The Deuteronomists and the Suppression of Ancient Truths

In light of some insights I’ve gained from the Old Testament class I tutor for and comments on blog posts I’ve recently read, I’ve decided to post the following material on an important topic for our study of the Old Testament, and the Scriptures in general. This material is largely based on a previous post from my solo blog, Heavenly Ascents.
A question that I often run into when speaking to fellow Latter-day Saints and other Christians about the Bible is the matter of why the Old Testament seems to represent such a different religious perspective from the New Testament. More specifically, why does it seem that many of the doctrines that receive such emphasis in the New Testament (and that are fundamental for Christianity) seem so obscure or even virtually absent in the Old Testament? There are many reasons that can be offered for this problem, which can be a dilemma for any Christian, but perhaps even more so for Mormons, in light of our popular belief that the fundamental doctrines and practices of the Gospel are revealed anew in largely similar form in each dispensation from the beginning of time.
One of the main issues with the Old Testament in its final form (the form in which we have received it), and the religious views that it can be seen to represent, that is recognized by biblical scholars is the work of the so-called Deuteronomist(s) or Deuteronomic School on the text (and, as a result, the religious views) of the Hebrew Scriptures. This party (it was more likely a group than an individual), it is argued, was responsible for composing the Book of Deuteronomy (not in the time of Moses, but in the time of King Josiah, 7th century BC), and also the Deuteronomic History, comprising the biblical books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings (the principal account that we have of Israel’s history). It is also thought that this party edited the writings of the Pentateuch to fit their view of history and theology.
Doing their work well before the Babylonian Exile, the Deuteronomists seem to have been involved in the reforms of King Josiah (see 2 Kings 22-23) and the Book of the Law that apparently served as inspiration for the reforms (2 Kgs 22:8-13) was likely the Book of Deuteronomy that they wrote (or perhaps heavily edited). These reform movements, which are not unique in history, served to ensure that the later theology of the more “mainstream” Jewish sects as well as many of the texts that form our Old Testament canon represented, in many ways, a significantly different belief system from the more ancient Israelite religion.
The Reforms of King Josiah, or the Deuteronomic Reforms

So what did King Josiah reform? To begin this discussion I would like to quote from a talk given at BYU in 2003 by Margaret Barker, succinctly entitled “What did King Josiah Reform?” This talk can be found posted here on Howard Hopkins’ site, Barker begins by relating what the Bible informs us that Josiah did:

King Josiah changed the religion of Israel in 623 BC. According to the Old Testament account in 2 Kings 23 he removed all manner of idolatrous items from the temple and purified his kingdom of Canaanite practices. Temple vessels made for Baal, Asherah and the host of heaven were removed, idolatrous priests were deposed, the Asherah itself was taken from the temple and burned, and much more besides. An old law book had been discovered in the temple, and this had prompted the king to bring the religion of his kingdom into line with the requirements of that book. There could be only one temple, it stated, and so all other places of sacrificial worship had to be destroyed. The law book is easily recognizable as Deuteronomy, and so King Josiah’s purge is usually known as the Deuteronomic reform of the temple.

As I explained above, many scholars believe that this Book of the Law should be identified as the Book of Deuteronomy, and that it was either heavily revised or even written at the time of King Josiah. Thus, Josiah was not taking Judah back to a more ancient tradition, but was essentially creating a new religious belief system.

King Josiah’s reform largely involved the temple and items that were in the temple. Also, it involved a consolidation of Israelite worship to Jerusalem — other Israelite temples/sanctuaries were torn down. The historical narrative we read in the Old Testament presents this as a good and necessary reform. It was aimed at “idolatrous” practices. What it did, however (and this will become more apparent here), was banish many of Israel’s most ancient practices.  Josiah changed the Israelite religion, and many were not happy about it. Barker explains:

Twenty five years after the work of Josiah, Jerusalem was attacked by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar, and eleven years after the first attack, they returned to destroy the city and the temple. Refugees fled south to Egypt, and we read in the book of Jeremiah how they would not accept the prophet’s interpretation of the disaster. He insisted that Jerusalem had fallen because of the sins of her people, but the refugees said it had fallen because of Josiah. The king is not mentioned by name, but there can be no doubt what the refugees had in mind. Until very recently, they said, they and their ancestors in Judah and Jerusalem had worshipped differently and had prospered, but when they changed their manner of worship, disaster had followed.

The refugees who fled to Egypt were not the only ones who thought that Josiah’s purge had been a disaster. By surveying the texts that still survive, we can begin to piece together what Josiah destroyed. Many of those texts imply that Josiah’s purge was a disaster.

Some of the things that Barker believes were removed include:

  • The Asherah, a stylized tree, that had been placed beside the temple altar (cf. Rev 22:1-3), had represented the Queen of Heaven, the Mother Goddess, and also the Tree of Life and Wisdom — Barker believes that the Asherah was the true Menorah, and it was removed by Josiah.
  • Many of the holiest items of the Temple, especially the Holy of Holies–The Babylonian Talmud records that Josiah had hidden away the ark, the holy anointing oil, the jar of manna and Aaron’s rod (b. Horayoth 12a).
  • The vision of God — while earlier traditions present Yahweh as appearing to mortals, the Deuteronomic account denies that any vision of God was seen when the Law was given: “You saw no form; only a voice was heard” (Deut 4:12).
  • The Hosts of Heaven — Deuteronomy condemns regard for the host of heaven (Deut 4:19), the angels, even though an ancient title for the Lord was the Lord of Hosts. The heavenly host of angels must have been part of the older faith.
  • The Spirit Creation — Barker notes that alternative accounts of the Creation (such as the one found in the Book of Jubilees) remember that the angels/sons of God were created before anything material was made — the Deuteronomic account never mentions the angels.
  • The sacred knowledge of the Holy of Holies — The Deuteronomists didn’t deny that such knowledge existed, but warn against mortals having access to them: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deut 29:29). They emphasized that all that was necessary for mortals was to obey the Law and keep the revealed commandments.

There were many other beliefs that Josiah supposedly purged that pertained the older religion of Israel. For Barker, these were the traditions of the First Temple. These traditions are so ancient that it is hard to know what exactly they entailed and what happened to them. We must go by scarce evidence and much inference. Barker explains:

We can never know for certain what it was that Josiah purged or why he did it. No 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 which was not forgotten. A thousand years after the events themselves, even mainstream Jewish texts remembered that the temple had been drastically changed, that large numbers of people had left the land, and that the true temple would be only be restored in the time of the Messiah.

Because of the lack of pertinent texts from the period, we must be cautious in our analyses of these events. Besides Barker’s perspective alone, let us look at the work of a few other scholars who have looked at this topic. Please forgive the briefness of the following notes.

Moshe Weinfeld. Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972.

In the seventh century B.C. we can see a turning-point in the history of Israelite literary composition. In the latter half of this century a new and unique literary style emerged which was to dominate most of the Israelite literature composed during a period of approximately 150 years (650-500 B.C.). This new way of thinking is apparent in our Bible in the books of Deuteronomy (composed latter half of seventh century B.C.), the deuteronomic history of Joshua-Kings (received fixed form in sixth century), and the deuteronomic prose sermons in Jeremiah (second half of sixth century) (Intro, pp. 1, 7).

