The Documentary Hypothesis

The 8th Article of Faith for the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints states:

8 We believe the aBible to be the bword of God as far as it is translated ccorrectly;

This has to be one of the most oft-quoted articles of faith by members of the LDS church.  In one of my previous posts on Scripture Literalism, the comments referred to Biblical inerrancy and literalism.  Some evangelicals believe that the Bible is both inerrant and literal, and take great issue with the Mormon stance on the Bible.  They don’t believe there are any mistranslations, and that every word in the Bible was spoken by God.  Many of these people discount any contradictions in the Bible.

The Documentary Hypothesis is a theory that seems to identify at least four different authors/editors of the first five books in the Bible (also called the Torah in Judaism, or the Pentateuch.)  I think many Mormons would find great agreement with the Documentary Hypothesis, though they might not agree with every part of the theory.

Tradition has it that Moses authored the first 5 books of the Bible.  This is somewhat problematic, because Deuteronomy records Moses death in Deuteronomy 34:5, so Moses certainly couldn’t have finished writing that book.  Obviously someone else recorded his death (though there is a Jewish tradition that Moses did actually write the words of his death, and cried while he did it.)

There is an old A&E series called Mysteries of the Bible, and one of their episodes is called “Who wrote the Bible?”  I’d like to quote some of the information referencing the Documentary Hypothesis.  I downloaded the episode from Amazon, but apparently it is no longer available for download.  The documentary starts by looking at some of the stories which are told twice in the Bible, with different (and sometimes contradictory) tellings of the story.

There are numerous examples of the same story told twice, sometimes with conflicting details.  Scholars have long referred to these as doublets.  There are two separate accounts of the creation of the world, two versions of the covenant made between God and the Patriarch Abraham, and even two distinct versions of Moses obtaining water from a rock at a place called Mirabar, during the Exodus.

In most instances of these so-called doublets, the two versions of the story each refer to God by a different name.  In the Hebrew text, sometimes the deity is referred to as Elohim, the usual Hebrew reference to God.  But in the alternative version, the term used is often used is Yahweh, or Lord.  For centuries, scholars have puzzled over the appearance of these distinct differences.

Richard Elliot Friedman, Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, University of California, San Diego.  “The key piece of evidence in this is that different kinds of Jews converged with each other.  So that you have doublets of stories-that proves nothing.  You have different names of God-that proves nothing.  But when all the doublets of stories line up into two groups, one of which uses one name of God, and the other uses the other name of God, consistently, then that’s strong evidence that something is going on.”

By the early half of the 19th century, many scholars were convinced that the five books of Moses were written by three different authors.  The writer of the version which referred to Yahweh, was named “J” because early European translators were ignorant of the correct pronunciation of Hebrew names.  Many inadvertently referred to the name of God as Jehovah instead of Yahweh, and ironically, the name has stuck.

The author of those texts referring to God as Elohim was named “E.”  A third writer was identified as “P”.  This author was thought to be a priest, and wrote in a different style than J and E.  His passages seemed to be especially concerned with the establishment of the priesthood, after the people of Israel left Egypt.

Friedman, “All these texts are written in Hebrew, but in a different stage of Hebrew that we can identify.  Each has its own favorite terms, words that occur 50 times in P, but never occur in E or J, that sort of thing.  Each has its own style.”

The differences are immediately obvious in Hebrew, the language in which the text was originally written.  The disparities virtually disappear in the English translation.  But this example comes from the book of Exodus.  The text relates how God appeared in a burning bush.  The passage was written by J, who in Hebrew refers to God as Yahweh, or Lord.  Exodus 3:2, “And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked and, behold, the bush burned with fire and the bush was not consumed.”


When the E writer, discusses Moses and the burning bush, the name is now only Elohim, “God”.  Exodus 3:6, “Moreover, he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.”


Subtle, though the differences may be, the texts clearly seem to reflect a compilation of sources.  In 1807, the German theologian, Wilhelm DeWitt announced the discovery of a possible fourth author.  His examination of the text indicated that the language, tone, and content of the entire book of Deuteronomy were the work of a different person to J, E, or P.  Scholars have since come to this author as D, for Deuteronomist.  Over the years, the theory has come to be known as the Documentary Hypothesis.

Friedman, “Once you have identified a text and said, ‘I think this is J, I think this is E, I think this is P, I think this is D’, then you place it up against other texts in the Bible where we have some idea of the date, and see if there is any development in the language.  It’s not just that you can tell the difference between the way I speak and the way Shakespeare did.  It’s that if you heard someone who lived in the 18th century, you could tell that that person was somewhere halfway between Shakespeare and me.  So you can see the stages of Biblical Hebrew in growth.”

In a stunning retraction of early church intolerance toward the hypothesis and the issue of biblical authorship in 1943, Pope Pius XII, surprises religious leaders and academics alike.  He issues an edict and encourages the scholars to fully investigate the question, ‘Who wrote the Bible?’  The directive was heralded as a magna carta for Biblical study, initiating unprecedented research into the origins into the holy book.  The quest would open up how the words of the divine have traversed the centuries.

The documentary goes back to the time of Moses, and states that there were no scriptures for the Hebrews at this time.

While the 10 commandments were always in the constant possession of the people, there may have been no other written words at the time, though the Bible indicates that the scrolls of Moses may have accompanied the Israelites.  Many scholars believe that the first 5 books of the Bible had not yet been written.

After the advent of the monarchy in about 1000 BCE,  King David eventually becomes ruler, and establishes his capital at Jerusalem.  It is then, that the matter of authorship enters the story.  The king breaks with tradition, by appointing two high priests, in charge of religious affairs, instead of one.

Friedman, “It’s not so strange to have two high priests; in Israel today, there are two chief rabbis.  The problem you have is that when you have two chief priests instead of one, each one spends more time of his day sitting there trying to get rid of the other one.  ”

Not only are there two high priests, but toward the end of his reign, two of King David’s sons are vying for the throne.  It is uncertain which of them will be appointed the royal successor.  A struggle for power ensues, and this embroils the high priests.  Each one supports a different royal candidate.  When David dies, it is Solomon who is chosen to wear the crown.

Now the question is, will Solomon retain the services of both priests, or return to the traditional practice of having only one man in charge of the religious affairs.  Not surprisingly, the priest who was loyal to Solomon and his candidacy was chosen.  At the same time, the second high priest is removed from power and banished from the kingdom.  “And unto Abiathar the priest said the king, Get thee to Anathoth, to thine own field, for thou art worthy of death.  So Solomon thrust out Abiathar from being priest unto the Lord.” 1 Kings 2:26

Thus the priest retained by Solomon retains an exclusive role.  He and his assistants would soon take on new responsibilities as the king begins constructing the first great temple in Jerusalem.  The deposed priest and his followers enviously watch from their place of banishment.  They are now cut off from any possible new duties in the temple.

Friedman, “They had no place in the royal kingdom in Jerusalem, and so a priest of that priestly house, initiated the rebellion that ultimately led to the formation of the kingdom of Israel in the north, and the Kingdom of Judah in the south.  They wanted their own place where they could get to be the priest as well.

Thus in 922 BCE, the ten northerly tribes sever their ties from Jerusalem, and succession splinters the nation in two: Israel in the north, and Judah in the south.  So two kingdoms born of a nation, oppose one another in an uneasy truce.

Friedman, “Each had its own king, each had its on traditions, its own places of worship.  At the same time, we’re talking about a region that’s the same size as a large American county, so people were close to each other, people had relatives north and south, they both spoke the same language, and they both had the same ancestors of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and events in Egypt, and events at Mount Sinai, and so it is thought that each kingdom produced its sacred text, or at least one person living in each kingdom produced his version of the sacred text.”

