Balaam: Prophet, Wicked One, Both, Neither?

I finally got around to one of my requests!  Tara and I have been discussing several topics, such as the Priesthood Ban, Polygamy, and Abraham, and the story of Balaam always seems to come up.  She takes the position that Balaam is a fallen prophet, but I think he never was a prophet.  Here’s my case.  What do you think?

Balaam has to be one of the most intriguing characters in the Bible.  He is one of only 7 gentile prophets mentioned in the Bible.  The others are Beor (Balaam’s father), Job and his 4 friends.  My favorite part of the story of Balaam is the talking donkey–it is the only place where an animal speaks (unless you count the serpent in the Garden of Eden.)   Ascertaining Balaam’s character can be a bit of a challenge.  On the one hand, the story of Balaam in Numbers 22-24  says the he not only talked with God, but a destroying angel appears to prevent him from cursing Israel.  On the other hand, he is referred to as “the wicked one” in Revelations.  So which is he?

Let’s get some background and a brief synopsis of the story of Balaam.

Wikipedia tells of some Talmudic and Midrashic thought on Balaam.  To quote,

In rabbinic literature Balaam is represented as one of seven gentile prophets; the other six being Beor (Balaam’s father), Job, and Job’s four friends (Talmud, B. B. 15b). In this literature, Balaam gradually acquired a position among the non-Jews, which was exalted as much as that of Moses among the Jews (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 20); at first being a mere interpreter of dreams, but later becoming a magician, until finally the spirit of prophecy descended upon him (ib. 7).

The Book of Numbers Chapter 21 details the wandering of Moses and the children of Israel after their escape from Egypt.  This is the chapter where God sends fiery serpents among the complaining Israelites.  Moses fashions a brass serpent and promises them they’ll be healed from the serpents simply by looking at the brass serpent.

As the chapter finishes, Moses and the children of Israel wipe out the Ammonites and the Amorites, taking several cities.  Numbers 21:24-25 says,

24 And Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land from Arnon unto Jabbok, even unto the children of Ammon: for the border of the children of Ammon [was] strong.

25 So they smote him, and his sons, and all his people, until there was none left him alive: and they possessed his land.

Chapter 22 begins with the story of Balaam.  As the chapter begins, the leaders of the cities of Moab and Midian are concerned about the Israelites.  Apparently Balaam has quite a reputation among non-Israelites.  Some Bible commenters have even compared Balaam to a gentile version of Moses.  The King of the Moabites (Balak) believes Balaam has a special gift of cursing.  He tries to strike up a deal with Balaam to get him to curse Israel in Numbers 22:6, “I wot [know] that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed. ”

Curiously, in verse 9, “And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men [are] these with thee?”  I say curiously, because Moses was the prophet of the God of Israel.  Why would he be speaking to Balaam–a non-Israelite–at this time, if the God of Israel is the only true god, Moses is the living prophet, and Balak and his friends wanted to offer sacrifice to other gods to defeat Moses and Israel?  For in verse 7, “the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand;”  Divination was a wicked practice according to the Law of Moses.

In verse 12, God tells Balaam not to go with Balak, and further instructions Balaam,

“thou shalt not curse the people: for they [are] blessed.”

This leads some to believe Balaam might be a true prophet, who believes in the true God.  So far, so good, right?  Well, let’s continue with the story.  Balak entreats Balaam to come again.  This time, Balaam gets a different answer.  God tells him to go.  Dutifully, Balaam obeys the Lord.

20 And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do.

21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.

But strangely, a destroying angel stops Balaam’s donkey, but Balaam can’t see the angel yet, and begins to beat his stubborn donkey.  The donkey begins to talk to Balaam, and asks why Balaam is beating him.  For me, this is the best part of the story,

Num 22:29 And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.

Num 22:30 And the ass said unto Balaam, [Am] not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since [I was] thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? And he said, Nay.

Num 22:31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.

Num 22:32 And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times?  Behold, I went out to withstand thee, because [thy] way is perverse before me:

Num 22:33 And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive.

Num 22:34 And Balaam said unto the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.

Num 22:35 And the angel of the LORD said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.

Ok, apparently Balaam is having a hard time understanding God.  Don’t go, go, Don’t go, go.  Frankly, I’d be confused too.  But God tells him to go, and speak his words.  But instead of offering sacrifice to Yahweh, the God of Moses and the children of Israel, Balaam and Balak offer sacrifice to Baal, the notorious idol god that Moses, Joshua, and other prophets tell the children of Israel to avoid.  They build alters to Baal, but God answers instead.

39 And Balaam went with Balak, and they came unto Kirjath-huzoth.

40 And Balak offered oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes that were with him.

41 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into the high places of Baal, that thence he might see the utmost part of the people.

Num. 23

1 And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams.

2 And Balak did as Balaam had spoken; and Balak and Balaam offered on every altar a bullock and a ram.

3 And Balaam said unto Balak, Stand by thy burnt offering, and I will go: peradventure the Lord will come to meet me: and whatsoever he sheweth me I will tell thee. And he went to an high place.

4 And God met Balaam: and he said unto him, I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered upon every altar a bullock and a ram.

Balaam blessed Israel.  Balak is not pleased.

11 And Balak said unto Balaam, What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether.

The story continues, and Balaam blesses Israel two more times.  It is curious, because Balak clearly worships Baal, and they offer sacrifice to Baal, yet God answers.  Some might perceive that Balaam is like Rahab the prostitute who hides Joshua and Israeli spies who later tried to take Jericho.  However, Balaam is not spared, because curiously, he tells Balak how to defeat Israel:  get Israel to sin by introducing beautiful Midianites.  Now, why would a true prophet encourage sin?

Moses and his army did not spare Balaam.  In chapter 31 we learn,

Num. 31: 8, 16

8 And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.

16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.

The ancient historian Josephus explains this “counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord “at this website.

I’ve changed formatting for readability, but according to Josephus, Balaam told Balak to send beautiful women and induce Israel to break the law of chastity.  Balaam said,

O Balak, and you Midianites that are here present, (for I am obliged even without the will of God to gratify you,) it is true no entire destruction can seize upon the nation of the Hebrews, neither by war, nor by plague, nor by scarcity of the fruits of the earth, nor can any other unexpected accident be their entire ruin; for the providence of God is concerned to preserve them from such a misfortune; nor will it permit any such calamity to come upon them whereby they may all perish;

but some small misfortunes, and those for a short time, whereby they may appear to be brought low, may still befall them; but after that they will flourish again, to the terror of those that brought those mischiefs upon them. So that if you have a mind to gain a victory over them for a short space of time, you will obtain it by following my directions: Do you therefore set out the handsomest of such of your daughters as are most eminent for beauty, (10) and proper to force and conquer the modesty of those that behold them, and these decked and trimmed to the highest degree able.

Then do you send them to be near camp, and give them in charge, that the young men of the Hebrews desire their allow it them; and when they see they are enamored of them, let them take leaves; and if they entreat them to stay, let give their consent till they have persuaded leave off their obedience to their own laws, the worship of that God who established them to worship the gods of the Midianites and for by this means God will be angry at them (11). Accordingly, when Balaam had suggested counsel to them, he went his way.

9. Now the young men were induced by the fondness they had for these women to think they spake very well; so they gave themselves up to what they persuaded them, and transgressed their own laws, and supposing there were many gods, and resolving that they would sacrifice to them according to the laws of that country which ordained them, they both were delighted with their strange food, and went on to do every thing that the women would have them do, though in contradiction to their own laws; so far indeed that this transgression was already gone through the whole army of the young men, and they fell into a sedition that was much worse than the former, and into danger of the entire abolition of their own institutions; for when once the youth had tasted of these strange customs, they went with insatiable inclinations into them; and even where some of the principal men were illustrious on account of the virtues of their fathers, they also were corrupted together with the rest.

The Bible continues to condemn Balaam.

  • 2 Peter 2:15 “Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; “
  • Jude 1:11 “they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.”
  • Rev 2:14 “the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.

There is an interesting discovery which references Balaam.  More information can be found here.  It tells of a discovery in 1967 of an ancient text found at Deir Alla, Jordan, in 1967 tells about the activities of a prophet named Balaam.  The text references “Balaam son of Beor,” exactly as in the Bible.  The website says,

The remarkable text found at Deir Alla consists of 119 fragments of plaster inscribed with black and red ink. It was among the rubble of a building destroyed in an earthquake. It seems to have been one long column with at least 50 lines, displayed on a plastered wall. According to the excavators’ dating, the disaster was most likely the severe earthquake which occurred in the time of King Uzziah (Azariah) and the prophet Amos in about 760 BC (Amos 1:1; Zec 14:5). The lower part of the text shows signs of wear, indicating that it had been on the wall for some time prior to the earthquake.

Written in Aramaic, the text begins with the title “Warnings from the Book of Balaam the son of Beor. He was a seer of the gods.” It is in red ink, as are other portions of the text where emphasis is desired. The reference to the “Book of Balaam” indicates that the text was part of a pre-existing document and therefore the original date of the material is much earlier than the plaster text itself. Balaam goes on to relate a vision concerning impending judgment from the gods, and enters into a dispute with his listeners.

There are a number of similarities between the text and the account of Balaam in the book of Numbers. To begin with, the events described in Numbers 22-24 took place in the same general area where the text was found. At the time of the Numbers 22-24 incident, the Israelites were camped on the Plains of Moab, across the Jordan river from Jericho. Deir Alla is located about 25 miles north of this area, where the Jabbok river flows into the Jordan valley. Balaam was from Pethor, near “the river” (Num 22:5), in “Aram” (Num 23:7; Dt 23:4).

The reference to Aram has led most scholars to conclude that Balaam was from northern Syria, in the vicinity of the Euphrates river. That does not fit well with the Biblical account, however, since Balaam’s home seems to have been close to where the Israelites were camped (Num 22:1-22; 31:7-8).

In view of Balaam being revered at Deir Alla, one would expect that Deir Alla was his home. This is exactly what William Shea has proposed, based on his reading of the name Pethor in an inscribed clay tablet found at Deir Alla (1989:108-11). In this case, the river of Numbers 22:5 would be the Jabbok river and the naharaim (two rivers) of Deuteronomy 23:4 would be the Jabbok and Jordan rivers.

With regard to the references to Aram, Shea suggests that the original place name was Adam, with the “d” being miscopied as “r,” since the two letters are nearly identical in ancient Hebrew. Adam was a town about eight miles southwest of Deir Alla, on the east bank of the Jordan river, where the Jabbok meets the Jordan.

Here are some interesting websites you might like to reference.

With all this background, I don’t believe Balaam can ever be considered a legitimate prophet.  Respectful disagreement is welcome, and I ask what you think of Balaam and this unusual story?

38 comments on “Balaam: Prophet, Wicked One, Both, Neither?

  1. I’ve written about Balaam on my own blog here:

    My view is that Balaam was a prophet, but he fell because he became interested in riches and honor more than being obedient.

  2. Michaela,

    interesting blog, but I didn’t see any reference to Baal on your blog. if Balaam was a true prophet, why would he offer sacrifice to Baal, and why would God (Yahweh) answer in light of the 10 commandments Moses has just received? There is a big prohibition against idol worship and Balaam and Balak’s sacrifice seems in direct conflict with ‘thou shalt have no other gods before me’ don’t you think ?

  3. “In rabbinic literature Balaam is represented as one of seven gentile prophets; the other six being Beor (Balaam’s father), Job, and Job’s four friends (Talmud, B. B. 15b). In this literature, Balaam gradually acquired a position among the non-Jews, which was exalted as much as that of Moses among the Jews (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 20); at first being a mere interpreter of dreams, but later becoming a magician, until finally the spirit of prophecy descended upon him (ib. 7).”

    Before MH and Tara get to the main discussion (as I’m sure they will, I want to throw out a general theory of prophecy that might encompass personal revelation as both the Mormon church and others practice it, that might fit the notion of Gentile prophets, and prophets as known in the Bible, and in Restoration canons.

    Suppose prophecy evolves as a very primitive gift, a slight, unconscious “instinct” to act on impulses whose source we do not know, to input purpose and meaning to patterns recognized, the way primitive senses respond to light. (I’m assuming a “believer’s” position here: light makes eyes a survival advantage, but eyes do not imply the existence of light.)

    Most people never do better than this — which is why so many of us can sense the “Spirit” telling us opposing things. But some can do a little better; they tend to become shamen in their tribes, and the proof that they’re doing better is that their tribes survive. The hunters go to the right place, the right medicinal herbs are found, the storms are sensed in time to get to shelter. For thousands of years, this ability is honed (even though that’s a relatively small time in human history), just as other tribal life skills are honed.

    To maintain both the majesty and/or to help focus the ability, the practice becomes associated with rites and relics — at first such things as casting bones, reading entrails, etc, then with more “sacred” objects. Experiences such as dreams or unusual events become ways to focus, and in some, the ability is seen as superior to other men and women.

    At some point, probably very early, it is recognized that the “light” is something that is actively revealing its own nature. A Balaam may have reached this point, but that doesn’t mean he understands that the “light” is not something he can manipulate for his own ends. The recognition of the necessary “morality” of the light happens much later and (at least independently) much more rarely.

    The line where it happens becomes very useful to the Source of the Light, although the Source wants that ability to be as widespread as possible to help humanity survive and prosper. But if the line “goes blind”, the recovery process may involve use of some of the more primitive methods (e.g., seerstones) before the training wheels come off. And the talent may be especially subject to error and abuse again — you don’t get back a pure strain from a hybrid very easily, let alone push it far forward.

    I wonder of the parable of the olive branches in Jacob has something to do with this kind of development.

  4. Well FireTag, you have an unorthodox response as usual. The Bible is a Jewish-centric book, and seems to only recognize the children of Israel as the legitimate people of God, so I’d say the Bible would never even consider a proposal such as yours.

    It is an interesting thought, and seems to come from a more evolutionary line of thought than a Biblical Adam and Eve version. I’m not sure how Adam and Eve fit in with this thought. Perhaps Balaam, Balak, and company were part of the apostates Cain and his tribe. While I believe that God loves all men, and I can accept that he might have called gentile prophets such as Job and Balaam, it seems to me that God would have Balaam and Moses join forces. While Balaam blesses Israel, he is never a friend of Israel. He is still working in opposition to Israel, which is why he tries to induce Israel to sin by sending beautiful women to entice Israel to sin. This just doesn’t seem like behavior becoming of a true prophet, and his sacrifices to Baal are equally troubling to me.

    The archaeology seems to show Balaam is a polytheist, and I can see him saying that Yahweh is the stronger god than Baal. While interesting, it isn’t a ringing endorsement that there are no other gods but Yahweh, but rather an acknowledgment that Yahweh just happens to be the strongest god of the day.

    I can accept flawed prophets, including Jonah, Abraham, and Jacob, but none of them were polytheists (though I have heard some argue that Abraham may have been a polytheist.) Yet Balaam does not try to convert Balak to Yahweh at all. His actions just seem strange to me, that I can’t accept him as a prophet in the likes of Moses, Joshua, Samuel, or even Job. If Balaam were simply money hungry, I could perhaps call him a prophet. But when he offers sacrifice to Baal, I think that disqualifies him as a true prophet. Perhaps he had a special gift to bless and curse, but when he doesn’t know which god to worship, I think that’s a pretty big problem.

    I’m more comfortable calling Balaam a clairvoyant, soothsayer, diviner, mystic, psychic, or savant than a prophet.

  5. I confess. I believe God uses evolution — probably more broadly than the biologists recognize. I even think it applies in the spiritual realm, and may be very closely related to the Mormon doctrine of progression. I am very comfortable with the notion of Adam and Eve as Archtypes of the human experience, or alternatively as the first of our ancestors to be capable of recognizing the divine existed in a somewhat more literal sense.

    I think you are defining a true prophet who uses the ability to sense God, and a false prophet as one who can’t sense God. I tend to define a prophet as one who can sense God, and what he/she does with the knowledge makes him true or false or fallen. I guess that’s largely semantics.

  6. Yes, I agree that this is largely a case of semantics. In looking at Balaam through a Judeo/Christian lens, his worshiping Baal is extremely problematic. It seems to me that Sunday School lessons ignore this important fact. Certainly the LDS Sunday school manual (which I posted above) completely ignores the Baal worship, which is why I think some people think he could have been a legitimate, but fallen prophet.

    When we ignore the Baal worship part of the story, it is a good story about listening to our own desires rather than God’s desires. Balaam’s conflicting answers: don’t go, go, don’t go, go, seem to mirror some of our own inabilities to discern God’s will, and so from that point of view, it is a good story.

    But, de-emphasizing the Baal part is a big problem, IMO. The story of Balaam is so close to the story of the 10 commandments (both chronologically and biblically), that I believe it completely disqualifies any prophetic status Balaam should hold in a biblical sense. Contemporaries Balaam and Moses are so different, that it seems strange to me to use the same term (prophet) to describe them both.

  7. Sorry it’s taken me so long to comment. I’ve either been sick or busy this week.

    Okay, so here’s how I see it. Balaam was a prophet. We don’t really know much about him or what his history is. We just know that he can bless people and curse people. That’s what prophets do. We know also that God speaks to him. But what I see from the very beginning of the account is that Balaam is being tempted with wealth and power. He’s trying very hard to walk a fine line, while on the one hand trying to be obedient to God, and on the other trying to find a way to please Balak in order to profit. Prophets are not immune to temptations of these kind. Remember Joseph Smith and how he couldn’t get the gold plates until he could stop thinking of them in terms of their worldly value? I can just imagine Balaam’s inner turmoil where he’s trying to justify his desires for riches and power, and I doubt it’s very much black and white in his mind at all. Sometimes we know what is right and wrong, but we are faced with circumstances which make everything not so clear. Deep down we really know what is right and wrong, but we develop rationalizations which make everything unclear.

    So Balaam has his sights set on riches and power, hoping there is some way he can get them and still remain obedient to God. So God tells him not to go with Balak’s men. But then Balaam is trying to get God to let him go with Balak’s men. This part reminds me of the 116 lost pages of manuscript which Joseph kept bugging God about. God knew it was a bad thing, but he eventually relented, probably for the purposes of teaching a lesson. But I think in the case of Balaam, it may have just been to test him. We may be missing part of the story where Balaam keeps asking after being told no. But if you will notice in verse 19, Balaam asked Balak’s men to stay overnight to basically wait and see if the Lord would change his mind. So we can guess that Balaam was probably bugging the Lord kind of like Joseph did, presenting all sorts of justifications.

    My guess as to why an angel with a sword appeared (which, by the way, is a big clue to me that Balaam was indeed a prophet, otherwise, what would it matter what Balaam did if he was just a diviner? I mean, when has God ever sent an angel to warn a diviner?), after God had told him to go, to warn him that his way was “perverse”, was kind of a final plea to get him to realize that what he was doing was wrong. God was giving him his free agency to choose evil, if that’s what was in his heart, but at the same time, trying to guide him back to doing what was right. God was making himself clear that he was displeased, but he was not going to destroy Balaam’s agnecy to choose who he would follow.

    At this point, Balaam’s heart is getting further and further away from God, so I’m sure that things are even less clear than they were before. But I’m not so sure that the sacrifices were made to Baal. Yes, it certainly says that Balak took Balaam up to the high places of Baal, but the sacrifices offered seemed to be after the manner of the Israelites. The altars which were built were not Baal altars. They were altars built for animal sacrifices, seemingly (at least to me anyway) after the manner the Israelites sacrificed to God, and that may have been Balaam’s intentions when he made sacrifice. From what I recall, sacrifices and rituals for other gods were different than those done in the name of the God of Israel. If you will recall in chapter 23 verse 4, Balaam is telling God that he had built seven altars and had offered a bullock and a ram on each one. In addition, he is seeking guidance from God on what to say, and God is telling him what to say. He is obviously looking for guidance from God along with all the sacrificing he is doing, so given all of this, I see no convincing evidence that the sacrifices were to Baal.

    I could write more, but I’ve got to go. Sorry.

  8. Tara, Welcome back. I hope you’re feeling well.

    Your paragraphs 2 and 3 are the typical Sunday School answers. I don’t really have a problem with that reasoning per se, but rather the complete lack of reference to Baal. It seems pretty clear to me that Balaam was a “prophet for profit.” I don’t have a problem with that. I’ve acknowledged that prophets can exhibit all kinds of much worse behavior than greed, and I’m sure you’re familiar with many of these problems I’ve mentioned before. Sin or greed itself does not disqualify a prophet. Offering sacrifice to Baal does disqualify a prophet, however.

