John Day and the Bible on the Divine Council

There is this general belief in Christianity that God cannot be influenced by the ideas of other beings. This, unbeknown to many, is probably derived from Platonist notions read into the Bible. In this article we will not work out the case that this is a Platonist notion but we will just look into whether this is a biblical concept or not. The following argument will be made from liberal Old Testament scholar John Day and from the Bible itself. The advantage when starting from the research of liberal scholars is that they do not have to defend certain theological dogmas which would make their research dishonestly twisted, nor do they start from the same biases as Christians.

Introduction:

"The thesis I shall defend, therefore, is that the garden of Eden—or garden of God, as it is sometimes called—derives from the dwelling place of El. Other pointers to the origin of the Eden myth in El's dwelling are as follows. First, in the little known fragment of the Paradise myth in Job 15.7-8 the dwelling place of the first man is located 'in the council of God'. The divine council derives from the assembly of the sons of El, which is located on El's mountain in the Ugaritic texts."

John Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, p. 32. Kindle Edition.

General summary of the Biblical concept of Yahweh’s divine council:

"The Sons of El (God)

In the Old Testament there appears the concept of Yahweh's having a heavenly court, the sons of God. They are referred to variously as the 'sons of God' (bene ha'eldhim, Gen. 6.2, 4; Job 1.6, 2.2; or bene 'elohim, Job 38.7), the 'sons of gods' (bene 'elim, Pss. 29.1, 89.7 [ET 6]), or the 'sons of the Most High' (bene 'elyon, Ps. 82.6). It is also generally agreed that we should read 'sons of God' (bene 'elohim) for 'sons of Israel' in Deut. 32.8 (see below). There are further numerous places where the heavenly court is referred to without specific use of the expressions 'sons of God(s)' or 'sons of the Most High'. Thus, the heavenly court is mentioned in connection with the first human(s) (Gen. 1.26, 3.22; Job 15.7-8) or elsewhere in the primaeval history (Gen. 11.7; cf. Gen. 6.2 above), and in where in the primaeval history (Gen. 11.7; cf. Gen. 6.2 above), and in 22; Isa. 40.3, 6; Jer. 23.18, 22; cf. Amos 3.7). We also find it referred to in connection with the guardian gods or angels of the nations (Isa. 24.21; Ps. 82.1; Ecclus 17.17; Jub. 15.31-32; cf. Deut. 32.8 and Ps. 82.6 above; implied in Dan. 10.13, 20; 12.1). Apart from isolated references to the divine assembly on the sacred mountain in Isa. 14.13 and to personified Wisdom in the divine assembly in Ecclus 24.2, the other references to the heavenly court are more general (Zech. 1.10-11, 3.7, 14.5; Ps. 89.6-8 [ET 5-7]; Dan. 4.14 [ET 17], 7.10, 21, 25, 27, 8.10-13; cf. Job 1.6, 2.2, 38.7 and Pss. 29.1, 89.7 [ET 6] above). Just as an earthly king is supported by a body of courtiers, so Yahweh has a heavenly court. Originally, these were gods, but as monotheism became absolute, so these were demoted to the status of angels."

Ibid., 22.

More information of the Canaanite concept of a divine council:

"However, there are several instances where the use of the word 'el does seem to reflect the Canaanite background. Where a strong case can be made for this is in those instances in which the Old Testament employs the word 'el in a context that is particularly suggestive of the Canaanite El, especially if such a usage occurs more than once. Thus, for example, just as El was the leader of the divine assembly (the sons of El), so the name 'el is twice found in this context. In Ps. 82.1 we read that 'God has taken his place in the divine council' ('elohim nissdb ba'adat'el; cf. Ugaritic (dt. 'ilm, 'assembly of the gods', in KTU21.15.II.7, 11). This divine council consists of the 'sons of the Most High' in v. 6, who are here sentenced to death, having previously had jurisdiction over the nations of the earth (v. 8), and in Jewish thought they were numbered as seventy. There can be detected here a connection with the seventy sons of God in Deut. 32.8, deriving from the seventy sons of El, discussed above. The divine assembly is also referred to in Isa. 14.13 by means of a word from the same root as in Ps. 82.1, where the Shining One, son of the dawn boasts, 'I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God ('el) I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly (har mo'ed)'.It will be recalled that at Ugarit El's assembly of the gods did indeed meet on a mountain. It is also interesting that the name of 'el (God) is mentioned in the phrase 'stars of God', and that the stars and the sons of God are sometimes equated (Job 38.7; cf. KTU21.10.1.3-4)."

