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Joseph Smith, Inspired Author
I had the book that told the hidden way
-- H.P. Lovecraft, The Book
In 2 Kings chapter 22 , we witness a pivotal scene for the history of the ancient Kingdom of Judah, one with far-reaching echoes which continue to sound in the present day. Two particular notes in this echo will concern us here. The scene is a familiar one to lovers of the Scriptures. The priest Hilkiah sends word to Josiah the King, words simple but heavy with omen: "I have found a book." At the king's direction he had been busy locating certain funds to be used to compensate the crews of workmen hired to refurbish the temple, when suddenly the shrouding dust and shadows disclosed a surprising secret, a moldering scroll. Perhaps thinking at first it might be an old parish ledger, a record of the money he is seeking, he opens up the volume and scans a page or two. A gasp signals the others present that their task has turned out to be anything but mundane; what seemed but an extensive spring cleaning proves to be an excavation. For the old book is nothing less than the Book of the Covenant, or what we today refer to as the Book of Deuteronomy (or at least the core of it, chapters 4-33). Hilkiah knows at once it is something the king must see.
When the young sovereign hears the contents read, he is stunned. Perhaps tempted to doze during the long sections of tort law and ritual etiquette, Josiah is rudely jolted awake by the litanies of blessings and curses which give Deuteronomy its unique theology. He hears the words like a death sentence, for up till his reign Judah has been ruled by a sorry succession of perverts and apostates, whose outrages have been catalogued in the preceding chapters of 2 Kings. Josiah recognizes in the lists of banned and interdicted deeds a virtual resume of his predecessors. Eager though he is to make amends before God, he is told by Huldah the Prophetess that it is too little too late, though he himself will be spared seeing the sad ending. Josiah might well have spoken the words latter attributed to Louis XIV of France: "After me, the deluge!"
The passage is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that it provides priceless information about the emergence of the Book of Deuteronomy. We only wish we had such revealing clues at other points in the history of the biblical canon. We may suppose, however, that the story of Josiah, Hilkiah, and the Book strikes deeper resonances for Latter Day Saints than for any other Christian group. This is because of the similarity to the conditions in which the Book of Mormon came to light. It, too, is said to be an ancient scripture long buried in a time of religious and national crisis, only to resurface long afterward, when its forgotten message should be heard anew.
We may set the tales of the rediscovery of the Books of Deuteronomy and Mormon alongside those of the twin discoveries made roughly fifty years ago of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran in Israel and of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Library near Chenoboskion, Egypt. As if replaying the story of Mormon and Moroni racing to finish the epic of salvation history in America before persecution should overtake them, these latter two discoveries enable us to piece together the events that led to their hiding.
In the one case, the Dead Sea Scrolls had been taken out of Jerusalem and buried at various points around the Judean desert to save them from being torched by Roman troops should their siege of the city finally succeed, as indeed it did.1 (Even on the traditional view,2 if the Scrolls were the library of an Essene monastery at Qumran itself, their hiding was still an attempt to protect them from the Romans.
In the case of the Nag Hammadi Library, it now appears that it belonged to the first known Christian monastic community, that of Saint Pachomius. We may envision the brethren in the Eastertide of the year 367 A.D./C.E. perusing the Paschal Encyclical of their bishop Athanasius with increasingly furrowed brows. The epistle listed the 27 New Testament books we now have and declared that no one must consult any other scripture. In view, no doubt, were the very sort of writings the brethren cherished: the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Secret Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, the Apocryphon of John, the Apocalypse of James, the Prayer of Paul the Apostle, Thunder: Perfect Mind, and others. Wordlessly the monks exchange troubled glances; they know what will come next: a visit from Athanasius' inquisitors, who will ask them to hand over any non-canonical books for burning, just as their pagan Roman predecessors required the canonical books themselves for destruction. The shovels are distributed, the books carefully packed up.3 And thus two great sectarian libraries were bequeathed, like a message in a bottle, cast forth on the ocean of the future for someone to find and read for whatever edification he might find.
