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Studies in the Bible and Antiquity Vol. 1 (2009)
Introduction to the current issue.
Within the corpus of psalms in the Hebrew Bible is a group known as the communal laments. Characterized by their use of the first person common plural pronoun, some type of calamity experienced by the community, and a petition to God, these psalms incorporate similar imagery, terminology, and structure. This study explores these psalms and suggests that they relate closely to the Hittite treaty-covenant formula found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, yet differ in that they reflect an ongoing covenantal relationship rather than the establishment of such. Thus, these psalms enphasize Israel’s expectation that God, as the senior covenantal party, will fulfill his covenantal obligations if Israel remained worthy. These psalms, therefore, are representative of the unique relationship that Israel had with her God, a relationship reflected in Latter-day Saint theology as well.
Genesis 27 is a story that depicts a series of ancient ritual performances. The narrative recounts the time when Jacob, the son of Isaac, received his father’s blessing by means of an act of deception. As an account that contains explicit examples of performances designed to set the activities apart from other less sacred occurrences, the blessing story in Genesis 27 contains features of what scholars refer to as \"ritualization\" in narrative. Ritualization can be defined as actions designed to distinguish and privilege what is being done in comparison to other, usually more commonplace, activities. Ritualization can assist those of a lesser status in accomplishing their objectives that stand in opposition to the desires of the powerful. When read as ritualization in narrative, Genesis 27 can be interpreted as an account that portrays the use of ancient temple and sacrificial imagery in order to secure a sacred blessing.
Critical to understanding the widespread symbolism and imagery pointing to Jesus Christ in the New Testament is an exegetical grasp of the content--that is, an understanding of the historical, literary, and theological context of the language. The image of water recurs frequently throughout the New Testament Gospels as a symbol of the Savior’s purity, cleansing power, true doctrine, and so forth. Similarly, blood is used often to reflect the sacred mission of Christ and the price of our salvation. This article investigates this imagery, particularly as used by Apostle John, to explain the significance of the Savior’s mission in mortality and the miracle of his mercy in immortality.
In recent years, the study of Leviticus has been galvanized by anthropologist Mary Douglas. Douglas’s central insight was that Leviticus relies on analogical thinking, which means that each part of the law cannot be understood on its own but only by comparing it with other parts of the law of Moses. This paper uses an analogical approach to Leviticus in order to explore what the law of Moses teaches about Jesus Christ. Details of the various offerings; laws regarding food, contact, and illness; and holy days are examined analogically in order to show what ancient prophets in the New and Old Worlds already knew: that the law of Moses can \"[point] our souls to Christ.\"
The Gospel of Philip, a Valentinian tractate found in the Nag Hammadi library, has sparked the interest of some Latter-day Saints because of its numerous references to a bridal chamber associated with the holy of holies in the temple (Gospel of Philip 69.14-70.4), such as to a \"mirrored bridal chamber\" (Gospel of Philip 65.12) and a sacred kiss (Gospel of Philip 59.1-5). The purpose of this paper is to examine the bridal chamber references within their Valentinian context. While there may be some interesting parallels with LDS teachings about eternal marriage, it is imporant to understand that the Valentinians understood these references in substantially different ways.
Studies in the Bible and Antiquity Vol. 2 (2010)
Introduction to the current issue.
This paper examines various significant aspects of what may be designated the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: its contents and description, scribal conventions, variant readings, use by modern English Bible translations, as well as parabiblical texts and their possible affiliation with the DSS Bible, canonicity, scriptural commentaries, tefillin, and mezuzot. An examination of the DSS biblical texts, which date to nearly a thousand years earlier than previously known texts of the Hebrew Bible, demonstrates a high degree of accuracy in the transmission of our Bible texts. Most variants offer only minor corrections to our biblical texts. Thus the scribe’s professionalism overall should give us, as modern readers, confidence that biblical scripture has come down to us in excellent order.
