A frequent point of contention by critics against the Church is the doctrine that there is not just one, but a multiplicity of gods. Yet allusions to that concept pervade the Bible as well as ancient Near Eastern culture, Mormon scholar David Bokovoy said Aug. 6 at the annual conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research. (FAIR is not affiliated with the Church.)
Formerly an instructor in the Church's seminary and institute programs, Brother Bokovoy holds a master's degree and is a doctoral candidate in the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near East studies. He spoke on the topic "Joseph Smith and the Biblical Council of Gods."
"The Prophet Joseph Smith, of course, produces that inspired Book of Abraham that really rocks the foundation of the Christian world at the time," Brother Bokovoy said, "when he, through this translation, revises Genesis, chapter 1, the priestly version of the Creation, and introduces this concept of gods organizing the world."
He quoted the Prophet as sermonizing, "In the beginning, the head of the gods called a council of the gods. They came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it. When we begin to learn this way, that God exists in this council structure with other divine beings that he calls gods, we begin to learn the only true God and what kind of a being we have got to worship."
Brother Bokovoy acknowledged there are differences, but added, "There are some remarkable similarities between what Joseph introduces theologically through the Restoration and what biblical scholars now know to be true regarding the Hebrew Bible [Old Testament] and ancient Near Eastern tradition."
He said William Dever, American biblical archaeologist, wrote that a generation ago, biblical scholars were nearly unanimous in thinking that belief in a single God had been predominant in ancient Israelite religion from the beginning. "Today, all that has changed," Dever wrote. "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. as the canon of the Hebrew Bible was taking shape."
"The canon," Brother Bokovoy emphasized, "not the books themselves. Because the books themselves clearly point to this concept of a multiplicity of gods who govern the affairs of the universe."
Textual evidence of this is "everywhere," he said.
Hebrew words associated with the heavenly council of Gods include those translated as "council," "meeting, " "assembly," "congregation," "the holy ones" and "sons of God," a reference to the gods of the council, Brother Bokovoy said.
"One of the great 'council' texts is Psalm 82:1," he said. He quoted the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which reads, "God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment."
"This is an exciting text," he exclaimed. "It is, of course, the one Jesus cites when He defends His divinity in the New Testament."
There are two ways to understand "sons" in the expression "sons of God," he said. One is that they are the literal offspring of God. But, he said, the word for "son" in all Semitic languages "has the connotation of referring to members of the group, caste or guild."
"So quite frequently, in contemporary translations of ancient Near Eastern documents, one will see the expression 'sons of God' simply translated as 'the gods,' the members of that group," Bokovoy said.