2007: How Many Gods are There? Summary of Exploring Mormon Thought Vol 3 / Blake Ostler

This entry is excerpts from a post by Blake Ostler at New Kool Thang, and provides the subtitle “Of God and Gods”, a chapter-by-chapter summary of his new book, to be available in the next month or two. Look at it in its original location to see many questions and answers among the comments.

Blake’s works are excerpted and commented on in many posts on this blog, and I introduce his thought and writings as widely as possible. In that guise, I recently arranged for him to come to Biola University near my home, where he gave a dazzling presentation to an audience of 800 Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints, and also made a presentation to a large group of the student body the next day.

One of the posts on this blog, on Monarchic Monotheism, is actually excerpts of earlier versions of two chapters of his forthcoming book, on the subjects of the council of the Gods in early Judaism and the council of the Gods in New Testament thought. I have studied early Judaism and early Christianity for many years, including five years of graduate work at Claremont Graduate School / School of Theology at Claremont, and can vouch for the fact that Blake’s knowledge and understanding of the subject matches or surpasses that of any other LDS scholars, in my opinion.

I note that Blake Oster’s website is available, and contains links to many of his writings and presentations in published and audio formats on the web. I have added him to my list of favorite websites and blogs.

Thanks much,

Steve St.Clair


How Many Gods Are There?
September 26, 2007 By: Blake @ 3:31 pm Category: Theology, Ostler Reading

This post is a summary of my third volume — and also responding to the rather uninformed banter I often hear from evangelicals regarding plurality of gods. My third volume is entitled: Exploring Mormon Thought: Of God and Gods. There are certain concepts that Joseph Smith elucidated at the very end of his life that challenged the tradition at its foundations. These concepts may be summarized as follows:

1. The creation occurred by organizing the world not “from nothing” but from preexisting matter.
2. There was a grand council consisting of a plurality of gods in the beginning of the creation of this earth.
3. There was a Head God who presided over the council of gods.
4. The council of gods, under the direction of the Head God, appointed one God to preside over us in the work of creation and redemption.
5. Among these gods in the pre-earth council were intelligences who existed eternally without creation before they became mortal.
6. Humans have the potential to be gods because they are the same kind as God.

While these six concepts were no doubt synthesized in a way that created a new vision for the first time in the King Follett Discourse (KFD), each of them had been taught by Joseph Smith prior to that sermon. Each of these concepts is distinctive to the Mormon view of God and gods. Each would be considered heterodox in the tradition. In fact, Joseph Smith’s teaching of the plurality of gods contributed to his martyrdom. In a sense, each of these doctrines is therefore a dividing line between the tradition and Mormon thought. It is at the juncture of this interface that I focus in the third volume.

An examination of the biblical texts in light of more recently discovered ancient Mesopotamian and Ugaritic texts from Ras Shamra have led to a reassessment of Israelite beliefs in biblical scholarship. In light of these ancient Near Eastern texts, concepts 1, 2 and 3 have become the scholarly consensus regarding the most ancient Israelite beliefs and there is solid support for concept 4. I also develop textual support for concepts 5 and 6. There is clear evidence that the later Masoretic text of the Old Testament was altered to avoid the reading that there was a plurality of gods.

Moreover, not only ancient Israelite, but also early Christian views of the plurality of gods have been transformed by recent studies of a wealth of Jewish documents now available from the period of Second Temple Judaism, or the period of the second temple in Jerusalem, roughly from 535 B.C. to 70 a. d.. Although it has been held that Christianity grew up in an environment of intense monotheistic commitment, that assumption recently has been called in to question.

The earliest Christians did not adopt a “strict monotheism” in the period of Second Temple Judaism. Instead, the evidence strongly suggests that it was a common belief in Second Temple Judaism that there is a Most High God who had a chief agent or primary vizier who represented God and who ruled over other divine beings, heavenly armies, and heavenly messengers.
In chapter 1 I elucidate Joseph Smith’s thought and give further support for the view that Joseph Smith consistently believed in and taught that there is a Most High God surrounded by a council of gods. I examine the KFD Sermon in the Grove in particular and argue that Joseph taught the same doctrine in these sermons.

In chapter 2 I examine the biblical passages that teach that God is superlatively great, but he includes others who are of his same kind in his decisions. I demonstrate that there is overwhelming textual, epigraphic and archaeological evidence for that the notion of a Head God surrounded by gods who are the same kind, indeed “sons,” was the earliest Israelite teaching (just as Joseph claimed) and consistent during the entire period of the Old Testament. As prominent Near Eastern archaeologist William Dever has explained, this view has affected the scholarly perception concerning the development of Israelite monotheism:

“A generation ago, when I was a graduate student,
biblical scholars were nearly unanimous in thinking that monotheism had been
predominant in ancient Israelite religion from the beginning—not just as an
“ideal,” but as the reality. Today all that has changed. Virtually all
mainstream scholars (and even a few conservatives) acknowledge that true
monotheism emerged only in the period of the exile in Babylon in the 6th century
B.C.E., as the canon of the Hebrew Bible was taking shape. . . .”

In chapter 3 I present evidence that while there was plurality of thought in Second Temple Judaism, the view of the Head God surrounded by a council of gods continued among a number of Jewish groups (including early Christians). They also believed that humans could be deified and join the council of gods.

In chapter 4 I review the New Testament teachings related to the relation of the Father and the Son. I show that the earliest Christians (including prominently Paul) search out Old Testament and pseudepigraphical proof texts showing two distinct divine beings, the only true God and a vizier second only to God who receives God’s name and glory and appears as God himself. In chapter 5 I review the relation of the Logos and the only true God, the Father. John also taught of two quite distinct divine beings.

In chapter 6 I transition to an analysis of Latin Trinitarianism (”LT”) and the claims of the creeds. I conclude that the creeds really resolve very little because they are vague. I also conclude that LT is either modalistic or hopelessly incoherent. I then review Social Trinitarianism (”ST”) in chapter 7 and conclude that it is scripturally and logically superior to LT. However, ST cannot maintain real relations of love and it is thus deficient.

In chapter 8 I present an LDS view of the Godhead and defend it. In chapter 9 I then review what I believe are the chief philosophical challenges to the LDS Godhead. In chapter 10 I then look at the doctrine of deification in the tradition and argue that none of the traditional views (Easter thought, Western Roman thought and Protestant) can present a coherent view of deification. In chapter 11 I then outline the LDS view of deification and defend it against the primary philosophical and theological arguments. Finally, in chapter 12 I review the scriptural basis of deification.

Well, that’s it.


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