"Ye Really Are Gods":
A Response to Michael Heiser concerning the LDS Use of Psalm 82 and the Gospel of John

Review of Michael S. Heiser. “You’ve Seen One elohim, You’ve
Seen Them All? A Critique of Mormonism’s Apologetic Use of Psalm 82,” presented
at the 58th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Washington
DC on 16 November 2006, now appearing in this number of the FARMS Review,
pages 221–66.

“Ye Really Are Gods”: A Response to Michael Heiser
concerning the LDS Use of Psalm 82 and the Gospel of John

Reviewed by David E. Bokovoy

Few topics prove more intriguing to Latter-day Saints than the biblical view
of the divine council. Toward the end of his ministry, the Prophet Joseph Smith
devoted considerable attention to this controversial subject. For Joseph, the
issue of the council of Gods was no mere piece of theological trivia. In a discussion
concerning his views regarding the council, the Prophet once taught that when
Latter-day Saints “begin to learn this way, we begin to learn the only
true God, and what kind of a being we have got to worship.”1
Since the nineteenth century, Joseph Smith’s views regarding a divine council
of celestial deities have provided the focus of considerable criticism for many
Bible-believing Christians. Yet biblical scholars, however unwittingly, have
in recent years followed the Prophet’s lead in devoting substantial consideration
to the role of the divine council in the Hebrew Bible.

Recent textual and archaeological discoveries have convinced scholars of
the fundamental position held by the heavenly council of deities within Israelite
theology. “The council of God in the Hebrew Bible is no novelty,”
writes biblical scholar Martti Nissinen. “The occurrences are well known.”2 As prominent Near Eastern archaeologist
William Dever has explained, this view has affected the scholarly perception
concerning the development of Israelite monotheism:

A generation ago, when I was a graduate student,
biblical scholars were nearly unanimous in thinking that monotheism had been
predominant in ancient Israelite religion from the beginning—not just
as an “ideal,” but as the reality. Today all that has changed. Virtually
all mainstream scholars (and even a few conservatives) acknowledge that true
monotheism emerged only in the period of the exile in Babylon in the 6th century
B.C.E., as the canon of the Hebrew Bible was taking shape. . . .
I have suggested, along with most scholars, that
the emergence of monotheism—of exclusive Yahwism—was largely a
response to the tragic experience of the exile.3

To date, the most exhaustive study of the biblical view of the divine council
by a Latter-day Saint is Daniel C. Peterson’s “‘Ye Are Gods': Psalm 82
and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind.”4
Peterson provides an impressive analysis of LDS theology and Jesus’s use
of Psalm 82 in the Gospel of John. For Peterson, the Latter-day Saint doctrine
regarding the divine nature of humanity provides a strong interpretive crux
for understanding Jesus’s use of the council text: “God has taken his
place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment”
(Psalm 82:1 New Revised Standard Version, NRSV). Recently, however, Peterson’s
essay has drawn the attention of Michael Heiser, an evangelical Bible scholar
who specializes in the Israelite view concerning the divine council. In his
critique of Peterson, Heiser took exception to his analysis of Psalm 82. As
a specialist in biblical council imagery, Heiser attempted to correct what
he perceived as “certain flaws in the LDS understanding and use of Psalm
82″ (p. 2). Heiser raises several important issues worthy of careful
consideration. The following essay is not an exhaustive treatment of or response
to the issues raised in Heiser’s critique. Instead, it will provide a general
response to Heiser’s claims, particularly those claims that apply both to
LDS thought and to Psalm 82.

An LDS View of the Divine Council

In his response to the LDS interpretation of Psalm 82, Heiser correctly notes
that Latter-day Saints have a keen interest in the biblical view of the divine
council. During his ministry, the Prophet Joseph Smith provided important doctrinal
insights regarding the heavenly assembly. Although his ideas seemed somewhat
revolutionary for many Christians in the nineteenth century, modern biblical
scholars today, as Heiser himself observes, recognize that divine councils of
deities fulfilled a vital role in biblical theology. During the April conference
of the church in 1844, Joseph Smith testified concerning the importance of the
heavenly council organized before the creation of the earth. Concerning “the
beginning,” Joseph declared that “the head of the Gods called a council
of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world
and people it.”5

In his journal entry for 11 June 1843, Franklin D. Richards provided
an account of the Prophet’s teaching that “the order and ordinances of
the kingdom were instituted by the priesthood in the council of heaven before
the world was.”6 Elder Richards later records Joseph’s
testimony that “all blessings that were ordained for man by the council
of heaven were on conditions of obedience to the law there of.”7
The Book of Abraham refers to “the intelligences that were organized
before the world was” (Abraham 3:22). In this council setting, God
“stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good”
(Abraham 3:23). According to the Prophet, “every man who has a calling
to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose
in the grand council of heaven.”8 Though the concept may seem odd to some
Christians, these teachings are not completely absent in the Bible.

The notion of God assigning members of his council to assume important positions
of administrative responsibility appears in its earliest form in Deuteronomy
32:8: “When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind,
he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods”
(Deuteronomy 32:8 NRSV). For Latter-day Saints who at least in part associate
the council with humanity, a seemingly parallel notion appears in the council
story featured in the Book of Abraham:

And God saw these souls that they were good, and
he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for
he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and
he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou
wast born. (Abraham 3:23)

Peterson argues that in Abraham 3:22–23 “we
have God standing in the midst of premortal spirits who are appointed to be
rulers, in a scene that is really a textbook instance of the motif of the
divine assembly. These are premortal human beings. Can they truly be called
‘gods’ in any sense? . . . Yes, they can.”9 For Peterson,
many of the gods described in biblical council texts are in fact human beings.

Peterson’s position is grounded in LDS theology. Following the council scene
described in Abraham 3, the Book of Abraham continues with a description of
the Gods’ involvement in creation: “And then the Lord said: Let us go
down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized
and formed the heavens and the earth” (Abraham 4:1). In his teachings,
Joseph Smith appears to provide an interpretive key concerning the identity
of these deities:

[An] everlasting covenant was made between three personages before the organization
of this earth, and relates to their dispensation of things to men on the earth;
these personages, according to Abraham’s record, are called God the first,
the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the witness
or Testator.10

Other LDS commentators have suggested additional possibilities. Joseph Fielding
Smith taught that

it is true that Adam helped to form this earth. He labored with our Savior
Jesus Christ. I have a strong view or conviction that there were others also
who assisted them. Perhaps Noah and Enoch; and why not Joseph Smith, and those
who were appointed to be rulers before the earth was formed? We know that
Jesus our Savior was a Spirit when this great work was done. He did all of
these mighty works before he tabernacled in the flesh.11

Bruce R. McConkie expressed a similar view: “Christ and Mary, Adam and
Eve, Abraham and Sarah, and a host of mighty men and equally glorious women
comprised that group of ‘the noble and great ones,’ to whom the Lord Jesus
said: ‘We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these
materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell’ (Abraham 3:22–24).”12 Since the expression we will go
is followed in the Book of Abraham
with the statement “they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the
heavens and the earth” (Abraham 4:1), it appears that Elder McConkie
believed that these Gods from the heavenly council included premortal humans.
To some extent, therefore, the title god is appropriately applied to the premortal sons and daughters of Heavenly

Joseph Smith’s view of the divine council suggests that this assembly of
deities served a vital administrative role in God’s plan of happiness. A journal
entry recorded by William Clayton in 1845 provides evidence for the Prophet’s
teachings regarding this doctrine:

It has been a doctrine taught by this church that we were in the Grand Council
amongst the Gods when the organization of this world was contemplated and
that the laws of government were all made and sanctioned by all present and
all the ordinances and ceremonies decreed upon.13

Significantly, the Book of Abraham specifically notes
that God “stood in the midst of”
these souls (Abraham 3:23). This reference to God standing amongst divine beings in a heavenly council setting
finds important parallels with biblical tradition, including Psalm 82:1, which
refers to God standing in the
council and passing judgment.

From an analysis of the legal material in the Hebrew Bible, it appears that
in a traditional judicial setting, judges sat while plaintiffs stood.14 This important distinction provides
a significant clue for interpreting Moses as judge in Exodus 18:13–14:

And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people:
and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening. And
when Moses’ father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What
is this thing thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone,
and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even?15

Biblical scholar Simon Parker has shown that the distinction between sitting
and standing in judicial settings also operates in the biblical
view of the divine council.16 These nuances were not unique to the
West Semitic world. In Mesopotamia, “anybody who happened along and had
a mind to could ‘stand’—that is, participate—in the puḫrum
[i.e., assembly].”17
As Assyriologist Thorkild Jacobsen explained, the Akkadian words “uzuzzu, ‘to stand,’ and yašābu, ‘to sit,’ are technical terms for participating in the puḫrum.”18
From a Near Eastern perspective, these observations shed considerable light
on passages such as Isaiah 3:13 where Jehovah “stands up to plead a cause, He rises to champion peoples” (Jewish Study Bible, JSB).

Peterson’s analysis of Psalm 82 suggests that the text reflects the council
story depicted in the Book of Abraham. The fact that Psalm 82:1 specifically
states that “God stands in the
divine council” sustains Peterson’s thesis. Peterson writes:

We need not take Psalm 82’s portrayal of judgment
and condemnation within the divine council as literally accurate, as representing
an actual historical event (although, obviously, it might), any more than
we are obliged to take as literally true the depiction of Satan in Job 1–2,
freely coming and going within the heavenly court and even placing wagers
with God.19

With its traditional council imagery, Psalm 82 has intrigued
biblical scholars such as Simon Parker, who argued that the text originally
described Yahweh’s rise to supremacy in the assembly.20
Parker, in part, based his assessment on the fact that Psalm 82 appears as
a section of the Elohistic collection wherein the editor(s) reveal a strong
propensity toward replacing divine names such as Yahweh with Elohim.

Parker argued that verses one and five in Psalm 82 served as narrative introductions
to Yahweh’s council address delivered before his father Elyon, the head of the
council. In his analysis, Parker convincingly illustrates that Yahweh would
have originally appeared in Psalm 82 as merely one of the assembled participants
of deities. “Having thought that the members of the council were all gods
(and therefore just—and immortal), Yahweh now recognizes that, being incorrigibly
unjust, they will perish like mortals, fall like some human potentate.”21
Parker’s analysis of Psalm 82 works well with Peterson’s claim that the text
reflects the story of the grand council from the Books of Abraham and Moses.