Many Latter-day Saints are interested in and familiar to some extent with the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), and a few Latter-day Saint scholars have participated in the study and publication of scroll fragments. This essay suggests answers to the question, where can or should Latter-day Saints go from here regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls? Directed to Latter-day Saint readers, the essay assumes there are still impoartant things to learn about and benefit to be gained from further interaction with the DSS. After reviewing the general value of the DSS and Latter-day Saint interest in them, suggestions are provided in five broad categories of consideration, among which are the need to overcome ignorance and misinformation about the scrolls among church members, keeping up-to-date by utilizing current publications on the DSS, and emphasizing and illustrating the value of the DSS for studying the Bible.
The Dead Sea Scrolls constitute a seminal resource for understanding the context of the early Christian community and several New Testament texts. Soon after their discovery, some very sensational claims were made about the Qumran community and its literature (the scrolls) in terms of their connection to Jesus and his followers. While these have largely been dismissed, and serious and persistent scholarship over the years has shown that there were differences between the Qumran community and early Christianity, significant similarities do exist. These similarities line up largely according to the following categories: common scripture and its interpretation, theological ideas, vocabulary and practices, importance of the temple, eschatological and apocalyptic orientation, and the centrality of messianic expectations. This essay attempts to highlight some of the most significant of these parallels to show that both the New Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls are products of the same roots, that we should expect to find certain commonalities, and that to fully understand one corpus of writings, we have to know something about the other.
Hugh Nibley, late professor of ancient history and religion at Brigham Young University and one of the foremost scholars of the ancient world in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, discussed the Rule of the Community in an appendix to his 1975 book The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri. The Joseph Smith Papyri is an initiatory text; the Rule of the Community is both an initiatory text, enumerating details for entrance into the Essene community at Qumran, and a covenant document, listing elements in the covenant made between God and individuals entering the Essene community at Qumran. This piece is an excerpt from the appendix of his text mentioned above and outlines the various aspects of this Rule of the Community as found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS).
Select bibliography of LDS research on the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Studies in the Bible and Antiquity Vol. 3 (2011)
Introduction to the current issue.
The parable of the laborers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1–6 demonstrates the possibilities and limitations of constructing metaphoric models of salvation. It also exposes the inadequacy of applying human economic analogies to divine relations and invites its audience to consider the function and purpose of using metaphors to understand spiritual concepts. An anonymous fourteenth-century Middle English poem called Pearl retells this parable and questions whether terrestrial concepts of value and exchange should frame salvation as a transaction based on merit. The poem demonstrates in metaphoric models that heavenly relationships, particularly salvation and grace, operate on a different scale, not one of terrestrial binary or comparative value but of celestial fulness.
This article illustrates that for Latter-day Saints, the Book of Mormon can function as an interpretive guide to Isaiah’s writings. The analysis explores some ways in which the Book of Mormon can aid in identifying textual meaning in the story of Isaiah’s prophetic commission, especially on the topic of Christ and covenants. Lehi’s call narrative in the Book of Mormon shares much in common with Isaiah 6. Based on analogy with Lehi’s comparable dream, LDS readers can connect the seraph that interacts personally with Isaiah to Jesus Christ—that is, the Being with great luster who descends out of heaven to meet with the Book of Mormon prophet.
The prophet Nephi declared that the Lord speaks to his people “according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3). Religious beliefs are an integral part of a culture’s shared “language,” and the ways in which individuals interpret supernatural manifestations is typically mediated through their cultural background. The hierophanies recorded in Latter-day Saint canon directly reflect the unique cultural background of the individuals who witnessed them. This paper analyzes several distinct hierophanies witnessed by prophets in both the Old and New Worlds and discusses the cultural context in which such manifestations occur, which aids modern readers in obtaining a greater understanding of the revelatory process recounted in these texts.
This article renders a text-critical comparison of the King James New Testament and select modern translations of the New Testament. Specifically, it surveys twenty-two passages in the King James New Testament that have been omitted in most modern translations. The article then clarifies and explains why these verses have been omitted and asks whether such omissions ought to be accepted. While this study demonstrates that in most cases the readings in the King James Version are inferior in a text-critical sense and that they likely represent interpolations into the biblical text, there are a few cases where the King James Version might preserve a better reading. This article also argues that even though the King James Version may be inferior on a text-critical level, when compared to certain modern translations, we can still use it with profit if we are aware of its deficiencies.