If this is so, is it possible that different versions of the Bible were taking place at the same time?

Friedman, “It’s as if in America during the Civil War, a historian in the north, and a historian in the south each wrote a history of North America.  They would cover a lot of the same events and some different events, and they would tell it from their own perspective.

Daniel Smith-Christopher, Professor of Hebrew Bible, Loyola Marymount University, “We think that the J material was first gathered together under King Solomon.  It represents Solomon’s attempt to gather up the stories of a people, to knit them together in a coherent narrative, to tell the story about how the people of Israel came to be a people.  So it became a kind of national epic.  Now here’s one of the interesting mysteries:  was it an official national epic?  Some scholars say, the majority I think, would say that Solomon commissioned this document to be written.”

In answer to Solomon and his history of the people of Judah, the people of the northern Kingdom of Israel, now begin to amass their own collection of historical stories.

Christopher, “What they want to do is they want to add to this material that is more northern in orientation.  So they add material, and we think that this material is what we call E, because they tend to use the word Elohim for God.  Now we have somewhat more sophisticated theological stories.  But interestingly enough, we also have stories that tend to emphasize the significance of the second son.  Many people who read Genesis ask, ‘how come it’s always the second son that comes out better?’  Isaac was after Ishmael, Jacob, Cain and Abel, I mean all of these stories seem to emphasize the second son as the important one, or the preferred son.  It very well could be that the northern kingdom, after their break, wanted to emphasize the second son because in a sense they were the second son.   They were the breakaway kingdom.  So, they wanted to portray themselves as the preferred of the two.

Unlike the Bible’s favored second son, however, the Kingdom of Israel slips into the grip of paganism.  As time passes, people begin to worship Canaanite gods.  They would suffer a long and difficult history under 19 kings, eight of whom would die violently.  Despite the warnings of prophets, moral decay and corruption continue to enslave the people.

Then seven and a half centuries before the birth of Christ, the prophecies come true.  An invading Assyrian army sweeps in from the north and conquers Israel.  Forever scattering the 10 tribes to the winds, never to be seen or heard from again.


But an unremitting spiritual downfall has now gripped Judah too.  Without any consolidated religious precepts, no laws, no sacred texts, Paganism becomes rife throughout the land, until King Josiah takes the throne.  He tries to usher in change, by outlawing idol worship, and by a return to the holy covenant made with God at Mount Sinai.

Christopher, “Josiah was the young king who, as soon as he comes to the throne, decides that he wants to reform the religion of the people towards a more spiritual attachment to Yahweh, the national god.  So Josiah starts this campaign:  he even cleans up the temple, he wants to re-employ the people in reconstructing the temple and making it more glorious, and making it more spiritual.  Well, along the way, they discover a book.”

While cleaning out the buildings, the king’s high priests find a temple scroll deep within the temple vaults.  “And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan, the scribe, I have found a book of the Law, in the house of the Lord.  And Hilkiah gave the book to the scribe, and he read it” 2 Kings 22:8

Friedman, “The document that Hilkiah is understood to have read to Josiah on that date is thought by many of us to be the laws of Deuteronomy.  They are laws that say that you should worship God in only one place.  So Josiah destroys all the other places.  These are laws that say that you should not have pagan worship, so he destroys idols, and removes pagan worship from his country.  He is the king that follows that law code, it’s an extraordinary group of laws from ritual matters down to sacrifice to moral matters of how you should treat one another, that you should be just, that you shouldn’t oppress a widow, or an orphan.  They should take care of the poor-it’s an extraordinary body of laws.

Some contemporary Biblical scholars regard the supposed discovery of the Book of Deutoronomy with skepticism.

Christopher, “Was Josiah genuinely shocked at finding the Book of Deutronomy in the temple or was this perhaps the first Academy Award performance recorded in history?  Did Josiah in fact know that that book was in the temple, and that if he assigned his people to begin cleaning it up, that they would find it.  Many scholars suggest that Josiah was in on planting the book in the first place.  What better way to push forward his reform campaign, than to plant a book that suggests that his campaign is based on the very laws of Moses themselves?”

The laws reveal that the people had deviated from their faith.  The author of the book was clearly writing from that perspective, and was concerned with where society may be heading.

Friedman, “He writes in a very definite, observable, style that you can see in Deuteronomy, and see in 2 Kings, and you see it in one other place in the Bible, it’s in the prose of the prophet Jeremiah.  So, I have suggested the likelihood that the same person is the author of the prose parts of the Book of Jeremiah and the history that runs from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings. ”

The Bible tells us that the person responsible for writing much of Jeremiah’s work was his trusty scribe, Baruch.  “Then took Jeremiah another scroll, and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Naraiah.” Jeremiah 36:32

Could Baruch, the son of Nariah, have been more than a mere scribe?  Could he also have written the Book of Deuteronomy?  His work probably speaks for itself.  Many passages of text he wrote for Jeremiah are strikingly similar to words used in Deuteronomy.  Perhaps the same author may have had a hand in the writing of both books.

Deut. 10:16

“And it will be, if you really listen to Yahweh’s voice…”

Jer. 17:24

“And it will be, if you really listen to me says Yahweh…”

Deut. 4:19, 17:3

“…to all the host of the heavens…”

Jer. 8:2, 19:13

“…to all the host of the heavens…”

Deut. 4:20

“…and he brought you ought of the iron furnace, from Egypt…”

Jer 11:4

“…in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace…”

If so, archaeology has uncovered an artifact that has finally brought us into direct contact with one of the earliest authors of the Bible.

Friedman, “We in recent years, recovered a clay seal that is now in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem which is stamped in a script that we do identify as seventh century Hebrew script, late 7th, early 6th century Hebrew script, and the name on that seal is Baruch, son of Nariah, the scribe.  If it’s true that Baruch is our Deuteronomistic historian, what that means is when you look at that seal, you are looking at nothing less than the autograph of one of the authors of the Bible.

Baruch seal

Could this tiny, clay seal be the personal signature of the writer of the Book of Deuteronomy?  If it is, it is a unique object that reaches out to us beyond 26 centuries of history, the only link ever found connected to an actual author of the Bible.

Act V

The tangled web of history surrounding the writing of the five books of Moses may one day be completely untwined.  But a loose thread remains:  who was it who gathered the original manuscripts together?  In the course of writing a book, any book, a lengthy process of editing, and alteration is involved.  In our search, it may not be a question of who wrote the Bible, but of who re-wrote it?

Friedman, “People usually talk simply about this as if there’s four sources and as if there were only four writers and that’s misleading because even if we count those as only four writers, there’s still key editors in the stages of this.  Editors are as important as authors in the process.”

If there was an editor, who was he?  To pick up the strands we must return to the Kingdom of Judah, to the days when under a new king, Jehoiakim, the people had retrogressed once again to worshipping idols.  A prophet by the name of Jeremiah has now become one of the most outspoken critics of the weakening moral fiber of the people and he foretells their fate.  “Ye have done worse than your fathers.  Behold, ye walk everyone after the imagination of his evil heart.  Wherefore I will cast you out of this land, into a land that ye know not, neither ye, nor your fathers.” Jeremiah 16:11.

A daunting prophecy, in 586 BCE it comes true.  From Babylon, King Nebudchadnezzer’s army surged down into Judah, and lay siege to Jerusalem.  So begins more than a century of bitter exile for the people of Israel in Babylon.  But eventually, even mighty Babylon falls to a mightier power, the powerful armies of Cyrus the Great absorbed Babylon into the Persian Empire.  But Cyrus is conciliatory towards the exiled Jews.  He issues his now legendary edict of restoration, allowing the people of Israel to return to Jerusalem, and restore their temple, and their faith.

