SHIELDS header banner /w logo

A&O Ministries
Critics Corner



Alpha & Omega Ministries

Author Eugene Seaich, observing the exchanges with Dr. Hamblin, et. al., decided to enter the discussion about deification with James White, Paul Owen, and Carl Mosser.  With Mr. Seaich's permission their correspondence follows.

Letter One

From: "Eugene Seaich" <>
To: <>, <>
Cc: "Bill Hamblin" <>
Date: Sat, 11 Apr 1998 12:03:35

-----Original Message-----
From: Paul OWEN <>
To: James White <>
Cc: > [Dr. William Hamblin]
Date: Thursday, April 09, 1998 4:06 AM
Subject: Re: Hamblin on Psalm 82

Dr. Hamblin has obviously done his homework with regard to the meaning of the word ‘elohim, hence I will do no more than add a brief quote from the latest and most prestigious of scholarly resources on the meaning of Hebrew words, The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (ed. Botterweck and Ringgren, vol. 1, 1974):

    “The earlier Israelite tradition also simply assumes that each nation has its god (or gods)...The place to start is Dt. 32:8f: ‘When Elyon gave to the nations their inheritance...., he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the bene ‘el, “sons of god”’ (to be read with the LXX instead of the MT bene yisrael, ‘children of Israel’); but Yahweh’s portion is Israel” (pp. 276-8).

Here, Yahweh is clearly one of the “sons of God.”  One should note that the word “inheritance” (nahala) refers to some kind of patrimony, not to something one keeps for oneself (as if. Elyon-- under the name of Yahweh--had kept Israel as his own ‘inheritance’!).  See H. Forshey’s study “The Hebrew Root NHL and its Semitic Cognates,” PhD. Dissertation, Harvard University, 1975, which shows that nahala has the usual biblical meaning of “that which is handed down from the fathers.”  This is quoted in Mullen’s The Assembly of the Gods (of which you already know), p. 59, showing how Baal--in parallel with Yahweh--ruled the Canaanite nation as his “inheritance” from Father El.

You might also compare this with the version found in the Clementine Homilies, 18:4: “The Father, when he marked out the limits of the nations by seventy languages, according to the number of the sons of Israel gave to his Son, who is called Lord, and who made heaven and earth, the Hebrews as his portion, and appointed him to be God of gods--by ‘gods’ mean those who received the rest of the nations as their portions.”  Also Pseudo-Cyprian’s De Centisima, sexagisima, tricesima: “When the Lord created the angels” (LXX for “Sons of God”) “he determined to make one of them his Son.  It is he whom Isaiah declares to be Yahweh Sabaoth.”  This last one especially preserves the original meaning of Dt. 32:8-9, where Yahweh is God’s SON.  Compare also Plato’s Critias 109d-e, as well as his Timaeus 23b-c and 37c, which both reflect this doctrine, and show its great antiquity.  (Indeed, Philo was convinced that the Greeks got all their learning from Sinai and Moses!)

By the way, this closely parallels the LDS notion that the “God of all other gods” (D&C 121:32) rules his numberless kingdoms through those in whom he has invested his fulness, and who therefore are gods like himself.  The only difference is that the Hebrews had little idea of the size of the cosmos, and thought only of limited geographical areas as El’s “kingdoms.”

But rather than enter into details concerning the meaning of the ‘elohim, I would comment briefly on your method of argument, which is frankly very circular; that is to say, you defend your evangelical interpretation of the Bible by means of your “evangelical interpretation of the Bible.”  At the same time, you dismiss the interpretations of objective scholars, who attempt to read the Bible as it was written, as liberal garbage.  For you, the New Testament can be nothing more than an affirmation of orthodox Judaism and theoretical monotheism, which explains why you turn to the Jewish Shema for evidence of Trinitarianism: “Yahweh our Elohim is one Yahweh.”  Your type of Christian, in short, attempts to force the three persons of the New Testament godhead back into the Procrstean Bed of Judaism.

Yet the Gospel of John (singled out by the Book of Mormon as the authentic “Book of the Lamb” (1 Nephi 13:24; 14:27) explains very clearly why Christ and Father are ONE (John 10:30)--not simply by virtue of having the same mind and will, nor by virtue of being the same substance (homoousias), but because the Father “dwells in the Son” (John 14:10), thereby sharing his glory with him (17:5).  And by this same process of “spiritual indwelling,” men may also become ONE with Christ, and share the same glory which the Father gave to the Son (17:22)--certainly not by becoming homoousias with them, but by receiving God’s glory and fulness through the Holy Ghost (1:12-16; 3:5).

Though John refers only once to this divine spiritual endowment as God’s “fulness” (1:16), Paul uses the expression rather frequently, defining it as a “fulness of Godhood” (theotes, Col 2:9), i.e. a totality of God’s attributes, something that can dwell “bodily’ in Jesus, and which can also dwell in men.  (One writer, Eugene de Faye therefore defined the “fulness” as “Godhood without God himself,” i.e. something that can be transferred and shared with others).  The author of Ephesians therefore promises “That ye might be filled with ALL the fulness of God” (3:19).  Peter, too, promises that men can one day “participate in the Divine Nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), and (as John and Paul add) become “like God” (1 John 3:2), possessing bodies “like unto his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21), and transformed into the very image of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18).  The church fathers even used John 10:35 as a “proof text” of man’s deification.

The process of receiving the divine fulness--as Christ received it--is the basis of Mormonism’s doctrine of deification (D&C 93:18-20), and was already found in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 28:10).  We (at least those of us who know better) have never believed that we can “work our way up” to becoming divine.  This is strictly a gift of grace.

Indeed, I need not tell you that for three whole centuries the church fathers understood these passages to be “proof texts” that men can literally become gods--though I am sure that you will rationalize their statements out of existence, as did the following newspaper journalist.  (Let me quote from a recent short work of my own):

    >>When modern scholars rediscovered the fact that the original Church had literally believed in man's deification—just as Joseph Smith revealed in the late 1820's—a number of ministers hurried to "get on the bandwagon" and claim that "they too had known it all the time."  Thus we read in a recent newspaper article the tardy admission that

      Deification also is a central tenet of classic Christianity, espoused by the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches (Peter Scarlet, writing in The Salt Lake Tribune, Saturday, April 30, 1994).

    Quoting a priest from a local Orthodox Church, the writer goes on to argue that "theosis (deification) the goal of every Christian" (our emphasis).  A deacon from a Catholic congregation is then cited as being in agreement that "the doctrine is fundamental to Christianity" (our emphasis).

    Yet the author of our article immediately hastens to qualify these grudging admissions by denying that "deification" actually means "deification"—a belief which he now describes as an "abhorrent" notion put into the minds of misguided individuals who have been "tempted" by Satan:

      Indeed, the idea of humans becoming gods is abhorrent to most Christians.  It is associated with the serpent's tempting of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden by offering them the knowledge of God by eating forbidden fruit.

      This conclusion is rather unfortunate, however, for it was God himself who acknowledged that the First Couple had become "as one of us, to know good and evil" (Gen. 3:22).

    Furthermore, in his opening lines, the writer had correctly acknowledged that "deification" is a process which results from becoming one with God, though never from human striving:

      The idea is based on a union with God and not the belief that people can become gods in their own right.

    Yet if the writer is correct in defining "deification" as "union with God," then we should inevitably wish to ask:  When one becomes one with God (John 17:21-23), just what is it he becomes?  What is the nature of the disciple who becomes part of God?  Paradoxically, our author gave us the answer at the start of his article, when he ambiguously defined deification as "the process of becoming or being made a god."

    But in attempting to explain what this might mean (at least in terms acceptable to modern "orthodoxy"), he becomes confused and finds it necessary to abandon his original definition, arguing that "deification" is simply another word for "salvation."  In fact, he now proposes that:

      The idea is not to become god, but to become godlike...Man remains man and God remains God (our emphasis).

    Thus, by pretending to have "known it all the time," he claims the right to redefine "deification" in his own terms, and to ignore Joseph Smith's remarkable success in restoring the real doctrine, after its 1500 years of enforced oblivion. And with the Prophet's contribution conveniently pushed into the background, the writer feels free to redirect the discussion back to "orthodoxy's" claim that man's ultimate goal is mere "sanctification," not "deification.">>

Let me add one last comment on Trinitarianism--the lack of which causes you to damn Mormonism as “non-Christian” (also a quote from the same recent work of my own):

    >> It is in fact recognized by most objective scholars that a doctrine of homoousian oneness does not appear even in the New Testament:

    The Bible lacks the express declaration that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of equal essence and therefore in an equal sense God himself.  And the other express declaration is also lacking, that God is God thus and only thus, i.e. as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  These two express declarations, which go beyond the witness of the Bible, are the twofold content of the Church doctrine of the Trinity" (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, I.1.437, our emphasis).

    The NT does not actually speak of triunity.  We seek this in vain in the triadic formulae of the NT....Early Christianity itself...does not yet have the problem of triunity in view" (Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 3.108-9).

