Review: The Unseen Realm

25077593Michael S. Heiser is Scholar-in-Residence at Faithlife, the creators of Logos Bible Software, and has a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Semitic Languages from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Heiser has written a host of peer-reviewed articles for Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Journal of the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament, Themelios, Tyndale Bulletin, Bible Translator, and much more. Heiser also contributed a number of articles in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets (IVP, 2012), and the Lexham Bible Dictionary. Most recently, Heiser has made waves with his new book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Lexham Press, 2015).

The Unseen Realm begins with a brief introduction into Heiser’s personal journey as a Hebrew student and his encounter with Psalm 82. This background provides the premise for the investigation that then unfolds in the coming pages. The book is divided into eight parts: (1) First Things – the stage is set with some preliminary rules for engagement; (2) The Households of God – attention is directed towards the initial biblical patterns, namely that God has a divine family, a heavenly assembly, or council, of elohim in which he is superior over all others; (3) Divine Transgressions – attention directed towards the arrogance of the nachash (the Serpent) and his transgression that fractured the human-divine relationship; (4) Yahweh and His Portion – attention is directed towards Yahweh’s acts of intervention amid his people, especially when in conflict or threatened by gods or men; (5) Conquest and Failure – the readers are guided through the intended results of the conquest under Moses and Joshua, and the divine backdrop that motivated therein; (6) Thus Says The Lord – attention is directed towards the theological intentions that undergird the monarchy’s history, and the reader is guided through the prophets and into the realization of the kingdom already, but not yet; (7) The Kingdom Already – the exploration enters into the realm of the New Testament and the anticipation and inauguration of the King, and the New Testament dependence on Old Testament motifs therein; and (8) The Kingdom Not Yet – the investigation comes full-circle and further establishes the supernatural worldview of the context within the closing climax of the Christian Bible.

There are a number of exciting aspects of this book that make it a must-read. First, I think that Heiser does an excellent job guiding the reader through some of the more commonly discussed issues of critical scholarship concerning the unseen realm of the ancient Near East, and yet does so in such a way as to keep the tenor of the conversation understandable and clear for the reader. Second, it is clear that Heiser is sensitive to the fact that the content being presented is likely to shake the foundation of many personal traditions. His awareness of such, I believe, makes the reader desire to follow his investigation further as oppose to abandon it. Third, Heiser does well in his overall organization of the topic. Each chapter has various subsections that build upon each other and allow the reader to digest smaller chunks of text and ideas. Finally, the overall thrust of the book is executed well and I think the reader will appreciate the attention to detail, but it is the content that makes the book so incredible. Admittedly, I did find myself in disagreement with Heiser at times, but he is generally fair in his understanding and presentation of the text—especially when it comes to Genesis and the Old Testament—and he does well in guiding the reader to his conclusion rather than making a bunch of empty statements.

The Unseen Realm is breathtaking. Heiser presents a vision of God and the supernatural world that untangles much of the complexity that has historically plagued the reading of passages such as Psalm 82, Genesis 1:26, 6:1-4, Judges 6, Daniel 7, and much more. Having already been familiar with Heiser’s work, I knew in large what to expect with this book. But, I must say, The Unseen Realm has delivered much more than I anticipated. This doesn’t mean there aren’t areas of concern or disagreement that I have with Heiser’s hermeneutic at part, but rather that his arguments are well-presented and persuasively met with a keen awareness of the ancient Near East. Heiser will make you think outside your traditional bubble as he ushers you through the ancient Near Eastern world with confidence and wonder. He carefully guides the reader through difficult waters of ignorance and unearth an undeniable theme penetrating the biblical narrative. Students of the Bible will do well in reading this book closely. It will change the way you read and study your Bible, and for that it comes highly recommended!

Also, for those wishing to investigate further, Douglas Van Dorn has compiled an excellent companion volume, The Unseen Realm: A Question & Answer Companion. This volume is saturated with Scripture references and useful beyond words. I wouldn’t buy one without the other!

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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