Comments on BiV’s Critique of My Dialogue Article

I just recently learned of a blog post that Bored in Vernal (hereafter, “BiV”) did on my recent Dialogue article, “How To Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Getting Excommunicated).” The link is here. I wanted to offer some comments on it, and I thought it would be fun for BCC to feature two posts in a row with BiV featured prominently in the title (although I don’t think I can compete with the concept of BiV sleeping with Joseph Smith!). So I will comment on her remarks in the form of an open letter to her:

Dear BiV,

Thank you so much for taking the time and making the effort to comment on my Dialogue article. I once again apologize for not seeing that post until now. I’m a fan of you and your blog (lots of meaty, substantive posts), so I don’t know how I missed it until now. My apologies for that. Kristine and I both left you comments (which you may not have seen since the post is now in your November archives) encouraging you to submit this critique to Dialogue for publication, for as I said in my comment they do call it “Dialogue” for a reason! I renew that suggestion here. And let me assure you that I am in no measure offended or upset that you disagreed with me; to the contrary, I am flattered that you thought the piece was worthy of this substantive attention. So I thank you.

It shoulld come as no surprise, however, that I disagree with your comments. So I wanted to try to outline the nature of my disagreements, which I will do below:

Dan P.’s Article

I was a little bit stumped by your comments on Daniel Peterson’s article, “Nephi and His Asherah.” You seemed at first to be an enthusiastic fan of the piece. But the piece basically does two things: in general, it is a survey of recent Asherah scholarship from an LDS perspective, and in particular it is an exegesis of 1 Nephi 11. And you reject both the general relevance of non-LDS Asherah scholarship to the topic of the Mormon Mother in Heaven and the specific exegesis Dan offers, so it was unclear to me what it was exactly you found to like in the piece at all.

I freely acknowledge that I stand on Dan’s shoulders in writing my article. I probably would not have had the confidence to attempt it if Dan had not plowed this ground ahead of me. I remember for a long time being familiar with the seminal work of Raphael Patai in his book, The Hebrew Goddess, and as the scholarship on this point began to accelerate I thought about writing about it. But in the end, I threw up my hands, just overwhelmed by how much there had come to be out there. Which is why I was thrilled when Dan made the effort, and did it better than I could have. I didn’t know Dan at the time (our times at BYU didn’t overlap), but I recall finding his e-mail address and sending him an e-mail congratulating him on the achievement. We later crossed paths at a conference and have become friends. (I know a lot of people think he’s the boogeyman, but share a meal with him sometime; he’s simply delightful, with as dry a wit as you’ll ever find.)

On the exegesis you reject, you no doubt are correct that the more “conservative” approach to the chapter is to see the tree as a symbol of Christ. (I know you don’t self-identify as a conservative–we met at Sunstone, after all!–but your critique is definitely from the conservative side of the fence. Which is great; I’d love to read a similar critique from the liberal side, from someone who thought I didn’t go far enough rather than going too far.) You quote Elder Holland as saying “The images of Christ and the tree are inextricably linked.” I know people get nervous when I disagree with apostles, but where’s the beef? Saying it doesn’t make it so. Why is there a connection between the tree and Jesus? What I found so powerful about Dan’s reading is that it made the passage make sense to me. The angel doesn’t explain the tree, but when he shows the virgin and then the child of God, the meaning becomes clear to him without further explication. Seeing the tree as Asherah symbolism in this context makes tremendous sense to me. Trees were always associated with goddesses in the OT. And I’m fond of Sorenson’s suggestion (in his classic Dialogue piece, “The Brass Plates and Biblical Scholarship,” to the effect that the Brass Plates were a northern recension of scripture, reflecting Lehi’s familial background as part of Manasseh in the north. We know that the people of Israel prior to the Assyrian Conquest worshiped Asherah, so for that tree symbolism to immediately make sense to Lehi’s son really works for me. So of course you’re welcome to read the passage in your own, more pedestrian way, but I continue to favor Dan’s insight here.

Are We Forced To Acknowledge the Canaanite Pantheon?