Cyrus CylinderThis stone cylinder, dating back to the event five and a half centuries before Christ, bears the text of Cyrus’ edict.  “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, King of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and put it also in writing, saying, ‘Thus saith Cyrus, King of Persia, the Lord God of Heaven, hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” Ezra 1:1

It is a derelict homeland to which the people return.  Much of their religious tradition has been eroded during the long years of exile.  Their faith is it a threateningly low ebb.  According to some scholars, it is time for the great redactor, the final editor of the books of Moses to enter the scene, and leave his mark.

In Jerusalem, a party of exiled Jews returns under the leadership of a man called Ezra, a scribe.  He sees the spiritual weakness of the people, and he resolves to reintroduce them to the ancient religion of Moses.  They have not been exposed to the Hebrew laws for almost a century.  So Ezra calls for a mass public gathering in the city.  “And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation, and he read therein from the morning until mid-day before the men and the women, and those who could understand.  And the ears of all people were attentive to all the words of the law.” Nehemiah 8:2

Was Ezra history’s elusive editor?  Perhaps under his guidance, various religious texts were combined and read together for the first time, forevermore to be consolidated as the five books of Moses.

Friedman, “These were laws that had not been publicly read in any way like this before.  The laws of Deuteronomy had been publicly read at least from Josiah’s time, but now we’re talking about the full five books of Moses.  We’re not talking about P or J or E.  We’re talking about the five books of Moses as people read it today.

The compilation of the texts more than 2,500 years ago was one of the most significant events in a long history of persecution and conflict for the Jews.  In the ensuing centuries, they would suffer occupation, defeat, and destruction on an unprecedented scale.  But, the essence of their religious identity would forever be enshrined in the anthology enshrined, known as the Torah, the five books of Moses.  We may never know all the mysteries of the earliest writings of the Bible, but the study of the texts, the so-called Documentary Hypothesis has provided some insights into its origins.  However, the matter is far from resolved.

The hypothesis is only one possible answer.  It is merely a concept.  There is as yet no consensus on the theory.

Christopher, “At this point, I would say that the Documentary Hypothesis is the best explanation for many of the difficulties that are presented to us by the first five books of Bible as we now have them.”

Lawrence Schiffman, Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University, “In my mind, the Documentary Hypothesis does not really solve the problem that it sets out to solve, in which case we simply get left with the question of faith.  One who wants to believe that the Torah is a divine document and given by God, can do so; one who wants to believe that it’s a human document subjected to documentary or other types of similar analysis can do so.  I think it’s a question, a mystery, to which we’ll never really know the answer.”

As Orthodox tradition has it, the five books of Moses contain the divine words of God, though were written in the hand of man.  The books that follow differ fundamentally from them.  The rest of the Hebrew Bible is generally perceived to be a series of historical documents, a chronology of people written by many authors.  So our search for authorship must now come from another perspective, posing a different set of questions.

At this point, I want to stop.  I’ll probably post again on authorship of other books of the Bible.  So what do you think of the Documentary Hypothesis?  Does it agree with the 8th Article of Faith?


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82 comments on “The Documentary Hypothesis

  1. Excellent research summary.

  2. I’m speechless as to how to answer your question…I don’t really know how it would or would not agree with the 8th article of faith.

    I would say that it makes sense that there are multiple authors (just from noticing the “doublets” like Genesis 1 vs. Genesis 2)…because otherwise, the OT is just very weird.

    I would just wonder…are there any translations of the OT that try to stay faithful to how the original authors wrote (or at least, what the redactor or final editor left of the original authors), so that you can “read” how differently certain verses are from one another? I’ve been reading The Unvarnished New Testament by Andy Gaus, and it tries to remain faithful to how the Koine Greek would’ve “felt” like to someone back then, and it makes it apparent how each of the styles differ.

  3. Andrew, the problem is we have no original documents to compare, so we have no idea how faithful any of the authors are to the original. We can look at KJV, RSV, NIV, etc and know how faithful they are to copies, but not to the original.

    The hard part is that language changes. Is a modern language version of Shakespeare faithful to the original Shakespeare? I think different people will come to different answers. (Frankly, I can’t stand the language of Shakespeare–give me West Side Story instead.)

    I’m not sure why you find my question about the 8th article of faith difficult to answer. As I stated before, evangelicals treat the Bible as God’s exact literal and inerrant word. They don’t acknowledge any problems in translation. Yet the Doc. Hypothesis seems to allow for the possibility of hundreds of translation errors. Isn’t the Doc Hyp more in agreement with the 8th article of faith than the evangelical position of Biblical inerrancy?

  4. Oops. Not the original…I meant the earliest copies (e.g., whatever is allowing the critics to even say that there is a Elohist vs. Yawhist in the first place) What English translations stay most faithful to the earliest copies?

    I understand there are language changes (and personally, I like modern stuff too). But what I am more referring to is sloppy translation or intentionally biased translation. For example, we know the Jehovah’s Witnesses translate to suit their biases, Calvinists do the same, Evangelicals do the same. Has there been an attempt to at least try to mitigate the bias (since the early copies are still available). What would you get in English if you had the original Hebrew copy but didn’t have an explicit theological bent?

    The reason I don’t have an answer to the 8th Article of Faith question is because it seems like a non sequitur. It seems like Doc. Hypothesis deals with sources, while the 8th article is about translation. The 8th article of faith implies (or maybe I just infer) that however the sources got there, they are the word of God. If we all learned Hebrew for the OT and Greek for the NT, theoretically, the 8th article of faith would have no reason for being.

  5. Andrew, I don’t think I agree. I don’t think the errors necessarily occurred only when the Torah was translated to English, German, or other languages. While the Doc. Hyp. deals with sources, it also deals with editors. If the editor is combining sources (which the Doc. Hyp. seems to indicate), then he is going to have to deal with conflicting information.

    There was no standard Bible in the time of Ezra, for example. If we believe the Doc. Hyp., then the Northern and Southern Kingdoms didn’t have the exact same scriptures. An Editor such as Ezra, had to decide how to combine the competing sources. While a faithful evangelical may say that Ezra perfectly reconciled the differences, I think most of us would believe Ezra did the best he could, but probably couldn’t perfectly distinguish which was better.

    I didn’t include it in the post above, but they did discuss the doublets of Noah. In one version, Noah brings in animals 2 x 2, while the other version of the story says he did 7 x 2 of the clean animals. The stories don’t seem to agree, so did Ezra merely add both version to compensate for the seemingly conflicting information? Perhaps that’s one way to settle the dispute–add both versions, and one of them is bound to be right… (Of course one is bound to be wrong too.)

    Obviously, Ezra had access to materials we simply do not.

  6. Another fact that seems to support the Doc Hyp is the fact that Deuteronomy changes voices. Practically the entire book is written in one voice but in places the voice changes completely which leads many to think those pieces were added in post facto…hence the question, “who are the editors?”

    I’m willing to give the 8th article of faith leeway since I believe the intention is to state the biblical language is not pure, whether by translation or editing.

  7. well, remember, that I already look at the scriptures as necessarily coming from writers, editors, etc., it seems like you buy that part and parcel with the territory, unless you believe that God breathed alphabet soup on the pages.

    it doesn’t matter to me if Ezra didn’t have the exact same scriptures. Do we cry because of the compilation of the New Testament, with some books omitted, some books being pseudopigraphia, the gospels being ‘borrowed’ off one another and a mysterious Q document? No, I don’t think I cry about that. It’s just how things are.

