Jehovah and the World of the OT

When the book Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament came out, Julie at T&S posted a very positive review, and I followed that up with my own (see “Finally!” FARMS Review 19/2 [2007]). A couple of months ago Julie and I had the chance to meet one of the coauthors of that book, Eric Huntsman, and found him to be as delightful a person as he is fine a scholar.

When I saw the title to the book under review, Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament, it was obvious to me that this was meant to be a companion volume to the NT one. Richard Nietzel Holzapfel contributed to both volumes; here he is joined by Dana Pike and David Rolph Seely (an old friend). These are all fine scholars at BYU. And this book shares the same virtues as its NT companion, particularly its graphic richness and its presentation of solid scholarship for an LDS audience. In many ways I could just copy my earlier review of the NT volume and apply it to this one as well.

The book is a large format coffee table book. The main text walks the reader through the OT itself, offering lots of historical context from the contemporary ancient Near East along the way. Every page features either pictures or sidebars, or both, explaining particular issues, texts and concerns. I really like this format, as the text is sufficiently broken up that it is not overwhelming to the casual reader.

Let me just mention more or less at random some of the sidebars and pictures one finds along the way in this volume:

1. Near the beginning there is a lot of good, basic information given to get things started, such as a glossary of OT terms, a genealogical chart of Semitic languages, a comparative chronology of the OT, a chart showing the various canons of the OT, a comparison chart showing the development of the alphabet, a four-page treatment of the names of God, and much more.

2. At p. 58 is a nice full-page explanation of the formation of Israelite proper names.

3. P. 63 features a nice prosopographical chart showing the covenant family line of Abraham.

4. P. 66 features a useful explanation of slavery in the OT, something we KJV readers are simply not prepared for with such renderings as servant and various forms of maid rather than the more direct slave.

5. The Amarna Letters are described in a page-long sidebar at p. 85.

6. The isue of dating Moses and the Exodus is broached at p. 95.

7. P. 102 features an explanation of why Moses is often depicted with horns in art. I remember covering this same point when I taught GD, mainly because the scultures of Moses with horns are just so cool!

8. P. 104 has a cool picture of incense spoons such as would have been used at the tabernacle/temple with an image of a human hand on the curved side of the spoon, thus depicting a hand in cupping shape.

9. P. 108 explores the question of where the Ark of the Covenant is (if it’s not in a big government warehouse, that is…)

10. P. 115 has an awesome picture of Samaritans observing the Passover by roasting lambs on spits. At the very beginning of the book the authors make the point that the temple was something different than we imagine; in many ways it was a slaughterhouse. (This reminds me of a lecture I went to once at the UoU on “sentimental phil-hellenism,” which pointed out that the beautiful white marble temples of ancient Greece that we so admire in ancient times were not white at all but painted garish colors).

11. P. 120 gives a biblical calendar for the various feast days.

12. The problem of large numbers in the Bible is addressed at p. 126.

13. P. 145 describes the Documentary Hypothesis–two words I never heard uttered together in all my relgion classes at BYU.

14. Questions about the historical accuracy of the Book of Joshua are addressed at 160.

15. Levirate marriage is described at p. 189.

16. P. 199 describes how we recovered a verse in Samuel from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

17. P. 215 features a discussion of scribes and the Bible.

18. Pp. 226-27 describes poetry in the OT.

19. A graphic comparison between the kingdoms of Judah and Israel is featured at p. 249.

20. P. 262 describes the Divine Council.

21. A page is devoted to the Tel Dan inscription at 273, and another page is devoted to inscriptions that mention “YHWH and his Asherah” two pages later.

22. Each of the Twelve Minor Prophets gets his own sidebarred treatment.

23. The expression “a virgin shall conceive” is examined at p. 296.

24. P. 303 describes the Sennacherib Prism.

25. The Lachish Letters are described at p. 331, and the Cyrus Cylinder at p. 361.

These random descriptions of what you’ll find in the book cannot really do justice to the richness of the material presented here. Indeed, I will renew my complaint from my published review that these sidebars are not reflected in the Table of Contents; I think they should be.