    Donald Guthrie's evangelically-oriented New Testament Theology, while arguing that there are "adumbrations" of Trinitarianism in the New Testament, is similarly obliged to admit that:

      It cannot be said that the doctrine (of Trinitarianism) is expounded.  Indeed, it is significant that none of the NT writers sees the need to speculate about such a doctrine.  They are content to present data which imply the divine nature of both Christ and the Spirit and which naturally gave rise to reflections about the unity of God (op. cit., 122).

    R. M. Grant likewise agrees in his discussion of the Trinitarian controversy that there is no recorded mention of the Godhead's "oneness of substance" before the Apology ("A Plea for the Christians") of Athenagoras (ca. A.D. 177), when for the first time anywhere we read that "the Son of God is the Mind and the Word of the Father," the latter being "the One uncreated, eternal invisible, impassable, incomprehensible, uncontainable God" (The Early Christian Doctrine of God, 91).

    "Here, with whatever imprecision of language...we finally encounter a carefully worked out doctrine of the Trinity" (ibid.)  It was in fact this late Trinitarian dogma which was eventually inserted into the text of 1 John 5:7-8, which formerly read, "Because there are three who testify: The Spirit, and the water, and the blood."  This notorious passage, however, was unfortunately altered during the third or fourth century (most likely in North Africa) to read as follows:

      Because there are three who testify in heaven:  Father, Word and Holy Spirit; these three are one; and there are three who testify on earth:  the Spirit and the water and the blood...

    Thus a statement having nothing to do with the structure of the Godhead was deliberately transformed into propaganda for the new Trinitarianism.  Furthermore, as Dr. Grant continues, we must not "imagine that...a doctrine of the Trinity such as we have found it in Athenagoras' writings, had always existed in the Christian subconscious" (ibid., 95).  As a matter of fact, early arguments for Trinitarianism had never been intended to demonstrate a homoousian "oneness" of the Godhead, but only to show that the Son is fully as divine as his Father, a view with which Latter-day Saints agree, since both possess the same "fulness" and the same Godhood.

    Certainly, no honest student of the New Testament can accept the severe Trinitarianism which was finally promulgated by St. Augustine, and which established for all future "orthodoxy" that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one identical being; indeed, he scarcely liked to speak any longer of "three persons" within God's homoousian "single substance":

    One is as much as three together, nor are two anything more than one...Both each are in each, and all in all, and each in all, all in all, and all are one" (On the Trinity, 6.10:12).  Yet the most deleterious effect which Trinitarianism had on Christianity was that it once and for all destroyed the possibility of deification through human oneness with God.  Athanasius thus began to argue during the fourth century that the "oneness" of the Father and Son was a privileged kind of "oneness," a "oneness" which men could never share.  Thus men could no longer become gods "as Christ is God," but only as "adopted sons."  In this way, the new Trinitarianism helped to drive the last nail into the coffin of deification, replacing it with the minor promise of mere "sanctification" or "sanitization." >>

I could write a great deal more (and have already done so), but I have said enough already.  Dr. Hamblin’s letter to you was right on target, and I can only add that objective scholarship is totally against your evangelical interpretations of the Bible.  As Paul Owen correctly observed, “I feel that we are losing the battle.”


Eugene Seaich

Letter Two

From: Paul OWEN <>
To: <>
Cc: <>
Date: Monday, April 13, 1998 11:06 AM
Subject: Christian Monotheism vs. Polytheism

Dear Mr. Seaich,

Since you sent me a copy of your comments I thought I would reply with a few of my own.  Your remarks seem to have been pointed primarily at James White, but some of them would seem to apply to anyone like myself who holds to a conservative Evangelical view of the Bible.  Before I go any further, let me direct a note to Carl: Carl, could you send a copy of this to Bill Hamblin?  Some of my comments will apply to him.  Thanks.

First of all, Bill Hamblin asked about Evangelical studies relating to the impact of the Ugaritica upon biblical studies. I spent a couple of hours in the library, and was able to come up with a few things.  It isn't much, but it is something to start with:  Charles F. Pfeiffer, Ras Shamra and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1962); K.A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (London: Tyndale, 1966), 160-65; David Toshio Tsumura, ''Ugaritic Poetry and Habakkuk 3'' Tyndale Bulletin 40 (1989): 24-48; Peter C. Craigie, Ugarit and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983); idem, ''The Poetry of Ugarit and Israel'' Tyndale Bulletin 22 (1971): 3-31; J. Glen Taylor, ''The Two Earliest Known Representations of Yahweh'' in Ascribe to the Lord: Biblical and other Studies in Memory of Peter C. Craigie, eds. Lyle Eslinger and Glen Taylor (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1988), 557-66; and S.G. Dempster, ''Mythology and History in the Song of Deborah'' Westminster Theological Journal 41 (1978): 33-53.  Although he would not be considered an Evangelical, William F. Albright was a pious, Christian (Methodist) scholar, who tended to have rather conservative views on the Bible.  So I think it would be worth mentioning his studies in this context as well, especially:  From Stone Age to Christianity: Monotheism and the Historical Process (London: Oxford University Press, 1946); idem, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore: John Hopkins, 1942); and idem, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan: A Historical Analysis of Two Contrasting Faiths [ I love that sub-title! ]  (London: Athlone, 1968).  With regard to Albright's methods and conclusions (which did not always line up with the orthodoxy of critical scholarship) see the anthology edited by Gus W. Van Beek, The Scholarship of William Foxwell Albright: An Appraisal (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), with contributions by F.M. Cross, D.N. Freedman and others.

Now for your comments, Mr. Seaich.  With respect to Deuteronomy 32:8-9, the proper interpretation is not as simple as you want to make it.  Citing TDOT as if that settled the matter would get you a well-deserved 'F' in any exegesis class.  Now certainly it is possible that Elyon and Yahweh are to be distinguished here.  As I already granted to Hamblin, the reading 'sons of God' is probably to be preferred to the MT ('sons of Israel').  But that is only half the battle.  It is still also possible to interpret this passage as saying that Elyon/Yahweh 'divied out' the other nations to various angelic authorities, but chose Israel to be his own special people.  Which reading do you think fits best with the general theological tendencies of Deuteronomy?  Monotheism or polytheism?  The idea that two Gods are to be distinguished here really reflects a judgement about the pre-history of the text.  The monotheistic tendencies of Deuteronomy as a piece of literature are uncontested.

Your other arguments are even more tenuous.  You cite a Harvard dissertation in support of the meaning of 'inheritance' for NHL.  You would have been better off to check a lexicon first.  The fact of the matter is, NHL has at least two distinct lexical connotations: 1) simply 'to possess'; and 2) 'to inherit'.  Either meaning is possible, and the context is determinative as to which meaning fits best.  To verify this simply look up NHL in Gesenius, or Koehler/Baumgartner, and you will see both lexical meanings given for both the verbal and noun forms.  The meaning of 'possession' fits the context best, not only in Deut. 32:9, but also throughout the OT, where NHL is used to describe how Yahweh has chosen and redeemed Israel to be his own people (cf. 32:10ff).  For example: ''But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a people for his own possession'' (Deut. 4:20).  ''O LORD GOD, do not destroy Thy people, even Thy possession, whom Thou has redeemed through Thy greatness'' (Deut. 9:26 cf. v. 29).  ''O LORD . . . pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Thine own possession'' (Exod. 34:9).

''They are Thy people and Thy possession which Thou hast brought forth from Egypt'' (1 Kings 8:51).
''Save Thy people, and bless Thy possession'' (Psalm 28:9).
''And the LORD will possess Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem'' (Zech. 2:12 [16 Heb].

All of these uses of NHL illustrate the meaning of 'to possess', not 'to inherit', because Yahweh is taking Israel for his own; Israel is not being given to Yahweh by some higher Father God.  Also, were 'inherit' the meaning of NHL in Deut. 32:9, we might expect the hophal stem of the verb to be used, rather than the noun form which occurs.

With regard to your citation from the (Pseudo) Clementine Homilies, a fourth-century Arian text with anti-Pauline tendencies is hardly much evidence as to the correct interpretation of a Hebrew document written many centuries prior.  Your citations of Pseudo-Cyprian and Plato (!) are also worthless in this context.  Your observation that Philo believed that the Greeks got their learning from Sinai is also a useless piece of trivia.  Nobody thinks that Philo (or Justin for that matter) was correct in this regard.

Before moving on to your discussion about the Trinity and deification, you gave me the impression (maybe I am wrong) that all 'objective' scholars recognize that the book of Deuteronomy was not written by Moses, and that it reflects the monotheistic tendencies of the later Deuteronomists; whereas ignorant fundamentalist Christians think Moses wrote Deuteronomy, and that Israel was monotheistic all along.  Might I point out to you that the idea that literary strata in the Pentateuch can be distinguished on the basis of different names (e.g. Elohim and Yahweh) is itself passe?  Just to cite a couple of Evangelical scholars here, Raymond B. Dillard (Ph.D., Dropsie) and Tremper Longman (Ph.D., Yale) write in An Introduction to the Old Testament (Leicester: Apollos, 1995):  ''Virtually no one today accepts Wellhausen's idea that in the pages of the Old Testament one could trace a religious evolution from animism to henotheism to monotheism'' (p. 45).  ''Indeed, at the present time traditional source criticism is on the wane in all circles.  The cutting edge scholarship is devoting less and less energy . . . to the question of sources and more and more to the final composition of the Pentateuch and the individual books within it'' (p. 44).  Dillard and Longman point out that scholars are less inclined to chop up the text into various pieces on the basis of source-critical analysis, especially pertaining to the divine names since ''the use of different divine names (particularly Elohim and Yahweh) may result from stylistic practice rather than the use of sources'' (p. 45). ''Furthermore, the use of multiple names for a god in a single text is reasonably common in extrabiblical Near Eastern texts'' (p. 45).  Does this mean that critical scholars are inclined to go back to the view of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch?  Of course not.  Rather, the increasing tendency is to respect the unity of the text as literature, and date the whole form of the present text around the time of the exile or later.  But if you are going to use to arguments of critical scholars to support your views, you might as well try to keep up with the current scholarly trends.

One more quote on the divine names.  This one comes from another Evangelical, K.A. Kitchen (one of the most respected Semitic language specialists in the world):  ''There is really no warrant for attributing any greater significance to YHWH/Elohim as literary markers.  It is generally agreed that YHWH and Elohim . . . are not inherently pure synonyms, and are not always and everywhere used as such, either.  In some passages, it is clear that each term is used because appropriate, not as a free variant.  In such cases, therefore, the term concerned is in character with a given context, and not the mark of a writer; such cases are not evidence of a 'J' or an 'E'.  Furthermore, YHWH and Elohim can be found in the 'wrong' documents, as pointed out long ago.  The supposed consistency between the divine names as markers and other lexical criteria is in large measure the inevitable result of first drawing lines to delimit what is considered proper to 'P' or 'J' or 'E', and then proclaiming the resultant lexical lists as 'characteristic' of this or that source.''  (Ancient Orient and Old Testament, 122-23)  Wow.  A scholar with common sense!

For other good defenses of the Mosaic authorship and textual integrity of the Pentateuch, and especially Deuteronomy, see: J. Gordon McConville, Grace in the End: A Study in Deuteronomic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993); Gordon Wenham, ''The Date of Deuteronomy: Linch-pin of Old Testament Criticism'' Themelios 10/3 (1985): 15-20; 11/1 (1985): 15-18; Duane L. Christensen, Deuteronomy 1-11 (Word Comentary Series, Dallas: Word, 1991), xxii-lxii; and idem with N. Narucki, ''The Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch'' Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 32 (1989): 465-72.  None of this means that Evangelicals are right and liberals (and Mormons who follow them) are wrong.  But there are plenty of qualified scholars on both sides.  Just because James White may not be aware of them doesn't mean they aren't there.

My brain is starting to get tired, and I badly need some food.  And I am tired of staring at this computer screen.  With regard to the Trinity, the relationship of the Creeds to the Bible, and the notion of deification, I will simply point you to the relevant essays by Craig Blomberg in How Wide the Divide?, and the discussion of these issues by Carl Mosser and myself which can be found in our review of How Wide the Divide? in the next issue of the FARMS Review of Books.  Finally, I will ask you what I have already asked Bill Hamblin. Does not 1 Nephi 5:11 plainly point to the Mosaic authorship of all five books of the Pentateuch? And if you want to argue that the version of Deuteronomy which was on Laban's brass plates was not corrupted by the monotheism of the Deuteronomists, then why is it that the Father and the Son (i.e. Elohim and Yahweh) are consistently described as 'one God' in the Book of Mormon? Sincerely,

Letter Three

From: "Eugene Seaich" <>
To: "Paul OWEN" <>
Cc: "SKINNY-L" <>
Subject: Re: Christian Monotheism vs. Polytheism
Date: Mon, 13 Apr 1998 23:31:26

Dear Paul,

I am happy to have heard from you, and will attempt to add a few comments of my own to the discussion.

You wrote:
With respect to Deuteronomy 32:8-9, the proper interpretation is not as simple as you want to make it.  Citing TDOT as if that settled the matter would get you a well-deserved 'F' in any exegesis class.

I certainly do not base my interpretation of the passage in question (or of OT polytheism in general) on a single quotation from a particular book.  If I had, I would indeed rate an “F” in biblical interpretation.  If you recall, however, I stated that Dr. Hamblin had already done an excellent job of defending our position, and that I would therefore ADD but a single quotation to show the reliability of his argument, quoting from what is generally recognized to be the BEST RECENT SCHOLARSHIP on the subject, and to show how the REAL wind is blowing.  My main purpose, however, was not to continue Dr. Hamblin’s discussion of the word ‘elohim, or to rehash his exegesis of Dt. 32:8-9, but simply to point out that two entirely different worlds of thought appear to separate us:  Evangelical Fundamentalism, which is determined to uphold the 4th century invention of Trinitarian monotheism, and Mormonism, which simply reads the NT as it was written, and which finds its belief in a SEPARATE Father and Son fully supported by recent scholarship in the field of biblical archeology.  Indeed, while evangelicals seem to fear scientific scholarship in the Bible, Mormons welcome it.  Thus I could fill up a couple of dozen e-mail letters with quotes from scholars like William Dever, Theodore Vriezen, Otto Eissfeldt, H. G. May, T. H. Gaster, Baruch Halpern, Helmer Ringgren--as well as numerous others whom you would call “liberal”--all supporting what Dr. Hamblin has so ably defended already.  Even Wm. Albright, who was a very pious “orthodox” Christian, came to the conclusion that the ancient Hebrews believed in “a father, El, a mother, whose specific name or names must remain obscure (perhaps Elat or Anath), and a son, who appears as the storm-god, probably named Shaddai” (From The Stone Age To Christianity, 247).  Recent field work in Israel has further proven beyond question that the Iron Age Israelites recognized the existence of several deities, including Asherah, as well as Yahweh.  (Compare Micah 4:5; Job 38:7; Prov. 30:4; Jdg. 11:24; 1 Sam. 26:19; Ruth 1:16; etc.)  There is in fact not an archeologist working today who would deny that the people of the OT were polytheists, even if there was a small movement that slowly evolved from Mosaic monolatry (the belief in many gods, but only one for Israel) to theoretical monotheism.  (Note that the Theological Dictionary Of The Old Testament, vol. 1:196-7, defines ‘ECHAD [“one”]--as in the Shema-- as “the ONE and ONLY God for Israel,” and adds that “this does not deny the existence of other gods...The idea that Dt. 6:4 can be interpreted in the sense of theoretical monotheism is out of the question.”).  I do, however, happen to have devoted about one hundred pages in a book of my own, entitled Ancient Texts and Mormonism (so far unpublished), to the issue we are discussing, and would be willing to share some of it with you, if you are interested in covering specific issues again.  I apologize if I seemed to have no ideas of my own, but I did not wish to make it appear that I thought Dr. Hamblin’s ideas needed any help from me.  

Now certainly it is possible that Elyon and Yahweh are to be distinguished here.  As I already granted to Hamblin, the reading 'sons of God' is probably to be preferred to the MT ('sons of Israel').

That is fine.  But then you return to the same old “orthodox” argument:

But that is only half the battle.  It is still also possible to interpret this passage as saying that Elyon/Yahweh 'divied out' the other nations to various angelic authorities, but chose Israel to be his own special people.  Which reading do you think fits best with the general theological tendencies of Deuteronomy?  Monotheism or polytheism?  The idea that two Gods are to be distinguished here really reflects a judgment about the pre-history of the text.  The monotheistic tendencies of Deuteronomy as a piece of literature are uncontested.

Yes, you are quite correct, if you are an “orthodox” Christian; then you can indeed read it to mean that the “One God” ‘divied out” the nations between himself and the other “angels.”  But you have already admitted that “sons of God” is the preferred reading (at least to be preferred over the MT text), whereas the ORIGINAL Qumran Hebrew text shows that “sons of God” are what was actually intended.  I admit that YOUR reading “best fits the general theological tendencies of Deuteronomy,” since Deuteronomy was itself a tendentious production intended to revolutionize Israelite thought (2 Kg. 23), thereby leading to present day Judaism.  But his is somewhat like taking the fox’s own witness as proof of his innocence in the hen-house.

Your other arguments are even more tenuous.  You cite a Harvard dissertation in support of the meaning of 'inheritance' for NHL.  You would have been better off to check a lexicon first.  The fact of the matter is, NHL has at least two distinct lexical connotations: 1) simply 'to possess'; and 2) 'to inherit'.  Either meaning is possible, and the context is determinative as to which meaning fits best.

