Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson 1: “The Keystone of Our Religion”
Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson 1: “The Keystone of Our Religion”
This lesson begins the background for the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine lessons for the year. While the manual will discuss concepts such as the book being the “keystone of our religion”, the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, etc., this lesson will deal with other key points of background, which will help in understanding the world of Lehi and Nephi we will enter into over the next several weeks.
The Documentary Hypothesis is a theory that determines from studying the text of the five books of Moses (Torah or Pentateuch), that the current books as we now have them come from five sources: (J – Jahwist/Yahwist, E – Elohist, D – Deuteronomist, P – Priest, and R – Redactor).
Internal textual evidence of the Torah suggest that in its current form, the writings come from a variety of sources. The first two sources, J and E, came about around 850-800BC. J was possibly written during the time of King Solomon or his son, Rehoboam. It places within the writings of Moses several temple concepts and a Mosaic Law-centric world. E was written by an individual in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, after the nation split into two in the days of Rehoboam and Jeroboam. It is not temple centric.
In Genesis, the Elohist always calls God by the name Elohim or El; while the Yahwist always calls God Jehovah/Yahweh.
The Deuteronomist addition came during the time of King Josiah. The young king, raised by the temple priests, ordered the temple refurbished. The temple workers found a part of the book of the law, normally viewed as Deuteronomy. While portions of Deuteronomy are old, it is believed by many scholars that the Deuteronomists sought to establish the temple priests’ power by updating the writing of Moses to fit their belief system at that time. The Priest additions would be added between the time of the Deuteronomists and the collapse of Jerusalem in Lehi’s day (circa 587 BC). After the return of the Jews from Babylon, the Redactor took the various versions of the sacred writings of Moses and redacted or combined them into one Torah. The redactor is usually believed to be the scribe Ezra.
The Documentary Hypothesis explains why there are two versions of the Creation story (Genesis 1 and 2). Richard E Friedman, in his book, “Who Wrote the Bible?” demonstrates many examples of double and triple versions of stories found in the Pentateuch. Some are even imbedded one within the other, as he shows in the case of Noah’s Flood. In the story, we have two periods of time (40 days, 13 months), we have animals entering in two by two, but also having seven clean animals entering in. We also see both a raven and a dove used to determine if the waters have receded enough to disembark from the ark. Friedman demonstrates that you can literally pull these apart, and have two coherent stories.
Why the differences? The two Flood stories were written by J and P. J wrote his version in order to promote the kingships of David and Solomon. P wrote to promote the Levitical priests’ power within the temple, requiring that Noah do something special regarding clean animals. For instance, having seven clean animals meant Noah could sacrifice after leaving the ark. It also meant that a clean dove could be sent out, rather than an unclean scavenger, such as the raven.
The Book of Mormon and the Documentary Hypothesis
So, what does the Documentary Hypothesis have to do with the Book of Mormon? Modern scholars are using the theory to better understand the beginnings of the Nephite history.
When Israel and Judah divided, E and J became their major Mosaic historians. Each sought to promote the religious world they dwelt in. For the Yahwist, it meant focusing on the righteous line of Kings David and Solomon. They had a divine right, by God, to reign over Israel. J would promote anything that promoted the Jerusalem temple and the kingdom of David forever more. This meant reducing Moses’ impact, while promoting David.
Meanwhile, the Elohist wrote the history based, not on David, but on the patriarchs of old. Lehi will walk away from the temple, and return to the ways of Abraham in the wilderness: living in a tent, sacrificing on altars, and living the nomadic life.
Moses, the last patriarch, would also be exonerated by the Elohist. The Documentary Hypothesis notes Moses going twice to Meribah in the Pentateuch, and both times obtaining water from a rock. One story is negative towards Moses, where Moses is chastised for pride, and refused entrance into the Promised Land. However, the Elohist version does not mention any chastising; simply Moses was directed to the appropriate rock by an angel standing over it.
Professor John L. Sorensen suggested that the Brass Plates of Laban may be the original source for the Elohist tradition. In the Book of Mormon, we find a very strong Elohist position. In the instance where Nephi mentions Moses getting water from the rock at Meribah, it is the positive event of the Elohist.
Remember, Lehi was a descendant of Joseph. Joseph, through his sons Ephraim and Manasseh, became a powerful force in Israel. When the nation divided in the days of Rehoboam and Jeroboam, Joseph went to the Northern Kingdom. In the Northern Kingdom, they would seek to have a religion that departed from the worship of that in the temple.
In the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lessons, I suggest that the two calves established by Jeroboam represented Elohim. Elohim was symbolized by the bull: strong and fertile. In placing a golden calf on both the northern and southern edges of the nation of Israel, Jeroboam sought to establish the entire land as a temple under Elohim. If this is the case, then there was an ideological battle between Elohim and Yahweh/Jehovah going on between Israel and Judah.
When the Northern Kingdom was carried off by Assyria, many escaped into the land of Judah. With them would have come their own version of the Mosaic Law and belief, a different priesthood view, and their own sacred writing: possibly the Brass Plates of Laban. The Brass Plates would contain writings specifically targeted to the Northern Kingdom, but not necessarily tied to the Kingdom of Judah. In the Book of Mormon, we find such prophets: Zenock, Zenos, and Neum (1 Ne 19:10). It is possible that Neum may be the same as the Biblical prophet Nahum, who directed his witness towards the Northern Kingdom. Of course, Isaiah would also be prominent, being he was a key prophet for both Israel and Judah.