In an important part of his critique concerning these issues, Heiser argues
against the theory endorsed by biblical scholars such as Parker and Mark S.
Smith that, in its earliest stages, Israelite religion originally perceived
Yahweh as a son of El. “In terms of an evaluation of the separateness
of El and Yahweh,” writes Heiser, “Latter-day Saint scholars have
too blithely accepted the positions of Smith, Parker, and Barker. All is not
nearly as tidy as they propose” (p. 15). Heiser, for example, maintains
that rather than a separate divine father, the Elyon or “God Most High”
presented in Deuteronomy 32:8–9 is none other than Yahweh himself. In
this proposal, Heiser’s view stands in direct contrast to Mark Smith, who
argues that “early on, Yahweh is understood as Israel’s god in distinction
to El. Deuteronomy 32:8–9 casts Yahweh in the role of one of the sons
of El, here called ʿelyôn.
. . . This passage presents an order in which each deity received
its own nation. Israel was the nation that Yahweh received.”22

The present form of Deuteronomy seems to support Heiser’s argument. Rather
than a separate deity, Elyon and Yahweh might appear as a single reference
to the head God of the council. In addition to the divine allotment depicted
in Deuteronomy 32:8, the idea of a series of minor deities that Yahweh had
assigned to govern the various nations appears in Deuteronomy 4:19–20.
These verses, which discuss the allotment of the host of heaven to the nations
of the world, parallel both the vocabulary and the ideology witnessed in 32:8–9.
In Deuteronomy 32:9, the author uses the same root hlk featured in 4:20–albeit as a noun. Deuteronomy
4:19–20 specifically identifies Yahweh as the deity who gave each council
deity his allotment:

And when you look up to the sky and behold the sun and the moon and the stars,
the whole heavenly host, you must not be lured into bowing down to them or
serving them. These the Lord your God allotted to other peoples everywhere
under heaven; but you the Lord took and brought out of Egypt, that iron blast
furnace, to be His very own people, as is now the case. (Deuteronomy 4:19–20
Jewish Publication Society, JPS)23

Based upon this evidence, Heiser’s assessment of the view featured in the
current form of Deuteronomy may be correct; however, Heiser ultimately fails
to address important evidence recognized by many contemporary biblical scholars
that suggests that Israelite theology did in fact evolve in a manner consistent with the basic
claims of Parker and Smith.24 For example, David Noel Freedman maintains
that the combination “Yahweh Elohim” or “Lord God” found
in the early chapters of Genesis probably derives from an earlier sentence
name given the God of Israel, namely “Yahweh El” or “God creates”25 In a related assessment, Mark Smith
has argued:

The original god of Israel was El. This reconstruction
may be inferred from two pieces of information. First, the name of Israel
is not a Yahwistic name with the divine element of Yahweh, but an El name,
with the element, ʾēl. This fact would suggest that
El was the original chief god of the group named Israel. Second, Genesis 49:24–25
presents a series of El epithets separate from the mention of Yahweh in verse

A detailed response to all the evidence amassed by scholars who view a theological
evolution in the Hebrew Bible was beyond the scope of Heiser’s essay. However,
notwithstanding the probability that Heiser is correct in linking Elyon with
Yahweh in Deuteronomy, this claim does not negate the likelihood that, in
ancient Israel, Yahweh was originally a son of Elyon:

In the present form of the biblical text, the term
[ʿElyôn] is understood to be an epithet for Yahweh, the God of Israel.
It is possible, however, as some have argued, that the epithet may conceal
a reference to a separate deity, possibly an older god with whom Yahweh came
to be identified.27

LDS scholars have good reason to accept the historical
views of scholars such as Parker and Smith.

Psalm 82 as the Grand Council

Though helpful to his analysis, ultimately Peterson’s claims are not dependent
upon the legitimacy of a Parker / Smith historical interpretation. Peterson’s
argument for interpreting Psalm 82 as a reflection of the grand council story
featured in modern revelation finds support in Near Eastern tradition. In the
ancient Near East, stories of the divine council typically begin with a crisis
in which the head God calls together the gods of the council to resolve the
dilemma. During the council, a series of proposals are offered. Finally, a “savior”
steps forward, offering his services to the council. This savior then receives
a commission to perform his redemptive role.28
This common Near Eastern pattern is seen, for example, in the Mesopotamian story
of divine kingship known as Enuma Elish.29
In this Babylonian myth, the head god of the pantheon calls together the gods
in a council to resolve a dilemma created by the goddess Tiamat. Following a
series of proposals, Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, receives a commission
as savior. Marduk agrees to perform the role of savior on the condition that
his father, Ea, the head god of the council, grant Marduk all power and glory.
The same pattern appears in the Assyrian myth of Anzu. However, in this version,
the god Ninurta agrees to serve as council savior while allowing his father
to retain his position within the council.

Like Enuma Elish and Psalm 82, many
of the council stories from the ancient Near East portray stories of cosmic
revolt in which judgment is rendered against divine beings. This pattern is
familiar to Latter-day Saints through the council story provided in the Books
of Moses and Abraham (Moses 4:1–4 and Abraham 3:22–28). Although
sometimes obscured, the same pattern is reflected in council traditions featured
in the Hebrew Bible. The story of council crisis, for example, appears in
the Isaiah Apocalypse:

On that day [Yahweh] will punish
the host of heaven in heaven,
and on earth the kings of the earth. (Isaiah 24:21 NRSV)

Similar language emerges in Isaiah 27:1:

On that day [Yahweh]
with his cruel and great and strong sword
will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent. (NRSV)

For Latter-day Saints, these traditions preserved in
texts such as Enuma Elish, the book
of Isaiah, and Psalm 82 provide a type of retelling—albeit sometimes
hidden—of the primordial events concerning the grand council described
in modern revelation.

In the ancient Near East, members of the divine council often appear to receive
a type of reprimand suggestive of the punishment given Lucifer in LDS scripture.

Because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency
of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give
unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that
he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father
of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his
will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice. (Moses 4:3–4)

With the words, “Here am I, send me,” Latter-day Saints believe
Jesus Christ stepped forward in the council crisis and volunteered to save
humanity from the challenges associated with mortal probation (Abraham 3:27).
According to the council story depicted in the Book of Abraham, Lucifer “was
angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after
him” (Abraham 3:28). In his analysis, Peterson does well to draw attention
to the fact that Isaiah’s reference to “Lucifer, son of the morning”
in Isaiah 14:12 “draws us again into the astronomical imagery often connected
with the divine assembly.”30
In his own studies, Heiser has convincingly argued for a similar position:

Ugaritic regularly refers to heavenly beings as
pḫr kkbm (the “congregation of the stars”),
language corresponding with כוכבי בקר
(“morning stars”; in parallelism with the “sons of God”
in Job 38:7) and כוכבי אל (the “stars
of God”; Isa. 14:13). Aside from the context of these references, each
of which clearly points to personal beings, not astronomical phenomena, it
is significant that in the entire ancient near eastern literary record, El
is never identified with a heavenly body. Thus “the stars of El”
points to created beings with divine status.31

For Latter-day Saints, recent archaeological and textual
discoveries like those referred to by Heiser are especially intriguing. However,
as Peterson argues in the quotation provided above (p. 7), Latter-day Saints
do not need the Bible to express a
precise parallel with modern revelation in order to find support for LDS theology.

The fact that texts such as Psalm 82 somewhat parallel Latter-day Saint teachings
is sufficient to argue that a more exact version of the grand council story
such as is witnessed in modern revelation may have existed in antiquity. However,
notwithstanding his basic agreement with Peterson concerning the fundamental
role assumed by the council of deities in the Hebrew Bible, Heiser ultimately
departs from Peterson’s analysis of Psalm 82, suggesting that the biblical
view of the council contains eight fundamental points that conflict with LDS
theology (pp. 3–4).

Heiser’s Sixteen Points

Heiser provides a list of sixteen arguments outlining his position regarding
Psalm 82 and the divine council. He divides these into eight points “with
which many evangelicals would probably disagree and with which many Latter-day
Saints would likely agree,” followed by eight points “with which
many Latter-day Saints would probably disagree and with which many evangelicals
would likely agree” (pp. 2–3). Heiser’s perspectives regarding
Psalm 82 are clearly sound. They include such issues as the inadequacy of
the term monotheism as a reference
to Israelite theology and the biblical use of the word elohim as a literal reference to gods rather than human judges.
While Heiser is certainly correct in suggesting that his first eight views
would prove problematic for many evangelicals, but not for most Mormons, Heiser’s
list of eight statements on Psalm 82 that he assumes many Latter-day Saints
would disagree with indicates a basic lack of exposure to Latter-day Saint

Heiser is well versed in biblical studies. His work has contributed important
insights toward a scholarly view of the essential role assumed by the divine
council in Old Testament theology. But he is not a Latter-day Saint. However,
Heiser does not consider in his critique the possibility that most Latter-day
Saints, including Peterson, do not believe that the biblical view of the council
mirrors precisely what Latter-day Saints accept through modern revelation.
Joseph Smith’s revelations proclaim our day as the dispensation of the fulness
of times “according to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council
of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was” (D&C
121:32). For Latter-day Saints, this final dispensation represents the time
decreed by God and his council in which “those things which never have
been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from
the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this,
the dispensation of the fulness of times” (D&C 128:18). Therefore,
Latter-day Saint scholars acknowledge that an LDS understanding of the council
does not precisely mirror the perspectives manifested in the Bible. That having
been said, most Latter-day Saints certainly accept the view advocated by Peterson
that the biblical perspective of the heavenly council of deities is in greater
harmony with LDS belief than with any other contemporary Christian tradition.
A recognition that the Bible, though not flawless, is inspired of God allows
Latter-day Saints to comfortably engage the views put forth by biblical scholars
such as Heiser, even when those observations prove threatening to our evangelical

If certain biblical authors, for example, did in fact believe, as Heiser seems to correctly suggest,
that Yahweh was “not ‘birthed’ into existence by the ‘olden gods’ described
in Ugaritic texts” (p. 3), Latter-day Saints would have no problem
simply accepting the observation as a biblical view. Similarly, even though
Heiser assumes that many Mormons would disagree with his opinion that the
Bible presents Yahweh, the God of Israel, as “ontologically unique”
(p. 3), in reality many Latter-day Saints recognize that this is precisely
the case. Even within LDS theology, God the Father stands out as ontologically
unique in as much as he created the spirits of all humanity. Modern revelation
describes God with the words “from eternity to eternity He is the same,
and His years never fail” (D&C 76:4).

Yahweh’s Ontological Uniqueness

In addition to the evidence Heiser presents for what he calls Yahweh’s ontological
uniqueness, the name Yahweh itself appears vocalized in the Hebrew Bible
as a finite Hiphil verb form. The vocalization of YHWH as “Yahweh”
carries a specific nuance, since “Hebrew grammars traditionally represent
the Hiphil stem as the causative of the Qal stem.”32
Frank Moore Cross explains that “the accumulated evidence . . .
strongly supports the view that the name Yahweh is a causative imperfect
of the Canaanite-Proto-Hebrew verb hwy, ‘to be.'”33
Therefore, the divine name Yahweh, according to this view, literally
means “He who causes to be” or even “He who procreates.”
One of the interesting points to consider concerning the biblical title Yahweh
or “Lord of Hosts” is that typically in Hebrew, proper
names do not appear bound to a genitive noun—that is, “John of Hosts”
or “Mary of Earth,” etc.34
Since a proper name cannot traditionally function as a bound form in a construct
chain, Cross interprets the King James title “Lord of Hosts” as “‘he
the (divine) hosts.'”35
If correct, this view would lend support to Heiser’s argument that “Yahweh
is said to be the creator of all other members of the heavenly host” (p. 30).
Heiser incorrectly assumes that this apparent biblical teaching concerning Yahweh’s
uniqueness among the gods is not inconsistent with LDS theology.