Deuteronomic writers had a much different view of the nature of God than did more ancient writers. Earlier writings represented God in anthropomorphic terms (p. 191). God had a human form and had need of a House or Tabernacle. God sat on a physical throne between two cherubim with the Ark of the Covenant as his footstool. The Deity was enveloped by a screen of fire. Those who approached unauthorized/unworthily were consumed by fire. The idea of God sitting enthroned on cherubim is very ancient.

Ahiram of Byblos on Cherubim Throne

In the earlier theology, God actually dwells in the Temple. It is his abode on Earth. In Deuteronomic theology, God resides in Heaven only. The Temple becomes not a house for God but for his Name (p. 198).

The Deuteronomic school initiated a polemic against anthropomorphic and corporeal conceptions of Deity. In pre-deuteronomic sources, God is seen by elders, prophets, etc. Man is created in God’s image. In deuteronomic materials, God is not seen–only heard from Heaven. In older sources, the heavenly hosts serve as God’s council. The Deuteronomic writings do not mention the heavenly hosts (p. 200).

Tryggve N.D. Mettinger. The Dethronement of Sabaoth: Studies in the Shem and Kabod Theologies (trans. Frederick H. Cryer, Lund: CWK Gleerup, 1982)

The Deuteronomistic theology is programmatically abstract. It presents God with an auditive, non-visual theme. God is in Heaven and does not appear to man–He does not dwell in a temple on Earth (p. 46). Instead of descending from Heaven, Yahweh speaks from Heaven only (p. 48). Only God’s Name dwells in the Temple. God’s actual presence in the Temple becomes obsolete in the “Name theology”.

Deuteronomy does not speak of the cherubim throne (p. 46).  The cherubim throne was not acceptable in the Deuteronomistic work (p. 51). Deut 10:1-5 does not mention cherubim in the construction of the Temple. There seems to be a conscious suppression of the idea of God sitting on his throne. This theology is not seen again until Ezekiel. Ezekiel sees an anthropomorphic figure seated on the throne (p. 97).

Josiah’s Reform — the reform culminates in a celebration of the Passover ceremony. Passover was promoted to the most important of the three yearly festivals. Passover achieved the status previously held by the Autumn Festival. The main subject of the Autumn Festival was the kingship of the Lord. During the monarchical period, the Autumn Festival was the most important. The Temple was dedicated at time of Autumn Festival. This festival celebrated the Kingship of YHWH, victory over chaos, and subsequent creation. Josiah favored the Passover over the New Year festival because it was more uniquely Israelite (p. 73). Cultic rites no longer centered on the “sacramental experience” of the theophanic coming and victory of the LORD — the rites became acts of “remembrance.”

Further Information

This is just a very minimal and sketchy look at some of the research that has been done on this topic. Those interested should also look at the formative works of Martin Noth on the subject, and also authors such as William Doorly, Richard Elliott Friedman, and R.D. Nelson, to name a few.

For a great overview of Margaret Barker’s research on the Deuteronomists’ suppression of more ancient truths and the effects of King Josiah’s reform from and LDS perspective, see Kevin Christensen’s Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship and Its significance for Mormon Studies published as one of FARMS Occasional Papers. It is a wonderful read, and among other things, shows how Josiah’s Reform affected Lehi and the Book of Mormon (as Lehi was contemporary to these reforms). Have a look at some of Kevin’s work on this topic posted on the site

Please see also another similar post I wrote on the topic here.

Much more could be said about all this. What I’ve hoped to present is an example of a major reform to the religion of Israel, a suppression of formerly held truths, and an attempt to obscure what was formerly believed. Our current Biblical text, in many ways, reflects the views of these reformers. “Plain and precious truths” of more ancient origin, especially those that concern the nature of God and the Temple, have been purposefully altered, removed, or otherwise suppressed. Especially from a dispensationalist perspective, in light of reforms such as these, it is no wonder that our New Testament seems to represent such a drastically different form of Judaism from that of the Old Testament. This type of reform happened more than once and in various stages — the Deuteronomistic reforms took place prior to the Babylonian exile. There were yet further reforms made during the exile and afterwards. Those who were taken into exile were the higher officials, royalty, and priests–many of whom likely shared the views of the earlier reforms.  These are the people who again took power after the Exile, imposing their views on the population who had remained behind in Judah. In my next post, I will look at the further reforms that were made after the exile, in the period of the Second Temple, and how many of those upon whom these reforms were imposed rejected them, favoring the beliefs of the old religion.

43 thoughts on “The Deuteronomists and the Suppression of Ancient Truths

  1. Great stuff — learning about the Deuteronomists is, I believe, very important for Latter-day Saints. We are in a unique position as devout Christians to accommodate the editorial view of the genesis and compilation of scripture, as that is exactly how the Book of Mormon came into existence — as a compilation of the writings of various author-prophets who referred to and commented on writings of their predecessors, both that are contained in the same record they are continuing and that are contained outside the record that were then drawn together by Mormon who exercised editorial discretion on what was to be included and also, intrusively, left direct editorial comments in the text of the material he was compiling, then supplemented by Mormon’s own writing, as further complied and edited by Moroni. Then the whole thing was translated by Joseph Smith into a language and culture that could not have been more foreign to the source documents. This process is incredibly messy and yet we still have a conviction that the Book of Mormon is scripture and that it conveys Gospel truth for our benefit today.

    The Old Testament is similar but has a perhaps even messier history. The key is that we know less directly about the actual compilation and editing process of the entire book as a whole. Given our caveat about “as far as it is translated correctly” and the straightforward statements in the Book of Mormon that plain and precious part are missing, it should be very easy for Latter-day Saints to get on board with the Documentary Hypothesis and with the idea of the subtly political and underhanded work of the Deuteronomists. Curiously, however, there is no lack of Mormons who appear to follow in the footsteps of Fundamentalist Christian cousins in rejecting theories about the Deuteronomists’ subterfuge as apostate and in holding a very literalist and inerrant view of the Old Testament.

    In any event, one of the exciting aspects of Margaret Barkers work (for me, as an enthusiastic holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood and firm believer in the observation found in D&C 84:20 that it is in the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood that the power of godliness is manifest) is that she has identified the Melchizedek Priesthood as one of the things that the Deuteronomists wrote out of the Old Testament through their editing. If it is true that part of Josiah’s Reform was to banish the Melchizedek Priesthood through consolidation of the temple worship in the temple at Jerusalem under the service of Levitical priests, then it is easy to see why Lehi was called to raise his voice in opposition to such a change and to call Jerusalem to repentance for this and for their wickedness.

  2. David L, this is GREAT stuff. Please more, more. You leave me hungry to learn about this era.

    As John F mentions, it is very easy to imagine that the turmoil created by this situation resulted in a Lehi awakened to a new sense of the wickedness of the people in Jerusalem. If plain and precious truths about Jehovah were being expunged, we can very easily imagine that Jehovah was about to throw the useless parts of the olive tree in the fire, leaving one righteous branch alive for later grafting.

  3. Given that John Sorensen (IIRC) suggested that the plates of Laban could have been the source for E (Elohist) and that the early Book of Mormon portrays a very different form of worship than that of Josiah and the Deuteronomists, we can be assured that major political changes occurred in attempting to consolidate power in the temple. Interestingly, Jeremiah brought out the Rekhabites as an example of true followers of Yahweh – these were nomads who would have sacrificed in the wildernesss, not at the temple.

    That Nephi and Lehi saw angels, the Tree of Life (representing the virgin mother), and God on his throne shows that they immediately separated from the Josian reforms upon leaving Jerusalem (and before).

    Interestingly, many early Christian writings are more supportive of Lehi’s visions than they are the Deuteronomists: Apocalypse of Paul has him guided through levels of heaven by the Holy Ghost; Ascension of Isaiah has him ascend the heavens with an angel guide, he sees the hosts of heaven, God on his throne, etc., in a vision very similar to Lehi’s visions. Even John the Revelator saw God on his throne. There is a pattern that was lost along the way. It obviously occurred after Moses, David and Solomon, as the children of Israel worshiped Yahweh in high places throughout the period.

  4. David,

    “we must be cautious in our analyses of these events.”

    I appreciate this caveat, but I think that a warning about caution doesn’t go far enough to highlight the methodological problems of what Barker is up to in that lecture. I responded specifically to it here:

    It is clear that Barker is trying to make ancient Judaism look more Christian, which has obvious appeal to LDS readers and Christian apologists, but some of the specific features that she highlights have never made all that much sense to me. How exactly are Asherah fertility worship, reverence for the ark, worship or reverence for non-human angelic beings, and a throne of cherubim ancient Christian, or even Mormon truths? And you forgot to mention that Barker sees sacrifice of children to Molech as one of these “truths” that was “suppressed.” Not to rehash our old debate, but calling these things “truths” seems like an awful stretch, since I don’t really see us wanting to practice any of them.

  5. TT, I can’t speak for David but I was referring mostly, almost exclusively, to the suppression of the Melchizedek Priesthood, as posited by Barker. Also to the de-anthropomorphication of God. In that regard and with regard to the Tree of Life, I think Rameumptum has some good points.

  6. John F.,
    So we are back to only looking at (apparent) similarities and ignoring all of those inconvenient differences?

    Anywho, I’ve already said all of this before too many times. David and I just disagree about it, and I think we’ve simply reached a point where it probably isn’t useful anymore for either of us. So I will back away.

  7. Thanks, guys, for the great comments.

    John F. — I agree with you that these ideas have important ramifications for us as LDS. I didn’t really mention it in the post, but I, like you, have been very interested in what Barker has done with the Melchizedek Priesthood (and I love the fact that she calls it that and has led others to refer to it that way as well). I’m glad you brought that up — perhaps I’ll focus more on that point in future blog posts. I plan to post about later reforms by the Zadokite (Aaronic) Priesthood, and could emphasize the idea that they basically took over the high priestly functions of the Royal/Melchizedek Priesthood.

    Geoff — great comments! I agree.

    Ram — Yes, I very much like the idea that Lehi was an anti-Deuteronomist. Their program for changing important beliefs and especially the temple cult would likely have been very upsetting to Lehi. Also, the centralization of the cult to Jerusalem and destruction of holy places in the North would likely have been very offensive to Lehi, coming from the tribe of Manasseh. I agree with your points regarding the visions of Lehi and Nephi and how they represent a pre-reform theology — a belief system that was preserved or resurrected in many of the pseudepigraphal/apocryphal Jewish and Christian writings.

    TT — I knew you wouldn’t appreciate Barker being brought up again! 🙂 I agree that Barker’s objective is to make connections between the First Temple period and Christianity, but I don’t think those connections are all that strained.
    –I think the relationship between Asherah, Wisdom, and the veneration of Mary — and the connection of these to the Tree of Life motif is quite apparent.
    –I don’t see the “veneration” of the Ark as the issue here — the point is that the Ark was an important part of the pre-exilic concept of the anthropomorphic God being enthroned on the cherub-throne in the Holy of Holies. That is a very important concept when you get to the Christian view of Christ being exalted to sit on God’s throne, etc.
    –Reverence for angels is also important, especially in view of the idea that Yahweh was the Angel of Yahweh and that he was a son of God Most High, and that the angels were the Sons of God.
    While these ideas may seem foreign to us on the surface, I think that they may be more closely related to Christian (and Mormon) belief than at first seems to be the case. Also, I think the fact that the polemics against these practices seem to have been religio-political propaganda, it would make sense to see them as having been painted in the worst light possible — being identified with the horrifying practices of the surrounding nations. Thus, it is not unlikely that the inclusion of child-sacrifice to Molech in these practices is at least somewhat fictional or hyperbolic. Perhaps we can compare the descriptions of the “evils” that Josiah was purging with the corrupt temple practices that Ezekiel sees in vision, which I believe most scholars would see as exaggerated or “imagined” by Ezekiel.
    Perhaps we don’t practice these points you mention in exactly the same way as they were anciently, but I do see parallels (which I’m sure you won’t like either):
    –Asherah to BofM Tree of Life vision, Heavenly Mother
    –Vision of God on Throne in Holy of Holies to Joseph Smith’s visions, Kirtland Temple theophany, Celestial Room, expectation of vision of God after Resurrection, etc.
    –Reverence for angels to worship of second and third Persons of Godhead, reverence for angelic messengers of Restoration, etc.
    If you look at the Book of Psalms, Isaiah, and other representations of pre-exilic beliefs, you see many of these concepts emphasized, but subsequently obscured in the Deuteronomic writings. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they spring up again in Christianity and then in the Restoration.

  8. I really appreciate this too. One question I am interested in is the theological currents of the ancient Near East that led to this later, unembodied conception of God in the first place.

    Is it really the work of Greeks prior even to Plato and Aristotle, and their idea of the eternal and the absolute, or did Jewish or other theologians develop some sort of argument for this before them?

    One reads about St. Augustine, convert to Christianity, embarrassed at the idea that God should have a toe, when it appears that Jewish precedents themselves were similarly embarrassed more than a thousand years prior. In a parlor game of theology, it is not hard to see why.

  9. I’ll take a serving of the Deuteronomist with a side of Barker, but hold the Moloch and give me a double scoop of apologetics with sprinkles of Asherah.

  10. “I think the relationship between Asherah, Wisdom, and the veneration of Mary — and the connection of these to the Tree of Life motif is quite apparent.”

    Why? First of all, why Asherah? Is it because we know the least about her? Why not Astarte or Anat? Why not Inunna or Isis? There is no real connection between the personification of Wisdom and Asherah that I am aware of. Why? At most, what you can say is that different cultures, widely separated in time if not space (not that Ugarit, where we get most of our Canaanite culture, is anywhere near any place we normally call Canaan), believed that a divine feminine was important (although you may not even be able to say that about personified Wisdom, whose divine status is questionable). Sometimes they are mother figures, sometimes they aren’t.

    It’s not that I’m necessarily opposed to the conclusions that Barker draws (although I am deeply impressed with the ability of royal Deuteronomists to influence outsider prophetic texts); I’ve read and enjoyed “Nephi and his Asherah,” too. The problem is in the strength with which Barker (and her admirers) often assert their case. As TT has pointed out, most of these connections aren’t actually self-evident. And, since it isn’t a testable thesis, it is a belief statement, not a scholarly argument. And, frankly, I’m deeply suspicious of belief statements that tell me what I want to hear.

