An Analysis Of How Dr. Michael Heiser Interprets Scripture In Relation To His Divine Council Concept

In this article I will examine Dr. Michael Heiser’s views on the Divine Council, as found in various articles on his website The Divine Council.com. My purpose is to offer a critique of Dr. Heiser’s methodology in arriving at the conclusions he does regarding the biblical texts and to offer alternative interpretations. I find his interpretation of certain passages in both the OT and NT to be faulty. When one discerns what are the underlying beliefs which lead him to interpret Scripture the way he does, it then becomes clear that  the interpretive conclusions he arrives at are really the conclusions he began with.

What is my motive in this exercise? I have been listening to Michael Heiser’s podcast for a number of years now but had never read any of the available online material of his work until recently. I have heard a few radio interviews he has given regarding his books and on various topics for which he is known. When I was first introduced to his ideas I was intrigued. It was something I had not heard before and I was always willing to learn new things. I tended to accept what he was saying at first because he was a scholar and though I really did not fully grasp everything he was putting forth (some of it was technical), I was taken in by other personalities, who I admired, who were fast becoming devotees of Dr. Heiser’s work. But over the ensuing years I just lost interest in his work, due mainly to the fact that I was constantly in disagreement with him on his interpretation of specific verses of Scripture. This was while I was still trinitarian in my theology. Since renouncing trinitarianism in favor of biblical unitarian monotheism I have taken a closer look at Dr. Heiser’s work and I now understand more than at any time before what he is promoting. This is because I have actually read his material on a deeper level than ever before and have also listened multiple times to his lecture series Biblical Theology of the Spiritual World. Now that I more fully understand his theses and the underlying presuppositions he holds, I find that I am even more at odds with his biblical interpretation than before.

But so what, I am sure that I am at odds with many scholars’ interpretation of Scripture; why focus on Dr. Heiser? Michael Heiser is one of those rare scholars who have broken through the scholar / layperson divide. He has been able to bring his work down from the heights of academia to the level of popular Christianity. It is not often that scholarly work has such an influence on the folks in the pew. And coupled with that is the sort of awe with which many in the pew regard scholars, especially those who are as accessible as Dr. Heiser. I fear that many will and do take his conclusions for granted, without critical analysis, simply because of his status as a scholar. Many will assume that he knows what he is talking about, he is the scholar and they are just a layperson. To be sure, Dr. Heiser does know what he is talking about when it comes to his specific field of study. He knows the languages and the literature of the ancient near east (ANE) as well as the literature of the second temple period (c. 516 BCE – 70 CE). So when Dr. Heiser is giving data concerning ancient Semitic languages and ANE literature, listen to him, for he knows that material. I have learned a lot about the biblical text and about ANE studies from listening to his podcast. But many laypeople fail to distinguish between that kind of knowledge and biblical interpretation. They just assume that if he knows what he is talking about with regard to those things he must be correct in his interpretation of Scripture. But this is just not the case. The fact of the matter is that the data he has collected from his field of study has caused him to develop certain presuppositions (along with presuppositions which exist due to orthodox dogma) which then determine how he will interpret Scripture. If the presuppositions are wrong then the interpretation of Scripture that flows from them will also be wrong. It is my contention that his presuppositions are indeed wrong and so his interpretation of Scripture cannot automatically be trusted by virtue of his scholarship.

The Priority Of Extra-Biblical Literature

In introductory material from Heiser’s websites and his podcast one will hear of “Dr. Heiser’s approach to the Bible.” What exactly is his approach to the Bible? Does he regard the Bible as inspired revelation or as a product of purely human invention, or perhaps a mixture of the two? It is hard for me to determine precisely his thinking on this matter as he seems a bit ambivalent. Sometimes he will make  statements in which he seems to regard scripture as revelatory, but at other times he will appear to regard Scripture on a completely human level, speaking of how the biblical authors borrowed from the literature of the surrounding nations in their portrait of the true God. One specific example involves a discussion about the visions of Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7, in which Heiser makes this statement:

This writer (i.e. Dr. Heiser himself) concurs with Collins’ carefully argued rejections of an Iranian or Babylonian background for the visions in favor of a Canaanite provenance, specifically that of the Ugaritic Baal Cycle.

He goes on after this to show the congruence between the imagery in Daniel’s vision and material found in the Baal Cycle. What is he saying here? Is he saying that the source or origin of these visions is Canaanite literature, i.e. the Baal Cycle of Ugarit? Is he suggesting that the authors of both Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7 were borrowing from a Canaanite source when they wrote these portions of Scripture? The texts themselves claim to be visions given directly by God to the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel. Does Dr. Heiser believe that to be the case? It is unclear what he believes. Again, there is a certain ambivalence with him regarding how the biblical texts came about. Was it by divine revelation or was it by the Hebrew authors adapting Canaanite religious concepts and imagery to fit their Yahwistic religion?

Assuming that there is indeed a similarity of concepts about God and of imagery used to speak about God, and I have no reason to doubt that to be the case, how does that coincide with the self claim of much of the Hebrew Scriptures to be direct revelation from God? Because the extant ANE literature is chronologically prior to the Biblical texts, it is assumed by scholars in general that the authors of the Hebrew Bible borrowed from and accommodated the ideas found in these writings in the setting forth of their own religion. Many of the scholars that Heiser quotes no doubt fall into this category. Heiser himself seems to agree, at least to a degree, with this assessment. I might note here that most, if not all, of the scholars quoted by Heiser, do not regard the Scripture to be of divine origin, i.e. they do not believe in divine revelation. They view the Hebrew Bible the same way they view other writings of the time – products of human ingenuity and the result of an unguided process.

For what it is worth I offer here my understanding of why there is much similarity between the Hebrew Scriptures and ANE literature. Although the ANE literature is prior in time to the Hebrew Bible, the religious ideas and concepts of the Hebrew Bible were prior to ANE religion. If we go back to the beginning, when God first created man, we see that God revealed himself to the original human pair. Even after man sinned and was exiled from the garden we can still see that the knowledge of the Creator was still among the human race for a time. Eventually however, man’s knowledge of the Creator degenerated into false religion and the worship of false gods. This led to widespread immorality and debauchery and violence. God eventually destroyed the human race, by means of the flood, with the exception of eight people: Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives. These were spared because they were righteous, maintaining the worship of the Creator. As they began to repopulate the earth after the flood, they no doubt passed on the knowledge  and worship of the true God. So there would have been a time when the true worship of the true God would have been prevalent in the earth. Once again though, as time went on, men turned from the worship of the Creator and were eventually spread over the whole earth, bringing with them their false religions, with remnants of the true religion contained therein. Is it any wonder that similar religious concepts are found in various religions, especially those within the same cultural and linguistic environment. False religion was not a pure invention out of thin air, but rather a perversion of the true religion, and therefore elements of the original will still be seen in the false, only now in a mythologized version. Just because these false religious concepts were recorded prior to the recording of the true concept of God, the Creator, in the Hebrew Scriptures, does not mean these concepts predated those of the Hebrew Bible, or that the Hebrews developed their religious concepts from these false religions. In fact, the false religions were developed out of whatever revelatory knowledge of the true God would have been available to man after the flood. So yes we should expect to see an overlap of concepts and imagery between the Israelite religion and the false Canaanite religions.

The Divine Council

It should be clear to anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Heiser’s work, that the concept of the ‘Divine Council’ is the overarching idea that governs how he will interpret any given passage. Indeed, this is what he is mainly known for. Although the concept is not original to him, he, more than any other scholar, has brought these ideas to the people in the pew, and has made them popular, at least in some circles of American Christianity. The idea is that there is a council or pantheon of divine beings under the one true God, who administrate God’s rule upon the earth in various ways. It is confirmed by scholars that all ancient near east cultures had such a divine council in their religious systems. This only came to light after the discovery of  cuneiform tablets from ancient Ugarit in the late 1920’s. This is why there is no talk of a divine council among the commentators prior to this time. But if the concept of the ‘divine council’ is so clearly taught in the Hebrew Bible why did no one see it there until this discovery? The concept seems to be derived from the Hebrew Scriptures only by inference, while it is unambiguously laid out in Canaanite literature; and the inference from the Bible only appeared after the discovery of this literature. While I do not doubt that some such a system is employed by God, I do think that Heiser may be overstating it’s importance in understanding OT theology. He seems to think that one cannot fully or accurately understand the Hebrew scriptures without first understanding this concept. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he is obsessed with the idea of the divine council. This is proved by how he tends to see this concept in biblical passages where it really is not found. An example is Deut. 4:19-20, where God says to the people of Israel:

And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, and the moon and the stars, all the host of the heavens, beware lest you are driven to worship them and to serve them, which Yahweh your God has apportioned to all the nations under the whole heavens. And you, Yahweh has taken and  has brought out of the iron furnace of Egypt to be his people, a possession, as you are this day.

