Deuteronomy again…

The interpreter has published yet another article which bases its arguments on the supposed Deuteronomists and their supposed apostasies. In one respect I give this paper credit: it acknowledges that the very scholarly opinion that argues for the existence of said Deuteronomists also depicts them as the authors of that book (as that opinion has to, as the portrayed content of the Deueronomists views is entirely reconstructed from their supposed works). Unfortunately the author seems to embrace that to the very extent that I’ve previously warned of, speaking of the “Deuteronomists’ mists of monist darkness”, as this being “the Greater Apostasy that served as the essential foundation for the later Great Apostasy”, that the rejection of Christ “would have pleased Josiah” (any comments on how strongly I word this should note the severity of the judgment this paper flings at those safely dead), and in a reply to a comment characterises the book of Deuteronomy as inaugurating a tradition that will reject Christ, and which provided the basis for Laman, Lemuel and Sherem to oppose and seek to kill the prophets.

One would hardly believe, from this argument, that Deuteronomy was the biblical book Jesus quoted more than any other than the Psalms (including in a rebuttal against the devil himself (Deuteronomy 6:13, 16, 8:3 in Matthew 4:4, 7, 10 & Luke 4:4, 8, 12). Nor that Nephi would quote Deuteronomy as scripture.

I object strongly to these arguments, as I’ve done before. I object to what appears to be significant mischaracterisation and distortion of the teachings of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic history. I object what appears to be extremely esoteric and unfounded readings of Lehi, Nephi and Jacob, particularly when they make the rather astounding claim that such esoteric readings are restoring “plainness” in contrast to those “looking beyond the mark” (I would suggest this is in danger of being opposite the truth). I object to the characterisation of those who engaged in idolatrous worship as somehow defending the “plainness” of gospel, as in footnote 42, which approvingly cites Margaret Barker who quotes Jeremiah 44:15-19 as an example of those who claim that not worshipping the “queen of heaven” lead to the fall of Jerusalem. The author (and Christensen, who made the same argument) fails to note that these people are rebuked by no less than Jeremiah “because of the evil of your doings, and because of the abominations which ye have committed”, namely their idolatry (see vv. 3, 5, 8, 23 and 25, including specifically for burning incense and making offerings “to the queen of heaven”); to follow the author’s argument, Jeremiah is now taking the “greater apostasy”‘s part (and since Lehi and Nephi accept Jeremiah as a prophet, this perspective collapses under its own contradictions).

Moreover, I object to the way this argument keeps building upon the assumptions made in prior papers and treating said assumptions as proved fact, while flat out ignoring any critiques; what in fact provoked me to try to comment on the piece was the statement that “That the Deuteronomist reform is the Greater Apostasy is an overdetermined fact”, when the very existence of the Deuteronomists is conjectural, let alone the misreading that places them in charge in post-Josiah Jerusalem. I objected to Rappleye’s earlier argument because he took claims by Christensen as absolute: this people now it turn take’s Rappleye’s claims as similarly proven fact. I’ve written a number of posts making critiques of both Christensen and Rappleye’s arguments, but these papers never at any time pause to respond to these issues, or even suggest that they’ve read any counterarguments (I’m a fairly obscure figure, but I’m not the only one to criticise this approach). I’ve even responded to the woeful reading of Jeremiah 44 multiple times, and yet it keeps being raised as evidence in a way that suggests not only have they not read any critique against their use , but they haven’t read the rest of Jeremiah 44 either. Lest you think I’m being harsh, think of the number of figures the Bible depicts as being inspired that these arguments insist are apostate, prophet-murdering, Christ deniers.

Furthermore, it seems quite apparent that at least some of the motivation behind these arguments on the part of some is an effort to justify worship of “Mother in Heaven”. Hence the author’s claim that:

Even “Latter-day Saints are still too reliant upon the assumptions, the implications, and especially the language that generations of well- intentioned but misguided theologians and Reformers alike introduced into the domain of religious thought.”93 It thus remains an open question whether members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ are culturally prepared to fully emerge from the mists of darkness, ignore the inevitable mocking that would ensue from various great and spacious buildings, and more openly and consistently speak of their Mother in Heaven as Lehi and Nephi seem to have done.

Set aside the fact that Lehi and Nephi do not “openly and consistently speak” of any Mother in Heaven, though they can hardly have done so when any mention can only “revealed” when decoded via the sort of esoteric readings engaged in here. More is the fact that the arguments are raised to push a change in worship, a practice those arguing for appear themselves to align with those Jeremiah and other prophets condemned as idolaters, and indeed what appears to be in contravention not only of ancient, but also modern scripture:

And [God] gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.

(Doctrine & Covenants 20:19).

Do “the mists of darkness” permeate the Doctrine and Covenants now too? And who does the author depict as the “great and spacious buildings” that would object, when the world at large would applaud such a move? I imagine those in favour of these arguments would object to any denigration of their faithfulness, yet they impugn ancient inspired figures, describe a book that Jesus himself used as scripture as part of the satanically inspired mists of darkness (and thus logically should be rejected!), and implicitly suggest that those who oppose their argument are aligned with the “great and spacious building” that is “the pride of the world”, all in an attempt to push a change to worship that they favour.

In all in all it is rather dispiriting that this approach seems so favoured by the journal that aims to be faithful and to defend Church teachings. They rightly push back against those who criticise and try to de-canonise the Book of Mormon in an attempt to change the teachings of the Church, but this approach does the same thing to other parts of scripture, and does so with assumption piled on assumption and esoteric readings that go far beyond the “plainness” it purports to support. It’s not even coherent: any attempt to throw Deuteronomy under the bus is liable to take the Book of Mormon with it.

For reference’s sake, these are my previous criticisms of the modern day anti-Deuteronomists.

“Defending Deuteronomy” – My criticism of an article by Kevin Christensen

“Revisiting Deuteronomy #1” – Part 1 of my critique of Rappleye’s article, focusing particularly on uncritical use of secondary sources.