Though Latter-day Saints view God the Father and Jesus Christ as two separate
divine beings, for the Saints, the biblical titles associated with these deities
are clearly interchangeable. Latter-day Saints have no problem, therefore,
in associating God the Father with the title Yahweh—that is, “He
who causes to be” or even “He who procreates.” The 1916 official
declaration presented by the First Presidency of the church states “God
the Eternal Father, whom we designate by the exalted name-title Elohim,
is the literal Parent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and of the spirits
of the human race.”36 Clearly, however, the First Presidency’s
move toward designating God the Father
as Elohim and Jesus, the Son,
as Jehovah was primarily a move
by church leaders to create uniformity in Latter-day Saint expression. In
a recent Ensign article, Keith
Meservy observed that “in at least three Old Testament passages it appears
that LORD [i.e., Jehovah] applies to Heavenly Father, not Jesus Christ: Ps.
110:1; Ps. 2:7; Isa. 53:10.”37 No doubt, for many Latter-day
Saints, this estimate offered by Meservy could be greatly augmented. LDS teachings,
therefore, do not preclude the ontological uniqueness of God the Father that
Heiser witnesses in the Hebrew Bible.

Yahweh as a Being Species-Unique

Certainly, Heiser is justified in suggesting that the gods of the divine council
appear inferior to Israel’s deity. He uses this correct observation, however,
to build an argument that Israel’s God was therefore somehow “species-unique”
(p. 24). In his discussion concerning the biblical evidence for Yahweh
being “species-unique,” Heiser bases his interpretation on five points
of evidence: (1) “Yahweh is said to be the creator of all other members
of the heavenly host.” (2) “Yahweh was considered pre-existent
to all gods.” (3) Yahweh has the power to strip the other elohim
of their immortality. (4) Yahweh alone is referred to in the Bible
as ha-elohim. (5) “The other gods are commanded to worship
Yahweh” (see pp. 23–28). Though each of Heiser’s five points
of evidence do, in fact, appear in the Bible, contrary to Heiser’s suggestion
none of these observations establishes Yahweh as being “species-unique.”
In the Bible, Yahweh is the God of gods, but the biblical gods were still biblical
gods. As Paul Sanders has explained, according to the Deuteronomic vision, “the
[Sons of God described in Deuteronomy 32:8] are relatively independent; they
have their own dominions, like YHWH.”38

Notwithstanding his acceptance of the importance of the divine council of
deities in biblical theology, Heiser’s critique suffers, in part, through
his effort to define Israel’s deity as a “being species-unique”
(p. 23, 30). He is correct in drawing attention to the fact that biblical
authors viewed their deity as exceptionally powerful in the council. “For
the Lord your God is God of gods,” proclaims Deuteronomy 10:17, “and
Lord of lords.” Unfortunately, however, in identifying Yahweh as a “being
species-unique,” Heiser forces the biblical view of deities into an image
somewhat consistent with radical monotheism.39 Contrary
to Heiser’s suggestion, the creative act in and of itself does not set the
creator apart as an exclusive species. The same point also applies to the
issue Heiser raises concerning primogeniture. In other words, a man, for instance,
may exist before both his children and his siblings, and though preeminence
may render the person “unique” on some levels, prior existence would
not, in this or in any other case, render a being as “species-unique.”
True, the Bible speaks of gods separate from Israel’s primary deity as elohim
—that is, “other
gods” (see Exodus 20:3; 23:13; Deuteronomy 5:7; 6:14, etc.). However
as Yair Hoffman has observed, “A survey of the use of aḥerim [“other”] shows that when used attributively
with regard to garments, days, messengers and objects, it clearly has a relative
meaning: something different, yet of the same kind.”40 Therefore, “there
is no reason to assume that in the phrase elohim aḥerim the attribute has a more distinctive meaning.”41
When all is said and done, the biblical deities, like Yahweh himself, were
still gods.

In addition, contrary to Heiser’s assertion, the simple fact that Elohim
possesses the power to strip the other deities of their immortality in Psalm
82 does not indicate that these gods
are of a different species than Elohim. According to the Psalmist’s view,
Elohim is simply more powerful than the other gods. Analogies from the ancient
Near East illustrate the problematic nature of Heiser’s claim. In the Babylonian
story Enuma Elish, for instance,
the primordial mother goddess, Tiamat, created the god Qingu as chief deity
over Tiamat’s military forces. As a result of his actions taken against the
divine council, the deities of the assembly “bound [Qingu] and held him
in front of Ea, [and they] imposed the penalty on him and cut off his blood.”42 The fact that, in Enuma Elish, the council could strip Qingu of his immortality did
not mean that the god Qingu was somehow of a different or lesser divine species.
In the Sumerian myth of Enlil and Ninlil, Enlil (one of the “great gods”
of Mesopotamia) is brought to trial for having raped the goddess Ninlil.43 As Enlil returned to the city of Nippur,
he was arrested by the assembly while walking through the temple court. The
trial commenced immediately. In the myth, the council presented the verdict
that “the sex offender Enlil will leave the town.”44 Accordingly,
the myth reports that Enlil left Nippur, headed toward the nether world. In
his assessment of the story, Jacobsen points out that Enlil’s descent to Hades
may indicate that the high god in Mesopotamian mythology was originally sentenced
to death.45 As noted by James Ackerman in his dissertation
concerning Psalm 82, these types of judgment scenes in which the council determines
that gods will die like mortals carry important implications for interpreting
the cultural background for the biblical text.46 Contrary
to Heiser’s interpretation, none of these stories indicate that the dying
gods were of a different species or order than the gods who issued the sentence.

Near Eastern traditions often place considerable emphasis on the dying-god
motif.47 In no sense, however, are these dying
gods—even when resurrected—somehow depicted as a lesser species.
Hesier’s confusion concerning the implications of a biblical statement that
God issued a judgment of death to the deities of the divine council illustrates
the fundamental need for biblical scholars to pursue Assyriology in connection
with their efforts to interpret the Hebrew Bible.

Also contrary to Heiser’s suggestion, the punishment meted out to usurpers
in Near Eastern council stories never indicates that the criminals derived
from some sort of exceptional species. The story of Athtar from ancient Canaan, for instance, presents
the tradition of Athtar’s descent to the underworld following the deity’s
ascension to the throne of Baal. The details involved in Athtar’s story contain
important thematic elements depicted in ancient Near Eastern stories of cosmic
revolt. Athtar seems to share some semblance with Baal’s mortal enemy Mot
or “Death” into whom Baal himself descends. Hence, Hugh Page notes
that Athtar’s “descent to the underworld . . . implies that
on some level Athtar has placed himself in proximity to or relationship with
the only god that Baal proves incapable of defeating.”48
Athtar’s assumption of the throne of Baal, followed by his descent to the
underworld, indicates that this portion of the Baal cycle from ancient Canaan
fits the general category of the cosmic revolt genre witnessed in texts such
as Abraham 3 and Psalm 82:

1. Kindly El the Compassionate answers:

2. “One so small cannot race

3. with Baal cannot handle the lance

4. with Dagan’s son when they test one another.”

5. Lady Athirat of the Sea answers:

6. “Let us enthrone Athtar the Strong,

7. Let Athtar the Strong be king.”

8. Then Athtar the Strong

9. ascended the summit of Sapan

10. He sat upon the throne of Mightiest Baal

11. His feet would not reach its footstool

12. His head would not reach its top.

13. Athtar the Strong answered:

14. “I cannot rule on the summit of Sapan.”

15. Athtar the Strong descended

16. He descended from the throne of Mightiest Baal

17. And he ruled over the underworld, god of all of it.

18. drew in barrels,

19. drew in jars. (KTU 1.6:49–67, translation)

The fact that Athtar, the Strong, experienced a type of “death”
in which he “ruled over the underworld” following his descent from
Baal’s throne does not suggest that Athtar was a “being species-unique”
from the other deities, any more than Inaana or Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddesses
who experienced a type of death in the underworld, were of a different species
than the gods Ea, Enki, Marduk, and so forth.

Still, in his efforts to present Yahweh as a being species-unique, Heiser
correctly draws attention to the other gods of the council who are commanded
to worship Yahweh. In his analysis, he focuses upon the call given to the
gods in Psalm 29:1–2: “Ascribe to Yahweh, O sons of God; ascribe
to Yahweh glory and strength! Ascribe to Yahweh the glory of his name; worship
Yahweh in the splendor of holiness!” (as quoted on p. 27). While
Heiser’s observations certainly illustrate that biblical authors viewed their
deity as unique—that is, exceptional—throughout
Near Eastern tradition lesser gods regularly appear in a position in which
they offer praise, service, and devotion, to the higher gods of the council.
Richard J. Clifford explains that in the Phoenician view of the assembly “as
elsewhere in the ancient Near East, the assemblies are pictured as subordinate
to individual gods, although the assembly’s consent seems necessary for important
decisions.”49 Simply
because ancient texts—including the Bible—depict the members of
the assemblies as “subordinate to individual gods,” this in no way
implies that the higher deities somehow belonged to a separate species. Ancient
Near Eastern texts such as Mursili’s Hymn and Prayer to the Sun-goddess of
Arinna (CTH 376.A) establishes the fact that Near Eastern peoples believed
that gods of the same species paid homage to higher deities in a way comparable
to the biblical view:

You, O Sun-goddess of Arinna, are honored goddess. Your name is honored among
names, and your divinity is honored among gods. Furthermore, among the gods
you are the most honored and the greatest. There is no other god more honored
or greater than you. You are the lord . . . of just judgment. You
control the kingship of heaven and earth.50

Holding the position “most honored” among
the gods did not establish Arinna as species-unique. Arinna was simply the
god before whom, from the author’s perspective, the other gods would regularly
“fall down.”51 For the ancients, the Near Eastern
view of the divine court clearly reflected or were expressed in terms of earthly
reality. Therefore, just as the high king before whom other humans paid homage
was still a human being, so the god to whom other deities paid homage was
still a god, matching in species. For biblical authors, Yahweh stood at the
head of the hierarchy in Israelite thought. Yahweh was unique as the God of
gods, but he was not unique in his divinity. From a biblical perspective,
Yahweh even shared this divinity with humanity.