  11. We use Asherah, because that is where the archaeology points us. There have been several finds in Israel that show that Yahweh’s consort was Asherah. IOW, Baal and Yahweh fought over the same woman! Or at least both made claims to the same goddess as their wife.

    Yahweh and Asherah

    David, just as in regular Israel archaeology we find minimalists and maximalists amongst the scholars, so there are in those who question these things. There are those who think every coincidence is a parallel, and then there are some who think every parallel is a coincidence. The key is to consider all the data and make a reasonable hypothesis. As Cyrus Gordon used to say, if the evidence leads us in a particular direction, then that is where we must end up.

    While Plato and Aristotle developed the house of Greek philosophy into what it still is, I have no doubt that certain concepts and constructs preceded them. We don’t see one day “Poof!” there is a philosopher named Socrates, whose student Plato followed around from the very beginning. No, some levels of philosophy had to precede them. Otherwise, there would not have been schools even in Socrates’ day for him to question and ridicule.

    The evolution of Greek gods didn’t come quickly, as many still worshiped Diana/Artemis in the apostle Paul’s day. So, even then, not all Greeks believed that God(s) were spirit, but believed in anthropomorphic gods. IOW, it can take centuries or millennia to change a belief system.

    Christianity took the Jewish belief of monotheism of their day, and created a pantheon. They brought back anthropomorphism for several centuries, until the Nice Creed finally was fully established.

    I wonder if in many societies there wasn’t a push to change the concept of God. Instead of a pantheon of gods that were impetuous and indifferent to mankind (as we see with the Greek and Roman gods, Molech, and even Yahweh at times, etc), we get a non-anthropomorphic god that has none of man’s flaws (passions: anger, lust, jealousy, etc). A philosopher’s dream, and a god that is easier to control is one that can be redefined into something non-physical, but still follows the expectations man sets for it. Almost creating an atheist form of God, wherein God becomes almighty and powerful, yet is placed in its own box where it is the Unmoved Mover. It is a box that can be manipulated and controlled from the outside by the philosophies of man.

    Meanwhile, we see Lehi return to the anthropomorphic God and his consort, while sacrificing in high places along the route.

  12. The status of Asherah in relation to Yahweh is ambiguous, Ram. There is a good argument to be made that Yahweh’s Asherah is a reference to a ritual item, not to the goddess. Even if the goddess is the original source of the ritual item’s metaphor, there is a difference. Beyond Kuntillet Ajrud and another site (name escapes me now) there isn’t much evidence of a connection and there is no clear evidence that Asherah was ever considered Yahweh’s (or Baal’s) consort. She was El’s consort, that much is clear, but El and Yahweh are different (unless they aren’t of course, but I think Barker is advocating henotheism, not divine syncretism (as Mark Smith does, for instance)).

    Secondly, I’m not a minimalist and I’m very offended that you are accusing me of minimalism when what I’m asking for is scholarly restraint.

  13. I was actually thinking of TT when mentioning the term minimalist, not you. So try not to be offended when your name isn’t directly brought up.

    Yes, there are other possibilities for Asherah. However, given how she is considered in the Bible and other ancient writings as a goddess represented by groves, wisdom, etc. And given evidence such as the Taanach cult stand that is believed to have her and Yahweh represented on it, there is also just as good evidence that she is what many believe her to be: a goddess and consort of El/Yahweh. Remember, El and Yahweh were joined in later Israel worship, so El’s consort would become Yahweh’s consort.

    With the given that the Book of Mormon is not a fraudulent piece of work, the concept of Mary representing the Tree of Life AND therefore the consort of God, becomes evidence for those within Mormon circles to consider this view also correct.

  14. Rameumptom — Thanks for all the great input on Asherah. I agree with your views on this. I see a lot of evidence for Asherah being a consort for the Israelite God. While it is possible that the references to Wisdom in the canonical texts are presenting merely a personification of God’s wisdom or perhaps a type of hypostasis of the One God, I think it is much easier to see Lady Wisdom as a remnant of an earlier belief in a Mother Goddess. There have been a number of popular treatments of this topic, including Raphael Patai’s Hebrew Goddess from the textual side and William Dever’s Did God Have a Wife? on the archaeological side.

    I certainly recognize the problems with this issue that John C. mentions, but I think that the sum of the evidence is positive in favor of the idea that Yahweh did have a consort, and that it was most likely Asherah. It seems that the identification of the Mother Goddess could have been different in different places, but I think that is largely besides the point — whether she’s called Anath, Astarte, Asherah, the Queen of Heaven, or whatever, I think we’re dealing with a widespread phenomenon.

    Besides the couple of inscriptions we have that apparently link Yahweh with a goddess (yes, mention of Asherah could refer to a cult object, but didn’t that cult object represent the goddess?); we have the Jews at Elephantine giving offerings to Anath; Jeremiah complaining that some Jews worshiped the Queen of Heaven (Jer. 7:18; 44:17); we have the thousands of female pillar figurines found in Judah that are taken to be Asherah, etc., etc. It is a controversial viewpoint, but I really don’t think that while all the other gods in the region had consorts, Yahweh would not have had one as well. And if Asherah was not Yahweh’s consort but El’s, I don’t have a problem with that as long as you see El as having been worshiped as High God in Israel at some point (then later being syncretized with Yahweh).

    I agree with Ram on his point that the Book of Mormon is good support for this view — that the ancient Asherah in the temple represented the Tree of Life and that the Tree represented both the Divine King and his Mother.

  15. I forgot to mention the fact that Proverbs 3:13, 18 seem to make a connection between Asherah, Wisdom, and the Tree of Life. The text mentions happiness, Hebrew “ashar”, which may have been used as a play on words with the name Asherah. The man who finds Wisdom finds happiness comparable to a “tree of life”.
    Did the Book of Mormon get that one right or not?! Nice job, Joseph Smith!

  16. I recently posted this on a Mormon apologetic message board and I think it goes perfectly fine here.

    I found a book by Margaret Barker, Temple Theology An Introduction" that I had bought a long time ago and it had fallen behind a piece of furniture in my house. It was a great find and as I'm reading it, I find some really interesting pieces of information, especially when it comes to the concept of the Melchezidek priesthood and what the typical mainstream Christian percieves it. While the typical mainstream Christian believes that the only person to hold the MP is Christ, according to Margaret Barker, the MP was an older priesthood that existed before the time of Moses and the start of the Aaronic priesthood. She said that the MP is the priesthood of Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and many of the prophets in the OT.

    In this excerpt from the book, she also talks about the great purge of King Josiah, how it altered the concept of the first temple and the scriptures, and also how the concept of God was vastly changed from before the purge to after the purge.

