Of late I have been reading Joseph Smith’s History of the Church (also sometimes known as the Documentary History of the Church) in the mornings before I start work. Reading it raised fun little puzzle for me about the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood.
The DHC makes for interesting reading, and it provides a nice way of studying the sections of the D&C in the context in which they were given. (Although for a variety of reasons the DHC is quite problematic – it was written long after the fact and heavily and silently edited by Joseph’s scribes and the Church Historian in Utah who prepared it for publication. Also, the text of many of the revelations changed over time, and the DHC anachronistically always includes the later text.) My question comes with D&C 13. This section records the words given by John the Baptist when he restored the Aaronic priesthood. According to the DHC account, John the Baptist laid hands on Joseph and Oliver and said:
- Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of the Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the Gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness
The record then states that Joseph baptized Oliver, after which Oliver baptized Joseph. So far, so good.
Then comes the interesting part. The DHC says, “I [Joseph] baptized him first, and afterwards he baptized me, after which I laid my hands upon his head and ordained him to the Aaronic Priesthood, and afterwards he laid his hands on me and ordained me to the same Priesthood – for so were commanded.” So why would Joseph and Oliver get ordained by John the Baptist then re-ordain one another immediately thereafter to the same priesthood?
Now one could do a kind of naturalistic deconstruction of this text. You could argue that what really happened is that Joseph simply baptized and ordained Oliver, and Oliver baptized and ordained Joseph. The story about the angel was added in later to make everything seem more miraculous. There are a number of problem with this interpretation, however. First, the original text – which as far as I know contains the bit about the angel – was written in 1838. By this time the John the Baptist story had been around a long time, so why would Joseph problematize it with the odd double ordination story? It is not as though what we have is an early, angelless text into which an angel story has been interpolated. Second, we have lots of statements by Oliver Cowdry – some of which predate Joseph’s original manuscript of the DHC – insisting on the real presence of the angel. Hence, for documentary as well as religious reasons, I am not inclined to accept the secular deconstruction.
This suggests that there is some theological reason for the double ordination. I have no idea what it might be. As far as I know Joseph never said anything else about it, and I have never seen any LDS source discuss this particular little puzzle (although if anyone knows of anything addressing it, please let me know). Thoughts?