I disagree that if we accept any part of Asherah mythology, we’re forced to accept the whole kit and kaboodle. Why? We know there was corruption involved, so we can certainly be selective about what we take and what we leave behind. I tried to follow a selection method of identifying positive allusions to Asherah in the scriptures, and then used that as my base. Without stating it, obviously I was also looking at these things through the lens of modern Mormonism. And why not? I was upfront that I was engaged in religion-making here. I don’t see why we have to throw out the baby with the bathwater. To take your example of cultic prostitution, as I’m sure you know recent studies have questioned whether such a thing really existed. But assuming arguendo that there was an Asherah-based prostitution cult, so what? We can leave that on the trash heap of history. I see no reason why we have to take all of it; it seems to me that we can pick and choose.

Reform Prophets

Your complaint about undermining the authority of reform prophets is where the rubber really hits the road, and I think it’s your strongest point. I knew this was going to be tough for rank and file Mormons to accept. We tend to want to read the scriptures as being univocal, without development, and if one prophet was negative on a practice then it’s a bad practice and all prophets would agree.

Just recently I had to counsel with a man in another state who used to be in my ward, because his BYU attending son had learned of Adam-God. His son said in effect, Look, this isn’t a trifle, it’s on the nature of God. It’s something as important as can be. And BY as prophet taught this. So it either has to be true and the Church is in apostasy for not teaching it, or the prophets are wrong altogether and they have no authority. We’ve raised a whole generation of Saints with such linear thinking about prophetic infallibility that we can’t handle the nuances, and there really are a lot of them beyond the obvious A-G example.

The truth is that the winners get to write the history, and it was those who rejected Asherah who largely redacted or wrote the OT as we have it today. There is, quite frankly, a lot of political spin in the OT. I recognize that we get really nervous when we start talking about spin in the scriptures. So I don’t blame anyone, including you, for not wanting to follow me there.

Evict Paganism

On my mission I ran into very conservative Christians, and of course JWs, who saw clearly the pagan elements in such celebrations as Christmas and Easter and therefore advocated against celebrating them. I can understand and reject that position, all the while disagreeing with it profoundly. I love the holidays, and I love the fact that we Mormons are pragmatic enough to acknowledge the pagan elements in them and celebrate them anyway. I love that we don’t feel threatened by Santa Claus or Easter Bunnies or yule logs or mistletoe or anything else like that. I think that shows a certain amount of religious maturity for our people. (Even those who are sure Jesus was born on April 6th are content to celebrate Christmas on December 25th–good for them!)

Prayer

I quoted the same GBH quote you did, albeit broken up into two different places. I didn’t quite understand your criticism here. I made it clear that I personally don’t pray to MiH, but there is a scriptural precedent for such a prayer in a limited circumstance, so if people want to take the responsibility for themselves of following that precedent, then knock yourselves out. You acknowledged that you sometimes pray to MiH for unspecified reasons without scriptural precedent. So your complaint struck me as a little bit on the hypocritical side.

To be honest, I’m not bothered at all by prayers to our MiH. People sometimes do this at Sunstone, and it doesn’t offend me. But I know mainstream sensibilities are further to the right than that. Anway, should we censure Leah for daring to offer a prayer to Asherah at the birth of her son Asher, named in her honor? I don’t think so.

Personal Name

I’m not sure why you are so threatened by acknowledging Asherah as the personal name of our Mother. As I showed in an appendix, that name appears 40 times in the OT, even if it is always mistranslated in the KJV. If we can’t accept Asherah as a name, how can we accept El/Elohim or Yahweh as personal names of deity? Mormon scholars have become comfortable with the Canaanite precedents to the early Hebrew pantheon. See for instance my article in BYU Studies on Six Key Concepts in Joseph Smith’s Understanding of Genesis 1:1. Deuteronomy 32:8-9, when the text is corrected by the LXX and DSS, clearly shows those precedents and how they influenced early Hebrew belief.