This “Harvard dissertation” happens to have been accepted by Theodore Mullen in support of his contention that the god Baal won his “inheritance” from El as a consequence of conquering El’s foes--a mythic pattern which he attempts to demonstrate behind the traditions of the OT:  “The terminology used to denote the divine council and its members in Canaanite and Hebrew literature is markedly similar.  As F. M. Cross has noted, the Hebrew ‘EDAH shows the same correspondence between the political and heavenly assembly as does the Akkadian PUHRUM.  In conjunction with the similarity of terminology, the concepts of the council in Canaan and Israel are strikingly similar., El, as we demonstrated above, was the king, father, and progenitor of the gods, in Canaanite mythology.  As such, he stood at the head of the pantheon....Likewise, the picture of Yahweh” (and here he acknowledges that the PRESENT Deuteronomic text assumes Yahweh to be identical to El, as we likewse freely acknowledge) “in his council presents him as the head of the assembly, the god whose decree determined the actions of his holy ones” (pp. 119-20).  Here, again, the use of NHL and its derivatives implies something “won” or “inherited,” in order that it might be one’s “possession.”  

Yet I have consulted several dictionaries, which all define NAHALA in terms of INHERITANCE, even when it is a legitimate “possession,” for “possession” seems generally to mean “that which has been bestowed by right of familial descent or special service,” i.e. “that which is ALLOTTED.”  Van Gemeran’s brand-new New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (Zondervan, 1997, I:77) thus defines NHL as “the division of land within the kinship structure of Israel and thus signifies the permanent family property ALLOTTED to the tribes, clans and households of Israel...There is a ‘triangular’ sage of both NIL and NASAL to signify the land as Israel’s INHERITANCE, and even Yahweh as Israel’s inheritance.”  Brown-Driver-Briggs gives the same range of meanings (p. 635), basically “to take possession, inherit,” “to give as a possession,” “to cause to inherit give as an inheritance,” etc.  All are active meanings, such as “made to possess,” “divide to possess,” etc., never mere “possession.”  Strong (admittedly old, but not necessarily useless!) also gives the same basic meanings:  “to bequeath, distribute, inherit,” and the noun, “something inherited, an estate, patrimony or portion,” thus becoming a familial “possession.”  Even the new evangelically oriented International Standard Bible Encyclopedia gives the same range of meanings (Vol. 2, 823-24).  In short, I don’t see how one could believe that the “One God” simply divided up the nations, then gave himself an “inheritance” similar to that of the lesser gods.  Even the other examples which you gave of NHL generally speak of an “inheritance” which CHANGES HANDS, passing from one person to another, or of a people that was called into existence as a “possession” when it was first redeemed (Dt. 32:6).  Furthermore, if Dt. 32:8-9 means what we say it does, then Yahweh would actually be reaffirming that Israel WAS his “inheritance”!  

Dillard and Longman point out that scholars are less inclined to chop up the text into various pieces on the basis of source-critical analysis, especially pertaining to the divine names since ''the use of different divine names (particularly Elohim and Yahweh) may result from stylistic practice rather than the use of sources'' (p. 45).

I agree completely.  A good review of the whole process can be found in the 1994 New Interpreter's Bible, vol. 1, pp. 305-19, by Joseph Blenkensopp, who writes that the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis is almost in a state of “terminal crisis,” as far as identifying which document came from where, and when.  Interestingly enough, however, he still retains the sigla J, E, D, and P!  Albert de Pury, writing in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, (“Yahwist [J] Source”), agrees as to the present lack of agreement relative to the modern documentary hypothesis, but still writes that the components of the traditional “J” source “are too different from each other, and too autonomous in their outlook and scope to have been conceived for the purpose of a single historiographic work.  Each of these components can stand on its own” (vol. 6:1018).  In short, it is still the general opinion that the Pentateuch is a collection of vastly differing manuscripts and theologies, though we are not much closer to knowing how they came together than before.  I too am tiring out, and would like to send you some more thoughts concerning the oneness of God, which I am convinced is to be explained just the way John and Paul have explained it, namely as a result of “spiritual indwelling” (John 14:10; Col 2:9), i.e. the sharing of the Father’s Spirit and fulness, not as a result of being “one substance.”  I promise to get back to you soon.


Letter Four

From: "Eugene Seaich" <>
To: "Paul OWEN" <>, "Carl Mosser" <>, <>
Cc: "William J. Hamblin" <>
Subject: Re: Christian Monotheism vs. Polytheism
Date: Tue, 14 Apr 1998 08:58:21 -0600

Just a brief note concerning item No. 4 in Dr. Hamblin's reply.  Albright and several other scholars date the age of Dt. 32:8-9 to about 1000 B.C. (YAHWEH AND THE GODS OF CANAAN, 17), whereas the rest of Deuteronomy reflects a much newer point of view, making Yahweh and Elohim appear identical.  The same story in Dt. 4:19, for instance, now clearly says that it is "the LORD God" (Yahweh) who does the dividing of the nations.  What interests me is the fact even Plato seems to have been influenced by this ancient story of earth's apportionment "according to the number of gods" who will rule over it: "The gods distributed the whole earth by regions...They apportioned to each his own righteous allotment...Thus the gods received diverse districts as their portions and reigned over them (Critias 109b-c).  Like Yahweh, who received Israel as his portion (Dt. 32:9), the god Hephaestos was given the homeland of the Greeks for his personal satrapy.  Even more important to us, however, is that Hephaestos and his spouse, Athena, became the ancestors of that "race of good men" who presently inhabit the area (Critias 109b-c).  This surprising connection between Platonic and Semitic myths becomes even more significant when we recall the legend in Genesis that "mighty men of old" were begotten by the "sons of God" (Gen. 6:1-4).  Their "story of faraway early days" (109e) reappears in Plato's Timaeus, which describes the Athenians' descent from Hephaestos (23b-c), and tells how their souls had been fashioned from heavenly fire in "the image of the eternal gods" (37c; cf. Gen. 1:27).  As in the Critias, these gods were the ancestors of the various races of men (Timaeus 40d). Significantly, Philo always thought that the Greeks got their learning from Moses and Mt. Sinai, i.e. from a much older story of the "dividing of the nations."


-----Original Message-----

From: William J. Hamblin <>
To: <>; Carl Mosser <>
Cc: skinny <>
Date: Monday, April 13, 1998 3:06 PM
Subject: Re: Christian Monotheism vs. Polytheism