Studies in the Bible and Antiquity Vol. 4 (2012)
This article explores the ancient Near Eastern rituals that endowed kings with this power, specifically the rites suggested by the Investiture Panel at the palace of Mari, with specific focus on the motifs of creation, sacred garden, and divine kingship. Because contemporary evidence at Mari relating to an interpretation of the panel and the functions of various rooms of the palace is limited, it will be necessary to rely in part on a careful comparative analysis of religious texts, images, and architecture throughout the ancient Near East, including the Old Testament. Comparative analysis not only has the benefit of increasing our understanding of ancient Mesopotamian religion but also can enrich our understanding of the Bible.
Because clothing has a social function by which we define ourselves in relation to others, the rites of investiture and divestiture are often used within a given community as the individual moves from one social environment to another. These two rites can be used to examine the social progression of Adam and Eve via the fall, the symbolic movement from the mortal sphere to the divine sphere as represented with the veil, as well as the Christ-like nature of Tabitha who, like Christ himself, clothed others, thus giving them meaning and place within the community of believers.
Using different methodological approaches and considerations, Thomas Wayment and John Gee each approach the question of whether Paul was speaking to his spouse in Philippians 4:3; their intent is to determine if the question can be answered with any degree of confidence. The related question of whether Paul was ever married is not addressed here, although that issue has been of interest since at least the second century AD and perhaps earlier. Instead, these authors consider only the question of whether a specific noun that is sometimes used to refer to a wife was intentionally used that way by Paul.
The parable of the prodigal son is among the most beloved and consoling of the Savior’s teachings. This literary masterpiece is essentially a distillation of God’s plan of salvation, a sobering insight into human nature—men and women’s tendency to stray, their inclination toward envy, the temptation to judge unrighteously. And yet towering above the condition of the two sons—each a prodigal in his own way—is the tender revelation of the waiting father, the actual hero of the story. His capacity to love without limits, to readily forgive, and to celebrate the return of a wandering child is as stunning as it is dramatically moving. It is, of course, a glimpse into the soul of God, our Heavenly Father.
Studies in the Bible and Antiquity Vol. 5 (2013)
This article surveys the past and current research on Huqoq, an ancient Jewish village near the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Historical sources and modern explorations show that Huqoq was a small agricultural village during the biblical and postbiblical periods. Formal excavations of the site began in 2011 and have uncovered portions of the ancient village and its synagogue. This article highlights the discoveries made during the first two seasons of excavation (2011-2012), including pieces of a mosaic floor in the synagogue’s east aisle that depict two female faces, an inscription, and an illustration of Samson tying lit torches to foxes (Judges 15:1-5). Because of the rarity of Samson in Jewish art, the religious significance of this mosaic is difficult to explain. However, liturgical texts from late antiquity indicate that some synagogue congregations celebrated Samson as an apocalyptic image and messianic prototype, whose victories against the Philistines fostered hope in the eschatological messiah expected to appear and deliver the Jewish community from foreign oppression.
In silence, an unnamed woman approaches Jesus and pours ointment on his head. Responding to criticism from his disciples, Jesus not only defends the woman’s actions but states that wherever the gospel is preached, her story will be told as a memorial of her (Mark 14:9). This enigmatic story has, surprisingly, received very little comment from biblical scholars over the centuries. Yet it is a veritable treasure trove of insight into the person of Jesus and his ministry: (1) anointing was, as Jesus himself explains, a preparation for his burial. Both Jesus and the woman who anoints him understand that he will soon die; (2) anointing was also, in the biblical tradition, part of the coronation ritual for kinds (see example, 1 Samuel 10:1)--both Jesus and the woman who anoints him understand that he is the King of Kings; (3) a point where the disciples seem to understand only the glorious aspect or the suffering aspect of Jesus’s mission, the anointing woman’s actions show that she understands that both aspects must be integrated in the atoning mission of Jesus Christ; and (4) the Joseph Smith Translation of Mark 14:8 on first reading does not appear to add much to the story but on closer examination reveals a chiasmus that strengthens and nuances Jesus’s praise of the woman.
