Sunday, February 11, 2018

Indications of Multiple Authorship of the 5 Books of Moses

I'm part of a very awesome FB group, Mormons Talk | OT Bible Scholarship (Old Testament / LDS / Mormon)

In it, we are using college level textbooks to discuss the OT. The main text is John Collins' an Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, though we are referencing others. We are now in chapter 2, and I have written on the concept of multiple authors for the Pentateuch/Torah/5 Books of Moses. Here's what I've written. You'll want to read the comments at the FB site, as there are some interesting points in there, as well.

Indications of Multiple Authorship

For many Christians, the idea of multiple authorship of the Pentateuch/Torah is heresy. Yet, it is clearly illustrated, as they now exist, the first five books of the Bible were not written by Moses but by later writers. And while there are many theories that scholars now have to argue against the Documentary Hypothesis, the idea of multiple authors isn’t questioned.

Internal evidence begins with verses that easily demonstrate that portions were written long after Moses’ time. At the end of Deuteronomy, it talks about the death of Moses – something that would be very difficult for Moses to write about. The Pentateuch notes that during the time of Genesis, “Canaanites still dwelt in the land.” Why make such a statement, if Moses is writing this? Of Course, the Canaanites are still in the land! Only later, in King David’s time, do we see an end to the Canaanites.

Scholars began to note that there was special use of the two major names of God: El Elyon and Yahweh/Jehovah. Rarely are they used together in the Torah, but they still create conflict in scripture. God said to Moses that he appeared to Abraham as El Shaddai (God of the Mountain), but never as Yahweh. However, in Gen 4, people are calling upon the name of Yahweh during the time of Enoch, and the name is used frequently in regards to Abraham’s time, as well.

Therefore, we can presume that Exodus 6:3 comes from another source that was not aware of the name Yahweh being used at the time of Abraham and before.

Richard E Friedman, in Who Wrote the Bible?, explains that El was the chief God of the Palestine region, ruling over the council of gods. “The God of Israel was Yahweh. He, too, was male, patriarchal, a ruler, and not identified with any one force in nature.” We will see that early Hebrews saw Yahweh as a member of El’s council, assigned Israel as his kingdom to rule over. Later, the Jews would combine El and Yahweh into one god and remove God’s consort and the divine council.
Doublets and triplets are noted in the scripture – where events and sayings are said twice or even three times. We have Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on both Mt Sinai and Mt Horeb. Moses twice goes to Meribah and brings water out of a rock – in one version, the angel of the Lord stands upon the rock Moses is to strike, while in the other version, Moses is disobedient to God and ends up losing his right to enter into the Promised Land (Nephi only notes the first version in the Book of Mormon).

The story of Noah’s Flood is the perfect example of a doublet that was combined. We have Noah commanded in one story to build the ark, because a flood is coming. In one story, he brings in animals two by two, while in the other, 7 clean animals are brought in (clean/unclean only occurs in the Mosaic law, and shows a later story line development). One story gives 40 days and nights for the flood, while the other floods for almost a year. One has a dove, the other a raven. One story consistently calls God, Elohim, while the other consistently calls him Yahweh.

So, we end up with scholars, such as Wellhausen, suggesting 4 major writers for the Pentateuch. Friedman writes, “There was evidence that the Five Books of Moses had been composed by combining four different source documents into one continuous history. For working purposes, the four documents were identified by alphabetic symbols. The document that was associated with the divine name Yahweh/Jehovh was called J. The document that was identified as referring to the deity as God (in Hebrew Elohim) was called E. The third document, by far the largest, included most of the legal sections and concentrated a great deal on matters having to do with priests, and so it was called P. And the source that was found only in the book of Deuteronomy was called D.”

Friedman suggests that J and E were two rival priestly authors. King David had two priests, Abiathar from the lineage of Moses and keepers of the tabernacle in Shiloh (northern kingdom), and Zadok, who descended from Aaron. When Solomon became king, Abiathar had supported Solomon’s brother, so the new king sent him into exile back to the Northern Kingdom, and created laws that benefited Judah and the southern kingdom, while creating bigger burdens on the north. This political division likely created the sources for J (southern kingdom of Judah) and E (northern kingdom of 10 tribes).