>Paul and Carl,
>>Paul asked me to forward this to you.  Being the computer genius >>he is, Paul has not figured out a way to make his software send an >>e-mail to more than two persons.  BTW, thanks for forwarding those >>last posts to me.
>You're welcome.
>And thanks for the bibliography, which I am snipping.
>>Which reading do you think fits best with the general theological
>>tendencies of Deuteronomy?  Monotheism or polytheism?  The idea >>that two Gods are to be distinguished here really reflects a >>judgement about the pre-history of the text.  The monotheistic >>tendencies of Deuteronomy as a piece of literature are uncontested.
>That's quite true.  However, a few caveats and questions are in order.
>1.  Was Deuteronomy written by Moses?
>There is, of course, a great deal of debate, with essentially circular
>arguments on both sides.  I believe, given the evidence we have, it >cannot be resolved.  My personal view is that it was not.
>2.  If it wasn't written by Moses is it therefore not scripture?
>For me, and many LDS Christians, the issue is not authorship, but
>inspiration.  If Deut. is not Mosaic, it still can be inspired scripture,
>which I believe it is.
>3.  Can you find the Trinity in Deuteronomy?  If not, is it therefore not
>I don't think you can find it; I still think it is scripture.
>4.  Specifically in regard to Deut 32.  The passage in question, >seems quite clear to me, to be a quotation or summary of an early >source, or tradition.  Verse 7 reads, "Remember the days of old, >consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will >shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee."  In other words they >are recalling, or, as I believe, quoting and earlier source/tradition.  So >even if it is found in a book filled with monotheistic theology, this >passage may represent an earlier archaic tradition.  Furthermore, the >implied multiplicity of elohim in 32:8-9 was obviously found >objectionable by someone, or they wouldn't have changed the text. >So, even if Deut. is generally monotheistic, that is not evidence that >this passage cannot be seen as evidence for early multi-theistic >traditions.  (I will not use the word polytheistic, since that implies >Greek or Hindu type pantheons, which is inconsistent with LDS
>Christian thought.)
>5.  Is Deut. monotheism incompatible with LDS theology?
>Not at all!
>5.1  We are monotheists/henotheists.  We worship only one God.
>5.2  LDS Christian understandings of the Godhead, as henothelitic or
>homothelitic (of one/the same will--I use this term to distinguish LDS
>though from that of Heraclius' Monothelatism of the early 7th >century).  It is not Nicaean Trinitarian homoousios, but it is just as >monotheistic and consistent a reconciliation of NT Trinitarian (or >Binitarian) thought with OT Monotheism as is Nicaean Trinitarianism.
>5.3  Deut. can be inspired scripture, but not contain the fullness as
>revealed by Christ.  Thus, if Deut. is inerrant scripture in its >monotheism, it should be equally inerrant in its legalistic thought. >So, do you believe slavery is a divinely inspired and justified >institution?  If not, then perhaps what God was revealing to the >ancient Israelites was only a portion of the truth.
>5.4  I, like most LDS Christians, believe that a scripture can be >inspired without being inerrant.  Thus, I accept Deut as inspired. >However, I believe it was revealed at a specific historical place, and >time, to a specific people in a specific cultural setting, and in a >specific language.
>They had limited understanding (as we do), and God spoke to them >in a way that would help them come closer to him, given their >circumstances.  He did not reveal the fullness to the prophet of Deut. >One of the major problems facing Israel was syncretism with >surrounding polytheisms.  God revealed Deut and Isa 40-48 to >prevent the complete submersion of Israel's identity with that of the >surrounding religions.  It does not mean, however, that those ideas >represent a fullness of the doctrines of the godhead or trinity.
>5.5  I believe that the "only one God" language found in the OT must >be understood withint he limited cosmological perspectives of the OT >cultures.
>For the OT and NT writers, "all things" meant this planet and the >visible stars.  They did not know of the exitsence of galaxies beyond >ours, or even that the stars were suns.  Thus, for an bibilical writer to >proclaim that God created "all things" does not preclude LDS >thinking on this matter, than beyond the cosmological sphere of >biblical understanding, there are other divine and creative beings who >are henotheistically at one with each other, thus forming one >Godhead, but are separate beings.  (For that matter, why,
>if you have a Nicaean Trinity, can't you have a Nicaean Quandrinity, >or Quintinity?  How is Hindu monism incompatible with Nicaean >monotheism.)
>> Finally, I will ask you what I have already asked Bill Hamblin.
>>Does not 1 Nephi 5:11 plainly point to the Mosaic authorship of all
>>five books of the Pentateuch?  And if you want to argue that the
>>version of Deuteronomy which was on Laban's brass plates was not
>>corrupted by the monotheism of the Deuteronomists, then why is it
>>that the Father and the Son (i.e. Elohim and Yahweh) are >>consistently described as 'one God' in the Book of Mormon?
>Nephi's mention of the Books of Moses is not conclusive evidence >that the book of Deut. was written by Moses.
>As I noted earlier:
>1- Nephi may simply be using the standard title for the books.  He >may have indeed believed they were all by Moses.  But that does not >prove Mosaic authorship.  I sometimes speak of Paul's letter to the >Hebrews, although I strongly doubt it was really written by Paul. >(Remember, inspiration, not authorship is what is important.)  I >believe it was written by a now unknown prophet, and that it is >inspired scripture.  It's just not Pauline.
>2- Let's assume that Deut. is the book found in the Temple by >Josiah's priests.  They, at that time thought it was Mosaic, and >therefore included it in the Pentateuch, and presumably added it to >the brass/bronze plates.
>It thus becomes accepted in Israelite circles as being Mosaic, and is >so accepted by Nephi.  Thus, he could believe it was Mosaic and call >it Mosaic, and it still might not be Mosaic.  It might be much later. >This is essentially my personal view.
>3- As I mentioned earlier, the Books of Moses known by Nephi are >not necessarily the same books of Moses now included in the >Pentateuch.
>4- The texts of the Nephite Books of Moses might differ to a greater >or lesser degree from current manuscripts.  After all, if true, the BOM >is a textual witness that is half a millennium older than its nearest >competitor.
>5- I think your view of BOM monotheism is distorted by both your >own evangelical presuppositions, and by reading a bit too much in >the cultural secular Mormon writings.  But that is another story.
>More on some of the other subjects later.

Letter Five

From: Paul OWEN <>
To: Eugene Seaich <>
Cc: <>
Date: Tuesday, April 14, 1998 9:53 AM
Subject: Re: Christian Monotheism vs. Polytheism

Dear Eugene,
As I already indicated, I think it is quite a stretch to try to trace Greek mythology back to an original polytheistic Hebrew origin.  The proposed connection is so far-fetched (despite Philo's speculations) that it is hard to know what to say in response.  With regard to Deuteronomy 32:8-9, I went to the library and checked out E.T. Mullen's, The Assembly of the Gods (Chico: Scholars Press, 1980).  It turns out that Mullen has been quoted out of context, because actually he agrees with my interpretation.  Here is what he has to say (pp. 204-05):

    ''In Deuteronomy 32:8-9 the assembly is gathered, the nations are apportioned.  Verse 8 notes explicitly that it is the god Elyon who distributes the nations among the members of the assembly.  This has given rise to two interpretations of the position of Yahweh in the council.  O. Eissfeldt has defended the view that Elyon here appears as a superior to Yahweh.  It is Elyon who appears at the head of the council and apportions the nations among the gods, one of whom is Yahweh.  This argument is supported by the position of Elyon in Gen. 14:18-24.  Further, it is probable that Yahweh recognizes the superiority of El/Elyon, here regarded as a distinct deity (cf. Isa 14:13; Ezek. 28:2).  The preservation of such a view in Hebrew literature would be most remarkable, however.  We find the better interpretation to be in the view that Elyon and Yahweh are to be identified in vv. 8-9.  Though Elyon is noted as the god of Jerusalem in Gen. 14:18-24, neither biblical nor extra-biblical tradition reflects the exact nature of the olden god Elyon (cf. Praep. evang. I.10.14).  It is clear, however, that within biblical tradition Elyon was regarded as a suitable appellative for Yahweh (cf. Num 24:16, where Elyon parallels El and Sadday; Ps 18:14=2 Sam 22:14, where it parallels Yahweh; Gen 14:22, where El Elyon is applied as an epithet of Yahweh; Ps 47:3, where Elyon is an epithet of Yahweh; etc.).  Traditions in Hebrew usage of the term make it most probable that the writer here equates Elyon and Yahweh.  According to the analysis of W.F. Albright, this is 'another example of parallelism carried over groups of verses.'  If our interpretation that Elyon=Yahweh is correct, then Deuteronomy 32 becomes a conceptual unity.  This unity, the rib, or covenant lawsuit, which has been studied thoroughly by G.E. Wright, depicts the deity as judge and plaintiff.  Yahweh both prosecutes the apostate nation and delivers judgment upon it.  The setting is clearly that of the law court.  The other deities seem to have no function in the proceedings.  As in the scenes of the assembly in Ugaritic literature, they are simply present.  But Deuteronomy 32 presents them as the guardians of the other nations.  Though they perform no actions in this piece, their subservience and responsibility to Yahweh are vividly seen in the court proceedings recorded in Psalm 82.  The identity of Elyon and Yahweh in vv. 8-9 seems clear.  Yahweh/Elyon distributed the nations among the members of his council (compare the actions of Kronos in Praep. evang. I.10.31-35), preserving Israel as his own portion.''

You know what, that makes a lot of sense.  I think I really like this Mullen fellow!


Letter Six

From: "Eugene Seaich" <>
To: "Paul OWEN" <>
Cc: "SKINNY-L" <>
Subject: Re: Christian Monotheism vs. Polytheism
Date: Tue, 14 Apr 1998 23:07:25

Dear Paul,

Let me make several separate points:

1- I have never attempted to derive Greek myths from the Hebrews.  All I have done is to use Plato's version of the story to demonstrate its great antiquity, which proves that our interpretation of it is much older than the "orthodox" Jewish version.

2- By the way, my reference to those late Christian versions was neither "worthless' nor "trite," for they help to demonstrate the persistance of the same ancient tradition which originally existed in Dt. 32:8-9.  Where else did they come from?  Who invented them?  Why do they so perfectly follow the interpretation of Dt. 32:8-9 that we are proposing?

3- You say that I misquoted Mullen, but I very accurately quoted what he said on his page 59, where he demonstrated that Baal received an "inheritance" (NHL) from a higher authority than himself.  Mullen further called attention on pp. 119-120 to the parallelism between the Canaanite and Hebrew Heavenly Councils and their form of administration.  I therefore still stand by my use of Mullen.

4- All Mullen does on his pp.204-5 is to agree with us that there have been two interpretations of Dt. 32:8-9, the first supporting our contention, and the second supporting yours.  Of the latter he says, "It is clear that WITHIN BIBLICAL TRADITION Elyon was regarded as a suitable appelative for Yahweh"--something that we already knew.  Naturally, according to the present "biblical tradition" (based on the values of the Deuteromonic Reform), "the identity of Elyon and Yahweh in vv. 8-9 seems clear."  In short, Mullen in no way contradicts the use I made of him.


Letter Seven

From: Paul OWEN <>
To: <>
Cc: <>
Date: Tuesday, April 21, 1998 8:48 AM
Subject: Monotheism

Dear Eugene,
Nice to hear from you.  Last week the email was not functioning properly here, and the place was shut down yesterday.  I am very busy these days, like everyone else I suppose.  However, I will offer a few thoughts on your last email.

