A friend made me aware that Dr Michael S. Heiser passed away on February 20 of this year (2023). He was associated with the Logos project and wrote prolifically entertaining articles on his own blog to raise interest in bible study in the ancient languages. I was unaware of his scholarly work on The Council of El as mentioned in Psalm 82. It is a very important topic, so I will try to summarize his findings and give my own perspective on it in purple text so that it’s easy to tell our ideas apart.
Psalm 82 begins: (Psalm by Asaph)
אלהים נצב בעדת–אל בקרב אלהים ישׁפט
Elohim stands in council(/church) of El; among Elohim he judges.
ὁ θεὸς ἔστη ἐν συναγωγῇ θεῶν, ἐν μέσῳ δὲ θεοὺς διακρίνει.
Heiser explains that we can be sure the first instance of Elohim is singular since the verb is grammatically singular, and that the second instance is plural (among the gods) because you can’t be “among” a single person.
To me this is an interesting psalm because the word for council corresponds to the Syriac word for church, as used in the NT Peshitta, and because I have noted that churches as judges’ rings (that I wrote about previously) tend to be located in the same places (on a sandy hill, ca 100 m from a creek or a lake). Indeed, “church” has etymological connections to words for rings. Could this psalm be an example of democracy mentioned in the Old Testament and what is the connexion between democracy and theocracy?
I would like to note that this verse supports the idea expressed by St Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:12 that members of a church typically should judge other members of that church but not persons who are outside the church.
Humans or spiritual beings?
Heiser has, among other things written papers on why he believes the Council of El involves spiritual beings and not humans. He did so because the majority opinion among scholars was this was about human judges, some arguing it was Hebrew judges.
There are up to four interpretational levels of the OT according to tradition, so while it is a good idea to not go over board with the human interpretation, it is possible to think of them as sometimes human, sometimes spirits.
One argument is in the gospel of John 10:33-36. We read:
The Jews answered him, saying, “For a good work we would not stone you; but for blasphemy; and because that you, being a man, make yourself God.”
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law: ‘I said, you are gods?’ If he [God] called them gods, to whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; do you say of him whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You blaspheme!’ because I said, I am the Son of God?”
The only place in the OT where we find the statement “You are gods!” is Psalm 82:6. Heiser notes that Jesus’ answer made them furious, and concludes that there must be something in it that asserts Jesus’ divinity. He proposes it’s the understanding that in this council which Jesus alludes to, the Jews would have understood its participants to be divine, non-human beings.
Good reasoning, i m o. Let’s look at the last three verses in that psalm!
Psalm 82:6-8… (Hebrew: DSS MasPs-a, English: My translation, Latin: Vetus Latina, Greek: LXX, Syriac: Peshitta)
אני אמרתי אלהים אתם ובני עליון כלכם
I said: “You [are] Elohim and sons of high all [of] you.
Ego dixi: “Dii estis, & filii Excelsi omnes.
ἐγὼ εἶπα θεοί ἐστε καὶ υἱοὶ ὑψίστου πάντες
ܐܢܐ ܐܡܪܬ ܕܐܠܗܝܢ ܐܢܬܘܢ ܘܒܢܘܗܝ ܕܡܪܝܡܐ ܟܠܟܘܢ
אכן כאדם תמותון וכאחד השרים תפלו
But oh! As adam you will die and as one of princes you will fall.
Vos autem sicut homines moriemini: & sicut unus de principibus caditis.
ὑμεῖς δὲ ἂν ὡς ἄνθρωποι ἀποθνήσκετε καὶ ὡς εἷς τῶν ἀρχόντων πίπτετε.
ܡܟܝܠ ܐܝܢܝ ܒܢܝܢܫܐ ܬܡܘܬܘܢ ܘܐܝܢܝ ܚܕ ܡܢ ܪܘܪܒܢܐ ܬܦܠܘܢ
קומה אלהימ שפטה הארץ כי אתה תנחל בכל הגוים
Rise God, judge the land for you will shift lots in all nations.
Surge Deus, judica terram: quoniam tu disperdis in omnibus gentibus.
ἀνάστα ὁ θεός, κρῖνον τὴν γῆν, ὅτι σὺ κατακληρονομήσεις ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν.
ܩܘܡ ܐܠܗܐ ܘܕܘܢܝܗ ܠܐܪܥܐ ܡܛܠ ܕܐܢܬ ܬܐܪܬ ܠܟܠܗܘܢ ܥܡܡܐ
As you can see, I bolded three expressions.
You recognize Latin excelsi from the song of the angels at Jesus’ birth: “gloria in excelsis”. I am half-way writing an article about that word, so let’s leave it for now.
Adam/man shows up. This is mildly speculative but what if “adam” in some positions refers to “hadam”, meaning “the blood”? The blood of a family is their last offspring alive, if genocided. In a democracy, a family or other group within a nation (a demos, by definition) gets to hold certain positions within state administration and a seat in parliament. Internally, they cast lots and rotate members so noone has time to become corrupt before getting replaced. However, if a demos has fewer and fewer members, eventually the last gebr will hold that position continuously till his death and will therefore be the ruler of the whole nation. Titles can vary but “king” is a common one. This is why Jesus was supposed to become king of the Jews, if the Romans hadn’t just recently abolished democracy.
κατακληρονομήσεις … κλῆρος is a word for the lot which decides who, within a demos, gets assigned as the representative in the βουλή ≈senate, the ἐκκλησία ≈parliament, and to ministry in the government of a Hellene city state (and in Israeli temple service: Nehemiah 10:34(35 LXX)). This is therefore the real …
Just as in Heaven, on Earth the Elohim must arise and teach the nations how to set up and run democracy. The Jews took pride in descending from Elohim, as they could show by means of the toledoth in Genesis. The Guti people perhaps descended from the gods, and some Syrian people from the angels, eventually passing that ethnonym via the Angles in Jutland to the English (I am not joking.). By translating “Elohim” to things like “God” and “angels”, we impose this great commission exclusively on our own nations when in reality it is a burden to share, not only among several peoples who all must have practised democracy in bronze age, but also with the primary interpretational level, namely divine non-human beings, which is why we pray “thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven”. It is when the application of Psalm 82 on the earthly world feels so natural that Michael Heiser’s reminder that it first and foremost describes spiritual events in heaven is the most needed.
Moses’ last song
Deuteronomy 32:8 in Hebrew uses all the words I marked in bold, and says:
When the high shifted lots in [the] nations in separating the sons of adam/man, he established the borders of peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.
Anyway, this is a large subject but also important, so how about surfing to Michael S. Heiser’s lesser known web site about the Divine Council and read some of his papers before it goes offline? For there is no uptime, no traceroute, no cache and no back-up in Sheol.
And then there is a pretty good series about angels on Youtube, related to a book: Angels – What the Bible Really Says About God’s Heavenly Host. If my articles feel a bit hard to digest, it will be about the right level for you.