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James White on Michael Heiser

Daniel O. McClellan

I hope youll forgive me for the length of this post. James responded a little over a year ago to a
blog post by a then-Roman Catholic student named Carmenn Massa which apparently took issue
with some comments made by someone involved with A&O (I honestly dont know what the
original concern was). James took the opportunity, in responding to Carmenn, to critique
Michael Heisers view of Psalm 82 as referring to divine beings. He started with a lengthy quote
from a book of his, Is the Mormon My Brother?, wherein he rather dismissively argues against
the academic consensus regarding Psalm 82:

The use of this passage in LDS literature is widespread. I said, you are gods is used to
substantiate the idea of a plurality of gods, and men becoming gods. Yet, even a brief
review of the passage demonstrates that such is hardly a worthy interpretation, and some
of the leading LDS apologists today avoid trying to press the passage that far, and for
good reason. The unbelieving Jews seen in this passage, with murder in their hearts, are
hardly good candidates for exaltation to godhood. What is more, the Lord Jesus uses the
present tense when He says, You are gods. So, obviously, He is not identifying His
attackers as divine beings, worthy of worship by their eventual celestial offspring! What,
then, is going on here?

To begin with, I dont particularly espouse the notion that John 10:3435 is a good defense of the
LDS doctrine of deification. In my view, and that of many other scholars (see here, for instance),
Jesus is appealing to a contemporary view of Psalm 82 as alluding to the Israelites at Sinai who
became divine upon receiving Torah, but then forfeited their immortality upon worshipping the
golden calf. Its also not necessary to appeal to John to support multiple deities when an appeal
directly to Psalm 82 is much easier. The Bible manifests early Jewish monolatry in numerous
places. In John monolatry does not seem to be in view. Thats not to say John rejects multiple
divine beings (see John 1:12, for instance), but I dont think it serves as a good proof text (see
here for a great article from an LDS scholar who disagrees with me).

Now, James appears to believe that Jesus quotation is actually referring in the second person to
the Jews who are accusing him. That this isnt the case is pretty clearly shown by his
identification of the subject of the quotation: If those to whom the word of God came were
called gods, . . . The you in Ps 82:6 is those to whom the word of God came, not you. I
dont believe Ive ever run across James reading before, or the notion that quoting a biblical text
that contains second person address necessarily extends that address beyond the actual quote to
include the interlocutor for whom the text is quoted. Thats not to say it cannot, but theres
usually some kind of indicator, and immediately referring to the referent of the quoted you
with a third person pronoun precludes it. Whether James holds to that notion or is simply
assuming that to be the case in the interest of a quicker dismissal of the LDS position is unclear,
but his argument is invalid either way. Jesus is not inferring the Jews who are accusing him are
the you of Ps 82:6. Additionally, the idea that the unbelieving Jews could not be considered
divine beings because they had murder in their hearts presupposes a specific view of divinity
as a designation reserved for adherents to a specific ethical outlook not native to the text. The
Hebrew Bible and even the New Testament make clear that divine beings are not exclusively
benevolent. James is simply imposing his modern definition of the word god onto a text which
used the term with a much broader semantic range (and Jesus imposes his definition of the word
on a text which had an even greater semantic range).

Next James states, When we allow the text to speak for itself, the meaning comes across
clearly. Of course, no text speaks for itself. Meaning is derived from context, both within and
without the text. James then reads his own ideas into the text in his effort to allow it to speak for
itself:

As usual the context is determinative. The Jewish leaders were acting as Jesus' judges.
They were accusing Him of blasphemy, of breaking God's law. Their role as judges in
this instance is determinative, for the Lord is going to cite a passage about judges from
the Old Testament. The Jews make it plain that they understand Jesus' words to contain
an implicit claim of equality with God (v. 33). It is at this point that the Lord quotes from
Psalm 82:6, which contains the important words, "I said you are gods." But when we go
back to the passage from which this is taken (and surely the Jewish leaders would have
known the context themselves), we find an important truth:

God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. How
long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Vindicate the weak and
fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver
them out of the hand of the wicked. They do not know nor do they understand; they walk
about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, "You are gods, and
all of you are sons of the Most High." (Psalm 82:1-6)

Here we have the key to the passage, for this is a psalm of judgment against the rulers of
Israel.