Anyway, while the FPR crew probably won’t learn much from this book, if the OT hasn’t really been your cup o’ tea in the past, I suggest you give it another chance, and use this volume as a companion to your study in the 2010 curriculum year. I think you’ll find the world of the OT coming to life and breathing actual interest into the pages of the text itself.


  1. I wish this book had been around 4 years ago when I taught OT in Gospel Doctrine. I made significant use of Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament when I taught NT the following year, and I recommended it highly to my students.

    Over three decades ago, when I was an undergrad at BYU, I asked one of the newer generation of Ancient Scriptures professors if anyone had considered doing in effect an modern version of Jesus the Christ, updating Talmage’s sincere but outdated New Testament scholarship. His wistful reply was that a few indeed had, but that Elder McConkie’s then-forthcoming Messiah series had pretty much killed the market for any such work.

    By the way, even though I’m not teaching GD anymore, I did buy Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament.

    Now if we could just get the Institute and Sunday School manuals updated a bit . . . . ..bruce..

  2. Aaron Brown says:

    Kevin, if you were recommending only one study companion volume for OT next year, for a student or for a Gospel Doctrine teacher who doesn’t really know the OT all that well (i.e., me), would this be it? Or are there other contenders? If you were going to recommend, say, three works, what would be the other two?


  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah, I think this is it.

    You could also use a study Bible for specific help with the text. See the suggestions here:

    I would also take a look at the BYU Studies OT bibliographies for specifically LDS material. See the first paragraph here:

  4. It seems to me that there a lot of generally conservative folks who like a lot of what Margaret Barker is doing. I can see why her reading of the Josiah’s reformation would be attractive to Latter-day Saints. Has this made the documentary hypothesis more palatable, or is it something else?

  5. Thanks for the review Kevin. From your review I can tell they broach several topics that would be considered controversial in my GD class (DH, dating Moses, virgin shall conceive, slavery) but I can’t tell what kind of coverage to expect. Does it give a positive or negative view of the DH? Will the average reader come away disabused of their misconceptions about “a virgin shall conceive”?

  6. I got this a while back, and was planning on a review of it, but never felt smart enough to take it on. I’d hoped for a review from someone more erudite. Thanks.

  7. Molly Bennion says:

    Kevin, I noticed a positive blurb from you among the endorsements of Jeff Bradshaw’s upcoming book on the Book of Moses. Could you please flesh that out a bit? Will this be a book to buy when it comes out in the spring?

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    The box on the DH has three paragraphs. The first describes the origins of the idea and the classic treatment by Wellhausen. The second describes the putative sources. The third lists various challenges to the hypothesis, concluding “However, despite serious challenges in the past four decades, no single scholarly approach to the origins of the Pentateuch has arisen to replace the Documentary Hypothesis.”

    On the expression “a virgin shall coneive,” there are also three paragraphs. The first gives the historical context that this is a sign to Ahaz that the Syro-Ephraimite alliance would be destroyed. The second discusses speculation as to who this child was at the time, possibilities being a child of Isaiah’s or Hezekiah. The third in dualistic fashion mentions that Matthew interepreted this as applying to another, more important child, relating to the birth of the Savior.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    J., I don’t think Margaret’s work is mentioned at all in this work. Her work is very controversial; she has her share of LDS fans (I like many of her ideas) and also her share of LDS critics (try searching at FPR for example).

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Molly, I reviewed an early version of the manuscript for Jeff. I thought it was interesting; he draws out lots of symbolism and uses a lot of interesting artwork to illustrate his points. I found it a little bit odd that he stopped after chapter five rather than doing the whole book. But yes, I would recommend it.

  11. I’ve got a lengthier review of this for FAIR I’ve got to get out.

  12. #2 Aaron, FPR’s going to have a series on recommended OT books for the OT n00b starting this week (next week?).

  13. Kevin,

    I perused a copy of this book a couple of weeks ago in our local LDS bookstore and ran across the section on the Documentary Hypothesis. I only had a few moments to read that section, but I thought the authors took a pretty narrow view of the DH. It seemed that their argument was “Latter-day Saints know better, but you should know this is out there.” My interpretation could be wrong, having been made in haste, but I find the DH fairly convincing. I wonder, do you think the DH is something LDS can, or ought to, adopt? If so, why the pushback from these professors?