    My real problem with Balaam is that he appears to worship many gods. Exodus 20:3-5 makes it pretty clear:

    3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
    4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

    5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

    This came to Moses. Yet as I mentioned before, Numbers 22:41 Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into the high places of Baal,

    I don’t think God would find it acceptable for Mormons to be sealed in a Buddhist Temple. Even if the ceremony was identical, I think some remodeling and dedication would need to be done first. If this sacrifice was done in a place common to Baal worship, I can’t imagine such a sacrifice offered to Baal would be acceptable to God.

    If Balaam is so easily entreated to offer sacrifice to Baal, why would the normal prophetic communication lines be so open to him? God is a jealous God, and it makes no sense to me that offering sacrifice to Baal would be acceptable to the God of Israel, no matter how similar the sacrifice patterns between Baal and Yahweh were. God was completely unhappy with Cain’s sacrifice, despite his imitation of Abel’s sacrifice. Didn’t Pharoah attempt to copy the priesthood in the Book of Abraham, and this was not acceptable to God?

    You had some pretty harsh words for Baal worship in the Joshua post, accusing Baal worshipers of sexual improprieties and child sacrifice, yet now it certainly says that Balak took Balaam up to the high places of Baal, but the sacrifices offered seemed to be after the manner of the Israelites. Are you saying that if someone imitates Israelite sacrifices that it is ok? Cain imitated Abel’s sacrifice and it was roundly condemned.

    Josephus seems to support the idea that Baal worshipers engaged in sexual practices by sending the Moabite women to entice Israeli soldiers. I can accept many sins by a prophet, but when a prophet recommends fornication as a means of winning a war, that seems quite far from pious, especially when the opposing prophet is Moses. Why do you think God didn’t tell Balaam to simply join Moses if Balaam was truly a prophet as Moses was?

    I’ve been listening to an Old Testament course from Yale. There are scholars who claim that Baal worship pre-dates Yahweh worship, and that many of Israel’s sacrifices are patterned after Baal worship rather than the other way around. Now, I expect you’ll reject that notion (I’m not fully convinced either.) Even if one subscribes to the notion that Baal sacrifices are a corruption of the original Adamic religion (in a way similar to Cain’s adaptation of sacrifice), the mere similarities of sacrifice patterns seems like an odd justification that sacrifices to Baal were somehow acceptable to God.

    If Moses and the tribe of Levi held the only priesthood, where did Balaam get his authority? Additionally, Balaam tried to get Israel to sin, offered sacrifice to Baal, and opposed Moses. That’s 4 strikes against him. Why wasn’t Balaam rushing to Israel’s aid all along?

    Balaam was so engrossed in Baal worship that I have no idea if the angel that appeared to him was an angel of God or not. From his worship practices of Baal, I think it is highly unlikely that an angel of God came. The conflicting commands (go, don’t go) seem strange. Could it be that Satan was the author of these visions? Certainly the contradictions between night revelation to go and morning angelic visit were confusing. Isn’t the devil the author of confusion?

    Balaam did get Israel to commit sin, and getting Israel to sin seems more in line with what Satan wanted, rather than God and Moses. We know that Joseph Smith said that an angel of the devil can appear to people, and certainly did appear to some early Mormon saints. I think it is highly likely that a counterfeit angel appeared to Balaam. He had no problem offering sacrifice to Baal.

    Idol worship was a capital offense (of which Balaam later suffered when Moses finally found him). People who ate animals sacrificed to idols were considered unclean, and had to go through the Jewish purification procedures. Surely Balaam would have been unclean by Moses’ standards, not only for participating in a Baal worship service, but also by virtue of the fact that Balaam was gentile. Balak’s heart was never close to God or the children of Israel, and his initial sacrifice (with the seeming blessing of Balaam) to Baal at the beginning of the story seems to confirm that neither Balaam or Balak were friends of Israel.

    Let’s not forget that you said it was ok for Joshua to destroy Jericho for Baal worship. So, it doesn’t seem like much time has passed between Moses and Joshua. I expect this Baal religion was pretty degenerate during the life of Moses as well as Joshua. I expect that you think Moses killing of Balaam was justified.

    Honestly, I can’t see any Biblical justifications for calling Balaam a prophet. I have looked in the Bible but I cannot find “Balaam” and “prophet” in the same sentence. It seems to be a relatively ancient Midrashic convention to call Balaam a prophet, but it doesn’t seem supported by a scripture in the Bible. As such, the term “prophet” to describe Balaam must be an extremely loose-fitting term. I don’t think Balaam measures up to even the prophet Zenock, of which we know nothing about except for an obscure BoM reference.

    Certainly Balaam was a vastly different prophet than Moses or Joshua. Yes, it’s interesting that Balaam blessed Israel, but I can’t really see God as the author of that revelation in light of the Baal sacrifice. (God didn’t even tell Balaam to join with Israel!) I’m sure the story of Balaam was an interesting story to the ancient Israelites, just as it would be interesting to Mormons if Al Sharpton suddenly blessed the Mormons today. Sure, it would be nice, but I don’t think anybody would elevate Al to prophetic status.

  9. Maybe you didn’t understand what I was trying to say, so in case you didn’t, let me repeat myself. I don’t believe that the sacrifices that Balaam was making were sacrifices to Baal. Location does not necessarily indicate the focus of the sacrifice. If it did, why would there be a need to build altars? It seems that Balak’s people would’ve already had an altar or altars already built for the purpose of sacrificing to Baal. Why would Balaam need to have altars built unless the reason was because he needed altars designed for the type of sacrifice needed to make sacrifices to God (Yaweh)? This, to me, would indicate a “redecoration”, as you described, which would be necessary to turn a Baal worshipping location into a God worshipping location. Now, since these altars were newly built, I think it is safe to assume that they were probably dedicated too.

    Logically, it makes no sense to me why Balaam would offer sacrifice to Baal while at the same time seeking guidance from God. He may not be a very smart man, but I don’t think he’s stupid. Same for Balak. Like I said, the manner of sacrifice doesn’t speak Baal worship to me. Since when did Baal worship require the sacrifice of oxen and rams? The number 7 is also indicative of Israelite worship. I’m just not seeing any convincing evidence that the sacrifices made by Balaam and Balak were to Baal. If you can point me to any evidence other than location, I will take that into consideration, otherwise, I don’t think there’s a case to be made.

    You asked how Balaam got his authority. Well, I’ll ask you, how did Jethro get his authority?

  10. Perhaps I don’t understand your point about Jethro. Is Jethro a prophet? I can see as Moses Father-in-law, that Moses may have bestowed priesthood authority to Jethro since he was related to Moses via marriage. Yet, Balaam had no marriage to the tribe of Levi, so I find any authority for a gentile to be problematic, especially since Balaam was an enemy of Israel rather than a friend.

    No Tara, I don’t think I misunderstood you. Can you explain why Cain’s sacrifice was unacceptable to the Lord even though it was similar to Abel’s? Similarity does not make a case of acceptance. It is better to obey than to sacrifice, as Samuel told Saul.

  11. Tara, let me further explain.

    You said, I don’t believe that the sacrifices that Balaam was making were sacrifices to Baal.

    Numbers 22:41, “Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into the high places of Baal,” I think you agree that it would be awfully strange for Mormons to go to church in a Buddhist temple, right? Perhaps it is not impossible, but highly unlikely. Don’t you agree?

    Location does not necessarily indicate the focus of the sacrifice. If it did, why would there be a need to build altars?

    Why did Adam build an altar? Since these hills of Baal were outdoor, it is likely that the elements would affect these altars, requiring them to be rebuilt. Altars are common to Catholocism, Mormonism, Buddhisms, Judiasm, Greek/Roman myths, and many pagan religions. I didn’t see anything about cherubim, so how do we know that these were Jewish altars? Since Balak showed Balaam where he wanted to offer sacrifice, I think it is impossible that these were Jewish altars. The text seems to indicate these were altars for Baal, and I think you’re really reading something into the scriptures that is not supported by the context here to claim that Balaam was worshiping Yahweh at an altar of Baal. I find this nearly impossible to reconcile with the Biblical text.

    Furthermore, I quoted Josephus above, and he tells us that the women of Balak caused the children of Israel (9 above) to

    “transgressed their own laws, and supposing there were many gods, and resolving that they would sacrifice to them according to the laws of that country which ordained them,”

    This seems to imply that Balak knew there were many gods including Baal, El, Molech, and the other pagan gods of Midian and Moab. Balaam seems to be endorsing Balak’s view of religion by getting Israel to sin. I just don’t think your interpretation is supported by the Bible at all, and a person has to read your interpretation into this story to make it work. The much simpler explanation is that Balaam was offering sacrifice to Baal. Why Yahweh would send an angel at this ceremony is really strange.

  12. Well, it’s obvious to me that we aren’t going to agree. I don’t think that Balaam was making sacrifice to Baal. The textual clues do not lend themselves to that. One could make that assumption based on the location, but that is the ONLY clue. Everything else points to sacrifices to God. You could make the case that Balaam was pushing the the limits. You could even make the case that the sacrifices were not acceptable to God. But there is no clear case that Balaam, or Balak for that matter, believed that they were making sacrifices to Baal. There’s no point in debating any further. I know I won’t change your mind so I’m not even going to try.

    You don’t see my point about Jethro. I wasn’t trying to say that Jethro was a prophet. Only that he held the priesthood. After all, wasn’t it he who we can assume gave Moses the priesthood? Did Jethro give Moses his prophethood? Perhaps not. So, where do you suppose Moses got that? Do you not suppose that wherever Moses got his, Balaam could’ve gotten his too? Your only question regarding Balaam’s authority had to do with the priesthood. I answered your question by offering up Jethro. I’m not saying it was Jethro. I’m only saying that if Jethro, who was not an Israelite, held the priesthood, then we can’t assume that the Israelites were the only ones who held priesthood authority.

  13. Oh, and I wasn’t questioning the need for altars. I was questioning the need to build NEW altars. Those Baal worshippers likely had their own amenities for their sacrifices and/or rituals. I was suggesting that the building of new altars indicated that whatever may have already been structurally present wasn’t suitable for Balaam’s and Balak’s purposes.