“Revisiting Deuteronomy #2: Laman and Lemuel as supposed Deuteronomists” – Part 2, criticising the argument that Laman and Lemuel were Deuteronomists.

“Revisiting Deuteronomy #3: Deuteronomy in 1-2 Nephi” – Part 3, addressing the use of Deuteronomy by Lehi and Nephi.

I attempted to comment on the article itself (well, in response to one of the author’s replies), but it may have been eaten by the Interpreter’s auto-moderation (Edit: it did get through), so I reproduce it here, though it does overlap with some of what I have said above:

Comment:

That the Deuteronomist reform is the Greater Apostasy is an overdetermined fact.

I don’t know if it’s possible to object to this statement any more strongly. Previous papers along these lines appear to rest upon a whole set of assumptions, which in turn seem to rest on what I regard as rather fallacious interpretations of the so-called Deuteronomists and Josiah’s reforms. Later papers then seem to take these assumptions as proven. There’s seems to have been little attempt to engage or even argue against criticisms of this theory, for all of its significant implications.

Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob all condemn the views of the Jews then living in Jerusalem. The city is on the verge of total destruction, a pretty good sign that it has taken a wrong turn with Josiah’s reform.

Except that, according to both Kings, Chronicles and Jeremiah (and Ezekiel), the reforms of Josiah didn’t stick. Indeed, a great error of the people following was their worship of idols, including Asherah (for instance, Jeremiah 17:2). This is just an exhibit of the problem: this approach seems to gloss over the entire Josiah/post-Josiah situation, and assume the whole era is an exhibit of the reforms, when the texts read quite differently.

Each man is given a book, Josiah receiving from Shaphan the scribe a book many scholars think was written by Hilkiah the High Priest, a book that centralizes power in the hands of king and high priest, a book that comes from man and that will be interpreted by scribes in the rabbinic religion that this reform inaugurates, a religious tradition that will reject Christ, God with God, when he comes to them 600 years later.

“[M]any scholars” also think that book is Deuteronomy, a book that Nephi will explicitly quote (and indeed, quote a Messianic prophecy from). In fairness to you, it appears you appreciate this.

Was Deuteronomy canonized incorrectly? Deuteronomy contains much truth. Hilkiah is probably not its only author if its author at all… We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated/transmitted correctly. Deuteronomy like other parts of the Bible would seem to contain a mixture of much true and some false doctrine.

On one hand I commend the embrace of the implications of this argument (Christensen and Rappleye appear to have resisted this, at least in part because they did not realise that the “Deuteronomists” were conceived as the very authors of the work). On the other, this illustrates precisely the outcome that I said would be the conclusion of this approach.

Yet Nephi accepts the book of Deuteronomy as authoritative scripture. He quotes from it, he describes the plates of brass as containing the *five* books of Moses, and furthermore the vision he describes of the loss of plain and precious things from the Bible in 1 Nephi 13 does not fit what is proposed here: Nephi is told that “many plain and precious things [are] taken away from the book” (1 Nephi 13:28) – not that false teachings would be substituted in – and that these writings “go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God” (1 Nephi 13:25): that is this process post-dates Nephi and the transmission of these writings (which include both OT and NT material) to the Gentiles.

But in chapter 13, it also provides mandates Laman, Lemuel, and Sherem—Deuteronomists all–follow as they oppose and seek to kill the prophets who preach the Gospel of Christ.

This is precisely issue I’m talking about: previous arguments become assumptions and then become “overdetermined fact[s]”. Rappleye argued that Laman and Lemuel were Deuteronomists, as you indicate in your main article, to which you clearly agree. But here it’s quite clear you regard it as almost incontrovertible. Yet Rappleye hardly proved his case (I argue against it in the 2nd part of a 3 part blog article here [the links above] ).

I expressed myself in quite strong terms here (although I believe still civilly), but I believe these are serious issues with huge implications. This article refers to “the Deuteronomists’ mists of monist darkness”, implicitly characterising the teachings of the book – a book that *the Saviour* quoted often as scripture – as part of the “temptations of the devil” said mists are interpreted as in 1 Nephi 12:17. Such an argument is already using severe terms for someone. Moreover, it seems to garb its argument as a restoration of “plainness”, when it is reading Lehi, Nephi and Jacob in a frankly esoteric way.

Edit & follow-up comment:

To his credit, the author of the article (Val Larsen) responded in the comments section of the above article; I invite anyone interested to read and consider his reply.

As I see it, there are in a sense several further issues:

1) Any data that contradicts the anti-Deuteronomistic perspective – such as accounts of Manasseh’s idolatries and those of Josiah’s successors, or the condemnation Jeremiah issued of worship of the “Queen of Heaven” (and the other idols associated with her, it shouldn’t be forgotten), or for that matter when Isaiah condemns earlier idol worship amongst the Israelites, and so on – tends to be explained as the results of the Deuteronomists tampering with scripture, altering things to justify their position. The author takes that approach in his reply. The problem with this approach is that it essentially “rigs” the argument in advance: any evidence in the Old Testament against their argument gets dismissed as tampering, anything that might be read as supportive gets accepted. The criteria for what has and what has not been tampered with becomes the degree to which a given passage suits the preexisting idea, allowing proponents to pick and choose evidence, and deny possible criteria for falsification. There’s obvious problems with this approach, not least the which is that it risks being incoherent: the argument that said “Deuteronomists” even existed rests, after all, on a reading of the very same documents.

2) Said “tampering” also relies upon generalities, especially since there is, it appears to me, still a desire to have one’s cake and eat it, to not completely ditch Deuteronomy, the DH, Jeremiah and the rest of the Old Testament. As long as it’s kept to vague generalities, such a position may be plausible. It seems less so when one becomes specific: just considering Jeremiah 44 alone, for instance, what must be taken out in order to make it read as an endorsement of “Queen of Heaven” worship. Most of the chapter must apparently be culled or dismissed as spurious, but then what does the remainder even say: those trying to justify themselves to Jeremiah are left speaking in a vacuum.