James claims that the Jews are acting as Jesus judges, but the role they assume is not that of
judge. Blasphemy and its penalty were determined by those who heard it, not by judges.
Leviticus 24:1116 commands everyone who hears a person blaspheme to stone that person:
Let all who were within hearing lay their hands on his head, and let the whole congregation
stone him. Judges have nothing to do with proclaiming guilt or passing sentences when it comes
to blasphemy in the Old Testament. Judges are never mentioned in the Covenant Code. They are
mentioned in Deuteronomy, written centuries later, but they appeared when a dispute could not
be settled (Deut 17:89): If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood
and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy
within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the Lord thy God
shall choose; And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in
those days, and enquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment. Theres no
indication the Jews were presented as Jesus judges in John 10. James presupposes (without
discussion) that they were because hes going to appeal to an academically antiquated view that
still has currency among conservative Christians, namely that Psalm 82 is referring to human
judges.
God takes his stand in His own congregation, that being His own people, Israel. He
judges in the midst of the rulers. The Hebrew term here is elohim, which could be
translated gods. The NASB however, recognizes that the context indicates who is being
discussed, for the next verse reads, How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality
to the wicked. Who judges unjustly and shows partiality? Human judges, of course,
human rulers amongst the people. Hence, the NASB rendering of elohim as rulers.

James here first assumes that , Congregation of El, refers to Israel. He obviously has in
mind Num 27:17; 31:16, and Josh 22:16, 17, which read . is a technical term with
a distinct provenance, though. It appears in the Ugaritic texts (KTU 1.15.2.7) as a reference to
the divine council, and this is how it was understood throughout antiquity. Even the Septuagint,
the version quoted by John, recognizes this context, rendering , or assembly of
gods (it may have had the plural in the Vorlage). That this refers to the divine council in
Ps 82:1 and not Israel has been the conclusion of every scholar who has published on the issue in
the last 80 years of whom Im aware.1

James then asserts that the word in Ps 82:1 should be understood as a reference to rulers
(Ive commented on this here). His basis for this is the idea that only humans could judge
unjustly and show partiality. This betrays a critical shortcoming in James exegesis. He ignores
the wider ancient Near Eastern literary context. Every single culture of the ancient Near East
includes recognition of disobedient, reckless, and insubordinate deities. Even the Judeo-Christian
and Muslim traditions recognize opposing divine beings, whether demons, wicked spirits, fallen
angels, or Satan himself. That the nations gods were thought to judge is also consistent from
culture to culture. Cosmic order was achieved through the proper administration of the deities
and/or the king/aristocracy. Theres absolutely nothing inconsistent within the Hebrew Bible or
the wider literary context that problematizes the notion of unjust deities. The NASB reading is
driven by dogma, not proper exegetical methodology. simply does not mean judges,
rulers, or anything of the sort. Exod 7:1 and Ps 45:8 are no exception. David held a position

1
Including, but not limited to, K. Budde, Ps. 82:6f, Journal of Biblical Literature 40.1/2 (1921): 3942;
Julian Morgenstern, The Mythological Background of Psalm 82, Hebrew Union College Annual 14.1 (1939): 29
126; H. Wheeler Robinson, The Council of Yahweh, Journal of Theological Studies 45 (1944): 155; Roger T.
OCallaghan, A Note on the Canaanite Background of Psalm 82, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 15. (1953): 31114;
Otto Eissfeldt, El and Yahweh, Journal of Semitic Studies 1.1 (1956): 2930; A. Gonzalez, Le Psaume LXXXII,
Vetus Testamentum 13.3 (1963): 293309; Gerald Cooke, The Sons of (the) God(s), Zeitschrift fr die
alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 35.1 (1964): 2934; Matitiahu Tsevat, God and the Gods in Assembly: An
Interpretation of Psalm 82, Hebrew Union College Annual 40 (1969): 12337; Cyrus H. Gordon, History of
Religion in Psalm 82, in Biblical and Near Eastern Studies: Essays in Honor of William Sanford LaSor (Gary A.
Tuttle, ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1978), 12931; Patrick D. Miller, Interpreting the Psalms
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 12024; Herbret Niehr, Gtter oder Menscheneine falsche Alternative:
Bemerkungen zu Ps 82, Zeitschrift fr die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 99.1 (1987): 9498 (Niehr suggests the
text polysemically indicates both deities and humans, but this view has no other adherent, as far as I know); Lowell
K. Handy, Sounds, Words and Meanings in Psalm 82, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 47.1 (1990): 51
66; K. M. Craig, Between Text and Sermon: Psalm 82, Interpretation 49.3 (1995): 28184; Simon B. Parker,
The Beginning of the Reign of GodPsalm 82 as Myth and Liturgy, Revue Biblique 102.4 (1995): 53259;
Michael Heiser, The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature
(PhD diss., The University of Wisconsin Madison, 2004), 7489; Heiser, Are Yahweh and El Distinct Deities in
Deut. 32:89 and Psalm 82? Hiphil 3 [http://www.see-j.net/hiphil] (2006), accessed 11/10/2010; David Frankel,
El as the Speaking Voice in Psalm 82:68, Journal for Hebrew Scriptures 10 [http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/JHS/]
(2010), accessed 11/10/2010.
that rendered him divine according to ancient Near Eastern ideology. He ascended to the divine
taxonomy (as did the deceased Samuel). God says of Moses in Exod 7:1 ,
which means he will be as a deity in Pharaohs eyes. The same sense is found at Exod 4:16.