  14. I forgot to comment on Balaam’s counsel to get the Midianite women to induce Israel to sin. I don’t see why it is so hard to fathom that a prophet can fall and fall hard. Do you believe that it is possible for a prophet to fall? If so, what do you suppose that would look like? A fallen prophet certainly wouldn’t be trying to show obedience. He would probably be trying to undermine God’s will or at the very least would be trying to make a profit off what he knew. It seems that you have this neat and tidy little picture in your head of how a prophet should fall, and it doesn’t involve him getting very messy.

    It seems fairly clear to me that even though Balaam resisted the promise of riches and power at first, he was at least enticed by the idea. I think he had finally allowed himself to get far enough away from God and let justifications creep back in to the point that he fell all the way this time.

  15. Tara, we’ll have to agree to disagree here. I think the textual clues greatly imply that Balak was offering sacrifice to Baal. Moses and the children of Israel were explicitly told not to mingle with all the cities they destroyed because of idol worship. Balak sent for Balaam, who was not from Moab or Midian, which are both located in Saudi Arabia. That archeological site discovered in 1967 seems to imply Balaam was from Syria. These altars of Moab were well-known to Balak, not Balaam, and I am positive that Balak believed in Baal. Balaam seems to be trying to placate Balak all through the story, and seems to want to please Balak by paying homage to Balak’s gods. That alone should disqualify Balaam as a prophet.

    I also don’t understand why God didn’t tell Balaam to join forces with Moses. Even Ruth, a non-Israelite, said, “let they God be my God”, yet Balaam never seems to be inclined to join Israel at all. If Balaam knew Israel couldn’t be defeated, it sure seems strange to accept bribes of Balak. I’d put my money on the winning horses and chariots of Moses if God came to me and said Israel couldn’t be defeated.

    With all the revelations Balaam purportedly received, he never told anyone to convert to Judaism. Balaam’s crazy not to join with Moses. I don’t understand why Balaam didn’t say, “Balak, Yahweh is the true God. Convert to Judaism, join with Moses, and live.” This seems like a no-brainer for a true prophet to me. True prophets testify of the true God, and encourage people to join the children of God. Balaam never did that. If he did, it is completely missing from the Bible. Current archaeology and Josephus history do not show that Balaam had any inclination to join with Judaism at all.

    As I said before “prophet”, and “Balaam” do not exist in the same sentence in the Bible. There is no record of Balaam ever trying to convince a soul to join Judaism, or even for anyone to repent. If he was a prophet, who did he preach to? He didn’t have to be successful–Abinadi only converted 1 person (Alma), and Abinadi died in the process. Balaam never converted even one person, and so far as we know, he only said (according to Josephus) “O Balak, and you Midianites that are here present, (for I am obliged even without the will of God to gratify you,) it is true no entire destruction can seize upon the nation of the Hebrews”. If Balaam did try to convert someone, it’s completely missing from the Bible. If he had tried to convert someone, I think Moses might have taken pity on him. But Balaam seems to have been an enemy to Moses, and the children of Israel, despite these blessings he pronounced upon Israel. It seems to me he could “read the tea leaves” that Moses was going to win, rather that being a friend of Israel.

    The idea of a fallen prophet is an interesting one. I can accept the concept of a fallen prophet, but I don’t believe Balaam was ever a true prophet in the first place, so therefore he can’t be a fallen prophet. Who would you rank as a fallen prophet (besides Balaam)? David, Solomon, and Saul come to mind, but they don’t quite fit the definition of prophet very well. They are fallen from grace, but not fallen prophets, IMO. Who else is there to call a fallen prophet? Jonah, Abraham, Israel, Joseph, Isaac, all had sins, but I wouldn’t call them fallen prophets. I’m not sure who really fits into that category. Daniel, Amos, Ezekiel, Malachi don’t seem fallen to me. Abinadi and Jeremiah were locked up, but not fallen. Your description (“trying to undermine God’s will”) sounds like Lucifer in the War in Heaven, but I can’t think of anyone else. Can you think of someone who qualifies as a fallen prophet?

  16. Sorry I’m a little late to the discussion.
    Balaam was a prophet of Yahweh. The article makes the assumption that at the time of Balaam this is mutually exclusive to being a worshiper of baal. This is not the case in this time period. The distinction between Yahweh-baal grew out out the conflict between the Israelites and Canaanites. At times the name baal was an acceptable name for Yahweh and was actually quite common in Hebrew names. In this story, Balaam is engaging in equivocation. He knows that Yahweh is the true God but he is using the name baal (which is an appropriate name) because he knows Balak understands in a different sense (a false polytheistic god.

  17. Daniel, it sounds like you’re making an argument similar to Ammon in the Book of Mormon where Ammon tells King Lamoni that the “Great Spirit” is God. I’m a little doubtful of that proposition, but assuming it is true, why is Balaam telling the Balak to get Israel to sin?

  18. Josephus gives the most concise answer to why Balaam tells Balak to induce Israel to sin: he felt obligated to please Balak.

    As I understand it the story goes something like this. Balaam (still righteous) receives Balak who asks him to curse Israel. Balaam asks God if he can go and curse Israel. God says no. Balak goes home but then sends gifts and servants to ask Balaam again. The servants offer Balaam wealth if he would come with them and curse Israel. Balaam (starting to slide down a slippery slope) ask God again if he can go and curse Israel. God says he can go but he cannot curse Israel. Balaam takes the gifts (begins to feel obligated to Balak) and goes to Balak. An angel warns Balaam that he can go but cannot curse Israel. Balaam (starting to worry) say well then I won’t go. The angel says no you asked to go: you will go but don’t curse Israel. Balaam performs sacrifices and blesses Israel. Balak is angry. Balaam realizes why Israel cant be cursed: they are more righteous than the Canaanites. Balaam (having slid down the entire slippery slope) instructs Balak in how to get Israel to sin.

    The story of Balaam is the archetype for the fallen prophet. You won’t find any better example.

    Now I’m not sure why you doubt that Balaam is worshipping Yahweh and using the name baal. Baal is a generic name for deity used for Hadad or any number of minor local deities in Canaan. It is equivalent to Adonai in Hebrew. What name would you expect a Canaanite speaking prophet to use to address Yahweh? The repeated use of God’s personal name would be disrespectful. He wouldn’t use Adonai or Hashem: he doesn’t speak Hebrew. Baal is the obvious choice for the commonly used name for the worship of Yahweh in Canaan prior to the Israelite invasion. That this name is also used for any number of other gods shouldn’t be a foreign concept to a modern audience. There are a great many non-Christian religions that refer to their gods as lord when speaking about them in English.

    I’m also confused why you keep pushing Balaam into a missionary framework: Balaam as Ammon, Balaam finding converts to Judaism, etc. With well known Israelite prophets, we’re hard pressed to give examples of Israel engaging in missionary work. They do give themselves as examples of moral behavior but this rarely (if ever) extends to an invitation to establish a covenant relationship with God. It seems anachronistic to insist that Balaam have a story about missionary work to qualify as a prophet. It is not a requirement for Israelite prophets, It shouldn’t be a requirement for Canaanite prophets.

  19. Daniel,

    You bring an interesting perspective here–one I’m not unfamiliar with. As I’ve been studying the Old Testament, I’m aware that Hebrews may have referred to God with Canaanites names. Tara and I have had some discussions regarding Baal and Molech previously as we discussed Joshua’s Unholy War. I had been trying to argue this on Tara’s understanding, which would make the idea that Baal and Yahweh were completely different religions. As we have discussed that, Tara may be a little more comfortable with the notion that Baal is another name for Yahweh, but I don’t think she would fully embrace such a notion. In my other post, Tara condemned the people of Jericho for the practice of child sacrifice to Baal. If we are to equate Yahweh and Baal as the same god, then this obviously creates some problems as we try to explain child sacrifice.

    You make some good points regarding missionary work and Balaam. It does not appear that Moses and company tried to evangelize the Jewish religion at all, so perhaps it is anachronistic to try to put that into the story. However, if Balaam really did worship Yahweh (and call him Baal), then I don’t understand why God didn’t try to get Balaam to join forces with Moses. God got two gentile women (Ruth and Rahab) to join with the children of Israel, but never seemed to make any attempt to influence Balaam in that direction. From my study of this story, I just don’t see enough evidence to conclude Balaam was ever a true prophet. While I agree that there is some evidence to suggest that Balaam may have interchanged Baal and Yahweh, it does not seem to me that Balak felt that Yahweh and Baal were the same god. It appears to me that Moses monothestic god was a revolutionary concept at this point in history, so I have a hard time believing that Baal was a monotheistic representation of Yahweh. From what I can tell, Balak was a polytheist. If Balaam felt Yahweh and Baal were the same, that isn’t at all clear form the Biblical text, and I just don’t see enough evidence to support that Baal was ever a legitimate prophet of Yahweh. If he was, then God should have had 2 chosen groups of people: children of Israel, and children of Balaam, and I just don’t see Biblical evidence to support this.

  20. I’m not sure that I’ve explained well my concept of baal. Baal is not the name of any one specific god in this time period. It is the generic name “lord” in Canaanite. It could be used for any god on a spectrum including: The one true God (worshipped in the correct manner), the true God (worshipped in an incorrect manner), A false god (worshipped in a benign manner), and a false god (worshipped in any number of vile ways.) This is the result of a general apostasy in Canaan that progressed at different rates in various places. All of these combination seem to have existed at the time the Israelites entered the promised land. In later periods, worshippers of the true God under the name of baal (of both types) are either absorbed by Israel or further apostatize crossing the line into worship of a false god.

    The obvious question, where did these worshippers of the true God come from, is closely linked to your question about the chosen status of Israel. The traditional view of Israel as the chosen people; exclusive claim to priesthood, prophecy, scripture, etc.; is flawed. This view is based on the ultimate state of Israel not its condition Prior to Egypt or until well after they enter the promised land. The Doctrine and Covenants make quite clear that Israelite priesthood is of Midianite origin through Jethro. Various Abrahamic peoples such as the Midianites (and possibly descendants of earlier patriarchs) had the priesthood, prophecy, etc. and were chosen people in their time. Israel’s eventual claim to be the only chosen people is true not because they were the only ones ever to worship the true God but because they were the only ones who’s apostasy was never complete.

  21. Daniel, where is this reference in the D&C you are referencing?

    The Doctrine and Covenants make quite clear that Israelite priesthood is of Midianite origin through Jethro. Various Abrahamic peoples such as the Midianites (and possibly descendants of earlier patriarchs) had the priesthood, prophecy, etc. and were chosen people in their time. Israel’s eventual claim to be the only chosen people is true not because they were the only ones ever to worship the true God but because they were the only ones who’s apostasy was never complete.

