This lesson begins the background for the Book of Mormon Come Follow Me lessons for 2020. 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's reforms. 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.
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:
“1 The word which came unto Jeremiah from the Lord in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying,
2 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.
3 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;
4 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:
5 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.
6 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:
7 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.
8 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;
9 Nor to build houses for us to dwell in: neither have we vineyard, nor field, nor seed:
10 But we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed, and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us….
15 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.
16 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:
17 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.
18 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:
19 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” (Jeremiah 35).
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 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.
Key concepts from the keystone of our religion
More things to consider as we prepare for the Book of Mormon year. For many Latter-day Saints, the Book of Mormon may be stories of Nephites and Lamanites who have lots of wars, and in the end the Nephites end up destroyed. There are many levels of symbolism and key doctrine involved in the Book of Mormon. Here are some major points to consider as we go through the year of study, as they illustrate why the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion.
The Book of Mormon as a Prophesy of the Last Days
In general ways, we can see the events within the Book of Mormon as a cycle the world (and especially the USA) now is going through.
The Book of Mormon tells the story of a people inspired to leave the old world and go to a promised land. Whether it is Lehi or Christopher Columbus, the Book of Mormon shows inspired men led to find the New World. The Lord blesses the people in the promised land with prosperity, as they remain humble, yet they still must deal with those who hold tightly to the old ways (which include secret combinations).
Various “outsiders” enter into the picture of both the Nephites and America, trying to change the culture from one of righteousness and freedom to one of big government (king men) and wickedness. We find cycles of righteousness and wickedness. I recall as a new member in my teens, wondering how the Nephites could switch from good to evil in just a few short years. Now seeing the world we live in, we can see it occurs in our day, as well. For example, after the attacks of 9/11, Americans of all faiths and political beliefs humbled themselves, having days of prayer and repentance, united in moving the nation and our communities forward. However, just a few short years later, Americans were back to greed and making the kind of decisions that led to the housing and bank crash of 2008. Different though, this time (as of Dec 2011) the nation hasn’t seemed to humble itself, but continues on its economic crazy path to bankruptcy and ruin. Nephites also had periods where it took coming up to the edge of destruction, or at least the destruction of most of the wicked, in order to return to righteousness.
Of course, there are many wars, famines, and crises that occur along the way. Many of the wars lead to issues of government growth.
With both the Nephites and the world in the last days, the resurrected Jesus will come in his power and glory. As in the destruction of the wicked leading up to Jesus’ visiting the Nephites, we will have major natural disasters, earthquakes, storms, and the sun will be darkened. When the Savior comes to the remaining people, they repent, accept him, and there is a very long period of righteousness, peace, joy and unity. We shall find as we study the Book of Mormon that these attributes of a righteous people are taught time and again, including in the Savior’s sermons to the Nephites. There is a major focus on being One, even as the Godhead is One.
At the end of the Nephite “Millennium”, we find that Satan is loosed, he stirs up the people, and it leads to the final destruction of the wicked Nephites. This opens up for a new world afterward. For the descendants of Lehi, it meant a world of striving without God. For the world in the last days, it will mean the end of the old ways, and the final change of earth and heaven into celestial places.
So, we can use the Book of Mormon as a gauge toward events in the last days.
The Book of Mormon as an Ascension Text
As we proceed through the Book of Mormon, we are going to find that the Book of Mormon has much to do with the modern LDS temple. Both teach us the concepts behind ascending to God’s throne and being in his presence. Such an event is called a “theophany”. Whether we practice entering the celestial room of the temple and symbolically into God’s presence, or the Brother of Jared seeing Jesus Christ, We will find many such experiences and teachings throughout the Book of Mormon, beginning in the very first chapter of the book (no fair peeking!), which we will discuss in the next lesson.
For those who have read my postings of both the Old and New Testament, you will see that the concept of ascension and theophany are very important concepts in ancient Judaism and Christianity, even though most modern Jews and Christians may not recognize that truth, as it is now rather foreign to many today. We will occasionally discuss other ancient ascension texts, such as Revelation and the Ascension of Isaiah, and how these are evidence of the Book of Mormon, because of the similar experiences and symbols.
Grace and Atonement through Jesus Christ
Perhaps the most important thing the Book of Mormon does for an unbelieving world is testify of Jesus Christ and explain his role in our lives and salvation.
Many traditional Christians think that Mormons believe they must save themselves through obedience and work. Sadly, many Latter-day Saints also believe this. Such was an over-emphasis on works and a de-emphasis on salvation through grace. We are not discussing “cheap grace”, but the real grace that comes through Christ.
From King Benjamin’s sermon, we will find that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, as we are already in debt to God, and if we do something good, he blesses us and we are paid and remain in debt to him. In this way, we are less than the dirt we are made of, for we are even made of the earth, yet God made that too.
We learn that all are justified in Christ’s blood through faith and repentance. This saves us from both physical and spiritual death, as we all will be resurrected from the grave, and those who repent and believe will be made guiltless/sinless through the atonement of Christ. In LDS belief, there are levels of reward in heaven, or what we call degrees of glory. Whether one is saved in the Telestial, Terrestrial, or Celestial kingdom, we are saved from death and Outer Darkness. Latter-day Saints believe in a near universal salvation.
Then we learn about sanctification in the Book of Mormon. Once we are saved from death and hell, we grow in faith and righteousness line upon line. The more holy or sanctified we become through the atonement and Gift of the Holy Ghost, the greater glory we will receive in heaven.
As Hugh Nibley once wrote, “work we must, but the lunch is free.”
“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 Sorensen on the Documentary Hypothesis: https://dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_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
Important 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