Conclusion

The bibliography I appended to the article had to be cut in half for space limitations. The amount of scholarship on Asherah as a Hebrew Goddess is absolutely huge. If one is unwilling to see that literature as relating in a meaningful way to MiH, then I would recommend following the position of my good friend Blake, who views Mormon belief in MiH as an overbelief. You may as well, because there isn’t some vast body of evidence about some other MiH figure in ancient Israel who would fit Joseph’s statements. In my view, Asherah is our one shot at situating such a figure in the real world of the OT, with actual Israelite worship directed to her.

Once again, BiV, thank you so much for your careful attention to my article. I hope my response above gives some idea of my perspective in the face of that respone.

Comments

  1. I think you meant “I can understand and respect that position…” instead of “reject” although it sounds like you do reject it also.

  2. Antonio Parr says:

    At the risk of dumbing down this erudite dialogue, is it even possible to talk about “mother in heaven” in the context of LDS foundational theology without talking about “mothers in heaven”? The former may seem liberating to those with feminist leanings, the latter much less so. (Both are too exotic for this convert’s ears.)

    The modern Latter-Day Prophets are effectively silent on the topic of Mother in Heaven. I am inclined to follow their lead, although I respect the curiousity of those who would take a different path.

  3. The “Personal Name” section was the most useful for me. That was my only beef with your Dialogue paper. You make a good point here.
    I doubt Hebrew or Ugaritic originated in the Celestial Kingdom, so we should remember that Elohiem, Jehovah or even Asherah are earthly name-titles used for our convenience.

  4. Antonio,in Ugaritic mythology El had multiple wives. Whether or not that reflects reality is another issue.
    http://books.google.com/books?id=F-nUGHehMPEC&pg=PA43&dq=Shachar+and+Shalim#PPA43,M1

  5. Still reading the post, but I have to agree whole-heartedly with the “Reform Prophets” section. We have a REAL problem in the current church with not understanding the expansive potential of believing the Bible “as far as it is translated correctly” – since we tend to exclude original compilation in that category of possible mistranslation. There is nothing in our theology that demands what was written first was Absolute Truth – and that goes FAR beyond issues of inadequate language to include conqueror’s bias.

    This is true especially of the OT (and particularly the pre-Davidic texts, but I believe it plays into disagreements among the first apostles of the NT, as well.

  6. Where is the LDS prophet that will finally liberate Gods and Goddesses of the ANE religion(s)from the KJV spin zone?

    When will there be general authorities who will stand up and expose all those foul redactors – false winners of the day who have nothing to do with revelation from heaven?

    They are making Jeremiah and the others look like idiots.

  7. In my view, Asherah is our one shot at situating such a figure in the real world of the OT, with actual Israelite worship directed to her.

    Amen.

  8. And God loved that Israel, Ray?

    I am in Jeremiah 6 for this week.

  9. Kevin,

    Loved the post and the original dialogue article. Can you (or others) recommend to me and other novices some good introductory books or articles about the history of the OT, specifically about the redactions during the reform period, Deuteronomists, etc? I find it very fascinating but don’t know much about it.

  10. MattG,

    Stay tuned for suggestions from people who know more than me, but as a relative novice on these topics, I can tell you that I recently read Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Friedman and it is a fabulous introduction to the topics you mention.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 1 zehili, you’re quite right. I was hurrying to finish this so I wouldn’t miss my train home, so I wasn’t as careful as I should have been. Thanks for the correction.

    No. 2 Antonio Parr, I address the point you raise in a footnote at the end of my article.

    Matt G., one place you could start would be with one of my other Dialogue articles, “Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis,” here.

    BTW, my BYU Studies article I mentioned above may be read here.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 11 Jacob J., I second your suggestion as well.

  13. Thanks #10 for the question (I am in the same position) and #11 for the answer.

  14. Kevin,
    While I enjoy reading your stuff, including this much anticipated, work, I find the idea of a tree to replace real meaningful worship patronizing.
    I would feel no more like I was developing a meaningful and reverent relationship with God the Mother God by erecting a tree than I would by doing so in behalf of God the Father to show veneration. There is a sharp contrast in the reality of how God the Father is actually worshipped in the realm of Mormonism and your suggestions on how to show veneration to a Mother in Heaven.
    While it is arguable that Asherah is cohort with male deity, her characteristics in the Hebrew Bible and perhaps in Ugarittic literature are so far removed from our Mormon modern day conceptions of a mother God, or even God, that it is as if we still had no information on her. She (Asherah) is wise, happy, and fertile. Could we really simplify the attributes of the Mormon God the Father down to wise, happy, and creator? Maybe we could.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    mmiles, what do we really know about God the Father? I think at the end of your comment you may have talked yourself into the realization that we don’t really know that much more about Father than we do about Mother.

