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