3) There’s little sense here that the Old Testament can even serve as a “standard work” here, when large parts are to be freely dismissed when they contradict a preexisting idea. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the Book of Mormon not only claims to be true itself, but depicts one of its key aims as supporting the truth of the biblical writings (see 1 Nephi 13:40, Mormon 7:9, and compare with the similar statement in the Doctrine and Covenants in D&C 20:11). Furthermore, this issue gets to the heart of how we define scripture. Scripture can’t simply be writings we think are partly, or even mostly, or even completely true (this is not an argument about inerrancy): there’s plenty of writings I consider to be true but not scripture. I’ve written about this topic before, and to summarise from that post and particularly how the Book of Mormon describes scripture, scriptural status describes something about the innate qualities of the work, including that it is true, but also that it is objectively inspired (i.e. not just inspirational or true, but the result in some way of communication from God), and I’d add authoritative (i.e. that it is not just private revelation, but intended to be binding upon its audience). There is little sense, in the anti-Deuteronomistic arguments, of how this status could be regarded as being true of much of the Old Testament (especially since – and it should not be forgotten – that the biblical scholars who proposed the existence of the Deuteronomists did so to propose the authors of Deuteronomy).

4) One issue that seems to slip through the net is the depiction of the ideology of the Deuteronomists (and implicitly that of Deuteronomy & the Deuteronomistic history, since said ideology is a reconstruction from those writings). I recognise that Larsen and Rappleye rely to a fair degree of the depiction that Christensen derives from Barker. But I do not think Christensen or Barker’s depictions are accurate or fair. I also think there are problems with Barker’s research: her depiction relies upon writings that post-date the period by centuries, in some cases by over a millennium. For that matter, it’s also worth pointing out that the religious situation before Josiah’s reforms was not static or stable. Indeed, the OT depiction is that of cycles of idolatry and apostasy, the sort of depiction that should be familiar to readers of the Book of Mormon.

5) Again to his credit, Val Larsen admits that he takes another guiding principle as normative, namely what he terms “Joseph’s mature theology”, especially as it pertains to the idea of a heavenly mother. But there’s problems with such an approach: the content of Joseph Smith’s “mature theology” is debated, constructed and reconstructed as it is from sometimes differing accounts of sermons, private addresses and so on (not all of which are consistent). The extent to which these should be given priority over actual revelation and scripture is questionable, particularly when it’s not always clear what was meant (it’s certainly not the Church’s approach to doctrine today). Much is inferred from other teachings, or based on second-hand sources from followers. This is particularly true when it comes to the matter of a “heavenly mother”, where there’s little direct record of Joseph teaching explicitly about the subject, and even the second-hand mentions are little more than brief references. This certainly suggests it wasn’t the overarching priority of the restoration. Furthermore, this “mature theology” is also tied up with the issue of polygamy, with at least some of Joseph’s followers (such as Parley P. Pratt) taking this idea of “heavenly mother” in directions that modern advocates presumably do not want to follow.

Link: The Strange, Contagious History of Bulimia

Interesting article here about the history of Bulimia, and the significant evidence that it is in fact a social contagion: that is that it is spread by awareness of the condition. Hence its explosion from relative non-existence, and (as the article discusses), even cases like Fiji, where there were no cases up until 1995: the year television arrived:

After just three years of exposure to American television shows, 11 percent of Fiji’s adolescent girls admitted to Becker that they had purged their food at least once to lose weight. In that time, the risk of developing an eating disorder jumped from 13 percent to 29 percent. More than 80 percent revealed that television influenced them or their friends to be more conscious about body shape or weight. By 2007, 45 percent of girls from the main island reported purging their food.

Even support groups – which effectively try and combat the social contagion by spreading healthier ones – can be vectors:

Further inquiry only seems to justify Russell’s troubling conclusion. In 2004, the British National Center for Eating Disorders reported that inpatient treatment and specialist units serve to create opportunities for exposure to the worst cases, allowing participants to catch more severe eating disorder symptoms, dangerous behavioral modeling, and harmful attitudes towards treatment that perpetuate well beyond the formal group therapy. Peeling back the processes even farther, the psychiatrist Walter Vandereycken examined ethnographic reports and qualitative investigations to find that sitting within close range of others exposes people to the worst cases and leads patients to unintentionally contend for the worst symptoms. Treatment, he reported, can do more damage than good by allowing the harsher and crueler strain to jump to new hosts.

In short, it’s a rather fascinating but troubling look at how the human condition is affected by mere awareness of ideas and habits, one with significant implications for other rapidly growing conditions (gender dysphoria, where referrals have increased by over 3,200% in a few years, being but one example). Unfortunately there seems to be little that can be done to reverse such things:

With this knowledge, Russell’s discovery took on characteristics of a pandemic that was set to claim 30 million people, but neither he nor anyone could do a thing at that point to stop it. He was confronted, he says, by a problem of entropy, a gradual decline into disorder with devastating implications for social contagions: once they are out, they are virtually impossible to rein it back in again.

Read the entirely thing at “The Strange, Contagious History of Bulimia”.

Why “history” matters in the Scriptures

I’ve seen notice of a podcast with an LDS scholar, which will apparently discuss the issue of genre within the Bible, and which apparently makes the claim that:

Despite comfort with parables, some Christians become unsettled thinking about elements of the Bible as being non-historical. [The guest] points out that this hesitancy is inherited from Enlightenment thinking, which regarded revelation as truth and truth as scientific or historical fact.

I’ve seen this claim and ones like it multiple times; I briefly touch upon some of these claims here. Related claims tend to revolve around the idea that ancient peoples did not adhere to modern standards of historiography, that the “truth” or spiritual value of scriptural events does not depend upon them being “historical”, and that this is simply a matter of modern biblical scholars learning about different genres and their literary markers.

