What Was the Nephite Law of Moses?

Most scholars assume that the type of Judaism Jesus encountered had its main development during and after the Babylonian exile. When we read the Old Testament, especially the books of Moses, it appears as if they were written as a single text. However there are compelling reasons to believe they were composed out of multiple texts and traditions by groups with competing religious views. The Book of Mormon itself suggests problems with the editing and redacting of these texts. Speaking of the Bible held by the gentiles, Nephi is told it “containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many.” (1 Ne 13:23) So at a minimum the brass plates held many writings not in the Bible, such as Zenos quoted by Jacob. Obviously many texts like Ezekiel weren’t written until after Lehi had left Jerusalem.

Even before Lehi left Jerusalem there were controversies over the canon and the very nature of Jewish religion. As Assyrian influence in the land of Israel waned, the king at Jerusalem, Josiah, started introducing significant reforms. This was around 623 BC and thus just before Lehi left Jerusalem. According to 2 Kings 23 (itself likely composed during the exile) he removed idolatrous items from the temple and removed more Canaanite religious practices from the land. Purportedly an old book of the law had been discovered in the temple that didn’t line up with Judaic practice. (See 2 Kings 22:8-13 and 2 Chronicles 34:14-20 although the two accounts don’t line up exactly) This led to significant changes in cultic practice. Not all Jews agreed with these changes. There appeared to be some considerable tension over Josiah’s reforms and the traditions that continued from them. Often scholars call the tradition tied to this continuing movement the deuteronomist tradition. When scholars examine what we call the Old Testament they tend to see many passages as coming out of this tradition often competing with other traditions (one called the priestly tradition, an other the Yahwist and the Elohist).

People doing scholarship on the Book of Mormon often bring up the place of the deuteronimist tradition in the text. (See for example Neal Rappleye’s “The Deuteronomist Reforms and Lehi’s Family Dynamics” or Kevin Christensen’s “The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament“) Many of these arguments owe much to the work of noted Methodist scholar Margaret Barker. The elements Barker sees removed from Judaism by the deuteronomists often appear to Mormons either characteristic of elements of Nephite workship or else have uncanny echoes of our views of temples and deity. The typical view is that Lehi would have opposed the deuternomists.

That said many of Barker’s conclusions are controversial so we should be cautious in how we approach such parallels.  Consider this blog post by Bill Hamblin noting many problems with Barker’s view. By extension applying it too uncritically to Lehi and Jeremiah is also problematic. Jeremiah started his ministry right around the time of Josiah’s reforms. Lehi seems to be following Jeremiah but with Jeremiah we oddly find no criticism of the Josiah reforms but rather texts like Jer 3:6-11. Whether this was because of redaction when the Old Testament was put in its current form or because Jeremiah is fine with Josiah’s reforms isn’t clear. While Jeremiah warns of the coming destruction by Babylon, it’s worth noting that refugees from the north blamed Josiah rather than listening to Jeremiah. See Jeremiah 44 especially verses 15-16. They don’t blame Josiah by name but blame the change in worship. So I want to be clear that how we approach the deuteronomists and the Book of Mormon is by no means a settled issue.

I bring all this up to note that at the time of Lehi Israelite religion was already in great flux. During the exile and return it changed even more, having to explain the exile. After the exile Judaism becomes a strongly monotheistic religion and most scholars see a lot of influence from Babylon religion in the development of Judaism of that time.

This leaves us with the question of what the Law of Moses was like for Lehi. Further, we have to assume that Lehi and Nephi’s journey changed how they viewed the Law. We know that the vision by Nephi and Lehi of the Tree of Life introduced new ideas and made the religion much more Christian from our perspective. It seems fair to assume that as Nephite culture developed further changes took place. (Just as happened in Palestine to Jewish religion during the same era)

In Michael Austin’s recent post at BCC on Korihor I noticed something very interesting about the narrative. Mormon goes to great pains to explain that there was no law against belief. Now earlier King Mosiah had ushered in reforms that ended the Kingship started by Nephi and appears to have attempted to mimic public life on the era of the Judges from Israel. The main issue for Mosiah is due to kings instituting their own laws, which constitutes inequity and captivity as opposed to the liberty of following the original divine laws. (See Mosiah 29 especially verses 23-25) When Korihor is brought up before the judges he is never accused of a crime. Even Alma, the high priest but not chief judge, sees the problem primarily in terms of consequences to Nephite civilization rather than a violation of the law. The problem is that under the Law of Moses as we have it in our Old Testament there are plenty of laws that Korihor has violated. The worst one is apostasy which carries a capital offense although he also is caught in false witnessing.