    I don’t think that the 8th AoF necessarily means the scriptures have to be true in a literal, evangelical way either. For example, Genesis doesn’t have to have even *happened* for it to be the word of God. I’m really just looking at the plain and simple language, and it seems to me to be about translation. No more and no less. it doesn’t say anything (at least not to me) about sources, and it CERTAINLY doesn’t say anything to me about proper interpretation.

  8. Bishop Rick,

    I’m not interpreting Deuteronomy the same way as you. Perhaps you could give some examples?

    From the show I watched, it seems that they specifically stated that Deuteronomy is source D, and has a specifically different style than the other 4 books of Moses. While not stating it explicitly, implicitly it seems to me they strongly imply that Baruch wrote or heavily edited Deuteronomy, and they highlighted his clay seal (his autograph.) Now I suppose that future editors such as Ezra could have lightly edited Deuteronomy, but that’s not the sense I get from the film.

    Andrew, it seems to me you’re making a distinction between sources and translation. Can we really separate the two? It seems to me they are quite integrated. Isn’t an editor engaging in a form of translation?

    I used to do some freelance writing for about 4 newspapers here in the Salt Lake area. I would submit the same article to all four papers. In one case, the editor printed my article with 0 changes. The other 3 editors radically changed my article. For example, I remember one editor putting my conclusion at the beginning of the article. Another editor actually didn’t accept my article at all, but just interviewed me over the phone, and wrote the article himself. All three changed sentence structure, and wording, though obviously the general facts were the same. (After all, I was reporting on a sporting event–they obviously didn’t change the score, for example.) One version of the article was chronological, another version highlighted the comeback falling short, and then went back to the poor start in the first quarter. A third was sort of a combination. The editor who interviewed me had the shortest version, and didn’t include any quotes from the players or coaches. Isn’t this editing, basically a re-translation of my original article?

  9. Do you believe that it is possible that, because our oldest copy of the OT text is just an editing or a compilation, etc., that it is not translated correctly? Is it possible (doesn’t have to be likely or the case that you believe is true) that the ONLY thing we have to work with is a translation or an editing/compilation that it could be impossible to ever have the word of God?

    If not, then I think it is irrelevant NOT to make a distinction between sources and translations. Because if you concede such a possibility, then basically that means you already take for granted that our oldest copy — or oldest editing, so to speak — is a faithful representation of the original. So it can effectively be called the “source” instead of something removed from the source.

  10. Andrew, I’m not sure I’m following you here. Let me answer these questions, and see if we’re on the same page.

    Yes, it’s possible our oldest translation is not translated correctly.

    Yes, it’s possible that we have never had the word of God.

    So, our oldest translation may not be a faithful representation of the original, so the oldest translation could be something removed from the source. (I think this explains why Joseph Smith needed to restore the “original doctrines”, via JST, BoM, PoGP, and D&C.)

    Therefore, you can’t really separate the editors from the translation. (And of course, JS is also subject to translation errors, though conceivably, his errors should be more accurate than the 1820 KJV Bible he had in his possession at the time of the First Vision.)

    Are we on the same page, or am I misunderstanding something?

  11. we’re on the same page.

    it just seems to me that the more popular understanding (esp. with the 8th AoF) is that our oldest translation would be the Word of God (e.g., the bible is the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly seems to imply…or maybe I’m just inferring…that it was translated correctly so far). Translation is not meant (IMO) as from hebrew to hebrew in a game of telephone, but it seems to me like from hebrew to non-hebrew. And perhaps I’m making a huge leap, but I don’t think most people would share your concession.


    my next question would be, as a believer, even though you grant the *possibility* that the game of telephone has already led to distortion, wouldn’t this possibility be negligible by virtue of your belief?

  12. See Andrew, I think you really would enjoy a Sunday School class in the hall with a heretic like me! 🙂 It definitely wouldn’t be the same ole same ole.

    I think Tara fits your definition of “true believer” more than I do, so I am curious how she answers your question. I think this distortion is negligible in some places, but not negligible in others. I guess the most obvious example would be Exodus 4:21. Of course it says in the KJV “[God] will harden [pharaoh’s] heart”. Yet the JST says Pharaoh will harden his own heart.

    I have a Bible that compares the KJV, Amplified, New American Standard, and NIV side by side, and in all 4 versions it says the same thing for that verse. Since Tara mentioned the RSV contains the Dead Sea Scrolls revisions, I checked blueletterbible.org, which agrees with all the 4 versions mentioned previously. If we accept Joseph’s translations as more accurate then we must conclude that even the oldest Dead Sea Scrolls (dating to 100 BC) are inaccurate for this verse. (Of course, I recognize that evangelicals would find fault with the JST. The striking paradox is that even if the RSV and KJV is correct, it begs the question why God would purposely harden pharaoh’s heart?

  13. the thing I would point out is…Joseph Smith’s record on translations…how is that? I mean, let’s not use the case of translating texts with no available sources, or of translating texts with sources that seem to have nothing to do with what the translation was…but let’s deal with the OT and NT, which have a breadth of sources.

    And Smith didn’t use any of them. The JST/Inspired Version is just that…an inspired version. It ought not be considered a translation in the sense that it actually tries to translate words that are actually in source documents.

    What I will probably be posting about on MMatters in a few days is…why doesn’t the church get all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to create and authorized translation (a real one) of the Bible?

  14. Well, I guess if I accept Joseph’s translations then it puts me back in the “true believer” category. I agree with your distinction that the JST is an inspired version rather than translation. As I stated before, I think he is also subject to translation errors. So, while I think he does seem to fix a problematic verse in Exodus regarding the pharaoh, I will acknowledge that some of his “fixes” of Isaiah mess up the chiasmus, though they may help the modern reader understand some of the multiple meanings.

    I have a copy of the JST New Testament put together by Steve and Julie Hite. While not put out by the church, it is readily available at Deseret Book. I also note that the CoC uses the JST as their standard Bible. (FireTag, I don’t think there are any plans to jettison it, are there?)

    I agree with you Andrew, I think it would be really nice to have an authorized translation. I’d really like to see the church dump KJV altogether (because I hate the archaic King’s English, and I believe NIV or possibly RSV is a better translation), but that would make Joseph’s revisions much harder to replicate in an NIV Bible he didn’t revise.

  15. The problem with the JST being an inspired version is that if there are translation errors, we no longer can base this in context with the source. Because he purposely differed from the source for theological or clarity purposes (e..g, God wouldn’t harden someone’s heart…someone hardens their own heart, duhhhh!)

    I’d like to dump KJV (actually, I’ve informally already done so)…but the NIV is particularly a good reason for the church to have its own translation. Because as Kevin Barney discussed ( http://bycommonconsent.com/2008/10/25/niv/ ), we already can tell that evangelicals took some liberties with that translation to make passages favor certain conclusions…so why couldn’t the church do this? Joseph Smith had that *intention* in mind…he just didn’t have the source to do it. couldn’t we maintain, for example, the chiasmus of Isaiah, while also becoming clearer and including Joseph’s revisions?

    I mean, I REALLY just want a Book of Mormon that is AUTHORIZED by the church that doesn’t have “and it came to pass” all the time, but since I know the plates aren’t around, it’ll be hard to justify a retranslation to the GAs. So at least can they meet me halfway with the OT and NT?

  16. Very interesting post, I must say.

    It seems like Doc. Hypothesis deals with sources, while the 8th article is about translation. The 8th article of faith implies (or maybe I just infer) that however the sources got there, they are the word of God.

    I lean in this direction, but I also see MH’s point about how his sports article was “retranslated”. It is very possible that “as far as it is translated correctly” could have a much broader application than simply individual words. Whole stories could’ve been changed significantly or just enough to change the meaning entirely.

    But then you have to consider that Joseph did retranslate the Bible and while it may not be a perfect translation, wouldn’t you think that he probably cleared up any major doctrinal issue? I also have to take into consideration the testimony of Lorenzo Brown who recorded the prophet Joseph as saying, “After I got through translating the Book of Mormon, I took up the Bible to read with the Urim and Thummim. I read the first chapter of Genesis and I saw the things as they were done. I turned over the next and the next, and the whole passed before me like a grand panorama; and so on chapter ater chapter until I read the whole of it. I saw it all!” The fact that he saw all of these things rather than just translated words through inspiration places a much greater value on his translation, IMO. I also recall a quote by a prophet, maybe JS, which expresses amazement that the Bible has come to us in better condition than would be expected considering the circumstances. I can’t remember the quote or where to find it, but that’s the jist of it, I believe.

    I know my belief relies on a great deal of faith rather than scholarship, but I just have to take the position that, while there are errors contained in the Bible, I don’t believe that they are serious to the point that the stories are entirely fictitious and/or simply metaphorical.

    With reference to the JST of Pharoah’s heart being hardened, I just wonder if maybe the translation is “technically” correct, but that the “meaning” just didn’t properly translate? Is that possible? Perhaps we can look at the example MH mentions of the translations in Isaiah which mess up the chiasmus, but at the same time, clear up the meaning for us. Maybe our modern translations are technically correct, but the meaning just doesn’t translate properly when the seemingly correct rendering is made.

  17. Tara: How could JS use the U&T to translate the Bible, when it was taken up with the BoM? According to your quote, at best it would have been used for the book of Genesis only. In light of how loosely the term translation was used regarding both the BoM and the Bible, I think the 8th AoF could easily fit into the Doc Hyp.

    MH: We are actually in agreement about Deuteronomy. I am only augmenting the arguments made by the film with addition observation. The majority of Deuteronomy would have been written by D in the 2nd Person Singular voice, but the insertion of 3rd Person Plural in places seems out of place and futuristic (vs. in the same time period). Perhaps it was Ezra that added the 3rd Person Plural text. I think this supports the Doc. Hyp. It just happens to throw in another person not necessarily referred to in the original hypothesis.

  18. MH:

    Not through the entire thread yet, but I’ll respond to one quick question before I leave for the afternoon. The CofChrist regards the Inspired Version (JST) as canonical, and if you buy a “3 Standard Books” of Scripture from Herald House, that’s what you get. However, modern versions of the Bible are normally used in the lectionary or official documents in order to be more understandable to modern hearers.

  19. BR,

    If you will recall, Joseph also referred to the seer stone as a Urim and Thummim. Perhaps that is what he used.

  20. Another thing that occurred to me is that even before Joseph obtained the plates, his mother stated that they would all sit around at night and listen as Joseph described “the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.”

    So it seems he had been able to see these things, either through the seer stone, or in a vision. Or was he allowed to get a glimpse using the real Urim and Thummim on one of his yearly visits? I don’t know.

  21. “But then you have to consider that Joseph did retranslate the Bible and while it may not be a perfect translation, wouldn’t you think that he probably cleared up any major doctrinal issue?

    Joseph left polygamy pretty vague, by not changing any of the Biblical translations. For example, he doesn’t clearly state that God gave Hagar to Abraham, but rather Joseph leaves the text unchanged in the story where Sarah seems to offer Hagar. (I know it’s different in the D&C, but why didn’t he fix the Bible to match the D&C?) That’s a pretty significant doctrine in the Bible that is left unchanged by Joseph. If polygamy was introduced as early as 1831, that is the same period in which Joseph was re-translating the Bible.

    Tara, what is your overall feeling about the Documentary Hypothesis? Do you lean towards supporting or rejecting it?

  22. Tara: you are right about the seer stone being referred to as the U&T at times, but that brings up another suggested Future Post (MH is very busy).

    What was the need of the Gold Plates and the original U&T, when neither was needed to produce the BoM and neither were allowed to remain with JS?
    Seems like a sledge-hammer/fly scenario.

  23. H,

    I don’t think the Bible was incorrect in portraying the incident with Hagar and Abraham. It leaves out the part about Abraham being commanded to take a wife, but it was correct in that Sarah offered Hagar to Abraham after the command was given. But there are other scriptures within the Bible in the law given to Moses which makes provisions for plural marriage, even making it a requirement in some instances. If we take this into account, there isn’t really a loss in doctrine. We know that there are probably lots of things left out of the Bible, and I don’t think the purpose of the retranslation was to restore everything that was lost. That’s what the Book of Mormon, D&C and PofGP are for, doctrinally speaking.

    As for the Documentary Hypothesis, it is very interesting and certainly plausible, but I have to lean towards rejecting it. But again, it’s plausible.


    I wish I had an answer as to why the U&T was needed, but I don’t. I have to believe that there was a reason. Maybe it was a seer stone with training wheels so to speak. Joseph had some experience with the seer stone previously, but maybe it wasn’t enough for the process of translation until he was able to gain a better understanding of the process. That’s my best guess anyway. I have to believe that the gold plates were also needed, if only for the purpose of providing a tangible witness. There may have been some other necessary purpose for their presence in order for the translation process to work.

  24. Tara: There is ample evidence supporting the Doc Hyp. What evidence causes you to reject it? I could be wrong, but it seems that you reject it more based on traditional thinking than on study that has uncovered supporting evidence for your viewpoint. If that observation is true, it would mean you simply choose to reject it because that is a more comfortable position for you.

  25. BR,

    I’m not saying there weren’t multiple voices or editors. There may have been. I just don’t see that there is ample evidence that events were distorted or portrayed inaccurately. That seems to be a lot of speculation, IMO. But yes, I suppose I am just more comfortable with this position, particularly since I know very little about the hypothesis.

  26. the doc. hyp isn’t that things were distorted or portrayed inaccurately. The only thing the Doc. hypothesis is saying is that there were multiple voices and editors.

    This is why I do not think there is much of an 8th AoF problem with it. Just because there were multiple voices and editors doesn’t means we should assume that one of them “translated” incorrectly…in other words, it just seems pessimistic to look at the hypothesized editor of the Torah as being like the reporter who changed MH’s intended meaning after the interview.

  27. Tara, It leaves out the part about Abraham being commanded to take a wife, but we’ve mentioned that Joseph added that part to D&C section 132. If polygamy is so doctrinal as you mention, then this seems like a rather serious omission on Joseph’s part. We’ve mentioned in other posts that Joseph made revisions just prior and after those verses in Genesis, and it seems rather odd that Joseph would leave an incorrect interpretation there regarding Hagar. I’ve recently been listening to a Presbyterian minister who says that Abraham made a mistake in consenting to marry Hagar, which resulted in the poor family relationships between Ishmael/Isaac, and Sarah/Hagar. He specifically said if Abraham had not listened to Sarah, then all the terrible fights between them would not have happened. It is a rather significant omission on Joseph’s part, and clearly analogous to God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Certainly, if polygamy is so central to exaltation, and since other protestant denominations feel Abraham was in error for marrying Hagar, this should have been one of the corrections Joseph should have made to the Biblical text.

    I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb and try to answer for Tara, so Tara, please correct me if I’m wrong in what I’m about to say. I had a strong feeling that Tara would reject the Doc. Hyp. specifically because of a comment she made on the Scripture Literalism thread (which inspired this post in the first place.)