As a summary of the issues, however, this is incomplete and distinctly less than accurate. Indeed it seems to omit precisely what is of most importance to people and what is of most consequence to our understanding of the scriptures and God

It’s true that many people in the past didn’t adhere to modern standards of historiography. But that’s also irrelevant: when most moderns talk about “historicity”, they’re not talking about historical conventions, or even about accuracy in the details, they’re talking about whether particular events actually happened or not.

Now, on some topics, the reality of particular events may not have much consequence, and we may indeed be able to be inspired equally whether that thing happened, or whether it is simply like a parable. However, there are some subjects where the question as to whether something happened or not matters. If, for example, there were no historical person called Moroni, then who appeared to Joseph Smith? If the Nephites or Lamanites did not exist, how can their descendants be spiritually and physically restored? If Christ did not appear post-resurrection at Bountiful, than how can the Book of Mormon be an additional witness of his resurrection? And if Christ did not rise from the dead, then how can we be resurrected and what hope is their in the Christian gospel?

That last concern, of course, was famously discussed by Paul (1 Corinthians 15:14-19), who lived some time considerably before the Enlightenment. The eternal significance of some events depends a great deal on whether they happened or not, and people have indeed considered this issue long before the Enlightenment rolled around. Claiming people’s concerns are simply an artefact of the thinking of that era is a way of dismissing, rather than addressing, the issues involved, issues which can have significant consequences on our understanding of the gospel, or whether there is a gospel at all.

It is also less than accurate to depict academic biblical studies as simply following generic markers. There are varying views within the academy on a range of such issues. However, key individuals within biblical studies have sought to depict events like the resurrection as non-historical, and these arguments have not rested solely on the issue of genre. Indeed, in some cases, their ideas of biblical genre have been considerably influenced by their other ideas and beliefs. Rudolf Bultmann’s rejection of a literal resurrection and his project of “de-mythologising” the New Testament, for example, rested in significant part on his conviction that modern peoples (presumably including himself) could not believe in such events (or as he put it: “We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament”).* It is as inaccurate to characterise this approach as emerging simply from genre of the New Testament writers, as it is to depict such issues as having no real spiritual consequence.

 


* Some of Bultmann’s successors (at least amongst some internet commentariat I’ve come across) seem to believe that ancient peoples could not possibly believe such things either. However, as far as I’m aware, biblical studies generally still accepts that many past peoples believed in supernatural events, and of course later ancient readers, including Jesus himself, certainly did.

 

“…if you believe no one was ever corrupted by a book…”

After all, if you believe that no one was ever corrupted by a book, you also have to believe that no one was ever improved by a book (or a play or a movie). You have to believe, in other words, that all art is morally trivial and that, consequently, all education is morally irrelevant. No one, not even a university professor, really believes that.

– Irving Kristol

“Love Wins,” and Charity Loses

A great article has been put online, first presented by Ralph Hancock (a professor of political science at BYU) at the 2016 FAIRMormon conference in which he discusses the modern ideology of “love” and the confusion some have had between such concepts and the ideal of charity, and the consequent belief that obedience towards God is less or unimportant. Read it here: “Love Wins,” and Charity Loses – FairMormon (link courtesy of Daniel Peterson’s blog here).

Personally I am reminded of Matthew 22:35-40:

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Love is certainly central to Christ’s teachings, but it should never be forgotten that loving God comes first.

Revisiting Deuteronomy #3: Deuteronomy in 1-2 Nephi

Please see the earlier posts for a description of what on earth I’m talking about, and specific criticisms of the argument that Laman and Lemuel were ‘Deuteronomists’, the hypothetical movement behind the reforms of King Josiah and which were inextricably involved in the composition and/or redaction of both Deuteronomy and the ‘Deuteronomistic history’ (Joshua-1 Kings). Said ‘Deuteronomists’ also being – according to those who’ve advanced the theory – persecutors of such prophets as Jeremiah and Lehi.

In this section, I really wanted to address, albeit briefly, comments that Neal Rappleye made about the use of Deuteronomy by Nephi and Lehi. As Rappleye admits, ‘one such potential counter-argument to the thesis I have sketched above is the positive use of Deuteronomy by Nephi and Lehi themselves’.

Deuteronomy and Nephi

Unfortunately, while Rappleye goes on to state that he ‘will attempt to deal with one significant example of this’, he really doesn’t. Indeed, he doesn’t really provide a good description of the supposed example (an apparent connection between Lehi’s dying words in 2 Nephi 1-4 to the final address of Moses in Deuteronomy). He contents himself by quoting Reynolds claim that he has identified such parallels, but then moves swiftly to trying to explain it away.

There are problems with his explanation however. He begins by trying to make the claim that Lehi was not completely opposed to the reforms, and that opposing the ideology of the ‘Deuteronomists’ does not mean the same thing as opposing the book of Deuteronomy, or even Josiah. It is gratifying that Rappleye seems reluctant to throw Deuteronomy or Josiah under the bus. Unfortunately, as discussed in the last post, the supposed ideology of the hypothetical ‘Deuteronomists’ is in fact a work of reconstruction from Deuteronomy and the DH, and so their ‘ideology’ as far as is thought is inextricably connected to those books. And that reconstruction is based on the idea that those books are in fact the works of the ‘Deuteronomists’. Rappleye does not appear to share this view, apparently feeling that Deuteronomy precedes the reforms, but then the need for the existence of a school of ‘Deuteronomists’ becomes distinctly less pressing. It is likewise unclear how – if he was implementing their ideas – Josiah is likewise not to be implicated in the ideology of a group charged with suppressing vital parts of the Gospel (visions and messianic ideas) and which is charged with persecuting prophets to do it. When the most that Rappleye can allow is that Lehi saw the putative composers of the DH (as Rappleye recognises), a significant chunk of the Old Testament, as no more inspired than modern LDS may see the Protestant reformers, how can that not ultimately lead to said books, as well as potentially Deuteronomy itself (one of the books most quoted by the Saviour), being regarded as somehow less than scriptural? Unrepentant prophet-killers are not usually regarded as reliable composers or editors of scripture.

