Monotheism And The Language Of Divine Plurality In The Hebrew Bible And The Dead Sea Scrolls -- By: Michael S. Heiser

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 65:1 (NA 2014)
Article: Monotheism And The Language Of Divine Plurality In The Hebrew Bible And The Dead Sea Scrolls
Author: Michael S. Heiser

Monotheism And The Language Of Divine Plurality In The Hebrew Bible And The Dead Sea Scrolls

Michael S. Heiser


Most Hebrew Bible scholars believe that Israelite religion evolved from polytheism to monotheism, an evolution in which the biblical writers participated. The dominant version of this consensus is that this religious evolution culminated by the end of the exile or shortly thereafter. A minority perspective places the evolutionary end point later. At issue is the presence of the language of divine plurality, positive references to other gods (אֱלֹהִים or אֵלִים) under Yhwh’s authority, in Jewish religious texts composed during and after the Second Temple period. This article surveys the language of divine plurality in the Hebrew Bible and the sectarian literature at Qumran to show its conceptual continuity and longevity, and rejects the notion that it is incongruent with a belief in the uniqueness of Yhwh.

1. Introduction

In 1991 the Journal for Jewish Studies published an intriguing article by Peter Hayman entitled, ‘Monotheism—A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?’ Hayman wrote:

In the academic world of twenty or thirty years ago it was conventional to hold that the story of Judaism was one of a gradual, but inexorable, evolution from a Canaanite/Israelite pagan and mythological environment into the pure light of an unsullied monotheism. The point at which this breakthrough into monotheism was achieved was a subject of debate, but most scholars seem to have agreed that it certainly took place…. It will be my contention in this paper that it is hardly ever appropriate to use the term monotheism to describe the Jewish idea of God, that no progress beyond the simple formulas of the

book of Deuteronomy can be discerned in Judaism before the philosophers of the Middle Ages, and that Judaism never escapes from the legacy of the battles for supremacy between Yahweh, Ba‘al and El from which it emerged… . The pattern of Jewish beliefs about God remains monarchistic throughout. God is king of a heavenly court consisting of many other powerful beings, not always under his control.1

Hayman’s quotation illustrates that he would number himself among the majority of scholars who believe the Hebrew Bible reveals a religious progression from polytheism to monotheism. He disagrees, however, on the length of that evolution, placing its terminus ad quem much later than most. Hayman’s contention is that references to mul...

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