In Genesis 1 and 2, we get two different creation stories. Genesis 1 calls God, Elohim 35 times. Genesis 2 calls God, Yahweh 11 times. They get the orders of things different. Genesis 1 has plants, animals then man and woman. Genesis 2 has man, plants, animals, then woman. While most now think Genesis 1 was a P document, Friedman suggests it was inspired by E, while Genesis 2 is agreed to be by J. Later, Friedman notes that P is clearly influenced by the E source on its writings.
We also see this in the story of Joseph, who was sold into Egypt. For J, Judah is the hero of the story, stopping his brothers from slaying Joseph and later offering himself as a slave in the stead of Benjamin. Judah gets the birthright and kingship. Meanwhile, E has Reuben stop the slaying, and Joseph is the hero – receiving the birthright and a double portion (Ephraim and Manasseh) for his inheritance.

Friedman also gives this interesting concept that divides E and J: “In E, Moses’ faithful assistant is Joshua. Joshua leads the people in the battle against the Amalekites; he serves as watchman inside the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle) whenever Moses is not meeting with the deity there; he is the only Israelite who is not involved in the golden calf incident; and he seeks to prevent the misuse of prophecy. In J, on the other hand, Joshua plays no role. Why the special treatment of Joshua in E but not in J? Joshua was a northern hero. He is identified as coming from the tribe of Ephraim….”

E never mentions the ark of the covenant, seeing it as made of gold, and therefore, against the 10 commandments. J’s version of the 10 commandments states that things of molten gold are prohibited, and so both the ark and cherubim of the Mercy Seat are allowed, being plated with gold. However, the Tabernacle IS important to E, as it dwells in the northern kingdom in the city of Shiloh. For E, the Tabernacle represents the presence of God.

Meanwhile, J never mentions the Tabernacle. The ark represents God’s presence. It goes before Israel into battle and while the Tabernacle remains in Shiloh, the ark is carried to Jerusalem by David (whom J celebrates).

The Deuteronomists lived during the time of King Josiah. During his reign, the temple priests "found" the book of the law, while renovating the temple. This book, Deuteronomy, charged Israel with removing all altars and places of worship, including any altars to Yahweh, outside the Temple. So, while Hezekiah removed altars to other gods, leaving any high places (Bamoth) dedicated to Yahweh, Josiah removes everything. Josiah's reforms will include changing the Temple, as well. No longer will it have God's consort, Asherah within it (represented by the Tree of Life). No angels, no visions, etc. It is now a place for animal sacrifice, and not much more. Temple centric worship is possibly one of the major issues brought up by the prophets of Jeremiah's day. Lehi would go against the Deuteronomists, by building altars in the wilderness, as will the Rechabites, whom Jeremiah praised.One of Lehi's major visions, that of the Tree of Life, has the Tree representing the love of God, which is shown to be the mother of Jesus. The Nephites understood the importance of God's wife, his Asherah, in the creation of Life and religion.

These are just a few examples of the religious/political divisions that occured in Israel. They were written into their earliest memories, as each side had its heroes and villains, holy laws and beliefs. And this understanding is important for us to understand conflicting scriptures, and conflicts between the various factions in Israel, as it shared with us its story(ies).

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thoughts on N.T. Wright's "How God Became King"

I'm currently reading N.T. Wright's book, "How God Became King".

In the first few chapters, he discusses the problems he finds with various approaches to the four gospels.

First, he critiques the overuse of the creeds in reading the Gospels. He explains that the creeds (Nicene, Apostles, etc) invariably discuss Christ's miraculous birth, then immediately go to the cross and resurrection. It's as if Matthew went from chapter two to chapter 26, with nothing in between. The creeds were heavily influenced by Paul's writings, who never spoke of Jesus' ministry, but only his resurrection. In doing so, we totally emphasize Christ's godhood, but not his other important roles.

