Review: Unseen Realm (Michael Heiser)

Writing a book on worldview is so passe.  What really gets people uncomfortable is writing on the supernatural.  We believe in it on paper–as long as it stays on paper. Michael Heiser, by contrast, gives a mini-systematic theology around the Supernatural.  

divine councilA brief summary: God’s Household has a layered authority: high king → elite administrators → low-level personnel.  Psalm 82 is the clearest example in the OT (25). The first Elohim in 82:1 is singular, since it has a singular verbal form (stands).  The second is plural, “since the preposition in front of it (“in the midst of”) requires more than one.”

unseen realm

Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14:

Verse 10: why does God tell him he will die the death of uncircumcised strangers?  He is (presumably) a Phoenician and would be uncircumcised anyway (77). The answer: he is sent to the underworld where there were uncircumcised warrior-kings (Ezek. 32.21; 24-30; 32; Isa. 14.9). This is the place of the Rephaim.

Most people can probably take the argument so far.  Yeah, the Hebrew says that. We might not like it, but it says it.  The next part is the real struggle for belief, though it makes sense to me.  

Argument:  The serpent (Nachash) is a substantival adjective.  He is a serpentine being. This bothers people for some reason.  He reminds you of a snake, but he’s not really a snake.  Although Heiser doesn’t make this next point, this isn’t all that far removed from a lot of UFO occult phenomena.  

I can go further out on the limb here: could the Nachash, or something like it, be what David Icke fantasizes about?  I don’t buy into the Reptilian thesis, at least not how Icke or Sitchin take it, but if those guys are demon possessed/demonized, then they really could be seeing something reptilian.  It’s not logically impossible.

Why wasn’t Eve afraid of a talking snake, if we take the story literally?  Eve was in the garden, which was the meeting place between the heavenly realm and earth.  She knew she was talking to an elohim. Ancient man knew that animals really couldn’t talk. Another common sense observation: if the enemy in the garden was a supernatural being, then he wasn’t a mere snake.

Heiser then connects the nachash to events in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28: the prince of Tyre considers himself an el, who sits in the moshab elohim.

Divine Allotment

God scattered the nations in Gen. 11; Deut. 32:8-9 describes it as disinheriting.

Key idea: God gave ownership of the Table of Nations to the divine council (113). Deut. 4:19-20 makes this clear. Psalm 82 judges these elohim for doing a bad job, and then urges God to rise up for he shall inherit the nations.

The Nephilim

This is where the fun begins. Are the entities in Genesis 6 the line of Seth or the Watchers?

However the Israelites would have interpreted Gen. 6, it is certain they wouldn’t have demythologized the text. The real problem for most is how can an incorporeal being physically interact with a corporeal world?  This is a big problem in analytic philosophy. It is related to the problem of divine action. On a supernatural worldview, it is no problem. But if you are a conservative Christian and hold to the other line of thinking, then you need to explain the following?

Does Matt. 22:23-33 rule out the supernatural view? The Bible tells of angels physically interacting with humans. Some considerations:

  1. This text never says angels can’t have sexual relations. It just says they don’t.

2 Nevertheless, Genesis 6 isn’t the spiritual realm, so the situation doesn’t apply.

3.This event is far less radical in what is required of a belief than the Incarnation.

4.The actions in Genesis 18-19 are physical actions (eating food, taking hold of Lot, etc.).

  1. In Genesis 32:22-31 Jacob wrestles with an elohim and the elohim can be touched and in return physically harm Jacob.
  2. Everyone believes angels can speak, yet on this objection how can an incorporeal being produce sound waves?
  3.  Angels open doors (Acts 5:19)
  4.  They hit the disciples (Acts 12.7).

Space prevents me from developing all of Heiser’s points.  The book is fantastic and I am glad to see it getting a wide readership.  I do think it could have been shorter. While I understand his point about free will and divine foreknowledge, the study of counterfactuals has come a long way and there are answers and alternatives to what he has given.

