RIP Mike Heiser

I feel I need to say a few words of tribute for biblical scholar Mike Heiser, who has, I hear, recently succumbed to pancreatic cancer at too early an age.

I never interacted personally with Mike, though I was urged to by one of the regular readers at The Hump, who may well have acquainted him with some of my ideas. The fact that Mike was willing to discuss ideas with non-academic readers was one of his great qualities.

I have read far too little of his writings, though I used his work in a recent blog on the Star of Bethelehem. Also, in my Generations of Heaven and Earth I cite his suggestion that the nachash (serpent) of the Eden narrative betokens, in ancient thought, a supernatural member of the divine council rather than simply a talking, unclean, animal, a thought that unlocks the whole narrative of the garden, and indeed the whole biblical history, in a new way.

Other than that, most of what I know of his ideas comes from videos on YouTube and elsewhere. His primary contribution to biblical scholarship is, I think, to bring to the foreground the often downplayed supernaturalism of the texts of both Old and New Testaments. He demonstrates, beyond reasonable doubt, that the biblical worldview envisages a creation populated by a myriad of unseen spiritual beings from the exalted divine council of God, to the squalid demons encountered in Jesus’s ministry, which from biblical and extra-biblical texts he deems to be the spirits of the deceased nephilim offspring of the angels who left their appointed place to impregnate the daughters of man, in Genesis 6.

That said, apart from the realm of spiritual beings, Heiser was willing to take seriously anything in the Scriptures that offends our materialistic worldview, for example in the work on “divine astronomy” I alluded to in my already cited blog post. He even engaged on the subject of UFOs.

From my position of admittedly incomplete grappling with his work, I can confidently say that what I admire most about him is his willingness to explore and embrace the ancient biblical worldview, and in effect to allow it to ride roughshod over our modern prejudices without any apology. If we say the Bible is the inspired word of God, is it not only consistent to adopt its worldview in preference to what the secular world offers?

Needless to say, I don’t agree with everything he writes, but then why should one expect to? In particular, I have sometimes felt that he simply ignores the problems raised for biblical supernaturalism by a scientific view of the world. To say that Adam and Eve are the first humans, for instance, plays well with a US Evangelical community largely committed to a Young Earth view, but this writer wants to make sense of the geological time record as well, just as the biologist in me finds it difficult to make sense of created spiritual beings with the ability to procreate babies from human wives.

But the fact that Heiser doesn’t address these problems (at least as far as I have read, and I may be doing him an injustice) is not really a problem – he was, after all, a Bible scholar, and not a geologist or biologist. He rightly leaves those in other fields to apply the biblical mindset to the world of science, and I have to say that his views on “the unseen world” still make perfect sense in the context of the Genealogical Adam paradigm of my own book.

The theological academy is still tainted with the secularism of the Enlightenment project (though rapidly succumbing, it seems, to the incoherence of postmodern and woke ideas), so to put forward the centrality to Christianity of the realm of spiritual beings takes a great deal of courage when even the devil is often viewed as a superstitious distraction. But we need such bold challenges to our received wisdom, because our received worldview is a profoundly flawed and truncated view of the richness – and the spiritual dangers – of the world in which we’ve been called to witness to the power of Christ over sin, over death – and over “the elemental spiritual forces of this world.”

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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