A Case for the DH, Part III: No New Covenant (not in Exod 34, anyway)

The evidence and discussion in parts I and II are more than just academic exercises and proofs of the DH, because they deal with a narrative that is central to some of the fundamental tenets of the Church: the “New Covenant” that we understand God to have made with the Israelites. In the compiled version of Exod 34, it appears that Moses went up the mountain a second time to get a new set of tablets. The first set, which was intended to include the decalogue and possibly the Covenant Code (Exod 21-23), was smashed in Exod 32. The second set, as we have seen, looks as if it contains the words the covenant of Exod 34:10-26. But when the strands are separated (as we have done with confidence), there is nothing new to be written on the second set of tablets. And J only ever has one covenant: the one that stipulates that in exchange for obedience to vv. 10-26, God would be with Israel when she went into the promised land. It’s only because someone tried to make a Diatessaron-like narrative that we suppose a new covenant ever existed. Thus the “new covenant” is a product of the compiler’s work, not of any “original” story.

The conclusions of this study are not auxiliary to Latter-day Saint theology. As our narrative has it, because of the wickedness of the Israelites, God retracted the original covenant (the Melchizedek Priesthood, some construe as the Endowment) and instead instituted a secondary, “lesser” covenant (the Aaronic Priesthood). JST Exod 34:1-2 reports:

And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two other tables of stone, like unto the first, and I will write upon them also, the words of the law, according as they were written at the first on the tables which thou brakest; but it shall not be according to the first, for I will take away the priesthood out of their midst; therefore my holy order, and the ordinances thereof, shall not go before them; for my presence shall not go up in their midst, lest I destroy them.

But I will give unto them the law as at the first, but it shall be after the law of a carnal commandment; for I have sworn in my wrath, that they shall not enter into my presence, into my rest, in the days of their pilgrimage. Therefore do as I have commanded thee, and be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, …

This raises an important point, that the JST not only is rendered problematic when the strands are separated, but even if the strands weren’t separated, what the JST (and D&C 84) produces is not a narrative consistent with the Bible: if God waited until Exod 34 to give the “lesser law”, what is one to make of all the legal material in Exod 20, 21, 22, 23, 25-31, etc?

Don’t mistake, I’m not trying to prove revelation “untrue” (whatever that might mean), but rather to discuss its nature. If we’re right about the source division, we can put Exodus 34 into the same category of the Golden Plates, Book of Abraham, Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, perhaps the Book of Mormon itself, the JST, and the Masonic connections to the Endowment: something provoked the Prophet’s to question and then to receive revelation on the matter, but we need not suppose that that revelation included an accurate reflection of history or (less troublingly) of what the original text “meant”, in any of these cases.

This line of questioning, imho, has the potential not only to broaden the discourse on revelation and its history, but also the potential to help us achieve a more subtle relationship with revelation and to shorten the distance between Joseph Smith ‘s revelations and those of an “average” member of the church. The more we are able to view the mechanisms of such revelation, perhaps the more we will be able to nourish the same tendencies in ourselves. But perhaps this opens up an entirely new can of worms…

9 Replies to “A Case for the DH, Part III: No New Covenant (not in Exod 34, anyway)”

  1. Great peice in total, JC. This is my first real in depth intro into the DC and it has been very interesting. I don’t know how close to your field this is but we need people like you (and/or your friend) to tackle this stuff and bring it to the people, so to speak. Again, very enjoyable.

  2. Yeah, to get 100 comments you need to critique a feminist reading of some passage. But I awarded this post “Post of the Day” status at DMI anyway.

    The JST comments are instructive. Since the documentary hypothesis really hadn’t been clearly articulated in Joseph’s day, no one would expect his view of the OT to reflect it. At least I wouldn’t. I imagine Joseph and the JST are stumbling blocks to some LDS scholars who might otherwise accept the hypothesis.

  3. That last part–the stuff about revelation–I thought really interesting. I didn’t comment (until now) because I don’t have much to say in the matter. I’m still hoping LXX or HP or somebody else calls you on it, so you can expound some more.

    Actually, even if they don’t say something about it maybe you could say some more about it… ::Fingers crossed::

  4. I have read the first two posts, truly I have. But when I saw the link to this post over on DMI, I thought, “Gee, why is FPR doing a baseball post?”