Appendix: Some neat insights

  1. Bashan was the mount of fallen Watchers.
  2. Og was king of Bashan, and he was of the Rephaim.

Developing an Enochian Worldview

Some of these are inspired by Dr Michael Heiser’s writings, though much of it came from my own working through both the Scriptures and tradition.  Our problem is that we are all students of Dante, whether we admit it or not.  An Enochian worldview, by contrast, sees how “angels” (more on that term later) function within the Divine Realm.

We say things like “we need a biblical worldview” (I used to say “supernatural,” but after talking with some guys on a Reformed online forum, I can’t take that for granted anymore), and we piously nod at the Bible when it says “angels are ministering servants,” but we really don’t let the Bible correct our understanding of Dante.

What Did Dante Say?

You already know this.  If I say “hell,” you think of a fiery underworld.  More to the point, you think there is a class of beings known as demons/devils/fallen angels.  They are either being tortured by fire or torturing others by fire (pop culture tradition isn’t too clear).

But there are some problems with this picture (though it did inspire good music).  The Bible contradicts it in various places.  If you hold that there is one class of beings called angels, which are subdivided into good and bad, with all of the latter in a subterranean realm (or if you are a bit more sophisticated, another dimension), then the following problems occur:

  1. Why is Satan called the prince of the powers of the air (Eph. 2:2) if he is locked underground?
  2. If all the demons are in hell, then why do we wrestle against principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Eph. 6)?
  3. If Ha Shatan is locked underground, then how did he appear before God in Job?
  4. If all the demons are in hell, then how did they possess people in the NT?
  5.  Yet Peter says some were thrust into Tartarus (2 Peter 2:4).
  6. Why does Peter use the word Tartarus when he could have simply said hell or hades?
  7.  Was the spirit in 1 Kings 22:19-23 good or bad?  If he was good, then was God commanding him to lie? If he was bad, then why was he in heaven?
  8. Is God the only kind of Elohim?  You have to say no, because God (singular Elohim) is often speaking to plural Elohim, and even if the latter are just men, they aren’t the kind of Elohim that Yahweh is.

That’s enough for now.  These questions show that the pop worldview about demons is wrong.  Now for my own theses, drawn from Michael Heiser and Derek Gilbert.

1. Sons of God in Genesis 6/Psalm 82:Dt.32:8 refer to elohimic beings, not men.  I won’t argue that thesis at this point. I also think these are what Enoch called the Watchers (alluded to in Peter and Jude; mentioned in Daniel, though those Watchers are good).

2. Their offspring were the Nephilim.

3. Some church fathers and Philo said that the departed souls of the Nephilim were what we call “demons” today.  Maybe.  That might not be provable, but it does remove certain problems.

I am closely following Heiser’s analysis on issues like the Rephaim.

4.  Rephaim: Heiser–”When the term is translated, it is rendered “giants” (1 Chr 20:4 ESV), “shades” (i.e., spirits of the dead; Isa 26:14 ESV), or simply “the dead” (Job 26:5 ESV)”.  Specifically, they are the spirits of dead warrior-kings in the underworld. They are also giants whom the Ammonites called Zamzummim (Deut 2:19–20 ESV).

4a. Og was a Rephaim (Josh. 13:12).

5.  Demons aren’t the same as fallen angels, rephaim, or nephilim.  

  1. They aren’t the celestial ones of 2 Peter 2 and Jude.  Angels are very cautious in the celestial ones’ presence.
  2. With Heiser, I highly recommend questions 72-75 of Doug Van Dorn’s primer on the supernatural.
  3. At this point we see several levels of differentiation:
  4. The corrupt sons of God put over the nations are called shedim, a term of geographical guardianship (van Dorn).
  5. The fallen angels, or Watchers, are imprisoned in Tartarus until the Final Judgment (2 Peter 2 and Jude).
  6. Whatever demons are, they aren’t those above.
  7. A demon, at least in the Gospel exorcism passages, is an unclean spirit.
  8. If Jewish intertestamental literature is to be trusted, demons are the departed spirits of dead Nephilim.  Granted, this isn’t inspired literature, but it was the worldview/social imaginary of those who lived in the apostles’ time.  Jude quoted 1 Enoch, and while 1 Enoch isn’t inspired, Jude acted like it had a lot of truth.