Is this the sense of in Psalm 82? No, and there are two reasons. First, the text never
indicates that judges were ever granted any kind of identification as deities in the view of any
specific demographic, as it clearly does in the case of Moses. Its simply poor methodology to
say it was applied to Moses and so could also be applied to common judges. Moses is described
as the greatest of all prophets. Where does the text imply that any Israelite judge would be
viewed by Israel in the same way that God causes Moses to be viewed by Pharaoh during the
defining moment of early Israelite history? Moses is also depicted as ontologically divine at
Sinai. The epithet is not metaphorical or relational there (see pp. 7273 here). Additionally, as
Ive pointed out, the fact that the entities in Psalm 82 are judging/ruling in no way whatsoever
undermines their nature as deities. There is nothing which makes judges a decent reading of
the text. Second, mention is frequently made in the Hebrew Bible to other divine beings and
these occurrences are directly parallel to divine council imagery from surrounding cultures
(which is not using the term metaphorically). These texts are not simply accidentally parallel in
so many facets and through so many developmental stages (e.g., Syro-Palestinian divine council
motifs in pre-exilic texts to Assyro-Babylonian divine council motifs in exilic texts), These
affinities have to be dealt with before the judges reading can be asserted to be the default to
which we are forced to appeal. The evidence simply does not support reading as judges.
That reading is driven exclusively by religious dogmatism which does not derive from the
biblical text.

Before moving on in the text, it should be noted that even at this point recognizing that
this passage is talking about unjust human rulers removes this passage from the realm of
possible passages to cite in support of a plurality of gods, and certainly, Jesus was not, by
citing this passage, calling His accusers true divine beings.

Obviously, if one presupposes that the text cannot refer to divine beings, then trying to appeal to
text as a proof text for multiple divine beings will never suffice for that person, irrespective of
what the text actually says.

"Nevertheless you will die like men and fall like any one of the princes." Such is hardly
the terminology one would use of divine and exalted beings!

Of course, thats the reason that the text uses the sharp grammatical contrast of and ( the
phrase is an exclamation to emphasize the unexpected according to HALOT; Expressing the
reality in opp. to what had been wrongly imagined in BDB). The rhetorical force is therefore
parallel to a statement like, I thought you were my brother, but it seems I have no brother.

On the other hand, though immortality was the primary definition of deity in the ancient Near
East (the point of Gilgamesh is that immortality is for the gods, and death is for humans), every
single culture of the ancient Near East had gods that died. This conflict between what is normal
and what is not is what brought richness and color to their literature. Qingu and Tiamat are
examples from Enuma Elish. Baal, Osiris, Tammuz, Mithra, Jesus, and others actually die and
come back to life. Now, Trinitarians will argue that his divine side never died, but this is
anachronistic. There is no Trinitarianism anywhere in the Bible or the first two to three centuries
of Christianity. This argument is also a drastic fallacy in the context of the debate. When
combating an argument for viewing Psalm 82 as a conceptual parallel to a literary type-scene
found in other Syro-Palestinian literature, one cannot assert that elements of that type-scene from
other ancient Near Eastern literature cannot provide contextualization. James concerns are
misplaced.

James then moves onto some more contemporary criticisms.

Let us begin by laying aside non-issues. The Old Testament makes reference to angelic
beings, creatures of God that are not human but are not divine either: they are creatures,
created beings, dependent upon Yahweh for their existence, yet they inhabit heaven,
worship God, and are used by Him to accomplish His purposes.