Heiser interprets the ‘host of  the heavens’  here to be the divine council members which he believes Yahweh gave to the nations, to be their gods, while he chose Israel to be his nation. But it seems plain enough to me that ‘the host of the heavens‘ is simply the corporate designation for the sun, moon and stars which were just mentioned. The phrase ‘the host of heaven‘ does not have a single meaning – it can refer to all of the heavenly bodies, as here, but it can sometimes refer to the angelic armies which serve at God’s pleasure {1 Kings 22:19}. It can even refer to the people of God as in Daniel 8:10-12. The context must determine the meaning in each specific passage. The context here speaks of the sun, moon and stars, not of members of a divine council. These gifts God gave to all nations for their benefit, not to be worshipped as the pagans did. Israel is being reminded of their privileged status as God’s possession, and as such they must not follow the practices of the other nations who have gone astray {see Deut. 17:2-5}.

Another passage heavily utilized by Heiser is Deut. 32:8-9:

When the Most High apportioned to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the boundaries of the nations with regard to the number of the sons of God (or Israel). For Yahweh’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance.

Heiser interprets the verse to be saying that when God divided up the nations he did so according to the number of divine council members (sons of God), to whom he then allotted the nations as their inheritance, while taking Israel as his own inheritance. But the context has to do with the geographical boundaries of the nations in relation to Israel’s numbers. What would national boundaries have to do with God giving dominion over the nations to divine council members? Heiser, of course, prefers the DSS reading of ‘sons of God‘ rather than the Masoretic text reading ‘sons of Israel.’ But this makes no difference to the meaning of the verse. For in this chapter Israel is synonymous with the sons (or children) of God {see vv. 5-6, 18-20}. The DSS reading bene elohim is probably original, and gave rise to the other readings. The translators of the LXX believed this to be referring to angels and wanted anyone reading their translation to think the same, so they paraphrased it as “angelon tou Theou” i.e. angels of God. The translators of the Masoretic text understood bene elohim to be referring to the people of Israel, and, not wanting people to be confused as to who was being referred to, paraphrased it as “bene Yisrael” i.e. children of Israel. Now most English versions translate the term bene in vv. 5 and 20 as “children”, but as “sons” in v. 8, thus obscuring the connection. It would be better to translate all the occurrences of bene in this passage as ‘children’, except in v. 19, where a distinction is made between “sons” and “daughters”. The point is that ‘sons (or children) of God‘ in this context is not referring to angels or to divine council members, but to the people of Israel, who are God’s children. When God divided up the nations (Gen. 10-11) he set their boundaries, taking into account his planned intention to place a people of his own in the land of Canaan, and provided that this land would be of sufficient size for his chosen nation.

Psalm 82

Of course there is Psalm 82, which in the first verse reads:

God takes his place in the congregation of God, he executes judgment among the gods.

Heiser translates the verse as “God has taken his place in the divine council… ” Obviously he assumes this passage to be referring to this divine council concept. But is this the absolute necessary way to understand this passage. Heiser thinks so. But why did no one prior to the discovery of the Ugarit literature understand the passage that way? The almost universal way of understanding this passage prior to the Ugarit discovery was that the psalmist was speaking metaphorically of rulers or judges in Israel. Heiser decries this interpretation and insists that the passage should be understood in light of the Ugaritic concept of a divine council (i.e. a group of gods, who, along with and under the authority of the supreme God, administer the affairs of the cosmos). It is clear that Heiser makes the correct understanding of the biblical text dependent upon the extra-biblical texts. Unless we read the biblical text in the light of the Canaanite text we will fall short of accurately ascertaining the meaning of it.

If we remember that Psalm 82 is poetic literature, then we should not find it strange to find the use of poetic imagery as metaphor. The psalmist is metaphorically portraying the human rulers of Israel, specifically the Davidic kings, but possibly the kings of the Northern kingdom also (judges may be included, as those who administer justice on the king’s behalf – see 2 Chron. 19:5-7), as an assembly of gods, who are being called to account by the Most High, who gave them their authority and commission, for failure to properly fulfill their divine duty. The charge against them is laid out in verse two. In vv.3-4 their divine commission is delineated:

Vindicate the poor and the fatherless; bring justice to the afflicted and the needy. Deliver the weak and the oppressed; rescue them from the hand of the wicked.

These are not the duties of heavenly beings but of earthly kings, as can be seen from the following verses – 2 Chron. 9:8; Ps. 72:2-4, 12-14; Jer. 21:11; 22:1-5. Here we have a number of passages that clearly set forth the divine duty of the Davidic king in the exact language used in Ps. 82:3-4. My question for Dr. Heiser is this – where in the Hebrew Bible is the commission and duty of the members of the divine council even spelled out at all, much less in these exact terms?  It isn’t; but perhaps it is spelled out in these terms in the Canaanite literature. If that is the case, then he is letting extra-biblical literature determine how we should interpret this passage rather than the Hebrew Scriptures themselves.  Therefore, vv. 3-4 are more conducive to the human ruler view than to the divine council view. But what of verse 6, where God says of these rulers:

I designated you gods, every one of you sons of the Most High.

The mistake of Heiser is to take this literally, but that is because his underlying presupposition is driving his interpretation. Why can’t human rulers, and even more specific, the David kings, be addressed in this way? They can be, but not in an ontological sense, but in a representational and functional sense. The reigning Davidic king is so designated in 1 Chron. 28:5-6 (son); Ps. 2:6-7 (son); Ps. 45:6 (elohim). If the common translation of Ps. 45:6 is correct, “Your throne O god is forever,” this should be understood as a representational and functional designation, i.e. the Davidic king is the visible representation of Yahweh’s rule over Israel, functioning as Yahweh’s vicegerent. It is not referring to the king’s ontological nature. On Heiser’s website The Divine Council.com, in a PDF titled The Plural Elohim of Psalm 82, at the end of page two he says, “there are actually five (he really gives six) different entities referenced as elohim in the Hebrew Bible.” In the list that follows he fails to include Moses, who is so designated in Ex. 7:1 and the Davidic king in Ps. 45:6, as noted above. The reason for this omission is found in the next section of the PDF (2.2):

All the figures called [elohim] in the Bible have one thing in common: they all inhabit the non-human realm. That is, they are by nature not part of the world of humankind …

Again, his underlying presupposition prevents him from seeing that certain humans can be designated by the word elohim.

Another reason Heiser thinks Ps. 82 can only be referring to divine beings is because of Ps. 89:5-7. But what does Ps. 89 have to do with Ps. 82? He is simply assuming (being driven to do so by his presuppositions) that a similar phrase in Ps. 89 is referring to the same thing as Ps. 82. I do believe that Ps. 89:5-7 is speaking about the angelic host that surrounds God in the heavens, but it is unclear to me why this has to determine the meaning of Ps. 82. Just as we saw above, regarding the phrase ‘the host of the heavens,’ even the exact same phrase can have completely different meanings according to context. So a similar phrase in Ps. 89, which does indeed refer to heavenly beings, does not really have any bearing on Ps. 82, which to my mind has a totally different context.

In the same document, on pg. 13, after discussing Jesus’ use of Ps. 82:6 in John 10, Heiser makes this claim:

The human [elohim] view (of Ps. 82) derives from two assumptions brought to the text: (1) that it is required by the assumed impossibility of their being other [elohim] because of Judeo-Christian monotheism; and (2) that the phrase (used by Jesus in John 10) “to whom the word of God came” refers to the Jews who received the law at Sinai.

But I have argued for the human king view without any reference whatsoever to these two assumptions. In fact I do not accept either of those assumptions as fact. Heiser doesn’t even address the reasons that I have presented here for seeing the Ps. 82 ‘gods’ as human kings . Is he unaware of the points that I have made? Or is he just picking the low hanging fruit? I would be interested to hear how he would answer these objections to his view.

Verse 7 offers only a slight challenge to the human view:

But in fact, you shall die like men, and fall like one of the rulers.

Heiser interprets this as saying that the divine council members who have rebelled will lose their immortality. Does the phrase “you shall die like men” require that the recipients of these words are not men? Of course not. The phrase is in contrast to their exalted status and to God’s own designation of them as ‘gods’. Read Psalms 2, 45 and 72 and see the exalted ideal of the Davidic king ruling on Yahweh’s throne. God is reminding them of their mortality and that their exalted status will not prevent God’s hand of judgment from bringing them down because of their rebellion to him. That they will “fall like one of the rulers” signifies the exalted status of the Davidic king in relation to the kings of the nations. In Ps. 89:27 God calls him “... my firstborn, the most high (elyon – one of God’s titles) of the kings of the earth.” But this will not prevent God from bringing the rebellious in their ranks down to the ground. I think the NIV captures the intent of the psalmist here, “But you will die like mere men; and fall like every other ruler.” {see also Ps. 73:3-5}

Heiser then interprets the final verse in line with the divine council concept. He envisions the psalmist calling upon God to take back the rule of the nations from these corrupt members of the divine council. But what if the psalmist is simply recognizing that God’s ideal for the Davidic king ruling his kingdom in such a way as to bring under the shadow of his rule, as it were, the Gentile nations, had up to this point not been fulfilled. And this is a plea for that ideal to become a reality. Note the similarity of language with Ps. 2:8-9, where the Davidic ruler is promised the nations as his inheritance. And also note the apostle Paul’s declaration that God

…has set a day in which he intends to judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has furnished assurance of this to all men by raising him from the dead.                 Acts 17:31

For a more updated exegesis of Ps. 82 see this article here.