What’s interesting about the laws Korihor violates though is that they are all laws in the Deuteronomist tradition. Consider Deut 13:1-10 and Deut 17:2-5 where teaching apostasy is punishable by death. For that matter Korihor’s teaching that the priests and judges were enriching themselves was false witness. According to Deut 19:15-21 this also is against the law. While it’s possible to read Alma’s actions in terms of those traditions it seems more natural to read Alma 30 such that the law of Deuteronomy simply isn’t followed by the Nephites. Historically there are good reasons for this. Most scholars assume Deuteronomy was composed during the Josiah reforms (especially chapters 5-26), possibly in no small part influenced by the missing book of law Josiah has. It appears largely based upon Assyrian suzerain-vassal treaties, only with the covenants to God rather than the Assyrian King.

The question then remains. What was the Law of Moses like for the Nephites? Further, how much did it change and evolve as Nephite culture changed. (Consider at minimum the reforms of Mosiah)

It seems safe to assume that the parts of the law developed by the deuteronomists would have been viewed with suspicion by at least Lehi and Nephi. (Although we should be careful to note this doesn’t mean that there weren’t things believed by the deuteronomists that Lehi wouldn’t have deeply sympathized with) At a minimum the centralization of the temple cult in Jerusalem by Josiah was rejected by Lehi. Lehi continues to make sacrifices outside of Jerusalem. Some time after reaching America the Nephites build a temple modeled on the Jerusalem temple. (2 Ne 5:17) This would have been forbidden by deuteronomist law.

We know there are traditions among the Nephites that appear to mirror commands from the Law of Moses. Some apologists suggest that King Benjamin’s speech appears to be a feast of the tabernacles. (See Mosiah 2:6 and John Tvedtnes’ “King Benjamin and the Feast of the Tabernacles”) There are other feasts such as Passover we have hints of in the text. (Although to be fair none of these are unambiguous)

Overall though we simply don’t know a lot about the Law the Nephites followed. Further Nephite culture quickly become syncretic picking up other traditions. Consider Mosiah 12:29 which can easily be read not just as Abinadi condemning Noah’s priests for fornication but as doing what the priests Josiah had killed were doing in Jerusalem. Abinadi saw the priests as mixing Judaism with what he saw as idol worship possibly with cultic prostitution. (See especially verses 35-37) It would not be surprising that the reformed religion Alma creates upon his conversion is still affected by these other cultures. (Much as Judaism was affected by Babylonian religion during the exile) While the text doesn’t state it, I’d be shocked were the priests of Noah not following a syncretic form of Judaism heavily influenced by indigenous Olmec/Mayan traditions. Since Alma becomes the High Priest it’s worth wondering just how much Nephite religion shifted in this period. First by Mosiah’s reforms then by religion of Alma. It’s even worth reading much of the conflicts in the book of Alma as primarily a conflict of an idiosyncratic form of Olmec/Mayan religion that’s highly Jewish with the larger religious culture.

Given all this, the Law in the Book of Alma might be quite different from that practiced by Nephi even if Alma is following the Law as written on the brass plates. Interpretation is everything after all – how we read the Law of Moses is undoubtedly different  from how a Sadducee living in 100 BC would have read it or how a Jew living a Qumran would have read it.

27 comments for “What Was the Nephite Law of Moses?

  1. JKC
    July 29, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    Good overview of the issues, Clark. And I agree that we should be heavily suspicious of the assumption that the “Law of Moses” was a unified whole that was the same to the Nephites as it was to Moses or to Jews in the Old or New Testament. All religions evolve and change over time.

    The very fact that Mormon is at pains to emphasize that the law of the Nephites made a distinction between belief, which was not punishable, and actions, which were, is a pretty big departure from the law of Moses as it is presented in deuteronomy, which does not appear to recognize a difference between what is morally wrong and what is legally a crime, and under which blasphemy was itself a capital offense.

