Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Unseen Realm Review

I keep a journal of interesting things I encounter in my studies.  Sometimes these lead to drawings.  In this post, I've included a few of these over the years that were inspired by Heiser’s books, especially the draft of The Unseen Realm.

An attempt to render Lucifer using
Biblical period iconography and texts.
Heiser believes the Biblical authors
 considered Satan a serpentine seraph.  
As a full-time Baptist Bible college student, I’m assigned to read evangelical books and theologies constantly.  Most of them are extremely hackneyed.  It seems the evangelical “genre” is marked by the assumption that just because a book 1) is about God, and 2) says true things, that it should be slopped into a market already way over-glutted with mediocrity.  I’m probably overreacting because I’ve been compelled to wade through the mire for four years, but I’d describe the situation as holding God hostage in order to justify the endless publishing of unoriginal repetitions of Sunday school level theology and all-round poor writing.

I promised myself I wouldn’t name any particular authors as examples in that last paragraph.  It was hard.

Michael Heiser’s upcoming book The Unseen Realm: Rediscovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible is important.  Extremely important.  It's a shame it is being released into an ocean of "felt-needs" mediocrity, but it's my hope Seminary professors and church leaders will realize the explosive potential it contains for an evangelical renaissance in how we approach the Bible. I'm not exaggerating. Heiser’s work has had more theological impact on my life than any other Biblical scholar, and when I read the draft to the Unseen Realm back in 2012 I couldn’t help but share its ideas with everyone who would listen and still haven’t ceased.  He’s largely responsible for my interests in Biblical languages (and incidentally, now my online Aramaic professor).

Heiser has argued Ezekiel 1's symbolism
probably refers to Babylonian astrology.
Unfortunately, Heiser isn’t a mega church pastor, self-help shaman or “‘merica prophecies” eisegete like most of the authors topping Lifeway’s listed sales last year.  He's an ancient linguist.  When you pick up The Unseen Realm you will be reading the culmination of the career of a man who has poured decades into studying and teaching Egyptian, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Greek, Phoenician, Hebrew and other crusty languages.  He has engaged in the heights of secular Biblical scholarship (usually to give it a needed spanking) and has come out on the other side remaining faithful to Christ and the inspiration of scripture.  Much of the books’ content is his doctoral dissertation explained in laymen’s terms and everything you encounter within it has weathered the rigors of academic peer-review.

As regards the content of the book, if you've heard of Historical theology, Systematic theology and Biblical theology, in a way The Unseen Realm can be considered a Biblical theology of the weird (or perhaps, creepy).  Heiser makes a point to go to the strange stuff your pastor probably avoids in the Bible to show how wonderful and paradigm shifting those texts are, and his engaging writing style is designed for the average person in the pew.

The book traces an obfuscated cosmic battle through the centuries of Biblical history and ancient literature that involves a unique class of divine beings.  Behind the purpose of Eden as a meeting place for the gods, the uncanny serpent in the garden, Babble, Joshua’s extermination of Canaanite bloodlines, giant clans, Christ’s transfiguration and Armageddon, there is a titanic cord of theology that has been lost to modern believers that would have been obvious to the Biblical authors.  Because of our failure to grasp Israel's monotheistic pantheon and relationship with the supernatural, colossal meanings behind these texts have been lost to us.  Heiser’s interpretations are not new, but a regression into the minds of the ancients, and although the journey takes you down strange roads, you will come out on the other side even stronger established in orthodox faith.

Heiser's book shows Eden was considered the mountain meeting place
of Israel's monotheistic pantheon.  Ancient ziggurat temples like
Babble represented the attempt to artificially create a meeting place
with the gods.
The book was originally entitled The Myth that is True after a Tolkien quote. Much to my lament, I presume Heiser’s publishers are smart enough to know having the word “Myth” in the title of a Christian book under any circumstance is publishing suicide. I’ve always felt a sort of paradoxical contempt for mythical authors like Tolkien, Homer or Hearn.  I found their ancient worlds of myth aroused in me the deepest yearning a human being can feel and, in effect, contempt for this mundane world--the tangle of emotions the German language terms Sehnsucht.

Heiser peers beyond the numinous veil. You will ascend ancient desert temple steps and read forgotten histories in stone that will transport you back to Eden, exploring it as if for the first time; You will sojourn among the residents of Sheol; You will stand in the eclectic celestial assembly of those who witnessed the earth’s creation; You will meet Jews before Christ who believed in a Trinity, and open neglected 2,000 year old scrolls hidden in desert caves that speak of an ancient battle between the divine Watchers and God’s people—tracing its giant bloodlines through Biblical history.

Ancient Near Eastern iconographic elements relevant to Ezekiel 1.  
This is the stuff of myth.  It is no less grand than anything to come from the pen of a Homer or Tolkien, and yet, it is the reality Heiser's book offers.  It connects the yearning Sehnsucht we all have to something in reality.  Along the way, assumptions you have about the degree of relevance for extra-biblical texts in interpreting the Bible will likely be shattered and even familiar texts will become exhilaratingly new as you read them through ancient eyes.  The church will also receive from it a well-needed dose of what genuine scholarship actually looks like.  I'm reminded of a friend who also read the draft and commented that it renovated his fascination for the Bible and deepened his worship of God.  I'm excited to see the waves this book is going to make in the church.

You can check out the table of contents here.