John 10:30-38

Michael Heiser’s presuppositions regarding the divine council and orthodox Christology surely lead him to his faulty interpretation of John 10:30-38. In typical orthodox fashion he sees v. 30 – “I and the Father are one” – as a claim to deity by Jesus. This is simply assumed by Heiser and most other orthodox trinitarian believers. There is nothing in the words themselves which necessitate that meaning. In other words, the words, as they stand, do not definitively mean that Jesus is claiming deity; this meaning is merely assumed based on the presupposition of orthodox Trinitarianism. Because they believe Jesus is deity, then that must be what he means by saying these words. This is an example of how orthodox dogma stifles inquiry into a text of scripture. If you think you already know the meaning of any particular passage, based on orthodox dogma or creedal declarations, then why seek for other possible or more plausible meanings of the text. But we must ask, “One what?” The orthodox answer is ‘one substance.’ And so we are told that Jesus was claiming to be one in substance with the Father and that the Jews to whom he was speaking understood him in this way. This is why they picked up stones to stone him, they said, “because you, being a man, make yourself a god.” Yes I said ‘a god‘, but we will get to that soon.

But is ‘one substance‘ the only way or even the best way to interpret Jesus’ words? Is there no other possible tenable alternative? Of course there is, but many trinitarians may be completely unaware of it due to orthodox conditioning. I believe a much more adequate way to interpret these words is in light of the Semitic understanding of agency. As I have explained in other articles on this blog, the concept of agency is ubiquitous in the Scriptures, both in the OT and the NT. The main idea of agency in the ancient Semitic world was that the agent was to be regarded as the one who sent him, since he carried the name, authority, and resources of his lord. The agent came, not to carry out his own will or plans, but those of his master. In this sense it could be said of any faithful agent,  that he and his lord are one. The identity of the agent is in a sense hidden in the one who sent him. The lord is in his agent and the agent is in his lord. Forty times in the gospel of John Jesus is spoken of or speaks of being sent by God. I think that qualifies the idea of Jesus as God’s agent as being a major theme of John’s gospel. This language of being sent is the language of agency. There are other phrases and words in this gospel, other than sent, which also denote agency, such as:

  • Jesus makes the Father known – 1:18
  • Jesus is ‘come from God’ – 3:2; 7:17; 8:42; 13:3
  • Jesus is ‘given authority’ to act on the Father’s behalf – 5:27; 17:2
  • Jesus comes in the Father’s name – 5:43; 10:25
  • Jesus is given a task to do by the Father – 5:37; 17:4
  • The Father is in Jesus and he is in the Father – 10:38; 14:10-11; 17:21
  • Jesus speaks only the Father’s word -7:16-18; 8:28; 12:49-50; 14:10,24

The idea that Jesus was speaking of a metaphysical unity with God, and that the Jews understood him to be so speaking is out of context with the Hebraic culture and mindset. Heiser should know this but seems unaware of it. The Jews did not think or speak of God in such metaphysical terms. It was later Gentile Christians, who were imbued with the Greek mindset, who introduced metaphysical concepts about the relationship between God and Jesus into the church’s thinking. The Jews thought of God in terms of functional relationship, i.e. the ways God acted toward them in covenant relationship. The relationship of Jesus to the Father is laid out in terms of divine agency not divine metaphysics.

I was very delighted to find a prestigious Evangelical commentary that agrees with this understanding of Jesus’ words, the Expositor’s Greek Testament, whose comment on this verse I could not have said better:

An ambassador (another term for agent) whose demands were contested might quite naturally say: “I and my sovereign are one”; not meaning thereby to claim royal dignity, but only to assert that what he did his sovereign did, that his signature carried his sovereign’s guarantee, and that his pledges would be fulfilled by all the resources of his sovereign. So here, as God’s representative, Jesus introduces the Father’s power as the final guarantee, and claims that in this respect he and the Father are one. Whether this does not involve metaphysical unity is another question.

How refreshing to see an Evangelical, orthodox trinitarian commentary actually get it right on a passage that is all too often touted as a proof text for the deity of Jesus. Of course they did have to add the final sentence so as to not lose all credibility and respect with their peers.

The agency view is further borne out in what Jesus says in vv. 34-38. Heiser, working under his presupposition of orthodox trinitarianism and his divine council model, sees not only v. 30 as a declaration by Jesus of metaphysical equality with God, but also v. 38, where Jesus declared, “the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” But Heiser is simply reading his predilection of some sort of metaphysical unity into this statement. The statement on it’s own accords well with the concept of Jesus as God’s agent, as does the rest of what Jesus says here.

But the fact that the Jews wanted to stone Jesus for blasphemy, for “making [himself] a god,” surely proves that they understood his statement as a claim to ontological sameness with the Father, doesn’t it? Not at all. First off, there is no definite article before the word theos in the Greek and so the better translation is ‘a god‘ rather than ‘God.’ It is absurd to imagine these Jews as understanding Jesus’ words to be a claim to being ‘the God‘ of Israel, Yahweh himself, or that he was claiming some sort of metaphysical sameness with Yahweh. These opponents of Jesus were prone to exaggerating Jesus’ claims and his actions {see John 8:56-57} to make him look foolish or guilty of sin, therefore to use their words as a proof that Jesus was indeed claiming deity in his statement is ridiculous. What if they understood him as I have proposed i.e. that Jesus was claiming to be the special agent of God who was foretold in the prophets, the Messiah, the final and ideal son of David. Then they would have understood his statement as a claim to functional equality with God, not of ontological equality. Then their accusation would be an extreme exaggeration of Jesus’ claim. Jesus was not claiming to be a god in a sense that would threaten the monotheism of Judaism, but he was claiming that as God’s set-apart  and sent agent {v.36} he would carry out the same function as Yahweh, that of shepherding the flock {vv.1-30}. But why should this be controversial? In the Hebrew Bible the chosen and anointed ruler was tasked with shepherding God’s flock {2 Sam. 5:2; 7:7-8; Ps. 78:70-72; Is. 63:11}, while God himself was seen as the ultimate Shepherd of Israel {Ps. 80:1}. The coming ideal Davidic ruler is also portrayed in these terms {Ezek. 34:23-24; Micah 5:2-4 (see also Matt 2:7)}. The idea is really quite simple – God, the ultimate Shepherd, carries out that function of his covenant relationship with his people, by means of an empowered human agent, the anointed of the Lord. God, as Israel’s ultimate King rules over his people through his appointed agent, the Davidic king.

But why would it be blasphemy for Jesus to be making this claim? If the Jews were exaggerating Jesus’ claim it may be because they saw it as a usurpation of God’s role by Jesus. These Jews did not consider Jesus to be the Messiah. They thought he was a false claimant to that title; he did not fit the bill of what the Messiah was supposed to be, a military leader who would lead Israel to victory against the oppressive Gentile nations. Such a claim by one who obviously didn’t meet the standard would be considered blasphemous. The idea that blasphemy is defined only as a claim to be God is nowhere found in the Bible. To blaspheme is to speak of one in such a way as to defame them. Hence, Jews held that Moses (as well as the patriarchs), and even the law and temple could be blasphemed {Acts 6:11-14}. In the Hebrew Bible a false claim to speak for God was punishable by stoning {Deut. 18:20}.

Jesus answers the Jew’s false accusation against him by referring them to Psalm 82:6:

34.”Is it not written in your law, ‘I have said you are gods’ ? 35. If he called them ‘gods’ to whom the word of God came — and the Scripture cannot be broken —36. what about the one whom the Father set-apart and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s son’ ? 37. Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does.”

Heiser thinks that the only way to make sense of Jesus’ use of this passage is if Ps. 82 is speaking about the divine council. In his document titled Jesus’ Use of Ps. 82 in John 10:34 he summarizes his conclusions as follows:

(1) Jesus uses Ps.82 to identify himself as belonging to the divine realm.
(2) Jesus also identifies himself with the Father, who belongs to the divine realm.

Briefly, I view John’s use of Ps. 82:6 in John 10:34 as making the point (from Jesus himself) that there are other non-human sons of God. By referencing Psalm 82, which is not about “human elohim,” Jesus is in effect tweaking his opponents by claiming to be more than human … John is both asserting Jesus is divine and distinct from other divine sons of God. In effect, Jesus is lord of the council.

I am sorry, but none of Heiser’s conclusions follow from the text itself. He is simply assuming his concept of the divine council (as well as orthodox trinitarianism) and forcing that upon the text.