On the other extreme, liberal readers tend to only read the middle, ignoring the miraculous birth and resurrection. They consider Jesus a wise teacher, but not the Messiah nor a miracle worker

For Tom Wright, former bishop of Durham in the Anglican Church, and NT scholar, many Christians do not see the whole Christ, but only a part of him. For example, they may see him as teacher or God, but not in his divine role as King of Israel and of earth.

As I thought about Wright's concerns, I considered how the Book of Mormon handles such issues. Would the creeds or scientism in Joseph Smith's day affect the text?

Does the Book of Mormon contain the beginning, middle and end things of the Gospels? Yes. In the Vision of the Tree of Life, Nephi sees the birth of Christ and his mother, Mary. We learn of Jesus healing the sick and afflicted. And we see Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. Later, the risen Savior would heal the Nephites, bless their children, and teach the Sermon at the Temple (compare to Sermon on the Mount). Again and again the Book of Mormon gives us the "fullness of the four gospels."

Perhaps this is a key reason we are encouraged to study the Book of Mormon. It keeps us centered on Christ, all of Christ, and not get lost on just a portion of who he really is.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Scapegoats in the Book of Mormon

Recently, scholar Andrei Orlov* uploaded a paper to Academia.edu, entitled "The Curses of Azazel".  In this paper, Orlov uses the ancient document, Apocalypse of Abraham, to discuss the scapegoat of Yom Kippur, the Festival of Atonement.  His excellent article made me think of how such issues may also be found in the Book of Mormon. I will discuss it momentarily, after a brief introduction to the Festival of Yom Kippur and some other important issues to consider.

Yom Kippur
During Yom Kippur, the high priest performs very important functions. Among these ordinances, is entrance into the Holy of Holies (the only time during the year it is entered), sanctifies the instruments and Mercy Seat, and utters the sacred and ineffable name of God, "YHWH". As he enters the Holy of Holies, he wears a special priest garb, which includes a turban/mitre, a sash, and the robes.  On his robes are bells, which tinkle as he moves, so those waiting outside for him can listen in and ensure he is still alive. If the high priest enters unworthily, God would strike him dead, and the silence of the bells would tip off his assistants to pull his body out by the rope attached to him for such an event. On the turban, one finds the name of "YHWH". It is the unspeakable, ineffable name. Only the high priest knew the correct pronunciation. Some of his assistants would know portions of the pronunciation, but not all, so that at the death of the high priest, the assistants could each whisper their portion of the Name into the ear of the newly chosen high priest, allowing him alone to then know the full pronunciation.  The Name, as Orlov notes in his article, is extremely important. To have God's name was to have his power to create, destroy, or perform miracles. Orlov notes from several ancient texts of fallen angels, or Watchers, who found out the Name and misused its power on the earth, causing them to be rejected by God.
One of the other major events in Yom Kippur, is that of the two goats. Two goats are chosen and brought before the high priest. One will be the sacred sacrifice, given to God. For Christians, this represents the sacrifice of Jesus by his Father.  The other goat, known as the scapegoat, also has an important role to play.  The high priest, prior to dressing in his temple robes, pronounces the sins of the people. Laying both hands on the head of the goat, he transfers those sins from Israel to the goat. A crimson wool thread is placed on the head of the goat. The goat is then sent into the wilderness, although some ancient texts show that it is pushed off a cliff, where it dies in a wilderness area. Those who lead the goat to the wilderness/death, then are to wash their clothes and become clean again from touching that which is unclean. Tradition has it that the scarlet thread became white, once the scapegoat was dead.  Orlov suggests that this directly ties in with Isaiah's initial plea to Israel:
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;  Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isa 1:16-18)
With this ordinance, the nation of Israel is absolved of its sins once a year.  For early Christians, both goats represented different aspects of Christ's life: the sacrificial goat and the one who takes upon himself all the sins of the people.