  16. mmiles, I am not qualified to comment substantively on anything in the post, but if you limited God to that as revealed in the Old Testament, I think many would find Him short shrifted.

  17. Thomas Parkin says:

    Kevin,

    We know a lot about the Father if we have learned about Christ. To know about one is to know about the other. What’s more, we are charged with the responsibility to learn more and more about Christ, and hence more and more about the Father. If we are not solid in this central process, all the speculation in the world can never be anything more than that. (I would strongly suggest that we learn more about Mother in Heaven in the same way.) ~

  18. Thomas, to be more parallel, shouldn’t you pick a daughter?

  19. Kevin: I don’t know enough to debate all of the issues, but I think you may be guilty of begging the question in your discussion of 1 Nephi 11.

    In your article, you summarize Nephi’s vision and his discussion with the Spirit regarding the interpretation of the tree. In response to Nephi’s request for the interpretation, Nephi is shown a vision. You summarize this vision of Mary and her child, and then pose the following question: “How did a vision of the virgin Mary and her child answer Nephi’s question about the meaning of the tree? To the modern reader, the connection seems utterly obscure. Why would the virgin be portrayed in some sense as a tree and the child as the fruit of the tree?”

    I think you are assuming too much in the way you pose the question by suggesting that the virgin is the tree. In fact, while I think that is a plausible intepretation, I think it is not the best interpretation.

    After Nephi is shown the vision of the virgin, the Spirit says: “knowest thouth the condecension of God?” I think it is worth noting that the Spirit does not say, at that point, “knowest thou the meaning of the tree”. Not until several verses later, immediately after Nephi is shown the child who is identified as the Son of the Eternal Father, does the Spirit come to the point of asking the central question “knowest though the meaning of the tree?” Having just seen a vision of Son of God, Nephi is in a position to answer. He now understands that “it is the love of God . . ”

    I think it is meaningful that Nephi is not asked whether he understands the meaning of the tree until immediately after he is shown the Son of God, and the rest of the vision then focuses exclusively on the ministry of Christ. He is clearly the focal point of the entire vision, all of which is given in response to Nephi’s question regarding the meaning of the tree.

    So, in response to your question “Why would the virgin be portrayed in some sense as a tree and the child as the fruit of the tree?”, I would respond: She wasn’t portrayed as the tree at all and it is not at all obscure to the modern reader. Jesus, not Mary, is the tree.

    As I said, I think your intepretation is plausble, but I think it is a stretch compared to the alternative.

  20. Kevin,
    This is a great response to BiV’s thoughtful critique of your very good paper. (Which I read too late to make my Christmas tree decorations more meaningful!)

    My second son is named Asher and as a revisionist historian myself, I am now telling people I named him that to honor my Mother in Heaven (it sounds a lot better than, “I found it on the internet.”).

    Like BiV, regardless of the details surrounding Heavenly Mother, I’m really grateful that you’ve given this topic some attention, not just on blogs, but in PRINT, and from a MAN! We feminist bloggers are giving you a big cyber high-five. Thanks.

  21. Kev, same offer to you as to BiV–if you want to make this a bit more formal, it can go in the Letters section as “Barney responds:” … Bingo! Actual dialogue in Dialogue :)

  22. Thomas Parkin says:

    Todd,

    I’m not looking for parallels but unity between the sexes. I only need a daughter for a parallel if it is impossible for a son to grow up to be like his mother! All the most important traits, those that create unity in the Godhead and those that become One with God, belong to male and female equally. I’m sure you can see that in my view Jesus must not only be exactly like His Father, but also like His Mother, since they share all those traits that make up the character of God. ~

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    gary, but why a tree? What is the significance of the tree symbolism on your reading? I acknowledge your reading is certainly possible, but the tree symbolism seems out of the blue in that case.