And, as much as Rappleye appears determined to avoid making that mistake, it does seem to colour his ideas of why Lehi and Nephi might make use of Deuteronomy, which appear to be nothing more in his eyes than attempts to appeal to Laman and Lemuel. Allusions to Moses are because ‘Lehi knew that Laman and Lemuel held Moses in high regard, and thus sought to use him as an archetype for his own calling.’ Stating that Lehi and Nephi were ‘certainly […] not anti-Moses’ hardly seems sufficient to capture their own attitude to someone who they considered a Prophet of God. It is Nephi, after all, who keeps mentioning Moses, not Laman and Lemuel.

As I mentioned when last discussing this topic several years ago, it is important to recognise that Nephi accepts the book of Deuteronomy as authoritative scripture. Nephi describes the plates of brass as containing ‘the five books of Moses’ (1 Nephi 5:11, my emphasis). He patterns his whole narrative according to that of the Exodus (and since Laman and Lemuel were never readers of the small plates, it wasn’t to impress them). The prominent and oft quoted refrain in the Book of Mormon that ‘inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper’ (1 Nephi 2:20) and its converse is certainly in keeping with Deuteronomistic themes. Finally Nephi explicitly quotes from Deuteronomy: In 1 Nephi 22:20 quoting Deuteronomy 18:15-19 and 2 Nephi 11:3 quoting Deuteronomy 19:15. In the former case he’s even quoting Deuteronomy for messianic purposes, one of the very ideas supposedly suppressed by the Deuteronomists (at least as asserted by Christensen). 1 and 2 Nephi do not justify any attitude that regards Deuteronomy as less than the word of God, something in keeping with the Book of Mormon’s whole approach to the Bible in which it aims to support and confirm it (e.g. in Mormon 7:9, and discussed somewhat more here). The Book of Mormon holds that the Bible is true, and contains the revelations of God. An approach that ultimately entails regarding large portions of the Bible with suspicion is not only inconsistent with what the Book of Mormon teaches about the Bible, it is also unsustainable. And yet it seems few who have played with these ideas have confronted these important consequences: that of losing scripture, a process that can rapidly deprive one of other scripture too (2 Nephi 28:29-30). If such ideas are wrong – and I believe they are and that I’ve shown significant problems with them – they can also carry a heavy price.

A final note

This last item does not perhaps contain the same importance as some of the other items I’ve addressed in the last couple of posts. The implications of believing that some of the practices suppressed by Josiah (and condemned by Jeremiah) were correct, or in regarding Deuteronomy or any of the books from Joshua to 2 Kings as having come from dubious hands, seem to me to be the most significant and problematic consequences for anyone embracing the proposed paradigm in full. But while this last point is not quite as vital, it is perhaps illustrative of some of the pitfalls in reading the Book of Mormon that this approach entails.

Right at the end of his article, Neal Rappleye suggests that, although Laman and Lemuel were wrong and Lehi and Nephi were true prophets, that ‘the contrast between Lehi and Nephi on one hand, and Laman and Lemuel on the other, no longer stands as the stark and obvious difference between good and evil’. ‘Instead’, he argues ‘it represents two competing religious ideologies’. This he feels ‘isn’t too different from our own world today’, and help us to understand how Laman and Lemuel could feel ‘that the indignation they directed at their father and brother was justified’.

People can indeed be sincerely wrong about a number of things (though sincerity, in and of itself, does not necessarily insulate one from the consequences), and its important to be able to recognise that. Yet this reading seems to so badly understate what happened with Laman and Lemuel. It’s not just that, as covered last post, they likely weren’t ‘Deuteronomists’ or particular pious (Nephi after all says they were ‘slow to remember the Lord’. 1 Nephi 17:45). But we’re talking about people who actually saw an angel (1 Nephi 3:29-30), and who heard the voice of the Lord (1 Nephi 16:39), who could not hear the ‘still small voice’ because they were ‘past feeling’, and so had God speak to them ‘like unto the voice of thunder’, and who still hardened their hearts (1 Nephi 17:45-46). It is likely that for a while there was a tension within them – for a while they do repent from time to time, after all – but they ultimately chose to become hardened. And the same can happen to us, no matter what spiritual experiences we’ve had or what things we’ve been through, if we harden our hearts. While there is a danger in being a sincere but deluded fanatic (Romans 10:2), it strikes me that Laman and Lemuel speak to a more basic problem we mortals face, that does ultimately mean a ‘stark’ choice between ‘good and evil’, the good and evil tugging at all our hearts. We should not underestimate our capacity for baseness should we succumb, nor the capacity for such mundane things as a desire for comfort, or murmuring, or jealously to drag us down. But at the same time – like Lehi and Nephi – if we humble ourselves, remember the Lord our God and keep his commandments we can be blessed more than we imagine and be blessed to be more than we imagine. And perhaps some of the best counsel on how to do that is to be found in the book of Deuteronomy:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
(Deuteronomy 6:4–8)

Revisiting Deuteronomy #2: Laman and Lemuel as supposed ‘Deuteronomists’

Having addressed some overall problems with Neal Rappleye’s article, I find there are also issues with Rappleye’s specific claims in regards to Laman and Lemuel. I address his claims as follows:

Claim 1) Laman and Lemuel and their murmuring was motivated by Lehi’s sacrifice

Rappleye suggests that Laman and Lemuel’s murmuring, which commences in 1 Nephi 2:11-12, was ‘evoked, or at least contributed to’, by a ‘perceived violation of Deuteronomic law’ – namely that Lehi’s sacrifices in 1 Nephi 2:7 violated the centralisation of sacrifice in one place as outlined by Deuteronomy 12. A problem with this argument is that their objections are outlined in 1 Nephi 2:11-12, and sacrifice is not given a place. Rather their big complaint is that they have been led out in the wilderness away from their possessions ‘to die in the wilderness’, because their father is ‘a visionary man’, meaning that they saw him as following ‘the foolish imaginations of his heart’.