    That isn’t something I have studied very much. I guess I have heard this concept in very vague terms, and it is a really interesting idea to pursue. You seem to be saying that Moses received the priesthood through his gentile father-in-law Jethro. That’s a fascinating concept. Even more fascinating is the fact that Jethro was from Midian, who were later enemies of Israel. If Jethro held the priesthood, it seems to me that this apostasy must have happened quickly, because 40-50 years after Moses married Miriam (Jethro’s daughter), Joshua and Moses were attacking the Midianites.

  22. Doctrine and Covenants 84 gives a priesthood lineage for the sons of Moses. Which actually has a great deal of interesting implications to how priesthood is transfered. Verse six is pertinent to this discussion.

    D&C 84:6 And the sons of Moses, according to the Holy Priesthood which he (Moses) received under the hand of his father-in-law, Jethro;

    That the Israelites later battled the Midianites shouldn’t be surprising given that Israelite worship of the true God was a paradigm shift that exacerbated the apostasy of the Midianites. Prior to Sinai, it seems that worshipping God fit amicably into the range of polytheistic gods. Worshippers of the true God definitely believed that He was the only true God but they related to their contemporaries largely as worshippers of the true God in a corrupt form (sometime very corrupt.) The Israelites new covenant with God changed where the line was drawn between corrupt worship of the true God and worship of a false god.

    Also specific tribes were not adherents of a homogenous religion. Midianite, Canaanite, Moabite, etc. are at times claims to a particular lineage (race) or geographic labels. Each individual family would worship a god that fit somewhere on the spectrum I described earlier. Jethro could very well have been among the last of the Midianites to worship God (given Israel’s new definition) even if the apostasy had happened generations earlier. Jethro would have peacefully coexisted with them under the older paradigm: treating other Midianites as worshippers of the true God in a corrupt form.

    By the way, Miriam is Moses’ sister. Zipporah is the daughter of Jethro and wife of Moses. (I’m pretty sure that was just a typo.)

  23. Thanks for the correction on Zipporah/Miriam–sometimes it’s hard to keep all the biblical names straight, but I’m glad you understood what I meant.

    Thanks for the reference to D&C 84. As I read through that, there are some pretty big implications. The Bible says the priesthood line goes Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and 400 years later….Moses. As we read the story of Moses, he is of the tribe of Levi, raised Egyptian (without priesthood), flees Egypt, marries Zipporah, then has the burning bush experience. Seemingly this burning bush experience is where most people would expect him to receive the priesthood, or perhaps he received it as part of the 10 Commandments, though it would seem the burning bush would be the primary candidate so that he could use the priesthood to issue the plagues of Egypt. Finally, he bequeaths the priesthood to the Tribe of Levi.

    Now, we look at the priesthood lineage in D&C 84, creating a seemingly parallel priesthood. So instead of Abraham, Isaac, it is Abraham, Esaias, Gad, Jeremy, Elihu, Caleb, Jethro. Obviously this line isn’t mentioned in the Bible (and we wonder who these people were), but it is a very interesting proposition. (It also seemingly has a large centuries-long gap between Jethro and Abraham.) If Balaam was somehow inserted into this line during these lost centuries, then there would be 2 parallel priesthood lines–the Isaac line and the Esaias line.

    If Balaam is somehow in this Esaias line, that is an interesting point. But it still seems to me that Balak is a polytheist, and for Balak to send for Balaam seems like quite the odd-couple, don’t you think? Are you saying that Balak was not a polytheist?

  24. Balak and Balaam are an exceptionally odd couple in the Israelite paradigm. They are on the cusp of a new paradigm (the Israelites) and still use the older paradigm.

    I’m saying that Balak was a polytheist and he treated the God of Balaam as part of his pantheon. Balak thought the true God was another local deity, an exceptionally powerful one worth seeking out in dire straits. Balaam would have thought of Balak as a worshipper of the true God in a false manner. For Balaam it is sufficient that Balak acknowledge the power of the true God even if he doesn’t abandon the rest of his pantheon. This is the central distinction between the old paradigm and the new Israelite paradigm: the necessity of monotheism.

    The best example of this is still found among the Abrahamic religions. Among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Except for the most fundamentalist among them, they acknowledge that the others worship the true God (in a false manner.) Each of their pantheons is more or less expansive: Muslim’s being the smallest and some Christian groups (Catholics and Mormons in particular) being much larger. This analogy does break down at a point important to this discussion. Only the most liberal Muslim, Jew, or Christian resorts to the others for spiritual assistance. This is because our differences are linked directly to the new paradigm we inherited from the Israelites, Monotheism as necessary. Balaam’s monotheism was “accidental.” He worshipped the true god and only the true God but this would only be seen as an extreme variation on any family worship of their deity. He didn’t consider it the dividing line between worship of the true God and worship of a false god. Since Balak had no concept whatsoever of God’s exclusivity and Balaam worshipped him exclusively but didn’t consider monotheism a necessary trait, Balaam would have little difficulty aiding Balak.

  25. Daniel, I’m enjoying your point of view, but one comment you wrote strikes me as problematic. “For Balaam it is sufficient that Balak acknowledge the power of the true God even if he doesn’t abandon the rest of his pantheon.

    Exodus 20:3 reads, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Furthermore, Exodus 23:13 reads “And in all [things] that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.

    With Moses and Balaam being contemporaries, shouldn’t we expect them to have the same beliefs concerning polytheism? It doesn’t make sense to me that polythestic beliefs were completely forbidden by Moses, yet Balaam is willing to help Balak who believes Yahweh is one of the pantheon of gods. This problem is why I just don’t accept the notion that Balaam was ever a true prophet.

    I am also curious if there are any biblical or apocryphal writings referencing this Esaias line of the priesthood. I suspect there is not. Even if we the proposition that there is another gentile line of priesthood authority, there is nothing in either ancient scripture, or the D&C connecting Balaam to this gentile priesthood line. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

  26. Ok, easiest questions first. The Esaias priesthood line is only documented in D&C (as far as I know.) Most references to it that you will find are from people who assume that the names in it refer to the most well known biblical figures of the same name. Assuming this is true is obviously problematic because they don’t fit the bible chronology. This is often taken as clear evidence that Joseph Smith was a fraud. The better explanation is that the names refer to people other than the common biblical figures.

    Balaam is not specifically mentioned as part of this line. The information in the lineage that is given though is more than enough to cause a drastic revision of common ideas about priesthood succession. (I’m not sure that a thorough review of all the implications really fits in this discussion.) The most obvious conclusion though is that our ideas of tidy priesthood hierarchies do not fit ancient priesthood lineages. Priesthood lineage should not be the deciding factor when evaluating prophetic calling. Moses’ lineage in D&C (and only there) is the longest of any we have and most acknowledged prophets in the Old Testament have none. We just assume that they have it by their actions. So actions should be the criteria we use to judge Balaam. (I included the lineage not because Balaam was in it, but because it illustrated non-Israelite and non-Abrahamic priesthood holders.) The Jewish idea of prophet requires one of two acts seeing visions from God or speaking for God. The Israelites seem to have judged Balaam a prophet according to the second criterion, speaking for God. I realize that judging Balaam by his actions is a sticking point. Some of his action are prophetic and some of them are decidedly not. But, this is what we would expect of a fallen prophet.

    We should evaluate the contraindicating actions to see how they fit the history. Are they part of his apostasy or do we need to reevaluate our expectations of prophets at this time. That brings us to the question of monotheism (I didn’t expect that you would go easily.) Most of Balaam’s non-prophetic actions (and, I think, your misgivings in calling him a prophet) are directly tied to his lack of monotheistic zeal. Yes, Exodus is quite explicit about that. That is the point. Balaam wasn’t at Sinai. Moses obviously was. Prior to Sinai the relationship between God’s people and their polytheist neighbors was different. The Israelites certainly were much more accepting of polytheists while in Egypt. Balaam and Moses did have the same beliefs until Moses received more revelation. The question of why Balaam did not accept Moses’ new revelation as you would expect is answered in the text: he felt obligated to Balak.

  27. Daniel, I agree completely that there are 2 criteria for judging prophets: priesthood lineage, and prophetic actions. Modern Mormons believe that priesthood lineage is the most important, and we can all trace our priesthood lineage back to Joseph Smith, Peter, and Christ.

    However, as you mentioned, ancient Jews didn’t view prophets by the laying on of hands at all, but rather by actions. Balaam’s actions are contradictory from the beginning of the story. According to Moses, Balaam should have had no contact with the polytheist Balak. If Balaam tries to help Balak, how can Balaam be eligible to receive a vision from God? Certainly people can sin and be eligible for visions: Paul and Alma come to mind, but neither of them were considered prophets by either priesthood authority or by actions prior to the vision, and subsequently they embraced the true God after their visions.

    Laman and Lemuel had a vision, but we don’t refer to them as fallen prophets. It seems to me that if we claim that Balaam’s vision was legitimate (which I greatly question), then Balaam’s actions are more consistent with Laman than Paul. Balaam’s actions just don’t seem congruent with a true prophet, but rather the selfish, power hungry Laman. We don’t claim Laman to be a fallen prophet, and I don’t think Balaam should be considered a fallen prophet either.

  28. In Balaam’s favor as a prophet:
    God speaks to Balaam twice when the princes of Balak come to him.
    God speaks through Balaam and blesses Israel three times.
    If these were Balaam’s only actions we would have to accept his claim to a prophetic calling as equal to any other prophet.

    As far as I understand your position, these events did not happen. God did not actually do any of these things because:

    Balaam tries to gain favor with Balak (a polytheist).
    God’s angel threatens Balaam.
    Balaam makes sacrifices at altars that Balak prepared.
    Balaam causes the Israelites to sin (through the Moabites.)
    (I think this is a pretty good list of your previous objections. If there are any that aren’t addressed by these general categories please mention them.)

    Are any of these things truly inconsistent with a prophetic call? I’ll give examples from other prophets for each of these perceived flaws of Balaam. (None of these are exhaustive lists.)

