Review: Unseen Realm

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Unseen Realm
Unseen Realm by Michael S. Heiser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has been around for over a year now and I finally got around to reading it. I wish I had read it earlier. It is definitely a book you want to have on your shelf. Heiser deals with the realm of the supernatural and, for lack of a better term, a whole heap of odd passages in the Bible. He’s certainly right that modern Christians tend to just ignore or deal faintly with those passages. They are hard to skip over though when you have them collected and focused on as Heiser does in this book.

I certainly didn’t agree with all his conclusions but I appreciate the work he has done in writing this book and I am thankful for it. His view of God’s sovereignty, predestination, and human freewill had me scratching my head numerous times. At times, he seemed to be saying that God was reacting or making plans as different events unfolded.

He seems quick to fill in the “gaps” (things the Bible does not say anything about) with apocryphal and other extra-biblical writings. He didn’t seem to make much distinction there between inspired Scripture and non-inspired writings. For that matter, Heiser’s view of inspiration wasn’t clear to me. I recognize the Bible was written by different authors over a long period of time, but the inspiration was the one Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-21) and the requirement for interpretation is the same Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12-14).

Heiser refers often to the ancient near east mythopoeia and asserts the biblical writers borrowed from them. One example would be the cloud riding imagery used to describe Yahweh in the Old Testament. Similar attributes are ascribed to Baal in the pagan mythologies that pre-date the writing of the biblical text, but I don’t see why that demands the biblical writers borrowed the descriptions of Baal and applied them to Yahweh. It’s a proverbial chicken-and-egg problem. The date of the writings doesn’t matter because Yahweh is before all and eternally existing, which means his attributes are from before the foundation of the world. It’s much more reasonable that the Baal myths are mimicking Yahweh and the biblical text restores the right meaning.

Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but these views would seem to necessitate that someone be an ANE scholar before they could ever interpret the Bible correctly. Furthermore, I’m not convinced that anyone knows what an ancient Jew thought or that that could be the only key to proper biblical interpretation. Paul preached the Old Testament to the Graeco-Roman world and said that the Scriptures were for us (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 9:10; 10:11).

Heiser’s eschatology is unclear, but he readily states he’s not trying to systematize eschatology. I mention this because it highlights an important point in approaching this book. This is not a theological work. It is an academic and scholarly work in a specialized field of study. He also makes clear he is not writing the final word but merely a beginning in this study. I have not listed all my disagreements with this book but rather mentioned a few things I think are important in approaching this book. I believe Heiser has done us a great service in writing this book and I am thankful for it and I recommend it for careful study.

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