    I want to answer Andrew’s point regarding “there were multiple voices and editors doesn’t means we should assume that one of them “translated” incorrectly.” Tara previously talked about a scripture on Deuteronomy in which Yahweh and Elohim seemed to be incorrectly attributed. In Mormon Theology, Elohim is God the Father, and Yahweh is Jesus, therefore they are not interchangeable.

    However, the Doc. Hyp. says that Elohim and Yahweh are just 2 different names for God the Father. Specifically, source E which refers to Elohim, and source J which refers to Yahweh both seem to be referring to God the Father, which is contrary to LDS theology.

    So, if Tara were to accept the Doc Hyp, she would have to accept that these editors mistakenly translated these two names for God, rather than making Yahweh submissive to Elohim. If one subscribes to the idea that Yahweh and Elohim are different, then one plausible solution is that the original redactor (probably Ezra) must have made an error in translation (essentially a theological mistake) in making Elohim and Yahweh the same. So, the Doc Hyp fits in extremely well with the 8th Article of Faith. Perhaps some previous editor mistakenly made these two names for God equal, and Joseph is unraveling this mystery. I think the Doc Hyp fits very well with both the 8th Article of Faith, as well as Joseph’s revelation that Yahweh and Elohim are different.

    On the other hand, if Yahweh and Elohim really are two names for the same God, then one has to reject Joseph’s testimony that Yahweh is the son of Elohim. As such the Documentary Hypothesis seems to fit well with the 8th article of faith about mistranslations occurring, However, it creates a problem with LDS theology by equating equality between Elohim and Yahweh.

    I think it is also important to look at the time periods. The Dead Sea Scrolls are our oldest documents and date to 100 BC. Even Baruch and Ezra lived around 600 BC. Moses and the Exodus were probably 1500 BC or so. There were no printing presses then, and everything had to be hand-copied. Certainly unintentional mistakes must have crept into the Biblical record (we make them all the time in blog comments). If the Doc Hyp is correct, perhaps the Northern Kingdom even made up stories of the second son being the “chosen” son. Certainly there were likely some political considerations made by both northern and southern authors.

    Even as we look at my sports report, I did feel that all of them captured the essence of my report. They all agreed on basic details, including the outcome of the game. I never really felt like any of the editors got it wrong, per se. However, they emphasized or omitted details that some would consider important. For example, one coach may feel cheated that his quote never made one of the Salt Lake papers, yet it made it into the Provo paper. Was his quote important? Well, to him it was, but not to the editor. Different people will feel differently about his contribution to the article. I’ll bet the coach would feel the Provo paper was more accurate–certainly it had many more details that the SL paper did. Overall did his quote matter? Probably not, if one considers the outcome of the game as the overall important factor.

  28. Well, if you don’t mind me waxing apostate for a moment, I think then that if the Yahweh/Elohim stuff that is extant within our oldest sources don’t match with Joseph Smith’s revelation that Yahweh = Jehovah = Son, then it is a stretch to say that this has something to do with translation.

    Rather, this says everything about Joseph Smith’s revelation.

    For example…let’s take your freelancing. You are the true source. The newspapers are the “editors”. And as you testify, they didn’t “get it wrong.” They simply emphasized or omitted details that some would consider important. So, in this case, we *can* say the translation is *not* faulty.

    But what if someone in the future came along (after you were dead and all we had were copies of the newspaper) and said “Oh wait, the game should’ve been decided the other way! This newspaper article wasn’t translated from MH correctly!”? What would this tell us? This new revelation simply flies in the face of both you and the newspaper article, and we *should* be more suspicious of the revelation and not the newspaper.

    The problem is…in the MH/Newspaper case, we have you and know what you truly believe about the issue. but with the OT, we don’t have the original source…and we live in a community that believes that the people who can communicate with the source (i.e., God) are Prophets. So, this is why we even have this kind of discussion in the first place.

    The tremendous elephant in the room for faithful members, in all of this discussion, is that Joseph Smith’s changes are not textually supported. If you want to believe in Smith’s prophetic and inspirational process, then great, but then you’re ill-suited to start making any claims about the text. So, even though I haven’t read the scriptural literalism thread, I can pretty much say at this point that “scriptural literalism” is irrelevant because we are beginning to establish that *we* don’t CARE about literature. This happened before, with the Book of Abraham papyri.

  29. Andrew,

    I think this all depends on what you define as faulty. If we look at my sports report, and only look at the outcome of the game, then all 4 reports are accurate, and not faulty. However, if we want to ask the question “why did the Utah team lose?” then the Salt Lake paper is far inferior to the Provo paper.

    The Salt Lake paper addressed the “what happened”, but not the “why did it happen?” The coach explains why they lost: ie, they came out flat, a key injury, they missed some breaks, etc. I think most people could simply compare word counts to see the Provo paper was more detailed, while the Heber paper (my original) was the most detailed report of the game. If we’re looking at the “why’s”, then the Heber paper is a far more accurate accounting of the game. 100 years from now, people may ask why the Salt Lake paper lacked so many details, and didn’t bother to interview the coaches. Ironically, the Salt Lake paper has the most readers, so it should be the most accurate, right? But in this case, it is the least accurate. The Heber paper with the smallest readership, and worst reputation of the 4, ended up with the most accurate report of this particular game.

    The odd thing is that only the Heber paper credited me as the author, so one could conclude that the article was authored by 4 different people. In a way, it was. Would they conclude that all 4 relied on an unknown source Q, or would they know that the Heber paper was the source? Who knows.

    I think the Doc Hyp has the same issues. It seems there is some pretty good evidence that Baruch is the author of Deuteronomy, and part author of Jeremiah. But if Baruch based his story on the Salt Lake paper, it’s the worst, least detailed account of why the team lost. Of course, the Salt Lake paper has plenty of other strengths over the Heber paper, but this one particular story is all fouled up.

    Addressing the Elohim/Yahweh issue is the same. For Jews and most Christians, it’s a non-issue. But for Mormons (ie the coach), this particular issue is troublesome. After all, Mormons don’t believe the Salt Lake paper is accurate for this story. Perhaps they point to Provo–as more accurate. (The Heber paper will probably be out of business in 100 years, so no original document will be available.) But the Bible we have is equivalent to the Salt Lake paper in prestige. The Provo paper is the JST. Is Provo really making up the quotes, or is it really more accurate? Many of the “what” details agree, but the “why” details are missing in the more prestigous Salt Lake text. Do you believe the prestigous paper, or the longer article is more accurate?

    To your final point about the elephant in the room, I would qualify it a bit and say the “some (perhaps many)” of Joseph Smith’s changes are not textually supported. There are some Isaiah changes that are supported. Now skeptics may argue that Joseph got “lucky” on some of these. I guess everyone will need to play juror on that issue.

    I do agree with you that “If you want to believe in Smith’s prophetic and inspirational process, then great, but then you’re ill-suited to start making any claims about the text.” Certainly this becomes a faith argument, rather than a science argument. Until the Heber paper surfaces again, most people will rely on the shorter Salt Lake paper for reliability. In the case of the Doc Hyp, we’re still waiting for the originals to show up and prove the Provo paper more accurate. Obviously, this is not the strongest scientific position to be in.

  30. I understand relating the differences in “faults”, and whats vs. whys. But it would seem like we aren’t talking about whys…maybe something like, “God hardened Pharoah’s heart” vs. “God *allowed* Pharoah’s heart to be hardened” is a difference in “why”…but Yahweh/Elohim? That seems to be a difference in “what.” Saying, “whoa now, this should be Yahweh here,” seems like saying, “whoa now, the other team won.” So, between the OT and the NT for JST, I have to reject that the “what” details agree, but the “why” details are simply missing. No, I think the JST introduces new “what” details as it is necessary for Mormon theology. This is why, when we discuss with other Christians or Jews, they will often have vastly different answers about our supposition of Mormon ideas in the Bible. And if we have to rely on the JST, then may we have pity, because that’ll get torn up.

