The Unbiblical Realm, Refuting the Divine Council of Michael Heiser’s Deuteronomy 32 Worldview

This is the only scholarly in-depth work of which I am aware that challenges Michael Heiser’s unbiblical worldview concerning what he calls the divine council. Heiser, who wrote several scholarly books on the subject, popularized his views in The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, published in 2015. Henning believes Heiser is “teaching a neo-gnostic heresy which is being sold to and accepted by evangelicals. He rests his arguments primarily on twisting definitions of Hebrew words and supports his opinions by citing Second Temple Jewish texts to claim justification for interpreting the Bible through a lens of ancient Ugaritic texts” (pp. 9-10). Henning is particularly disturbed because he has read the ancient writings upon which Heiser builds his ideas and believes Heiser either has not actually read thoroughly the pagan and/or Second Temple literature or is simply twisting and lying about what these texts actually teach (p. 188).

Heiser’s primary flaw is hermeneutical. As Henning summarizes, “Michael Heiser has constructed a complex conundrum that is based on mythologizing the Bible, ignoring or alerting the grammar of Scripture, allegorizing, and interpreting God’s Word by a faulty worldview which he admits to having produced based on pagan myths” (p. 17).

Biblically, Heiser draws his theory mainly from two Old Testament texts: Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 82. Henning provides an excellent exegesis of Psalm 82 toward the end of the book (pp. 305-321, 328), demonstrating that Heiser has seriously misinterpreted the passage. Based on these two texts, and a handful of others, including Genesis 1:27-28 and selected passages in Daniel, read through the lens of pagan mythology, Ugarit texts, the pseudepigrapha, and Second Temple writings, all of which are extrabiblical, and lacking divine inspiration (see pp. 29-33), Heiser came up with a novel understanding of the “unseen realm.” In this realm, Heiser imagines a consortium of 70 gods (pp. 62, 80) that forms God’s divine council. These gods, who are not equal to God but greater than angels, were assigned leadership over 70 nations at the Tower of Babel, while God chose Abraham to be the father of Israel who would be the Lord’s people. Unfortunately, the gods went rogue and began to challenge the authority of Jehovah. The Lord has been in a turf war with these demi-gods ever since.

This view, or something like it, has been espoused for years by liberals (pp. 27, 130), and now Heiser has become the link taking it into the evangelical community. It is instructive that none of the Church Fathers or conservative theologians in the past ascribed to Heiser’s understanding of the divine council (pp. 75, 194-201, 300). In addition, the members of the divine council are made in the image of God, just as humans are, so says Heiser (p. 153). It is important to note that Heiser virtually claims that only he can properly interpret the Bible due to his understanding of Ancient Near Eastern religions and myths (pp. 24, 133-134).

Henning delves deeply into the details of Heiser’s errant understanding of Scripture; but for the purposes of this review, it should be noted that a number of heresies emerge from it including:

  • Gnostic theology (pp. 202-234)
  • Divine humans who will replicate the corrupt gods (pp. 213, 374)
  • Dominionism (pp. 228-230)
  • Spiritual warfare in line with charismatic views (pp. 230-234)
  • Postmillenialism (p. 23)
  • Rejection of the Trinity in Genesis 1:26
  • Necessity of salvation not only for our human sins but for the sins of the Watchers and the 70 divine beings (p. 281)
  • Open theism (pp. 287-290)
  • Pagan myths worked into Genesis by use of an exilic date for the book (p. 297)

The Unbiblical Realm is a deep dive into Heiser’s false theology by a scholar who has studied not only Scripture but the pagan and ancient teachings that Heiser uses to support this unseen realm. For those interested in this subject, it is an invaluable work.

by Heath Henning (East Troy, WI: Truthwatchers Publication, 2023), 332 pp., paper $15.98

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel