Barker Part 2

Part 1.

Ronan: As you note, Barker’s argument depends on accepting the existence of the Deuteronomist(s). This is one of the foundations of the Documentary Hypothesis and undermines the notion that the Pentateuch represents the “Books of Moses.” Is this reconcilable with orthodox Mormon teaching?

Kevin Christensen: I think so. The Mormon teaching encouraging us to be open to further light and knowledge is more fundamental than reflexive calls for adhering to any orthodox notions about particular texts. So the existence of the Deuteronomists doesn’t need to be reconcilable with traditional Mormon teaching about our texts. It only needs to be reconcilable with the content of LDS texts. That calls for ongoing re-reading and reconsideration not only of texts, but of our framing assumptions.

Suppose that the further light and knowledge we get from re-reading our texts in light of what we learn about the Deuteronomists’ efforts turns out to be enlightening, rather than threatening to faith? Barker says that “the Exile in Babylon is a formidable barrier to anyone wanting to reconstruct the religious beliefs and practices of ancient Judaism.” (The Great Angel, 12). Many scholars continue to labor at reconstruction using a wide range of sources unavailable to anyone in Joseph’s day. The Book of Mormon also provides a look across that formidable barrier in its first chapters. What are the implications for us if Joseph Smith’s restoration converges with Margaret Barker’s reconstruction, given that their methods and sources are so different?

The book of Deuteronomy has been associated with the Book of the Law which was discovered during a renovation of the temple during the reign of King Josiah. It shows signs of being aligned with the interests of the people who installed Josiah as King. See Marvin Sweeney, King Josiah of Judah: Lost Messiah of Israel (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) p. 166. It also shows internal tensions, such as a passage in Deuteronomy 4:12 denying that God could be seen, and Deuteronomy 5:4 referring to face to face conversation, let alone the vision in Exodus 24:10-11. Barker cites a study by Mettinger that states that “The concept of God advocated by the Deuteronomists is strikingly abstract. The throne concept has vanished and the anthropomorphic characteristics of God are on their way to oblivion. Thus the form of God plays no part in the D work of the Sinai theophany. (Deut. 4.12)” (Mettinger, The Dethronement of Sabaoth, cited in The Great Angel, 100). Barker comments that “This warns us more clearly than anything else that the tradition which emphasizes the throne of God…must be understood in light of something other than the Deuteronomic point of view that has come to dominate our reading of the Old Testament.” (Barker, Ibid.)

The Book of Mormon opens with an anthropomorphic throne theophany. And the throne is important in Jeremiah 17 and throughout 1 Enoch and Isaiah 6. Barker cites throne visions in Daniel, Matthew and Revelation.

In Deuteronomy as we have it, there are important variant texts, most famously, the differences between the DSS version of Deut. 32:8-9, the Masoretic Hebrew, and the Septuagint. The older version refers to El Elyon dividing the nations among his sons, Yahweh’s portion being Israel. In 1 Nephi 11:6, the angel commends Nephi for believing in the Son of the Most High God. The Hebrew would have to be El Elyon. What does that imply for Nephi’s version of Deuteronomy 32:8-11?

And there is evidence for layers of accretion in the current Deuteronomy, starting from a core of Laws, additions provided at the time of Josiah, and further additions later. (See for example, William J. Doorly, Obsession with Justice: The Story of the Deuteronomists, 110-111.) There are passages like the Deut. 17:14-20, which depict Moses as providing legal restrictions on kingship long before Israel had a king. The particular restrictions appear to target Solomon. When were they included in the text?

And again, what about the absence of the Day of Atonement from the sacred calendar in Deuteronomy 16? We ought to be able to ask questions about issues rising from the texts we have, and to follow the evidence where it leads. If we don’t even ask the questions, it is unlikely that we’ll get to the further light and knowledge to which they could lead us. If we don’t ask the questions, we won’t recognize the answers for what they are even if we have them.

It is true that LDS teaching materials traditionally notice the mention that the Brass Plates contained the five books of Moses (1 Nephi 5:11). We mention that 1 Nephi 22:20 and 3 Nephi 20:23 quotes the Messianic prophecy from Deuteronomy 18. And we notice the Deuteronomic insistance that if the covenant people are righteous they will be blessed and prosper in the land. And there is the presumption that Jeremiah is aligned with Josiah, and presumably, the reformers.

But is this enough to imply that Nephi had the same edition of the Books of Moses than we do? Friedman makes a good case that the sources of the Pentateuch were pre-Exilic, but he does not claim that the Hebrew version that we now have is pre-Exilic. Quite the contrary. He identifies the redactor who put it all together as Ezra, which means post-Exilic.

What can we learn about the content of the Brass plates from the Book of Mormon? How does that relate to the findings of the current generation of scholars? Were the Brass plates the result of records passed down from generation to generation? Or were they produced for King Josiah, as John Welch suggested, or as I suggest, during the reign of Jehoiakim, when the Egyptians were in charge and the Reformers in disarray? What happens if, instead of presuming that the Book of Mormon agrees with the traditional views on an identical text of the Bible, that we suppose that 1 Nephi 13 is correct about certain plain and precious things being removed. What about the blindness in Lehi’s Jerusalem referred to in Jacob 4:14? Is that the same as the blindness referred to in 1 Enoch 93:7-8, and Jeremiah 5:21 and Ezekiel 12:2? Are they related to the rejection of Wisdom in Proverbs 1 and the pre-Exilic trauma that Dever finds in the archeology? Is that blindness related to the explicit denials of the possibility of vision contained in Deuteronomy 4:12 an 30:11-14?

Remember that those lost plain and precious things are going to come back from two sources. First the Book of Mormon, and then, texts that will come through the gentiles. Barker’s reconstruction of the lost tradition is built on how these later texts relate to the Bible.

The first important LDS study was John Sorenson’s Dialogue essay on the “Brass Plates and Biblical Scholarship,” in which he suggested that the Book of Mormon shows characteristics of the E source, associated with the Northern Kingdom. Noel Reynolds has an interesting essay in By Study and By Faith suggesting that the Book of Mormon presupposes a creation account more like the Book of Moses than Genesis. Ben McGuire did an important study at FAIR showing that Nephi’s elaborate allusiveness to the story of David and Goliath in his account of the adventure with Laban is exclusive to a more ancient story than appears in the King James Bible. More recently Ben McGuire has observed that the quote and allusion to Deuteronomy in the Book of Mormon all come from the Proto-Deuteronomy core of the book, rather than the later accretions. The point is that the text of the Book of Mormon provides explicit and implicit clues pointing towards a different edition of the Torah and the prophets than came down as the Masoretic Hebrew.

Part 3: Second Isaiah

Part 4: El Elyon; Barker’s Methodology; Joseph Smith


  1. Let’s try to focus discussion on D and the DH, lest we pre-empt future posts.

  2. David Clark says:

    What can we learn about the content of the Brass plates from the Book of Mormon?

    Potentially quite a lot. The problem is that if one accepts something like Ostler’s expansion thesis then you end up with a shaky methodology unable to make convincing arguments. The basic question becomes, “Is that an expansion by Joseph Smith or is that authentic ‘old stuff’?” One runs the risk of being accused of selecting evidence that fits one’s preconceptions while ignoring evidence that does not, labeling it expansion.

    I am not taking a position one way or another, I simply do not have the expertise to adjudicate if Barker is convincing or out to lunch. Nor do I know enough about ancient Israel to know if possible parallels to the Book of Mormon are solid. I do know that I like the expansion theory, it solves a lot of problems. Do you see a conflict here, at least a methodological one?

  3. Julie M. Smith says:

    “The Mormon teaching encouraging us to be open to further light and knowledge is more fundamental than reflexive calls for adhering to any orthodox notions about particular texts.”