Humans as Theomorphic Beings

In his discussion concerning the biblical view regarding theomorphic humans,
Peterson draws attention to Paul’s New Testament sermon presented in Acts

For in him we live, and move, and have our being;
as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that
the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s

Peterson, in part, argues for a biblical connection
between God and humanity based on the fact that “the word rendered ‘offspring’
by the King James translators is the Greek genos, which is cognate with the Latin genus and means ‘family’ or ‘race,’ or ‘kind,’ or, even,
and most especially interesting, . . . ‘descendants of a common ancestor.'”52
For Latter-day Saints, human beings are literally the offspring of God and
therefore, intrinsically theomorphic. Part of the strength of Peterson’s essay
lies in his recognition that, like Latter-day Saints, biblical authors regularly
blur the distinction between humanity and divine beings.53
Not only does Peterson draw attention to the prophetic interaction with the
council as support for his thesis, but he also places considerable emphasis
upon the deified dead in the Hebrew Bible and the early Christian teaching
regarding deification.54 Heiser, notwithstanding Peterson’s
evidence, rejects the idea that a genus equation of God and humankind appears
in the Bible.

For his criticisms of Peterson’s views, Heiser places considerable weight
on the notion that “the concept of the image of God does not advance
the idea that there is a genus equation of God and humankind or that God was
once a man” (p. 4). On some levels, Heiser’s point concerning the
word tzelem, or “image,”
in Genesis 1:26–27 is correct. Concerning this controversial term, Marc
Z. Brettler has recently explained:

The word tzelem (“image”) elsewhere
always refers to a physical representation. For example, the Book of Ezekiel
uses tzelem when it refers to “men sculptured upon the walls,
figures of Chaldeans drawn in vermilion” (23:14) or when it accuses
Israel of fornicating with “phallic images” (16:17). The
word often refers to idols (e.g., Num. 33:52; Ezek. 7:20; Amos 5:26; 2 Chron.
23:17). It always signifies a concrete entity rather than an abstract one.
This is not surprising since the Bible (in contrast to most medieval philosophical
traditions, both Jewish and Christian) often depicts God in corporeal terms.55

Genesis 1:26–27 suggests that God’s physical likeness is similar to
humanity’s, but Heiser is correct that the statement does not indicate that
biblical authors viewed humans as gods, or that God himself was once a human.
However, many other texts from the Bible do present a theomorphic view of humanity. Peterson therefore
is precisely correct in stating that “the Latter-day Saint understanding
that humans are of the same genus or species as God is thus clearly biblical.”56

Adam as a Divine Council Member

In addition to associating humanity with the tzelem of God, the Bible
describes the first man as a deified member of the divine council. In the Eden
story the Lord took advantage of the wet, claylike soil and “formed man
of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). In an important study
concerning this imagery, Walter Brueggemann has shown that a biblical connection
exists between being raised from the dust and enthronement.57
“To be taken ‘from the dust’ means to be elevated from obscurity to royal
office and to return to dust means to be deprived of that office and returned
to obscurity.”58 Imagery such as
that witnessed in 1 Kings 16:2 supports Brueggemann’s interpretation: “Forasmuch
as I [God] exalted thee [Jehu] out of the dust, and made thee prince over my
people Israel . . .” (1 Kings 16:2). Hence, the notion of
the God raising man “from the dust of the earth” in Genesis 2:7 in
part suggests that Yahweh begins his creative activity by forming a divine king.
According to Genesis 2:15, this divine king through a type of imitatio dei
would continue to perform the work of Yahweh who “planted” the garden:
“And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to
dress it and to keep it.” In a similar fashion, Mesopotamian kings such
as Hammurapi glorified their efforts through the use of creation and agricultural

I encircled [the wall] with a swamp. I dug the Euphrates
as far as Sippar (and) made it reach a prosperous quay.

I, Hammu-rāpi, who builds up the land, . . .
caused Sippar and Babylon to dwell in peaceful abodes, forever. . . .
What from [primordial days] no one among the kings had done, I did in a grand
fashion for the god Šamaš, my lord.59

The view presented in the Babylonian inscription on the wall of Sippar reflects
the common Near Eastern assumption featured in Genesis 2 of a God / king participating
in the act of creation from “primordial days” through structure.60 As a king, Hammurapi assumed the same
role filled by deities who created the universe by giving order to preexistent
chaos. In its depiction of Adam as the primordial gardener, the Bible relies
upon similar imagery.

Man’s status as the archetypal gardener / king in Genesis 2–3 contains
important parallels with Mesopotamian kingship theory.61
Several examples of Mesopotamian iconography feature a depiction of the tree
(or plant) of life over which the king and priests appear pouring libations.
In assessing the connection between Mesopotamian kings and gardeners, Geo
Widengren cites these statements from the Tammuz text R IV 27 No. I:

A tamarisk which in the garden has no water to drink,
Whose foliage on the plant sends forth no twig.
A plant which they water no more in its pot,
Whose roots are torn away.
A herb which is in the garden has no water to drink . . .
Among the flowers of the garden he sleeps,
Among the flowers of the garden he is thrown.

According to Widengren, “the Tree of Life is watered by the king, who
pours out over it the Water of Life which he has in his possession. The Tree
of Life constantly needs the Water of Life near which it is growing in the
garden of paradise.”62 The connection between
king and gardener was widely attested throughout ancient Mesopotamia. This
portrayal of kingship appears in the birth legend of Sargon, wherein the monarch

Akki, the waterscooper, placed me as his gardener.
When I was a gardener Ishtar was in love with me.
The kingship I exercised during x + 5 years.

These lines from the tale of Sargon, the gardener whom
the goddess Ishtar loved, seem to provide an especially significant parallel
with the biblical view presented in the story of Eden. In the words of Nicholas
Wyatt: “the man in his garden is a symbolic allusion to the king in his

One of the important connections between humanity’s enthronement in the garden
and later biblical traditions includes the anointing of an Israelite king
in 1 Kings 1:28–40 at the Gihon spring; a river named Gihon was
one of the four rivers that flowed out of Eden and round the land of Cush
(Genesis 2:13). Significantly, the only other explicit reference to the Garden
of Eden in the Hebrew Bible appears in a context that addresses the link between
kingship and divinity (see Ezekiel 28:2–13).64

Concerning the attestation of biblical rituals that may preserve actual religious
rites wherein Israelite kings assumed divinity, Wyatt argues that

the rituals which transform the status of the earthly king, removing him
from “merely human” status to that of a sacral figure, to be couched
in the form of a narrative about a god, carries with it the hint that the
king himself is to be seen as transformed into a god. . . . The
enthronement of the king is thus his apotheosis.65

In his exploration of biblical deification, Wyatt refers
to Psalm 19:8–10 as a possible ritual text transforming the king into
a divine being:

The teaching of Yahweh is perfect,
restoring the breast.
The testimony of Yahweh is certain,
making wise the head.
The precepts of Yahweh are upright,
rejoicing the heart.
The commandment of Yahweh is pure,
making bright the eyes.
The speech of Yahweh is ritually pure,
standing for ever.
The judgments of Yahweh are truth,
They are righteous all together,
more desirable than gold,
than much pure gold,
more sweet than honey,
or the refined comb.
Your servant is indeed illumined by them,
and in their observance is there great gain.

Concerning this possible reference to ritual anointing, Wyatt argues:

It is true that there is no narrative statement
about unction here: oil is not even mentioned. But only thus can the successive
blessings on various parts of the king’s body be explained. For comparison
we should consider the unction of priests, in Exod. 29:4–9, 19–21,
40:12–5 and Lev. 8:10–2, 22–4, where various parts of the
priest’s body are anointed with oil and blood, undoubtedly with some liturgical
commentary on the action, such is now narrated in these passages, providing
a suitable performative utterance.66

If correct, Wyatt’s assessment of Israelite deification
proves important for an analysis of Adam as divine king in the book of Genesis.

In Genesis chapter 2, God’s initial creative act must be the creation of man, for, as a divine king raised “from
the dust,” man was specifically formed to assist deity in the creation
process. God appears as a gardener who causes to grow “every tree that
is pleasant to the sight, and good for food” (Genesis 2:9).67
The account declares that the Lord placed the man in the garden to “dress”
and “keep” his newly created oasis (Genesis 2:15). As a gardener,
the Lord plants Eden; as a gardener, the Lord mixes the soil to form both
man and beast. As a gardener, the Lord creates man in his image to perform
the work of a God. Following his creation, man assumes the role of divine

From an ancient Near Eastern perspective, the view of Adam as divine gardener
suggests that biblical authors viewed humanity as an earthly extension of
the divine council. According to the Eden account, man was immortal (Genesis
2:17); man had received from deity the sacred “breath of life” (Genesis
2:7); man had been commissioned to perform the work of a god—that is,
to till and tend the divine garden. Therefore, as an immortal gardener, man
was already “like the gods” prior to partaking of the forbidden

In Mesopotamian myths, for example, the work of gardening was assigned to
lesser members of the divine council. Hence, the story of Atrahasis opens
with the following portrayal:

When gods were man,
They did forced labor, they bore drudgery.
Great indeed was the drudgery of the gods,
The forced labor was heavy, the misery too much:
The seven great Anunna-gods were burdening
The Igigi-gods with forced labor.68

Like the account in Genesis, the lesser gods of the
divine council in Atrahasis were gardeners who did the laborious task of caring
for the canals, trees, and waterways that sustained the higher gods of the
assembly. Hence, Adam, as an immortal being, clearly reflects the position
of the Igigi in Mesopotamian thought. The questions presented to Job by Eliphaz
regarding the primal human seem to share this notion:

Are you the firstborn of the human race?
Were you brought forth before the hills?
Have you listened in the council of God? (Job 15:7–8 NRSV)

As Dexter Callender has observed concerning these questions, “The allusion
to the primal human in Job does not give us explicit details concerning his
incorporation into the sacred world. It is clear, however, that the idea is
present in the reference that the primal human ‘listened’ in the council of
God.”69 As a member of God’s council, man held
a stewardship to “dress” and “keep” the deity’s garden
(Genesis 2:15). According to the Genesis account, when the man and woman eat
from the tree of knowledge, God expels the humans from Eden and assigns the
cherubim, other traditional members of the divine council, to “keep”
the garden (Genesis 3:24). This move may suggest that in biblical thought
“keeping” the garden is a task reserved for members of the divine
host. As an immortal subordinate assigned an important council task, man,
however, eventually appears in the Genesis account as a being very much like
the council deities mentioned in Psalm 82 who receive the decree of death:

I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children
of the most High.
But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the
princes. (Psalm 82:6–7)

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,
thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt
surely die. (Genesis 2:17)