First of all, the cosmological structure of your position sounds a lot like Orson Pratt and B.H. Roberts.  Both Pratt and Roberts attempted to work a way back to monotheism through the back door, in a way consistent with Joseph Smith's speculations in the King Follett Discourse.  Orson Pratt especially developed the idea of a Great First Cause, the Primal Source, the Fountain of Being, the infinite God-Nature, which extends throughout the universe, incarnating itself in individual Personages or Intelligences.  In this way, Mormon thinkers have attempted to reconcile the idea of an infinite multiplicity of Divine Beings with the monotheism of the Bible and Christian tradition.

Allow me to say that I am grateful for aspects of this.  I am glad to see that many careful Mormon thinkers have sought to preserve a form of monotheism, rather than jettisoning it entirely.  It seems to me that this is likewise your desire.  I also think that Christian critics of Mormonism have tended to overlook entirely this aspect of LDS thought.  I find that many Latter-day Saints ignore these ideas as well, due to their own unfamiliarity with the writings of Pratt and Roberts.

The question however, is, How successful is this model in retaining a coherent form of monotheism; and, How faithful is this model to the biblical witness?  My judgment is rather negative in both regards.  First of all, although the Pratt-Roberts model does preserve a form of monotheism, it does not, in my view, adequately preserve a Personal monotheism.  God ends up being an impersonal Nature, in the end.  In fact, when you combine this view with a materialistic cosmogony, as Pratt so eloquently does, you really begin to border on Stoic pantheism, which is about as far away from a Christian worldview as one can get.

According to the model you propose, God not only is ultimately not personal, he remains unknown.  The members of the Godhead do not possess the essence of Deity, rather the Deity makes himself known by indwelling Personages who are lower down on the scale of Being than Godself.  The Trinity becomes a community of Gods, who reveal the God-Nature.  But the God-nature remains higher on the scale of Being than the personal emanations, and hence ultimately unknown.  This brings us around to the view of God proposed by Neo-Platonists like Plotinus, and the Gnostics whom Plotinus critiqued.  Glimpses of this sort of God above God theological structure can also be found in certain strands of Christian mysticism (e.g. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopogite).  I find it intriguing that you seem, and I am sorry to say it, elated at the many structural similarities between Mormonism and Gnosticism.  I would think that these parallels would trouble anyone who desires to retain any kind of continuity with the Christian tradition.  Your desire to retain such a continuity seems to be indicated by your frequent quotation of Fathers such as Ireneaus, Clement and Origen.  Yet all of the orthodox Fathers, even Clement, ultimately condemned the Gnostic system as heresy, a perversion of the Truth.  Does that not bother you?

You have offered numerous citations from writers in the Early Church which you feel parallel Mormon doctrine with respect to Eternal Progression.  But the doctrine of Recapitulation, as articulated by Irenaeus, for example, is fundamentally opposed to the LDS notion of Eternal Progression.  The structural conflict takes place at the most fundamental level.  The fount of Being is located in the Person of God the Father, who expresses Himself in His Only Son.  There is no God-Nature apart from the Person of the Father in early Christian thought.  And the Person of the Father is never separated from the Logos by which the Divine Being is expressed.  The Persons of the Godhead are not emanations, down the scale of Being from the unknown God, or the Gnostic Monad; rather, the Three Persons in Eternal Communion ARE the Divine Being.

A second fundamental structural difference is that ALL of the Fathers were agreed that only God (i.e. the Trinity) is eternal.  (Origen is perhaps a slight exception, in that he seems to have seen the Holy Spirit as the First Creation.)  But none of the Fathers taught that humans were eternal.  Origen believed in the pre-existence of souls, but not the ETERNAL nature of human intelligence.  This ontological divide between God and man must be kept in mind when considering the nature of divinization in early Christian thought.  Divinization is the restoration of the Divine Image in man through the indwelling of the Spirit and adoption.  It is not something inherent in man's nature, as though he had the same capacities as God Himself, just waiting to develop.  Deification is by grace (in the Fathers).  It is rooted in the soteriological paradigm of the New Creation.  This is fundamentally different from the LDS notion of humans as gods in embryo.

Might I also add that the Bible itself, is of course opposed to Neo-Platonic thought in this regard.  God is not some unknown Fount of Being.  God is personal.  He is Elohim, Yahweh, Holy Ruach in the Hebrew Bible.  In the New Testament he is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  But there is no hint of a God-Nature higher up on the scale of Being than the Persons of the Trinity.  In order to come up with a God above God theism, the Gnostics had to deny that the God of the Old Testament was in fact the Father of Jesus Christ.  Christ came to make known a previously Unknown God, different from the God of the Hebrew Bible.  It was this heresy which brought down the condemnation of the Catholic Church.  Mormonism parallels this Gnostic view, in that it denies that the God of creation is the Ultimate Fount of Being.

Now of course there is a difference between Mormonism and Gnosticism, in that Mormonism does not denigrate materiality.  God himself is a material Being in LDS thought.  Even the God-nature, Pratt and Roberts argue, is not immaterial; because matter exists in continuum with spirit.  Spirit is a refined form of matter.  But it seems to me that this road leads to the same end as Gnostic dualism.  Matter is not opposed to spirit, but rather swallowed up in it.  In other words, not only is spirit a form of matter, but matter, it would seem, is ultimately a form of spirit.  Thus God, and all intelligences, even resurrected Divine Beings, can ultimately be described as composed of spirit. Matter is not rejected, it is philosophically swallowed up.

Reality, in LDS thought, is tied to the imagery of the Temple.  Earthly forms are imperfect shadows of the heavenly Reality.  This is why Mormonism has so many connections with the Platonic Jewish thought of Philo.  Life down here is a mere, transient experience, a necessary evil (hence the Fall), that enables one to return to the heavenly world of spirit.  Life is a journey, a return home, a path to reunification with the Divine Source from whence we have come.  Hence the notion which Pratt and Roberts fleshed out, that all intelligences are ultimately parts of God.  We are literally chips off the Old Block.  Again, we are in the non-biblical worldview of Plato, which I am convinced Joseph Smith derived from Jewish Kabbalism.  (Yes, I am aware of the criticisms of this position.)  This is not the cosmology of the Prophets and Apostles.

Those are my thoughts for now.  Carl will be forwarding a copy of this to Bill Hamblin.  Could you send Carl a copy of your last email to me, to which this is a response?  Thanks.


Letter Eight

From: "Eugene Seaich" <>
To: "Paul OWEN" <>
Cc: "SKINNY-L" <>, <>, "LDSApolog" <> Subject: Re: Monotheism
Date: Wed, 22 Apr 1998 15:20:06

Dear Paul,
I’m glad to have heard again from you.  Judging from your e-mail address, you must presently be in England, which I consider to be my spiritual home.  All of my relatives live there, and I daily long to return to it.

I think it will be best once more if I answer your several points one at a time.

I must, however, at the beginning disclaim any dependence on the works of Orson Pratt and B. H. Roberts OR the writings of the Gnostics.  To whatever extent that my ideas appear similar to theirs, I would say that both of us have come to the same independent conclusions, based on the same scriptural texts that the rest of Christendom employs.

Gnosticism, by the way, is not to be disdained simply because “orthodoxy” has rejected it.  Latter-day Saints would claim that BOTH Gnosticism and “orthodoxy” eventally apostatized from the truths of the Primitive Church, though BOTH retain vast amounts of early doctrine, hence may be profitably studied as clues to what Jesus once taught.  No more than we would say that Baptists or Catholics know nothing whatever of the Bible would we say that the Gnostics knew nothing of Christian truth.  Gnosticism in fact preserved many of the ideas which “orthodoxy” lost, for instance, belief in the preexistence of the soul, the three degrees of glory, human deification, the subordination of Yahweh to Elohim, and many aspects of the Jerusalem Temple cult, all of which your detested “liberal scholars” have thoroughly documented, and which I have outlined in detail in several of my other writings.

You say that “Pratt and Roberts attempted to work a way back to monotheism through the back door...In this way Mormon thinkers have attempted to work a way back to monotheism in order to reconcile the idea of an infinite multiplicity of Divine Beings with the monotheism of the Bible and Christian tradition.”

Yet I would hardly call this a “back-door attempt,” for theirs was but an attempt to explain what LDS Scripture plainly says, namely that there is ONE GOD (Alma 11:28-9), who has never changed (Mormon 9:10; Moroni 7:22; D&C 20:17), though his fulness--the same fulness which dwelt in Jesus and made him divine--may dwell in worthy men and women (D&C 92:18-20), making them “gods, even sons of God” (D&C 76:58).