    This is a great insight.

    “In 1 Nephi 11:6, the angel commends Nephi for believing in the Son of the Most High God. The Hebrew would have to be El Elyon. What does that imply for Nephi’s version of Deuteronomy 32:8-11?”

    Two presuppositions here:

    (1) A very literalistic view of Joseph Smith’s translation–one that I am not entirely sure that I am comfortable with.

    (2) Why would Nephi’s use of it have to do with Deut 32 as opposed to any other text using that title, such as Genesis 14? (Which, given later use of Mel. material in the BoM, might fit better anyway?)

    I’m glad for this series of posts because I’ve been suspicious of what we might call the LDS canonization of Barker, right there next to C. S. Lewis. I’m intrigued and not entirely dismissive, but at the same time, this post starts to feel like the reconstructions of the community that produced Q: sure, looks interesting and maybe explains a lot, but are we entirely comfortable with how speculative it, by necessity, is?

  4. Julie M. Smith says:

    Guess I took too long posting, since David Clark covered my (1) much better than I did.

  5. I thought this question was important to ask of Kevin, given its implications. Not only is Moses’ authorship assumed by most Mormons, the alternative — the DH — is often decried with vitriol (cf Bruce R McConkie).

    I remember hearing Barker’s talk at the LoC and thinking that by accepting her thesis, apologists were losing something as well as gaining something. One example: Joseph’s Book of Moses. The creation story of Genesis is presented as a revelation to Moses and follows in Moses with little diversion from the biblical account, including a seamless division between Gen 1 and Gen 2-3. Trouble is, the DH sees a very important seam exactly there and one wonders, if the DH is true, why that seam is present in a presumably revealed ur-text (Moses)?

    So, if you accept Barker’s D, you have to accept JEP, thus potentially undermining Moses while supporting the Book of Mormon. Can you have your cake blah blah blah?

    Now, there are ways out of this. One can, for example, see Moses as revelatory midrash, and not as ur-text, etc., but Book of Mormon scholars need to do more work here before accepting Barker whole-cloth.

    BTW, I would like to thank Kevin for responding to my questions. His and Barker’s work is fascinating and worthy of engagement. Thanks Kevin!

  6. There are ways to accommodate Moses. Most people think, since it’s now printed that way, that it’s a unity, but it sure didn’t come that way.

    First, the creation account in Moses is not an independent witness to Mosaic authorship. As part of the JST, Joseph started with Genesis, and went from there.

    “Examination of the original manuscripts of the JST shows that, soon after the initial writing, Joseph further modified and revised these early chapters in a number of ways. This included a complete rewriting of the early chapters of Genesis,… Although the translation of the early chapters of Genesis was initially revealed and recorded between June 1830 and February 1831, it is clear that the Prophet Joseph Smith continued to revise and modify this material until his death in 1844. -Robert J. Matthews,
    “How We Got the Book of Moses,” Ensign (January 1986): 43-44.

    “The [Joseph Smith] translation [including the Book of Moses] was not a simple, mechanical recording of divine dictum, but rather a study-and-thought process accompanied and prompted by revelation from the Lord” -Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation” Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1985), 39.

    The creation accounts were never published in JS lifetime, and BY (who dismissed the creation accounts of Genesis as “baby stories”) never saw them, to my knowledge.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to view the creation accounts as prophetic midrash, and other parts, perhaps, as ancient.

    That said, it also depends on what exactly JS was restoring. Was it an actual **text**? Or is it historical pseudepigrapha, JS putting revealed ideas, doctrines, and actual events into a Mosaic framework?

    For example, imagine that I today write down all my family lore, oral accounts. One thousand years from now, someone digs it up and translates. Is the text ancient? Sure. Are the events of text historical? Perhaps, but not necessarily.

    Different parts of Moses may be different things. It’s not an all-or-nothing decision.