Humanity and the Sons of God

Genesis chapter 2 portrays the first man as an earthly extension of the divine
council, and Genesis chapter 6 presents a theomorphic view of humanity through
the story of the “Sons of God.” In his critique, Heiser draws attention
to the fact that “it is well known among Semitists and scholars of the
Hebrew Bible” that the biblical phrase Sons of God has “certifiable
linguistic counterparts in Ugaritic texts referring to a council of gods under
El and that the meaning of [this phrase] in the Hebrew Bible points to divine
beings” (p. 6). As is the case with other Semitic languages, the word
“son” or ben in Hebrew can denote a “fellow of a group,
class[, or] guild.”70 Therefore,
the “Sons of God” in the Old Testament refers to the lesser gods
of the divine council. These are the beings who, according to the description
provided in Job 38:7, “sang together” and “shouted for joy”
when God created the world. Since their discovery in 1928, the religious texts
of ancient Ugarit have made biblical scholars increasingly aware of the original
meaning of the designation “Sons of God” as a title for the members
of the divine council. The expression appears, for example, in reference to
the deities addressed by the Canaanite god Baal in KTU 1.4 iii: 13–14:

Valiant Baal re[plie]d;
the Charioteer of the Clouds responded:
“The Beloved came up and insulted me;
he arose and spat upon me
in the midst of the ass[emb]ly of the sons of El [bn ilm].”71

In the Bible, the first reference to these members of God’s council appears
in Genesis 6:

The sons of God saw that [the daughters of humans] were fair; and they took
wives for themselves of all that they chose . . . the Nephilim were
on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of
God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were
the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. (Genesis 6:2–4 NRSV)

Genesis 6:2–4 illustrates that, from an Israelite perspective, the
gods of the council were sexual beings, just as they were throughout the ancient
Near East. In Genesis 6, Yahweh reacts to the “wickedness” of his
council members with anger and destruction (vv. 5–7). Significantly
for Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith creates a direct link between humanity
and the council designation “sons of God” through the Prophet’s
addition to the story preserved in Genesis 6:

And also, after that they had heard him, they came
up before him, saying: Behold, we are the sons of God; have we not taken unto
ourselves the daughters of men? And are we not eating and drinking, and marrying
and giving in marriage? And our wives bear unto us children, and the same
are mighty men, which are like unto men of old, men of great renown. And they
hearkened not unto the words of Noah. (Moses 8:21)

While the Prophet’s revision directly associates the title “sons of
God” with humanity, the biblical version presents an Israelite folktale
in which gods from the heavenly council participate in sexual relations with
human beings. Since according to the myth, the sexual union between humanity
and the members of the divine council specifically results in the production
of offspring, this folktale provides strong evidence supporting the claim
that Israelites traditionally believed that a direct “species” link
existed between humanity and the gods. With its reference to human / divine
sex and warriors of great renown, the council story featured in Genesis 6
may have influenced the development of the Samson story from the book of Judges.
Like the story presented in Genesis 6, Samson’s birth narrative may preserve
an ancient Israelite traditional belief that humans could produce physical
offspring with the gods.

In the book of Judges, the story of Samson begins with an account in which
“the angel of the Lord appeared” to Samson’s barren mother (Judges
13:3–6). In his critique, Heiser draws attention to the fact that the
word angel or malʾāk in the Bible is “a purely functional term and
not a species term” (p. 21). Therefore, this heavenly messenger
in Judges 13 is not an angel
in the traditional way interpreted by Western readers, but rather a divine
messenger sent from the heavenly realm. It is only after this “man of
God” ascended to heaven in a fiery flame that Manoah recognized that
he had seen a god (Judges 13:22). In his analysis of the account, Brettler
states that

when Manoah’s wife speaks to her husband, she notes (v. 6), “The man
of God has come to me”; . . . the idiom [“come to”]
is also used in clear sexual contexts, so this may also be translated: “The
man of God slept with me.” Through this double entendre put in the mouth
of the clever wife of Manoah, a double entendre that her dim-witted husband
is too stupid to understand, the audience is told of the true father of the
“boy to be born.”72

Brettler’s reading—which is also given by biblical
scholars Adele Reinhartz and Susan Ackermann—is sustained by comparing
Judges 13 to other biblical stories concerning barren women.73
For example, in 1 Samuel, Hannah conceives after offering her prayer,
albeit specifically following the statement, Elkanah knew his wife Hannah
and the Lord remembered her (1 Samuel 1:19 JPS). Accordingly, Brettler
argues that “the parentage of the child [Samson] explains his superhuman
abilities.”74 With his incredible strength, Samson
is very much like “the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown”
depicted in Genesis 6:4 NRSV. If this reading of the Samson story is correct,
Judges 13 provides further evidence supporting the Israelite view of an intimate
link between humanity and the members of the heavenly assembly. Capable of
producing offspring with members of the divine council, humanity was—as
the Psalmist proclaims—only a little less than the gods (Psalm 8:5).

Prophets as Divine Council Members

Among the issues that sustain Peterson’s claim that Old Testament authors viewed
humans as theomorphic are biblical references to prophetic interaction with
the council. Due to the administrative role assumed by the council, the Old
Testament frequently depicts biblical prophets interacting with the council
and receiving commissions from God to function as his representatives.75
Peterson does well, therefore, to draw attention to this phenomenon in his analysis,
since the fact that prophets functioned as part of the council strongly supports
Peterson’s claim that “a blurring of the distinction between mortal human
beings and angels, [and] between mortal human beings and gods” appears
in biblical and other ancient references to the council.76
The book of Amos declares that “God will do nothing, but he revealeth his
secret [sôd] unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). Though
translated as “secret” in the King James Version of the Bible, the
noun sôd, in this instance, refers to God’s divine council.77
“Generally speaking, the word sôd, translated both ‘council’ and
‘counsel,’ is used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to a group or to that which
transpires within a given group. When used to signify a group, it is used with
reference both to humankind (e.g., Ezek 13:9) and to the divine realm (e.g.,
Ps 89:8).”78 Jeremiah referred
to a true prophet as one who had participated in God’s sôd through the
acts of seeing and hearing (Jeremiah 23:18). By participating in the council,
prophets become malʾākim or “angels.” Literally a malʾāk
was one who was sent—that is, a messenger. In many Old Testament passages,
divine messengers appear indistinguishable from human beings (see especially
Genesis 19:1–22; 32:24–31; Judges 13:3–23). The use of the
term malʾāk for both human and divine messengers “results in
some passages where it is unclear which of the two is intended if no further
details are provided.”79 Therefore,
in becoming members of God’s council who see and hear as they
stand in the assembly, Old Testament prophets were sent as messengers
and mediators for the council (see Jeremiah 23:18).80
This biblical tradition features important Near Eastern counterparts: “It
is typical for gods in the ancient Near East,” notes Samuel A. Meier, “to
have at their disposal specific, lower-ranking deities who do their bidding
in running errands and relaying messages.”81
In the Bible, prophets serve as these “lower-ranking deities.” This
point is not lost in Peterson’s analysis. “Hebrew tradition,” he writes,
“could make human beings serving in the role of prophets the equivalent,
at least temporarily, of Canaanite gods.”82
As Peterson notes, an important description of this commission occurs in Isaiah
chapter 6.

In his story of prophetic commission, Isaiah described the members of God’s
council as seraphim who praised the
“Lord of hosts” seated upon the heavenly throne (Isaiah 6:1–3).
Through a purificatory ritual, Isaiah became a member of this heavenly council
and therefore responded to God’s question, “whom shall I send, and who
will go for us?” with the statement, “here am I; send me” (v.
8).83 In the ancient Near East, mouth-cleansing
rituals like the one featured in Isaiah’s story held considerable significance.
In Mesopotamian ritual prayers, for example, mouth purification symbolized
total and complete purity. Biblical scholar Moshe Weinfeld drew attention
to the analogy between Isaiah’s experience and the mis-pi ritual performed in “An Old Babylonian Prayer
of the Divination Priest” first published in 1968 by A. Goetze: “O
Šamaš, I am placing in my mouth
pure cedar (resin). . . . I wiped (akpur) my mouth with . . . cedar (resin). . . . Being (now) clean,
to the assembly of the gods I shall draw near.”84

Concerning this relationship between Isaiah 6 and this Babylonian text, Weinfeld
explained: “Like Isaiah, whose mouth has to be purged in order that he
may participate in the divine council, the Babylonian prophet also declares
that having cleansed his mouth he is ready to draw near to the divine assembly.”85 Through the mouth-cleansing ritual,
Isaiah had become a divine member of the heavenly council. Studies have shown
that in its presentation of the theomorphic prophet, the entire chapter draws
upon ideas traditionally associated with Mesopotamian idolatry and deification.86
As Victor Hurowitz has noted:

A large portion of the [Mesopotamian] sources . . .
raise[s] the possibility that the washing of the mouth . . . has
independent significance as a characteristic granting or symbolizing special
divine or quasi-divine status to the person or object so designated. The pure
mouth enables the person or object to stand before the gods or to enter the
divine realm, or symbolizes a divine status.87

The pattern witnessed in Isaiah 6 reflects the general
trend for council stories in the ancient Near East witnessed in texts like
Enuma Elish and Abraham 3.88 For
Latter-day Saints, Isaiah’s story, therefore, provides an impressive type
of Jesus Christ, who volunteered in the premortal council to serve as the
Savior of the world with the declaration “here am I, send me” (Abraham
3:27). With his divine status, Isaiah could respond to the question God directed
toward his council, “who will go for us,” with the response “here
am I, send me.”

The story of prophetic commission presented in Isaiah 6 illustrates the biblical
view that the council was—at least in part—comprised of divine
human beings. “The members of this d [council] around Yahweh,” explains Heinz-Josef
Fabry, “are kept clearly on the terminological periphery, and finally
their designation as qedoshim
[“holy beings”] even opens up the possibility that human beings
belong to this d (cf. Job 15:8; Ps. 89:8[7],
though this involves primarily the prophets (1 K. 22:19–22; Isa.
6; 40:1–8; Jer. 23:18,22; Am. 3:7).”89 In
reality, Psalm 25 professes that any righteous being could receive this distinction:
“The secret [d]
of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant”
(Psalm 25:14).90

For Latter-day Saints, the Old Testament perspective that prophets became
members of the divine council also appears in modern revelation. Doctrine
and Covenants 107:19, for example, reflects this Old Testament notion of becoming
a member of God’s heavenly council. This revelation refers to the blessings
given to those who enter into the highest Priesthood order as the “privilege
of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven . . . [having]
the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church
of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father,
and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.” According to modern revelation,
the Saints of God have an opportunity to become permanent participatory members
of the heavenly assembly. The connection is made clear through the discussion
in Doctrine and Covenants 76 concerning those who inherit a terrestrial glory:
“Last of all, these all are they who will not be gathered with the saints,
to be caught up unto the church of the Firstborn, and received into the cloud”
(D&C 76:102). From these statements, it appears that two levels of council
membership exist—an initial level in which premortal beings referred
to as “Gods” participate in the assembly, and a second, higher,
level in which mortals such as Isaiah prove themselves worthy for both an
exalted status and permanent membership.