  2. Terry H
    July 29, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    This is a topic that would require a book (if not more than one). Hmm. Guess someone had better get to work. What the Law of Moses consists of takes volumes to determine (and that’s without any evolutions by the Nephites). Having read extensively on the subject (for a project of my own) I tend to simplify that those who followed what could safely be called “the Nephite Law of Moses” recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Those who followed more of a Deuteronomist type (i.e. Sherem, Priests of Noah, etc.) did not. There are pros and cons to Barker’s thesis, but it fits the way most traditional LDS members reading them would believe. That probably explains her popularity among LDS readers (with some exceptions of course). I remember positing the question about the Book of Mormon’s use of Deuteronomy to someone who is highly qualified on Deuteronomy itself at a seminar. He said that the truth about the Deuteronomists lies somewhere between an unreserved acceptance and the Margaret Barker position. He said Jesus loved Deuteronomy and quoted it frequently. There are clearly Deuteronomist tendencies in the Book of Mormon, both good and bad. I have found some economic reforms from Deuteronomy in the Book of Mormon as well, but that paper is currently being substantially reworked.

    We can be careful in how we quote the ancient texts, particularly the pseudipigrapha and Dead Sea Scrolls on these and other subjects. Jeff Bradshaw and David Larsen are helpful: They quote George W. Nickelsburg in describing how to approach ancient texts: “One should not simply posit what is convenient with the claim that later texts reflected earlier tradition. At the same time, thoroughgoing skepticism is inconsonant with the facts as we know them and as new discoveries continue to reveal them: extant texts represent only a fragment of the written and oral tradition that once existed. Caution, honest scholarly tentativeness, and careful methodology remain the best approach to the data.
    Bradshaw & Larsen, In God’s Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah and the Tower of Babel, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Interpreter Foundation & Eborn Books, 2014) p. 21, quoting, Nickelsburg, George W.E., Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003) pp. 25-26.”

    Actually, when you’re trying to tie in the Law of Moses as a schoolmaster to Christ, there isn’t that much scholarship (at least to be taken seriously). One of the better efforts so far (and one of my starting points) is Vern Poythress’
    The Shadow of Christ In the Law of Moses. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1991. There are some articles scattered about written by LDS scholars, but they are few and far between. You can’t really address this topic without also considering Jack Welch’s “The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon”, BYU Press, 2011 (rep.). Frankly, though, the issue of Biblical Law is not only complex but diverse. It has its own section and subsection at the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). With more time, I could probably provide a far more detailed bibliography, but these are good for a start.

  3. Clark Goble
    July 29, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Terry, out of curiosity how do you explain the issue of Jeremiah for Barker. I confess that it seems like a big deal for her thesis and her explanation doesn’t seem terribly satisfactory. This seems pretty important for situating Lehi and Nephi.

    I think your point about positive use of Deuteronomy is important. Even in Alma 30 with Korihor there are some parallels to the deuteronomist approach to apostasy. It’s interesting for instance that Dt 13 makes such a big deal about the person teaching apostasy being a prophet like figure (which Korihor eventually confesses to in the narrative). It also emphasizes bondage and the Exodus motif and the discussion between Korihor and Alma is over bondage. It’s just the punishment that is lacking. Likewise Dt 19 on false witnesses has some echoes in the text with the debate over what witnesses to the truth. One could argue that the miraculous punishment by God of Korihor is in keeping with the “eye for an eye” also. (Struck dumb for speaking falsely)

  4. Clark Goble
    July 29, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    BTW – a better link for Hamblin’s take on Josiah and the deuteronomists isn’t his blog but his paper “Vindicating Josiah.” It does a nice job laying out the issues with respect to the deuteronomists.

    Terry’s point about the influence of the deuteronomists on Jesus is important. Especially if we take Nephi as introducing a much more Christian sort of Judaism.

  5. James Olsen
    July 29, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    Great question Clark. It would be incredible to have other texts from the time/place to better explore the question.

    I’ve often wondered how much Lehi’s northern heritage influenced their approach as well. We don’t know how long Lehi’s family migrated from the north to Jerusalem — perhaps they were a refugee family that maintained strong Moshevite views (which would influence his very liberal take on temples); or perhaps the family had wandered down as merchants and long ago assimilated (or perhaps brought no firm theological convictions in the first place).

    The main value I’ve found in Barker is not in any of her specific theses or scholarship, but more along the lines of the point that Terry H. makes quoting people quoting other people: “extant texts represent only a fraction” — there are numerous, serious possibilities, including those that would corroborate LDS views.

  6. Terry H
    July 29, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    James, I’ve always considered Barker to be the “Methodist Nibley”. She runs around opening doors that others can examine in more detail. Not all of them will lead somewhere significant, but she’s not afraid to ask questions few others are asking. More and more young scholars like L. Michael Morales, Crispin H.T. Fletcher-Louis and others I can’t remember at the moment are citing her in their work. They are engaging with her arguments rather than dismiss her out of hand.