  7. Nitsav,
    Oh, I agree, but I could quote you recent scholarship from respected Mormon professors who would utterly disagree. Which is kind of my point.

  8. Too true Ronan. Though there are others…

    Actually, the AAUP discussion has gotten me thinking. If BYU has orthodoxy requirements, they need to be up front about them. If a new hire has to affirm Mosaic authorship (or at least, not write anything undermining it), that needs to be spelled out somewhere.

  9. Fascinating, Ronan. I don’t know enough about this to comment further, but I am intrigued by the whole issue of Barker and the implications of her research. I really appreciate these posts.

  10. I’ve never heard of CES espousing an “unity of Moses” view of the JST. That strikes me as weird on the face of it. (Why just what got published as Moses? What about the Melchezedek stuff?) And on methadology alone it seems problematic.

    That said, I must say that the transition between Genesis 1 & 2 is very interesting in Moses and I agree one can’t simply discount that as commentary since it seems to suggest an unity. But whose unity? Ezra and the compilers of the Torah? (Assuming one buys into theories about Ezra’s role) What about some pre-exilic ur-text and its constitution? And even if one buys into the particular details of the documentary hypothesis with regards to Genesis I’m not sure one has to say there’s a single Priestly editor rather than a priestly tradition or traditions with those two emphasis.

    (One could, I think, point to Mormon history to see different traditions of theology that have different authoring figures but maintain a general constitution through time yet remain within the same body of Mormonism)

    The point being that the fact Joseph restores a text says little about the genealogy of that text. Just look at how the fairly orthodox treat Abraham. One of the mainstream traditions is that it is a 1st century text brought to life and perhaps “corrected” by Joseph Smith. Few (and I think this includes the CES) necessarily require Abrahamic penmanship to treat it as either scripture or having some historical grounding in the Abraham events.

  11. BTW – I vaguely remember a book by the Religious Studies department at BYU (nee CES) that dealt with the JST and had a lot of history on the Book of Moses. It would have come out in the early 90’s or late 80’s. Anyone know this book and if an online version is available somewhere? It’d be interesting relative to the CES question.

    Not being at BYU I, of course, can’t really speak to what the religion department professors believe in the least. So I’m really curious as to what the beliefs are. The closest I could find offhand was Richard Draper’s article in the Ensign

    Ronan, you seem to suggest BY never read these. I confess I have a hard time seeing that. Yes it’s possible and yes, as you pointed out, there may be no positive statement about the texts by BY, but it just seems hard to believe given the evolution and development of the text that BY was ignorant of it. Admittedly BY was dead when the edition of the PoGP with it in was published. But the work on that was being done prior to BY’s death. The 1851 edition by Franklin Richards did have parts of the Book of Moses in it and it seems hard to believe BYU didn’t know of that.

  12. Great series Ronan. As you know, what intrigues me most about Barker’s work is her focus on the Melchizedek material, particularly its meaning for the Josaic reforms and the Lehi context of preaching against the religious apostasy that the Book of Mormon describes in Jerusalem in 600 BC.

  13. Keep ’em comin’.

  14. Is that the same as the blindness referred to in 1 Enoch 93:7-8, and Jeremiah 5:21 and Ezekiel 12:2? Are they related to the rejection of Wisdom in Proverbs 1 and the pre-Exilic trauma that Dever finds in the archeology? Is that blindness related to the explicit denials of the possibility of vision contained in Deuteronomy 4:12 an 30:11-14?

    May I suggest a separate post for these questions?

    Great stuff. If you were to suggest an essential Margaret Barker for the beginner, what would suggest?

  15. Kevin Christensen says:

    For mmiles suggestions for a separate post on the “blindness” passages, I explored that theme in some articles posted at the Meridian (thanks to an introduction there provided by Orson Scott Card). Howard Hopkins has these conveniently linked at his website, along with links to several of Margaret’s essays.