    The part I'm quoting here is from pp 6 – 9

    For Christians, these are very serious questions. Since the 'primary' sources for the history of the Jerusalem monarchy (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings) are hostile to most of the kings, any reconstruction of the origin of the Messianic ideal in Jerusalem is seriously hampered. This same source is also hostile to the first temple in Jerusalem, and so any search for the temple roots of Christian worship has to rely largely on material outside the Old Testament. The Old Testament does tell the story of Israel's religion, but not in the way that is often assumed. The key event was the great purge in the time of King Josiah at the end of the seventh century BCE, when everything that the Deuteronomists deemed impure was removed from the temple and destroyed (2 Kings 23). This is not an objective account, and it is easy to see that most of what King Josiah removed were the religious artefacts and preactices of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and almost all the kings in Jerusalem. They had survived in the land until the sixth century BCE – sacred trees, pillars, places outside Jerusalem to offer sacrifice – but King josiah removed evrything that did not conform to the Moses religion as set out in Deuteronomy. In other words, the 'Moses' religion with the ten commandments and the Aaronic priesthood did not finally the Abrahamic faith and the Melchizedek priesthood until just before the first temple was destoyed. (It is hard to find any indication in the early chapters of Isaiah written in the eighth century BCE, that the prophet knew about Moses and the ten commandments.)

    The most importan result of Josiah's purge was the introduction of monotheism. The earlier religion had known of God Most High = the deity worshipped by Melchizedek (Gen 14:19 – El Shaddai, the deity of the patriarchs (Exod. 6:3), and Yahweh, who appeared in human form, for example to shut Noah safely into the ark (Gen. 7:16). There is no proof that these were one and the same deity. Only later were all these ancient forms said to be identical. It was the prophet of the exile who declared that Yahweh was El, and that there was no other God (Isa. 42:12-13, 45:22). In the more ancient names for the deities, however, we glimpse the Father (God Most High), the Son (Yahweh, the One who appeared in human form), and the Mother (El Shaddai, whose name means the God with breasts). The Qur'an implies that Christians were sorshipping the Mother and the Son, presumably as part of their Trinity, but emphasizes that Jesus did not teach them to worship in that way (4:171; 5:75-76, 116).

    Recovering the world of the original temple is not a simple matter. There is no single text which reveals the lost world and proves beyond any doubt that what I am proposing was the case. What is beyond doubt is the unsatisfactory and even unreasonable account of "New Testament background" which has prevailed for so long. It has been assumed that rabbinic texts from a period long after the New Testament could be used to illustrate the New testamen situation, but that the writings of Philo, a Jewish comtemporary of Jesus in Egypt, were suspect because they were so differnt from the rabbinic texts. Giant figures whose influence shaped New testament scholarship throughout the twentieth centruy have now been accused of assuming 'the acute Hellenization…the syncretistic paganization of primitive Christianity' and repeating this argument without verifying it adequately in the ancient sources. Things are changing.

    I find these paragraphs utterly fascinating and this is only at the very start of the book. To me, these pieces of ancient beliefs and practices blows holes in the Evanglical/Mainstream/Traditional/Biblical/Fundamentalist use of Hebrews in their attempt to discredit the Mormon Church's doctrine of the Melchizedek Priesthood, their stubborn adherence to their concept of an non-understandable Trinity and the infallibility/completeness of the Bible.

  17. Ram,
    I’m fairly certain that minimalism can’t be used to describe TT either. I’m a little surprised you would apply it thusly. What is your evidence?

    “Remember, El and Yahweh were joined in later Israel worship, so El’s consort would become Yahweh’s consort.”
    Perhaps, but you were arguing that Yahweh and Baal were competing for her in some sense. There is no mention of her ever being Baal’s consort. Also, how late are we pushing Yahweh’s assimilation of El’s characteristics (and, apparently, his consort)? My impression was that Barker argued for popular henotheism in the era of Josiah with Yahweh as the local bad boy deity, which would make El and Asherah his mother and father. Incest isn’t unknown in ancient pantheons, but this sort of argument makes Yahweh a bit hypocritical, doesn’t it?

    “the concept of Mary representing the Tree of Life AND therefore the consort of God”
    You are making a leap that the evidence doesn’t demonstrate, all articles of Daniel Peterson aside.

    “whether she’s called Anath, Astarte, Asherah, the Queen of Heaven, or whatever, I think we’re dealing with a widespread phenomenon.”
    Yes we are. It is called the Feminine Divine. It is crazy widespread. That doesn’t mean that it is all interconnected, though, or that it all diffused from some original source. All those deities have differing characteristics. You can only make them the same by ignoring the differences.

    “yes, mention of Asherah could refer to a cult object, but didn’t that cult object represent the goddess?”
    We don’t know that. This is my point.

    “that the ancient Asherah in the temple”
    Could you point me to evidence for its existence?

    I’m sympathetic to using the Book of Mormon as a guide to ancient Judaic history (really, I am), but I think we would be better served by deriving something testable from it and then testing that.

  18. David,

    I have read some about the Deuteronomist hypothesis and I agree that there are some very appealing possibilities for Mormonism.

    At the same time, I am cautious about reinterpreting the scriptures according to these conjectures. After all, Josiah’s reforms under a more straight forward reading of the text than the between-the-lines approach most scholars use has many similarities to the latter-day Restoration: an ancient book discovered that facilitates a return to proper worship after a general apostasy. The deuteronomist reading is basically making the same argument against Josiah that is often made against Joseph Smith, the he was not Restoring but apostatizing by introducing a new religion as a replacement for the old.

    Jeremiah, as you have noted, seemed to support Josiah’s reforms at least to the extent that he criticized those Jews that prayed to the Queen of Heaven as apostate. In the Book of Mormon, Lehi mentions that they have imprisoned Jeremiah as an example of how the Jews had rejected the prophets. How does that square with the idea that Lehi was rejecting Josiah’s reforms?

    It seems to me that Nephi’s vision of the Tree of Life was not meant to confirm Asherah worship as legitimate, but to teach Nephi the truth from which apostate Asherah worship had been derived; just as it clarifies the truth from which the apostate veneration of the Virgin Mary is derived without legitimizing the Catholic practice.

    In that case, Josiah’s reforms would have been legitimate, but ultimately rejected by the people who continued in apostate practices even when warned by Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Lehi. And as for removing references to the Melchizedek priesthood and other plain and precious truths, that could still have been done by a group of apostate editors, deuteronomists, working not under Josiah’s direction, but after his death. The reforms of Gideon, Hezekiah, Josiah, etc. don’t have to have been illegitimate or fabrications to have been taken advantage of by apostate editors and scribes.

  19. John C,

    Regarding Asherah also being Baal’s consort, it is fairly well known. Here’s a link to Britannica Encyclopedia that mentions it: Asherah and Baal

    It is believed by many scholars, including William Dever that Yahweh also adopted Asherah as his consort. As it is, incest among gods and kings in the Middle East is not unknown, especially in Egypt. That Israel had a close relationship with Egypt from time to time (look at the number of scarabs from Hezekiah’s period, for example), it is very possible there was such an event going on here. And, as Israel combined El and Yahweh, the new god would adopt traits from the former ones. In this case, Asherah.

    Finally, who is to say whether Asherah is one goddess, or simply a title for related consorts of the gods?