Apocalypse of Abraham
Yet, for many ancient Jews, the scapegoat represented the devil or a fallen angel. Orlov notes in the Apocalypse of Abraham, a contest occurs between God's angel, Yahoel against the fallen angel Azazel. As with the high priest at Yom Kippur, Yahoel pronounces the sins of Azazel, curses him, and then sends him packing to the wasted lands of earth. Yahoel then puts upon Abraham holy garments and brings him up to heaven. Yahoel the heavenly priest, stands between Azazel and Abraham, and pronounces blessings and curses, as did the ancient high priest at Yom Kippur. Orlov also shows a variety of similar actions found in other ancient texts, including the Enoch literature.
As mentioned above, I started to ponder whether such could be found in the Book of Mormon. For example, the gathering King Benjamin commanded to teach his people and proclaim his son as king, is very reminiscent of the Festival of Booths.
But what about the scapegoat and the Festival of Yom Kippur? Orlov's article gave me a different method of looking.

Jacob and Sherem
In the book of Jacob, we read about one potential Yom Kippur experience.  Jacob even uses terminology that is used the Apocalypse of Abraham, such as the importance of clean and unclean garments.
...wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day. (Jacob 1:19)

Now, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, according to the responsibility which I am under to God, to magnify mine office with soberness, and that I might rid my garments of your sins, I come up into the temple this day that I might declare unto you the word of God. (Jacob 2:2)
In this second quote, Jacob is at the temple. He is wearing the garment of the holy priesthood, and is focused on ensuring his own garments remain clean, that they will remain white/spotless, and not be found red/crimson with sin. As high priest, he declares the sins of the people (pride, greed, polygamy, and mistreating their families). Interestingly, he notes the goodness of the Lamanite husbands, in comparison to Nephite men, who were taking extra wives and concubines. Jacob, the high priest, stands between the Nephite and Lamanite goats, and judges them, as Yahoel did of Azazel and Abraham.
Interestingly, the Nephite sin of polygamy is similar to one of the major sins the Watchers or fallen angels were accused of: sexual transgression. The Watchers sought to have children through human wives and concubines - leading to the corruption of all the earth and the destruction by the great Flood in Noah's day. As with the fallen Nephites, these angels sought to corrupt God's plan of procreation in order to promote their own purpose.
In addition, Jacob shares a fascinating story of the first anti-Christ in the Book of Mormon, Sherem (Jacob 7).
As with Azazel and other ancient stories of fallen angels and Watchers, Sherem seeks to use special skills and knowledge to meet his goals and purposes, while overthrowing God's plan and high priest. He plans to bring all followers of Christ over to his own personalized religion, putting himself up as a replacement for the high priest. Jacob notes that Sherem is "learned" with a "perfect knowledge of the language", skilled at flattery, and sought to "over throw the doctrine of Christ". Sherem was so good at persuasion, he thought he could convince Jacob, the high priest (and reminiscent of Abraham) of the errors of his faith.
As with the priestly angel Yahoel, Jacob uses his knowledge of God's word and his own spiritual experience and power to resolve the situation. He pronounces Sherem's sins and places a curse upon him, just as the ancient high priest of Israel would declare the sins and curse the scapegoat. Upon receiving the curse, Sherem is struck down, a symbolic toss from the cliff, where he shortly confesses his own sins, fears he has committed the unpardonable sin (as the scapegoat carrying all of Israel's sins), and dies.