This is hardly a non-issue. Angels and these other angelic beings that James refers to are
described in the biblical texts as , or gods (see Gen 6:2, 4; Num 13:22; Deut 17:3; 32:89,
43; 33:2; Ps 29:1; 89:69; 97:7; etc.). James argument is beginning to take a rather odd shape.
When the Bible calls angels gods it doesnt really mean gods. When it refers to other beings
known only as sons of God and gods, it actually means angels (although the text never
makes this equation), and thus not gods. But when it seems to refer to these divine beings in
Psalm 82, it doesnt mean angels, it means something completely different. Whence derives
the meaning of the word if its usage in the biblical texts must be qualified by the imposition of
non-biblical definitions for deity?

The issue here is a simple one: does Psalm 82 give us sufficient contextual information to
determine the audience addressed relating to the judgment of God? I believe it does, and
that its answer to the question of who the gods are is different than that offered by my
LDS opponents, as well as Dr. Heiser. As he well knows, scholars have divided over the
issue, and I am surely not alone in my viewpoint. I do believe, however, that there is an
important point to be made about lining "scholars" up on one side or the other. This text
is cited in John 10:34. Only a (today) relatively small percentage of modern "scholarship"
will care about how this text is used in John. That is, outside of believers, how this text
was understood centuries after its original writing is irrelevant, since they believe the
Bible to be merely a collection of books without any coherent, let alone consistent,
message.

This is problematic for a few reasons. First, an appeal to popularity is a fallacy, but its also
specious to insist that identifying an appeal to a scholarly consensus as a fallacy means you dont
have to respond to the arguments put forth by the scholars who espouse that consensus. I dont
think anything James has said here has never been responded to before by scholars, and he
makes clear that hes entirely unfamiliar with the scholarship when he insists that Johns use of
Psalm would only be relevant to a small percentage of modern scholarship.2

2
See A. Emerton, The Interpretation of Psalm lxxxii in John x, Journal of Theological Studies 11 (1960):
32932; Anthony Hanson, Johns Citation of Psalm LXXXII, New Testament Studies 11 (1965): 15862; James S.
Ackerman, The Rabbinic Interpretation of Psalm 82 and the Gospel of John, Harvard Theological Review 59
First, Heiser alleges that the "many scholars" who hold the view that the judges of Psalm
82 are the judges of Israel, i.e., are human beings living in the day of the Psalmist, do so
"no doubt due to the specter of polytheism." I disagree. The activities of these judges are
plainly human. Unless one is going to assert some kind of cosmic justice play wherein
these elohim are involved in judging unjustly and showing partiality to the wicked, what
other context can be offered? Exactly how are angelic beings to be judged for unjust
judgment regarding the weak and the fatherless, in biblical theology? How are the bene-
elohim to deliver the weak and needy out of the hand of the wicked? Does Heiser suggest
some kind of group of intermediate beings who are morally involved in bringing
judgment in defense of the widows? Who are these beings, and where do we get the
information that they, rather than the judges of Israel, would be held accountable for the
sad state of affairs in Israel that so often brought the condemnation of the prophets?
These seem like obvious, and fair, questions.

These are perfectly obvious and fair questions, but it only takes a brief foray into the wider
ancient Near East to find clear answers to them. First, the appeals to the weak and the fatherless
are rhetoric, not specific and accurate charges. A cultures treatment of its weak, poor, fatherless,
and widows was a barometer of its maintenance of cosmic order, which was the purview of the
gods and the king/aristocracy (depending on the time period). Hammurabis epilogue is
illustrative.

That the strong might not injure the weak, in order to protect the widows and orphans, I
have in Babylon the city where Anu and Bel raise high their head, in E-Sagil, the Temple,
whose foundations stand firm as heaven and earth, in order to bespeak justice in the land,
to settle all disputes, and heal all injuries, set up these my precious words, written upon
my memorial stone, before the image of me, as king of righteousness.

Of course, Hammurabis code doesnt provide for orphans or widows. Its just stock vernacular
for referring to cosmic order. Its found repeatedly in the Hebrew Bible,3 and in Psalm 82 it is
used to condemn the gods for their failure to maintain their end of the cosmic order. Thus the
foundations of the earth are rocked.

