Heiser and Bokovoy Exchange, Introduction

During the 58th annual meeting (November 16, 2006) of the Evangelical Theological Society in Washington DC, Michael S. Heiser presented a paper, “You’ve Seen One Elohim, You’ve Seen Them All?  A Critique of Mormonism’s Apologetic Use of Psalm 82.”  He critiqued some of Daniel C. Peterson’s lengthy discourse, “‘Ye Are Gods’: Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind.” (Which evidently, the authors of The New Mormon Challenge briefly challenged.  Also, James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries has put in his two cents on the topic.)  

In return, David E. Bokovoy responded to Michael Heiser’s paper, and it ended up as a scholarly exchange in The FARMS Review (Vol. 19, No. 1, 2007).

On Bloggernacle, back in March, Nitsav at Faith Promoting Rumor introduces this exchange between Heiser and Bokovoy, and then follows up with another post in August.  (You will find the blog name, Nitsav, in Psalm 82.  Of course, my real name, Elon, is semitic.  Fun stuff.)

In August, David Bokovoy places a provocative statement on the Mormon Apologetics and Discussion Board:

While some conservative Christians might wish to view the Bible as some sort of pristine collection, uninfluenced by its environment, Biblical scholars attempt to place the Bible in its ancient Near Eastern setting by considering the Mesopotamian, Hittite, Canaanite, and even to some extent, the Egyptian influences upon the authors.

As I suggested in one of the footnotes, Assyriology is especially important for a Biblicist. The Old Testament temples, laws, literally styles, treaties, creation accounts, and even council imagery were heavily influenced by Mesopotamian traditions.

In other words, without Babel there would be not Bible.



For HI4LDS readers, here are Heiser’s initial paper, Bokovoy’s paper, and Heiser’s final response.

Next Monday, I want to begin discussing this topic, starting with a part one.


  1. Seth, I see Psalm 82 clearly.

    Mike, some would loudly proclaim pagan origins of what they call the Christ myth. How would Mark Smith (or Bokovoy) distinguish his biblical scholarship from this mantra? No comprehensive consistent analysis of the evidence can pick out Christianity (Judaism for Mark and Bokovoy) as fundamentally different from other ancient Pagan religion.

    From what I am gathering, Bokovoy is making a case that there is nothing fundamentally different in the Godhead doctrine of Mormonism, early Judaism, and Mesopotamian paganism.

    But I submit that the present form of the Bible is presenting something fundamentally different as a whole.

    Is the authoritative source for defining Christianity, the present form of the Bible or extra-biblical source material?

  2. Todd,

    I am away from school for a a little while, so I haven’t been able to respond.

    Interestingly enough, however, I was just reading Dan Peterson’s essay yesterday and Bokovoy’s a little while ago as well.

    In all honesty, however, I have been reading/looking over this Thanksgiving break from Mark Smith’s The Early History of God and The Origins of Biblical Monotheism as well as several books by ANE archeologist William Dever. They sparked my interest to go back and look at Peterson’s and Bokovoy’s essays.

    Funny that we have both been looking at the same topic to some extent. Well, better get back. I’ll be back in a week or less I think.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. Well, that’s fair chunk of reading to cover. I’m a ways into Petersen’s article. One thought on John 10:

    Is it possible that Christ was simply referencing a scripture that was known and available then, but has since been lost to us? Perhaps Psalm 82 wasn’t what he was referring to?

  4. I think the authoritative source for religious matters within a primarily Biblical religion should be the Bible, first and foremost. It the only thing that makes spiritual and theological sense.

    But when you engage in interfaith dialogue, you are wandering beyond the bounds of that community. Now mere appeal to the Bible will not suffice. Other faiths have concerns beyond the bare text of the Bible. Especially if they wish to advance their interpretation of the Bible.

    Within your own church, you are certainly welcome to adopt a plausible read on the Bible and adhere to it. Mormons do the same. But if we are going to get in a debate, I’m not sure that will do anymore. You need something more than the bare text. Especially since that bare text has been demonstrated to be subject to differing interpretations on numerous occasions. Not that debate is the only option, of course, as Aquinas has been arguing at his blog.

  5. Todd,

    You said:

    “From what I am gathering, Bokovoy is making a case that there is nothing fundamentally different in the Godhead doctrine of Mormonism, early Judaism, and Mesopotamian paganism.”

    I would agree with some of this conclusion as I shall explain below (though I would doubt few LDS Christians would say there are no fundamental differences between their faith and ancient worship of Marduk, even if it has parallels in some areas); but do you remember this quote from Bokovoy’s paper?