  20. John C. — In your argument against Ram’s point, you suggest there is no connection between Asherah and Baal. I’m no expert on the subject, but I thought the fact that the asherah poles/trees were set up beside the altars of Baal and that their priests often worked together was suggestive of the idea that Asherah was seen as Baal’s consort. Of course you have stated that you don’t necessarily see a connection between the asherah cult objects and the goddess. Fair enough — there are many scholars that hold to that position. It is clear that most references to “asherah” in the Bible seem to refer to cult objects. However, there are references that seem to refer to the goddess Asherah and also to the worship of the god Baal and the goddess Asherah together. For example, Judges 2:11-13 states that the children of Israel went after the worship of other gods, serving the “Baals” and the “Asherahs” (the text says Ashteroth here, but the word seems to be used synonymously with the Asheroth of Judg. 3:7). Now this could very well be referring to cult objects, but even so, the cult objects are being equated with specific gods.
    1 Kgs 15:13 seems to refer to a statue of the goddess Asherah that was being worshiped.
    1 Kgs 18:19 refers to 400 prophets of Asherah in parallel with prophets of Baal. See also 2 Kgs 23:4.
    With all the many mentions of the asherah cult object, plus the mentions of statues and prophets of Asherah, and polemics against the worship of foreign gods in the same context, I think the case for Asherah worship in Israel is pretty strong.

    I think this answers your question of “Why Asherah?” If these biblical references to asherah are to be connected to the worship of a “foreign” goddess, then it is understandable that scholars should single out the goddess Asherah that was known to have been worshiped in the region. Your point that Asherah is known in the Ugaritic texts to be the consort of El is well taken. Some have suggested that while Asherah was El’s wife, Yahweh had a different consort, perhaps Anath. It is possible that the Jews at Elephantine held this belief. Perhaps it was not until later — say, around the time of the Deuteronomists, when Yahweh began to be seen as the High God in place of El, that we get Yahweh’s mother becoming his wife. I’m just speculating, but I think that would be a reasonable explanation. Besides all that, I also see the biblical portrayal of Lady Wisdom (see Prov. 8, for example) as largely consistent with the depiction we get in the Ras Shamra texts of Asherah as the Mother Goddess, the mother/creator of the gods. Wisdom is God’s first creation and participates with him in the creation of the world. Also, as I’ve mentioned, Lady Wisdom is compared to a “Tree of Life”, which is a common metaphor for the mother goddess in the ANE.

    Evidence for the asherah in the Temple? That’s one of the main things that King Josiah destroyed. Raphael Patai points out that the Asherah statue would have stood in the temple for nearly 250 years.

    “That doesn’t mean that it is all interconnected, though, or that it all diffused from some original source. All those deities have differing characteristics. You can only make them the same by ignoring the differences.”
    You’re right to correct me on this. I’m afraid I worded that idea rather carelessly. I didn’t mean to suggest that the various goddesses I mentioned should be seen as simply different names for the same being. I realize that they are generally distinct (although I believe Queen of Heaven could refer to either Asherah, Astarte, or others), but my point in saying that was to emphasize the fact that although there were perhaps different views at different times and places regarding which goddess was to be worshiped alongside Yahweh (and perhaps there was some syncretism going on there), the idea that Israel’s High God had a consort seems to be quite well-established. The most common goddess that appears to be referenced in the Hebrew Bible is Asherah. If it wasn’t the same Asherah as the Ugaritic texts, that’s okay, but it seems to be a goddess who was represented by a cultic tree called asherah which was for some time set up in the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem.

  21. Pingback: The Ridiculous and the Sublime – March 14, 2011 « The Ridiculous and the Sublime

  22. J. Max —

    I appreciate your comments and understand your concerns.

    “At the same time, I am cautious about reinterpreting the scriptures according to these conjectures. After all, Josiah’s reforms under a more straight forward reading of the text than the between-the-lines approach most scholars use has many similarities to the latter-day Restoration: an ancient book discovered that facilitates a return to proper worship after a general apostasy.”
    This is a very legitimate concern. I agree with you that the story as presented has some nice parallels to the Restoration. I am not advocating that the Church change the way that it presents this biblical story (in SS, seminary, Institute, etc.), because it is a powerful and inspirational story the way its written — I think it was meant to be such.
    However, I think it is also quite clear that the story was composed in a way that it supported a certain agenda. We see that the same story is told in Chronicles, but in a different way. They have Josiah starting his reforms before the finding of the Book of the Law — perhaps so that he is not dependent on that book for seeing the need to make reforms. Anyways, the story was told in different ways in order to support the perspective of the respective group of redactors.
    I think it is quite likely that King Josiah carried out reforms with good intentions and that there was a need for reform — however, I think this may have been a case of throwing the baby out with the bath-water. It is claimed that Josiah is following the Law and that he is cleansing the kingdom of idol worship. That’s fine, but why does he have to centralize worship to Jerusalem, clear the sacred items out the Holy of Holies, destroy the Bronze Serpent that Moses made, and so on? According to the story, he is following the law, but these are laws that don’t seem to have been in effect in earlier times in Israel. Josiah seems to destroy holy places and objects that were legitimate in the earlier history of Israel.
    This is where Lehi comes in — he and his family seem to have no problem offering sacrifices and building temples at sites outside of Jerusalem, which would have been against the Deuteronomists’ rules. Also, Lehi and Nephi have visions in which they see Jehovah, which was impossible according to the Deuteronomist theology. The question of Jeremiah is a problem that I struggle with. There are some indications in the Book of Jeremiah that he did not agree with the Deuteronomists (Jer. 8:8), while other places he seems to go along with their agenda. I imagine that the issue is more complex than our explanations suggest, but I think it’s likely that the Book of Jeremiah was later edited to conform more to the prevailing Deuteronomist position.
    I agree with you that the whole episode of Josiah’s reforms may have been edited later to fit an “apostate” agenda. I also agree that we shouldn’t dismiss the stories of reforms by the various kings as necessarily illegitimate or as fabrications. I have also been careful not to explicitly assert that the Book of Deuteronomy was necessarily a complete fabrication in the time of Josiah. However, I think we need to realize that the history itself that includes 1-2 Kings was put together by someone — most scholars would say that it was a group they call the Deuteronomists. They were almost certainly using earlier sources to put their history together, but the fact of the matter is that the history that we have in our Bible is their handiwork and bears the marks of their religio-political perspective. Many of the things they can be seen as rejecting were accepted as legitimate in earlier times. But again, I would reiterate that I find the account of Josiah to be a great story that has many important principles and that it is very inspirational to read as is. I’m simply offering an alternative account of what happened that helps explain why so much of the earlier religion of Israel was lost.

  23. There are plenty of scholars who think that the connection between Baal and Asherah was trumped up and existed primarily in the minds of the Deuteronomists. I’m blanking at present, but I believe that it has something to do with the actual deities worshipped at Tyre and Sidon, as opposed to the deities that the Bible purports that Jezebel introduced (specifically, I don’t think they were a center of Asherah worship). I’ll see if I can find the reference.

    “Evidence for the asherah in the Temple? That’s one of the main things that King Josiah destroyed. Raphael Patai points out that the Asherah statue would have stood in the temple for nearly 250 years.”

    This is precisely the problem with Barker’s theories and the reason why we should approach them with extreme caution. The absence of evidence is used as evidence.

