Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Deuteronomy in the Book of Mormon

On November 18, 2015, I attended a lecture by Prof. David Rolph Seely entitled "Deuteronomy in the Book of Mormon" sponsored by BYU's Ancient Law Foundations Association (ALFA). This was an expanded version of a presentation Seely will give next week at the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) annual conference in Atlanta. Seely is on the ancient scripture faculty at BYU. His PhD is in biblical studies and Hebrew from the University of Michigan where he studied under renowned biblical scholar David Noel Freedman (1922-2008). Seely has worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He co-edited the 2004 Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem (Maxwell Institute) with Jo Ann Seely and Jack Welch. He co-authored the 2007 Solomon's Temple: Myth and History (Thames and Hudson) with Bill Hamblin.

Lehi had first-hand experience with Josiah's reforms. The book of the law referenced in 2 Kings 22:8 was some form of Deuteronomy. The Book of Mormon has many examples of Deuteronomic language, themes, and laws. The Book of Mormon is steeped in King James Version (KJV) language. Mark Twain observed that the Book of Mormon has the quaint and old-fashioned structure of the KJV. The Book of Mormon contains 21 chapters - 478 verses - of Isaiah. On intertextuality between the Bible and the Book of Mormon, Seely referenced Philip Barlow's 2013 Mormons and the Bible (Oxford) and the anti-Mormon Skeptic's Annotated Book of Mormon.which emphasizes passages from Isaiah and Exodus. Nick Frederick has found 670 New Testament quotations in the Book of Mormon. (For my notes on a presentation Nick Frederick gave in March, 2015, see the article "English in the Book of Mormon"). BH Roberts in his 1907 2 volume Defense of the Faith and the Saints was beginning to address the issues of biblical intertextuality. Biblical quotations generally follow KJV language.

Seely then mentioned the two schools of thought regarding translation methodology: A) Joseph read word-for-word from text displayed in the seer stone (Royal Skousen) and B) Joseph dictated an open rendering of thoughts in his own words (Brant Gardner). Seely favors Skousen because the literal rendering theory has a great deal of evidence to support it.

Seely shared two humorous anecdotes:
A) When he first hired on at BYU, the department chair asked him never to use the term "cult." It is such a useful word in the study of ancient religion that Seely has used it as often as possible since that day. B) Seely once visited Jerald and Sandra Tanner at their Lighthouse Ministry home office in Salt Lake. A little barking dog greeted him furiously at the door. Sandra said, "Our dog has been trained to bite Mormons."

Critics of the Book of Mormon generally raise two issues regarding biblical intertextuality. A) Joseph Smith simply plagiarized the Bible, and B) Joseph copied from the Bible so clumsily that the Book of Mormon is full of anachronisms. Possible answers include A) Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon share certain ancient texts in common, B) The Book of Mormon is fiction or divine fiction, and C) The Book of Mormon is a mixture of ancient texts and modern inspired expansions from Joseph Smith. Seely sees both the Book of Mormon and the book of Deuteronomy descending from common ancient sources.

Characteristics of both the book of Deuteronomy and the Book of Mormon:
  • Ancient authorship
  • Lost, hidden, buried for centuries
  • Re-discovery led to covenant renewal
  • Re-discovery led to centralization of cult
  • Re-discovery led to religious reforms
  • Covenant renewal ceremonies
  • Sacrifices at temples
  • Prophet authors speak as voices from the dust
  • Authors expected their text to transform the world
  • Book with a mission
  • Authors wrote for their own time and the future
  • Recitation of past history
  • Emphasis on the Exodus motif
  • Blessings and curses
  • Prophecies
  • Messiah
  • Ultimate destruction
  • Authoritative copy of the law (in the case of the Book of Mormon, the law was on the Plates of Brass) used to measure the people
  • Self-referential literature
The story of King Josiah and the discovery of the book of the law is in 2 Kings 22 - 23. The discovery was in 622 BC, within Lehi's lifetime. The book, or Torah, was delivered to King Josiah. As the king read, Moses was literally speaking to him from the dust. Josiah recognized his nation's apostasy and immediately instituted reforms. He led a covenant renewal ceremony and repaired the temple.