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

    I would agree with David that LDS thought is largely in harmony with biblical teaching(s)/Israelite view(s) on God and the divine council (and much more so than modern fundamentalist evangelicalism). However, there were MANY ANE religions, various Israelite/biblical views on God/the divine council, and there have been different views on the Godhead even within LDS thought throughout its history. However, David’s nuance should be remembered: it isn’t necessarily a 100% correlation with biblical data (and in my view it can’t be, since their just isn’t one ultimately and perfectly united, harmonized view of God expressed in the bible “as a whole”). What constitutes “fundamental” difference(s) (as opposed to just differences) might also to some extent depend on the one doing the analysis.

    It also seems Todd, that your interpretation of what constitutes fundamental unity is dependant on the perspective that what ultimately unites a group is utter unity of concepts. This just isn’t really the case for ancient Israel, Judaim, or Mormonism. As Blake said over at newcoolthang.com in his recent post, concepts are important inasmuch as they facilitate a saving relationship with God/Jesus, but the emphasis on utter consitency on concepts (i.e., having all the “right views”) that traditional Christianity has used to define itself historically is much more a product of the historical conflicts within Christianity of the third and fourth centuries. Even from your view, being able to clearly explain the relationship between the persons of the Godhead just doesn’t seem necessary to salvation, since uneducated persons or children just couldn’t explain the creedal view of the Trinty (and can anyone really?). I guess I also just do not understand why it should bother you if Israel held similar views to their neighbors of what God and the divine council were like. In fact, it is rather easy to see that they did hold many similar views.

    Further, I believe differences and changes in Israelite view(s) over time is clearly documentable, as well as the fact that much biblical imagery and understanding of God is influenced by so-called “pagan” perspectives/views. The Israelites (and the biblical authors) simply didn’t live in a social/political/theological vacuum.

    Todd, you further said:

    “But I submit that the present form of the Bible is presenting something fundamentally different as a whole. Is the authoritative source for defining Christianity, the present form of the Bible or extra-biblical source material?”

    Obviously, here you and I part ways in significant respects. Without getting into detailed arguments, the Bible presents multiple theological views concerning God (and Jesus for that matter). There were many authors with their own unique perspectives and understandings based on their own experiences with God. They were in fact (part :P) human, and they were in fact contributors in more than a merely passive sense to the biblical texts. Further, we must uncover editing and redaction of various texts; the present form of the bible clearly needs serious textual analysis. I think it is easily demonstrable that errors and other changes have been made throughout time. Further, all evidence certainly needs to be engaged regardless of whether it is textual or archeological. Is the bible really the only witness of ancient Israel, and is it always perfectly historically reliable?

    Todd, let me ask you a question: can there be even one (tiny) historical error in the bible without rejecting it “as a whole”?

    So as to your last question, I believe the “authoritative definition” of Christianity (or ancient Israel) resides in whatever is true regardless of its provenance.

    You also said:

    “Mike, some would loudly proclaim pagan origins of what they call the Christ myth. How would Mark Smith (or Bokovoy) distinguish his biblical scholarship from this mantra? No comprehensive consistent analysis of the evidence can pick out Christianity (Judaism for Mark and Bokovoy) as fundamentally different from other ancient Pagan religion.”

    Perhaps when you post on this exchange you should specifically invite David Bokovoy to comment. I cannot speak for him (or Mark Smith for that matter). Let David speak for his own scholarship and scriptural studies. I would also ask, have you even read any of Mark Smith’s books?

    I don’t really know what you are asking David (or Mark) to do, but I would again add that one “comprehensive consistent analysis” of the bible to produce only one “comprehensive consistent” view of God is impossible. ((Fortunately for some of us, we believe in modern day prophets, a divine restoration, and personal revelation to help us when things would otherwise get logically sticky or confusing for those who lack such blessings.))

    I would ask again what constitutes “fundamentally” different? Is it based in purely conceptual terms in your view?

    Of course Israel was different in some important ways from other groups or it wouldn’t have been known as a separate entity called “Israel”. I think you may be overly paranoid about what scholars are doing and the agendas you think they may have.

    Lastly, I am interested to see and interact with your views on Psalm 82.

    Best wishes.