From a biblical perspective, the word saint that appears in Doctrine and Covenants 76:102 describing
those who receive a celestial glory carries a connotation that reflects the
Israelite view that (divine) humans comprise members of the divine council:
As Simon Parker explains:

“Saints” or “holy ones” translates
the Hebrew qedoshim: the masculine plural of the adjective qadosh
“holy.” . . . Qedoshim [Saints or holy ones] refers
to the gods as a collectivity that is widely attested throughout the ancient
Near East under other names (Sons of the gods, council, etc.).91

In the Old Testament “saints” is a title given
to the deities of the divine council: “Who among the gods is like the
Lord,” declares the Psalmist, “a God feared in the council [d] of the saints [qedoshim], great and awesome above all that are around him”
(Psalm 89:6–7; Hebrew, vv. 7–8).92 The
same mutability between the human and divine world appears in Jewish literature
from the time of Christ. The Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, contain several
references to the use of qedoshim for
heavenly beings. “There is, then, a fluid boundary between the heavenly
holy ones and the earthly community, at least in some of the Scrolls.”93

Jesus’s Use of Psalm 82

As Peterson suggests, these observations prove essential for an analysis of
Jesus’s use of Psalm 82 in John 10. As heirs to the traditions of biblical Israel,
Jewish factions at the time of Christ featured a strong religious propensity
toward blurring the demarcation between human and divine. In his study, Peterson
effectively illustrates this fact through his analysis of deification in Second
Temple Judaism and early Christianity. This religious continuity between biblical
Israel and Judeo-Christian sects provides the basis for Peterson’s thesis concerning
Jesus’s use of Psalm 82 in John 10: “The Latter-day Saint claim that God
and humankind are akin seems a promising basis upon which to resolve the apparent
disagreement between the reference of Psalm 82:6 to heavenly gods and the reference
of John 10:34 to mortal human beings.”94

Given the fact that the Hebrew Bible clearly presents humans as divine beings
who can—as attested through the examples of Adam, the deified dead,
and biblical prophets—function as official members of God’s council,
Peterson’s argument carries considerable weight. If Latter-day Saint theology
is correct in its assertion that some members of the council were punished
for their rebellion prior to the creation of the world, then Jesus may very
well have interpreted Psalm 82 as a reflection of this event. In reality,
Peterson’s interpretation receives very little challenge from Heiser’s critique.
“By the time of Jesus’s ministry,” writes Heiser, “Jewish writers
committed to monotheism, even upon pain of death, could accept that there
was a council of [elohim] in Psalm 82 (cf. the Qumran data) and that there
was a second power in heaven who ‘was Yahweh but wasn’t Yahweh the Father'”
(p. 39). Accordingly, Heiser argues that “the [elohim] of Psalm
82 were not human and that Jesus was in fact asserting his own unique ontological oneness with the Father” (p. 42).
In his assessment, Heiser maintains that Jesus’s statement “to whom the
word of God came” refers to the elohim or gods
of the divine council who as a result of their rebellion would die like mortals.
Heiser’s critique, therefore, assumes that in citing Psalm 82, Jesus “reminds
his enemies that their scriptures says there are other [elohim] who are divine
sons” (p. 44). This claim, however, does little to refute Peterson’s
basic argument: “it does not seem that Jesus’ citation of a metaphorical
use of the term god, as applied
to human beings, would go very far toward justifying his ascription to himself
of literal divinity.”95 For both Peterson and Heiser, Jesus’s
response relies upon a literal rendering of elohim as gods. The difference between the two studies lies
in Heiser’s confusion concerning Yahweh as a being species-unique and humanity
functioning as divine members of the assembly.

Deification at the Time of Christ

Heiser’s interpretations of Jesus’s use of Psalm 82 may on some levels be correct.
Nonetheless, his reading would not negate the fact that the Bible presents human
beings as members of God’s council. Heiser goes to considerable lengths to illustrate
that, in contrast to Peterson’s observation that Jesus’s enemies literally accuse
Jesus of making himself “a god,”96
the Greek phrase in John 10 can serve as an accusation that Jesus was making
himself out to be God. However, given the possible validity of Heiser’s
own argument that Jesus intended his response to remind his accusers that their
sacred texts state that other gods exist, it seems that Peterson’s suggestion—by
Heiser’s own premise—is, in fact, a stronger interpretation. In accepting
Heiser’s basic argument, it appears that in addition to reminding his enemies
that Psalm 82 refers to other elohim who are divine sons, Jesus in all
likelihood drew upon the well-established tradition that humans are gods in
formulating his calculated response.

Influenced by the strong biblical precedence for interpreting humanity as
intrinsically theomorphic, the Jewish community at Qumran held the theological
stance that the members of their religious society functioned as participants
of the divine council. “The members of the [Qumran] community were ipso
companions to the hosts of heaven,”
writes John J. Collins, “and so living an angelic life, even on earth.”97 In
what appears to many scholars as a statement expressed by an exalted human
being, a fragment from the War Scroll
(4Q491 11) declares: “I am counted among the gods and my dwelling is
in the holy congregation.”98 With statements such as these circulating
throughout first-century Judaism, no wonder Jesus could invoke the words “Ye
are gods” in defense of his own divinity. In reality, expressions concerning
the biblical and early Jewish belief regarding the connection between humanity
and the council (many of which are explored in greater detail in Peterson’s
essay) provide an important backdrop for understanding Jesus’s use of Psalm
82. Given the persistence of the biblical view regarding theomorphic humans
witnessed in a variety of texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, readers should
take seriously the proposal that Jesus defended his own divinity by drawing
attention to the divinity of others: “Is it not written in your law,
I said, Ye are gods?” (John 10:34). For a Jewish audience familiar with
the expressions articulated in the writings from Qumran, Psalm 82 was a text
that could be specifically linked with ideas concerning the exaltation of
humanity. In the text 11Q Melchizedek, Melchizedek appears as the deity who
passes judgment against the gods in Psalm 82:

And the day [of atonem]ent is the end of the tenth jubilee in which atonement
will be made for all the sons of [God] and for the men of the lot of Melchizedek.
[And on the heights] he will decla[re in their] favour according to their
lots; for it is the time of the «year of grace» for Melchizedek, to exa[lt
in the tri]al the holy ones of God through the rule of judgment, as is written
about him in the songs of David, who said: Ps 82:1 «Elohim will stand
up in the assem[bly of God,] in the midst of the gods he judges».99

Since the text refers to “the sons of God” and the “men of
the lot of Melchizedek,” interpreters should take seriously the possibility
that this Dead Sea Scroll passage refers to an exalted human Melchizedek—after
the order of 4Q491 11—responsible for the judgment invoked in Psalm
82. At minimum, 11Q Melchizedek provides strong evidence for an early Jewish
trend toward linking Psalm 82 with human beings. Even John Collins (who contrary
to this proposal suggests that there is no indication that the Melchizedek
of the Melchizedek Scroll was ever a mortal man) states:

In the view of the midrash, the Most High God is El. Elohim is a lesser
deity, an angel, if you prefer. But the striking thing about this passage
is that the term Elohim, which is usually understood to refer to the
Most High in the biblical psalm, now refers to a lesser heavenly being. There
are at least, two divine powers in heaven, even if one of them is clearly
subordinate to the other.100

A survey of a Jewish midrashic use of Psalm 82 demonstrates that the connection
between humanity and Psalm 82 more than likely attested in 11Q Melchizedek,
is, in fact, well-established in early Jewish texts. This midrashic approach
to Psalm 82, which links Israel with the gods of the council, carries important
implications for understanding John 10.

Scholars have observed that Jewish traditions regarding the children of Israel
at Mount Sinai provide a clear conceptual background for interpreting Jesus’s
use of Psalm 82 in John’s Gospel:

If it were possible to do away with the Angel of Death I would. But the decree
has long ago been decreed. R. Jose says: It was upon this condition that the
Israelites stood up before mount Sinai, on the condition that the Angel of
Death should have no power over them. For it is said: “I said: Ye are
godlike beings,” etc. (Ps. 82:6). But you corrupted your conduct. “Surely
ye shall die like men” [Ps. 82:7].101

This use of Psalm 82:6–7 in the second-century
midrash illustrates one of the ways Jewish theologians reinterpreted this
biblical text. When at Mount Sinai Israel “stood before the Lord,”
the Israelites became the elohim or
“gods” mentioned in Psalm 82. The identification of Israel as gods
appears in a variety of early Jewish texts:

You stood at Mount Sinai and said, All that the Lord hath spoken will
we do, and obey
(Exod. 24:7), (whereupon) “I said: Ye are godlike
beings” (Ps. 82:6); but when you said to the (golden) calf, This is
thy god, O Israel
(Exod. 32:4), I said to you, “Nevertheless, ye
shall die like men (Ps. 82:7).102

As Jerome H. Neyrey has observed concerning this tradition:

The basic lines of the midrashic understanding of Ps 82:6–7, then,
are clear. When Israel at Sinai received God’s Torah and obeyed, this led
to genuine holiness, which resulted in deathlessness; hence, Israel could
be called god because deathless. But when disobedient and sinful,
Israel deserved the wages of sin, that is, death; hence, Israel could be called

According to Neyrey, Jesus’s reference to gods as those to whom the word of God came presupposes the use of Psalm 82 as a reference to Israel
at Sinai in Jewish midrash. This interpretation, well justified in Jewish
tradition, directly associates the elohim of Psalm 82 with humanity.

In his critique, Heiser effectively illustrates that, in their original context,
the elohim referred to in Psalm 82
were not human judges. However, he overstates the evidence when he argues
that “if there was a campaign to allegedly correct ancient texts and
their polytheistic views, the postexilic Jewish community either did not get
the message or ignored it” (p. 11). With its push toward radical
monotheism, Second Temple Judaism was clearly struggling with the references
to multiple deities in texts such as Psalm 82. Heiser’s claim fails to address
the changes that even he acknowledges to have occurred in texts such as Deuteronomy
32 where, “almost certainly, the unintelligible reading of the [Masoretic
Text] represents a ‘correction’ of the original text (whereby God presides
over other gods) to make it conform to the later standard of pure monotheism:
There are no other gods!”104 This
religious conundrum is also apparent in the later Aramaic revisions of divine
council passages including Psalm 82.

In contrast to the biblical version of Psalm 82, which, as Heiser shows,
refers to God standing in the midst of literal deities, the Targum for Psalm
82 reads:

1. A psalm by Asaph. As for God, his Shekinah dwells in the assembly
of the righteous who are mighty in the Law; he judges among the judges of

2. How long, O you wicked, will you judge falsely, and show partiality
to the wicked? For ever.

3. Judge the poor and the orphan; vindicate the afflicted and
the poor.

4. Rescue the poor and weak; deliver them from the hands of the

5. They do not know how to do good, nor do they understand the
Law; they walk about in darkness; therefore the feet of the bases of the earth
are shaken.

6. I said, “You are reckoned as like the angels, and like
the angels of the height, all of you;

7. but you shall surely die like the sons of men, and fall like
one of the princes.”

