When Jehovah Was Not the God of the Old Testament. Part II

As the very name Israel might indicate on account of its theophoric element el (אל), it appears that the chief god worshiped in earliest Israel was El, the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon in the Late Bronze Age.  The god El has been revealed most clearly to the modern inquirer through the discovery of the Ugaritic texts at Tel Ras Shamra in 1929, a flourishing kingdom-city-state on the Syrian coast during the second half of the second millennium B.C.E.[1] As biblical tradition affirms as represented by the E and P sources (probably to be dated to the eighth and seventh/ sixth centuries B.C.E., respectively[2]), throughout the book of Genesis the ancient forbears of Israel worshiped the god El.  For example, Exodus 6:2-3 (P), recounting the divine theophany of YHWH to Moses at Sinai, states: Continue reading “When Jehovah Was Not the God of the Old Testament. Part II”

Does the Old Testament Teach Absolute Monotheism? Part I

Introduction: Was Ancient Israel Monotheistic?

Western Society is perhaps more indebted to the Hebrew Bible than to any other book, and arguably the most famous teaching associated with the Hebrew Bible is that of absolute monotheism.  This position famously affirms that there is only one god in existence and no other(s).  For example, Deuteronomy 6:4, known as the Shema, has often been cited since antiquity as supporting this understanding of monotheism.[1] It declares, “Listen, O Israel, YHWH is our god, YHWH alone [lit. YHWH (is) one]” (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד). This understanding of ancient Israelite faith, found in both popular and scholarly circles, purportedly traces itself in the biblical narrative to at least the time when YHWH revealed himself at Sinai to Moses and Israel,[2] if not all the way back to the creation of the world in Genesis 1 when God alone created the world by his word.[3] Naturally, this view has been held to be in direct opposition to the Mesopotamian theogonic and cosmogonic myths, such as the infamous Enuma Elish,[4] which recounts the creation of the gods and the world through fierce battles and rivalries between the personified primal elements of nature and the many gods who eventually tame them. Continue reading “Does the Old Testament Teach Absolute Monotheism? Part I”

JST part 2 (How’s that for an exciting title?)

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.

The JST and the Hebrew Bible

Hello Faith Promoting Friends,

Well, despite a glorious introduction as a new contributor, I’m afraid I’ve not done much more than put up a few thoughts critiquing the way we, as Latter-day Saints, traditionally use Job 19:26 as a proof text for the resurrection.

Alas, not very exciting,or productive, I know.

Yet friends, it’s the New Year, and time therefore for Yours Truly to repent and set a goal to participate more fully in this worthwhile forum.

So here we go!

Recently, I was especially interested in the December 11th post by my friend G. Wesley who raised some interesting points by drawing our attention to the issue of what to do with the JST and the GNT.  G. Wesley finishes his intriguing post with a question, i.e. “what of [the JST] and the Hebrew Bible”?

I would like to use that question as a springboard to share my conviction that despite my appreciation for the JST, I cannot accept the work as a restoration of an original biblical text.  Whatever we do with the JST, we cannot employ the Book of Moses in an effort to restore the earliest form of Genesis. When all is said and done, the Book of Moses is a 19th century revision of the KJV of the opening chapters of the Bible.

Taking the first two chapters of the book as a guide, Genesis begins with an amalgamation of two separate versions of creation, the second, which commences in Genesis 2:4b, actually predates and appears to have directly influenced the version that now opens the Bible with the famous clause, “In the beginning…”

The Book of Moses attempts to bridge the obvious literary gap between these two disparate sources by identifying the creation story in Genesis 1:-2:4a as purely “spiritual” in nature (see Moses 3:5).  This attempt to reconcile two historically distinct sources reveals that Moses does not predate Genesis 1-2.

End of story.

Yet even adopting a traditional view that ignores the observations of contemporary biblical scholarship, it is clear via the Prophet Joseph himself that whatever the Book of Moses does, it does not restore what Joseph himself identified as the original version of the text.

Towards the end of his ministry, the Prophet Joseph declared that prior to the days of uninspired tampering, the earliest version of Genesis 1:1 read: “The head one of the Gods brought forth the Gods” (Teachings, 348).

Now, if we consider Moses 2:1 in light of this teaching, a verse which would, if the Book of Moses contained a restored original text, reproduce the earliest version of Genesis 1:1, we gain the following insight:

“And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I reveal unto you concerning this heaven, and this earth; write the words which I speak. I am the Beginning and the End, the Almighty God; by mine Only Begotten I created these things; yea, in the beginning I created the heaven, and the earth upon which thou standest” (Moses 2:1)

And there we have it.  No mention of heads, or of gods, or even of councils.  Moses 2:1 revises Genesis 1:1 to simply read as a first person divine narrative.  So clearly even if we ignore the implications of biblical scholarship and simply rely upon the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith himself, when it comes to the Book of Moses, the JST does not restore an original text.

Hence, if we cannot use the JST to recreate the earliest biblical manuscripts, what can believing Latter-day Saints do with the JST?

Well, I don’t pretend to have all of the answers.  Heck, I don’t even assume to hold the best answers.  But I do have a few ideas that have worked for me personally that I’ve gained while pondering the matter.  I’ll share these ideas in part two.

In the meantime,

Happy New Year to all!!

Child Sacrifice, A Traditional Religious Practice in Ancient Israel?

