Ten Tidbits about the Old Testament

This post joins the previous ones of similar title on the New Testament and Book of Mormon.

I make no claims that these are the biggest nor the most tantalizing, but here are ten tidbits about the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) that receive little attention (in my experience) in Church settings. I’m intentionally leaving out the better known biggies, such as JEDP, two or three Isaiahs, or the fact that “history” in the modern sense wasn’t an operative category for the authors of the Hebrew Bible. These topics are more widely discussed elsewhere and don’t lend themselves easily to one-line smackdowns. Here’s the list, with thanks to my fellow bloggers for corrections and additions, esp Moggett, Nitsav, and HP:

1. “Thou shalt not kill” should be translated “you shall not murder”.

2. Prophecy: Prophecy was restricted, for the most part, to speaking about contemporary situations. This changed in the exile and post-exile. [Corollary: It's highly unlikely that the Immanuel prophecy references Christ, which is a centuries later connection resulting from interpretation of prophecy. The connection is forged when Matthew uses the Septuagint's mistranslation of 'young woman' (Heb. ' 'almah ') as 'virgin' (Gk. "parthenos") in the infancy narrative.]

In some texts, prophecy was a professional vocation, which some scholars have compared to a guild. Additionally, it also involved ecstatic (some translate “frenzied”) behavior at times. Prophets competed with each other and women could be prophets. Finally, Prophecy is coterminous with kingship (more or less).

3. Messiah: Some scholars says there’s only one clear reference to a coming Messiah. It’s in Daniel 9:25, I think. (And see #8, below). There’s no indication of a resurrection until quite late, nor is there any link between the messiah and resurrection, nor does the messiah suffer. The messiah of deutero-Isaiah is Cyrus. The Ancient of Days in Daniel is God rather than Adam and the Son of Man is a collective figure.

4. There’s not a shred of evidence that the Endowment derives from rituals performed in Solomon’s Temple, let alone any kind of marriages.

5. There is a discrepancy about who killed Goliath. See 1 Sam 17 (David) vs. 2 Sam 21:19. (The KJV will lead you astray in 2 Sam 21:19.) It’s more likely that David didn’t kill Goliath, but perhaps rather another, anonymous, Philistine.

6. Though it’s clear Israelite religion wasn’t always monotheistic, we also don’t find the LDS conception of the Godhead (Father, Son, Holy Ghost) present. Further, as many know already, there is no Jehovah = Jesus; Elohim = God the Father correlation. (Apparently there wasn’t in early Joseph Smith, either, but this is outside my expertise.) Finally, there was never any god called “Jehovah” in the ancient world. “Jehovah” arose by a misunderstanding of how the tetragrammaton (YHWH) is vowelled. (It was most likely vocalized as ‘Yahweh’.)

7. As in the NT, the notion of Priesthood is severely restricted to persons able to officiate in the cult. (As for the “lowering” of the priesthood, this is the result of our interpretation of the combination of two texts that did not originally show a “new” covenant being made. See my posts on this.)

8. The last texts of the OT (= parts of Daniel) were probably written in the second century BC, not the fifth.

9. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job all present radically divergent outlooks of the way the world works, specifically around the question of theodicy.

10. The Israelites were not radically different from their neighbors, especially in terms of material culture. They worshiped the same gods, (sometimes by different names), spoke the same language, and by and large existed in continuity with the “evil” Canaanites that preceded them. That, and they intermingled even with “forbidden” population groups whenever possible.

20 Comments

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20 responses to “Ten Tidbits about the Old Testament

  1. TT

    What is the significance of #1?

  2. jupiterschild

    That many use the translation (kill) to justify political stances, such as anti-Capital Punishment, and to argue that the Bible contradicts itself (which it does, but not really here…). The point to be made is that there are different types of killing in the Hebrew Bible.

    I know, it’s a weird one to start with, but it was the first that came to mind.

  3. TT, #1 is significant to some.

    I had a two and half discussion with a BYU-Idaho student Tuesday night. When I asked where are the Bible contradictions, #1 was the #1 contradiction brought up by this student.

    So that leads me to wonder which professor is teaching this in Bible Contradictions Class?

  4. Julie M. Smith

    (I’m using firefox and the ‘recent comments’ text is bleeding into the main post.)

    I’m wondering if anyone can tell me how conservative Mormon scholars deal with #6.

  5. TT

    Julie,
    Do you have the font size increased on your browser?

    Todd,
    I doubt there is a bible contradictions class! That said, I am still not convinced that there is a huge difference. “Murder” is only a certain category of killing for some people. Others think that all killing is murder. I am not sure that a different translation tells us much more about the intent than the traditional translation.