Luke 1:5-25 shares several themes and type-scenes in common with other biblical narratives, and yet one major allusion has often been overlooked: its connection with Isaiah 6:1-8. Like the first chapter of Luke, Isaiah 6 is also a prophetic call narrative that takes place in the temple, involves and angelic encounter, and explores the themes of silence and language. Despite the centrality of the temple in Israelite theology, temple epiphanies are surprisingly uncommon in the Hebrew Bible. Furthermore, in no other biblical texts does the recipient of the vision encounter an angel specifically at the temple’s altar. Where Zechariah is struck dumb, Isaiah also finds himself unable to speak and must have his language cleansed prior to his prophetic task. Because these are the only two texts in the Bible that share these convergences, it is clear that Luke intentionally alluded to Isaiah 6:1-8 in crafting the opening of his narrative. This allusion helps inform his audience about Jewish theology, sets John the Baptist apart as a prophetic figure, and introduces Luke’s later use of Isaiah 6:9-10 in Luke-Acts.
The New Testament records that Jesus’s disciples \"worshiped\" him during several postresurrection theophanies. To understand the disciples’ actions on these sacred occasions, it is necessary to understand the rite of proskynesis as observed in ancient Israel (particularly in the Jerusalem temple) and in the surrounding cultures and cults of the ancient Near East. When scripture uses terms rendered \"worship,\" proskynesis (concrete, hierarchical prostrations of an inferior to a superior rather than just abstract veneration) is almost always intended. Literally a \"kissing in the presence [of]\" a superior being, proskynesis acknowledges the recipient’s divinity and the giver’s submissive humility. Proskynesis was also a sublime and supreme expression of love. As John foresaw, the God who was \"apprehended\" in the Jerusalem temple with proskynesis will be acknowledged not as a pseudo-divine Caesar or Herod but as universal Sovereign by the numberless hosts of those he redeems. Proskynesis, then, is a (disciple’s) means of actualizing eschatological reality and Jesus’s unrivaled position in that reality.
A number of texts from the Qumran scrolls demonstrate the community’s interest in heavenly ascent and in communion with angels. This article lays out a pattern observable in some of the poetic/liturgical texts (for example, the Hodayot and other noncanonical psalms) in which the leader of the community is taken up into the divine council of God to be taught the heavenly mysteries, is appointed a teacher of those mysteries, and is then commissioned to share the teachings with his followers. Upon learning the mysteries, the followers are enabled to likewise ascend to heaven to praise God with the angels. In some texts, the human worshippers appear to undergo a transfiguration so that they become like the heavenly beings. This article further illustrates how these elements can be found together in a liturgical text known as the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice; their collective presence suggests that all were part of a ritual sequence. Finally, the article argues that these same elements, or traditions related to them, can be found in passages from the Old Testament.
Studies in the Bible and Antiquity Vol. 6 (2014)
Studies in the Bible and Antiquity Vol. 7 (2015)
Studies in the Bible and Antiquity Vol. 8 (2016)
In the summer of 2016, the editors of Studies in the Bible and Antiquity (Brian Hauglid, Matthew Grey, and Cory Crawford) organized a one-day workshop sponsored by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship to consider the relationship between modern biblical studies and various faith communities who view the Bible as sacred scripture. This workshop, which was held on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, included essays presented by six outstanding scholars who approached the topic from Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and Latter-day Saint perspectives, and we are pleased to publish the revised versions of these essays in this roundtable forum.
Thanks to the work of scholars of the Hebrew Bible over the last two centuries or so, we now know a great deal about how and when various biblical texts were composed and assembled; in fact, this has been the focus of much of modern biblical scholarship. One thing has become clear as a result. Our biblical texts are actually the product of multiple acts of rewriting. All our canonical books have been found to be, in some degree, the result of editorial expansion, rearrangement, and redaction introduced by various anonymous ancient scholars.
