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Title: Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness
Author: Dr. Michael S. Heiser
Copyright Date: 2020 by Lexum Press (text)
Recording Date: 2020 by Lexum Press (production)
Narrated by: Gordon Greenhill
Audio length: 8 hours, 59 minutes
Demons is one the follow-up books to Heiser’s more famous work, The Unseen Realm. While the earlier book presents a comprehensive view of the supernatural realm depicted by the Bible, Demons, as the title states, focuses on the bad guys of the Bible’s supernatural worldview. The topic makes for an interesting study because a lot of it, while in the Bible, is not spelled out overtly in the text. Demons takes readers into the weeds of translation issues, text interpretation nuance, and the surrounding time-period’s extra-textual context.
The book begins by describing a core element of why modern day confusion exists on this topic. When the Hebrew Bible was translated into the Greek Septuagint, a couple centuries prior to the birth of Jesus, the Greek often did not capture the spiritual nuance of the Hebrew from which it was derived. As a result, though the nuance was largely still intact during the time of Jesus, the word “demon” evolved into a generalized term to describe evil supernatural entities, and over the course of time, the Hebrew origin and context became less well known.
The book then sets out to provide the original context, and if you are unfamiliar with Heiser’s other work, it does so in a way that might surprise modern Christians. Heiser describes not one supernatural rebellion, but three. The first is the familiar rebellion by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the second involves the Watchers and the creation of the Nephilim described in Genesis 6, and the third is the supernatural rebellion associated with the Tower of Babel. Heiser gives the history of these three rebellions and meticulously explains how Second Temple Rabbis connected the rebellion to one primary leader, Satan. The evidence for the connections made by Second Temple rabbis can be found both in the Old Testament of the Bible, and supporting evidence exists in Second Temple texts. Heiser argues that the supporting texts, such as 1 Enoch, or the Book of Jubilees, are important, inasmuch as they inform a modern reader what Jews in the time of Jesus were thinking and what they were informed by. Heiser also relies upon Near Eastern texts of other surrounding faiths to fill in gaps, though he does so carefully and not in a way that contradicts what is available through the Old Testament. That last bit is an important part of Heiser’s approach. He aims not to add something entirely new, or contradictory to Scripture, but rather he seeks to provide the existing cultural context familiar to the audience of the original texts.
It might feel contradictory to a sola scriptura reader to look at texts outside of not just the canon, but Jewish and Christian faiths entirely, to provide evidence. However, Heiser justifies the choices by meticulously demonstrating that several passages in the Old Testament canon are polemics intended to refute surrounding Mesopotamian faiths. One example that Heiser gives of an Old Testament polemic occurs in the early chapters of Genesis, and the story of the Great Flood. The Apkallu were part of the Sumerian Flood narrative, and were viewed both positively and negatively. The Book of Genesis provides a different narrative – one that condemns the Apkallu more directly. Heiser – a scholar in ancient Near Eastern languages – thus uses the religious texts of the surrounding faiths to inform readers as to what the Israelites are condemning. The Israelites knew their own surrounding context at the time. We have to learn from sources outside of the canon to share their context. Heiser makes the point that the texts were written in the specific context of the time period in which they were written, and thus should be understood and informed by that time period’s beliefs and knowledge. He makes a strong case that it is difficult to understand the ancient Israelite’s world without learning about and studying the surrounding beliefs, too.
Heiser covers a lot of ground in the book. He explains, in a lot of detail, how the Second Temple Jews connected the serpent of Genesis with Satan. He explains the lengthy scholarly connections between the giants and demons, including that it was believed during the Second Temple period that disembodied giant spirits are one and the same as demons that “possess” people. Heiser also explains the belief that after Babel, God disinherited the nations, except for Israel, which He reserved for Himself. However, as Heiser explains, this led to a third rebellion in which those lesser deities sought their own worship. The idea of regional deities extended throughout most of the ancient world, with cities and nations having patron gods. The Book of Daniel’s passage about The Prince of Greece and The Prince of Persia allude to this notion, as does Psalm 82, and Deuteronomy 32. Heiser then writes about how the second and third rebellions tied to the first, and how those “demons” fell under the leadership of Satan.
With this context provided, Heiser closes the book explaining – in the Christian context – how Jesus Christ and the Church are the solution to the problem of the three supernatural rebellions. Christ defeats the serpent and death, Christ exercising authority over demons (disembodied giants destroyed by the Flood), and the Church is God’s plan to reclaim the disinherited nations from the third cosmic rebellion at Babel.
The book goes into much more detail than I am providing here, and is dense with scholarly references, but despite that, it is easy to follow and understand. Heiser does a meticulous and thorough step-by-step of job laying out his arguments for the how and whys of demonology and for why those things align with a Scriptural understanding of the issue.
The material is dense, but one does not need to be a Bible scholar already to pick it up, understand it, and enjoy it (assuming one gets a feeling of joy from learning, that is.) The audiobook is only nine hours long and is written for laymen and novices. Demons is informative, both as a one-off read, and to keep as longer term reference material that one might return to occasionally as desired. I learned a lot from the book and I recommend it without any reservations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Michael S. Heiser (February 14, 1963 – February 20, 2023) was an American Old Testament scholar and Christian author with training in ancient history, Semitic languages, and the Hebrew Bible from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His expertise and work focused on the nature of the spiritual realm in the Bible and about spiritual matters more generally, and he wrote more than ten books on these subjects since 2010.
He served as executive director of the School of Ministry at Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, and previously as scholar-in-residence at Faithlife Corporation. He ran The Naked Bible podcast and Miqlat, a ministry to disseminate his scholarship. He had additionally been active in media productions around his area of interest, and in response to popular presentations relating to spiritual matters (such as material in the Stranger Things series, and in rebutting ancient astronaut conjectures).
- ———(2015). I Dare You Not to Bore Me with The Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. ISBN 978-1577995395.
- ——— (2015). The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. ISBN 978-1-577-99556-2.
- ——— (2015). Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches About the Unseen World – and Why It Matters. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. ISBN 978-1577995586.
- ——— (2017). Reversing Hermon: Enoch, the Watchers, and the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ. Crane, MO: Defender Publishing. ISBN 978-0-998-14263-0.
- ——— (2017). The Bible Unfiltered: Approaching Scripture on Its Own Terms. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. ISBN 978-1-683-59040-8.
- ——— (2018). Angels: What the Bible Really Says About God’s Heavenly Host. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. ISBN 978-1-683-59104-7.
- ——— (2019). A Companion to the Book of Enoch: A Reader’s commentary, Vol. I: The Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36). Crane, MO: Defender Publishing. ISBN 978-1-948-01430-4.
- ——— (2019). The World Turned Upside Down: Finding the Gospel in Stranger Things. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. ISBN 978-1-683-59322-5.
- ——— (2020). Demons: What the Bible really says about the powers of darkness. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. ISBN 978-1 683-59290-7.
- ——— (2021). A Companion to the Book of Enoch: a reader’s commentary, Vol. II: The Parables of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71). Crane, MO: Defender Publishing. ISBN 978-1-948-01441-0.