Moses would be the main Lawgiver and person who could do no harm. Nephi and the other Book of Mormon prophets frequently return to Moses’ teachings and life, as the one who was able to destroy the Egyptians, turn the Red Sea, and prophesy of Christ. Interestingly, according to Kevin Barney, the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon does not state “five books of Moses” (1 Ne 5:11), but just “the book of Moses”, suggesting that the word “five” was added later by Joseph Smith, not as an inspired addition, but simply because in light of his understanding of the Bible he had at the time, it made grammatical sense.
The Deuteronomists and Lehi’s Day
As mentioned above, during the reign of King Josiah, the book of Deuteronomy was found in the temple ruins. At this point, major changes occurred in the temple ordinances, making it very different than the original worship of Solomon’s temple.
According to Margaret Barker, Old Testament scholar and Methodist minister, the changes made were so dramatic that many ancient things were destroyed. No longer would the temple have a Tree of Life (a literal tree grew in the courtyard of the temple). Angels and other divine beings would no longer be a part of the temple liturgy, nor would the concept of being directly in the presence of God. Holy symbols, such as Aaron’s budding rod were destroyed, to disconnect the people from the ancient past, and place them under the power of the temple priests in Josiah’s day. The focus for the temple and people would be almost entirely on the Law of Moses as described in Deuteronomy, and in animal sacrifices.
By the days of Lehi, this practice would become so corrupt that Jeremiah would condemn the Jews and their practices. He would set forth the Rechabites as the example to follow. The Rechabites were a nomadic group of Jews, who did not build houses, hold large amounts of wealth, etc. They worshiped in the wilderness in high places (altars) to Jehovah. Jeremiah brought the Rechabites into the temple, to show the temple goers and priests the true form of worship, which was no longer available in the now corrupted temple.
Jeremiah 35 explains:
Prophets versus the Priests
In his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey notes the difference between leaders and managers. He explains that the manager is tasked to cut a road through the jungle. He ensures the machetes are sharpened, the workers are fed, and the progress is consistent and on schedule. Meanwhile, the leader climbs a tall tree, looks at the big picture. The leader could ostensibly shout down to the manager, “Wrong Forest!” Sadly, many managers would yell back, “Shut up! We’re making progress!”
Here we see the difference between the temple priests, whose whole world was designed to manage the dead Jewish religion (even if it meant they eschew revelation, angels, the Messiah, the Tree of Life and many other ancient themes from Solomon’s temple), and the prophet leaders, who can lead us into life eternal.
And so in the next few lessons, we will begin to see the contrasts between the preaching and visions of Lehi and Nephi, and that of the status quo Deuteronomists of the Jewish Temple circa 600 BC.
The ancient religion thus corrupted and replaced by a modern version that empowered the priests, but not the people, would be a theme that would occur again in the days of Jesus. Jesus would condemn Pharisee and Sadducee for dragging their converts down to hell with them. They rejected modern revelation, as well as Jesus’ miracles and Messiah-ship. The Savior called them to repent and believe, in order to be saved. Their rejection of their Prophet-Leader led them to crucify our Lord. Such calls of repentance in 600 BC landed Jeremiah in jail, caused the death of many other prophets, and lead to Lehi’s escape into the wilderness, and into the type of lifestyle lived by the Rechabites, Abraham, and the treasured ancestors of the Elohist tradition.
“Who Wrote the Bible?”, by Richard E. Friedman (major book on the Documentary Hypothesis):http://www.amazon.com/Wrote-Bible-Richard-Elliott-Friedman/dp/0060630353/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1322762605&sr=8-1
Documentary Hypothesis, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_hypothesis
Kevin Barney on the Documentary Hypothesis in Mormon thought: https://dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V33N01_79.pdf
John Sorenson on the Documentary Hypothesis and the Book of Mormon: https://dialoguejournal.com/wp-conte..._V10N04_33.pdf
Jeroboam and the Northern Kingdom’s worship of Elohim the bull:http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/07/ot-gospel-doctrine-lesson-27-influence.html
Key books by Margaret Barker:
“The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God” http://www.amazon.com/Great-Angel-Study-Israels-Second/dp/0664253954/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1322767237&sr=8-3
“Temple Theology” http://www.amazon.com/Temple-Theology-Margaret-Barker/dp/028105634X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1322767237&sr=8-1
Stephen Covey, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”: http://www.amazon.com/Habits-Highly-Effective-People/dp/0743269519/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1323719200&sr=8-2
Very interesting take on the documentary hypothesis and its implications vis-a-vis the brass plates of Laban. But do you think this would be an appropriate discussion for a gospel doctrine class?
Second, I had more to add that I just posted separately, because I didn't have time to do it with this posting. The things added there will be even more usable in a Sunday School setting.
*Besides, Vort, I'm sure you could find a way to fit the Documentary Hypothesis into the lesson if you really wanted to!"
Personally, I'm an Elohist. No tears for P.
This is very interesting, ram. I had never heard of the Documentary Hypothesis before this. What would you say are the holes in this hypothesis, if any?
I've studied the DH for over a decade, and it seems fairly solid to me. The main issue is where are some lines drawn: sometimes the lines blur between the different authors, and there are some who think there may be more authors we should add (I don't).
That the Book of Mormon strongly supports E, and that the Bible clearly disputes itself on some things (2 or 3 examples of same event, but told differently), are very strong indicators.
Well, it's quite fascinating stuff. I'll be working my way through your bibliography. I'm sure that will take me forever and a day.
I try to leave a good bibliography, where possible, so that people can have further reading done. And where possible, I like to use Internet resources, so people don't have to buy a bunch of books.
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