    Gaining favor with polytheists
    Abraham-Sodom and Gomorra (He returns their goods and prisoners when rescuing Lot.)
    These examples are from both before and, surprisingly, after Moses. The account of Naaman is particularly instructive because of how Naaman reacts to his healing. He acknowledges the power of God but then insists on fitting Him into a preconceived polytheistic framework. Namaan needs to bring back dirt from Israel in order to worship God in his home land. He is treating the true God as the chthonic deity of Israel. Elisha doesn’t correct this misunderstanding. Gaining favor with polytheist and allowing them to retain their corrupt worship is clearly not sufficient reason to reject a prophet.

    God threatening his prophet
    The implicit threat of death in Wilford Woodruff’s statement that the prophet cannot mislead the church.
    The prophets of God are subject to the consequences of their action just as anyone else. That the consequence is sometimes death might strike us as severe but in reality that is the consequence of all sin: it is just in our experience that it is usually deferred. When the destroying angle tells Balaam to go and do as the Lord commands or be destroyed, Balaam goes and is safe until he disobeys the Lord in causing Israel to sin. Balaam is then subject to the threat of the angel and is destroyed.

    Conducting sacrifices with polytheists
    Elijah and the priests of baal-admittedly most of the preparations are done by Elijah but he does allow them to procure his bull.
    Naaman-not a ritualized slaughter but it does fall under the broader category of ritualized acts of worship of which blood sacrifice is a part. In this instance (like Balaam) Elisha gives instruction about the act which Naaman then carries out. This goes much further than the case of Balaam. Elisha functions only as an advisor and Naaman actually officiates. while in the case of Balak, he makes the preparations and Balaam officiates.

    Causing God’s people to sin
    This is the most difficult of the objections because it is directly tied with Balaam’s status as a fallen prophet. We do have accounts of other prophets sinning and thus causing Israel to sin. Most of them are not punished strictly as Balaam (but some are.)

    Eli doesn’t correct his sons who lead Israel to sin. He and his sons are destroyed (like Balaam.)
    Lehi leads his family to murmur against God. He repents and is not punished further.

    Each one of these objections individually don’t disqualify Balaam from being a prophet prior to their commission. Does the sum of all them disqualify Balaam as prophet prior to the commision of all of them? I don’t believe so. God has a blanket threat for all his prophets: God reminding him of this does not add to the sum of Balaam’s sins. Both gaining favor with polytheists and involving them in ritualized worship (even with little to no effort in proper instruction) are part of the Namaan story and we certain would not disqualify Elisha. Balaam’s final act certainly does disqualify his future acts but only because he does not repent (he dies first.) Balaam’s sin does not negate his previous status as a prophet.

    Now I’m sure any number of objections could be raised about these examples. They would be along the lines of those leveled against Balaam: The prophets did not do these things or they were not prophets. That takes this discussion into a different realm. Do we reevaluate scripture to fit our folk ideas of prophetic calls or do we reevaluate folk ideas to better fit the record of prophets? I’m not entirely against reevaluating scripture and in a counted few cases I think we will find cases where they are in error. I do not think that this is one of them. The story of Balaam as prophet is internally consistent and fits nicely in the prophet tradition (even if he eventually falls.) But if this really is a discussion of which should change folk beliefs or historical record, we should stop arguing it on the basis of scripture and use some other framework.

    On a side note. I went back and reviewed the previous discussion of the battles of Joshua. I thought it was interesting that here you would argue so strongly that Balaam is not a prophet when his corse of action would seem to be what you would expect of Moses and Joshua (if they were to act according to your concept of morality.) On reflection, I’m sure you would not see it that way but at the time it was quite humorous.

  29. Oh, I forgot to address the issue of Laman and Paul having visions. Prophetic visions are obviously of a different quality than the calls to repentance they received. Yes, wicked people do occasionally have visions or hear the voice of the Lord. They are always calls to repentance directed at the recipient of the communication. Prophetic visions are of a different character. Prophets receive communication for the purpose of relaying to someone else. Prophets will act as God when they deliver his word. In the cases of Laman and Paul, God acts as God or an angel acts as God. There is no prophet in either event because Laman and Paul are the final recipients of the message. In Balaam’s case he is not the final recipient of the message. Balaam is the mouth piece for delivering the message to Balak and Israel. Balaam is obviously acting as a prophet in the classic sense.

  30. Daniel, I’m not questioning if Balaam had a vision–lots of people have visions. The 3 children in Fatima had a vision that the pope would be shot and the Catholic church has called the vision “worthy of belief.” Now Mormons aren’t going to support such a proposition, and probably chalk it up to “hmmm, kinda interesting.” I’d probably put Balaam’s vision in this category. Perhaps Balaam fits in with these 3 children on Portugal who (and using your terminology), “worshipped the true God (in an incorrect manner)”.

    Of course there are lots of people who claim to be prophets–from nutjobs like Brian David Mitchell, to legitimate prophets like Moses. I’m not sure I understood your last paragraph in 28. It seems like you’re saying I was advocating Moses to be a missionary among the city of Jericho, and you seem to be saying that Balaam was being a missionary. If that’s what you’re saying, I don’t view Balaam as a missionary. Certainly he had more tolerance for polytheistic beliefs than Moses did, but he wasn’t advocating Balak join with Israel, or trying to get Balak to be a monotheist.

    Balaam’s admonition to get Israel to sin so soon after his vision blessing Israel makes me question his status from true prophet to false prophet. It seems the change would have been like a light switch, and I would expect such a transformation to occur over the course of years. David didn’t turn from hero to villain in an instant. The time between Goliath and Bathsheba took decades. From what I can tell, Balaam was paid for prophecies prior to Balak’s request. Balaam’s love of money for prophecy doesn’t strike me as a lightswitch in changing his character–it was there all along. The fact that he blessed Israel seems more like Jeanne Dixon’s prediction that JFK would die in office. Sure, Dixon’s prediction is an interesting prediction, but I’m not convinced of her psychic abilities, nor Balaam’s status as a true prophet.

  31. I’m sorry the comment comparing your positions on Joshua and Balaam derailed the conversation. I realize that my immediate impressions of your positions was flawed. I was just struck by how they seemed contradictory at first glance but on closer examination your position was more nuanced. It really doesn’t have any bearing on the current discussion. I just thought it was humorous.

    You’ve raised two new interesting objections that I’d like to address. First, Balaam may have received revelation (for others) and not been a prophet. This claim rejects the Old Testament criteria of prophetic calling and replaces them with something new. This seems to return to the previously discounted criterion that prophets must be part of the hierarchical structure of the church (This is the central difficulty with the Our Lady of Fatima.) The scriptural examples of prophets that are not part of the church structure are innumerable and I don’t think we really need to revisit them. But, if we reject Balaam on those grounds; we also lose all the prophets that are explicitly outside the hierarchy of the church.

    I do think that the example of Our Lady of Fatima is sufficiently different from that of Balaam that it is not really applicable. Some of the differences do point up the strength of Balaam’s claim. Our Lady of Fatima is almost unheard of among Mormons; the revelations of Balaam are a cherished part of Jewish history and the blessings are quoted quite often. While both Balaam and the three children are (from my perspective) outside the structure of the true church of the time, Balaam is accepted by that body (even though E, J, P, and Moses have every reason to reject him); the church has no position on the three children. In Balaam’s time, the church has every reason to denounce him (they don’t); now the church is much more conciliatory and rarely explicitly denounces anyone (I’m much more inclined to believe the average church member believes the three children did not receive revelation but they hold their tongue in order not to offend.)

    Second, deep seated character flaws disqualify Balaam from being a prophet. You’re right. Balaam’s character was probably flawed before he ever met Balak. This is not something we learn from the text though. Any ideas about Balaam’s life previous to this incident are purely speculative. You’ve chosen to try and fit Balaam into a tradition of divination for hire because it is easier for you to discount him there (Joseph in Egypt also fits nicely in that tradition.) Your example of David (though not exactly prophetic) in this case helps Balaam’s case more than it could ever hurt. Even during his long descent into sin, David functioned quite well in his position (his reign is usually looked on as a kind of Jewish golden age.) The case of Eli is similar (if not as fondly remembered.) God seems to allow prophets (and other leaders) the same period of grace necessary for repentance. If we were to look hard enough, we could find examples of prophets breaking nearly every commandment that Moses received. Their character flaws are not good reason to deny they are prophets.

    Would you mind restating briefly how you understand the story of Balaam? It seems that we’ve covered a lot of ground and I wonder what you think of him now. I’m curious to see what (if any) new information you found compelling enough to add to your version of the story.

  32. Daniel, I think I may not have made myself clear. I don’t agree with the proposition that “Balaam may have received revelation (for others) and not been a prophet. If Jeanne Dixon had predicted that David O McKay would die in 1970, and it happened, I would just think that was a weird coincidence–I wouldn’t think she was possessing psychic abilities–perhaps she just got lucky. Certainly her weird astrological beliefs aren’t something Mormons would be comfortable with.

    Last Christmas, I’ve mentioned the story of the 3 Wise Men who visited Jesus, and I think this bears some remarkable similarities to the Balaam story. From the DVD I mentioned, it seems that these men were Persian (Iranian) priests who practiced the Zoroastrian religion and were heavily influenced by astrology. They were monotheistic, and had some messianic beliefs. The religion was founded by a prophet named Zoroaster. The Magi may have been some sort of diviners and/or sorcerers.

    Now they came bearing gifts for Jesus, and I do find some really cool symbolism in the gifts (as I mentioned in the post), but as non-Jews it seems a strange story to me as well. I have to quote my previous comment, because it seems very relevant.

    “It is quite interesting to me that the Magi, or Wise men, were not Jews. How would we feel if a psychic like Jeanne Dixon, proclaimed Thomas S Monson as a true prophet? My guess is that we (as a church) would be uncomfortable with it. Would we want to include this kind of recommendation in the D&C, or P of GP? To me, this is analogous to the Magi’s recommendation in the New Testament. Frankly, I think most Christians take the Wise Men story at face value, but it isn’t quite so simple as that.

    It kind of reminds me of the story of Balaam–was he a prophet or not? He was not a Jew, so didn’t have the priesthood, and he never claimed to worship the Jewish God– (That’s quite an unusual story as well.)”

    My understanding of the story of Balaam (with some of my speculation thrown in) goes like this. Moses and company were wiping out some cities. They asked the Kings of Midian and Moab if they could pass through peacefully. I think the kings were suspicious that Moses might attack, and so they sought some sort of protection. Balaam was known as a man who could curse and bless. The kings wanted a curse on Israel, and asked Balaam to perform the duty, as he had probably done previously for other kings in the area.

