Jan 05

The Unseen Realm: Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible, by Michael S. Heiser ★★

This book was given to be by a friend from church, and highly recommended by him and another friend at church. My oldest brother had also referred me to the writings and webpage of the author. It was a fairly easy book to read, and the book was heavily referenced. Appreciated was that the references ran on the same page as the text, thus encouraging review of his referenced material.

Heiser has the main theme and then a few minor themes in this book. The main theme is Heiser’s raison d’être. Psalm 82 introduces the idea of the divine counsel, and Heiser runs from there, first building up the idea of the divine counsel, and then working from Genesis to Revelation to build his case how the divine counsel seems to be the main operative system that drives this world. Sub-themes include the identity of the Nephelim and their instances throughout Scripture, and discussion of the nature of God. There is a moderate amount to be learned from this book, and my low rating of the book doesn’t mean that it is devoid of value. Au contraire. I think that Heiser frequently tends toward imaginative theology. He has an idea, and then explores how he could explore that idea with Scripture. I will mostly discuss a few major criticisms of this book.

Heiser begins by declaring that he will be introducing truths that mainstream Christians had previously totally missed in the reading of Scripture. Based on Psalm 82, the divine council is developed as a missed truth of Scripture. Heiser then proceeds to read the council of God into the entirety of Scripture. Any mention of God on His throne, or a coming judgment, is obviously referring to the Psalm 82 divine council. God (Yahweh) operates mostly via the agency of His divine council; whenever He declares in Scripture “Let us…”, Heiser notes that God is clearly speaking to the other gods of the divine council of an action that He (Yahweh) would like carried out. The heavenly conversation in Job 1 is obviously an official proceeding of the divine council. God in the garden of Eden was a divine council event. God meeting Moses and the elders at Mt. Sinai was a divine council function. Isaiah’s vision of God on his throne was an invasion into proceedings of the divine council. The divine council, according to Heiser, has a strong and prevailing status throughout Scripture which explains many passages of Scripture that are not clear. Yet, to do so is to do injustice to other Scripture.

Heiser has problems with his theology, and these problems evolve in two areas. One is that his thesis demands a strict Arminian theology. Calvin and Reformed folk are excluded. Yahweh is just one of many participants in the drama of life. Yahweh, as seen in Scofield-like thinking, demands that Yahweh correct His course once in a while based on the unanticipated actions of man or lesser gods. Throughout the text, his Arminian theology is forced out. Free-will is vital to grasping Heiser’s thesis. A truly providential god is out. Heiser, in the process of developing his free-will thinking, makes a total mess of theodicy, the question of why there is evil in this world. Oddly, Heiser also seems to be an adherent to dispensational premillennialism, an eschatology that has been excluded from serious thought, though taught with zeal by Hal Lindsey and others.

A second theological tragedy in this text is confusion over the nature of God. Heiser desperately wishes to be seen as orthodox, yet he is anything but that. He NEVER mentions a triune God. He will speak of Jesus as God and the Holy Spirit as God and doesn’t lapse into modalism, yet his thinking is muddled. He will frequently speak of two-Jahwehs, one Jahweh with the capability of physical manifestations. His zeal to discuss the Elohim, or other gods, forces confusion regarding him being a polytheist versus a monotheist. Part of his confusion possibly stems from his free use of the word “divine” without clarifying exactly what it means. He will even suggest that saved humans eventually become “divine”, or part of the Elohim. He will mention (based on Psalm 82) that some Elohim will die. Such confusion is more fitting a fantasy or science fiction novel than it is a serious reading of Scripture.

Heiser is not being careful as to where his theology might lead. It should strike the reader how close Heiser’s theology is to that of contemporary Mormon thinking. The reader that is familiar with Mormon doctrine will be quite amused at the polytheistic nature that is shared between Mormonism and Heiserism. The Catholic notion of “holy places”, such as the birthplace of Christ, is quite consistent with Heiserism and thinking regarding the evil abodes of Bashan and the mountains of Sinai and Zion. Heiser does not present a worshipful theology that brings honor to God. His is a theology that provides a feast for budding novelists and creative thinking theologians. One area of creative thinking is that of UFO theories, which are easily the product of Heiser’s thinking. I am not writing to make an opinion on UFOs—that is not my intention with these comments. On Heiser’s website, he will deny a belief in aliens and UFOs. Yet, he is noted to be among the top 100 people who are UFO authorities, and people have used his writings frequently in defense of UFOs as being a part of his unseen realm. Such thinking has its own dangers.

Reading into the text of Scripture—We all have wondered about the Nephelim, debating whether real gods came down and mated with humans. This remains debatable among top scholars who have pondered over this, so I highly doubt that Heiser will provide us an answer with no level of uncertainty. Yet, that is what he does. He then ties the pre-flood Nephelim with all Scripture giants, past, present, and future. Goliath was such a person, a product of mating of humans and gods, since Goliath was an Anakim—one of the Nephelim. If gods and men mated before and after the flood, surely they must still be mating? Are basketball players descendants of the Nephelim? Heiser also attacks the region of Bashan. He repeatedly associates the city of Dan and tribe of Dan with Bashan, which geographically, they are not. The illustration of the bulls of Bashan are interpreted to denote the evil gods that reside in this perpetually evil region of Israel. After visiting Bashan, I’ve realized that it is very hilly country with rocky soil, not conducive to farming, but excellent for cattle grazing. And, that is what has occurred in Bashan in the past, and up to today, where one can visit large fields of cattle, the bulls of Bashan. Heiser seems to be reading way too much into Scripture.

Heiser claims an in-depth knowledge as to what the ancients were thinking. He frequently remarks on the ability to know how an ancient person might have read into the text of Scripture things that we would otherwise have not seen. There is truth to that, but that can be carried too far. He has a heavy reliance on ANE texts and 1 Enoch, which for various reasons were not incorporated into Scripture even during the time of Christ. That Peter and Jude happen to quote one verse from 1 Enoch is not sufficient to hold 1 Enoch as inspired text. If we were to think like one of the ancients, Heiser’s reading on Scripture sounds more like Greek mythology than a serious attempt at understanding the Spiritual realm.

My biggest problem with Dr. Heiser is his arrogance. Though it doesn’t come out strongly in his texts, it is easily noted on his webpage. Disagreement with Heiser’s thesis is akin to careless thinking, intentional deception as to the text, or stupidity. He speaks with a condescending tone that doesn’t tolerate variant interpretations. Worst, he just can’t admit that there are some things he just doesn’t know or understand. I’m not the only person that picked this up, but others that have reviewed his book made this note.

Heiser presents sloppy theology. I presume that Heiser would certainly disagree. Did Heiser actually recover the supernatural view of Scripture, as is noted in the title of this book? Is what he is saying revolutionary in its approach to the unseen realm? Or, is what he says a mixture of what mainstream Biblical scholars have always believed regarding the Spiritual world, combined with erroneous doctrine? I believe that he has confused the supernatural view, and muddied the view of traditional theologians.

This book has value, but also has the potential for seriously misleading unguarded readers. A Mormon devotee would probably read this book with eagerness, as it confirms much of their doctrine. For those who write fantasy fiction, this book would provide a goldmine of ideas, so long as they also include Conan in the story. The potential for error negates much of the value and worth of this text. Thus, I give it 2 stars.

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