    Kristine, if BiV takes you up on your offer let me know and I’ll do the same.

  24. Kevin, I have done so. Go for it.

  25. Matt G., go check out faithpromotingrumor. There are about 10 posts over there suggesting books on the OT and discussing various aspects of redaction, authorship, etc.

  26. Kevin: I don’t know–I am just reading the text trying to understand it, and I have no background in Hebrew, the Old Testament, or anything useful to this discussion. But a few thoughts occur to me.

    The tree of life metaphor pops up again in Alma 32, and its fruit there is also sweet and pure above all else. This metaphor seems like a pretty good metaphor for Christ, without any need to graft Asherah on to it.

    Or maybe it is symbol with roots in the tree of life in the Garden.

    I just have trouble seeing the argument that Christ is not the tree, when he is clearly the central figure in the vision which is given to answer the question posed by Nephi.

  27. Our church family covered Genesis 30 this past Sunday night.

    But the brothers and sisters in Ammon had no idea that Leah with Asher were connected in part of the conspiracy for the later stock and stone adultererous ancestors in Jeremiah’s day.

    It is interesting how Jeremiah flips the male and female in the stock and stone imagery. Perhaps a little sarcasm?

    And to think that God told this prophet not to get married. What a slam to the Israelite culture.

    Ok, guys, I will slip out of the discussion on this thread.

    But wow, this topic that Kevin and BiV bring up – it should be the chief topic for anyone who calls himself after an OT prophet or a NT apostle.

  28. The thing that occurs to me is that if Asherah is a tree, or the tree, and even the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, then we were banned from access to her in a way I never have thought of before. If so, what does it mean to not have access to that tree, so as not to live forever in our sins?

  29. KB,
    Um, yeah, I talked myself into that line of reasoning. It works for me.

  30. 29

    To not have access to the tree means we need to leave home before we can grow up to become like Mom or Dad (or both). The lone and dreary world metaphor works in real life, too.

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    BiV, terrific! You really did do a good job of articulating the more mainstream approach to this material, and I think it will be a good thing to have your post and my response side by side in print in Dialogue. Historically this has been hard to accomplish, because someone will send in a letter to the editor responding to an article, that gets published two issues later, and then if the author responds that gets published two issues after that, or more than a year after the original article has appeared. By doing this on the blogs first, we can have both our points of view appear together in the same issue, which will make the dialogue more fun and engaging, in my view.

    I really do think you did a terrific job of articulating the more mainstream view of this material. And I very much appreciated your kind comments about me as asides in your post, and hope that you realize that I similarly and reciprocally appreciate you as well.

    Thanks again for doing this; I think it has been fun and instructive (even if, judging from the comments on both posts, you appear to be winning! ).

  32. Yes, Kevin, I agree, this has been quite fun, we must do it again sometime. Although, I cannot tell you how agonizing it has been for me to be the representative of mainstream views. Let us just call me the devil’s advocate, and be done with it!

  33. StillConfused says:

    I think Asherah is a very beautiful name. Is that the equivalent of her first name or is that the equivalent of Mom? I personally would feel it disrespectful to pray to my mother by her first name, but would rather pray to her by her role in my life, Mom, mother etc.

  34. Kevin, Jacob, and Nitsav,

    Thanks a bunch for your helpful comments and suggestions. I’ll be perusing them shortly…

  35. I want to thank BiV for her post. I saw it back when it was first posted, and it articulated very well some of the feelings that I had about Kevin’s article. Kevin, your responses here were excellent in helping address some of the questions I had. Overall, a very productive exchange for me to read.

  36. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 34, you could try Ima, which is something like “mom” in Hebrew.

  37. So, Kevin Barney, are you going to publicly respond to the questions you received about getting a call to visit with your Stake President? Has there been any dialogue with folks in your Ward/Stake about the article that you care to share?

  38. Kevin Barney says:

    Hunter, I don’t think anyone in my ward/stake knows anything about the article. So no actual calls to visit with local authorities-yet!