Claim 2) Their opposition to ‘a visionary man’ was grounded in Deuteronomistic opposition to visions

Rappleye notes that:

According to Kevin Christensen, the Deuteronomist ideology rejected visions as a means of knowing the Lord’s will, and not only did Lehi receive visions, but some of the content of his visions specifically reflected old beliefs the Deuteronomists were trying to eradicate.

Unfortunately, as an example of some of the issues discussed above, Rappleye just assumes that Christensen is correct about this point. He then argues that:

Both John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper have noted that “visionary man” is an appropriate translation of the Hebrew הזח [sic] (ôzeh). Roper adds that the pejorative usage of “visionary man” by Laman and Lemuel was more than mere ridicule or name-calling — it was actually the strong accusation that he was a false prophet. Deuteronomists would have regarded a prophet like Lehi — who claimed to have seen the divine council and received the mysteries (see 1 Nephi 1:8–14) — as a false prophet. Thus Laman and Lemuel calling their father a “visionary man” would be a direct result of their acceptance of the Deuteronomistic interpretation of what a proper prophet should be. They were declaring that their father, by definition of seeing visions, should not be accepted as a true prophet.

There are severe problems with this argument.

First it should really be noted that in a sense the ‘Deuteronomists’ are imaginary. There is no record of them in the biblical writings. Rather scholars have suggested that Josiah’s reforms were motivated and carried out by a group that they called ‘Deuteronomists’, so-called because it is supposed that the ‘book of the law’ discovered not only was the book of Deuteronomy, but that it was largely written at that time. This is usually attributed to the work of a school rather than a single individual (one might cynically think because scholars seem to imagine the past filled with people much like themselves), hence ‘Deuteronomists’. This school and the book of Deuteronomy are likewise argued to have influenced the aforementioned ‘Deuteronomistic history’, which at the very least is held to have been significantly influenced by if not also part of this reforming programme.

This is an important point, because any views attributed to these ‘Deuteronomists’ is – and has to be due to lack of any other evidence – a reconstruction based on the principle concerns of the book of Deuteronomy and the books of the DH. Any discussion of what the ‘Deuteronomists’ did or did not think then cannot be separated from those books themselves, despite Rappleye’s apparent efforts.

Now the Book of Deuteronomy itself does warn against Prophets or dreamers of dreams who urge the worshipping of other Gods (Deuteronomy 13:1-5), but it also clearly makes room for true prophets (Deuteronomy 18:15), nor does there seem sufficient evidence that visions per se made one a false prophet.

However, the specific claim that חֹזֵה (spelled incorrectly though transliterated correctly as ôzeh in the article – I suspect the spelling got accidentally inverted when published on the Interpreter website) is to always be taken as a pejorative charge referring to a false prophet seems difficult to square with use of the term in the ‘Deuteronomistic history’ itself. Thus in 1 Samuel 3:1, we find the statement that ‘the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision’, the word used for ‘vision’ here (חָזֹון) being based on the same root as חֹזֵה. As for the term חֹזֵה itself, it finds use in 2 Samuel 24:11, where we learn that ‘the word of the Lord came unto the prophet Gad, David’s seer (חֹזֵה)’. Here it is clearly not being used in any pejorative sense, and certainly not in the meaning of a false prophet. Whatever Laman and Lemuel meant by ‘a visionary man’ (and the example mentioned above seems to smack more of scepticism than pious indignation), it doesn’t seem to match that of the writer(s) of the DH.

Claim 3) Their belief in the inviolability of Jerusalem derived from the ‘Deuteronomists’

In all fairness, there does indeed appear to be a strong link between Laman and Lemuel and Jerusalem. They indeed do not believe Jerusalem can be destroyed (1 Nephi 2:13), assert the righteousness of the people there (1 Nephi 17:22) and are compared to the people there by Nephi (1 Nephi 17:44). My own research into 1 Nephi 20//Isaiah 48 has been likewise suggestive of this link (see v.2, where the textual differences in the Book of Mormon version have those who ‘call themselves of the holy city, but they do not stay themselves on the God of Israel’). And likewise it seems many in Jerusalem believed it was inviolable, so much so that Jeremiah had to contend with false prophets promising deliverance (Jeremiah 28).

The mistake is to attribute this to the ‘Deuteronomists’ or to Josiah’s reforms. A prominent theme both of Deuteronomy and the DH are the blessings and cursings attached to covenantal obedience, including foreshadowing the scattering of Israel (Deuteronomy 28). And if the ‘book of the law’ was indeed Deuteronomy, Josiah’s reaction to rend his clothes is consistent with a message that promises rather the opposite of inviolability (2 Kings 22:11). Claims that ‘in the Deuteronomist history, Josiah “is depicted as a second David” and “touted as the ideal Davidic king”’ fail to spot the rather obvious point that, in the very same ‘Deuteronomistic history’, Josiah’s reward is to be spared seeing the inevitable destruction that is to come upon Jerusalem by dying first (2 Kings 22:16-20, 23:26-27).

Thus neither Deuteronomy nor the DH teach the inviolability of Jerusalem, nor does Josiah react as one who does either. Regrettably what seems to be the case is that Rappleye (and Christensen, as I covered before), simply conflate Josiah’s reign and its reform movement with Josiah’s successors. This is despite the fact that – unlike Josiah – nearly every one of Josiah’s successors including Zedekiah is mentioned as doing ‘evil in the sight of the Lord’ (2 Kings 23:32, 24:9, 24:19 – again in a record supposed to have been composed by the ‘Deuteronomists’). There is no reason to suppose any supporters of Josiah’s reforms were in power or the ‘gatekeepers of Jewish orthodoxy’ as is assumed.