    Clark. I’m not sure what you mean by Barker’s Jeremiah problem? Please specify.

  7. James Olsen
    July 30, 2016 at 8:08 am

    The Methodist Nibley — that’s great.

  8. jone2093
    July 30, 2016 at 8:26 am

    I’m curious what insights can be gleaned on this topic from Sherem in Jacob 7, who aparently was calling for Nephite reforms based on texts in their possession.

  9. July 30, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    Great post Clark. It appears that very little of Nephite theology is in the Old Testament. Lehi and Nephi represent a faction of Judaism, and there were no doubt several competing beliefs and practices throughout Israelite history. Indeed, as some biblical scholars have pointed out, we do not even know if the Old Testament is the chief source of Israelite theology, or just the part that was saved. In other words, it is not just the law of Moses that must be questioned, but the entire theological paradigm from the ancient world. This is what Barker makes clear in her arguments, and while I have no doubt many of her suppositions will lead to dead ends, she is right in posing the arguments.

  10. Clark Goble
    July 30, 2016 at 10:59 pm

    Jone (8) Jacob 7 is such an interesting chapter for so many reasons. First as a translation it just reads differently from the rest of the text. (I believe it’s among the last parts translated other that the Enos stuff and Words of Mormon) Second it’s probably the classic anti-Christ text that others are based upon as a type setting (unless there was something similar on the brass plates). You see echoes of it in Alma 30 with Korihor but also Alma 36 with Alma the Younger.

    Finally Sherem, like Abinadi, is such a mystery. Where did he come from? He clearly is following a different religious tradition but in what way? This is still pretty early so there aren’t that many Nephites or Lamanites (suggesting as apologists are want to note that possibly the Nephites and likely the Lamanites have already started mixing with other groups).

    There’s a view that Sherem is coming out of Jacob’s community but it sure doesn’t read like that. Further, if there’s only one copy of the brass plates, how does Sherem have access to the Law of Moses? What’s the connection between Sherem and others hundreds of years later like Korihor or Nehor who make similar arguments. i.e. is some of this Mormon forcing narratives into a type setting mold as was typical with ancient Jewish literature or did the actual history have those similarities? That said there are also echoes of OT stories such as Elijah and the priests of Baal.

    James (5) I’m still a bit skeptical of how northern Lehi was. I think there are some pretty compelling argument that he was in the upper class and some kind of metal worker due to all sorts of clues about metal. There’s obviously a connection to the northern Kingdom via his Manasseh lineage. But I think it gets pushed a tad too much. That said there are some interesting parallels between the refugees in Jeremiah I mentioned who are against Josiah’s reforms. Particularly the centralization of the cult.

    Terry (6) By Barker’s Jeremiah problem I just mean more or less what Hamblin and others point out. That Jeremiah isn’t critical of Josiah and appear to only say positive things about him and his reforms. Barker suggests Jeremiah’s text has been altered but this seems less plausible for the reasons Hamblin points out. How much one thinks this undermines her argument varies. I tend to agree with Hambline that Barker’s ideal of a “true Judaism” is itself a very problematic idea. As others noted there were likely many different strains of Judaism going on at the same time. I also think we have to be careful opposing them. Think of opposing Mormon thought from 1890 prior to the reforms from Woodruff through Grant with Mormon thought from the early 80’s as seen through the lens of McConkie and Benson. Yet is one “true Mormonism”? And that’s from a group that’s continuous. Imagine with a less centralized body (which was of course the problem Josiah was trying to solve) and the many strains. It’s conceivable that Judaism prior to the exile was at least as diverse as it was at the time of Christ.

  11. Clark Goble
    July 30, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    I should add as well that Jacob 7:26 is my all time favorite verse in the Book of Mormon. Great literature right there.

  12. Kevin Christensen
    July 31, 2016 at 8:20 am

    Besides Professor Hamblin’s “VIndicating Josiah” at Interpreter, there is also my response, “Prophets and Kings in Lehi’s Jerusalem and Margaret Barker’s Temple Theology.”


    I make a case that Jeremiah was called the after the reform began, in response to the reform against the very people who were implementing the reform, the “kings of Judah, the princes (Elders, according to Tvedtnes), the priests, and the “people of the land” installed Josiah. (Jer. 1: 18 and compare the extended diatribe against the same groups in Ezek, 22.)

    It might be worth a look.