8. Arise, O LORD, judge all the inhabitants of the earth, for
you shall take possession of all the nations.105

This Aramaic revision of Psalm 82 stripped the Hebrew psalm of its original
henotheistic ideology.106 Instead
of presenting God as holding council with the other deities of the universe,
the Targum substitutes the Aramaic word dayyanin (“judges”)
for the Hebrew word elohim (“gods”). Based upon the judicial
setting for Psalm 82, the authors of the Targum presumably felt comfortable
with this textual switch because of their misreading of the Covenant Collection
in Exodus which, as Heiser’s critique illustrates, uses the Hebrew word elohim
in a judicial context (Exodus 21:6). As Peterson notes, however, “Exodus
21:6 and 22:8–9 provide very weak support (if indeed, they provide any
support at all) for the notion that ʾelohim can ever denote
merely human judges.”107 Subsequent
studies concerning these biblical passages have only sustained Peterson’s position.
David P. Wright has recently shown that, like the rest of the Covenant Collection,
Exodus 21:6 ultimately derives from the Babylonian Laws of Hammurabi.108
Therefore, the expression ʾel ha-elohim in Exodus 21:6 and 22:7 directly
reflects the Akkadian phrase mahar ilim (23, 120, 266).
This connection strongly suggests that the laws in the Covenant Collection that
feature the phrase ʾel ha-elohim use the term elohim as a reflection
of the Akkadian word ilim, both of which literally mean “God.”
In their interpretation of these passages, however, the Aramaic revisers specifically
switched the Hebrew word elohim for the Aramaic term dayyanim:

his master will bring him to the judges, and he will bring him to
the door or to the doorposts; and his master will pierce his ear with an awl,
and he will be a slave to him, enslaved forever. (Exodus 21:6 Neofiti)109

This later Jewish interpretation of the Covenant Collection allowed readers
of Psalm 82 to interpret the biblical text, which presents God’s judgment
over the deities of the council, as a passage in which God renders judgment
against human beings. The same theological move to purely “humanize”
the divine council appears in Neofiti’s revision of Genesis 6:2, which changes
the Hebrew title “sons of God”
into the Aramaic expression “sons of the judges”:

And the sons of the judges saw that the daughters of the sons of
were beautiful in appearance and they took wives for themselves
from among whomsoever they chose. (Genesis 6:2)110

These Aramaic texts therefore provide important evidence
for the historical transition toward radical monotheism in later Judaism.
The henotheistic ideology endorsed by Israelite authors eventually proved
unacceptable to later religious interpreters who viewed the Bible as an authoritative
religious collection. As illustrated in the Targumim, later Jewish interpreters
often found creative ways to rework henotheistic texts into agreement with
their radical monotheistic stance. No doubt, the precedent for viewing humanity
as an earthly extension of the divine council in Israelite tradition facilitated
these efforts. Elohim could easily be reinterpreted to represent human beings
in such a climate. Ultimately, however, these changes had a long-lasting effect
upon the way biblical references to the divine council would subsequently
be interpreted.

Second Temple Judaism was clearly struggling to reconcile its move toward
monotheism with its henotheistic past. Hence, the anger expressed by Jesus’s
enemies regarding his claim for divinity in John 10 may have in part been
influenced by this religious paradox. In contrast to certain Jewish sects
in the first century, the Samaritans, for example, appear to have held fast
to a view concerning the prophet Moses’s deification:

Moses is for the Samaritans the Taheb, “Restorer,” the expected
Messiah-like eschatological figure who will bring about a golden age and will
pray for the guilty and save them. It is among the Samaritans alone that the
title “man of God” receives prominence as applied to Moses; and
indeed, the Samaritan depiction of Moses is highly reminiscent of the New
Testament’s description of Jesus as the first begotten being, materialized
from his pre-existent bodiless state. Moses is a second God, God’s vice-regent
upon earth (Memar Marqah 1.2), whose very name includes the title ʾElohim,
“God” (Memar Marqah 1.2).111

Not all Palestinian religious sects in the first century were as comfortable
with deification as the Samaritans and the community at Qumran. The Jewish
historian Josephus, for example, appears to have intentionally tried to disassociate
Moses from this tradition:

In the very passages (3.317, 320) where Josephus refers to Moses as inspiring
and ranking higher than his own nature, he is careful to refer to him as a
man. Moreover, he is careful to omit God’s statements that Moses was to be
to Aaron as God (Exod 4:16), and that God was making him as God to Pharaoh
(Exod 7:1). He is careful to dispel the view held by some (3.95–96)
that when Moses tarried on Mount Sinai for forty days, it was because he had
been taken back to divinity. If he refers to Moses as a “man of God”
(3.180), it is not to assert Moses’ divinity but rather to refute those enemies
of the Jews who had charged them with slighting the divinity whom they themselves
professed to venerate (3.179).112

In this intense religious climate, Jesus’s defense of
his own divinity using a divine council text, which, as illustrated, could
in some circles be linked with human beings, met with obvious controversy.


The biblical view of the divine council of deities has assumed a fundamental
role in biblical scholarship. Textual and archaeological discoveries made in
recent years carry important implications for the way Bible-believing Christians
understand their own theology in relation to Israelite beliefs. As Latter-day
Saints, we owe a debt of gratitude to Michael Heiser for his important contributions
in furthering this important discussion. Even in his critique of the LDS use
of Psalm 82 and John 10, Heiser raises important issues worthy of careful consideration.
Ultimately, no matter which opinions regarding the details surrounding these
texts hold sway, clearly the Latter-day Saint position regarding humanity and
the divine council of deities is much more biblical-like than many have supposed.


1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph
comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976),

2. Martti Nissinen, “Prophets
and the Divine Council,” in Kein Land für sich allein: Studien zum
Kulturkontakt in Kanaan, Israel / Palastina und Ebirnari für Manfred Weippert
zum 65. Geburtstag
(Vandenhoeck: Universitatsverlag Freiburg Schweiz,
2002), 4.

3. William G. Dever, Did God
Have a Wife? Archeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 294–95, 297.

4. Daniel C. Peterson, “‘Ye Are
Gods': Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind,”
in The Disciple as Scholar: Essays on Scripture and the Ancient World in
Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson,
ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W.
Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000), 471–594.
See David E. Bokovoy, “Heavenly Councils in the Old Testament and
Modern Revelation,” The Religious Educator (forthcoming).

5. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph

6. The Words of Joseph Smith: The
Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph,

ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center,
1980), 215, capitalization and spelling somewhat standardized in such quotations.

7. Words of Joseph Smith, 232.

8. Words of Joseph Smith, 367.

9. Peterson, “‘Ye Are Gods,'”

10. Teachings of the Prophet
Joseph Smith,

11. Joseph Fielding Smith,
Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City:
Bookcraft, 1999), 1:74–75.

12. Bruce R. McConkie, “Eve
and the Fall,” in Woman (Salt
Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979), 59, emphasis deleted.

13. Words of Joseph Smith,
84 n. 10.

14. Hans J. Boecker, Redeformen
des Rechtslebens im Alten Testament
Neukirchener Verlag, 1964), 85–86.

15. For additional examples
of the practice of sitting for judgment, see Judges 4:5; Joel 3:12; Psalm
122:5; Proverbs 20:8; Daniel 7:9–10.

16. See, for example, Job 1:6;
2:1; 1 Kings 22:19, 21; Daniel 7:9–10; see also Simon B. Parker,
“The Beginning of the Reign of God—Psalm 82 as Myth and Liturgy,” Revue Biblique
102/4 (1995): 537.

17. Thorkild Jacobsen, “Primitive
Democracy in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 2/3 (1943): 164.

18. See Jacobsen, “Primitive
Democracy,” 164 n. 24.

19. Peterson, “‘Ye Are
Gods,'” 536.

20. Parker, “Beginning
of the Reign of God,” 537.

21. Parker, “Beginning
of the Reign of God,” 539–40.

22. Mark S. Smith, The Early
History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 32.

23. The Jewish Publication
Society edition appears in Adele Berlin and Marc Z. Brettler, eds., The
Jewish Study Bible: Tanakh Translation

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

24. Of course, the fact that
Deuteronomy 4 simply reflects the language of Deuteronomy 32 does not automatically
mean that both texts derive from the same author. The author of Deuteronomy
4 may have simply created his passages concerning Yahweh to intentionally
reflect the language and ideology in Deuteronomy 32 in order to present Yahweh
as the chief council deity. This very real possibility should be considered
by Heiser in further research; for an introduction to theological changes
reflected throughout the book of Deuteronomy, see especially Bernard M. Levinson,
Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

25. David Noel Freedman, “The
Name of the God of Moses,” Journal of Biblical Literature 79/3 (1960): 156.

26. Smith, Early History
of God,

27. Eric E. Elnes and Patrick
D. Miller, “Elyon,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the
ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking,
and Pieter W. van der Horst (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 560.

28. This summary is based upon
the pattern identified by Simon B. Parker, “Council,” in Dictionary
of Deities and Demons,
391–98; for
a consideration of the divine council stories within the Bible as “type
scenes,” see David Marron Fleming, “The Divine Council as Type Scene
in the Hebrew Bible” (Ph.D. diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,

29. For an English translation
of Enuma Elish, see Stephanie Dalley,
Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 228–77.

30. Peterson, “‘Ye Are
Gods,'” 533.

31. Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy
32:8 and the Sons of God,” 15; see thedivinecouncil.com/DT32BibSac.pdf
(accessed 8 February 2007).

32. Bruce K. Waltke and M.
O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax
(Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 433.

33. Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite
Myth and Hebrew Epic
(Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1973), 65.

34. “A proper noun cannot,
as a rule, be followed by a genitive.” Paul Joüon, A Grammar of Biblical
trans. and rev. T. Muraoka
(Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico,
2000), 2:481. Admittedly, however, textual evidence shows that the rule need
not apply to divine names; see J. A. Emerton, “New Light on Israelite
Religion: The Implications of the Inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud,”
Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 94 (1982): 12–13; and especially John H. Choi,
“Resheph and YHWH ṢĔBĀʾÔT,”
Vetus Testamentum 54 (2004): 17–28.
I offer this assessment of the title Yahweh Sabaoth, which reflects the views
of scholars such as David Noel Freedman and Frank Moore Cross as merely an
intriguing possibility.

35. Cross, Canaanite Myth
and Hebrew Epic,
65, emphasis added.

36. “The Father and the
Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve” as
cited in Messages of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints,
ed. James R. Clark
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1971), 5:26, emphasis added.

37. Keith H. Meservy, “Lord = Jehovah,” Ensign, June 2002, 29 n. 3.

38. Paul Sanders, The Provenance
of Deuteronomy
32 (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 370.

39. The term radical monotheism
refers to the theological position that only one divine being exists in the
universe. The expression was popularized by Tikva Frymer-Kensky, In
the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture, and the Biblical Transformation
of Pagan Myth
(New York: Free Press, 1992), 154.

40. Yair Hoffman, “The
Conception of ‘Other Gods’ in Deuteronomistic Literature,” in Concepts
of the Other in Near Eastern Religions,

ed. Ilai Alon, Ithamar Gruenwald, and Itamar Singer (Leiden: Brill, 1994),
107, emphasis added.

