El is Elohim - A New Translation and Interpretation of Psalm 82
The online article, “Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Honest (and Orthodox) Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible”, Michael S. Heiser, PhD, Academic Editor, Logos Bible Software, , is an excellent example of scholarship enhanced by The Libronix Digital Library System (Logos). The author, Dr. Heiser, is critical of the modernist view that there was an evolution of Hebrew religion, “from polytheism to henotheistic monolatry to monotheism.”
The evidence pro the evolutionists?
1. “Multiple names of God…point to polytheism….”
2. “The nature of Israelite religion…understood on the basis of source-critical assumptions….”
3. “The Hebrew Bible affirms the existence of other gods.”
Evidence contra? The rest of the article answers the seldom asked questions, especially a “better solution” that goes beyond both text-criticism and conservative evangelical interpretations.
For Dr. Heiser, the critical position utilizes “circular reasoning,” while the evangelical position that other gods are merely other “idols,”being material and always “no gods,” (Epistle of Jeremiah 6, 23, Polyglot) is “equally flawed.”
The critical stand displays its good side in what follows. In agreement with them, he states:
It is not difficult to demonstrate that the Hebrew Bible assumes and affirms the existence of other gods.
The textbook passage is Psalm 82.
In addition to several other biblical texts, as well as extra-biblical sources, Dr. Heiser’s thesis is:
It is more coherent to abandon the evolutionary paradigm and ask how it was that (1) late biblical authors had no qualms about an assembly of gods under Yahweh; and (2) Second Temple Jews, willing to suffer death rather than worship other gods, failed to react to divine council texts in the Hebrew Bible as a threat to monotheism.
Psalm 82 and its meaning continues to be a subject of debate, as well as the subject of a few Web sites. Dr. Magee presents a translation of Psa_82:1:
God (Elohim) stands in the assembly of El. He judges in the midst of the gods (Elohim).
The significance for him is that “It meant Yehouah [Yahweh] usurping El.” The biblical “primary history” for him is the disguised “post-exillic” replacement of all Canaanite Baals and Baalettes – El, Ashtereth, and even Baal-Yahweh – with a new Yahweh modeled after the Persian deity Ahura Mazda, only the written conquest of Canaan is projected back in time in the Hebrew scriptures to the “pre-exillic.” Looking at the text something else may be in view here: both that Yahweh is gaining prominence, and also that the old and ancient El is being eliminated by his sons, especially by one in particular.
The elohim stand in the council of El, inwardly the elohim judge him. (CliOT)
Here we are actually seeing the transformation of the council of El, the elohim, or sons of El (God), into Elohim, God, the so-called “plural of majesty,” but in fact the plurality of the Canaanite pantheon absorbed into the new diety Elohim. El already is “the old” God (“too long” El has reigned and allows evil to grow), and the Canaanite evidence also suggests a usurpation of El by one of his sons, often Baal, but here it is the new Hebrew deity of Yahweh-Elohim. In Canaanite literature, the rivalry between Baal and El is described. I am asserting that a similar evolution from the ancient father to the new LORD (Yahweh and Baal being equal in my view). See here for an interesting discussion from the Journal of Biblical Literature.
Following is a unique translation of Psalm 82:
Ps 82:1 Psalm of Asaph. The elohim stand in the council of El, inwardly the elohim judge him.
Ps 82:2 "Too long you defend the iniquitous and favor the wicked, you increase their property."
Ps 82:3 "Defend the poor and the orphan that is humble, and to the destitute grant justice!"
Ps 82:4 "Deliver the poor and the needy from the hand of the wicked. Grant rescue!"
Ps 82:5 "You know not, and you understand not. In darkness you go, and falling are all the foundations of the land."
Ps 82:6 I, myself say, “you are the elohim, and the sons of the Highest God are you.”
Ps 82:7 “Surely as Adam, you die, and like the shining ones, you fall.”
Ps 82:8 “Arise, Elohim! Judge the land that you are allotted from among the nations!” (CliOT)
The elohim accuse El (in their hearts) of ruling too long, and allowing evil to multiply. El has become ineffectual and corrupt in his old age, in fact, senile. The consequences have reached the point where the very stability of the earth is at risk. Then someone, “I, myself,” possibly an allusion to Yah, declares El (God) to be the elohim (sons of God)! Hence, as a group “the sons of the Highest God are [the whole of] you,” i.e., are a unity of plurality, to replace El, not a plurality of majesty. Thus, Psa_82:6, may also be translated: “I, myself say, ‘you are the elohim and the elohim are you,’” meaning there is an equating of the two.
As for El, he dies like a mortal human, and falls from heaven, in the same way as the Seraphim (the highest of the sons of God), who revolted, fell in the past. Now free of the old El, Elohim (the new and improved unified plurality) fulfills his assignment to judge all nations, presumedly justly and fairly, now that the functions of the various gods of the nations (to judge and guide them) are absorbed into the Godhead.
Thus, a revised version of The Shema (שְׁמַע): “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh: your elohim are (now) one Elohim!’”
Although Dr. Heiser would think my translation and interpretation insane, I make it none the less, because I am new at this. Yahweh declares that for the Hebrews, the whole of their former pagan gods are now subsumed under one God, Elohim, specifically Yahweh-Elohim. Hebrew grammar likewise follows the concept of plurality that is now unity, by giving Elohim singular grammatical status. The question that arises becomes: can this degree of monotheistic syncretism be possible before the establishment of the temple state in Jerusalem at the behest of the Persians? Are the writings, or at least the oral traditions themselves, actual “pre-exillic” material? The author of this Web site says yes.