    Also, besides things like her “What King Josiah Reformed?” given at BYU in 2003 and published in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, her closest look at Jeremiah in relation to the reform appears in The Mother of the Lord vol 1, pages 54 – 75. It definitely worth a very close look.

  13. Clark Goble
    August 1, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Kevin, I’m sympathetic to parts of your argument, although I often think there’s a middle ground. So the deuteronomists wanted to keep people from the secret things, but were fine with the High Priest knowing what goes on in the Holy of Holies. Does this contradict say Alma 12-13? Perhaps, or perhaps the Nephite solution was to expand who could be that sort of priest. (Which is what Joseph later did as well)

    I also think the other problem is that of course the deuteronomist position doesn’t appear wholesale with Josiah. So it may well be that elements Barker brings up come from later deuteronomist development in Babylon or during the post-exilic era. While the deuteronimists seem to be more distrustful of visions, they limit their critique primarily to those who teach one to worship a different God. Which is why Jeremiah seems fine. So I confess I find that element as an issue for Lehi and Nephi’s visions seems questionable.

    This becomes very important when applying issues of the deuteronomists to the Book of Mormon since the histories divide not long after Josiah. Almost certainly most of the deuteronomist development in terms of text redaction and editing took place after Lehi left Jerusalem. (Ignoring the major issue of whether the lost book of Law actually was Deuteronomy since that is itself controversial but also avoids the question of where this book in the temple came from)

    The main distinction between a direct relation with God, following God’s Law, and Wisdom seems a bit questionable too. After all we today (and most of the Book of Mormon) sees all three as important. So putting them in a strong opposition seems a bit more questionable. Especially since all three elements are found in the OT as compiled in the post-exilic period. It’s a bit like scholars opposing apocalyptic literature with wisdom literature in the NT.

  14. Clark Goble
    August 1, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    BTW – I did want to comment on your exegesis of Jacob 4:14. Particularly since I just gave a talk on that verse in Sacrament. You suggest that the mark wasn’t, as most assume, tied to archery but was the mark on the forehead of the high priest when anointed. On the one hand, Jacob 4:14 does seem to be a comment on apostasy back in Jerusalem. Undoubtedly conditioned by Nephi’s own vision.

    While that’s one of those things one might wish to be true – especially if the tau is seen as a Christian cross – I confess I’m pretty skeptical. If only because I can’t quite understand what “looking beyond” means in that context. Whereas in archery that makes perfect sense. The metaphor is simply the traditional reading that the Jews got so caught up in the forms that they missed the meaning. (More or less the same criticism Jesus makes of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the NT)

    The tau reading not only complicates the “looking beyond” modifier of “mark” but makes the metaphor a bit odd. You read it as corrupting the anointing and high priests. That is there was a literal change in priesthood under Josiah at least as significant as what the later Hasmonean dynasty does to the priesthood. While this might explain why Nephite priesthood doesn’t quite line up with OT descriptions, again it seems problematic. If only because Nephi never really attacks the corruption of the priesthood as a problem in his sermons. There are priesthood corruptions (King Noah being the most obvious) but we don’t really see the priesthood attacked the way scribes are or the missing books. Priests are only mentioned in 2 Nephi 28:4 but that’s a prophecy of the last days (presumably more a summary of his earlier vision) We don’t really hear about priests again until well into Mosiah.

  15. Kevin Christensen
    August 1, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Hi Clark,

    When I read Hoskisson’s detailed essay on “Looking Beyond the Mark” and his settling on an archery metaphor, without even mentioning Ezekiel’s mark, and Barker’s work, I think of Mark Twain’s comment that the difference between the right word, and almost the right word, is the difference between a lightning bug and lightning. It seems to me, at least, that Ezekiel’s reference to the mark as the Name, a protection, and also the anointing with the Name that actually made the High Priest the Anointed, the Messiah, the Christ, and that in considering Barker’s case that the reformers changed the role of the High Priest so that he was no longer the anointed, that such a reading casts considerably more light than does archery. It fits with the controversies of the time and place and explains why Lehi got into trouble for saying what he did. Lehi’s first public discourse, testified “plainly” concerning a “Messiah” [which means the anointed] and the redemption of the world, which was ritually enacted by the anointed high priest in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. And Deuteronomy 16 presents a sacred calendar with no Day of Atonement. Concerning what Lehi spoke of “plainly” and the blinded Jews in Jerusalem circa 600 BCE despised and looked beyond, according to Jacob 4, I think it fits remarkably well with Barker’s 2005 assessment that “Josiah’s changes concerned the High Priests, and were thus changes at the heart of the temple.” Jacob is a consecrated High Priest, whose discourse starting in 2 Nephi 6, Professor Hamblin has occasionally argued is packed with the themes of the Day of Atonement. Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob are all prophets who have “seen and heard” and thus were not blind and deaf. And Lehi, Nephi and Jacob all show ties to the Wisdom tradition (See especially Alyson Von Feldt’s essays at the Maxwell Institute, which take it further than I did). Sherem, Laman and Lemuel, sound like Deuteronomists.