  14. Oops, didn’t refresh my page and see the previous comments. Sorry.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    AHLDuke, you might enjoy my Dialogue article on the DH. If you want to see it in the pretty print version, you can search for it at the Dialogue archive of the UoU, but here is a convenient copy that doesn’t require you to load it a page at a time:

  16. AHL, my impression from my (brief) exchanges with one of the authors via email is that Deseret Book is the doctrinal gatekeeper here, and there was a question of how much “secular” scholarship they would accept. Same kind of thing with the Kimball biography, though there we got the cd-rom with expanded original text.

  17. Deseret Book as doctrinal gatekeeper. What a concept.

  18. I have to say that I find it unfortunate, yet completely plausible that Deseret Book editors managed to make this a “worse” book than it otherwise would have been.

  19. Thanks Kev, that helps a lot. I still cannot get my mind around a whole introductory volume on the OT with only three paragraphs devoted to the DH. The sentence you quote above makes it sound like the DH is virtually refuted but no one scholarly view has formed in its place now that it has been dispatched (maybe I’m reading it wrong). If that is the summary of the DH in this book, I will be hard-pressed to take anything else in there very seriously.

  20. Deseret Book as doctrinal gatekeeper. What a concept.

    Is there really any other reason for Deseret Book to exist?

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    Here’s the whole last paragraph of the DH box:

    The Documentary Hypothesis has multiple challenges, including the dubious nature of some of its basic assumptions, the ongoing revisions scholars have made to it over the past century, and the lack of a close parallel to the hpothesized phenomenon of redacting such differing genres of texts. The ever-increasing corpus of ancient Near Eastern texts has encouraged scholars to be more sensitive to ancient literary features, such as repetition, that are sometimes quite different from “Western” styles. And religious practices once thought to be “late” have now been discovered in second millennium Near Easter texts, encouraging some scholars to express more conficdence in the biblical text and its claims. Alternative approaches have been proposed, including an emphasis on large-scale literary forms that run across JEDP source divisions. However, despite serious challenges in the past four decades, no single scholarly approach to the origins of the Pentateuch has arissen to replace the Documentary Hypothesis.

    (not time to fix typos)

    I think this is a fair statement to make.

  22. I have to second Kevin’s statement that I don’t see anything in the text around Josiah that makes me believe the authors seriously considered any of Barker’s ideas in the text.

  23. My wife will definitely be buying this book for me for Christmas. Thanks for the review Kevin.

  24. I didn’t suspect that this would have Barker in it; I just happened to listen to Steve Whitlock present on the OT this weekend and he relied on Barker extensively. It made me think about some of the Barker-love I had seen somewhat recently and it made me wonder if it was indicative of a broader or more public acceptance of ideas such as the Documentary Hypothesis.

  25. Indeed, Stapers. One cannot love Barker and hate the DH.

  26. Kevin (#21): so does the subtext of the paragraph quoted go something like this: “We recognize that the DH exists, but we’re not going to mention or explain the complexities of the DH, drawing upon the mountains of scholarship discussing DH produced since the 17th century. Rather, we’ll cast doubts on its validity through a series of short, undeveloped critiques couched in erudite language, and quickly move on from the topic before the reader can figure out that we’re really not giving DH the attention it really deserves. Then, we’ll use a logical fallacy to claim that no replacement for the DH theory exists to explain textual origins of the Torah, which somehow will give us license to just skip over DH completely (because of challenges to it) and go back to promoting traditional authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses because it fits better with latter-day revelation through JS.”

    I realize that perhaps the format of this book isn’t the venue to flesh out the DH for an LDS audience interested in biblical textual history and criticism, but this is exactly the kind of treatment that sets my teeth on edge everytime I read something “scholarly” coming out of DB imprints. To the authors and editors: you might disagree with the DH, and you have every right to disagree, but as a courtesy to your readers who will pick up your book expecting informed, balanced, and perspicacious writing, at least attempt to acknowledge the world of biblical scholarship and engage with the literature to show why you choose to dismiss it. The DH continues to be one of the most complex and fascinating discourses in modern biblical textual scholarship, and deserves more attention than why some depictions of Moses have horns.

