My review of Dr. Michael Heiser’s Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness.
What does this book offer the church?
The Bible both does and does not talk a lot about demons, depending on whom you ask and where you look. For a lot of people, the Bible talks a lot about demons and the demonic realm, leading to a fascination in the subject. For others, especially in our modern world, the Bible does not talk much about demons at all – or, really, anything supernatural.
Enter Michael Heiser, who is trying to find a middle-road between these two approaches, looking directly at the Bible to see what it says about demons (or, does not say about demons). Scanning through the Old Testament, the Second Temple Literature, and the New Testament, Dr. Heiser sets out to scan the entire breadth of Biblical and extra-biblical writings and draw more straightforward, and supported, conclusions about the world of demons.
Dr. Heiser’s methodology is deceptively simple and straightforward. Starting with the Old Testament, he examines the OT vocabulary used to describe dark forces and the supposed realm of the demons. He then follows this groundwork into both the Second Temple and the New Testmanent, showing how both eras built from the Old Testament framework and expanded into something closer to what we know today.
One of the reasons that this book is important now is because we’re living in a time of unprecedented conspiracy theories and social media; the way the two inter-twine threaten to spread misinformation everywhere we go. And, for someone my age, I grew up surrounded by theories about demons: how they are really aliens, maybe they’re ghosts?; they can possess you still, but probably won’t…probably. We need more good books, like this, that investigate what the Bible *actually* says about the supernatural to help guide us through these conspiracies.
How successfully does it meet those goals?
The book is well-written and pastoral. If Listeners to the Bible Project podcast, or those who read the blog of the same name, will be at least familiar with Dr. Heiser’s name, as he comes up quite a bit in discussion, and has written for the site. This discussion does go deeper than his blog posts and the discussions on the blog post, though, mostly because it is a full-length book. Readers might be familiar with Dr. Heiser, as he has written quite a bit on the super-natural realm, the Book of Enoch, and on biblical theology – and usually, Amazon features the Kindle versions of his books for fairly cheap prices, between $3-5. This familiarity with the name might draw readers in, exposing them to this in-depth discussion.
This familiarity, though, might also trick general audiences into reading a book that’s a bit deeper than what they are used to reading from him. While he does not write in a foreign language without explaining the term, readers are tasked with becoming familiar with these terms very quickly to keep up with the book. For some, this might mean slower reading. For others, this book may not be a great entry point into his writings, necessitating putting this one back and reading some earlier releases to become more familiar with what he writes about here. For example, those who don’t know what the Book of Enoch is might need to read his monograph on that book before this one. (Whether or not it’s advertised that way is a different story – I just think that some might be better served starting further back in his bibliography.)
This book sits at two weird places for me: first, in how it’s written, and second, in what it offers. I found that these deep-dives into vocabulary are still well-written, but require a bit more mental energy to keep up with. This makes the book sit at a place I haven’t seen often: scholarly level work at a popular, jaunty pace. In terms of what it offers, I am not sure if I could recommend this as a popular level book to all audiences, but I certainly would not recommend a popular level book on demons, especially considering some of the material put out in the last twenty years.
So, as you wonder what that means for my review of this book, I can honestly say that your mileage will vary on this one. If you come with some pre-knowledge of the source material, there’s a lot to learn and explore in this book, and it will serve you well. If you are not familiar with the source material, the book will not be completely lost on you, but I do recommend that you come prepared to do a bit more work than you might on most popular level book.
I reviewed this book for Lexham Press; I received a free review copy in exchange for an honest review and not for a forced-positive review. If you want to read more about the book, you can read about it on Lexham Press’s website; if you would like to purchase the book, you can do so there, at a local bookstore, christianbook.com, bn.com, or amazon.com.