    Julie asks a good questions about Deut. 32:8-9 and translation issues. In glancing through the recent Anchor Bible volume on Jeremiah, I noticed that the author identified an allusion in Jeremiah based on the word “inheritance.” But given the allusion, which version? Sons of El, or children of Israel? It’s an interesting question. Without a direct quotation, you have to look at themes and contexts, counsel visions, and throne theophanies, and suggestions of the cosmic covenant, which imply the Day of Atonement.

    In The Older Testament Barker shows that divine titles like the Holy One of Israel, the Lord of Hosts, and El Elyon turn up in passages with distinctive themes and contexts. When the same themes and contexts appear around the Book of Mormon uses, that suggests conscious intent, whether by translator or author. She also shows that the state of the Hebrew texts demonstrates that those themes and contexts were controversial, so again, the Book of Mormon treatment deserves close attention given the context it claims for itself.

    I like Kevin Barney’s term “complex” translation, which he uses get away from either/or thinking on the issue.

    The best entry text for Margaret’s approach is probably Temple Theology: An Introduction. It is short, about 100 pages, and sketches the outlines very effectively. However, it was The Great Angel that attracted LDS interest in the first place. Typically Nibleyophiles. I heard the same one word review from several different scholars. “Wow!”

    And Ronan, thanks, and you are most welcome.

    Kevin C.
    Pittsburgh, PA

  16. Just an other request for any basis for CES seeing Moses as unified and authored by Moses? As I suggested I’m skeptical but am open to being wrong. (It’s been a long time now since college)

    I’d note that the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, while perhaps more reflective of FARMS theology than necessarily CES theology, has a nice section on the JST. Given that it’s now hosted at I think it has a been more importance in CES as well. (And I know lots of CES folks who would use the EoM extensively when it first came out) While it doesn’t explicitly address the issue of the “unity of Moses” it’s hard to come away from a reading of it and the discussion of process believing there would be any such unity.

    One could read the EoM entry on Moses and infer that the revelations to Moses included Gen 1 & 2. This passage probably is the strongest thing I’ve been able to find for an unity of Moses:

    Latter-day scripture attests to Moses’ hand in the composition of the Pentateuch (1 Ne 5:11; 19:23). He had access to, and edited, prior prophetic records, including those of Adam and Enoch, which were once apparently included in the works composing the earliest form of the Pentateuch, now found in Moses 2-8 (cf. 1 Ne 13:20-40).

    The author appears to be buying into a kind of restoration of some ur-text of the Pentateuch. But the author also appears to be suggesting Moses didn’t write Genesis 1 & 2 but they were earlier records. Which argues somewhat against the normal sense of an unity of Moses.

    Now I will say that the above paragraph is stronger than I’d have written but I think it allows for something like the DH albeit in a slightly different form. (i.e. dating the P & E sources back earlier than most do)

  17. Robert F. Smith says:

    Re Kevin Christensen’s part one introducing Margaret Barker, it might be worth noting that Barker is a former President of the Society for Old Testament Study — a very important British/Irish learned society with a long list of significant publications in biblical studies. See online at

  18. Robert F. Smith says:

    Father Lehi’s archaic and clannish behavior does comport with Barker’s version of the Deuteronomistic theory, e.g., Lehi doesn’t hesitate to build an altar and sacrifice where and when he pleases (I Nephi 2:7, 5:9, 7:22) in violation of Deut 12:13-14, but in line with earlier Exodus 20:21-24 (see Bernard Levinson, Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation [Oxford, 1997]; Barker, The Older Testament: The Survival of Themes from the Ancient Royal Cult in Sectarian Judaism and Early Christianity [SPCK, 1987]).

  19. Kevin Christensen says:


    It is nice to see your comments here. I’ve long admired your FARMS papers and preliminary reports. And I’ve wondered what you’ve thought of Margaret’s books.

    Thanks for these comments and much else.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

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