Now I agree with Heiser that Jesus’ statement “to whom the word of God came” is not referring to the Law being given to the Israelite nation, so that all Israelites are being called ‘gods‘ here. But he acts as though that is the only alternative one has if they don’t take it his way. Yes “to whom the word of God came” refers to those whom God is specifically addressing in Ps. 82, but Heiser sees them as the members of the divine council, when, as I have shown, it is the kings who rule God’s people who are addressed there. Jesus’ point is simple – if God himself referred to his appointed representative rulers as ‘elohim’ (all of whom, by the way, failed to live up to the ideal), then what of the special, ideal and final representative agent, the long awaited coming one (this is the significance of the words “the one the Father set-apart and sent into the world“), who Jesus was claiming to be, is it blasphemy for him to claim to be God’s son? No, in fact he has a right to that title. Note that in Ps. 82:6 the designation ‘gods‘ is equivalent to the designation ‘sons of the Most High’, which, as we saw earlier, are both designations given to the Davidic kings. Far from the divine council view of Ps. 82 being necessary in order to make sense of John 10:30-38, it does not even adequately address the language of Jesus in the whole passage. If the divine council members are ‘sons’ of God, and Jesus is claiming to be God’s son also, how does that establish the distinction between Him and the other council members that Heiser envisions?

One final point, Heiser sees v. 38 as parallel to Exodus 23:20-23, where Yahweh tells Moses he is sending an agent ahead of them and that his name is in this agent. Again, driven by his presuppositions, Heiser  sees a metaphysical relationship between Yahweh and this agent, who he describes as “Yahweh in human form”, or at other times “the visible Yahweh” as compared to the invisible Yahweh i.e. the Father. But this is simply reading his foregone conclusion into the text. That Yahweh’s name was in the agent is completely intelligible from the agency view. Of course the name of an agent’s master is in him, this is what gives the agent the authority to speak and act in the master’s stead. No metaphysical or ontological connection between the two need be posited for this language to make sense, in fact it only brings confusion into what really is a simple concept.

For further exegesis of John 10:30-38 see this article here.

The Divine Council Of Ugarit vs The Divine Council Of The Hebrews

In his Old Testament Godhead Language pdf, Heiser tells us the difference between the divine council in Ugaritic literature and the Hebrew Bible. In Ugarit religion there was a divine council consisting of three tiers, maybe four. The first tier consisted of El and his wife; the second of the royal family, the sons of God, of whom Baal served as El’s co-regent; and the third was for ‘craftsman deities’ (Heiser doesn’t explain what these are); and a possible fourth tier consisted of mere messengers, the malakim.

Heiser then explains the divine council according to the Hebrew Bible as follows. It is a three tier system, where Yahweh occupies the top tier. The second tier consisted of the lesser ‘elohim‘, called the ‘sons of God.’ The third tier consisted of the malakim, or angels.

Now let’s look at what Heiser says next in this paper:

Orthodox Yahwism replaced the co-regent spot that Baal occupied with a sort of binitarian Godhead, in which Yahweh occupied both slots … Within Israelite religion, Yahweh’s occupation of both of the two highest tiers resulted conceptually in two Yahwehs – one visible, the other invisible. At times both speak as characters in the same scene, but more frequently, they are virtually interchangeable.

Heiser sees Jesus as the second Yahweh. Even though he is called son of God, like the lesser elohim of the second tier, he is not a lesser elohim, but occupies the top tier along with the Father, as a second hypostasis in the Godhead, a second Yahweh figure, while remaining distinct from the Father. Heiser has simply fused his divine council concept with orthodox Christology. But please notice how he had to adjust the Ugarit divine council to arrive at an Israelite divine council that would accommodate orthodox Christology. How convenient. In Heiser’s scheme Jesus replaces the Baal figure of Ugarit; but a second tier deity won’t do for orthodox, creedal Christianity, so Heiser bumps him up to a first tier Deity along with the Father. He then asserts that this binitarian Godhead was simply a part of the orthodox worship of Yahweh.

This is quite an assertion; what evidence does he offer for it. Well he begins with the OT figure known as ‘the angel of Yahweh‘. I have dealt with the popular notion promoted by many trinitarian teachers and apologists that the angel of Yahweh was the pre-incarnate son of God in Part 1 of my series Pre-Incarnate Appearances Of The Son Of God In The OT, so I won’t go into it too deep here. He mentions Ex. 23:20-23, where the angel has God’s name in him, which I dealt with above. He mentions Judges 6 but doesn’t explain much, except to say, “Yahweh and the Angel can be simultaneously – but seperately – present.” Judges 6 can be understood easily when one understands Semitic agency, where God would be acting in and through his agent so that the authors of Scripture can speak of the agent’s speech as Yahweh himself speaking and the agent’s actions as Yahweh himself acting. No postulation of a metaphysical unity between the two is necessary. He next mentions how Israel’s deliverance from Egypt is sometimes attributed to God and sometimes to the Angel of Yahweh, which is supposed to imply this metaphysical sameness. The solution to this is so simple that the fact that Heiser misses it is inexcusable. When God does a thing through an agent then surely it can be said that God did it or that the agent did it. Not only is the bringing of Israel out of Egypt attributed to God and to the angel but also to Moses {1 Sam. 12:6-8}. Should we then postulate a metaphysical relationship between Yahweh and Moses? God was acting in and through his agents (whether human or divine) and so he gets the ultimate credit, but Scripture still recognizes the role of the agents. This is why in the book of Judges Israel’s deliverance from their enemies is attributed to both Yahweh and the human judges {Judges 2:16-18}.

He next mentions Gen. 48:15-16, which reads, regarding Jacobs blessing of Josephs two sons:

May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm — may he bless these boys.

Heiser thinks that this establishes the identity of the angel of Yahweh as Yahweh himself, a sort of metaphysical sameness which he describes as “a tight fusion of the two divine beings.” But why can’t it just be understood that Jacob realizes that God’s deliverance of him from all harm was accomplished not by God’s direct involvement but rather by an agent assigned by God to protect him. He knows that ultimately God is the source of his protection, but he also knows that God accomplished it through an agent, whom he recognizes in this blessing. The singular verb bless in the phrase “may he bless” would be referring to God alone not to the angel who acted on God’s behalf.

Heiser then mentions the Rider on the Clouds of Daniel 7:13 which I will be examining in my next article, so I won’t here.

Next he references how Yahweh speaks sometimes of himself in the third person, as in Amos 4:11. This is a phenomenon known as illeism. There is a dissertation by Ervin Roderick Elledge on illeism in the Bible and in ANE literature, which is available online, which documents the widespread use of this rhetorical device among ANE gods and ANE kings, as well as in the speech of Yahweh and kings in the OT and Jesus in the NT. It really has nothing to say about whether their might be multiple persons in the Godhead.

Next he mentions the two powers in heaven doctrine of Judaism, which I will also deal with in the next article.

None of these supposed ‘evidences’ really merit the over confidence of Heiser in his assertion that orthodox Yahwism made room for a binitarian Godhead which consisted of a visible and an invisible Yahweh. Heiser never really tries to explain on too deep of a level how he conceives of the relationship between these two Yahwehs – how they are the same person but yet distinct, he just asserts it and expects his followers will accept his word for it. If Heiser wishes to view things the way he does, fine, he is free to do so. But he should tell his followers that this is just one way to see things, that there are other viable ways of explaining the data. Instead, he presents his interpretations as the only plausible way of reading the text. But as we have seen there are other alternative interpretations of these passages that are really much better than what Heiser offers.

In my next article we will examine Heiser’s interpretation of Daniel 7. Please come back.

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Author: Troy Salinger

I am 60 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 37 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 41 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

28 thoughts on “An Analysis Of How Dr. Michael Heiser Interprets Scripture In Relation To His Divine Council Concept”

  1. Very well written article. The sons of God sometimes refers to fallen angels. The high ranking ones were given regions of the earth to rule over. To say these sons of God given this authority are men (kings) seems to overlook the fact of the spiritual powers of darkness that control the men (kings). Israel was set apart from these nations to be ruled by Yahweh through his sons (men). This is how I understand it.

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    1. Hi Mr. Augie and Mr. Salinger,

      I was conducting research, trying to track down a few comments a colleague made regarding how Dan Wallace’s views on verbal aspect have forever changed the aorist is a tense aspect combination, i.e., not a fixed point in the past, present or future. Also, I’ll be upfront with full disclosure. If someone is looking for an impartial opinion on Dan, I am not such a person. I believe “Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament,” written by Dan Wallace should be in every seminary, assuming they have an objective to graduate Pastors who truly understand Koine. 🙂

      That said, what in the world does a search on verbal aspect in Greek Grammar have to do with Michael and his Divine [A]ssembly? Divine Council is NOT the best rendering IMHO. Nothing, unless the discussion focused on Psalm 83 in the LXX, and was a comparative discussion on Psalm 82. While Michael does draw from the LXX, my guess is 85% of his work comes from the Masoretic Text (the critic post DSS) .