  39. I need to reread both yours and Dan’s articles. (I just can’t recall the details much at all) I’d note FPR had before Christmas a nice bit on Rev 12 and the woman as Mary. I’d mentioned the view that 1 Ne 11 and Rev 12 are intrinsically tied together. Of course by that view the woman brings forth Christ as the tree brings forth the fruit. Allegorical, yes. But heck, both visions are highly allegorical.

    But it’s hard to read either passage (Rev or 1 Ne) without seeing a lot of mythic imagery that is a bit alien to our expectations of scripture. Your comparison to pagan symbols in Christmas is perhaps apt. I think though that Mormons have bought into the Protestant idea of Christianity being so unique in the middle east rather than having the symbols of Christianity being at home in the broader culture of the ancient near east.

  40. Also one should note that goddess imagery is picked up into Christology imagery. Think of the wisdom personification in Proverbs which gets taken over to applying to Christ.

  41. Kevin: I still think this is just a fun intellectual exercise, and I am betting you do to. I guess that is part of the problem, you utterly fail in getting me to believe that you actually believe Asherah is the mother in heaven.

    Personally, I think Margaret Barker and all this Asherah stuff is going to wind up where John Widtsoe’s Ether ended up.

    I think the issue is Asherah worship is always on the losing scripturally speaking, and whether we like what the scriptures say or not, we are stuck with them.

    Finally, I find Peterson’s connection of the Tree of life with Asherah, and your addition completely out of sink with the reading of the text via the interpretations and language use of Joseph Smith. For someone who holds to the expansion theory of Book of Mormon translation, as I know you do, you seem to be wanting to have you cake and eat it to.

    All that said, it would be absolutely delightful for there to be more understanding of a Heavenly Mother in our theology, or a Heavenly Father for that matter. Alas, I think you are wresting the scriptures on this one.

    But again, I do find it a fun intellectual exercise.

  42. Matt, I must confess I’m pretty skeptical of moving from similar or even borrowed imagery into identical content. i.e. even if there is goddess imagery used in the scriptures I don’t think that entails they refer to the goddess.

    To return to my earlier example in Rev 12 if the woman there is Mary, the mother of Jesus, she is not the wife of our Father in Heaven.

  43. I’d add that one can accept an expansion theory while still thinking there is a lot of underlying Hebrew literary elements.

  44. David Kitchen says:

    Kevin,

    One thing that dawned on me in reading your article (and that of Dr. Peterson) is how prevelant trees and/or groves have been in the central moments of the gospel. Eden, the burning bush, Gethsemane, and the sacred grove all come quickly to mind. I think this point could be expanded to make a sequel article.

    Also, do you know if there is any connection between Asherah and the tribe of Asher (other than Leah’s prayer of course)? I find it intriguing that Anna, the profetess who testifies of Christ at his presentation at the temple, is from the tribe of Asher.

  45. I suspect that if our Heavenly Mother required worship from her children, we would be informed of that. We can’t even seem to follow our founding prophets’ admonitions about which races to confer priesthood to.
    I can only assume that anyone who has time to consider worshiping further dieties is already following Heavenly Father’s instructions 100 percent.

  46. It would be interesting if someone did a study on whether or not vestiges of Asherah worship survived in the form of Roman Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary.

    As for this stuff about Asherah in the scriptures. Beg your pardon, but… this sounds exactly like the sort of thing Joseph would have seized and run with. He would have been ALL OVER this idea of Asherah being Heavenly Mother if he had learned of it. It seems like exactly the sort of radical and outrageous thing he would do.

  47. Mark Brown says:

    Bruce in MT,

    There was only one founding prophet, and he did not exclude people from the priesthood on the basis of race.

    I’m happy to have you participate here, but if you are looking for a forum to promote the pre-1978 policy, you are in the wrong place.

  48. StillConfused says:

    #48. I took #46’s comment to refer to the fact that Joseph did confer priesthood to black men and then someone subsequently decided it was not allowed. But maybe I am wrong on that.

    Is it correct that Joseph Smith conferred priesthood on one or more black men? I thought it was. I know that changed at some point to no black men, I am just not sure when.