Next, Heiser asserts that seeing these as human judges is problematic because If these
elohim are humans, why are they sentenced to die like humans? He insists that "a clear

(1966): 18691; Emerton, Melchizedek and the Gods: Fresh Evidence for the Jewish Background of John 10:34
36, Journal of Theological Studies 17 (1966): 399401; Hanson, Johns Citation of Psalm LXXXII
Reconsidered, New Testament Studies 13 (1967): 3637; Jerome H. Neyrey, I said: Ye are Gods: Psalm 82:6 and
John 10, Journal of Biblical Literature 108.4 (1989): 64763; Annewies van den Hoek, I Said, You Are Gods . .
.: The Significance of Psalm 82 for Some Early Christian Authors, in The Use of Sacred Books in the Ancient
World (Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology 22; L. V. Rutgers, et al., eds.; Leuven: Peeters, 1998), 209;
Mark D. Nispel, Christian Deification and the Early Testimonia, Vigiliae Christianae 53 (1999): 289304; Carl
Mosser, The Earliest Patristic Interpretations of Psalm 82, Jewish Antecedents, and the Origin of Christian
Deification, Journal of Theological Studies 56.1 (2005): 3074. Note also the fact that James implies its not real
scholarship, but only scholarship so called. Real scholarship is Christian scholarship, and specifically Christian
scholarship which agrees with James White. This is unnecessary belittling on James part.
3
See Isa 1:17; 10:12; Jer 5:28; Ps 10:18; 72:4.
contrast is intended by both the grammar and structure of the Hebrew text. First, this
question does not answer the questions posed above. Secondly, aside from making
reference to two scholarly articles, some specific argumentation as to what exactly about
the grammar and structure of the Hebrew text communicates this clear contrast.

The final sentence above is a sentence fragment. There is no verb in the main clause. I assume
James is asking for some specific argumentation as to what about the Hebrew communicates a
clear contrast. I mentioned it above, but I will quote it here:

Of course, thats the reason that the text uses the sharp grammatical contrast of and ( the
phrase is an exclamation to emphasize the unexpected according to HALOT; Expressing the
reality in opp. to what had been wrongly imagined in BDB). The rhetorical force is therefore
parallel to a statement like, I thought you were my brother, but it seems I have no brother.

Those two words, when found in consecutive clauses or verses, function to emphasize an
unexpected contrast. You can find other occurrences of the two words together at Isa 49:4; 53:4;
Zeph 3:7; Ps 31:23; Job 32:8.

What about the phrase demands that like a man means you are not a
man? It is true that is used in such a way as to produce a contrast, but Heiser is
reading too much into this to insist it is a contrast of being. Rather, the contrast is
between the honors given to these judges by God in verse 6, and the judgment that will
overtake them for their unfaithfulness and unrighteousness in judging in verse 7.

Ironically, James accuses Michael of eisegesis. In actuality, Michaels reading is the simplest
and requires the least amount of reading into the text. James, on the other hand, is pure
eisegesis. But you will die as humanity means you are not a man because the statement that
produces the contrast with you will die as humanity is you are gods. It really cannot be much
clearer. Nowhere in the entire psalm is any reference or allusion made to any honors received by
anyone. James seems to think that means God was simply honoring these entities with the
title gods and sons of Elyon, but thats not how that word functions in this construction, and
the contrast has no force if such is the case, since human judges arent expected to be immortal,
honorific title or otherwise. James reading is tautological.

While the judges may be called gods, and may view themselves as above God's judgment
(is this not a common theme in the prophets in calling for humility from the leaders of
Israel?), the fact is that their judgment is coming: they will die (is this not the normal
term for human death?) and they will fall---another term often used in judgment
pericopes, is it not (Jeremiah 6:15)? So if the terms are used in these ways, what, exactly,
from the text demands Heiser's interpretation?

I dont believe the terms are used in these ways (not the first, at least). James is making broad
generalizations. Can he point to texts that show Israelite judges claiming to be above Gods
judgment, or claiming to be gods? I dont think he can. The thing that demands Heisers
interpretation is the contrast between the statements you are gods, and you will die as
humanity. No contrast exists unless the first statement is ontological.
Next, Heiser makes the observation that "At no time in the Hebrew Bible did Israel's
elders ever have jurisdiction over all the nations." That is hardly a disputable statement,
however, upon what solid principle of interpretation are we to take the final verse as an
assertion that they did? Note what it says: "Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You
who possesses all the nations." There is an obviously unwarranted leap from the
Psalmist's reflections upon God's judgment of the judges of Israel who have judged
unjustly and his final plea that justice will be done in all the earth, since Yahweh owns all
the nations. The assumption is that if the Psalmist calls for justice in the earth, then the
aforementioned judges must have authority over "all the nations." Just what is the basis
for such a leap of interpretation? One is hard pressed to know, unless Heiser is translating
the last verse as a call to the "elohim" as a group, which seems highly unlikely.

