Divine Plurality in the Dead Sea Scrolls

Posted By on May 13, 2011

[Note: For other posts on Mike's work on the divine council, click here for the archive.]

I’m currently at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA for the Pacific Northwest regional meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). I’ll be delivering two papers.  I already had the good fortune of bumping into Dan McClellan, too. Nice to spend some time with him, since I’ll be leaving right after my papers today (Little League game tomorrow AM and it’s a six hour drive; I’m a coach so I ought to show up).

My first paper is in a New Testament section and is entitled, “Jesus’ Quotation of Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34 – A Different View of John’s Theological Strategy.” The second one in in a Hebrew Bible section. It’s entitled, “Divine Plurality in the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

In regard to the second paper, I have two PDFs to offer readers (I will upload the paper after the conference — I’ve already written scribal additions in the margins, so I will add those before uploading). For today, here are two PDFs from which I took the data for the scrolls paper. If you have an English edition of the scrolls, you should be able to find most of the references (though scrolls citation schemes are notorious for not being uniform).

1. Occurrences of plural elim and elohim in the sectarian scrolls. (35 pages; there are just over 200 such occurrences, many in specific divine council contexts)

2. Occurrences of plural mal’akim (“angels”) in the sectarian scrolls – (10 pages; just over 60 occurrences of the plural)

In my paper scrolls paper, the fundamental questions are these:

Would we see the Dead Sea scrolls as a reflection of the triumph of intolerant monotheism—as we moderns imagine that—if we knew that the scrolls contain an abundance of evidence for a plurality of gods in the setting of a divine council throne room under the God of Israel? Put another way, would we see the scrolls as part of the neat endpoint of Jewish monotheistic evolution if we saw precisely the same terms and scenes in them that scholars of Israelite religion use as evidence for Israelite polytheism?

My answer is that scholars need to stop thinking of the term “god” (elohim) in modern terms and start looking at its actual usage. My conclusion:

The fact that there were multiple elohim in an Israelites worldview did not mean polytheism, though it could. There is no need for an idea like the elohim were eliminated from the religion by downgrading them to angels. The issue was loyalty to Yahweh, conceived as unique deity who joined in covenant with Israel. And that idea is not contradicted by the divine plurality in the Dead Sea Scrolls (or the passages about a divine council in the Hebrew Bible).

I’ll post both papers when I get back.

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Comments

3 Responses to “Divine Plurality in the Dead Sea Scrolls”

  1. blop2008 says:

    the second link doesnt work

    plural mal’akim (“angels”) in the sectarian scrolls

  2. cognus says:

    Thank you michael.
    this is important material.

  3. cognus says:

    p.s., link http://www.michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/mal is dead/dormant [the second link provided above]

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