      So, I have no explanation how the search terms I employed led me here the link and to this discussion.

      I would ask that none here take offense at my comments regarding ALL discussions on biblical exegesis in English. Had I stumbled on this page and the discussion centered around the Pauline Epistles in English, I would never have selected the link. In no way am I saying this means any discussion not in the original languages is any better or worse, it is simply what I am accustomed to, and I very likely would make mistakes unless, at the very least, a witness and MSS are cited, I would not be able to render an honest opinion, since there are many people who continue to refrain from using the best MSS available. One example and I’ll move on.

      Your comments Mr. Augie either reflect an understanding of the underlying text, or you read a good English version and have a superior ability to connect the dots. If someone is using an English bible which is based on the LXX or MT for 90% I have no idea which LXX, if the MT is from 1,000 A.D., or if it is the critical text written after the Dead Sea Scrolls. That said, based on your comments and some additional comments made Mr. Salinger which I enjoyed, I’d like to comment on what you have said above. I’m also accustomed to accurately quoting people, thus if you have made a comment I do not agree with, I will explain exactly why, but I just realized I should have left 15 minutes ago, so I can only post what I wrote and not spell check.

      “The sons of God sometimes refers to fallen angels.”
      The above is incorrect. Remove [sometimes] and [fallen].
      The “sons of God” ALWAYS refer to spiritual beings created by God.
      The Hebrew used is (assuming it posts) is:
      אֱלֹהִים (’elohim plural, gods, c.f. Genesis, “let US make man in our image,” was NOT the Trinity talking to itself. The creating language goes back to singular, and also at times, will of course employ “Through Him (The Logos) Christ all things were created.)

      “The high ranking ones were given regions of the earth to rule over.”

      Yes and no. Remove the idea of a hierarchy. The BIBLE (I do not mean the apocryphal and pseudepigraphal texts). While they are extremely valuable, I would steer clear of the translations. There is only one single angel in the bible called an Arch. Michael, the Angel who watched over God’s Elect Nation throughout all dispensations.

      To those who claim (I do not mean here) that Human Rulers are being referenced, the same claim was attributed to Genesis 6.1-4.
      This is the word for a human ruler is: אֱלֹהִים

      I apologize, I am late and when I return, I will try a different Hebrew Font, or use proper transliteration and just add the Hebrew words. Sorry all.

      What I mean is something like this: The phrase “to make a covenant,” is literally to CUT a covenant. KaRaTh B:RiYTh,
      Ex 1. David and Jonathan solemnly agreed to befriend each other for life. They had to cut a sacrificial animal in half, lay out the pieces, and walk between them, saying something like: “May the Lord God do to me and worse, if I break this Covenant.”

      YHWH is serious about His and human covenants. Remember this one?

      Pharaoh Necho of Egypt agreed to a non-aggression covenant with Josiah (2 Chronicles 35.21). Josiah broke it, and what happened to Josiah? DEAD at Megiddo (c.f. 22-24).

      Dean Poulos

      I also blame running late on Mr. Salinger, I found one of his quotes and I’ll explain why I enjoyed it when I return.

      “Dr. Heiser asserts that in Daniel 7 what we have is a divine council scene, and we can be assured of this because this is [[“not disputed among scholars.”]]

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    2. Mr. Augie, thanks for your comments. If the sons of God of Gen. 6 are angels it is not necessary to see them as fallen angels at the time of their rebellion. Rather they became fallen as a result of their rebellion. In other words, they didn’t fall first and then commit the sin recorded there, but they fell in the act of the sin committed. I do not see men as puppets in the hands of either God or spiritual powers. Surely they can be influenced for good or evil. God has his ways of influencing kings to do his will and if not he can just remove them from power. Likewise, spiritual powers have their ways of influencing rulers to act on their behalf. I think all that we can say according to scripture is that these heavenly powers fight among themselves in the spiritual realm for control over the nations. As for whether human rulers can be called sons of God I think the scripture answers in the affirmative. If you read my blog article Son Of God Part 1 you will see where I am coming from.
      I visited your website and must say it looks interesting. I will be checking it out.

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  2. It’s funny you start out by saying that Heiser starts with the conclusion in mind, I have to say that after reading your explanation it appears that you are projecting your actions on to Heiser. The clearest evidence of that is the scriptural gymnastics that you use to say that indeed the “ bene elohim” sometimes refers to divine beings except when it doesn’t fit with your theology (man made), then it means humans. Whether you call them angles or Sons of God, it’s irrelevant to Heiser’s broader idea, which is these are real spiritual beings, that Yahweh created to have free will (the ability to disobey, like Satan), and He asks to assist as more than mere messengers. Instead of wasting time here to go through all your citations of Heiser’s work (some incomplete representations), and point out how what you are doing is in defense of a theology, not the Bible. I would encourage your audience to actually read Heiser’s stuff and make up their own opinion. In my opinion Heiser’s narrative is coherent, against what you have presented as an entirely incoherent reading ls scripture, but required to support a systematic theology (man made). In terms of true sola scripture, After reading both, it is Heiser appears to present an understanding that is more in line with what Biblical text communicates. In short his work completely eviscerates what you have presented here. Please act in guidance with sola scripture and not sola your theology.

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    1. Will,
      Thanks for taking time to read the article and respond. You said, “In my opinion Heiser’s narrative is coherent.” OK, that’s your opinion. I have a different opinion, and It is not based on nothing but on careful analysis of his work. I read and listened to Heiser for some time before I ever wrote anything critical of his ideas. I still listen to his weekly podcast. I just don’t agree with his “approach to the Bible.” I wish you would have given at least one specific example of the “scriptural gymnastics” that you think I engaged in, after all, most of the times someone accuses someone else of twisting scripture, they really only mean that that someone else interpreted the scripture differently than they do, so they must be twisting it. I simply have a fundamental disagreement with Heiser – I don’t see his divine council in scripture. But maybe that is because I don’t spend my time studying Ugarit literature.

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  3. One more note, further proof how you incompletely represent both Heiser’s work and use inaccurate biblical translation to support your defense of a theology, not what scripture says.

    So that’s the first 13 verses. We’ve commented on a few things in there already about this confrontation. The one new thing (before we get to the “hardening” topic) is in verse 1.

    And the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. (ESV 7:1 and every translation except KJV clarifies that Moses was make like/as god, not “made god” as you inaccurately translate)

    Now some people—I’ll use the word “foolishly”—presume this wording means that elohim are men. In other words, they’ll use this verse as a justification for the notion that, “Well, see, elohim can be people, and then we take that back to Psalm 82,” blah blah blah. Of course, they never turn to Psalm 89, where the Divine Council was in the skies, you know, and a bunch of men ruling nations in the skies. They forget about Psalm 89 and other passages. But we know the drill here on the podcast. If Divine Council stuff is new to you, watch the videos on the podcast website, where it says, “If you’re new, start here.” Go to my website “thedivinecouncil.com” and you can get up to speed there. This verse doesn’t support that notion at all. That’s not the point at all. Moses is not really an elohim. The point is one of analogy. God here is making an analogy for and about Moses in relation to Pharaoh. So let’s go back to Exodus 4 to get the point of the analogy. In Exodus 4:14-16, we read this:
    The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your
    brother Aaron shall be your prophet.”
    14 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses [MH: You know, Moses
    says he doesn’t want to go to Egypt.] and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your
    brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to
    meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. 15 You shall speak
    to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with
    his mouth and will teach you both what to do. 16 He shall speak for you to the
    people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him.”
    So that’s the other part of this analogy. Think of it this way: There’s God, and when God calls a prophet—when God picks a spokesperson—God speaks to that person, and then that person speaks to other people. So God has called Moses. Moses is the mouthpiece of God to other people. He is to speak God’s words. But what we have going on here is that Moses is speaking to… whom? Well, it depends on the passage. When Exodus 7:1 says,
    3
    Naked Bible Podcast Episode 267: Exodus 7:1-13
    God said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh and your
    brother Aaron shall be your prophet…”
    “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart. And though I multiply my signs and wonders in
    the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you.”
    10:00
    …it’s as though Moses is sort of in the God slot, and then Moses gives his word to Aaron, and Aaron speaks to Pharaoh. So in Pharaoh’s perception, Moses is sort of playing the role that the deity would normally play. The deity would normally tell the spokesman what to say, and then he would say it to somebody else. Well, here what you have going on is Moses is telling Aaron what to say, and of course Moses is getting it from God. But now we have this one step removed, because Moses doesn’t want to talk to people (or he can’t talk, or he stutters, or whatever it is). So Aaron is brought into the picture. And the whole point is one of analogy. It’s not that God says, “Hey, Moses, you’re an elohim now.” No, he says, “You’re going to play this role. In Pharaoh’s eyes, you’re going to be like a deity because you’re the one dispensing the revelation (as it were) to your brother Aaron. Aaron will be your prophet. And then Aaron will do things and say things to Pharaoh.
    So that’s all that’s going on here. It’s just a point of analogy. And it was something that God telegraphed back in Exodus 4 when Moses just didn’t want to go to Egypt. So God has to bring Aaron into the picture as this intermediary figure—this spokesperson figure. That’s all that’s going on here. So we don’t need to complicate it and say silly stuff. That’s what I’m trying to say here.”