This is precisely what the New Testament says.  Again, there is but ONE GOD (Rom. 3:30; 1 Tim. 2:5), who is eternal and changeless (Rom. 1:20; 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 22:13), though a fulness of his Godhood (PLEROMA TES THEOTETOS) dwelt in the Son (Col. 2:9), a fulness which can also dwell in men (Eph. 3:19: “that YE might be filled with ALL the fulness of God”).

Note that I do not include Old Testament statements reflecting Deuteronomic monotheism, since the problem which they address was quite different from what we are discussing.  They were simply attempting to show that Israel’s Elohim and Yahweh were the EXACT SAME GOD, and that no others--not even “lesser gods”--could possible exist.

Perhaps we need a new vocabulary with which to characterize the New Testament and Mormon doctrine, since neither “polytheism” nor “theoretical monotheism” are entirely appropriate.  Indeed, there is but ONE “God of all other gods” (D&C 121:32), though the “other gods” in whom his fulness dwells have a literal share of his Godhood, and must therefore be called “gods.”  One writer proposed that we call this a “monotheistic polytheism,” though this is hardly better than before, since it smacks of “henotheism” and “One God” who manifests himself in the diverse forms of many “gods,” each illustrating a different aspect of his power.  Thus the Hindu Brahman appears at times as Vishnu, who creates, and at times as Shiva, who destroys, both being expressions of Brahman’s total activity.  But the Christian God and his Sons are separate and individual gods, though each possesses the same divine fulness and divine nature.  (Perhaps this “fulness” is the ultimate secret of God’s innermost nature, though this would at present be conjecture on my part.  If this were the case, then the LECTURES ON FAITH, #5, which states that God is essentially “a personage of Spirit” and “fulness” would stand just as it is, though with the added information that he also possesses “a tabernacle of flesh.”)

I agree with you completely that “many Latter-day Saints ignore these ideas....due to their own unfamiliarity with the writings of Pratt and Roberts,” though I would add that most are simply ignorant of Scripture.  I have long lamented the smug complacency of many of my co-religionists, who come to Sunday School without their Standard Works, and who have to be told on what page they might find Genesis 1:1.  (I recall many years ago, when Eph. 2:8-9 was being discussed, that no one in the class believed what it said.  Their conclusion was that this must be one of the passages that is “incorrectly translated!”)  Fortunately, this is changing today.  Many educated Mormons are finally convinced that they are actually saved by grace without works (but for the express purpose of being able to PERFORM good works, Eph. 2:10--works for which they will eventually be judged and rewarded, Mt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6; 2 Cor.5:10, etc.).  There is still a lot of ground to cover, however, in understanding what Scripture has to say about God, though here I must include most “orthodox” Christians as well!

You then go on to say that while “the Pratt-Roberts model does preserve a form of monotheism, it does not, in my view, adequately preserve a Personal monotheism.  God ends up being an impersonal Nature....In fact, when you combine this view with a materialistic cosmogony, as Pratt so eloquently does, you really begin to border on Stoic pantheism, which is about as far away from a Christian world view as one can get.”

But why would our God “end up being an impersonal Nature?”  Your “Trinitarian” God is certainly a vague kind of “omnipresent pure spirit,” though you claim it is also “personal.”  Why, then, can’t OUR God be personal, though “spiritually omnipresent?”  Indeed, everything in Mormonism emphasizes the intensely PERSONAL relationship of God to man is (consider Joseph Smith’s First Vision!).  And to say that the Mormon God “begins to border on Stoic pantheism” is further beside the point, though if what the Stoics meant was that “God’s Logos permeates and governs the cosmos,” then the Stoics were entirely correct.  For what does the Bible mean when it asks, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend up into heaven, thou [art] there:  if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me” (compare D&C 88:41-47).  Is this also “pantheism” or “Stoicism”?

And why do you say, “According to the model you propose, God not only is ultimately NOT PERSONAL, he remains UNKNOWN?”  (My emphases).  Oddly enough, most Trinitarians boast that their God is a “Three-in-One MYSTERY” that no one can understand!  Nevertheless, what God proposes to reveal, he will reveal, as you yourself concede when you state that “the Deity makes himself known by indwelling Personages who are lower down on the scale of Being.”  With that kind of spiritual witness we Mormons would completely agree.  In fact, it is precisely the point made by John and Paul, who speak of God’s “spiritual dwelling” in others, or his “cleaving spiritually” to them, thereby making of them a SINGLE SPIRIT (1 Cor. 6:17; Abr. 4:2).  That is indeed how John’s Jesus could say “I and my Father are one” (10:30), for they possessed “One Spirit” and “One fulness of Godhood” (Col. 2:9).  You next claim that “The Trinity (is) a community of Gods, who reveal the God-Nature,” though we have not yet established that such a “Trinity” exists.  (That is one of the very points we are arguing.)  I, however, believe that a scriptural TRIAD exists, and that it truly reveals the God-Nature, which is a continuous process, as exemplified by the Father-Son Pair, and by which the Father’s nature is continuously begotten in new sons through the medium of the Holy Spirit.  God, in short, is dynamic, rather than static, though he always manifests himself in a PERSONAL manner, being the very model for personal existences (Gen. 1:27).

What else can it mean when the New Testament says that men may themselves become sharers of the Divine Nature (actually the “very Being of God” [NEB of 2 Pet. 1:4], or THEIAS KOINONOI PHYSEOS)?  What else can it mean that men can be filled “with ALL the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:19)?  What else can it mean that men can become ONE with God, AS THE SON IS ONE WITH THE FATHER, bestowing on them the same glory that the Son received (John 17:21-23)?  You fault me for “offer(ing) numerous citations from writers in the Early Church, which (I) feel parallel Mormon doctrine,” yet these same writers agree with me that men can indeed become WHAT THE SON WAS--namely GODS!  (We have already given you endless quotes to this effect, so I will not stop to document them all over again).

You seem to believe that I have derived some of my doctrines from the Gnostics.  (“I find it intriguing that you seem, and I am sorry to say it, elated at the many structural similarities between Mormonism and Gnosticism.  I would think that these parallels would trouble anyone who desires to retain any kind of continuity with the Christian tradition.”)  Actually, I rarely quote from Gnostic sources, and then only when they and their contexts help to verify what can only have been the Christian originals.  (Some Gnostic writings, for example, support the biblical view that men need physical experience in order to learn good from evil [Gen. 3:22].  This is significant because the Gnostics generally disparaged physical existence, and would not have invented such a notion by themselves.)  I highly recommend to you Simone Pétrement’s A Separate God, which carefully shows that Gnostic ideas were almost exclusively developed from New Testament Christianity, and that while frequently “perverted,” they remained excellent hints as to what the Church formerly believed.  The same is true of Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Paul and The Johannine Gospel In Gnostic Exegesis, both of which show that Gnosticism is largely a development of New Testament Scripture.)  I will therefore admit that Mormonism in some cases does resemble Gnostic ideas, but only because the Gnostics preserved doctrines which “orthodoxy” later abandoned.

You then go on to state that “A second fundamental structural difference is that ALL of the Fathers were agreed that only God (i.e. the Trinity) is eternal.”  (This cannot possibly have been true BEFORE Trinitarianaism was invented!  Please refer back to my quotations from leading scholars who pointed out that NO Trinitarianism is to be found in the Bible.)  “But none of the Fathers taught that humans were eternal.”  Of course not!  Men are presently mortal and fallen.  But God has promised that they will BECOME eternal one day--that is the whole promise of the Gospel.  And when you state that “Origen believed in the pre-existence of souls, but not the ETERNAL nature of human intelligence,” how do you know what the composition of his preexstent souls might have been?  Mormons, like Origen, believe that God created men’s souls (Abr. 3:22), even though Intelligence was uncreated, just as matter is uncreated.  (Exactly what this uncreated Intelligence was like, we have no idea, though some Mormons have argued that is was always endowed with individuality, while others have argued that man’s intelligence was draw from God’s Intelligence, like sparks from a fire.)  Why do you say that “Divinization is the RESTORATION of the Divine Image in man through the indwelling of the Spirit and adoption” (my emphasis), if man did not possess some kind of primordial endowment from God?  That “Divine Image” is another way of saying that man is indeed related to God, and that “divinization” is the ultimate consequence of that endowment.  In any case, evangelical fundamentalists seem only intent on diluting the meaning of the word “deify,” since they can no longer deny that it was the standard doctrine of the early Church.