  6. jupiterschild

    TT,

    I guess I didn’t make it clear. The “normal” word for kill in Hebrew is harag, while Exod 20 uses ratsach, which is more like ‘murder, slay, (non-ritual) slaughter’. There are also the verbs for ritual slaughter. This implies that in Hebrew there were separate categories, even though moderns may consider all killing murder. I’m less concerned with this kind of thinking than I am with those who use this verse, always translated as ‘thou shalt not kill’ to say that the Bible says unequivocally that killing is bad, when in fact it doesn’t, because it uses a less common, marked verb for it. Ratsach implies, as does the English word ‘murder’ a certain degree of intent or premeditation. The choice of this word is not unrelated to our categorization of killing under various heads: murder, manslaughter, etc. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is worlds different from ‘thou shalt not commit manslaughter’ or ‘thou shalt not commit murder’.

  7. jupiterschild

    Note: when I say ‘always translated as “thou shalt not kill,” I mean in polemic contexts, on picket signs, etc. (Cf. the Michael Vick protests.)

  8. 1. I’ve heard this discussed quite a bit in LDS settings.

    2. The OT concept of “prophecy” wasnt to predict the future, it was to testify of something and predictions of future events was only incidental to the act of testifying. I think this has more to do with an Eastern/Western break than anything particularly Mormon. Women being “prophets” gets discussed a lot, especially in tandem with Alma 32:23.

    3. I have some problems with this one, but it would devolve into semantical arguments (e.g., prophet like Moses, suffering servant not explicitly titled “messiah”, etc.). But, true, not commonly discussed in LDS settings.

    4. There are few explicit references to actual practice of Temple worship in the OT period (e.g., outside of the dictates of the Torah), and they operated under a literal Law of Sacrifice, so things would be significantly different. But, despite this, there are plenty of relevant references. You can dispute a lot of these as weak if you have already decided they dont exist, but the Psalmic references to Temple worship are particularly strong and explicitly reference the Temple. Regardless, you are correct though that the origin, history and substance of Temple worship, ancient and modern is not discussed much.

    5. OK.

    6. It is pretty well understood that “Jehovah” isnt what the ancient Hebrews said, I have heard that discussed in LDS settings. I dont think most Mormons think the ancient Israelites concept of God and our modern concept of Godhead is the same.

    7. Not sure what the thrust of the point is. Everyone knows it was restricted to Levites ministering in the Temple and only literal firstborn sons of Aaron could officiate in Temple rites. Everyone knows the OT model was very different from the current. This is more of a point in the NT verses modern context.

    8. Yes, not commonly discussed in LDS settings.

    9. Yes, particularly disturbing to me is the way Mormons toe the line when it comes to the standard Protestant reading on Job, which is entirely wrong. Mormons also dont generally understand the Kehtuviim thing.

    10. This is commonly discussed and well-documented in the OT. I guess the point is more that Mormons barely know anything at all about Canaanite culture, which was heavily influential upon the Israelite population?

    I am surprised you guys didnt save one of the ten points to point out how wildly obscene/graphic/dirty some parts of the OT are and how most Mormons are ignorant of that. There has been discussion of euphemisms on the Bloggernacle, but beyond the euphemisms there is a truckload of text that is just never, ever going to end up being discussed in Mormon circles (in depth discussion of Ezek 23 anyone?).

  9. Julie, I’ve never seen a “conservative scholar” having a problem with #6. When I was at BYU it was taught pretty openly.

  10. jupiterschild

    Kurt,

    In your last paragraph, you’ve anticipated the next edition, in which the grossest parts will be a “10 Tidbits” unto themselves…

    As for most of your pdf document, I find little direct evidence of temple worship in the modern sense outside P. Genesis 15 and 17, for example, are not indicative of temple worship. They indicate covenant, which wasn’t automatically tied to the Temple, as we think it is today. And the other references, like Jacob at Bethel, while obviously related to temple, are valuable only for broad comparison.

    I also noticed that you couldn’t resist hammering the foreigners, which opinion you base on Ezek 44:9. Ezekiel is problematic given that his type of temple worship he projects into the future. So how can you make such a general statement as “Those who were foreign to Israel …were excluded from Temple worship.”? What about Joshua 9, in which the Gibeonites (non-Israelites) are employed in the temple? Ezekiel only represents a narrow vein of tradition.

    Finally, re: “You can dispute a lot of these as weak if you have already decided they dont exist, but the Psalmic references to Temple worship are particularly strong and explicitly reference the Temple”

    I never said the Temple wasn’t referenced. But all the “evidence” you cite in your pdf file is nothing more than parallelomania of the least helpful kind. As you say there, you start with the assumption that there are going to be parallels, and then, lo and behold! you find them: “Operating under the assumption there are parallels between the two sets of liturgy, we then have to detect statements in the scriptures that would support such a hypothesis.” That’s just bad procedure. You could do something similar with most traditions of sacred space. And, even without other traditions, if someone came along yesterday and made up a liturgy based even obliquely on the OT, you’d find parallels there, too. Of what value are your parallels, then?