    My guess is that Balaam knew the reputation of Israel’s army, and realized that Midian and Moab couldn’t win, so he tried to get out of cursing Israel. I don’t know if he had a vision or not–perhaps he did, or perhaps he was hoping that by blessing Israel, Balak would leave him alone. Spies from Israel probably heard the story about Balaam blessing Israel, and thought, “Wow, what a cool story”, and it became a legendary story, in much the same way as Our Lady of Fatima did with the Catholic Church.

    When Balak persisted in wanting Balaam to curse Israel, then Balaam figured if he could get Israel to sin against their god, perhaps that could help Moab and Midian. So, in my mind, Balaam is never really a friend of Israel. He is always trying to please Balak, and I’m not seeing any real devotion to Yahweh. The angel and donkey story are just weird stories, but I can see why Israel would jump on the stories–here’s a non-Jew who at face value seems to support Israel. But I think the story is deeper than face value.

    If I were to compare Moses and Balaam’s dueling priesthood lines, I think a modern day equivalent would be the LDS and RLDS churches. I’ll try to come up with a modern day scenario. Let’s say that Brigham Young and company built a destroying army, and were threatening communities in the west. Perhaps the Protestant Governors of Texas and California are a little worried about the Mormons, and asks the RLDS president (Joseph III) to curse Brigham. JS3 refuses to do it at first, but the governors persist. So, JS3 says, “hey, send your beautiful women to the Mormons and get them to lust after your women. Make sure they want to marry them, and have the women refuse to get married in the temple, and cause the Mormons to commit adultery/fornication. Then God will reject them as a people, and you’ll win.”

    I think that is a pretty good parallel to the Balaam story. Mormons reject JS3, as not a legitimate prophet, but would be impressed when JS 3 “blesses” the Mormons instead of cursing them as the governors asked. As JS son, perhaps JS3 can legitimately claim some priesthood authority–after all JS prophesied that JS3 would lead the church some day, and even Brigham Young knew that. But if JS3 is going to purposely try to cause Mormons to sin, isn’t that incongruent with the office of a prophet? I think Mormons and non-Mormons would easily question his prophetic calling. I don’t think Mormons consider JS3 was ever a legitimate prophet, and if he were to issue a guidance to sin, I think Mormons would even further disbelieve 3 was a prophet. He couldn’t be fallen, because Mormons would say he never was true in the first place.

    I’ve been listening to a Yale course on the OT. One of the things the instructor said is that the Bible is full of contradictions. The characters are messy, and aren’t really models of righteousness. I get that. I’ve posted on problems I have with the conduct of Abraham, Joshua, Jacob, Elijah, and Jonah. They all did some things that left me scratching my head.

    Jonah is probably the most flawed of this list. Here is someone we call a prophet, and yet he first runs away, then after he preaches repentance to the Ninevites, he hopes they’ll be destroyed by fire and brimstone anyway, and goes up to watch the city burst into flames. But God instead sunburns his head after the gourd dies, and teaches him a lesson. It’s easy to look at Jonah and say, “you call that a prophet?” He sure doesn’t act like we would expect Pres Monson to act, but the Bible is all about God using flawed characters. So I can expect that a prophet has flaws. It doesn’t appear that the Ninevites converted to Judaism, but God still loves them (unlike the Jericho-ites), so Jonah and Joshua are real contrasts.

    But it seems to me that the first commandment is “thou shalt have no gods before me”, and the Bible consistently rejects polytheism. With such a strong emphasis by all prophets from Moses to Malachi, it seems awfully strange to me that Balaam didn’t have a problem with Balak’s polytheism. Pretty much the whole Bible is a constant treatise on how bad idol worship is, yet Balaam never seems to view it as sinful as Moses did.

    The Biblical story of Joseph is an interesting story, because it seems like he was always a good guy. Perhaps he outwardly observed the religion of Egypt, but God had a greater purpose for him, and he never seems to worship Egyptian gods, The fact that he was surrounded by these polythesists was a necessary evil in order to save his family, but Joseph still shows his righteousness in resisting their religion. His righteousness is shown even in the story of Potiphar’s wife, “How can I do this great wickedness?”

    Joseph had visions of saving his family prior to his slavery in Egypt, and it seems that Joseph was always chosen by God. He kept his dream interpreting capabilities in Egypt, because God specifically loved Joseph. Joseph never seems to abandon his religion. The cub-bearer remembers Joseph is a Hebrew. He recounts the dream he had in prison with Joseph. Gen 41:12 We told the dreams to a young Hebrew man who was a servant of the captain of the guard. He told us what each of our dreams meant,

    Joseph continues to attribute his gift to the God of Israel, not Egypt. In Gen 41:16 “It is beyond my power to do this,” Joseph replied. “But God will tell you what it means

    Pharoah seems to accept Joseph’s god, Gen 41:38-39 As they discussed who should be appointed for the job, Pharaoh said, “Who could do it better than Joseph? For he is a man who is obviously filled with the spirit of God.” Turning to Joseph, Pharaoh said, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, you are the wisest man in the land!

    So, it seems to me that the Bible will justify certain outward behaviors in certain circumstances, but after Joseph saved his family, the biblical implication seems to be that they were able to worship the true God in Goshen thanks to Joseph. Israel blesses his sons before he dies, and while not stated explicitly, the implication seems to be that they worship the true god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, before falling into the apostasy of idol worship which happens over 400 years.

    Now I know that Pharoah probably had a pantheon of gods, but I suspect that is the special motivation Moses needs to emphasize how bad polytheism is. If Moses got the message, shouldn’t Balaam have also received it? Shouldn’t Balaam have simply joined Moses, instead of opposed him?

    You’re welcome to add a speculative story of how Balaam is a prophet.

  33. Would it be fair to say you think the combination of gentile prophet and fallen prophet is so improbable that it makes more sense that he is neither? That seems to be the best synthesis of your ideas that I can formulate. In the previous discussion Balaam’s status as prophet consistently gets rejected using examples that he is a gentile or a sinner (fallen.) I don’t find it hard to believe that there are gentile prophets or that there are fallen prophets and I think there are good reasons why these two sets would overlap.

    Here’s a more fleshed out version of how I understand the story of Balaam:

    Balaam, the son of a prophet, receives the priesthood and becomes a prophet among his own people. I don’t know which line his priesthood comes through. There is not enough information in the story. He could be a branch of the Abrahamic line, he could be a branch of the Esaias line found in D&C or he could be part of a third line parallel to both Esaias and Abraham.

    Balaam’s people (and the surrounding tribes) are generally wicked (as most are) and slowly apostatize introducing multiple deities into their worship and other corruptions. These new gods are probably introduced to Canaan from or in imitation of Egypt which apostatized much earlier. Balaam continues to worship the true God and because of the power of his prophecies, is known among his people and the surrounding tribes (even though they do not follow him.)

    The Israelites leave Egypt and eventually begin conquering the apostate Canaanites. Interestingly, this did not start as an extermination of polytheists. Moses’ original demand was that the Israelites be allowed to worship their God in the desert. This parallels Balaam’s relationship with the rulers in his area. Neither Balaam nor Moses is hostile to polytheists as long as he is not impeded in his worship of God. For Balaam, this never happens. For Moses, Pharaoh’s insistence that the Israelites not worship their God precipitates a crisis. The result of this crisis is that the Israelite will have a new relationship with polytheists. Within the land the Lord gives them, Israel will not allow worship of other gods (what constitutes other gods does change over time but this is the general rule.) This makes it much more unlikely (but not fool proof) that Israel will be ruled by someone hostile towards God. The new command does not change how they interact with polytheists outside their borders.

    While the Israelites establish their new monotheistic nation, they encounter the remnants of true worship in Canaan, Balaam. While this is improbable, it is not impossible. Moses’ own priesthood came from such a line among the Midianties. That there could be other pockets of believers is obviously possible.

    Balak, afraid of the Israelites, seeks help wherever he can find it. He sends princes and gifts to Balaam in a effort to get him to come and curse the Israelites. God initially tells Balaam that he cannot go to Balak or curse the Israelites. After a second more lavish entreaty by Balak, Balaam asks again and God tells him that he can go but he must do as he is commanded (he can’t curse the Israelites.) This has obvious parallels with the story of the 116 manuscript pages. Both Balaam and Joseph ask repeatedly for something repeatedly (at the insistence of someone they view as powerful.) Finally God relents and allows them to do what they want but with restrictions. Neither story ends well (Balaam’s is admittedly worse.)

    While Balaam travels to meet Balak, God sends His destroying angel. The angel reminds Balaam of God’s displeasure at Balaam’s insistence in going to Balak. Balaam begins to second guess his decision and tells the angel that he will not go. The angel tells Balaam that now he must go and do as God commands him.

    Balaam ask Balak to make the necessary preparations to perform sacrifices to God prior to pronouncing His will. Balak hopes this will be what he wants, a curse on Israel (he is obeying the command of a prophet and making sacrifice to God.) Balaam performs the sacrifice but then he blesses Israel. Balak is upset but hopes that by continuing to follow the directions of Balaam he can get a different result. Balaam makes two more sacrifices each with the same result: Israel is blessed.

    Balaam has done everything that God asked him at this point. If this were all he did, I think we could expect that he would not have been killed when the Israelites invaded. But, Balaam feels obligated to Balak. He accepted all of Balak’s gifts and did not deliver what Balak asked. Balaam knows he can’t curse Israel with any real force so he chooses to exploit the reason why God chose Israel over the Canaanites; Israel is more righteous. Balaam probably already realizes that the Canaanites are past the point where they would repent. Balak had offered (through Balaam) sacrifice to God and it was insufficient. If Balaam can’t make the Canaanites righteous enough to avoid destruction, he’ll try to make Israel wicked enough that they are no longer favored. He suggests that the Canaanites send their most beautiful women to cause the Israelites to sin (both fornicate and follow other gods.)
    Balaam is remembered as wicked because of this final act. All of the references to him as a wicked man are in connection with either priestcraft or fornication. He is never mentioned in connection with false claims to the priesthood or any variety of divination.

    Admittedly, there are a number of difficulties with this story. Most of these are points that your version deals with in a more satisfactory manner.

    Traditionally we only expect to see one legitimate line of priesthood at any one time.

    We expect prophets to be more righteous than us.

    We would like the commands of God to remain the same across time.