The Plates of Brass contained the five books of Moses 1 Nephi 5:11. Therefore, the Pentateuch was in the canon by 600 BC. This contradicts the documentary hypothesis which sees part of Deuteronomy as exilic or post-exilic. The documentary hypothesis sees sources J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), J-E, D (Deuteronomist), R (Redactors) and P (Priestly)  all coming together to form the Torah. Moses wrote Deuteronomy on Mt. Nebo, then placed the book of the law in the ark of the covenant.

Seely showed an image of the Warka Vase from Mesopotamia which includes a depiction of itself. This is an example of self-referential art.
Warka Vase with Representation of Itself Highlighted in Red
Deuteronomy is an example of self-referential literature. The Book of Mormon is a book about itself as a book.

If you read the opening of the Book of Mormon carefully, you realize Nephi wrote these lines about 30 years after 600 BC. He began his narrative by recounting past history. Noel Reynolds showed in a Journal of Book of Mormon Studies JBMS article that both Lehi and Nephi are types of Moses.

Dueteronomic words, phrases and allusions in the Book of Mormon include:
Joshua is part of Deuteronomic history. "Remember" is a central theme of Deuteronomy as it is in the Book of Mormon Mosiah 4:30, Helaman 5:6. Noel Reynolds found 14 themes from Dueteronomy in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon sounds Deuteronomic in many places due to the language but also because of thematic clustering. Lehi, Nephi and Abinadi are all Moses figures. Deuteronomy 12-26 is a lengthy legal document. Deuteronomic law is theoretical. The Book of Mormon documents actual legal cases. There are more than 100 discrete laws in Deuteronomy. After reading Deuteronomy, Josiah centralized the cult at the Temple of Jerusalem. Lehi did not follow all of Josiah's reforms. In the Book of Mormon we see serial temples at Nephi, then Zarahemla, and finally at Bountiful. There is documentary evidence that certain Mosaic laws were only obligatory within a distance of 3 day's journey from the Temple at Jerusalem. The Jewish diaspora built other temples such as the one at Elephantine in upper Egypt.
Known Jewish Temples at Jerusalem and Elepantine
Deuteronomy means copy of the law, not 2nd law. Many laws were humanitarian, having to do with the manumission of slaves and lending to the poor.
Q & A
Paul Hoskisson asked about the practice of law in the Book of Mormon, versus the legal theory recorded in Deuteronomy. Is there evidence that the law recorded in Deuteronomy was actually practiced? Jack Welch responded with a handful of examples from ancient Near Eastern sources.
Kirk Magleby asked if the discrete end of the law of Moses recorded so explicitly in the Book of Mormon 3 Nephi 15:5 was foreshadowed in the text of Deuteronomy. Seely thought not.
Dana Pike asked why Jesus in the NT quotes primarily from Deuteronomy while the Book of Mormon quotes primarily from Isaiah? The question was left unanswered.
Stephen Smoot asked about the documentary source criticism that divides Deuteronomy into two sections, one pre-exilic and the other exilic or even post-exilic. Seely responded that the D (Deuteronomic) and P (Priestly) sources are combined in the Book of Mormon. Seely said he would like to know if any part of the book of Leviticus shows up in the Book of Mormon. Jack Welch cited a passage from Leviticus 19:18 quoted almost verbatim in Mosiah 23:15. The 2003 book Testaments: Links Between the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Bible by David E. Bokovoy and John A. Tvedtnes (Heritage) shows that themes and theme clusters may be even more significant than shared language.

Zander Sturgill asked where the prophet Zenos would most likely fit in the Old Testament. Seely responded that the Book of Mormon describes the plates of brass containing the five books of Moses, the history of the Jews up to the reign of King Zedekiah, and prophecies up to and including Jeremiah. Zenos was probably among the prophets.