Nehor
In Alma 14, we come across the first anti-Christ that Alma will deal with. Nehor also uses flattering words to convince people to believe in his teachings. Survival of the fittest is the focus of Nehor's doctrine. In preaching, he ends up slaying Gideon, who preaches the doctrine of Christ.
It is now Alma, the high priest, who must contend in this Yom Kippur event. As with Jacob, he also speaks of the importance of spotless garments.
And may the Lord bless you, and keep your garments spotless, that ye may at last be brought to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the holy prophets who have been ever since the world began, having your garments spotless even as their garments are spotless, in the kingdom of heaven to go no more out. (Alma 7:25)
Here, Alma brings up Abraham, the hero of Orlov's paper. Once Yahoel casts Azazel down, Abraham is brought up to heaven and given a holy, spotless and white garment.
I say unto you, ye will know at that day that ye cannot be saved; for there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins. And now I ask of you, my brethren, how will any of you feel, if ye shall stand before the bar of God, having your garments stained with blood and all manner of filthiness? Behold, what will these things testify against you? (Alma 5:21-22)
In this instance, Christ becomes a holy symbol for the scapegoat, rescuing all those who will allow Jesus to purify their garments of stains (crimson, scarlet). Those with stained garments on the last day, will experience what it is to be their very own scapegoat, taking upon themselves all their own sins and stains before the Great High Priest.
Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb. (Alma 13:11)
In Alma 13, the prophet talks about the pre-existent and holy calling of high priest. This seems as an important prologue to the following chapter, where Alma will face Nehor, and make him the scapegoat for his people at that time.
Again, Alma pronounces the sins of Nehor and those who follow him. He establishes God's existence and righteousness.  Because of his sin (murder), Nehor is cursed or condemned to death. His "ignominious death" is carried out on top of a high mountain. To me, this suggests a few methods of death. Perhaps as with some Mayan practices,, Nehor is sacrificed to the gods/God. He may have been cast into a volcano. Or, as with the scapegoat of Israel, he may have been cast off a cliff to his death.

Korihor
Alma gets a second chance to deal with a scapegoat with Korihor. Again, flattery is the tool most used by Nephite anti-Christs. Alma testifies against Korihor, pronouncing the sins of him and his followers upon him. When pushed, Alma curses Korihor, who pleads to have the curse and sins removed from him. God and Alma do not remove the curse, but ensure it remains with Korihor, who is then sent out "into the wilderness", where he eventually is trampled to death by other wicked people (the Zoramites).

Conclusion
Here we find another possible layer of complexity within the Book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith would not have known about in his day. He would not have known how Yom Kippur and the scapegoat would apply to fallen beings, such as Azazel in the Apocalypse of Abraham, and how this ties in with the high priest and the holy garments.
As LDS, we can learn that the Book of Mormon is begging for us to study it on many different levels. It dares us to compare it with the best ancient texts from Israel, and see just what we can learn about the ancient Nephites and how it can apply to us today.

* Hat tip to David J. Larsen for introducing me to Orlov's great scholarly works.
Also posted at MillennialStar.org

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Reading Nephi Discussing John's Revelation

Coming up in the next few weeks in LDS Sunday School classes, we will be discussing the Book of Revelation. As a new member back in December 1975, I recall hearing many messages regarding the Last Days, using the apostle John's Revelation to figure out the tragedies and events of the Last Days.

Sadly, one way in which we miss out on what is found in Apocalypse is by looking at what it says on the surface, without using one of the best tools given us via the Restoration of the Gospel.

In 1 Nephi 8-15, we read of Lehi and Nephi's Vision of the Tree of Life. Near the end of Nephi's version, we find that he not only sees the Tree, the Life of Christ, and the destruction of his own people, but he sees the Revelation that John received that we find at the end of the New Testament.

While Nephi states he cannot write the things that John and he saw, we find that the Revelation of John is tied closely to Nephi's Vision of the Tree of Life.

Both visions discuss the darkness of the world (Lehi travels in it for hours), the pride of the world, the Great and Abominable Church, the Tree of Life, witness of Christ, are guided by angels, see great destructions, etc. Both see/hold a book (John swallows his) that is important to their mission and the future. There are many other similarities that I will not go into here.