  5. I too wanted more discussion, but am not surprised that it didn’t generate any. I thought that at least this last part, which is certainly up for debate, would get people going. But, as one friend said, (and as Dave said above), if you want a lot of discussion it only takes two words: “Abortion. Discuss.” But thanks for the compliments (I’m honored, Dave).

    I thought about posting a part IV, a recap of sorts, but I think it would be beating a dead horse. So I’ll give some more thoughts here:

    It would be interesting to talk about this issue with respect to Mormon studies in general, especially in light of the lengthy discussion here at FPR on “Faithful Scholarship”. So here’s the question:

    What would be the range of “Faithful Scholarship” as it pertains to this case? The evidence points decidedly away from understanding Joseph Smith’s restoration of an original text in the JST. But, as I argued, this doesn’t mean there aren’t important, valuable lessons to be learned. So does faithful scholarship allow us to contravene the conservative, standard understanding in favor of something more accurate, as long as we produce something that’s in the end spiritually beneficial (or argued to be so)? Or does Faithful/LDS Scholarship (as discussed by Kent Jackson) automatically preclude the conclusions I drew, forcing us to explain away the evidence or to draw conclusions other than the most likely ones? Or, could we argue for a third option: Faithful Scholarship = an honest search for truth.

    What say ye?

  6. Ann,

    Your confusion is well-founded. It would be utterly foolish to argue a case for the DH, since as we all know there is no question that the American League is much more exciting to watch than the NL. (Unless, of course, the position argued were the one that would require DHs in the NL!)

  7. Jason,

    Not sure what more you’d like me to say about it, but here’s something that I didn’t get to say in the post (didn’t really fit with the direction I was moving in pt 3).

    Many people have objected to the Documentary Hypothesis on the grounds that no archaeologist has dug up P, or J, etc. In other words, until we find an actual J, E, etc., it will remain the subject of wild speculation.

    Like most objections to the Documentary Hypothesis, this is not a good one, in the first place because it doesn’t disprove anything. But the evidence from the analysis of Exod 34 suggests otherwise, that there existed a J document and an E document and a P document (that by and large probably didn’t “know” each other), that were independent at the time of their compilation into the Pentateuch. There are other hints of this, from Ezekiel, who knows and loves P, sometimes to the exclusion of other sources that since his time have been intertwined, one Psalm appears only to know the J plagues (and not the P plagues), etc. The compilation was done, then, similarly to what the Deuteronomistic historian did: he incorporated the sources available to him (but in the case of the Pentateuch, no overarching theological judgment was interlaced, as it was with the Deuteronomistic History. This is another interesting problem, that of the different types of redactions of the Pentateuch and the DeutHist).

  8. Thank you for bringing this issue to the fore of LDS discussion (at least within the realms of these marvelous blogs). As a recent recipient of the newly revamped ANES degree from BYU (and so therefore possessing not so much merit in a discussion like this–unless I was a Greek emphasis, which I wasn’t, not like my friend LXXluthor), I spent a lot of time this last semester looking into the DH. The more carefully I study it, the more I am convinced of its veracity, and what it wonderful, it all just strengthens my faith in the Bible and the other scriptures we read and love.

    For one thing, the more I have carefully looked at similar criteria on the Book of Mormon, the more convincing it is that it is also a book of many authors who had different emphases and styles, and that it was brought together by a redactor centuries later. (What a novel idea about scripture! Isn’t that exactly what the Book of Mormon claims it is?) My question about the Bible is this: why are we so shocked when scholars dismantle, not what the Bible says about itself, but what tradition has given us over years of thinking a certain way; i.e. that Moses was the sole author of the Pentateuch.

    This is all general stuff, but I wanted to get in on the discussion. Maybe this topic will generate more discussion in the future as others look into more seriously. I find it absolutely fascinating and indeed faith promoting. As for the problem of the different redactions of the Pentateuch and the DeutHist, could it be as simple as that the redactor of the Pentateuch saw their three (or more?) sources as of equal weight and validity, and therefore synchronized them as suited their inspired intent, and that the Deuteronomic Historian had more of a theological agenda? I don’t know, this is the first time I have considered that question.

    Again, thanks, this is a wonderful blog.

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