    Remember sola scriptura call us to change our theology to conform with our understanding of scripture to conform with out theology. For example, we need to accept that Elohim always means Divine / spiritual being. We shouldn’t change the meaning to include humans to protect our theology from the Bible, like it appears you have done.

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    1. Will,
      You have missed the point. I am not saying that Moses is a true god, but that men can be figuratively designated as ‘god’. The Hebrew text simply says , “I have made you elohim to Pharaoh.” The Hebrew prefix denoting ‘as’ or ‘like’, as far as I can see, is not in the text. Heiser’s argument is circular. He says no human are ever called elohim and so this is why the ‘gods’ of Ps 82 must be divine beings and not humans. But he admits that Moses was called elohim representationally i.e. he was playing a role. What about the Davidic king be figuratively designated ‘elohim’ in Ps 45:6. So If Moses and the Davidic king can be so designated (without being actual gods) then why can’t the ‘gods’ of Ps. 82 be a reference to men who are playing a role, especially when this makes more sense of the passage than Heiser’s interpretation. Whenever I see someone get all piqued at what I wrote I just can’t help but think I have hit a nerve.

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      1. First, let me say, thank you for both posting my comments and then taking the time to reply. I find it encouraging that you would, you are a blessing to the body of Christ.

        To say “as” or “like” is not in the Hebrew text ignores the conclusion that literally every English translation of the Bible (except KJV, and they corrected that in the NKJV) draws. You can’t mix the English words “ I make you” then throw in one Hebrew word “Elohim” then back to English “to Pharaoh”. That isn’t how you translate. I would suggest you reconsider that perhaps you may not know how to do it as well as the translators, or frankly Heiser, he does have a PH’d in this stuff. So that is one example of the scriptural gymnastics. It appears that you simply “force” your theology into a translation that simply doesn’t reconcile with anyone else’s translation.

        Then you go on to say Heiser acknowledges that there was an analogy made here, so why can’t there be others (I think that is your point). Heiser only acknowledges it, consistent with all translations, that in this case the writer/narrator told us it was an analogy (within the sentence structure) translated with the addition of “like or “as”. . Not sure what you are referring to in Psalm 45:6 “ Psalm 45:6 (ESV): 6  Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.
        The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; ”

        Now, think about your use of analogy, and this is my second example of scriptural gymnastics you use. You throw out the question why can’t the divine council in psalm 82 be an analogy? First unlike in Exodus 7, there is no “like” or “as”, preceding “divine counsel” or “god” in verse 1, nor is there a like or as before “god” in verse 6. there is no explicit label so the author isn’t commanding us to view it as an analogy. So what? Maybe it’s a metaphors, it’s poetry after all. The “so what” is there is a “like” or “as” later in the psalm, v7 “like men, you shall die”. So basic reading comprehension is he is talking to gods, and he commands them to die like men. Now we know that what we read isn’t always self evident, so sometimes we need to go deeper, but a lot of the time we don’t. Here is the scriptural gymnastics that you ask us to do with this passage to support your theology.
        1) the divine counsel isn’t really divine, and neither are the gods in verse 1, they are just metaphors.
        2) V7 when God says “I said “you are gods, sons of the most High” “ you say “don’t read this literally”
        3) V8 when He says “like men you shall die”. You tell us here we need to ignore the fact that the psalmist has indicated he is using an analogy, because really it’s not because they are men .

        It is totally incoherent and forced to, over the course of only 7 verses, handle 3 of them in completely separate fashion. V1- Assume an analogy when no indicators are present, v7 exclude one verse from being taking literally, and V8 dismiss the narrators explicit call out of analogy , as not really being an analogy. The scripture doesn’t ask us to do this, it’s forced. There is only one reason you would go through all the above machinations. , that’s to protect a theology. It is so much more coherent to simply apply basic reading comprehension.

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  4. One other thing about all of this. Once you discover that this is the correct interpretation, the gospel blossoms even more. It is the greatest story ever told, either way. However, this narrative narrative of the divine counsel in the OT, and the deut 32 world view of bene Elohim being assigned to the nations and then becoming disobedient (just like Satan, or would you argue that Satan is just another metaphors for a man?), explained a lot about the writings in the NT. Then during Pentecost you see that this is God’s means of taking back the “nations” from the disobedient elohim. You understand what we have become as “new creations” in Christ, the new divine counsel, the righteous ones. It brings clarity and greater mean to when Paul tells us we will judge angles (disobedient bene Elohim). When Paul calls us Saints or Holy Ones, he is calling us the new sons of God, the new divine counsel. Paul’s passage that we do not war against flesh, but prices and principalities (disobedient sons of God).

    It all comes together, coherently, not disjointed.

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  5. Also, what do you do with Job? The divine counsel scene with Satan, you don’t honestly argue that it’s men with Satan all standing in the throne room with God, do you? Excuse me if you covered it somewhere, I didn’t come across it.

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    1. Will, thanks again for your comments. First, as I pointed out, Ex. 7:1 has nothing in the Hebrew corresponding to “like”, but I don’t really have a problem with the word “like” because Moses is representing God and is not ontologically a god. But then you point out that Ps. 82 doesn’t say “like gods” as proof that these must be trye ontological gods. You can’t have it both ways. There is no reason why the gods of Ps. 82 cannot be human representatives being analogized as a council of gods. If you are interested see my article titled Psalm 82 – Of Gods Or Human Kings.

      I can see that you place a lot of importance on this divine council concept, even to the point of not being able to fully understand the gospel without it. I can appreciate that you might get a little miffed at someone challenging something you have put so much stock into. But no one knew of this concept until the Ugarit literature was discovered in the early 20th century – no one reading the scriptures alone discovered this key to understanding the whole bible. I have a problem with that.

      Psalm 45 is about the Davidic king, who is designated as elohim in v. 6. Now the king is not literally God but represents God’s rule over his people. This is a widely accepted interpretation of the psalm.

      Regarding Job – I do not deny that God has many angelic beings who do his bidding and who must give account of themselves, but this is a far cry from the pagan concept of a divine council of gods.

      Once again thank you for your measured responses.

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  6. Thank you.

    I am still not following on Psalm 45. The reason is every commentary I read is that this is not an actual human king, but a reference to the future Messiah King whose reign is forever and ever. This is clearly not a human, so it doesn’t support that the Bible says Elohim as an analogy for human. If you find a commentary that suggests this is referring to a real human that existed, I would be happy to reconsider.

    I think you miss understood one of my points. I never suggested not having a “like” gods was proof of a “divine” interpretation in Psalm 82. I pointed out that unlike with the Moses example, there is no statement that requires us or forces us to interpret it as an analogy. This is the fundamental issue, there is nothing in Psalm 82, or any other scripture, that requires us to deviate from a literal translation. We can deviate from a literal translation, we do all the time, but their must be a reason for it. In this case you haven’t presented a reason to deviate. It works as a literal translation. In contrast, the historically accepted theology, as you have presented, is eisegesis. It literally manufactures an introduces a new concept, a “divine” counsel of men that God has “said you are gods”, which doesn’t exist anywhere in scripture. You say it’s the Israel kings, but there is no scripture that recognizes such a counsel. There is no scripture where God “said you are gods” to the Israel kings This is pure eisegesis plain and simple so it’s incoherent. . In contrast, the divine counsel exist in psalm 89, here, in job, 2 kings, as the heavenly host. there is no eisegesis required for the literal translation.

    A big misrepresentation of all your work is that Heiser is introducing an “pagan” concept. It isn’t, it’s no more pagan than recognizing the Job scene as being in the divine throne room, or the existence of Satan. Here is a good definition of what a pagan pantheon looks like.

    “Two beliefs underlie these pagan rituals: First, there is a pantheon of pagan gods and goddesses who emanate from the primordial matter as it is being differentiated and, as such, are devoid of morals—they commit crimes of sex and violence—and demand no moral rectitude from their worshipers. Second, their divine sphere is subject to human manipulation. These notions undermine the biblical understanding of covenant relationship between God and his people, a relationship founded on his election of them to be holy like himself (Lev. 19:1–2) and their acceptance of that election (Exod. 24:7).

    Waltke, B. K., & Yu, C. (2007). An Old Testament theology: an exegetical, canonical, and thematic approach (p. 174). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.”