The Vision of the Tree of Life is a form of endowment, where the initiate is led from the darkness of the world, to the light and joy of the Tree of Life, which is in the presence of God. John's Apocalypse is perhaps best understood as an endowment, as well. Consider the following verses in the Book of Revelation, which has temple concepts tied to them:
5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (Rev 1:5-6)
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. 7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God....
11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death...
17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. (Rev 2:7, 11, 17 )
5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels...
12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.,,
21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. (Rev 3:5, 12, 21)
In chapter 4, John has a Theophany (vision of God). John tells us:
1 After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
3 And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
4 And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. (Rev 4:1-4)
Compare this vision to the vision Lehi had in 1 Nephi chapter one:
8 And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. (1 Nephi 1:8)
As Lehi and Nephi see the mists of darkness, the great and spacious building that represented John's Babylon, the destruction of Babylon and the wicked, etc, we find John's details of the seven seals ties in nicely with the events seen by Nephi. In the end, John sees the New Jerusalem, and the Tree of Life as a key feature of the city:
1 And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Rev 22:1-2)
For Lehi and Nephi, the Tree of Life is THE key feature of their vision. We learn that it represents the Love of God, shed forth upon the children of men through the condescension of Christ and his Father.
In reading John's Revelation with this new lens, we are able to truly appreciate gift God has given us through his apostle, understood through Nephi's eyes.

--for more on the Book of Revelation, please read my Sunday School lesson blog posts on the two lessons here:
NT Lesson 45
NT Lesson 46

Friday, May 30, 2014

LDS Public Affairs posts statement on criticism and Women's Issues

Great article and letter by Michael Otterson, Managing Director of LDS Public Affairs regarding the Church's stance on women's issues, etc.  Posted at Millennial Star, where I often permablog.

http://www.millennialstar.org/the-lds-church-responds-to-criticism-and-details-efforts-to-reach-out-to-women/

Monday, March 31, 2014

OT#13 Bondage, Passover and Exodus

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #13:  Bondage, Passover and the Exodus
Exodus 1-14

You can read my previous post on this lesson here.

Exodus as a Creation Story

In discussing the Creation previously, I've detailed how we actually get several Creation stories in the Bible, including the two in Genesis 1 and 2.  Isaiah, the Psalmist and others make mention of the ancient Sumerian Creation story, where God must subdue Chaos, which is represented by a great sea dragon, Leviathan or Rahab.

In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea. (Isa 17:1)

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? (Isa 51:9)

Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.
 Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness. (Psalm 74:13-14)

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Rev 12:7-9)
In the Genesis story, Chaos is represented by Darkness and the Waters of the Great Deep.  When the power of God passes over the Chaos, it is transformed into Order: Light and Land.

For the story of the Exodus, we begin a new Creation.  The Egyptian world is a land of Chaos.  There are many gods, each fighting for its spot in the pecking order.  The Egyptians thrive, not because of the land, but because of the River.  Without the Nile River bringing water and nutrients in the annual flood, there would have been no Egypt, no dynasties of Pharaohs, nothing.  The people depended on the chaotic nature of the River (flooding in spring, lower at other times) to provide for themselves.

As God creates a new people, he takes them through the Creation myth. The Ten Plagues show the Chaos that Egypt brought upon itself by Pharaoh's fighting God and Moses in their Creation story. Turning the Nile River into blood is poetic, as it suggests the blood of Leviathan being poured out as God slays him in battle.  As animals are created in Genesis 1 and 2, God destroys the cattle and flocks of the Egyptians, and replacing them with the chaos of frogs, locusts and flies.

The Darkness of Chaos is represented by the days of darkness cast upon the land of Egypt. Only God is able to bring the sun's light again in a new birth of Creation.  As the firstborn males of Egypt die, the way is opened for the firstborn of Israel to depart to their new land.

Of course, Egypt's military dragons were not yet done.  They also had to be defeated in the depths of the sea.  Only God's new Creation is allowed to come forth on the other side of the darkness and floods.  The Land of Promise was still far in the future, but sacred places were to be visited and created along the way.

OT #12 Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction



Gospel Doctrine lesson #12, Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction
Genesis 40-45

My previous post on this lesson can be found here.

Promised Lands/Promised Peoples

The Book of Genesis is all about a promised people. Adam, Eve and their righteous children (Abel, Seth) were a promised people, while Cain was cast out.  Enoch and Zion were chosen, while the giants and wicked were rejected of God.  Noah was chosen to escape the destruction of the Flood, and his tiny ark became the promised land of safety.

