting up a straw man — making me say something I didn’t actually say and then going after that thing I didn’t say.”

Ugh. Heiser doesn’t seem to know what a straw man is when he sees one. Every time he accuses me of attacking a straw man, he’s actually attacking a straw man. I never said Heiser “denied” that Israel is being asked to remember her past. If I had said that, yes, I would have been arguing against a straw man. But I didn’t, so I wasn’t. I’ll repeat the point that Heiser doesn’t get, yet again: just because a word is used as an El epithet in one context doesn’t mean it’s used that way in every context. In this context, the words in question are not being used as epithets for Yahweh; there is no textual evidence that any allusion or “analogy” (as Heiser put it) to an El epithet is being made. My point was that, because of the actual usage of the words in their context, this is a strained argument in favor of the presence of an El epithet in Deut 32 applied to Yahweh. Very strained. But what I never said (or implied) is that Heiser was “denying” that Israel is being asked to remember her past. Are we clear? I’m dubious that we will be. Nevertheless, Heiser continues another confused rant: “This may work with careless readers, but it will be obvious enough to anyone who bothers to read closely (what I am saying and not saying).” And I thought what I was saying would be obvious to anyone who isn’t a careless reader. Oh. Wait. It was.

Heiser continues, “But perhaps your use of ‘tradition’ here (instead of ‘history’) is more subtle and deliberate. Perhaps you want readers to think the biblical writer wants his readers to remember some ‘older piece of writing’ that contained the polytheistic idea … where would that text be, Thom? I prefer to work with what’s here, not with what I imagine once existed.”

Yeah, no. A point for effort, but no, nothing like this was remotely within the hemisphere of my brain. So, another straw man from the boy who cried “Straw Man!”

Finally, the last substantive sticky note is on “intolerant monotheism.” I wrote, “I do not argue that the composer of the song was motivated by an intolerant monotheism. Intolerant monotheism did not come until much later, as the entire song is archaic, with vv. 8-9 being even older still.”

Heiser responds, “Where are the verses where the biblical writers say it is okay to worship a deity other than Yahweh? In other words, where is THEIR [sic] the tolerance? (Note: not the tolerance of some scattered Israelites, doing what it is they think is “good religion” — I mean the *biblical writers*. Where do they ENDORSE this tolerance so we can all see that they had to evolve to intolerance?)”

Further adventures in missing the point. I’m really baffled that Heiser isn’t able to figure this one out on his own. Monotheism = One God. Polytheism = Many Gods. Monolatry = the worship of one God. Polytheism and monolatry are perfectly compatible. Thus, one can have intolerant monolatry and not have intolerant monotheism. That’s why when Heiser asks, “Where are the verses where the biblical writers say it is okay to worship a deity other than Yahweh?” he’s attacking a straw man. Let’s turn Heiser’s tired language back against him (again): Is Heiser just being careless, or is he intentionally trying to obfuscate the issues?

So there we have it. Heiser has accused me of misrepresenting him, attacking a straw man, and of exercising “tortured logic.” In each case, it turns out that Heiser has been projecting his own issues onto me. Of course, my detractors will read his “response” and declare it a victory. That’s fine. Whatever helps them sleep at night. The fact remains, however, that Heiser has not responded to the actual arguments I’ve made against his arguments against the consensus position. What’s more, and despite appearances, his response has only picked at the edges of the extensive critique I offered.

Michael Heiser is a respected scholar, and I’ve actually learned a lot from him. But his arguments here don’t work. Heiser has failed to establish his conspiracy thesis that the scholarly consensus is underwritten by a presuppositional circularity. No doubt he’ll continue to make the assertion, but for the reasons I’ve offered here and in my original posts, I remain profoundly unpersuaded.

3 thoughts on “Heiser Learning: Michael Heiser’s Response to My Criticisms

  1. Great rejoinder. It’s frustrating to see an otherwise decent thinker (who debunks new age-y woo in his website) to swallow another kind of woo (the evangelical variety). 

  2. Thom, does your book have a detailed analysis of the rise of Junior gods in the ANE? If not, do you know of a source that does? thanks

  3. I’d commend you to two books by Mark S. Smith, *The Early History of God*, and, *The Origins of Biblical Monotheism*.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *