View Full Version : Was Judaism A Henotheist rather than A Monotheist Religion?

Monday, December 13th, 2004, 03:51 AM
"God standeth in the Congregation of God (El)
In the midst of gods (elohim) He judgeth
All the foundations of the earth are moved.
I said: Ye are gods,
And all of you sons of the Most High (Elyon)
Nevertheles ye shall die like men,
And fall like one of the princes (sarim)"
Psalm 82:1, 5-7

Any Christians want to elaborate on this, given that it proves Judaism was, as I expected, a henotheist, rather than monotheist, religion? If Christians are willing to concede this point, what effect does it have on Christianity?


Northern Paladin
Monday, December 13th, 2004, 04:13 AM
http://www.fairlds.org/apol/bible/bible04.html Since I found this interesting I decided to do some research. This explanation makes sense to me.

Bill McKeever, a critic of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wrote:

The gods of Psalm 82 are nothing more than men who, by God's sovereign design, are chosen to rule over other men. In fact, the word "Elohim," used in verse six, is often translated "judges" in the Old Testament. An example of this can be found in Exodus 21:6 where it reads, "Then his master shall bring him unto the judges [Elohim] ..." Another example is Exodus 22:8 which reads, "If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges ..." Again, the Hebrew Elohim is used.

No doubt many Latter-day Saints will look upon this interpretation with suspicion. Should that be the case, one of Mormonism's most respected scholars, Apostle James Talmage, should be quoted. In his book "Jesus The Christ," Talmage agreed that Jesus was referring to divinely appointed judges when he wrote, "Divinely Appointed Judges Called 'gods.' In Psalm 82:6, judges invested by divine appointment are called 'gods.' To this the Savior referred in His reply to the Jews in Solomon's Porch. Judges so authorized officiated as the representatives of God and are honored by the exalted title 'gods'" (pg. 501).1

This essay is written to deal specifically with this criticism, as well as to provide some general insight into the relevant scriptures. It consists of three parts. First, I will present an interpretation of the Old Testament text of Psalm 82 in light of current scholarship. Then, I will discuss the interpretation of the Psalm given in John 10. Then, I return to the criticism and show how it is disproved through an analysis of the text. Finally, I will conclude with a few observations relevant to LDS theology in general, and our use of these texts to defend the doctrine of the deification of man.

Psalm 82: A Translation2
I 1 [1] God stands up
2 In the Assembly of El
3 In the midst of the gods he judges
II 1 [2] How long will you rule unjustly?
2 And honor the wicked?
3 [3] Judge the lowly and fatherless!
4 Do justice for the needy and the poor!
5 [4] Rescue the lowly and oppressed!
6 From the hand of the wicked!
III 1 [5] They do not know
2 And they do not understand;
3 In darkness they wander around;
4 All the foundations of the earth totter!
IV 1 [6] I, I say:
2 You (are) gods
3 And sons of the Highest (are) all of you,
4 [7] Nevertheless, you will die like a man
5 And like one of the leaders you will fall!
V 1 [8] Arise God!
2 Rule the earth!
3 For you possess
4 All the nations!

Structure, Translation, and Discussion
The Psalm above has been divided into a poetic makeup as follows:3

A' Section I
Section II
Section III
Section IV
Section V Assembly / God rises-spt (judges)
Address / gods confronted
Address / chaos described
Address / gods confronted
Assembly / God rises-spt (rules)

Each section is developed into a separate poetic unit by content, by parallelisms, and by discernable sound structures4 in the vocalized text. The text as a whole displays a chiastic structure, which will become important a little later in the discussion.

Section I
God stands up: Or, alternatively, God arises. The Hebrew used here for God is elohim.5 The same Hebrew word is translated at the end of the verse as 'gods.' Why is it singular here and plural later? The verbs (like that meaning to stand up or arise) associated with this term are singular in the Hebrew. This would require a singular subject. Thus "God arises." In the chiastic structure of the Psalm, this statement is paralleled by the phrase "Arise God!" in verse 8.

In the assembly of El: There are three general uses of the term El in the Bible and related literature. The first is that it is often used to mean God. The second is that it can refer to the name of the Canaanite deity, El, who was head of the Syro-Palestinian pantheon. Or, alternatively, it might represent a common phrase meaning 'divine' particularly when used in the combination here "divine assembly". The usage is completely ambiguous. There is no difference in usage between one meaning and the other. It is perhaps intentional that this range of meanings suits both the initial use of elohim as God and the later use of elohim as divinities at the end of this section.

In the midst of the gods he judges: Here, elohim can only be plural. It would be nonsensical to have God (elohim) standing in the assembly of God (El) judging among the singular God (elohim). The word judges (spt) can also mean more generally to rule. It is repeated with this meaning in mind in verse 8 at the end of the Psalm. Here, God arises to judge those in the assembly. There, God arises to rule those in the assembly.

Section II
How long will you rule unjustly? And honor the wicked?: In this phrase, the word rule (spt) is used, when God addresses the gods. The same Hebrew word is used differently in each context in which it occurs. God (elohim) judges (spt) the gods (elohim) who rule (spt). Later in the Psalm, the meanings will be reversed. The gods (elohim) did not judge (spt) so God (elohim) will rule (spt). God is asking why these gods support the wicked.

Judge the lowly and fatherless! Do justice for the needy and the poor! Rescue the lowly and oppressed! From the hand of the wicked!: Here God demands that these gods execute righteous judgment. The gods should judge (spt) the lowly and fatherless.

Section III
They do not know And they do not understand; In darkness they wander around; All the foundations of the earth totter!: This is the center of the Psalm. The 'they' refers to the gods (elohim). Their rule has brought chaos. The phrasing is meant to show this. They do not know. They do not understand. They walk in darkness. The earth (eretz) is shaken from its foundation. This is exactly the end result that the divine rulers are supposed to prevent. The earth was created from chaos, and now these beings are returning it to a chaotic state. And it was specifically because of the actions of these elohim that the foundations of the earth are moved.

Section IV
I, I say: You (are) gods And sons of the Highest (are) all of you,: Here the gods (elohim) are defined in terms of a singular deity (elyon) the Most High. It is also a statement that they are placed in their position by God-who acts as a supreme authority.

Nevertheless, you will die like a man: The word man (adam) means either the first man Adam, or the concept of mortal man in general.6 The significant aspects of this phrase are that they put the one concept in opposition to the other. Two references to gods are followed by two references to men. The reference here however is clearly antithetical. If these gods were men, they would not die 'like men'. Nor does their death occur immediately, but rather, like Adam, occurs eventually because of their actions. "You will die like Adam".

And like one of the leaders you will fall!: Rather than the traditional "leaders", I prefer the suggestion by Heiser and Mullen that rather than referring to "princes", the Hebrew references the "Shining Ones"7. This reading also creates a clear connection between Psalm 82 and two other Old Testament texts relating to the Divine Council: Isaiah 14:12-15 which relates the fall of Lucifer and Ezekiel 28:12-17. Both of these refer to divine beings, who lost their immortality and were cast out of heaven. This also concludes God's speech to the gods. As Handy writes: "The gods rule the cosmos as the humans rule the earth; the single major difference is that human rulers always die while the gods only die sometimes."8

Section V
Arise God! Rule the earth!: In this section, the perspective has shifted from the divine assembly in heaven to a human assembly. Following parallels to Section I, God (elohim) arises to Rule (spt) and not to judge. What does He rule? The earth (eretz) referred to in Section III. The idea is that He will restore order where the gods caused chaos.

For you possess All the nations!: The word 'all' is the same as that in Section III and Section IV ('all the foundations' and 'all of you'). Here, it suggests that now, all of the earth, and its peoples, and even the elohim, are under the rule of God.

Monday, December 13th, 2004, 05:41 AM
Bill McKeever's interpretation is, as far as I know, the usual one.
Ancient Hebrew is a very expressive language in which many different words can often be used for the same concept, and one word can be used for many different concepts.

Tuesday, October 18th, 2005, 02:39 AM
This is admittedly an older question, but as a Christian with a different interpretation of this verse and others like it than most, I thought my response might add something to the discussion.

First let me say that I think when the Bible says Elohim in the plural, it means it in the plural; after all, "the scripture cannot be broken," as we will soon see. (Incidentally, I think the same goes for the plural references to God in the Koran.) This might mean that the Jews were henotheistic rather than monotheistic, but personally I am not inclined to think so. Rather I would believe that the old prophets were henotheistic rather than monotheistic and that the Jews probably didn't catch on to the distinction. But whether the Jews of Moses's day caught the distinction or not, I think it's clear that the Pharisees of Jesus's day who were the philosophical and theological ancestors of the entire Jewish faith today certainly were strictly monotheistic. Their monotheism was the primary basis for their opposing him.

I think Jesus was henotheistic. Look at how he uses this very verse you've quoted:

Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?

Note that he doesn't seem to interpret the 82nd Psalm as being directed strictly toward judges or "divinely appointed judges," no matter what Bill McKeever and James Talmage think, but rather "them . . . unto whom the word of God came." That's a lot of people it seems to me everyone who receives the word of God (I might interpret "word of God" as having reference to Jesus himself I believe that Christianity existed before the birth of Jesus Christ).

Note also that he is using the godhood of them unto whom the word of God came to justify his calling himself the son of God. The way I see this, it's as though he were saying, "Look, anyone who has received the word of God is a full-blown god according to the scriptures, so how is it a bad thing if I, who have certainly received the word of God, call myself a mere son of God?"

I think what's happening here is the recurring New Testament theme of Jesus telling the Pharisaical Jews that they missed the boat when God sent them prophets in the past, that they have foolishly fallen into the ditch of monotheism, and that he is here to tell them the same old stuff for the last time. Of course we know what happened: "when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours." Stupid monotheistic reasoning, really if only they had realized that they could all be heirs, or as Paul puts it in the 17th verse of the 8th chapter of his epistle to the Romans, "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." Well, his blood be on them and on their children, at their own request.

I think it is a big mistake to try to interpret this verse using Jewish scholarship or even by appealing to Hebrew as it is taught today (which is, for all practical purposes, intrepreting the verse using Jewish scholarship, since they control the Hebrew language): this verse was clearly misunderstood by the Pharisees of Jesus's day. Why on earth should we expect today's Pharisees to understand it better? And yet, for some reason that I can't quite comprehend, most Christians today prefer the Pharisees' interpretation to Jesus's. :shrug

As a final indication of how contrary to Christianity this interpretation is, notice that part of its argument is that the use of "gods" here has to be an honorific reference to judges because real gods couldn't possibly die like men or like Adam. To me it seems like that argument either denies the death of Jesus Christ, or the divinity of Jesus Christ call me kooky, but I thought that being Christian meant believing that our God Jesus Christ came down to earth and died for us all.

I know that my interpretation of the scriptures is rather unorthodox. I don't mean to offend anyone who has a different interpretation: religion is a highly personal matter after all. I just think Anarch ought to know that not all Christians view the Bible the way it has been interpreted before in this thread.

Saturday, October 22nd, 2005, 09:33 AM
@ Leofric: Thanks for the clarification - that's a rather different way of looking at things but it works :) I've come to the opinion that Angels and Demons were what was referred to by the word 'gods'. I'm quite sure the Psalms 82 verses I quoted referred to the fall of the Watchers, mentioned in the book of Enoch that has become regarded as 'heretical'.