  24. Ram,
    That may well be the least helpful Encyclopedia Britannica article I’ve ever encountered. You don’t get to call every female deity in the Levant Asherah, even if you think they are all just titles for her. You have to demonstrate it.

  25. John C. — I’m not citing Barker here. I’m citing Patai (well, going by what I remember Patai saying). And I don’t agree with your assessment of Barker either.

    The evidence is in the biblical text. The account of Josiah’s reforms specifically states that he tore down and burned the asherah that was in the temple (2 Kgs 23). And sure enough, 1 Kgs 15:13 tells us a very similar story where King Asa, about 250 years earlier, cuts down the asherah that his mother had put up. The asherah finds herself reinstalled numerous times in between (perhaps continuously until the next set of reforms).

    And I don’t appreciate you saying that my efforts here are trying to roll back biblical scholarship to the 1950s. As a matter of fact, we touched on this very issue in the Old Testament course I attended today — the lecturer positively compared the Wisdom imagery in Proverbs to goddess worship, that Wisdom was more than a personification of one of God’s attributes here, that she is being treated as if she were a goddess that was involved in the Creation. Maybe some scholars don’t accept this idea, but it’s not as if the whole field of biblical studies completely abandoned it 60 years ago. In fact, I see this issue as picking up more attention today than ever before.

  26. David,
    There’s no evidence that an asherah stood there all that time. We don’t know what stood there. All those Asherah statuettes were called Venus statuettes before Kuntillet Ajrud. We don’t really know these associations. Patai, like us, has religious reasons for wanting to see a personified deity in Wisdom (there is a long rabbinic tradition regarding wisdom, as you know).

    None of this means that you can’t be right. But the result is that it isn’t proven now. Why can’t the menorah be a tree of life (after all, that’s the most common interpretation)? Why is the introduction of an asherah theoretically necessary? Certainly, it could have happened, but that doesn’t mean we should treat it as if it did.

    I don’t inherently mind the scholarship of the 50s, but the scholarship of the 60s & 70s should have taught us rigor and restraint in approaching these texts. Should we continue to consider the theories of Mowinckel or Albright? Of course, they were giants in the field. But we shouldn’t adopt their methods without a lot of reservations. The reason the minimalists were able to gain ground academically is because of the excesses of that period that came before. I worry that a widespread adoption of Barker’s methods would result in similar excesses.

  27. So let’s see, John C. comes to M* to berate David Larsen for making statistically unjustified claims while over at BCC derides people for berating the bad statistics of sports casters?

    Why is my mind screaming. Hypocrite! Hypocrite! Hypocrite!

  28. Psycho guy, I love a good John C bashing as much as anybody (and I engage in it often here and on Facebook), but I’d prefer to keep this discussion focused on the issue at hand and not on John C bashing or David L berating or any personal issues. It seems to me this is a very interesting scholarly debate, and I know David L, the author of this post, enjoys the discussion and profits from it intellectually. So, let’s just keep this friendly, OK?

  29. John C, I am not calling every goddess in the Levant Asherah. What I am saying is that the evidence suggests both Baal and Yahweh had consorts, and in some of that evidence it names her Asherah or Ashtoreth. For me, it does not matter what the name is, which is why I stated it may as well just be a title. We could call her Wisdom, as the Psalmist did, for example. My point is that for much of its history, Israel also had a goddess/consort of Yahweh. I’m not picky on what we should call her, and I don’t want the discussion to get bogged down on that point, as it is not central to the issues David is bringing up.

    While there is no evidence that Asherah or cultic trees stood in the Jerusalem temple all the time, there is evidence of long periods of time when it did. I think you are making mountains out of molehills on some of your criticisms here, as the Bible agrees with the key points David is making. So what if the Asherah did not stand in the temple the entire 250 years? What if it was only 150 or 249 years? The point is that it stood there and represented something important.

    The Jews in Egypt were condemned by Jeremiah for worshiping the Queen of Heaven. This does not mean he did not believe in Asherah, simply that they were stepping too far over the line on whom to worship. I personally feel that Jeremiah is two versions combined in one, as there is conflicting concepts in his story. He seems to have supported Josiah’s reforms, yet presented the Rechabites as the true followers of Yahweh – a people that were more like Lehi in the wilderness than the priests of the temple.

    We need to accept the concept that the Bible is a politically driven book, written and edited mostly by the winning factions. Yet we still see shadows of earlier beliefs dimly coming through it all.

  30. PC,
    I haven’t mentioned stats here once. I think some of the conclusions are historically unlikely and academically unsupported, but so much of history is statistically unlikely that making that argument seems silly. Also, glad to know that you follow my work 🙂

    The asherah could have just as easily been placed there by Manasseh, whom Isaiah explicitly condemns. Part of Hezekiah’s reforms, of which Isaiah approved, involved removing syncretic cultural objects. How far before Josiah does Josianic reform need to go in order to prove this theory?

    “We need to accept the concept that the Bible is a politically driven book, written and edited mostly by the winning factions. Yet we still see shadows of earlier beliefs dimly coming through it all.”

    I don’t question this. I question our ability to take those shadows and accurately reconstruct fully fleshed belief systems out of them.

  31. I think that Jeremiah's comments about baking cakes to the Queen of Heaven are akin to his criticisms of the Temple. That is he is against the idea that the way to please God is to perform the correct rituals. I like Alyson Von Feldt's reading of the Syrian offering stand as a model of what Ezekiel later saw in his vision, in her review of Dever's Did God Have a Wife?

    Several years ago, I decided to read Jeremiah as a potential test of Margaret Barker's view of the reform. I noticed that Jeremiah contradicts Deuteronomy on exactly the points that Margaret sees as key to the reform. And the is the interesting theme of "blindness" in contrast to the ideas of vision and wisdom.

    Deuteronomy says that “The secret things belong to the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Further, it explains that “For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven and bring it unto us that we may hear and do it?” (Deut. 30:11-12)

    Compare these arguments with Jeremiah’s protest that the nation has “forsaken the fountain of living waters,” and adopted a form of Torah-based wisdom that involves “rejecting the word of the Lord.” In 1st Enoch and in 1 Nephi the tree and the fountain, both temple symbols, and are understood to be interchangeable symbols of the LORD.
    Against this, Jeremiah speaks as one who has been invited to learn and declare the secret things:

    Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not. (Jer. 33:3)

    None of the commentaries I have read have noted that Jeremiah appears to have been called against the very people who put Josiah in power, and thus against the very people and institutions who would have been implementing the reforms at the time of his call:

    For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. (Jer. 1:18)

    Ezekiel 22 provides a near-contemporary description of these same groups that goes into more details about what their problems are.

    1 Enoch 93:-78 refers to blindness just before the destruction of the temple.

    And after that in the sixth week all who live in it shall be blinded, And the hearts of all of them shall godlessly forsake wisdom. And in it a man shall ascend; And at its close the house of dominion shall be burnt with fire, And the whole race of the chosen root shall be dispersed. (R.H. Charles 93:7-8)

    So does Jeremiah 5:21. "Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not:"

    Ezekiel also has passages on blindness, and the contrary vision. And Jacob 4:19 comments on the blindness, "which blindness came by looking beyond the mark," the "mark" likely being the same mark that Ezekiel describes, which mark Barker argues is related to the anointing that defined the anointed high priest of the Day of Atonement.