    I don’t see a need to compare the tau with the later Christian cross when Ezekiel’s protective High Priestly Anointing with the Name is a powerful use of the symbol contemporary with Jacob, who like Ezekiel, was a temple priest.

    She brought this up again in a 2014 talk in Ireland: “This seal of the Name was a diagonal X, and it was used in the first temple. Ezekiel described it as the letter tau, which in the palaeo Hebrew alphabet was written as X, but after the alphabet had been changed, later writers had to describe it as Greek chi. Ezekiel also knew that the seal of the Name protected the faithful against the imminent judgement. He heard the Lord say to the angels of judgement: ‘Pass through the city… and smite… but touch no one on whom is the mark’ (Ezek.9.5, 6). This means that the faithful were sealed by the Name within the protecting bond of the everlasting covenant, and so they were safe from the imminent wrath. …
    The sign of the Name was marked on the forehead of a sacral king or high priest when he was anointed, and Isaiah recorded what this meant.”


    A subtle theme in Mosiah happens to be a comparison of the Amulon’s priests with the fallen angels. “Barker remarks, “It has been suggested that the fallen angel themes of 1 Enoch were in fact an attack upon the corrupt priesthood of the second temple period.” Similarly, the account of Amulon’s wicked priests shows the use of allusions to the fallen angel myth to interpret that story. The arch sin of the fallen angels in the Enoch accounts was pride, and in consequence of their fall, they spread a corrupt form of wisdom. In the Enoch accounts, the fallen angels intermarried with human women, and their offspring were destroyed in the time of Noah. In the Book of Mormon, Amulon’s priests are described from the beginning as proud (Mosiah 11:5–13); they also pervert sacred knowledge for gain (Mosiah 11:5–6; 12:28–29) and take wives they should not have (Mosiah 20:1–5). Amulon’s priests teach the Lamanites to be cunning and wise “as to the wisdom of the world” (Mosiah 24:7; see 23:31–35; 24:1–7). Finally, their descendants from the union with the stolen wives become “hardened” and meet with destruction (Alma 25:4, 7–9).” (From my essay in Glimpses of Lehis Jerusalem.)

    And it’s also worth noticing Joseph Spencer’s An Other Testament, which structures Nephi’s books as Creation, Covenant and Fall, Atonement, and Veil, and his discovery after three years of working out the notion, that Barker’s Temple Theology has the same structure.

  16. Clark Goble
    August 1, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    But my main issue is with the sentence in the translation. “Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark…” The idea is that the looking beyond the mark causes blindness which makes complete sense in a visual metaphor. I just don’t see how that particular sentence structure makes any sense if the mark is a tau made with oil. How do you look beyond that? How metaphoric does that make blindness?

  17. Clark Goble
    August 1, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    To add, it appears Nephi sees the cross (1 Ne 11:33) although maybe this is an expansion during the translation process by Joseph. So you’d think Nephi would mention cross parallels. Of course maybe if he was aware of the tau he didn’t see the parallels.

    But again my main concern is with the sentence in question. It seems to make some requirements regarding the mark. 1. that you can look beyond it and that 2. looking this way blinds you. Given the archery metaphor explains this formulation as a visual metaphor I just don’t see the tau anointing metaphor working for a variety of reasons. (Not the least of which that it’s not clear the Nephites would be familiar with this practice of anointing in order for his sermon to function)

  18. Kevin Christensen
    August 2, 2016 at 7:45 am

    One aspect of the anointing of the High Priest worth mentioning is that the anointing opened the initiates eyes and therefore, provided vision:
    “The sign of the Name was marked on the forehead of a sacral king or high priest when he was
    anointed, and Isaiah recorded what this meant. He was given the manifold spirit: wisdom,
    understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His perceptions were
    transformed by the holy oil, and as his vision of the creation was changed, so too the creation
    was changed.” (Barker in the previously linked essay on The Everlasting Covenant”

    So the anointing with the Name opens a person’s eyes, and the change to the priesthood during the time of Josiah changed the role of the high priest so that he was no longer the anointed, but the priest of the many colored robes. (See Barker, The Great Angel, p 15).