  49. Thank you, Bruce in Montana. You have just given me some fodder for an upcoming presentation. Please, any racists out there, do post. It will help my presentation immeasurably.
    There is documentation that Joseph Smith ordained one black man, Elijah Abel. William Smith ordained Walker Lewis (who was a founding member of a Black abolitionist society, along with David Walker). Parley Pratt ordained Joseph T. Ball (if I’m remembering correctly), and at least three other black men held the priesthood prior to 1847. The restriction came with its fullest force under Brigham Young in 1852, though it was called into question after his death in 1877–when Elijah Abel petitioned for temple blessings. After a meeting of John Taylor and others in 1879, it was determined that Brother Abel still held the priesthood, though he was denied his endowment. (He had already been washed and anointed in the Kirtland Temple.) Abel’s obituary makes specific reference to the fact that he held the priesthood, and even lists his certificates.

  50. My favorite part of Kevin’s paper was where he seemed to be saying, “See, they worshiped Asherah, right alongside Baal! Let’s worship Asherah.” What, no love for Baal?

  51. I thought Baal was just a gereric word for “Lord” or “Master” rather than a specific deity.

  52. StillConfused says:

    #50 Margaret – Thank you for that information. I had recalled that at least one black man received the priesthood. Do we know why that practice was changed under Brigham Young? Elijah sounds like a great man.

  53. Kevin Barney says:

    MCQ, Baal is both.

  54. Stillconfused (53)–Why was the restriction started by BY? I like what President Hinckley said to Mike Wallace: “That’s the way people thought back then.”
    (I’m trying to remember the exact quote, but that’s pretty close.)I honestly think that’s about the best answer we have.

  55. D&C 121:28:
    A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest.

  56. Kevin Christensen says:

    Fascinating discussion, to which I have a few cents to add:

    Daniel Peterson’s Nephi and His Asherah essay includes a note saying that symbols have have more than one referent. That is, the tree can be a symbol of Christ as well as of Asherah. Neither association precludes the other. Back in May of 2003, when I was having lunch with Truman and Ann Madsen, Noel Reynolds, Alyson Von Feldt, and Margaret Barker, in discussing Daniel’s essay, I noted that “the love of God” can be a who as well as a what. Daniel’s essay points out the way that Proverbs has passages that chiastically link Asherah and the tree of life.

    Jeremiah 1:18 notes that he is called against the Kings, Priests, Princes (who would be the Elders, the sarim), and the people of the land. It was the people of the land who installed Josiah in power, and it was the Kings, Princes, and Priests who began the reform a year before Jeremiah’s call. Ezekiel 23 has a longer tirade targeting the same list of people. When scholars try to align Jeremiah with the reformers, I notice that they do so on linguistic and political grounds. Yet the reform, as Margaret Barker so astutely noticed was directed at the priesthood and the objects kept in the Holy of Holies, to which only the high priests had access. Despite shared language and political agreements, Jeremiah contradicts Deuteronomy on exactly the points that Margaret sees as key to the reform, on issues having to do with the role of the high priest, revelation, and the Day of Atonement.

    In my reading Lehi’s first public discourse and Jacob 4:14 both directly address the reforms in relation to the changes to the Day of the Atonement and the anointed high priest.

    Where Jeremiah 45 shows his dispute with those who blamed the recent defeat on their neglect of the Queen of Heaven, I notice that his critique there resembles his tirades against those who thought the temple would protect Jerusalem. In my reading, Jeremiah is pointing out that moral reform is more important that ritual behavior. Righteousness is not just matter of performing the right rituals, and thereby buying divine favor. He welcomes temple practice that would come after moral reform. Jeremiah differs from our Genesis and agrees with Proverbs in having Wisdom as being involved with the creation.

    For those interested, Margaret’s new Christmas book explores some of the ways that Ancient Asherah imagery became attached to Mary. I’d also plug Alyson Von Feldt’s FARMS Review of Dever’s Did God Have a Wife? and her Occassional Paper essay on Wisdom Teaching in the Book of Mormon. And of course there is an interesting line in D&C 1 saying that, “Inasmuch as they sought wisdom, they might be instructed.”