Understanding the history of biblical criticism as it takes place within specific denominational contexts is, to my mind, interesting not only to members of those groups, but also to anyone who wants to understand the history of the guild and the history of scholarship, as well as those who want to understand the history of ecclesial relations with the academy.
Each of us has been asked to address some important questions about the intersection of our own faith traditions and higher criticism — an apt metaphor, since “intersections” are where collisions often happen. This brings me to my topic, Protestantism and higher criticism, a messy subject to be sure.
In 1842 Joseph Smith published the basics of Latter-day Saint (LDS) belief in thirteen articles of faith. In Article of Faith 8 he succinctly set forth their belief about the Bible: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God.” While there is no evidence that Smith was familiar with Maimonides or his writings, in a strange coincidence Maimonides, in the twelfth century, also set forth thirteen principles of Jewish belief, and number 8 in his list also dealt with the Bible: “I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that is now in our possession is the same that was given to Moses our teacher, peace be upon him.”
According to the non-Mormon historian Jan Shipps, “the mystery of Mormonism cannot be solved until we solve the mystery of Joseph Smith.” Stated more casually, this is called the “prophet puzzle,” and it is sometimes suggested that Latter-day Saints will understand themselves only to the degree that they understand Joseph Smith. The classic definition of the role played by Joseph Smith was contributed by LDS leader B. H. Roberts in the late nineteenth century: “What was Joseph Smith’s mission? It was the mission of Joseph Smith, under God’s direction, to establish the Church of Christ and the Kingdom of God upon the earth; and to the accomplishment of this work he devoted the whole energy of his life and was faithful until the end.”2 What Roberts meant by this is that Smith restored organizations, roles, priesthoods, sacraments, and so forth that had been previously present among God’s people in all ages. Smith was particularly clear that Jesus had established this church in his own period. To the extent that information about this part of the Christian past is preserved, it is to be found particularly in the New Testament.
Recent years have witnessed a growing recognition in the academy that the Book of Mormon deserves closer attention than it has received. Not surprisingly, adherents to the various Mormon faiths have long read the book with some care. But larger numbers of believing and nonbelieving academics have come to recognize that, despite its often didactic style and relative literary artlessness, the Book of Mormon exhibits remarkable sophistication. This is perhaps nowhere truer than in those passages where the volume interacts—whether explicitly or implicitly—with biblical texts (always in or in relation to the King James rendering). Close reading of the Book of Mormon makes clear that Mormonism’s founding text models a profoundly inventive biblical hermeneutic that deserves a place in the burgeoning field of reception history. How does Mormon scripture understand and react to particular biblical texts, and what might be learned about the potential meanings of those biblical texts in light of such interactions?
Whenever a new movie depicts the events associated with the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s passion, it must decide how to portray the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Was Pilate a pawn in the hands of the Jewish leaders? Was he acting independently according to his own imperium? What responsibility did the Roman governor bear in the trial and condemnation of Jesus? These questions are not new, for early Christians dealt with the same issues and came to a variety of conclusions.
Rahab, Tamar, Susanna, Mary, and Eve are all biblical women traditionally associated with sexually scandalous narratives in biblical text. Their stories are easily read initially as types of revealed shame that do not often carry that same burden for men in the story. Rahab’s narrative is found in Joshua 2 and 6, and its legacy continues in the genealogical references found in Ruth 4 and Matthew 1 as well as in the typology of her conversion in Hebrews 11 and James 2. Rahab’s story is ultimately part of a larger story about the sovereignty of Israel’s God and the accounting of his interventions and deliverance in bringing Israel into the promised land of Canaan.