Abraham was chosen to become the beginnings of the Promised People.  His new land of promise was filled with Canaanites and others, who worshiped other gods.  His son (Isaac), and son's son (Jacob) would get wives out of the former familial lands of Haran.

For Joseph, Egypt was the land of his affliction, but a fruitful place that would care for Israel and many others during a time when they were cut off from the Promised Land.  Egypt would frequently become the temporary oasis for the Chosen People. Once removed from the land of Canaan for drought, famine or other reason, Egypt usually becomes the place of worldly safety.  Two millennia later, Joseph and Mary would escape into the land of Egypt and sojourn there for a time with their fugitive child, Jesus.

The concepts of Promised Lands and Promised Peoples are important for Latter-day Saints.  We believe that we are building a modern Zion people.  The center of Zion will one day be in Missouri, with thousands of Stakes to strengthen it.

Interestingly, Joseph Smith moved the Saints to Missouri, but they were driven out.  First Nauvoo, and then later, Utah, became the "temporary" Egyptian desert sanctuary for modern Israel.  As the children of Israel would spend centuries in Egypt, so Mormons would spend the last century and a half waiting to return to build a new Zion.  During that time, Mormons have excelled in business, politics, and many other ventures of American modern society.  Some continue walking the path that God set for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; while today there are many others who have become cultural Mormons, who no longer believe in the spiritual, but solely enjoy the social aspects.

As the tribes of Israel would deal with changes in Egyptian politics (a pharaoh arose that knew not Joseph - Exodus 1), some would leave the teachings of Abraham in order to gain power and wealth within Egyptian life.  Why did it seem normal for Egyptians to slay all the male children in Israel, yet allow one of those boys to grow up in Pharaoh's household?  Was Moses the first/only one to be adopted? Or was there a long line of Israelite children who had been taken in by Egyptian women seeking children of their own, but wishing to retain their slim figures?  While Moses would lead Israel out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land of his fathers, what about those Israelites that remained behind?  Surely there were some that did not follow Moses, but preferred the fleshpots of Egypt?  Again, there would be others that would follow Moses, only to later wish to return to Egypt, its gods, and the annual crops grown along the Nile River.

In a world of constant pressure to worship the gods of Egypt (who provide fleshpots of food) or to worship the gods of Hollywood (who provide us sex, drugs and rock n roll), we will find that we cannot always stand with one foot in Zion and the other in the World.  Eventually, each of us must choose.  Will we be true followers of a modern day Moses, or a cultural Israel, who are happy while water pours out of rocks, manna falls from the sky, and the prophet is willing to share priesthood authority and power with them (Numbers 16)?  Will we make popular demands, and have golden calves built, because we do not believe the prophets (or God) are watching?

We already hear the clarion call to leave the corruption of the World/Babylon/Egypt behind and to "Come to Zion" ("Israel, Israel God is Calling", Hymn #7).  Today we are building a spiritual Zion in the midst of 3000 stakes and 170 temples.  Eighty-thousand missionaries seek out the lost of Israel, inviting them to spiritually become part of the people of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Soon, the call will come to build up the center of Zion, and a final call will be made to those who refuse to leave the fleshpots of Egypt, prior to the great and coming day of the Lord.

Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; (Isaiah 54:2)
Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken. (Isaiah 33:20)

These are important issues that will be a key focus for most of the Old Testament lessons throughout the rest of 2014.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

OT #11 How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #11:  How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?
Genesis 34, 37-39 (32-39)

See my previous post on this lesson, where I discuss the Testaments of the 12 Patriarchs and the connection with the lesson. 


Here, I will discuss some of the key events that unfortunately are missed in the official lesson.



Wrestling with Man The story of Esau and Jacob begins with their struggles within their mother's womb.  At birth, they fought for which would be born first, with Jacob holding onto the ankle of Esau. 