    It has occurred to me lately that we learn from the range of Divine titles, roles, and names associated with Christ. We may also learn from the range of titles and names associated with the Divine Feminine. Mother in Heaven is just one name, and one role.

    Personally, I applaud Daniel’s essay, and Kevin Barney’s and Alyson’s and Eugene Seaich’s, and Dever’s, and Welch’s on the Hymn of the Pearl compared to Oh My Father, and Patai’s, and Margaret’s work. Unlike Allred’s papers, they are rooted in research, rather than personal speculation. You don’t have to agree with them, but they do point out much that has to be accounted for somehow. It’s new wine that has to find a container somewhere.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  57. Thanks for the back and forth.

  58. Rameumptom says:

    I have to agree with Kevin Barney and Christenson here. My studies also show that the Tree of Life is representative of Asherah, Wisdom, Sophia, etc. Also in the Popul Vuh, the ancient Quiche Mayan writing, the tree represents the parent of the chosen son(s).

    #15, throughout history, mankind has represented God, Christ, etc., through symbols. The Cross, altars, temples, garments, Sacrament, Baptism… Shall I go on?

    All of these symbols help the worshiper to understand his/her relationship with God. Christ is represented by Moses’ brazen serpent in the Book of Mormon, which King Josiah destroyed! This effort of his to destroy the brazen serpent demonstrates one aspect of the Deuteronomists’ antagonism towards worship outside the temple.

    While Friedman and a few others tie Jeremiah in with the Reformers, I agree with Kevin Christensen that he was not one of them. Jeremiah presented the Rekhabites as the exemplar Jews to follow, and not the temple priests (whom he condemned). The Rekhabites were akin to Bedouin, who rejected the centralized temple worship for an Abrahamic-like worship in the desert. Yet, Josiah had destroyed the altars and high places to Yahweh, so as to establish a centralized worship. Interestingly, Lehi would pick up on the wilderness form of worship. He built altars in the wilderness, sacrificing at them, against the command to worship only at the temple.

    Margaret Barker showed in her Joseph Smith/Library of Congress Seminar talk in 2005 that Lehi’s Vision of the Tree of Life was exactly in line with First Temple worship: including the Tree of Life, which represented Asherah. It was very normal for Nephi to recognize the mother Mary as representative of Asherah, with Jesus the fruit of the tree. You’ll notice in the following discussion, much focus is placed on the fruit: the condescension of God/Jesus, therefore is the giving of the fruit of the tree (Christ), being born for others to taste of his flesh/love.

  59. You know some days I just bask in talks like this. Rather than the usual daily life aspects we often talk about. It is such a refreshing thing to read each side and (with the exception on the OT discussions) really grow both sides. For me I am coming to understand what Kevin and others are talking about and they have significant meaning.

    The concept that the OT and the NT were caught in “as far as translated correctly” is so obvious. I find it fascinating to think of the way political, religious change and general revision fashioned the books we call the Bible.

    Looking at how the Jewish rabbinic community from 200 AD and onwards evalutated each section of law and discussion in the OT in the Talmud, and its derivatives it is just amazing to see how much effect these self discussions had on the succeeding documents.

    Much of the TaNaK (Jewish version of the OT) is effected by the surviving Pharisees and their judgment on the Law, their school won the debate because the others were exterminated. Only as Khabbalahist influenced Jewish thinking like the Sufis in Muslim thought did the philosophy of the Pharisaical inheritors actually transform at least somewhat.

    Anyways fascinating dialogue for sure.

  60. I think by the way we are just scratching the surface in this debate.

    Personally I think we as Mormons need to value the same ideals when we look at the BOM as others have with the Bible. The ideas presented in other blogs of the concept of a political and various religious bents coming out in the BOM.

    Once we start to question view points of various writers and its editors, Mormon, Moroni, and Ether, I think we will start to flesh out the Book of Mormon and make it real in scholarly discussion. I have to thank those, like Kevin, who are doing just that. Because it makes reading the Book of Mormon interesting in whole new ways as you decipher more than just the story or even the religious lesson but why those views are expressed and why the editors chose them over other possibilities.