    And my own Interpreter essay emphasizes how 1 Enoch, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Lehi, Nephi and Jacob all discuss the blindness and consequent loss of wisdom. That sort of thing, in the right time and place for a consecrated temple priest like Jacob, who demonstrates links to the Wisdom Tradition, has an adversarial relationship with the Deuteronomist views of Sherem, and who, like Jeremiah has seen and heard for himself, ought to be considered as potentially illuminating context, “after the manner of the Jews” as 2 Nephi 25:5 has it , ought to count for something in approaching Jacob 4:14.

  19. Kevin Christensen
    August 2, 2016 at 8:20 am

    For more on the Anointing Oil and vision, see Margaret’s presentation on the topic at the Temple Studies Group.


    “The person anointed with the perfumed oil received the gift of the Spirit that
    gave wisdom and transformed his way of knowing. This is why, when the oil was hidden away,
    people said that the priests could no longer see.”

  20. Clark Goble
    August 2, 2016 at 9:59 am

    Right, and I’m fine with all that. It just seems that you can’t explain the actual formulation of the sentence in question. “…which blindness came by looking beyond the mark…” If you can explain the structure of that sentence then I’m all in with you. I just can’t figure out how you look beyond the anointing or what that would mean.

  21. Kevin Christensen
    August 2, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    I think we’ve got the problem of differing conceptual gestalts. Not to worry. Life goes on, and like life, so do arguments, and hopefully agreement about important things.

    Jacob 4:14

    they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall;

    The words of plaineness are not a generic style of speaking, but specifically what Lehi spoke “plainly,” having experienced a counsel vision (the sod), and testified concerning the Messiah (anointed, represented by the High Priest who bore the name) and the Redemption of the World (ritually enacted by the anointed High Priest on the Day of Atonement). This happens to be what Barker talked about in 2005 as “the very heart of the temple” targeted by violent reformers.

    What kind of blindness is it? Literal, or conceptual?

    Jeremiah also talks about the blindness of the time.

    “Hear now this, O foolish people, without understanding, which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not” (Jeremiah 5:21).

    So it’s not a literal blindness where the eyes don’t work, but conceptual where people don’t understand what they see and even what they should be looking at. Jeremiah here alludes back to Isaiah 6, where the problem is a lack of Wisdom.

    The Reformers claimed that the Law would be their Wisdom in a key passage from the preface to Deuteronomy: “Keep therefore and do them [that is, the statutes and judgments of the law] for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy. 4:6).

    The claim is that they have something (wisdom and understanding) that Jeremiah says they don’t have.

    Barker points out that the Law here is put forward as a substitute for wisdom. She points out several places where poems in praise of wisdom have been changed to become praises of the law. She discusses how often the texts that refer to this period lament the loss of Wisdom in terms of characteristic teachings as well as the female personification of Wisdom, whose great symbol was the tree of life, something that Lehi valued considerably more than Josiah, who had it removed from the temple and burned.

    Jeremiah 8:8-9 seems to me be commenting on this very Deuteronomy passage, and Friedman and Bright both offer a stronger translation than the KJV. “How can you say, ‘Why we are the wise, For we have the law of Yahweh’? Now do but see—the deception it’s wrought, the deceiving pen of the scribes.”

    With respect to the law and those who had charge of it, Jeremiah comments that “they that handle the law knew me not” (Jeremiah 2:8). “…ye have perverted the words of the living God, of the LORD of hosts our God” (Jeremiah 23:36).

    For me, this is a matter of the inter-related web of images, themes, people, arguments, and issues, all directly tied to the heart of the temple, all woven through everything about Jacob as a child of a particular time and place, raised as a Temple priest looking back to the First Temple by people who had personally seen and heard. But Sherem and Jacob can agree that keeping the law is a good and necessary thing. Sherem looks beyond the mark and all it could signify and sees all needful wisdom in the Law of Moses. He’s sophic, rather than mantic.

  22. Clark Goble
    August 2, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    Lots there. Just to paraphrase your theory, you think the “looking beyond” modifier to mark is looking to the past temple?