Ibid., 25.

Even the sun may have been considered a part of the heavenly court:

"Rather, it is clear that the host of heaven constituted Yahweh's heavenly court, equivalent to the 'sons of God', The sun most naturally belonged in the same category. The sun would thus have been considered part of the host of heaven, subordinate to Yahweh."

Ibid., 158.

Some of the pagan deities may have been part of this divine council, even based on the fallible witnesses of extrabiblical accounts:

"It therefore appears that Baal is represented as the son of Dagon as well as being a son of El. This might be viewed as the result of divergent mythological traditions. However, the fact that both notions are found in the same cycle of Baal myths makes this unlikely. The most plausible view is that Baal was literally regarded as the son of Dagon, but that he was also understood as the son of El in the sense that all the Ugaritic gods were, that is, they were his descendants, members of the pantheon which had its origin in El."

Ibid., 90.

There were even “those who worshipped other gods and goddesses” but who “still saw Yahweh as the chief god, with the other deities being regarded as subordinate members of his pantheon.” Therefore, Day concludes by stating that: “My overall conclusion is that Yahweh was very much the chief god in ancient Israel, and the other gods and goddesses would have been worshipped as part of his pantheon” (Ibid., 227, 228.)

To us, Christians, the worship of other angels and deities was clearly forbidden by the apostle Paul when he wrote: “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” (Colossians 2:18, KJV).

In addition to the many biblical references cited above which clearly present to the reader the reality of Yahweh’s divine council, subordinate to Him, we can still add the striking example of 1 Kings 22:19-23:

"And he said, Hear therefore the Word of Jehovah: I saw Jehovah sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right hand and on His left. And Jehovah said, Who shall entice Ahab that he may go up and fall at Ramoth in Gilead? And one said this way, and another said that way. And there came forth a spirit and stood before Jehovah and said, I will entice him. And Jehovah said to him, With what? And he said, I will go forth and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And He said, You shall entice him and succeed also. Go forth and do so. And now, behold, Jehovah has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets, and Jehovah has spoken evil concerning you."
- 1 Kings 22:19-23 (MKJV)

By means of confirmation, exactly the same is written in 2 Chronicles 18:18-22:

"Again he said, And hear the Word of Jehovah. I saw Jehovah sitting on His throne, and all the host of Heaven were standing on His right hand and on His left. And Jehovah said, Who shall tempt Ahab king of Israel so that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one spoke saying in one way, and another saying in another way. And a spirit came out and stood before Jehovah and said, I will tempt him. And Jehovah said, With what? And he said, I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And Jehovah said, You shall tempt him, and you are able. Go out and do so. And now behold, Jehovah has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these your prophets, and Jehovah has spoken evil against you."
- 2 Chronicles 18:18-22 (MKJV)

John Day’s hypothesis is that “Absolute monotheism having been established in postexilic Israel, what then happened to the Canaanite deities? Of course, amongst such people as the neighbouring Phoenicians they continued to be worshipped. Even amongst monotheistic Jews, though no longer worshipped, the Canaanite deities sometimes left a kind of ‘afterglow’. This is perhaps most marked in the world of apocalyptic. For example, the seventy sons of God, originally denoting the gods of the pantheon under El, with whom Yahweh became identified, now became demoted to the status of angels, the seventy guardian angels of the nations attested in 1 Enoch” (Ibid., 232). Of course, Bible believing Christians do not have to agree with this liberal hypothesis which claims that the concept of Yahweh came about only later on in history and that, therefore, the worship of Yahweh was not the original worship of mankind, but they can hold on to the chronology as the Bible depicts it. However, as it stands, they will have to incorporate the concept of Yahweh’s divine council in order for them to be able to claim in all honesty that they are Bible believing Christians.

yahweh and the gods and goddesses of canaan

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s