The discovery of Babylonian, Assyrian, and Egyptian ritual prescriptions for creating and enlivening divine statues ranks among the more important in providing depth and context for reading biblical texts, and it is one that has only relatively recently begun to bear fruit. As the most recent and sustained study of these texts and their significance for understanding the Hebrew Bible, Catherine L. McDowell’s The Image of God in the Garden of Eden demonstrates the gains in understanding made possible, with all due caution, by bringing the mīs pî pīt pî (mouth-washing, mouth-opening) ritual instructions from Mesopotamia and the wpt-r (mouth-opening) texts from Egypt into conversation with the Genesis creation stories. The work under consideration is both an excellent distillation and critique of the relatively recent work done on the animation of divine statues in the ancient Near East as well as a compelling analysis of what it means for understanding the Garden of Eden narrative of Genesis 2–3.2 A revision of her 2009 Harvard dissertation directed by Peter Machinist and Irene Winter, McDowell’s work displays the comprehensiveness, attention to detail, and clarity of exposition that make this indispensable for understanding both the rituals involved and the conceptual context informing the Genesis account. Scholars will find reasons to dispute some of the claims and conclusions made in the volume, but McDowell has herewith advanced the conversation in a systematic and reasonable manner.
David Bokovoy’s most recent book, Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis–Deuteronomy, represents a fresh and much-needed perspective on how Latter-day Saints can simultaneously embrace both scholarship and faith. This book is the first in what is anticipated to be a three-volume set exploring issues of authorship in the Old Testament published by Bokovoy with Greg Kofford Books. Bokovoy uses current scholarship on the Pentateuch as a springboard for discussing LDS perspectives on scripture, revelation, and cultural influence. To my knowledge, this is the first book-length attempt to popularize the classical Documentary Hypothesis among Latter-day Saints, and Bokovoy does an exemplary job of tackling this issue head-on and taking an unflinching view of its implications for how we understand Restoration scriptures such as the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and the Book of Mormon.
Over the last several decades, scholarly discussion on the textual world of the Second Temple has been shifting. Ideas about texts and the development of the biblical canon began to be reshaped by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which altered previously established ideas about the configuration of a prebiblical canon. Investigation of those and other texts made it apparent that the structure of the biblical canon was still fluid at a much later date than was originally thought. These new scholarly analyses are redefining the timelines and ideas about the early shape of the biblical text and its elasticity. Such developments have been particularly intriguing for Latter-day Saints because they have generated new ways of thinking about the historic limits of text and canon. In her new book, Eva Mroczek takes the discussion a step further and in a direction that will resonate well within the Mormon scholarly community. Her aim is to identify the “literary imagination” of Jewish antiquity or, in other words, the ways in which ancient writers and scribes conceived of their own textual world. Although she is not the first to point out the anachronistic difficulties that can plague modern scholars in their approach to texts from antiquity, she is one of the first to try to re-create a vision of an original literary mindset from the ancient texts themselves. Her study culls texts from antiquity for clues about the ways in which ancient communities thought about literature, text, authorship, and canon.
Smith’s newest book, Where the Gods Are: Spatial Dimensions of Anthropomorphism in the Biblical World (part of the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library), continues that multidisciplinary trajectory, examining early anthropomorphic conceptualizations of deity in the Hebrew Bible and in cognate literature, as well as the way place and space mediated, influenced, and constrained those conceptualizations. The salience of anthropomorphism in recent years owes much to recent publications like Esther Hamori’s “When Gods Were Men” (2008),4 Benjamin Sommer’s The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (2009),5 and Anne Knafl’s Forming God: Divine Anthropomorphism in the Pentateuch (2014),6 and Smith engages with each in outlining a unique model of divine embodiment. However, Smith also seeks new insights in Where the Gods Are through the interpretive frameworks of materiality and spatiality, briefly roping in discussions about cognitive science and anthropology (without straying too far from his methodological wheelhouse).
In The Ransom of the Soul, Peter Brown explores how early Christians conceptualized the relationship between wealth and the afterlife. He limits his study primarily to the writings of Christian authors living in the Latin West between 250 and 650 ce and traces the evolution of the idea that “heaven and earth could be joined by money” in such a way as to affect the fate of souls after death (p. ix). Brown situates these developing discourses within their socioeconomic context and asks, How, when, and why did variations occur? How long did they take? And to what extent do they represent departures from previously established Christian or non-Christian religious systems? He argues that gradual changes in the social and economic context of the Western church were “reflected in changes in Christian representations of the other world and in the religious practices connected with the death and afterlife of Christian believers” (p. ix).