Jacob (Supplanter) was a trickster.  He tricked Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of soup (Gen 25).  Later, with his mother's guidance, he would trick Isaac into giving him the first son's blessing (Gen 27).  Esau's true nature is also revealed, as he then sought to slay his brother.  Jacob goes on the run, where he receives a theophany, seeing God on his throne at the top of a staircase (Jacob's ladder - Gen 28).  Jacob sets up the stone he used as a pillow as a pillar/altar, and naming it Beth-El or House of God.

Jacob spent about 21 years working for Laban. He originally worked 7 years to gain Rachel as his wife, only to have Laban trick him into serving several more years for wives and a herd of his own. During this time, Jacob, the trickster, learned that what you sow, so shall you reap.

Beginning in chapter 32, Jacob enters into the Promised Land, a land he has been promised, yet has not seen for decades.


 And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim. (Gene 32:1-2)
 Mahanaim means "two camps". This is where Jacob would divide his people into two groups.

I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and women servants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight.
And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.
Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands;
And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape. (Gene 32:5-8)
 One does not gather 400 men, except to come to battle. Sending several groups before him with gifts to assuage Esau, Jacob did not demand his birthright, but only to dwell peacefully in the land with his brother.  Bowing himself before his older twin, he showed himself not as the rightful lord and heir, but as a servant. Esau, seeing that Jacob did not desire to rule over him, softened his heart and the two were able to live peacefully, though separate, in the land of Abraham and Isaac.

Wrestling with God
While the strategy to soften Esau's heart with herds and presents and humility, Jacob's main test would happen the night before he met his brother.

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. (Gene 32:24-31)
 While some modern prophets have speculated that Jacob was actually wrestling a mortal man, the context is clear that Jacob believed himself to be wrestling God.  How could Jacob wrestle the Lord, who was then without a body of flesh and bone?  There are a few possibilities.

First, the Lord can take upon himself many appearances.  To Moses, he appeared as a burning bush and a pillar of fire.  To the brother of Jared, he appeared as he would in the flesh.  In fact, the Lord was able to touch the stones prepared by the brother of Jared and cause them to shine (Ether 3).  Is a spirit able to touch stone?  So, it is possible that the Lord used a temporary body of flesh, or even just his body of spirit, as spirit is also made of matter (D&C 131:7).  Who knows if a spirit can touch or be touched under certain circumstances?

The other possibility is that through the Law of Divine Investiture, a translated being stood in the place of the Lord.   As I've noted elsewhere, 11Q Melchizedek, a Dead Sea Scroll fragment, tells us:  “Melchizedek is El (God)!”  and “Melchizedek is Yahweh (Jehovah).”  It is possible that Enoch or Melchizedek, both having been translated with their cities, could have stood in the place of God.

The ancient Hebrews believed that for God to create the world, he first had to wrestle and defeat Chaos.  Chaos included the dark, the waters, and a great sea serpent (Leviathan or Rahab).  In defeating Chaos, God showed himself capable and worthy to be God of the world, and more so: God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  With Job, we shall see that the Lord engages in a contest with other sons of God, including the Adversary (Satan), using Job as the centerpiece of the challenge.  Here, in Jacob's darkest hour, after years of humbling servitude, toil, and struggles, he finds he can only return to the Promised Land by first going through his brother, whom he shamed and tricked decades before.  To defeat God in wrestling meant Jacob could also defeat Esau.

No battle is without cost.  For Jacob, it was damaging his thigh.  Yet, he prevailed, and asked for the NAME of God.  Anciently, the NAME was imbued with great power.  If one had the secret NAME of God, one could prevail upon him to remain with you constantly.  This was something that God was not willing to reveal.  Instead, God gave Jacob a new NAME, which included the name of God "EL" in it.  He was no longer Jacob, but Israel (Persevered with God).  One who could persevere with God could overcome any obstacle.  With this new name, he was no longer the Supplanter/Trickster (Jacob), but a new and powerful man of wisdom and courage and righteousness.  He was ready to return into the Promised Land and into the presence of the Lord.