  11. In your last paragraph, you’ve anticipated the next edition, in which the grossest parts will be a “10 Tidbits” unto themselves…

    Ah, instant Bloggernacle hit to be sure.

    As for most of your pdf document, I find little direct evidence of temple worship in the modern sense

    Naturally.

    Of what value are your parallels, then?

    The Psalmic texts dont just reference the Temple obliquely, they are explicitly making reference to Temple worship, and include discussion of worthiness of entrants, physical ascension into the Temple, raising of hands, prayer, sacrifice, and gathering in a circle to approach the Lord. No “parallelomania” there at all. If you see no value in them, so be it. But, that doesnt mean there is “not a shred of evidence”, it only means you choose to ignore it by creating a set of criteria so exclusive nothing in the OT can satisfy them.

  12. In your last paragraph, you’ve anticipated the next edition, in which the grossest parts will be a “10 Tidbits” unto themselves

    Ascending the heights, we will rival even that juggernautte blog of scatological topics. But only for one post.

  13. jupiterschild

    Kurt,

    I’ll be first to admit that the Psalms refer directly to ancient temple worship. But the bearing they have on modern temple worship is either comparative in nature, in which no genetic relationship is supposed (they had entrance requirements, as do we, as does every sacred space for that matter), or generative in nature, in which ideas about temple worship in the OT directly influenced the authors of modern temple liturgy, but your comparison can not admit of shared origins.

    Put more positively, I think readers of scripture should be scouring it for greater understanding regarding the temple, because its comparative value is tremendous. It’s the leap that many people make to positing a shared origin in the face of zero evidence that I think deters from accurate understandings of the phenomena involved.

    It only means you choose to ignore it by creating a set of criteria so exclusive nothing in the OT can satisfy them

    Absolutely not. There are plenty of phenomena in the OT that allow us to trace developments of such phenomena. Prophecy is one. Kingship is another. I would be overjoyed if such were the case for the temple. But there simply isn’t the evidence aside from a lot of information about sacrifice and some hints in the Psalms. I would say the opposite for your assertion: Your finding parallels only means you choose to create parallels by keeping the criteria for admission so broad that, as I said, many things totally unrelated to ancient Israel (or even temple worship) could be so classified. Therefore the value of your comparison is compromised.

  14. Put more positively, I think readers of scripture should be scouring it for greater understanding regarding the temple, because its comparative value is tremendous. It’s the leap that many people make to positing a shared origin in the face of zero evidence that I think deters from accurate understandings of the phenomena involved.

    OK, in the light of this additional explanation, you and I agree 100%.

    as I said, many things totally unrelated to ancient Israel (or even temple worship) could be so classified. Therefore the value of your comparison is compromised.

    No, no, I think you and I have been making assumptions about each other’s intentions and positions. I see no shared original source between the ancient and modern temple ceremonies, only common symbol sets that are of value in determining meaning. And I see those obvious commonalities as being indicative of original divine influence over both. I am no apologist for or supporter of attempts to push Masonic rituals back to Solomon’s temple, which it seems likely you are alluding to without actually saying. But, then Mormons who do espouse that view are few and far between in my experience, and they are usually Masons themselves.

  15. We talked about this behind the scene, but whenever I teach that the OT wasn’t written by historians (as we define them today), it usually ruffles some feathers.

  16. “rituals performed in Solomon’s Temple, let alone any kind of marriages.”

    It does appear that Solomon did engage in sacred marriage rituals involving the local fertility goddesses. There is a lot of indication of that …

    Which is a kind of marriage ….

  17. I’m enjoying this series, but I have to admit that this is the least “tantalizing.” Not because these aren’t fun little tidbits to “shake things up,” but because you could say just about anything about the OT and it would be a surprise to most members; it’s hard to limit oneself to only ten tidbits. To most members, the book is like the basement of an old chemistry building—“full of strange, confusing, and possibly dangerous substances. If you’re going to go down there, you’d better make your visit really short.”

  18. jupiterschild

    Stephen M,

    Do you see any evidence of those marriage rituals performed in the temple?

    Brian J.,

    I share your sentiments.

  19. annegb

    I like #1 because I might have to shoot somebody someday.

  20. Just out of curiosity, what about the Gospel of Philip and the mirrored room for marriages off from the Holy of Holies. Is it just a coincidence that it parallels LDS practice yet points it to the Jewish Temple? I’m not saying it was in Solomon’s temple. But it does provide prima facie reasons to suppose that the Mormon temple marriage isn’t purely a 19th century creation.