    So I think you’re twisting the analogy where it simply won’t go. First of all, Heber vs. SLC vs. Provo aren’t analogous to Baruch vs. Joseph, because Heber, SLC, Provo all physically communicated with the source (you), whereas with the documentary hypothesis, even if Baruch didn’t physically communicate with the source (different time frames, etc.,), we *know* that Joseph didn’t claim to. Rather he communicated spiritually with the source (a faith claim, at that.) So many of the analogies in your last comment are muddled (especially things like relating the Heber paper surfacing again to having the originals of the Doc Hyp show up to show the Provo/JST more accurate)

    To your point about textual support, I would simply say — this is why the church needs to officially translate based on the text, so we can settle it out by that. No need for “luck” or “faith” or anything else.

  31. I have to agree with Andrew. You have to admit that it is a little odd the LDS church doesn’t use the inspired version of the Bible or that it hasn’t undertaken its own translation efforts. This inaction could be taken to speak volumes.

  32. Herald House can probably offer you guys a really, really, really big discount on volume purchases on the Inspired Version if you ever decide to make the switch. :>)

    More seriously, reading this thread makes me aware how much of your church’s theology ties back to the notion of mankind’s physical form (not his sentience, or spiritual awareness) being in the image of God’s fundamental spiritual form. We focus on the content of the First Vision, but draw few theological conclusions from the form in which it took place.

    If I may ask, in what historical sequence did this concept develop through the various LDS scriptures, since the First Vision may have been the earliest experience, but it was not the first thing to be accepted as canon?

  33. Andrew, I agree that every analogy breaks down at some point. Certainly the Yahweh/Elohim part is more of a “what” than a “why”. Faithful Mormons must basically hope for another document showing that even the Dead Sea Scrolls got the Elohim/Yahweh part wrong. Certainly this is a weak position from which to argue.

    Joseph Smith certainly added quite a few “what’s” to the scriptures–the JST part on the prophecy of the ancient Joseph is certainly one of the examples where Smith expanded. To date, none of the scrolls seem to corroborate these additions. In other areas, such as Isaiah, it seems that at least some of his revisions do match older documents like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    Bishop Rick, how does inaction speak? A picture speaks a thousand words, but inaction speaks no words. How can this therefore be considered volumes?

    I agree with both Andrew and Bishop Rick that I would like an authorized version. However, it is my understanding that the RLDS church had the copyright to print the entire JST, so in order for the LDS to be able to use the same edition, some sort of copyright arrangement would need to be made. I will say that it seems there was some openness between the RLDS and LDS in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and the LDS was allowed to view some of the original JST documents, and in 1981, the LDS church published an authorized Bible that not only contained many parts of the JST in the footnotes, but that particular Bible was also cross-referenced with the D&C, PoGP, and BoM. So, I would say that the LDS Church does have an authorized edition, and it was first published in 1981. No, it’s not the same as the RLDS version, but it has some significant JST passages, and is a marvelous study aid to LDS church members. To add cross references to the BoM and other scriptures was heralded as quite a technological achievement back then. Certainly this must be part of the reason the LDS church discourages other versions like NIV in church meetings, as the LDS version of the KJV is really the authorized version.

    I will say that I found the Hite publication (which I mentioned above) awesome. It puts the 4 Synoptic gospels in 4 columns, and attempts to arrange the scriptures chronologically. It shows exactly what words Joseph crossed out, and italicizes the words he added. It is based on the RLDS version, and I think is truly a scriptural treasure. However, it is not footnoted like the 1981 scriptures are. After the Synoptic Gospels, it shows the rest of the New Testament in the same order as our New Testament, and shows Joseph’s revisions just as I mentioned previously.

    FireTag, the First Vision is probably the best example of an anthropomorphic God. All of these ideas of an anthropomorphic God originate with Joseph Smith. Since the CoC rejects much of the Nauvoo period theology received by Joseph Smith, then I think that is why the CoC is not as familiar with Joseph’s comments on an anthropomorphic God.

    Perhaps I should write a post on the King Follett sermon. I doubt the CoC is familiar with this particular sermon by Joseph Smith. King Follett was a church member who died in some sort of an accident (I think he was crushed by logs). Anyway, we have no written record of the sermon, but we have notes of several people who were at the funeral. It was given on April 7, 1844, less than three months before Smith’s death. In the sermon, Joseph Smith is reported to have said,

    “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,— I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form— like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another.

    Wikisource has a pretty good entry on the King Follett sermon, and here is a lesson referencing the King Follett sermon published by the LDS church that we heard in Priesthood/Relief Society not long ago.

    As for the Elohim/Yahweh debate, it seems to me that this is based on a revelation given to Joseph Smith, though I couldn’t find the exact one quickly. There is an interesting article at FAIR discussing this. I’d encourage Tara to review this, as she usually is a big advocate of FAIR. I want to quote something quickly from the FAIR article.

    The conviction that Elohim was anciently the Almighty God and Father of us all, and Jehovah was and is Jesus the Christ, his Son is based on modern scripture (D&C 110:1-4) and not Biblical exegesis. The teachings of modern prophets and apostles has tended to reinforce this usage, such as when President Joseph F. Smith taught, “Among the spirit children of Elohim the firstborn was and is Jehovah or Jesus Christ to whom all others are juniors.”[7]

    The LDS use of the name titles Elohim and Jehovah to designate God Our Heavenly Father and His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ respectively is not meant to insist that this is how these titles were always used anciently, including in the Holy Bible. Rather, these titles are a naming convention used in the modern Church for clarity and precision. Since Christ may be spoken of as “the Father” in a great many senses, the modern Saints use these name-titles to avoid ambiguity, regardless of which ‘role’ of a divine Personage is being discussed.

    Since this terminology was not standardized for convenience and clarity prior to the twentieth century, readers are cautioned not to expect the early writings of the Church to always reflect this practice, which arose only decades later. Likewise, attempting to read the Bible as if its writers followed the same modern practice is anachronistic, and may lead to confusion and misinterpretation.

    I think the FAIR position can peaceably co-exist with the Documentary Hypothesis.

  34. I want to point out that Andrew has an interesting post along these lines at http://mormonmatters.org/2009/07/21/whats-good-in-a-bible-translation/

  35. I (and many of the CofChrist) was aware of the sermon and that Joseph’s interpretation of God anthropomorphically was the source of this. But I don’t know that Joseph made the theological leap until much later than 1830, as he developed a more complete interpretation in hindsight of what he had seen in earlier experiences.

    LDS theology fits together very coherently from an anthropomorphic interpretation, but if that should be an error made by less than 20-20 hindsight, it will propagate through a lot of things.

  36. By inaction, one could surmise one or both of the following:
    1. that the LDS church does not back the JST
    2. is afraid that an official translation effort would conflict with the JST

    That’s all I’m saying.

  37. Bishop Rick, do you really believe that the church is afraid? I don’t. With all the footnotes about including the JST, are you saying the church doesn’t back it?

    I admit that there was a real hesitancy for the LDS to embrace the JST prior to the 60’s or 70’s, due to some strange belief that he RLDS may have tampered with it. However, it is clear that the RLDS were quite faithful in keeping the JST, and I can’t understand why anyone would take a position that the LDS church doesn’t back the JST. When I’m in church, someone usually says, “well it says in the JST…..”

