Feast upon the Word Blog

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The Book of Mormon and the Documentary Hypothesis — from Gerald Smith

Posted by joespencer on December 27, 2011

A guest post from Gerald Smith over at Joel’s Monastery. He’s already posted this over there as part one of his notes for the first Book of Mormon lesson. We wondered if it might be of interest to the Feast community as a reflection on the Documentary Hypothesis and the Book of Mormon. Gary has agreed, and here we are. Many thanks to Gary for these thoughts!

Documentary Hypothesis

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 in 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:

The word which came unto Jeremiah from the Lord in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying, Go unto the house of the Rechabites, and speak unto them, and bring them into the house of the Lord, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink. Then I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, the son of Habaziniah, and his brethren, and all his sons, and the whole house of the Rechabites; And I brought them into the house of the Lord, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan, the son of Igdaliah, a man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, which was above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the door: And I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites pots full of wine, and cups, and I said unto them, Drink ye wine. But they said, We will drink no wine: for Jonadab the son of Rechab our father commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever: Neither shall ye build house, nor sow seed, nor plant vineyard, nor have any: but all your days ye shall dwell in tents; that ye may live many days in the land where ye be strangers. Thus have we obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab our father in all that he hath charged us, to drink no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, nor our daughters; Nor to build houses for us to dwell in: neither have we vineyard, nor field, nor seed: But we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed, and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us…. I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them, and ye shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers: but ye have not inclined your ear, nor hearkened unto me. Because the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them; but this people hath not hearkened unto me:Therefore thus saith the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon Judah and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the evil that I have pronounced against them: because I have spoken unto them, but they have not heard; and I have called unto them, but they have not answered. And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he hath commanded you: Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever.

Here, Jeremiah takes the nomads into the temple, as an example of what Judah should be doing. While the Jews worship in the temple, Jeremiah proclaims they are serving other gods! Why would this be, if the Deuteronomist reforms were a good thing? Instead, they changed God’s true temple worship into something else.

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 Messiahship. 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.

Bibliography

Who Wrote the Bible?, by Richard E. Friedman (major book on the Documentary Hypothesis)

The Wikipedia entry on the Documentary Hypothesis

Kevin Barney on the Documentary Hypothesis in Mormon thought

John Sorenson on the Documentary Hypothesis and the Book of Mormon

Jeroboam and the Northern Kingdom’s worship of Elohim the bull

Key books by Margaret Barker: The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God; Temple Theology

Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

5 Responses to “The Book of Mormon and the Documentary Hypothesis — from Gerald Smith”

  1. joespencer said

    One brief point of correction:

    You say: “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.”

    This is a little more nuanced than just that. 1 Nephi 5:11 reads in the original manuscript (and every other rendering of the text) “five books of Moses.” Kevin does suggest that “five” is a translational gloss, but one produced in the course of the original translation rather than added after the production of the original manuscript. It is in 1 Nephi 19:23 that there is a different reading in the original manuscript: there it says not “books of Moses” but “book of Moses.” (There was never the word “five” in 1 Nephi 19:23.) He takes the singular “book” in the original of 1 Nephi 19:23 to be corroborating evidence that “five books” in 1 Nephi 5:11 is the work of the translator and not the content of the original plates text.

  2. David Carlisle said

    Royal Skousen’s Yale Edition of the Book of Mormon “The Earliest Text” says “books of Moses” at 1 Ne 19:23.

  3. joespencer said

    Ack, a point of correction to my point of correction. It is the printer’s manuscript, not the original manuscript, that reads “book” instead of “books.” The original reads “books,” but Oliver Cowdery seems to have miscopied it as “book” into the printer’s manuscript, the result being that “book” in the singular appeared in 1830 edition. (It was changed to “books” in the 1837 edition and so so appeared in every subsequent edition of the Book of Mormon.) That’s why Skousen’s Earliest Text reads “books” in the plural. (His defense can be found in the first volume of his Analysis of Textual Variants, pp. 421-422.)

    Apologies!

  4. Kevin Christensen said

    Nice observation about the Rechabites as supporting a case that Jeremiah viewed the reformed temple as corrupted. Of course, I see a lot more along that line myself

  5. [...] Abraham in the wilderness: living in a tent, sacrificing on altars, and living the nomadic life.” Citation.  So we might see the tent references as an effort to locate Lehi in the tradition of the Genesis [...]

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