Claim 4) Their attempts to murder Nephi were motivated by the law

With the points addressed above, the idea that Laman and Lemuel’s attempts at murdering their brother were motivated by the belief in the inviolability of Jerusalem and death sentence to false prophets seem to fall short. Lest it need to be addressed, however, 1 Nephi 16:37-38 explains their motivation for at least one attempt, and while they claim Nephi has deceived them by his “cunning arts”, their primary concern is not to strike him down out of some outraged piety but out of the the belief that he will usurp power over them.

Claim 5) Nephi’s allusions to Joseph reflect on the Deuteronomistic antagonism towards wisdom traditions, of which Joseph is supposedly an example.

I believe it to be entirely likely that their are allusions to the story of Joseph in 1 Nephi. The suggestion that the ‘Deuteronomists’ felt some special aversion to him and to ‘wisdom traditions’ is simply asserted by reference to Christensen, without reproducing Christensen’s arguments. I have already briefly addressed some of Christensen’s arguments on this topic, and found these arguments severely flawed.

Claim 6) Laman and Lemuel are ‘Deuteronomists’ because of their ‘veneration’ of the law

Rappleye then makes the startling claim that Laman and Lemuel are to be seen as ‘Deuteronomists’ because of their ‘veneration’ of the law. He makes this claim based on their statement in 1 Nephi 17:22:

And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words; yea, and our brother is like unto him. And after this manner of language did my brethren murmur and complain against us.

This however is questionable.

Firstly it should be noted that a key objection of theirs is ‘our father hath judged them’, a complaint that should sound rather familiar in the modern age. Whether Laman and Lemuel’s assessment as to righteousness is to be taken as entirely accurate or disinterested, and whether they are really reliable on the question of the law of Moses should be questioned, but particularly so for the fact that they do not rebut their father’s charges against the people of Jerusalem, but complain that he levelled any at all.

Lehi’s charges, for that matter, are rather serious, ‘for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations’ (1 Nephi 1:19). Nor does the Lord’s statement to Jeremiah that the people ‘have forsaken my law which I have set before them’ (Jeremiah 9:13) suggest the people were venerating or obeying the law of Moses. And repeatedly throughout Jeremiah we find specific instances of wickedness and idolatry, including precisely of the sort condemned in Deuteronomy (e.g. Jeremiah 7:17-31, Jeremiah 19:1-5, see Deuteronomy 12:31). The idea that that the people were still swept up in Josiah’s reforms and full of enthusiasm for the law as outlined in Deuteronomy is flatly contradicted by Jeremiah, which records the persistence of idolatry and other violations of that law. This appears to have been ignored because of the conflation of Josiah’s reforms with the reign of his successors; Jeremiah indicates that the reforms didn’t take and were rejected by the people and the wicked kings that followed Josiah, but the proffered paradigm must insist in the face of evidence that somehow the reformers were still in charge, and all the idolatry recorded by Jeremiah (and Ezekiel) had actually been successfully repressed.

Moreover the Book of Mormon itself provides us with scenarios where people claim some sort of adherence to the law, even while violating it. Abinadi was faced with priests who claimed to teach the law of Moses (Mosiah 12:28), but forcibly points out their failure to teach and keep the ten commandments (Mosiah 12:37, 13:25-26). He furthermore appears to distinguish between these ‘commandments’ (12:33, 13:11) and what he terms a  ‘law of performances and ordinances’ intended to keep people ‘in remembrance of God and their duty towards him’ (Mosiah 13:30) that is a type of things to come. Likewise Jeremiah appears to indicate that the people of Jerusalem placed a lot of confidence in their offerings and sacrifices, but had failed to obey the Lord (Jeremiah 7.21-24). This idea, that compunction in ritual sacrifice and ceremonial law could excuse failure to keep the more basic commandments, may well be on the minds of Laman and Lemuel. It is certainly not, however, to be found in Deuteronomy or the ‘Deuteronomistic history’, for indeed as the latter states: ‘Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams’ (1 Samuel 15:22).

Assessment of claims

Thus on inspection, each of Rappleye’s points appear lacking. The text of the Book of Mormon does not appear to offer particular support to his claims. Nor, for that matter, does the biblical text support many of the claims made for the supposed ‘Deuteronomists’. The likely beliefs of the reform movement seem misrepresented, as does the situation following the death of Josiah. The latter in particular carries significant implications. Thus, according to the Barker/Christensen paradigm, Josiah’s reforms suppressed idolatry, including offerings to the Queen of Heaven which are supposed to be a genuine (and thus true) part of this ‘Temple theology’. Yet Jeremiah records that idolatry persisted, and has the Lord stating that such idolatry, including offerings to the Queen of Heaven, are part of the very reason for the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem (Jeremiah 7:19-20, Jeremiah 44:2-9). Arguments that Josiah’s suppression of such offerings in the Temple were purging something genuine risk siding with those men and women who rejected Jeremiah’s words, and argued that they should keep worshipping the Queen of Heaven (Jeremiah 44:15-19), an argument the Lord was not impressed with:

…Hear the word of the Lord, all Judah that are in the land of Egypt:
Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying; Ye and your wives have both spoken with your mouths, and fulfilled with your hand, saying, We will surely perform our vows that we have vowed, to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her: ye will surely accomplish your vows, and surely perform your vows.
Therefore hear ye the word of the Lord, all Judah that dwell in the land of Egypt; Behold, I have sworn by my great name, saith the Lord, that my name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, The Lord God liveth.
Behold, I will watch over them for evil, and not for good: and all the men of Judah that are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by the famine, until there be an end of them.
(Jeremiah 44:24–27)

Revisiting Deuteronomy #1

There are two subjects that have tended to animate me on this blog. The first is the scriptures: particularly on the ways that Latter-day Saints should approach them. The second is that ideas have consequences, often important ones, and that it is vital to understand the important consequences of ideas and not be distracted by those details that are merely interesting.