  6. Mike, I am seeing that modern Christian fundamentalism is holding more closely to the one sense expressed view of God in the present form of the Bible, whereas this academic Mormonism that I am reading pursues the fragmented views of the Godhead shared by modern higher criticism, ancient ANE religions, and apostasizing Israel. Yet the present form of the Bible is not complementary to ANE religions or apostasizing Israel. That is why I am puzzled why conservative LDS would want to seek out parallels with this religious evil. Remember, I am studying Canaanite idolatry, boastful Assyriology, and Babylonian gods through the eyes of the biblical prophets, grieved by the wicked compromise of their own fellow Israelites. On Wednesday nights, I am smack dab in the midst of the historical interlude in the book of Isaiah.

    And yes, I will need to send an email to David B., inviting him to clarify where I might ignorantly present his views wrongly.

  7. Mike, I noticed your question on inerrancy. Three years before I was born, Clark H. Pinnock delivered “The Tyndale Lecture in Biblical Theology for 1966” at Cambridge on July 12, 1966, at a meeting convened by the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research. P&R Publishing put it in print in 1967 under the title of A Defense of Biblical Infallibility. I unfortunately assume that David Bokovoy has a completely different definition from the historic meaning of biblical infallibility.

    In you can, Mike, get your hands on this encouraging defense by Pinnock.

    In the booklet on page 11, under the heading All or Nothing?, Pinnock writes, “Is there a stopping place between infallibility on the one hand and complete unreliability on the other? D. M. Beegle has recently made a strong plea for a candid recognition of errors in Scripture and contends that the fact of inspiration is not lost when inerrancy is given up. Anxious over their inability to demonstrate inerrancy in the extant text of Scripture, some evangelicals have conceded the possibility of errors on the margins of the Bible. They fear the specter of one single proven error overthrowing the entire edifice of the Christian faith. James Orr is often pitted against B. B. Warfield on this issue as if the former actually denied inerrancy. It is forgotten, however, that it was Orr who commissioned Warfield to write the article on “Inspiration” for the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. The difference between the two men has been exaggerated. Orr was conscious of his inability to demonstrate inerrancy exhaustively, but was convinced nonetheless that “the Bible, impartially interpreted and judged, is free from demonstrable error in its statements, and harmonious in its teachings, to a degree that of itself creates an irresistible impression of a supernatural factor in its origin.” The issue really revolves around the criteria to be accepted in deciding when a difficulty in Scripture becomes an error. Certainly neither Beegle nor any other modern opponent of plenary inspiration has been able to adduce any really new problems that the older theologians were unaware of. And the question posed over a century ago is still impossible to side-step: “If the Biblical writers were liable to error in one particular, what guarantee have we that they were not equally fallible in another?” The threat behind the ominous formula “falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus” is a paper tiger. If inerrancy be a necessary inference to be drawn from the Biblical teaching on inspiration, there is nothing to fear in defending it. It can be falsified only if God has lied to us concerning his Word. The danger is thus a highly artificial and hypothetical one.”

    And a sober thought from Pinnock for Seth (6):

    “Standing outside the umbrella of Scripture is not a privilege of Christian freedom; it is the fool’s paradise of rationalism. For it does not place one in the clearer light of direct revelation, but in the inky murky blackness of no revelation at all” (32).

  8. That’s a good quote Todd. It’s actually rather pertinent to me as well. Right now, I’m kind of a “work in progress” concerning faith in God, scripture and the prophets. So some of that “murky blackness” rings familiar. Hopefully, I’ll be able to sort things out though.

  9. Todd,

    I will see if I can find the essay.

    You once asked me whether or not I accepted inerrancy as defined by the Chicago statement on biblical inerrancy. It reminded me of the discussion that Blomberg and Robinson had in their discussion in How Wide the Divide. As I recall, Robinson felt okay about personally accepting it.

    I certainly reject it, however. I was wondering if you ever read the FARMS Review (Issue 11 v2.), which was dedicated wholly to a discussion of that book. I believe that Mosser and Owens also wrote articles for that review.

    I mention it because I believe that Blake Ostler in the first 1/3 of his essay formulates, in my opinion, a much more adequate notion on scripture and shows the insuperable problems of accepting inerrancy, and especially the Chicago Statement on Biblical inerrancy in particular. Paulsen’s discussion on an open canon and inerrancy is also worth the read.

    I would certainly encourage you to read both articles since this seems like a recurring theme that we discuss.

  10. I was utterly unimpressed with James White’s whining over at Alpha and Omega, by the way.

    If you can stomach it, try counting the number of times he uses the word “nastygram.”

    How petty.

    Haven’t read a lot of the other stuff yet. But the treatment in New Mormon Challenge was interesting, though hardly conclusive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s