My issue is first with James translation. The last verse shouldnt read it is you who possesses
all the nations, but you will inherit all the nations. That this is the intended reading is made
clear by the progression of the larger narrative within Asaphs psalms. In Psalm 79 the nations
(note, he doesnt refer just to Babylon, but to the nations, as in Psalm 82) are said to come into
Israel, Gods inheritance (), and destroy the temple. This is an allusion to Deut 32:89,
where Elyon portions out the nations to the sons of God, and Yhwh receives Israel as his
inheritance (). Yhwhs inheritance in the Hebrew Bible is exclusively Israel.4 In Psalm 81
God explains that he let the nations invade Israel to punish them. In Psalm 82 God judges the
gods of the nations and is called upon to take over their stewardships (again, see Deut 32:89).
The word used is , the verbal form of the substantive . Because the nations neglected their
duty vis--vis cosmic order, God will take over their inheritances and become God over all the
earth. This is then proclaimed in Ps 83:19: They will know that you alone, whose name is
Yhwh, are Most High over all the earth. There are a few references elsewhere to Yhwh being
king or God over the whole earth, but they are textually late, for the most part. Asaphs psalms
show a clear and systematic campaign of universalization.

Next, Heiser asserts that Yahweh has "abandoned" other nations "to the rule of other
elohim in the wake of the incident at Babel." I think it is a tremendous leap to move from
the reality that Israel had a special relationship to Yahweh (by his own choice) to the idea
that Yahweh's rulership had been abandoned over all the nations of the earth. Yahweh is
the "Lord of all the earth" (Joshua 3:11, 13); all the earth is to fear Yahweh (Psalm 33:8);
he is the great king over all the earth (Psalm 47:2). There is simply no reason to confuse
the special covenant relationship Yahweh established with Israel, for His own purposes,
with an abandonment of His rulership over all the nations, especially in light of the fact
that the prophetic announcement of God's accomplishment of His purposes is over all the
earth, not just over Israel.

Here I have to disagree with Michael. I see Psalm 82 as the first sign of Yhwhs universalization.
Thats a much larger discussion for another time, though.

4
See, for instance, 1 Sam 26:19, where David laments being driven out of his share in Yhwhs
inheritance () , i.e., Israel. Note also that the nations in Psalm 79 did not know Yhwh. They were
not part of his inheritance.
Finally, Heiser expresses difficult in understanding how, if the judges here referred to are
in fact human judges, the corrupt decisions of a group of humans would shake the
foundations of the earth. This ignores the obvious biblical teaching that Yahweh is a
God of justice, for as the Psalmist put it, Righteousness and justice are the foundation of
His throne (Psalm 97:2). The same term referring to the foundations of the earth is
found in Psalm 18:8 where God's wrath makes them tremble and quake; Isaiah 24:18
likewise uses the term metaphorically in reference to God's wrath coming in judgment;
they are called as witnesses by Yahweh against His people in Micah 6:2, again, a
metaphoric use. The point of the Psalmist is actually rather easily seen: when justice is
perverted, as it is by these judges, the proper order is perverted. Men walk about in
darkness. The foundations of the earth are shaken (metaphorically, as in the other texts
cited). The very foundation of society is its righteous judges, and much is said in
Scripture about what happens when unrighteous judges sit amongst the people.

I dont think James can support his last sentence, but these comments betray a continued
reticence regarding the larger literary context, and a willingness to read into the text whatever
needs to be there to support his dogmas. Cosmic order, or justice, was the purview of two groups
in the ancient Near East: gods and kings/priests. Kings saw to it that gods were provided with the
necessary sacrifices and worship, and the gods saw to it that the cycles of life, nature, and the
cosmos kept on turning. Judges were hardly the keystone of cosmic order.

James argument shows a great deal of concentration, but very little awareness of (1) the
scholarship on this topic, (2) the relevance of the shape of the text in Hebrew, and (3) the wider
literary context. His contention that Psalm 82 refers to human judges and not gods is not at all
supported by his argument.