    The point of monotheism isn’t one of denial of immoral spiritual beings, to accept that you must deny the existence of Satan and the Sons of God in Gen 6:4, and the non flesh rulers, and, cosmic power, spiritual forces of evil in Eph 6, plus most of Revelation. Instead monotheism clears up two things. First, that Yahweh is not like these pagan gods, not in character or power. He is alone (Mono), He is righteous, He is God almighty, the most High, incomparable to anything else and the creator of all. Second, He alone (mono) is to be worshiped/ the focus of our worship (we shouldn’t worship Satan, or any other fallen angels/disobedient bene Elohim).

    Heiser doesn’t contradict either of these things. Heiser affirms Yahweh is incorruptible and God almighty, and that no others shall be worshipped. You are categorically misrepresenting the debt 32 worldview as supporting a pagan pantheon idea.

    I get the hesitation to drop the old theology. That is legitimate. In fairness you need to represent the alternative accurately. To say Heiser is suggesting that Yahweh is immoral and not.

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    1. Will,
      Psalm 45 is addressed to the Davidic king on his wedding day – see the title and vv.9-15. The king is addressed as God in v. 6 because he is God’s vicegerent, sitting on God’s throne and ruling over God’s kingdom { 1 Chron. 28:5; 29:23}. Yet this one addressed as God in v. 6 is said to have a God in v. 7, the one who is the true King behind the king, Yahweh. Of course, the psalm is applied to Jesus because he is the final and most ideal king of Israel {see Lk. 1:31-33}. So yes , men who represent God’s rule in the earth can be designated as elohim. I present a good case for this in the article I referenced in an earlier response, on Ps. 82.

      I never once suggested anywhere that Heiser is suggesting that Yahweh is immoral like the pagan gods. What I do suggest is that he is much to dependent on pagan literature for his understanding of scripture, like many unbelieving scholars are wont to be. Why is he doing this if he believes the scriptures to be revelation, which I know he does.

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      1. Thanks for the explanation on your take on psalm 45. To be honest, I have to consider that one as inconclusive. I just don’t see how this can be read as anything other than eschatological. It’s difficult for me to assign it to anyone other than the Messiah , Christ (he is the Dravidic king, and there is a wedding day for him). The most compelling reason being it is how its used in Hebrews 1:8. If you insist on holding true to the argument that this is indeed a human king (not Christ), you might as well include the argument that Isa 9:6 where the son “shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father” as another example where the title el/elohem is assigned to a human.

        Putting that aside, how is making the case to take a literal interpretation of Psalm 82, being too reliant on pagan literature? Think about what you are saying with that statement; taking a literal interpretation of scripture is being reliant on pagan literature.

        Heiser is saying, how about instead of assuming a 500 + year old man made doctrine that requires us to eisegesis material not found in scripture, we just take the psalmist literally.

        Then he goes on to say, oh and btw for those of you who want to argue against a literal interpretation, because you refuse to accept that the psalmist meant what he said, here is some additional extra biblical material that indicates he probably meant what he said.

        He is actually suggesting sola scripture, don’t add anything, read this one literally. It is the historical argument that adds events (a time where God assembled a divine council of men and said “you are gods”) which cannot be found anywhere in scripture, only extra biblical man made material.

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  7. Another item to note about Psalm 82, specifically v6.

    “I said, “you are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you” The phrase God Said is a direct reference to creation, where he creates something and then he names that something.
    Gen1: 6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”
    Gen 1:8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
    Gen 1:9 9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

    So as you can see, when read “God Said” or “I said, “your are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you” This mimics a direct reference to what God does right after he creation something. First he speaks things into existence “God said,” and then names them.

    Therefore, Biblical coherency requires us to see the reference to creation, “I said” in which case he would only name them “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you,” if that is what they were. They couldn’t be men.

    You need to drop this 1500’s, Age of Enlightenment, “we don’t believe in spiritual beings” theology. Recognize that a literal translation is required, and if you are going to trust any extra biblical writings for explanation, don’t look at the 1500′. Look to the writings of biblical writers contemporaries (pagan material), and recognize it supports the literal translation.

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  8. Will,
    I really appreciate the pushback given in an amicable spirit. Ps. 45 is so clear to me, although for years I saw it as you do. It is speaking of a past Davidic king, although vv. 2-6 are an ideal portrait of Yahweh’s anointed one and would therefore be applicable to any descendant of David chosen by God to sit on the throne. Hence it is applicable to Jesus of Nazareth as the final and ideal king. And yes Is. 9:6 is a reference to the human Messiah, who, for the same reason noted of Ps 45, is called el gibbor. This designation appears in Ezek. 32:21 where it clearly refers to rulers of the nations. In Ezek. 31:11 Nebuchadnezzar is called the el of the nations. It was common in the ANE to refer to kings as gods, but no one understood that in an ontological sense.
    As for how literal Ps. 82 should be taken, well, peoples presuppositions will determine that. The psalms are highly figurative, being poetry, and contain a profuse amount of metaphor and other figures of speech.
    As for your idea that the phrase, “I said” in Ps. 82:6 is meant to be understood the same way as God’s commands in the Genesis creation, this is to my mind reading way too much into the text and is not in any way a clear implication of the text.
    I do believe that there are spirit beings who do God’s bidding, but I deny a divine council of gods to whom God gave the nations to rule over; He has raised up human kings to do that.

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    1. Thanks again for your thoughtful and respectful reply. I do appreciate the back and forth. Honestly, I felt that my last statement of my prior post was a little too flippant, where I cajoled you to drop the 1500’s theology. I meant it in a light hearted spirit, but then after I posted it I wish I hadn’t worded it that way. I just came off to disrespectful. I beg your pardon for that tone.

      I will think more about how you have defined Ps 45. Right now neither seem clear, I am more inclined to keep the eschatological view, but you make good points, ones that I haven’t considered and I need to.

      With regard to the “I said” it is novel comparison (in fact, I haven’t even read where Dr. Heiser has tried to make that implication), but it did catch my attention and on a cursory review, “I/God Said” and followed by calling or assigning name, I have only found in reference to God’s act of creation. Interesting, but I could be making to much of it.

      Two othert thought on your hesitation around the idea of assigning god’s to mind the preverbal store (nations) while Yahweh attends to Israel. I would say that the way Heiser presents it is more along the lines of Yahweh decrease with participation. This isn’t new to theology, Yahweh decrees to Adam to name the animals. He decrease to humans to subdue/have dominion on the earth. Jesus decrease to us the great commission. also, As you mentioned, He decrease to kings authority over human subject. All that Heiser is suggestion, by pointing to Deut 32:7, is that Yahweh handed an assignment to Elohim to carry out a decree, and when they failed him, his response was Psalm 82. If you break it down like that, he really isn’t introducing any new theological elements. We know He assigns divine beings important tasks, we know he asks them to participate at different levels (Job, Daniel, 2 Kings), and we know they have free will and can be disobedient (Satan and his army). There are no new elements to what he is suggesting, he just suggests that it is more expansive than what we have historically considered.

      The other item that you appear to have issue with is Heiser’s referencing to “pagan” material. Think of it this way. I could say I know that Jesus was real, the literal interpretation of the Bible says he was a real person, and the writings of Josephus confirm this. Because I reference Josephus, you wouldn’t find my reason for believing in the existence of Jesus to be an adoption of Roman-jewish/pagan theology.

      What I have found is that Heiser is looking into the pagan material, not because there is common theology, but their is common imagery and cultural context. For example, the epic of Gilgamesh has many details that are common to the Genesis flood story. The internet atheist like to club unsuspecting Christians with that fact in hopes to cause doubt and confusion. The wonderful thing is, when you look at the epich of Gilgimesh in comparison and contrast to the Noah story, what you find is an incredible repudiation, a polemic against all aspects of paganism. In essence you see that what the biblical writers did was repurpose some to the imagery and cultural context used in Gilgimesh to demonstratively show how paganism is corrupt and evil, and accentuate Yahweh as Most High, superior in every way. Basically Yahweh is saying, yeah my people know about the flood story, it was real, but you got it all wrong (theologically), and let me set you straight.

      That is just a long way of saying, the Bible has been doing battle with the pagan material for the past 4000 years. It was written against the pagan world and has demonstratively denounced the pagan world view this whole time. If you take time to study what the pagan writings/world view was/is, then the evils that the Bible was arguing against can be viewed in all its intricacies and its entirety. Honestly, I have never fully appreciated how the Bible is so well versed in arguments against what we call “new age spiritualism” than I do after reading the Baal Cycle etc. Because in fact the “new age spiritualism” isn’t new in concept, but only in language and cultural context. Once you decloak the imagery from the past, The Biblical arguments against new age are more than I ever saw before.

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  9. Hi Will,
    I like your simplified version of Heiser’s position. I just think that what Heiser thinks God has given to these ‘gods’ He has actually given to human rulers, i.e. dominion over the nations. But these kings reign on behalf of Yahweh who has not disinherited the nations but simply appoints others to rule over them on his behalf. The Davidic king is the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth, because he rules over God’s particular kingdom in a covenant relationship with Yahweh. Did you look at my article on Ps. 82?