This is why, from time to time, I turn my attention to approaches to the scriptures (among Latter-day Saint scholars and members) that seem inconsistent with what the scriptures, and particularly the Book of Mormon, actually teach. An example of this would be the neglect of the Old Testament, something that, as I have shown, sits at odds with the Saviour himself and ancient Prophets say we should be doing, and that deprives us knowledge not only of what that scripture has to teach us, but of the New Testament and the Book of Mormon also. It’s also why I feel the “so what?” question is so vital, both in our study of the scriptures – asking ourselves what we should do in response to what we have just read – and in asking what what accepting certain ideas may inevitably entail.

This is perhaps a necessary prelude as I revisit a topic I covered a few years ago, in response to an article just published on the Interpreter website. Neal Rappleye has just published an article reading Laman and Lemuel as ‘Deuteronomists’, which – as some will remember if I have any readers with long memories – draws upon the argument I addressed here. This was the argument (begun by Margaret Barker, and elaborated on by people such as Kevin Christensen) that Josiah’s reform really represented the suppression of an earlier – and true – ‘temple theology’, suppressing worship of a female consort to the Lord, concepts of visions and revelations and messianic ideas. It further postulates that Lehi, Nephi and prophets such as Jeremiah were, at least in part, in opposition to such reforms and were even persecuted by the architects of said reform, the ‘Deuteronomists’, so named as they are held by biblical studies to have had a hand in composing the book of Deuteronomy (usually identified as ‘the book of the law’ found in the Temple in 2 Kings 22:8-10) and the ‘Deuteronomistic history’, namely the books from Joshua to 2 Kings. In doing so, they altered things that passed through their hands to suppress older ideas and bolster their own.

I find severe problems with such ideas, and said so when I last addressed the topic. I believe the historical reconstruction is false, founded as it is on a highly speculative method involving sources in some cases dating over a millennia later (such as the Babylonian Talmud). I believe (and my earlier post aims to show) that it mischaracterises Josiah’s reform movement, as well as the teachings of Deuteronomy. As I likewise aimed to show, I believe it is also inconsistent with what we learn from such sources as Jeremiah, who is misread into supporting practices both he and Josiah opposed. And I believe it is inconsistent with the use in the Book of Mormon of Deuteronomy in particular, as well as (as I briefly address here and here) what the Book of Mormon actually claims happened to the Bible.

However, I also object to what appear to be the inevitable implications of these ideas, and am to some degree astounded that the proponents of such ideas appear to have given so little thought to these implications. That the ‘Queen of Heaven’ was worshipped by ancient Israelites is well known: it’s outright stated in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:17-20), and archaeology appears to confirm this. But the implication of ideas such as those such as Christensen is that such practices were true and valid, despite Lord’s condemnation in Jeremiah (Christensen, as I point out, misreads Jeremiah and fails to recognise this), something that – if true – would have significant implications for LDS practices today, and if false significant consequences for the soul of someone trying to following the idea all the way through. Likewise the apparent attributing of the book of Deuteronomy and the ‘Deuteronomistic history’ to a group associated by Christensen with killing prophets, inevitably impugns the scriptural status of books quoted by the Saviour himself.

It’s against this backdrop that I turn to Rappleye’s work, of which I can’t help but be inevitably critical. However, trying to focus primarily on his argument, rather than the background he has assumed, I find the article has several key weaknesses. I outline some general problems with the article below, and then will address problems in his specific arguments in two following posts.

Uncritical use of secondary sources

One rather serious issue with Rappleye’s work – particularly in view of the problems with the whole paradigm at hand – is that Rappleye quite frequently appears to use the mere invocation of secondary sources as proof of the point he is trying to make. Part of this is unavoidable, as the basis of his article is that he is attempting to use ‘the social context surrounding the Deuteronomistic reforms, as reconstructed by Margaret Barker’. However, there is little indication that he recognises that Barker’s ideas are hardly uncontested. The closest (aside from a reference that some scholars regard it ‘as idiosyncratic’) is the following:

The many scholarly attempts at reconstructing the full nature and extent of these reforms often differ in details. Barker laments, “We can never know for certain what it was that Josiah purged or why he did it. No original versions of the actual texts or records survive from that period, but even the stories as they have come down to us in various sources show that this was a time of major upheaval that was not forgotten.”

The problem can be seen in the way he passes over the issues over the nature of the reform, to accepting Barker’s rather more specific claims of uncertainty of what Josiah purged and why, implicitly accepting a Barker model of suppressed texts. The problem is clear: were someone to state that it is was unclear who David Richards had attacked, and why, the natural assumption would be that I had attacked somebody. The idea that key texts were purged may well be attractive to Latter-day Saints, but it should be noted, as I have mentioned before, that the Book of Mormon does not have the removal of any plain and precious things from biblical writings until after the scriptures have passed into the hands of the Gentiles (1 Nephi 13:25-28).

When it comes to some of the details, however, of the supposed ‘Deuteronomists’, Rappleye’s tendency to cite other scholars as if that were a conclusive argument is particularly glaring, particularly where it is based on apparent suppositions. Thus Lehi ‘may not have been in complete agreement with Josiah’s reforms’, something which is readily taken as granted based on Brent Gardner’s speculation. Very rapidly in the next paragraph we find that Lehi’s persecutors ‘were likely supporters of the reform’, and that ‘the gate-keepers of Jewish “orthodoxy” just prior to the exile were the Deuteronomists’. Much of this is not argued or demonstrated – rather Rappleye often simply references or quotes Gardner, Christensen, Barker and few others, as if they had conclusively demonstrated their cases. This would be a problem anyway, but it’s particularly a problem here because they have not. And not only is this a far too uncritical a use of these secondary sources, but it leads to supposition being built on supposition. The argument rapidly resembles an intellectual house of cards. I’m not opposed to speculation per se, so long as it is clearly labelled as such when resting on such slender threads. But this heaping of speculation upon speculation seems unwise when the conclusions reached appear to carry such significant consequences.