All right, so if the JST does not restore an original, pristine, historical text from ancient Israel what it is and how can a believing Latter-day Saint make use of this interesting work?
Well, of course I don’t pretend to occupy any sort of commanding position that would justify rendering an authoritative proposal. That’s not me. So, friends, take these ideas for what they’re worth, i.e. one Junior Primary teacher’s opinion concerning the subject at hand.
Speaking personally, I have for many years viewed the JST as a type of inspired workbook, or in other words, as a literary production documenting the Prophet Joseph’s evolutionary encounters with the revelatory process. As has been well documented, many of the revelations in the D&C derive specifically from theological questions Joseph encountered while working his way through the inspired revision.
Many examples of the process could be cited, but perhaps none more interesting than D&C 132 which represents an amalgamation of three distinct questions Joseph acquired on marriage while working on the JST (see Danel W. Bachman. “New Light on an Old Hypothesis: The Ohio Origins of the Revelation on Eternal Marriage.” Journal of Mormon History 5 (1978):19-32).
Again speaking personally, as I have studied the D&C, I have felt inspired witnessing the way the Lord responded to the Prophet Joseph’s theological ponderings. Through the production of the JST, we witness the Lord leading the Prophet into a world of grand religious insights that eventually culminate in the advanced theological ideas manifested at the end of the Prophet’s ministry via the famous King Follett Sermon.
So, when all is said and done, if nothing else, for me, the JST documents the evolutionary development of the doctrines of the Restoration and the method God uses to instruct his children. Yet I maintain that there’s even more to be gained by LDS students of the JST.
Returning to a suggestion presented by G.Wesley in a previous post, we read the proposal:
“There is no place for the Inspired Version in the study of the ancient world in general, textual criticism of the Bible in particular.”
Now that’s quite the comment!
Dissecting this statement, G. Wesley makes two separate arguments:
1. There is no place for the JST in the study of the ancient world.
2. There is no place for the study of the JST in textual criticism of the Bible.
And concerning these two specific points, well, as a serious student of the Bible, I find myself in full and total agreement.
Now, It’s not my intent to focus on issues of textual criticism in this forum, but I would, however, like to suggest that even though the JST does not restore an ancient historical text and that there exists no place for the JST in the study of the ancient world, I believe that there does exist a place for the ancient world inside the JST. In other words, as students of LDS scripture, we can study the JST in light of the ancient world, and in so doing, glean some profound literary and religious insights.
At least, I believe that I have on many occasions. I’ll take the opportunity to share one example.
The Book of Moses begins with material entirely absent from the Biblical record, which directly alters the Sitz in Leben or “life setting” for the biblical stories of creation and Eden:
“The words of God, which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain” (Moses 1:1)
This concept of a mountain (an exceedingly high one no less), is really quite interesting. As locations that offer a symbolic connection between heaven and earth, mountains in antiquity traditionally provided a strong thematic link with Near Eastern temple worship. In their recent publication on Solomon’s temple via Thames & Hudson, LDS scholars William Hamblin and David Seely did in my estimate a nice job capturing the ancient connection between temple and mountain in Near Eastern thought:
“In many ancient creation stories, the earth was formed when the deity conquered chaos represented by the primeval waters and established the primordial hillock, the first portion of earth to rise from the waters. A temple was built on the primordial hillock commemorating the god’s pre-eminent role in creation and their power in defeating Chaos, legitimizing the worship of the god enshrined in the temple and the rule of his divinely appointed king.” William J. Hamblin and David Rolph Seely, Solomon’s Temple Myth and History, Thames and Hudson, 2007, 10.
So reading the ancient world into Moses 1 places the opening events of Genesis into the context of a temple revelation given to Moses on “an exceedingly high mountain.” That the Prophet Joseph explicitly believed that Moses experienced a temple theophany upon a mountain seems clear from Joseph’s Nauvoo teachings:
“I preached in the grove on the keys of the Kingdom, Charity &c The keys are certain signs and words by which false spirits and personages may be detected from true, which cannot be revealed to the Elders till the Temple is completed. The rich can only get them in the Temple—the poor may get them on the Mountain top as did Moses… No one can truly say he knows God until he has handled something, and this can only be in the Holiest of Holies.” Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith; 119 – 120.
In Moses 1, Moses appears on the exceedingly high mountain approaching the Lord through traditional veil imagery:
“And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence” (Moses 1:2).
In Near Eastern temple worship, the veil was a curtain hung within the temple precinct in order to protect mortal eye from the glory associated with the physical presence of deity (think Isaiah 6). Moses addresses the issue in verse 11 of the Inspired Version:
“But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him.”
So the new introduction provided via the JST transforms the way LDS readers approach the opening chapters of the Bible. Genesis is now interpreted within the context of temple worship and ritual. A brief survey of themes explored throughout the Book of Moses reveals the following list of LDS temple related motifs:
The dispensing of Satan (vv. 12-22)
A ritual depiction of the creation drama (Moses 2)
A ritual presentation of the Fall in which readers can put themselves in the place of Adam and Eve (Moses 3-4)
Ritual presentation of the Law of Sacrifice (Moses 5:1-9)
A depiction of Adam’s promise that he will enter the presence of the Lord (Moses 5:10)
Adam and Eve are identified as true messengers sent from God (Moses 5:12); angels are sent forth as true “messengers” sent to teach the Law of the Gospel.
“And thus the Gospel began to be preached, from the beginning, being declared by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by his own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost” (5:58)
An introduction to secret combinations that reflect true worship, yet serve as its antithesis (Moses 5:29):
“And Satan said unto Cain: Swear unto me by thy throat, and if thou tell it thou shalt die; and swear thy brethren by their heads, and by the living God, that they tell it not; for if they tell it, they shall surely die; and this that thy father may not know it; and this day I will deliver thy brother Abel into thine hands.”
A ritual vestment in which Adam appears as a divine temple working king who receives a coat of skin (Moses 4:27).
And clearly, more could be added.
So in sum, even though the JST does not restore an original historical biblical text, I believe the work does carry some significant insights for LDS readers. Not only does the JST provide a view of the revelatory process at work during the Ohio period of the Prophet’s ministry, the JST can also provide readers with interesting religious and literary insights, granted not insights into the ancient world, but rather insights into modern revelation, when the ancient world is brought to the JST as an interpretive guide.