    There are a number of reasons why I am inclined to accept these difficulties. Some of these are central to my understanding of the story and others (which I’ll list last) are only incidental.

    I think reevaluating traditional ideas about priesthood according to scriptural sources will give a better understanding of how God operates. Your LDS-RLDS example is unnecessary and contrived given that the scriptures contain legitimate parallel priesthood lines. Both the D&C and The Book of Mormon give examples of legitimate parallel priesthood lineages. D&C gives the parallel lines of Abraham and Esaias. These two lines are parallel for at least three generations (Abraham-Isaac-Jacob on the Abraham line.) The Abraham-Esaias parallel is interesting because God himself starts one of them from scratch even when Abraham is available to pass on the priesthood (he was available to bless Esaias.) The Book of Mormon has the parallel lines of Mosiah and Alma. The Mosiah-Alma parallel is especially interesting because when they reencounter the one another, the line with the more tenuous claim becomes the leader of the combined church (Alma’s line had experienced a total apostasy.) I would prefer to have a single explanation that can account for all of these anomalies in the traditional view of the priesthood. This does not mean that I think current exclusive claims to the priesthood are false. I think that eventually all of the lines coalesced and/or apostatized and a single priesthood line was restored.

    I too expect that prophets would be more righteous than the average person. This is only natural given the greater spiritual manifestations they receive. But, I also know this natural inclination is flawed. My judgments will not always coincide with God’s. There is insufficient information in any scriptural account to make definitive judgments about personal righteousness. The only exception to this is when God pronounces judgment and it is recorded in scripture.

    The commands of God across time do seem inconsistent at first glance. When considering the context in which they are given, I think most (if not all) of these inconsistencies fall away. Often what we see as new commands or changes are required too address new threats. In this specific instance, Pharaoh takes a hostile stance towards the Israelite God. Prior to this there was little reason to self-segregate. I think the scriptures bare this out.

    Incidentally, I prefer this version of the story.

    It provides a framework to explain why God at one time requires the annihilation of a culture and at others requires patience.

    It accounts for the similarity between Canaanite and Israelite worship that modern archaeology is discovering.

    It gives a more palatable reason for the specific destruction of the Canaanites. They had apostatized and been warned of destruction by their own prophets long before the eventual invasion of the Israelites.

    It explains why Nephi would think righteousness was the only dimension that differentiated early Israel from the Canaanites. The Canaanites were not any less than the Israelites in prophetic manifestations. They were just more wicked.

    Finally, it makes sense to me that we should expect to see a gentile prophet that is also a fallen prophet. We know from later events that eventually all the gentile nations have apostatized and Israel is God’s only chosen people. All of their prophets either died with out passing along their calling or they themselves apostatized. To me this means that we could expect to see a higher incidence of apostasy among gentile prophets. So, for me, finding a fallen gentile prophet is quite unsurprising.

  34. Yes, I think it is fair to say my position is that the “combination of gentile prophet and fallen prophet is so improbable that it makes more sense that [Balaam] is neither.” I was also glad to hear you admit that are more difficulties with your story.

    I’m not opposed to the idea of a gentile prophet, but here’s my problem. (1) There are so few of them, and we really know only about Balaam and Job, (perhaps Melchizedek, though he seems to be a Hebrew too.) (2) Why haven’t others come along in the last 4000 years? (3) The bible is so Israel-centric, that it seems to discount the idea that a prophet could come from anywhere else. Now, I guess this could be seen as Jewish bias, but if there was some sort of gentile prophet, then the line seems to have been annihilated around the time of Balaam, just as the Nephites were annihilated.

    Surely non-LDS are going to have a difficult time swallowing this Esaias priesthood line, especially in light of the fact that the laying on of hands for priesthood authority doesn’t begin until Acts. In the Old Testament, it seems that prophets were called by God, rather than an un-ending chain of priesthood authority like the modern LDS church has. It seems to me that OT scholars believe prophets like Amos, Elijah, and others never really believed in an Aaronic/Melchizedek priesthood as modern LDS conceive. I don’t know if you’ve read Origins of Power by Michael Quinn, but he seems to paint the picture that early LDS priesthood was much less structured from 1830-1835 than what we would view today. Quinn seems to indicate that the Melchizedek priesthood wasn’t restored until after the church was organized, which is why the date in the D&C is so fuzzy. (See my post on when the MP was restored.)

    Joseph’s initial call as a prophet was much less structured, and seems to follow the calls of Alma, Amos and Samuel (both in the Bible and the Lamanite.) The priesthood was certainly much less institutionalized. Perhaps Balaam had a similar call, as did Jethro. The fact that D&C 84 leaves so many gaps between Abraham, Esaias, and Jethro could indicate that the chain is a broken chain, and these are just the major priesthood holders over the centuries.

    As to the reasons why you like your Balaam version better, let me comment on them.

    “It provides a framework to explain why God at one time requires the annihilation of a culture and at others requires patience.

    I don’t think God requires annihilation of a culture. He permits it to happen as in the cases of Rwanda, Nazi Germany, Pompei, Jericho, and Gomorrah, but I don’t think God inherently believes and chooses to destroy civilizations. I think men falsely attribute these things to God.

    It accounts for the similarity between Canaanite and Israelite worship that modern archaeology is discovering.

    I didn’t get into this with Tara. I’m not sure how she would react to similarities between Canaanite and Israelite worship. It would be a two-edged sword for her argument. But I agree that there are pretty significant similarities between worship practices of the 2 groups.

    It gives a more palatable reason for the specific destruction of the Canaanites. They had apostatized and been warned of destruction by their own prophets long before the eventual invasion of the Israelites.

    I disagree. Later Israelites engaged in idol worship, prostitution, and child sacrifice which is why prophets like Jeremiah condemned it so much. Perhaps you may say that the 10 Tribes were annihilated for wickedness, yet Christians and Jews still claim they’ll return. If God is no respecter of persons, he should give Jericho, Sodom, and Gomorrah a chance to return as well. I don’t find any explanations for mass destruction as palatable.

    It explains why Nephi would think righteousness was the only dimension that differentiated early Israel from the Canaanites. The Canaanites were not any less than the Israelites in prophetic manifestations. They were just more wicked.

    Israelites after the time of Moses were just as wicked as the early Canaanites Moses and Joshua destroyed.

    Finally, it makes sense to me that we should expect to see a gentile prophet that is also a fallen prophet.”

    I would agree with this statement more strongly if there were evidence of at least 1 gentile prophet in the last 4000 years (between Balaam and Joseph Smith.)

    (FireTag, if you’re reading this, I want you to know that LDS D&C 84 is the same as CoC D&C 83. I am curious if you have a take on this gentile priesthood line.)

  35. I’m not sure how you came to the conclusion that the Esaias line is broken. It certainly has enough links in it to cover the time between Abraham and Moses. The Abraham to Moses genealogy is seven generations inclusive. The Esaias to Moses priesthood line is seven generations inclusive. There is no reason to assume that it is a broken line.

    Yes it is unfortunate that the Bible does not contain more information on gentile prophets. I think Israel-centrism is the best explanation for this. When we look at a larger canon we do dramatically increase the number of gentile prophets. The Esaias line is at least four more (and probably entirely) gentile prophets. Esaias, Gad, and Jeremy are necessarily gentile. They predate or are contemporary with Jacob. Jethro is a Midiante and not generally included in the Jewish list of gentile prophets either. It is improbable that the intervening two priesthood holders were Israelites who gained the priesthood from gentiles and finally passed it to gentile (who then just passed it to an Israelite.) This seems to show that when we have a less Israel-centric source the number of gentile prophets increases. With the Biblical and and D&C lists we have thirteen. Of these I’m comfortable with all the D&C list, Beor, Balaam, and Job. I don’t find Job’s “friends” entirely convincing. No, these examples don’t fall between Balaam and Joseph Smith. During this particular period Israel was the remaining chosen people of God. If there hadn’t been a period like this,there would be no folk concept of an exclusive people of God to apply anachronistically.

    I’m aware of your opinion on the destruction of the Canaanites. I was not trying to convince you of the justice of God requiring their destruction. I did want to give you some idea of how my understanding of the story of Balaam is interconnected with supports my understanding of other scriptural events.

    I’m not sure why you connected my statements with modern genocides. I have never claimed that God required those. Those are all examples of wicked men acting on their basest prejudices. I thought it was fairly clear that I was referring to Moses and Joshua’s actions in conquering Canaan. (It was a nice illustration of Godwin’s law though. Thanks.)

    I’m not sure how you’ve come to the conclusion that the Canaanites were not more wicked than the Israelites. Even when large groups of Israel had apostatized we still have pockets of believers larger than those among the Canaanites.

    I am aware of the variety of ways that priesthood has been transfered historically and the evolution of priesthood hierarchy. I fairly sure that the current discussion hasn’t touched on any particular mechanism nor do I think either of our positions depended a particular mechanism. I don’t see how it directly bares on the current discussion.

  36. Daniel,

    If we look at Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph as 4 generations, then Moses comes along 400 years later, surely there were more than 7 people in the Moses to Joseph in the priesthood line. If we look at Abraham, Esaias, Gad, Jeremy, Elihu, Caleb, Jethro. If we assume that Isaac corresponds to Esaias, Jacob ~ Jeremy, then Elihu corresponds to Joseph. Caleb would have had to span 400 years for Jethro to give Moses the priesthood. I don’t think it is unreasonable at all to assume this line must be broken. Even if we assume that all after Abraham spanned the 400 years, then each man would have been greater than 66 to pass it to an infant–a highly suspect proposition.

    I wasn’t trying to connect your statements to modern genocides, but there are people who think God controls everything, and he must have had a hand in these genocides. Certainly many anti-semites thought the Jews were getting what they deserved, while some Jews and Christians probably believed that “Gods ways are mysteries” in allowing the Holocaust to happen. Frankly, I think God is much less involved in our lives than we think, and he allows all sorts of bad things to happen. If we were in charge, certainly we wouldn’t allow these genocides to happen.

  37. […] to do with his marriage to Hagar. God didn’t command (but permitted) sex slavery in Exodus 21. Balaam wasn’t a true prophet. I could go on and […]

  38. […] new take on the story of Balaam.  Balaam lived at the same time as Moses.  Back in 2009, I asked if Balaam was a true prophet.  (I said he wasn’t.  He is referred to as “the wicked one” in Revelations, and I used […]

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