    With all the effort to redo the scriptures in 1981, I don’t know that the church is willing to re-do that again, unless there is some compelling reason to do so. I can’t think of any. I think that the church has traditionally used the KJV, and inertia keeps us there. Once again, I wish the church would update the current Bible, but incorporating the JST changes that the church has already embraced would be much more difficult.

  38. FireTag,

    I agree that Joseph didn’t make the theological leap about God being an exalted man until probably about the Nauvoo period.

  39. Maybe the Doc. Hyp. doesn’t have to mean that events in the Bible were distorted or portrayed inaccurately, but in saying that if authors/editors of the text are emphasizing certain things in their favor, you can also say that they may not be representing things properly, and may even be misrepresenting things. I believe that the reason this topic even came up is because MH was trying to demonstrate that the Bible is flawed, perhaps more so than I’d like to believe, and I know that he believes certain stories may not even be completely true. This is where I assume MH is coming from in presenting this topic, though maybe I’m wrong.

    Anyway, like I said before, I have no problem with the possibility that there are multiple voices or authors. If that’s all the doc. hyp. is saying, then I can believe it is possible.

    If polygamy is so doctrinal as you mention, then this seems like a rather serious omission on Joseph’s part.

    Maybe there was a reason he left it out. Perhaps because the revelation Joseph received on plural marriage was kept secret during that time, it was just better that he didn’t include that as part of the translation. That may have raised too many questions, particularly given the secretive nature of the practice in the early years, and the rumors going around about it.

    I’ve recently been listening to a Presbyterian minister who says that Abraham made a mistake in consenting to marry Hagar, which resulted in the poor family relationships between Ishmael/Isaac, and Sarah/Hagar. He specifically said if Abraham had not listened to Sarah, then all the terrible fights between them would not have happened.

    Well, duhhh. Of course they wouldn’t have had fights. Does the possibility of conflicts mean that something is wrong? Should I not have married my husband in order to avoid all the terrible fights we’ve had over the years? Does that make marriage bad?

    Certainly, if polygamy is so central to exaltation, and since other protestant denominations feel Abraham was in error for marrying Hagar, this should have been one of the corrections Joseph should have made to the Biblical text.

    Plural marriage is not central to exaltation. It is only necessary for those who’ve been commanded to enter into the practice and it was revealed to Joseph to include the commandment in D&C 132. It wasn’t meant for the rest of the religious world to live, so why would it need to be included in the Bible? Even if it were, would that make you any more likely to believe that plural marriage was a commandment to Abraham? It was revealed in the D&C and yet you don’t believe it, so how would including it in the Bible make any difference to you? It still comes from the same source at the same time period. Certainly the recorded revelation came later but the original was received during the time that the JST was taking place.

    By inaction, one could surmise one or both of the following:
    1. that the LDS church does not back the JST
    2. is afraid that an official translation effort would conflict with the JST

    That’s all I’m saying.

    Or none of the above choices. How about these options:

    3. There is no compelling reason to do so since we already have the Book of Mormon, D&C, and PofGP to supplement what was lost doctrinally from the Bible. Maybe there’s nothing of real value for us to gain from a retranslation, so why waste time and resources in such a huge undertaking?

    4. Maybe the Lord hasn’t authorized it.

    Anyway, what value would a retranslation be to you?

  40. MH: I think “afraid” was not the correct term to use, and I have seen the JST footnotes as well, but I am a member. I am talking about non-member opinions of the inaction, but did not make that clear. Also, note that I said, “…one COULD surmise…”

    Tara: I think your #3 is a valid option as well, but I reject #4. If inaction is due to waiting around for God to authorize action, then I may as well not get out of bed in the morning.

    For me personally, I would love to have a copy of the Bible that contains the original terminology, but in a language I can comprehend. Perhaps that is asking too much.

    Please don’t use my level of disbelief to mock my interest in the Bible because it is genuine.

  41. I’m glad to hear that you have a genuine interest in the Bible, but perhaps you shouldn’t wish for a retranslation because you might be disappointed in the results. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I would be curious to know how you view the Book of Mormon, D&C, and PofGP in terms of inspiration and doctrine. Assuming that the Bible was retranslated by the church, how do you think you would accept it with regard to inspiration and doctrine, assuming that the Bible retranslation came out remarkably consistent with our modern revelations.

  42. Inspiration can be taken from each of those books, but I have to admit that IMO alot of the D&C could be removed and you would not lose anything. I personally don’t care that Heber W Romney was called on a mission to Rascal Flatts Arkansas.

    If the Bible was retranslated and came out to be remarkably similar to modern revelations (read revelations by JS) it would only reinforce my opinion that JS had remarkable insight.

  43. As I look back on it, I probably didn’t portray the minister’s thought about Hagar and Abraham very well. The minister was saying that if Abraham had listened to God (not marrying Hagar), he would have avoided some problems.

    If we don’t get drunk we won’t crash the car either, and have to deal with all the unpleasant consequences that come from a crash. That’s what he was trying to say. Perhaps my “translation” of his speech failed to accurately portray what he was trying to say, just as J, P, E, and D may not have accurately portrayed God’s word. Perhaps some of our previous conversations colored our perceptions of this speech as well, unduly emphasizing polygamy at the expense of the minister’s overall point. Even though he certainly mentioned polygamy, that was a quite minor point of his speech.

    So Tara, are you warming up to the Doc Hyp somewhat?

    It sounds like you’re brainstorming with some of your speculations. I didn’t find any very compelling. But I will say this: if Joseph had “corrected” the Bible to say Abraham had been commanded by God to marry Hagar in 1831, I’d find that compelling–not convincing, but compelling.

    “Plural marriage is not central to exaltation.” That’s not what Brigham Young or D&C 132 say–it WAS very central to exaltation at one time.

    3 Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.
    4 For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.

    That sounds pretty central to me. If we can’t enter in “my glory”, then we can’t be exalted.

  44. Bishop Rick, hearing you talk about a new LDS Bible makes me wonder why you think it would be a good idea. I must agree with Tara here, as it seems that it wouldn’t do anything to change your mind about the church.

  45. Not everything is about the church. I just love learning about religious origins and I think a Bible that contained the original text would be awesome. We may all be surprised at what it could possibly contain.

  46. As a TBM, I shouldn’t have to teach you this, but plural marriage is NOT part of the new and everlasting covenant. And yes, Brigham said that plural marriage was required, and yes it WAS, at THAT time. But NOT when it is not commanded or required.

  47. Tara: MH stated that it was required at ONE TIME. I don’t see the conflict with what you are saying here and what he said.

    But doesn’t it strike you as odd that something so essential to exaltation would be required today and not tomorrow? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

  48. Sorry MH, I was in a hurry and didn’t fully understand what you were saying. Thanks for clearing that up BR. But I still believe that the New and Everlasting covenant and plural marriage are and always have been two separate things, even when plural marriage was a requirement.

    I still don’t think it was necessary for the account of Abraham to include the fact that he was commanded to take another wife. It was included in the D&C and if it was included in the Bible it still would’ve been through modern revelation and from the same source. I don’t see why you see it as so necessary particularly since you would still remain unconvinced. I told you before that Josephus said that Abraham was commanded, and yes you were compelled, though not convinced.

  49. Tara: Of course you believe they are separate. To believe otherwise puts your stance in peril. Interesting that Prophets have said they were the same thing though. Just keep that in mind when you jump on MH for not believing everything said by prophets since you obviously don’t either…welcome to the club 🙂

  50. Yes, Tara, Welcome! 😀

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