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    SteveS, the book definitely is not the venue for someone who wants a detailed treatment of the DH. For that you pretty much have to go to non-LDS sources (although you can get a start by reading articles on the subject published in Dialogue by Thomas Dozeman and myself). I continue to think that their sidebar on the subject was fair, if brief. It is true that there has been and remains all sorts of scholarly angst regarding the DH (and not just from conservative scholars), and they communicated that. It is also true that no one has succeeded in coming up with anything better, and it is pretty widely understood that if we bury the documents we will just have to excavate them, or something like them, again anyway. That is what I took the gist of their blurb to be saying.

    I guess much depends on where you are coming from. I attended four years of BYU religion classes and never so much as heard of the DH in that setting, so I see this as a very positive development. Baby steps and all that.

  28. Let me just echo Kevin. It’s amazing that that much got through the editors at Deseret Book. Even when content is explicitly faith-promoting, they are quite free with the red pen there. A large section of another book (quite faith-promoting) was cut recently as well.

  29. My review is up now.

  30. If we carefully studied Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, we would reverently call him “Almighty God” and less frequently refer to Him as merely our Elder Brother.

  31. “We believe in God the Father, who is the great Jehovah and head of all things, and that Christ is the Son of God, co-eternal with the Father; yet he is our Savior,
    Redeemer, King, and Great Prototype;… and is now seated at the right hand of the Father.” – Times and Seasons 3 (1 November 1841): 578.
    The Lord (Jehovah) hath spoken through Isaiah (xiii: 1), saying, “Behold my servant whom I uphold–mine elect in whom my soul delighteth;” evidently referring to the
    Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, chosen, or elected by the Father. (I Peter i:20). History of the Church Vol. 4, Ch. 14, p. 256

    Thus the history of the church teaches that Jehovah and Jesus are separate persons.

  32. Actually Bill, the development of the idea that Jesus and Jehovah are the same individual in Mormon thought is fairly well documented. Your drive-by quotes (notice there is no context or even mention of who said them) are part of this history, with which most of the readers here are aware.

  33. Steve Evans says:

    But J., he said “thus”! QED.

  34. Molly, just noticed your question about the book of Moses commentary (In God’s Image and Likeness). Kevin, thank you for being one of the first readers to brave the early manuscript, and for your encouragement.

    Molly, you mentioned a springtime publication date–the reality is, however, that I just got a few advance copies of the book for reviewers, and the rest of the copies should arrive in SLC and be on the shelves by Christmas. You can already pre-order at Amazon. More information on the book can be found at

    Thanks again for the comments, and let me know if you have any more questions about the project…

  35. Molly Bennion says:

    One more item on the Christmas list. Thanks, Jeff.

  36. J. Stapley- There is much information to support what was stated. You may check the above quotes yourself here. http://www.boap.orgLDS/HistoryHistory_of_the_Church

    3 Jehovah, God the Father’s one,
    Another, His Eternal Son,
    The Spirit does with them agree,
    The witnesses in heaven are three. Sacred Hymns and Spiritual Songs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints p. 295, no. 262 verse #3.

    Scripture highlights that the Lord Jesus is Jehovah’s servant and not Jehovah imself. Isa 28:16 reads,
    “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD [JEHOVAH], Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone [Jesus], a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” (Compare Ephesians 2:20, Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:6) Psalm 110:1 says: “The LORD [JEHOVAH] said unto my Lord[Jesus], Sit thou at my right hand,until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” “LORD” (less common GOD), in capital letters, is ALWAYS the tetragram commonly pronounced Jehovah. “Lord” , with
    only the first letter capitalized, is adhohn, adhonai or a form of these words in the KJV. Pslam 110 is quoted many times in the NT. All of which show that Jesus is not
    Jehovah but he is at Jehovah’s right hand. See Matt 22:43,44; Luke 20:42; Mark 12:35,36; Acts 2:34-36 etc.

  37. Thanks for the helpful reviews and comments.
    My meager reading on the Documentary Hypothesis includes “Who Wrote the Bible?” by Friedman ( ) and various works by Barker. Each time I delve, I am struck by the circular reasoning in the argument but I am also intrigued by the issues the DH is trying to confront.

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