41. Hoffman, “Conception
of Other Gods,” 107.

42. As cited in Dalley, Myths
from Mesopotamia,

43. For a summary of the myth,
see Gwendolyn Leick, A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Mythology (London: Routledge, 1998), 47–48; for a translation
see Thorkild Jacobsen, The Harps That Once . . . :
Sumerian Poetry in Translation
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 167–80.

44. Jacobsen, Harps, 174.

45. Thorkild Jacobsen, “An
Ancient Mesopotamian Trial for Homicide,” in Toward the Image of Tammuz
and Other Essays on Mesopotamian History and Culture,
ed. William L. Moran (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1970), 207; first published in Studia Biblica et Orientalia,
vol. 3 of Analecta Biblica et Orientalia
XII (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1959), 130–50.

46. See James S. Ackerman,
“An Exegetical Study of Psalm 82″ (PhD diss., Harvard University,
1966), 186–93.

47. For a recent survey of
the issue which includes a survey of previous assessments, see Tryggve N.
D. Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection: “Dying and Rising Gods”
in the Ancient Near East
(Stockholm: Almqvist
& Wiksell, 2001).

48. Hugh R. Page Jr., The
Myth of Cosmic Rebellion: A Study of Its Reflexes in Ugaritic and Biblical
(Leiden: Brill, 1996), 92;
Page’s views concerning the Athtar myth have been criticized by Gregorio del
Olmo Lete, “In Search of the Canaanite Lucifer,” Aula Orientalis 19
(2001): 125–32.

49. Richard J. Clifford, “Phoenician
Religion,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 279 (1990): 57.

50. As cited in Itamar Singer,
Hittite Prayers (Atlanta: Society of
Biblical Literature, 2002), 51.

51. Singer, Hittite Prayers,

52. Peterson, “‘Ye Are
Gods,'” 542–43.

53. Peterson, “‘Ye Are
Gods,'” 509.

54. Peterson, “‘Ye Are
Gods,'” 509–28.

55. Marc Z. Brettler, How
to Read the Bible
(Philadelphia: Jewish
Publication Society, 2005), 43–44, Hebrew word deleted.

56. Peterson, “‘Ye Are
Gods,'” 547.

57. Walter Brueggemann, “From
Dust to Kingship,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 84/1 (1972): 1–18.

58. Brueggemann, “From
Dust to Kingship,” 2.

59. Douglas Frayne, Old
Babylonian Period (2003–1595 BC)

(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), 348–49.

60. In his translation, Frayne
renders the Akkadian word ṣi-a-tim as “the past.” The inscription, however, clearly relies on
creation imagery, and I have therefore interpreted ṣiatim as “primordial days” in accordance with the
information provided in Jeremy Black, Andrew George, and Nicholas Postgate,
A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian
(Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2000), 337.

61. See Geo Widengren, The
King and the Tree of Life in Ancient Near Eastern Religion
(Uppsala: Uppsala Universitets Årsskrift, 1951).

62. Widengren, King and
the Tree of Life,

63. Nicolas Wyatt, “Interpreting
the Creation and Fall Story in Genesis 2–3,” Zeitschrift für
die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
(1981): 15.

64. John van Seters has argued
that the story of divine kingship in J derives from Babylonian influences
and is therefore late postexilic. If P is in part a reaction to the J account,
then it is difficult to accept van Seters’s dating; see John van Seters, “The
Creation of Man and the Creation of the King,” Zeitschrift für die
Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
101/3 (1989):

65. Nicholas Wyatt, “Degrees
of Divinity: Some Mythical and Ritual Aspects of West Semitic Kingship,”
Ugarit-Forschungen 31 (1999): 857.

66. Wyatt, “Degrees of
Divinity,” 874–75.

67. For additional examples
of Yahweh portrayed in the role of gardener, see Numbers 24:6; Psalm 104:16;
Isaiah 44:14.

68. Altrahasis II.39 1–6,
translation in Benjamin R. Foster, Before the Muses: An Anthology
of Akkadian Literature
(Bethesda, MD:
CDL, 1993), 1.159.

69. Dexter E. Callender Jr.,
Adam in Myth and History: Ancient Israelite Perspectives on the Primal
(Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2000), 212, emphasis deleted.

70. Ludwig Koehler and Walter
Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 1:138.

71. For an English translation,
see Nicholas Wyatt, Religious Texts from Ugarit: The Words of Ilimilku
and His Colleagues
(Sheffield, UK: Sheffield,
1998), 95–96.

72. Marc Z. Brettler, The
Book of Judges
(London: Routledge, 2002),

73. See Adele Reinhartz, “Samson’s
Mother: An Unnamed Protagonist,” Journal for the Study of the Old
55 (September 1992): 25–37
; repr. in A Feminist Companion to Judges, ed. Athalya Brenner (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 157–70;
and Susan Ackerman, Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen: Women in
Judges and Biblical Israel
(New York:
Doubleday, 1998).

74. Brettler, Book of Judges,

75. See, for example, Edwin
C. Kingsbury, “The Prophets and the Council of Yahweh,” Journal
of Biblical Literature
83/3 (1964): 279–86;
Martti Nissinen, “Prophets and the Divine Council,” in
Kein Land für sich allein
Universitätsverlag Freiburg Schweiz, 2002), 4–19.

76. Peterson, “‘Ye Are
Gods,'” 509.

77. For an introduction to
this Old Testament tradition in relationship to the Book of Mormon see John W.
Welch, “The Calling of a Prophet,” in The Book of Mormon: First
Nephi, the Doctrinal Foundation,
ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: BYU Religious
Studies Center, 1988), 35–54.

78. Callender, Adam in Myth
and History,

79. Samuel A. Meier, “Angel
I,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons, 87.

80. See David E. Bokovoy and
John A. Tvedtnes, Testaments: Links between the Book of Mormon and the
Hebrew Bible
(Tooele, UT: Heritage, 2003),

81. Samuel A. Meier, “Angel
of Yahweh,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons, 96.

82. Peterson, “‘Ye Are
Gods,'” 505.

83. See Victor Hurowitz, “Isaiah’s
Impure Lips and Their Purification in Light of Akkadian Sources,” Hebrew
Union College Annual
60 (1989): 54.

84. Moshe Weinfeld, “Ancient
Near Eastern Patterns in Prophetic Literature,” Vetus Testamentum 27/2 (1977): 180–81.

85. Weinfeld, “Ancient
Near Eastern Patterns,” 180–81.

86. See, for example, Gregory
Y. Glazov, The Bridling of the Tongue and the Opening of the Mouth in Biblical
(Sheffield: Sheffield Academic
Press, 2001), 111–63.

87. Hurowitz, “Isaiah’s
Impure Lips,” 54.

88. See David E. Bokovoy, “The
Calling of Isaiah,” in Covenants, Prophecies, and Hymns of the Old
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,
2001), 128–39.

89. H. J. Fabry, “d,” in The Theological Dictionary of the
Old Testament,
ed. G. Johannes Botterweck,
Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004),
10:174, Hebrew transliteration simplified.

90. Given the propensity within
biblical tradition to view prophets as members of the divine council, Latter-day
Saints may wish to interpret the story of Lehi’s encounter with the heavenly
host as a prophetic call narrative in which the Book of Mormon prophet becomes
a member of the heavenly host. Following his interaction with the council
mediator who in proper council protocol “stood before” him, Lehi
could perform the very same act identified with the “numberless concourses
of angels” (1 Nephi 1:8). Based upon an analogy with Old Testament
traditions, in verse 14, Lehi had become
one of these angels or messengers praising God (see 1 Nephi 1:14). In
what may represent a deliberate attempt to highlight the analogy, Nephi returns
in his narrative to the same verb that first described the action of the council:
“and after this manner was the language of my father in the praising
of his God” (1 Nephi 1:15).

91. Simon B. Parker, “Saints,”
Dictionary of Deities and Demons, 1355–56,
Hebrew transliteration simplified.

92. Author’s translation from
the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia.

93. John J. Collins, “Saints
of the Most High,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons, 1360.

94. Peterson, “‘Ye Are
Gods,'” 553.

95. Peterson, “‘Ye Are
Gods,'” 480.

96. Peterson, “‘Ye Are
Gods,'” 472–73.

97. John J. Collins, “Powers
in Heaven: God, Gods, and Angels in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Religion
in the Dead Sea Scrolls,
ed. John J. Collins
and Robert A. Kugler (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 23–24.

98. As translated in Florentino
García Martínez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English,
trans. Wilfred G. E. Watson (Leiden:
Brill, 1996), 118; for an analysis of the issue, see Morton Smith, “Ascent
to the Heavens and Deification in 4QMa,” in Archaeology
and History in the Dead Sea Scrolls: The New York University Conference in
Memory of Yigael Yadin,
ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman (Sheffield: JSOT, 1990), 181–99.

99. As translated in García
Martínez, Dead Sea Scrolls Translated,
140, brackets in original.

100. Collins, “Powers in Heaven:
God, Gods, and Angels,” 19.

101. Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Tractate Baḥodesh
9, trans. Jacob Lauterbach (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America,
1933), 2:271–72.

102. Sifre: A Tannaitic Commentary
on the Book of Deuteronomy
, Piska, 320,
trans. Reuven Hammer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 329.

103. Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J., “‘I
Said: You Are Gods': Psalm 82:6 and John 10,” Journal of Biblical
108/4 (1989): 656.

104. Bernard M. Levinson, “Deuteronomy,”
in The Jewish Study Bible, ed. Adele
Berlin and Marc Z. Brettler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 441.

105. David M. Stec, trans., The
Targum of Psalms
(Collegeville, MN: Liturgical
Press, 2004), 160, emphasis removed.

106. The term henotheism refers to a philosophy that professes worship of a
single deity while acknowledging the existence of other gods; for a consideration
of ancient “monotheism,” see Paula Fredriksen, “Gods and the
One God: In Antiquity, All Monotheists Were Polytheists,” Bible
19/1 (2003): 12, 49.

107. Peterson, “‘Ye Are Gods,'”
479, Hebrew transliteration simplified.

108. See David P. Wright, “The
Laws of Hammurabi as a Source for the Covenant Collection (Exodus 20:23–23:19),”
Maarav 10 (2003): 11–87.

109. The same switch however, appears
in Pseudo-Jonathan, Onkelos, and Neofiti Exodus 22:7, 8, 27. For an English
translation of Neofiti, see Martin McNamara, trans., Targum Neofiti 1:
Exodus and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Exodus

(Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1994), 91.

110. For an English translation of
the Targum, see McNamara, Targum Neofiti

111. Louis H. Feldman, “Josephus’
Portrait of Moses,” Jewish Quarterly Review 82/3–4 (1992):
326 n. 91.

112. Feldman, “Josephus’ Portrait
of Moses,” 323–24, Greek translations omitted.