You denigrate my use of the word “recapitulation,” but no less an “orthodox” scholar than J. N. D. Kelly opined that it was the “one grand clue” to man’s destiny throughout the early years of the Church (Early Christian Doctrines, 376-7; and Cunliffe-Jones’ History Of Christian Doctrine similarly agrees that the entire patristic period aimed at no less than a share of God’s own deity, i.e. to be “refashioned in the exact likeness of God” (HOMOIOSIS THEOI), 149-50.  Nevertheless, thoughtful Mormons would agree with you that patristic “Deification is by grace,” and can never be brought about by man’s effort.  (Your objection to “the LDS notion of humans as gods in embryo” makes little difference, since that is merely a popular expression.)  Neither are we, I hasten to add, “Neo-Platonists,” though your warning that “God is not some unknown Fount of Being” (as in Neo-Platonism) appears to contradict your earlier statement that “The fount of Being is located in the Person of God the Father,” for this very TRINITARIAN concept is pure Neo-Platonism, grafted onto the biblical Triad of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  We believe instead that God’s Spirit and Fulness can dwell in discrete and separate physical beings, thereby bestowing its attributes and its deity upon them.  This does not, however, “lead to the same road as Gnostic dualism” (though you can hardly deny that there is a natural duality between spirit and matter throughout the New Testament).  And though you again disapprove or what you call the “imagery of the Temple,” where “earthly forms are imperfect shadows of the heavenly Reality,” that is exactly what Paul once said:  “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Rom. 1:20).

Finally, what Pratt meant when he said that men are “parts of God” is merely what Paul meant when he said that we can become “members of one body, which is Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12,27), for no Mormon has ever suggested we were born into this world as “members of God,” or that in our preexistent condition we were already “parts of him.”  We hope only to BECOME part of the great “Body of Christ,” which is in turn a “part of God” (EN TO THEO, Col. 3:3; 1 John 2:24), after Christ has united all things IN HIMSELF, and thus in his Father.


Letter Nine

From: "Eugene Seaich" <>
To: <>
Cc: "James White" <>
Subject: Re: SKINNY: Ps 83:3-4
Date: Sat, 2 May 1998 11:44:08 -0600

May I also add a comment or two to Stan's suggestion?  Since Bill circulated his letter to James through SKINNY-L, I take it that some additional public response was expected.

James, as we have seen, is of the opinion that Ps. 82, as well as Jesus' quotation of it in John 10, speaks of HUMAN JUDGES only.  As he states in his letter of April 27 (11:08 AM), "allowing Psalm 82 to say what it says (that it is a condemnation of human judges)...fits perfectly with the Lord's use of the passage in John 10."  That, of course, is what remains to be proven.

Bill, on the other hand, has carefully shown that the vast preponderance of objective scholarship now recognizes that the Psalm spoke of literal 'ELOHIM or GODS, not of human judges, i.e. ELOHIM who are about to be "defrocked" for their poor performance as satraps over the various kingdoms of the Most High.  (In fact, if they were ALREADY humans, it would have made no sense to tell them that they will die "like men.")  And I certainly agree with Bill that those to whom the scripture was first spoken were 'ELOHIM in the 'ADAT EL--Yahweh/Christ being among them.  This is why Jesus claimed to be a "Son of God" in the most literal sense of the word.

Yet it seems to me that there is still a more sophisticated argument to be derived from these points, one which at the same time helps to demonstrate how the Jews deliberately changed the original teaching of Israelite polytheism into theoretical monotheism.

As I pointed out in a letter on April 27, 2:04 PM (so far ignored), Psalm 82 actually depicts this tendentious alteration of polytheism to monotheism.  As Otto Eissfeldt showed, this is a "transition piece" (my term) in which "Yahweh appropriates the epithet El, to which He is not originally entitled" ("El and Yahweh," Journal Of Semitic Studies, I, 1956, 27).  James is therefore correct in assuming that Ps. 82 (in its present form) was intended to be read as a MONOTHEISTIC scripture, whose "Elohim" in verse 8 is assumed to be Yahweh.  Both Mullen and Eissfeldt also agree that "orthodoxy" should read the last verse as "Arise, Yahweh, judge the earth," though it actually reads, "Arise, Elohim, judge the earth."

Other scholars also agree with this tendentious change--which is taking place within the Psalm itself.  Kselman and Barre, in The New Jerome Bible Commentary, for instance, write that "The ps(alm) is the theological midpoint between Israel's early faith, in which the 'other gods' were real but subordinated to Yahweh (Deut. 4:19) and Israel's late monotheism."  Once again, they assume with the Jewish redactor that Yahweh is to be identified with Elohim, as in modern Judaism.

But here, again, we see that Psalm 82 not only began as a polytheistic piece ("I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are sons of the most high"), but that it additionally shows Jewish monotheism at work dismantling this original polytheism.  No longer will the lesser gods rule over the other nations, while Yahweh rules Israel, for they are now declared to be of no import, and will die "like men."

What better evidence can one find for what Bill has been arguing?  Psalm 82 is in fact evidence of Israel's original belief in a Supreme God, who ruled the nations through his several divine sons, but who were eventually condemned and replaced with a One-God rule.  Best of all, the "orthodox" understanding of vs. 8 ("Arise, Yahweh, and judge the nations") shows Yahweh being identified with "Elohim" (vs. 1).  Thus, as the Jews heard this Psalm sung in the Temple, it must have affirmed their conviction that the gods of the other nations were "non-entities," whom they need no longer fear.

This scenario, which had been accepted by several objective scholars, has the advantage of bringing several points of view together.  First, it presupposes Bill's arugument that Israel at one time believed in the lesser national deities; secondly, it demonstrates that belief in the very process of being discredited; and thirdly, it illustrates before our very eyes the development of "orthodoxy's" belief that "Yahweh is Elohim," beside whom no other exists.

One final point (which I already noted in my letter), namely that John 10:34-36--WHATEVER Jesus meant by it--was frequently used as a proof text by the Church Fathers to show that men could be deified.  Does this not count for something?  If Bill is incorrect with respect to John 10, how is it that the early Church agreed with him?  Why would they see in John 10 evidence of men becoming gods, if it spoke so obviously of "human judges"?

James:  since you have not seen my earlier letter, I shall sent you what I wrote in a separate e-mail, right after I post this.


-----Original Message-----
From: Stan Barker <sdbarker@[]>
To: <>
Date: Saturday, May 02, 1998 8:49 AM
Subject: Re: SKINNY: Ps 83:3-4

>At 02:39 PM 5/1/98 -0600, Bill H. wrote:
>>Dear James,
>>[W]hen you contacted me a few weeks ago, you did not ask about >>John 10----you gave me what you called a "straightforward" literal >>interpretation of Psalm 82, and asked me how I understood Psalm >>82, not John 10.  I provided you with a literal, straightforward >>interpretation of *all* of Psalm 82 (including verses 3 and 4, which >>have always been missing from your interpretation of the passage), >>and thus far, you have not dealt with the heart of my response.
>>Now you seem to wish to shift away from your
>>originally stated reasons for contacting me, that being the meaning >>of Psalm 82, onto John 10 and Jesus' disputation with the Jews. >>However, Psalm 82 existed for hundreds of years prior to the Lord's >>use of a section of the passage in that debate.  Are you suggesting >>that we cannot determine the meaning of the passage without >>reference to John 10?  And if your purpose was to find out how >>Psalm 82 could make sense while embracing monotheism, why
>>can't we deal with Psalm 82 itself?
>>As preliminary background, there seem to be two major schools of
>>interpretations of the elohim/bene elyon in Ps 82.  One maintains >>that the elohim/bene elyon are human judges (either from Israel or >>from the goyim), who are given the title of elohim because they >>exercise divine authority when judging.  This is your position.  The >>other interpretation is that the elohim/bene elyon are, in fact, >>celestial beings of some sort.  And that the God of Israel is literally >>judging the gods.  This is my position.
>>Just as background, let's take a look at a miscellaneous selection >>of commentaries on Ps 82.  I went to the BYU library and randomly >>selected from the broad range of commentaries.  I tried to get >>famous ones of which I had heard, but I also simply took others >>randomly from the shelves.  I also tried to include a wide range of >>perspectives, from conservative to liberal, and dates, from the >>Reformation to the present.  Here are the results, organized by >>relative date.
>>Calvin (16th century) = judges
>>Dickson (1655) = judges
>>Matthew Henry (18th century) = judges
>>Keil & Delitzsch (1880s?) = judges
>>Nealle and Littledale (1887) = gives both
>>Briggs (1907) = judges
>>Spurgeon (1918) = judges
>>Soncino (1945) = judges (Rashi) or celestial beings (Ibn Ezra)
>>Interpreters (1955) = leans to celestial beings, but is uncertain
>>Beacon (1967) = judges
>>Eerdmans (1970) = judges
>>Broadman (1971) = celestial beings
>>New Century (1972) = celestial beings
>>Anchor (1970s?) = celestial beings
>>Cambridge (1977) = celestial beings
>>Kraus (1978) = celestial beings
>>New Jerome (1990) = celestial beings
>>Word (1990) = celestial beings
>>Expositors (Zondervan, 1991) = celestial beings
>>Interpretation (1994) = celestial beings
>>New Interpreters (1996) = celestial beings
>>Goulden, Psalms of Asaph, (1996) = celestial beings
>Bill, it seems to me that you should have pointed out that if the
>Bible were speaking for itself, "Christianity" would have maintained
>the same position on the two verses in question down through the
>years, had the interpretation been so simple and straightforward.