    Regarding the use of pagan sources, it is not the same as Josephus referencing Jesus, which is purely historical. The pagan text Heiser looks to are religious texts, and while there may be imagery and concepts in these texts that are mirrored in the Hebrew scriptures, the scriptures should not be interpreted by these texts but these texts should be interpreted by scripture. The scripture is where the truth is found; there is no light in the pagan texts. I just see it as dangerous to make one’s knowledge of the biblical text dependent upon what pagan texts reveal.

    I know we probably won’t change each other’s mind, but that’s okay. I have changed my views on many biblical subjects over the years and I once even was leaning in Heiser’s direction.

    Thanks for the stimulating debate.

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    1. I happened across a Podcast (One God Report) with you (Troy) as a guest a few days ago. The intro had me intrigued as within the first 90 seconds he mentioned Michael Heiser. Similar to your experience what I had discovered in Heiser (early 2021) was something that intrigued me. I read everything I found he had published (books, articles, papers, etc.), listened to all his podcasts and YouTube videos, by all accounts I was becoming quite the “Heiserite.”

      Like you, I could never figure out if Heiser was for or against the inspiration of scripture, seeing how he used ANE literature to interpret and define scripture the majority of the time (at least in my mind). I concur with the assessment that Heiser believes his interpretation is the only valid one to have and that this attitude of arrogance is well disguised within his scholarship, which the many “pew lemmings” consume and regurgitate.

      After reading “Unseen Realm” for the third time, each time more thoroughly than previous I was confronted by something my wife said regarding the industry in which she works (banking). “We don’t learn what a counterfeit is by investigating and studying counterfeit notes. We learn counterfeits by investigating and studying a true note; what it looks, feels, and sounds like.” It appears to me that Heiser investigates and studies a lot of “counterfeit” materials in order to derive some truth.

      I was encouraged to find your blog addressing this concern that has been mine for over a year. Keep up the good work and I look forward to more posts in the future.

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  10. Could you comment on when Heiser, speaking on Deut. 32 when the 70 nations at Babel are divided according to the number of the “sons of God” (regardless of Israel vs. Angels) says, “This is precisely the number [70] of the sons of El in the divine council at Ugarit”. Is it reasonable for us to believe this is a coincidence [2 different sources mentioning “70 sons of El(ohim)]? I don’t know how else to explain this, as Deut. clearly isn’t being polemical because it’s describing an event that actually happened (70 sons of Israel really did come to Egypt) and I don’t see why the Ugarit text would’ve stolen from Deut.?

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    1. Brandon,
      Thanks for taking time to read the article and to ask your question. First, let’s look at the Hebrew text. A truly literal translation would be – “In giving the nations their inheritance, in making a separation of the sons of Adam, he established the borders of the nations according to the number of the sons of God.” This text does not speak of 70 nations, though that can be inferred from the table of nations in Gen. , though I only counted 68 in the NIV. I am not sure if there is a specific reference to 70 nations in the Hebrew Bible. The 70 sons of Jacob which went down to Egypt is not right. If you look at Gen.46:26-27 all of the sons (and grandsons) of Jacob that went to Egypt were 66. Add Joseph’s two sons born in Egypt and you get 68. Add Jacob himself and you get 69. It appears that 70 is just a rounded up number. The LXX has 75. The coincidence with the 70 gods of the council in Ugarit mythology turns out not to be so precise.
      Of course, the Ugarit text did not steal from Deut. because it predates it, as written documents that is, but the story recorded in Gen predates the development of the Ugarit religion. When the people were divided and spread across the earth, they took with them the memories of these past events recorded in the early part of Genesis and over time these memories were incorporated, in differing degrees, into their specific mythologies.

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  11. Can you please help me with a mostly unrelated question? How do we correctly interpret Acts 10:40-41? “But God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (2016 ESV)

    Specifically I find the phrase “made him to appear” most concerning as to me, a few nights ago in a moment of weakness this phrase caught my ear when I was listening to YouVersion. Doesn’t this choice of words put into question the resurrection, the Miracle upon which the entire faith is based? I mean, “made him to appear” isn’t the same as “reanimated his corpse” or “brought him back from the dead” right?

    Please help me understand what is going on here. I am only about a year into my faith and this phrase is contributing to doubt. I don’t care if you ever post this comment but could you please suggest why my interpretation is wrong, or maybe suggest a direction for research? I would greatly appreciate any help you can provide. I am really hurting over this and this seems like a good place to ask. Please accept my apology if it is not.

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    1. Nathan, thanks for taking the time to ask this question. Your question or concern over Acts 10:40-41 is interesting to me because I have not seen this passage ever brought up before as a challenge to the literal, physical resurrection of Messiah. But the passage should not be of any concern in this regard. Verse 40 reads in Greek edōken auton emphanē genesthai, which can be translated as “permitted (or caused) him to be seen.” In other words, it was God’s will for him to be seen, physically resurrected from the dead so that there would be eyewitnesses to this monumental event. But “he was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen–by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” Throughout the book of Acts, Luke presupposes the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus – 1:3; 2:24-32; 13:34-37 – as well as in his gospel Lk. 24:36-43. To take Acts 10:40-41 in any other way is to think Luke contradicted himself; but why think that when the passage can readily be understood of a literal, physical resurrection.

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      1. Thank you for your quick reply. I’m the sort of person who is perhaps excessively meticulous and I usually notice details 99% of people miss. I can’t help it. I’m also deeply suspicious.

        So this “made him to appear” set off alarm bells. I compared several translations and was surprised that they almost all agree nearly completely. There were two that were a bit different: the Authorized Version and the World English Bible. I found the Authorized Version the least objectionable.

        I was talking to my Dad about this and he suggested that the resurrected body is not the body Jesus “inhabited” at the time of his death. This would explain why people who knew him personally did not recognize him after he was raised. But I don’t understand it.

        If he’s NOT in the same physically ruined body what happened to that body? His entire body would have been ruined and would have just died again if resurrected in the same body, Dad was arguing. I don’t know about that, since the wounds in hands, feet, and side were still there but apparently not his shredded back. I don’t understand why God didn’t raise the same human and physical body? Why was the body “changed?” If Jesus now inhabits a “glorified body,” what does that even mean? Is the new body a physical body? Dad said since Jesus was the first to be resurrected in the glorified body, that is the body we can look forward to ourselves being resurrected into and that the glorified body is capable of different things than our bodies are. I’ve no idea where this comes from but I fully intend to ask when next I speak with him.

        This bothers me more than a little because to me it could raise doubts of a “literal, physical resurrection.” 1. People did not recognize him. 2. “…made him to appear.” If he was “in” the same body people should have known who he was. If he “appeared” rather than “returned” then doesn’t that directly contradict the “literal, physical resurrection?” Since Luke is known for his accuracy, the word choice seems even more odd to me. It’s a logic puzzle that isn’t logical and therefor insolvable.

        My problem with Dad’s suggestion is that it would not be an actual resurrection if that was the case, would it? The resurrection is the ultimate miracle, the proof of God’s existence, power, righteousness, and love. It almost seems like the resurrected Jesus was a “hologram,” of sorts, going by the language “made him to appear.” And if that’s the case, there is no Christianity. No “literal, physical resurrection” means no Christianity as Truth. So this one verse could conceivably render everything null. Which is why I think the word choice is terrible and why I checked all my translations. And why I was so surprised they all agreed almost 100%.

        Jesus raised at least two people from the dead that I have encountered in my Bible readings. They were still in the same bodies, right? Why, when God sent Jesus back, was his body different? It is inarguable that his body was different. That is the only possible conclusion from the eyewitness testimony of the Gospels.

        I’m sorry if I’m rambling here. I’m desperately trying to make sense of these mysteries but perhaps that isn’t the point of them to begin with. I just want to understand. I suppose it’s a bit encouraging that this isn’t normally used in arguments against the reality of Christ. And that is NOT my position or intention. But if someone does try to bring this up I need to know how to counter it because it does bother me. I’m working on my apologetics, and I started with my old doubts. But this one is stumping me and I haven’t been able to find hardly anything written about it.

        I will look up those verses you mentioned. Thank you very much.

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  12. Nathan, I think you might be overthinking this. Jesus’ resurrection body both was and wasn’t the same body he lived and died in. It was the same in that the body that was put into the tomb is the one that came out of the tomb. I believe God allowed the wounds of Jesus to remain in order to show this very thing. But it wasn’t the same body in the sense that the body underwent a transformation, from weakness to power, from corruptibility to incorruptibility, from mortal to immortal. Same physical body but renewed by the spirit of God. The few people that Jesus had raised from the dead during his ministry were simply raised to life in the same body without undergoing the transformation to immortality. As believers in Jesus the Messiah we have the hope of this same transformation or renewal of our bodies when the Lord returns, whether we are at that time dead or alive {1 Cor. 15:50-55}. This is really not a difficult thing to understand, same body but transformed {see also Phil. 3:20-21}.

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