Scholars continue to debate a number of important issues concerning the nature of human (child) sacrifices in the ancient Near East, including the origins of the rite, to whom these sacrifices were intended, and by whom they were performed.  A number of books dedicated to the topic have appeared in recent years,[1] and many scholarly books pertaining to the history of Israelite religions have included discussions of these issues as well.[2] Especially vexing as pertains to the biblical material is the question of whether there was in fact a god named Molech/Molek to whom these sacrifices were being performed, and whether or not the biblical phrase “to make pass through the fire” refers to child sacrifice or simply a ritual of dedication.  Continue reading “Child Sacrifice, A Traditional Religious Practice in Ancient Israel?”

Who sold Joseph?

technicolor dream

A friend suggested that when confronting the problems of the Pentateuchal narrative, it’s best to begin with an innocuous passage–that is, one that has low theological stakes. Part of the problem with the average person’s acceptance of the theory is that usually one starts with creation, or flood, or even, as I did earlier, covenant in Exod 34. So let’s take one such case, one that is both theologically bland and relatively straightforward in terms of narrative.

At the end of Genesis 37, Joseph tells his brothers of his portentious dreams, is given a coat, and, in a move envied by older brothers everywhere, they conspire to kill him. I quote here the KJV of Gen 37 and the first verse of Gen 39:

Continue reading “Who sold Joseph?”

Wait, that’s (not) in the Bible?! Creation Ex Nihilo, Israelite Cosmology, and Science

As I have discussed in a series of posts on creation in Genesis 1-3 (see: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), the vast majority of biblical scholars now recognize that the ancient Israelites viewed the cosmos as being formed from a primeval chaotic state, and not ex nihilo.  This may be best understood, perhaps, by taking a closer look at their worldview of the order and structure of the cosmos. Biblical scholar Bernhard Anderson briefly summarizes their cosmological world-view as follows:

The Bible takes for granted a three-storied structure of the universe: heaven, earth, and underworld (Ex. 20:4). According to this Weltbild, the earth is a flat surface, corrugated by mountains and divided by rivers and lakes. Above the earth, like a huge dome, is spread the firmament that holds back the heavenly ocean and supports the dwelling place of the gods (Genesis 1:8; Ps. 148:4). The earth itself is founded on pillars that are sunk into the subterranean waters (Ps. 24:2; 104:5), in the depths of which is located Sheol, the realm of death. In this view, the habitable world is surrounded by the waters of chaos, which unless held back, would engulf the world, a threat graphically portrayed in the flood story (Genesis 7:11; c.f. 1:6) and in various poems in the Old Testament (e.g., Ps. 46:1-4; 104:5-9). [1] Continue reading “Wait, that’s (not) in the Bible?! Creation Ex Nihilo, Israelite Cosmology, and Science”

Wait, that’s in the Bible?! Israelite Polytheism or Monotheism?

God [‘elohim] has taken his place in the divine council [‘adat ‘el];

in the midst of the gods [elohim] he holds judgement.

Ps. 82.1 (NRSV)

References to a divine council or heavenly assembly are found frequently throughout the Hebrew Bible [1]. Simply, the divine council is the heavenly royal court over which Yahweh, the God of Israel, presides as heavenly king. The members of this heavenly court or assembly are referred to in the Hebrew Bible by such terms as: bene (ha)’elohim “sons of God” (Gen. 6.2, 4; Deut. 32.8-9; Job 1.6, 2.2, 38.7), ‘elohim “gods” (Ps. 82.1, 6), bene elim “sons of gods” (Ps. 29.1, 89.7), and bene ‘elyon “sons of the Most High” (Ps. 82.6). Moreover, the council itself is referred to by such appellations as the adat ‘el “council/assembly/congregation of ‘El/God” (Ps. 82.1), sod qedoshim rabbah “great council of the holy ones” (Ps. 89.8), sod YHWH “the council of Yahweh” (Jer. 23.18), and sod eloah “council of God” (Job 15.8). Continue reading “Wait, that’s in the Bible?! Israelite Polytheism or Monotheism?”

Wait, that’s (not) in the Bible?! Satan and Evil

In much of the modern Judeo-Christian tradition, including LDS Christianity, Satan is seen as the personification of evil, a being who purposely defies God and attempts to thwart his plans for the world.[1] Because Satan is such a prominent figure in especially the Christian tradition, it is quite shocking that the notion of this archenemy to God is not really found anywhere in the Hebrew Bible, and doesn’t clearly appear until the intertestamental period (i.e., the period between the writing of the Old and New Testaments).

Continue reading “Wait, that’s (not) in the Bible?! Satan and Evil”

Wait, that’s (not) in the Bible?! God’s Omniscience

There is an interesting tradition found in many biblical texts that affirms that Yahweh, the God of Israel, genuinely consults with others and considers their voice despite the fact that he is eminently more powerful and knowledgeable than they. This is especially evident in those texts where Yahweh reasons or dialogues with a prophet and, at times, even changes his intended course of action after hearing their argument(s) and opinion(s). As one example, consider Exodus 32.7-14 (NRSV) which records a dialogue between Yahweh and Moses after the people of Israel–whom Yahweh had just powerfully delivered from the land of Egypt–worshiped and offered sacrifices to a golden calf: Continue reading “Wait, that’s (not) in the Bible?! God’s Omniscience”