    Jeremiah 17:12
    A glorious high throne from the beginning [is] the place of our sanctuary.

    Compare The Great Angel, 100

    T.N.D. Mettinger has explored the transformation in detail in his book The Dethronement of the Sabaoth, and his conclusions are important.

    The concept of God in the Deuteronomistic theology is strikingly abstract. The throne concept has vanished and the anthropomorphic characteristics of God are on their way to oblivion. Thus the form of God plays no part in the D work of the Sinai theophany. (Deut 4:12)

    This warns us more clearly than anything else that the traditions which emphasized the throne of God, e.g. those of Dan 7, Matt. 25.31-46, and Revelation must be understood in terms of something other than the Deuteronomic point of view which has come to dominate our reading of the Old Testament.” (Barker, The Great Angel, 100)

    And of course, 1 Nephi 1 begins with a throne vision. And soon goes on to a vision of the tree of life, which it equates with the fountain of living waters.

    Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit…For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:11, 13).

    At the 2003 BYU Barker seminar, she said, "Straws in the wind, perhaps, but they are all blowing in the same direction."


    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  32. TT,

    I left you a comment on your interview of David saying ‘great job.’ But someone on FPR deleted it.

    Anyhow, great job in case you didn’t see it before I got moderated for complimenting you. 😉

  33. Bruce,
    It is a mystery. You’re not moderated and I never saw a comment come through from you and you’re not in spam. Try again and if it doesn’t show up you can email me directly and we will figure it out.

  34. “It is clear that Barker is trying to make ancient Judaism look more Christian”

    I read Barker without any knowledge at all of what she believed or where she was coming from. And her point of view is no where near this transparent.

  35. No worries, TT. It just said “Great job TT!” or something like that. Hardly worth trying to readd.

  36. Oh, I should probably add that I place high value on transparency. So I didn’t mean that as a compliment.

  37. Kevin,

    Thanks for expounding on Jeremiah for us there. I’m really glad that you’ve taken the time to have a serious look at this book and what he was doing — you’re right to choose him as an important test-case for Margaret’s theory. From what you’ve pointed out, it certainly seems that he is more on Lehi’s side than on the Deuteronomists.
    Are there any parts of Jeremiah that you see as problematic for her theory? If so, what do you make of those?

  38. David,

    There are several scholars who align Jeremiah with the reform, usually citing political passages, common language, and a shared critique of idolatry. So Jeremiah shows some sympathy for certain aspects of the reform related to the social justice called for in Deuteronomy. He sympathizes with Josiah’s desire to reunite Israel and Judah. Friedman had claimed that those who see Jeremiah as opposed to the reform must explain why Jeremiah attack “a book with which he agreed on every major point.” (Who Wrote the Bible, 2nd ed 209). That was my starting position. However, for me, Margaret’s work redefined what I consider to be the major points. Friedman says nothing about the issues that Margaret raises, which changes the game.

    For instance, the discourse in Jeremiah 3 offers what I see as a direct comment on the reform:

    Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD. (Jer. 3:10.)

    Scholars tend to associate the famous temple discourse in Jeremiah 7 with the appointment of Jehoiakim as king by the Egyptians who had defeated Josiah. “Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?” (Jer. 7:11). In a discourse given during the forth year of the reign of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah again refers to Josiah’s time without any indications that Judah gave him heed.

    From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon King of Judah, even unto this day, that is the three and twentieth year, the word of the LORD hath come unto me, and I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking, but ye have not hearkened. (Jer 25:3)

    I think that the one clearly positive reference to Josiah in Jeremiah should be considered in light of the negative context elsewhere:

    [D]id not thy father [King Josiah] eat and drink and do judgment and justice and then it was well with him? He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was this not to know me? Saith the LORD. (Jer. 22:15-16)

    Deuteronomy does require social justice, and shows concern for the poor and needy. (Nibley’s “How to Get Rich” makes this very clear.) But notice that even while commending Josiah, in contrast to the excesses of Jehoiakim, the repeated “then it was well with him” functions to qualify the praise. Since the eight-year old Josiah was installed as king by Jerusalem parties (the people of the land, the powerful land owners), it was much more important that he have popular support than Jehoiakim, who was an Egyptian puppet. When was it not well with Josiah?

    Deuteronomy 4 depicts Moses as informing Israel:

    Keep therefore and do them [that is, the statutes and judgments of the law] for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. (Deut. 4:6)

    Jeremiah seems to be commenting on this very passage:

    How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it; the pen of the scribes is in vain. The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the LORD; and what wisdom is in them? (Jer. 8:8-9)

    Friedman and Bright both offer stronger translation. “How can you say, “Why we are the wise, For we have the law of Yahweh”? Now do but see—the deception it’s wrought, the deceiving pen of the scribes.” (Bright, 60)

    With respect to the law and those who had charge of it, Jeremiah comments that “they that handle the law knew me not.” (Jer. 2:8)

    Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour. (Jer. 23:30)

    And the burden of the LORD shall ye mention no more: for every man’s word shall be his burden; for ye have perverted the words of the living God, of the LORD of hosts our God. (Jer. 23:36)

    1st Enoch makes the same charge about evil men changing scripture.

    Margaret Barker observes that “Biblical texts about the temple have interesting discrepancies. A comparison of the two accounts of Solomon’s temple, that of the Chronicler, who was a temple enthusiast, and that of the Deuteronomist, who was not, show that there as a sensitivity about certain aspects of the temple: the cherub throne in the holy of holies for example. The Deuteronomist, who did not favor the temple, described only the two golden cherubim in the holy of holies and said nothing of the veil (1 Kings 6.23-28), whereas the Chronicler described the cherubim as the golden chariot throne (1 Chron. 29.18) screened by a veil of blue, purple, and crimson, woven with fine linen and embroidered with cherubim (2 Chron. 3.14). What was the problem with the throne and the veil? Were they just the Chronicler’s fantasy or was the Deuteronomist censoring information about the temple?” (Barker, Temple Theology, 14-15.)

    Jeremiah uses lots of temple imagery, including the throne, counsel visions, tree of life, fountain of living waters, wisdom in the creation, passages that presuppose the cosmic covenant and therefore, the Day of Atonement, etc. As always, it’s not a matter of proven or undisputed reading, but, from my perspective, interesting and promising.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  39. Thanks Kevin.

    I first read Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible, and at the time was convinced that Jeremiah may have written Deuteronomy, etc.

    Since studying it after, in light of Barker’s writings, etc., I now think Jeremiah took a middle ground to the reforms. He seems to have approved the non-temple reforms, and perhaps extremes in temple worship (sacrificing to the Queen of Heaven), but he promoted an earlier model (see his teachings on the Rekhabites) than what we see in the Deuteronomistic temple.

    I figure that either Josiah made more reforms than Jeremiah wanted, or some reforms preceded/succeeded Josiah, but were later all lumped by his admirers as Josian reforms.

    It definitely provides for a fascinating world in which Lehi and Nephi dwelt. And it explains many things that the normal cursory view of the Josian Reforms do not provide as to why Lehi or the Rekhabites would have a different experience than that of the 2nd temple ca 600BC.

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