  23. Terry H
    August 2, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    “But ye have an unction [GR anointing] from the Holy One, and ye know all things” (1 John 2:20). “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” (1 John 2:27).
    This anointing is important for entry into the presence of the Lord. “And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water.” “Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and pour it upon his head, and anoint him.” (Ex. 29:4, 7). At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus read from Isaiah in the synagogue a Messianic scripture: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified (Isa. 61:1-3).

    Another view (although probably more Christian) with regard to the anointing is contained in Strecker, Georg, trans., Maloney, Linda M., The Johannine Letters: A Commentary on 1, 2 and 3 John, Hermeneia, Fortress Press, (1996), electronic CD version. This is summarized as follows: This anointing can be viewed in two ways: the first is simply the revelation of knowledge by the Holy Spirit and the second is an actual anointing by God or Jesus. The second is actually the favored usage and v. 20 and 27 are the only place where the Greek word for anointing is used in the New Testament. The underlying Greek verb which anointing is the root of apparently is used in 2 Cor. 2:21 “who has sealed us”. There is a grammatical distinction which supports the view of the anointing being from God and/or Christ rather than the Holy Spirit, although the commentator says there is really no distinction [something I disagree with]. The exact Greek word in 1 John 2: 20, 27 is used 9 times in the LXX (Greek version of the Old Testament), particularly where the “oil of anointing” is used. See Ex. 29:7; 30:25, 35:14, 19,;38:25; 40:9, 15 Sirach 38:30 and Dan. 9:26. Its is interpreted as the “oil of life that flows from the tree of life in paradise [see 2 Enoch 22:8-9; Apocalypse of Moses 9:3; Life of Adam and Eve (Vita) 36. There is a report of early Christians anointing with oil after baptism “After this, when we have issued form the font, we are thoroughly anointed with blessed oil.” Tertullian Bapt. (PL 1.1206-7).

    I would say that this practice comes from somewhere in the Second Temple (and likely first) but I’ll have to do some more digging.

  24. Kevin Christensen
    August 4, 2016 at 8:31 am


    Yes, the mark of anointing points to the temple, yes, in a way that distinguishes the First Temple view from that of the reformers. Notice that earlier in Jacob 4, Jacob speaks about “things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly” and it happens that the anointing that Terry discusses here and that Margaret discusses in the Temple Studies link also relate to the notion that the Holy of Holies, the visionary high priests “history depicted on the veil, on the other side, so to speak, of matter and time. This probably explains the experience of Habakkuk, centuries earlier, who stood on the tower, a common designation for the holy of holies
    , and saw there ‘a vision of the future, it awaits its time, it hastens to the end, … it will surely come it, will not delay’ (Hab .2.2-3).” (http://www.margaretbarker.com/Papers/BeyondtheVeil.pdf ) So Jacob has seen and Sherem does not believe anyone can see.

    The story of Sherem in Jacob 7 illustrates the blindness of the Deuteronomists, that no one can know the future or see God face to face, there is no anointed Christ, and the Law of Moses is an end in itself. Margaret’s recent commentary on the Gospel of John makes the point that Nicodemus, for instance, was a master in Israel, but did not understand temple symbolism. Subsequent stories of the living bread, living waters, and the healing of the blind man re-emphasize the same issue. What Jesus says and does makes sense in the Temple tradition, but not in the tradition that saw the law as an end in itself. And in talking to the disciples about the parable of the Sower as the key to everything, that the same word can convey vastly different meanings depending on soil and nurture (contextualization), Jesus also relates that parable to the kind of blindness that Isaiah 6 talked about, and that Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jacob and Nephi also describe.

  25. Karrol Cobb
    August 4, 2016 at 9:52 am

    Great comments. Yummy.

  26. Clark Goble
    August 4, 2016 at 10:52 am

    But if “looking beyond the mark” means looking to the temple, I don’t quite understand why Jacob would see that as bad.

  27. Kevin Christensen
    August 4, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Clark, looking beyond the mark (the anointing, and therefore a symbol, a masal, a parable of the Name, the High Priest who enters the Holy of Holies on the Day of atonement, the topic that Lehi spoke of “plainly” in the public discourse that got him in trouble), means looking to something else, which in the case of the Deuteronomists, as exemplified by Sherem, in chapter 7, and scattered Israel who needed to be reclaimed via a long elaborate process as discussed in the parable of the Olive trees, would be the Law as an End in itself, a Law that had replaced Wisdom (Deut. 4:6), a voice giving commands, compared to counsel vision in the Holy of Holies, and partaking the fruit of the tree of life, as burned by Josiah.

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