And so the trembling hands of young Joseph Smith uncovered the buried golden plates of Mormon and Moroni, lost chapters of an undreamt-of history of Israelite tribes and the Christian Savior in the New World. As the depraved Lamanites had pursued the Nephite Mormon and his son to death, so did young Smith feel besieged by the competing claims of rival evangelists and revivalists in his "Burned-Over District."4 It was no surprise that the analogous tale told in the plates struck a note deep within him. And as the Nephites had long survived as a parallel branch of biblical Israel in the Western Hemisphere, so would the Church of the Latter Day Saints make its lonely but triumphant way through the generations as a parallel version of the Christian religion shared, at arm's length, by most other Americans.
One of the chief points of contention and division between the Mormon Church and its "separated brethren" also, ironically, harks back to the discovery of the lost Book of Deuteronomy in 2 Kings 22, for today, virtually all critical scholars are agreed that the tale of Josiah and Hilkiah tries to hide the very thing it hints at: that the Book was not discovered and dusted off, but actually created by Hilkiah, Huldah, Jeremiah, and others of the "Deuteronomic School" who thus sought to win the impressionable young king to their religious agenda. What is set forth in 2 Kings as reactionary (restoring the past) was really revolutionary (pressing on into a new future). Though it no doubt contained much traditional material, both from Israel in the north and from Judah in the south, Deuteronomy was essentially a new book, a "modern" revision and updating of previous laws collected in the Yahvist Epic (the "J Source") and Elohist Epic (the "E Source"). On the basis of a platform of a newly stream-lined monotheism (or at least monolatry) and a humanitarian regard for slaves, animals and employees, Hilkiah, Huldah, and the others hoped to avert God's wrath for the abuses they had witnessed with increasing disgust for far too long. Thus they penned the book in secret, much like the framers of the United States Constitution, delegates commissioned for one purpose (strengthening the Articles of Confederation) who in fact accomplished another (creating the Constitution).
Again, virtually all critical scholars agree that Joseph Smith did not discover the Book of Mormon but rather created it. His goal would have been as analogous to that of Hilkiah as his methods had been: in the face of confusion over which nineteenth-century version of Christianity to embrace, none seeming to have any particular advantage over the others, all seeming to be severely in want of something, Joseph Smith tried to make a clean break with the recent past and to go on into a new future by invoking a more distant past. And in so doing he had created something new, an imaginary Sacred Past, the way it should have been.
Nephites and Neophytes
As Jacques Derrida has indicated,5 all attempts to critique the present by comparing it to a pristine past are in reality self-deceptive paradoxes of the same kind we have just described, in that every model of a pristine past superior to the present (e.g., Voltaire's "noble savage," Marx's "primitive communism," Margaret Mead's innocently promiscuous Samoans) is inevitably a kind of fiction. Since we cannot actually return to the past (at least until someone invents a time machine), we can only surmise, speculate, and make educated guesses about the past, and more often than not, our guesses presuppose that the present stage of things represents a declension from a superior level in the past, a fall from Eden, an Age of Lead following Ages of Gold, Silver, and Bronze. We sincerely imagine ourselves to have recovered the true past, but often it is instead a vision, an agenda, of the way we wish the present were and future to be.
The scholarly quest for the historical Jesus has provided a double example. Historical-critical scholars from Hermann Samuel Reimarus in the eighteenth century to John Dominic Crossan today have maintained that the way Jesus is portrayed in the New Testament Gospels is not a simple description of the historical Jesus. Rather it represents a portrait overlaid by many successive layers of repainting, as Jesus was gradually retouched and transformed into the likeness of the churches' evolving dogma. Partisans of various sides of various Christological disputes tried to refashion a Jesus who would provide an authoritative pedigree for their own views (e.g., on fasting, the mission to the Gentiles, the question of circumcision). In an effort to strip away the falsifying alterations, critical scholars have sought to rediscover the historical Jesus so that his radical teachings might once again challenge and energize modern men and women and shake Christianity out of its dogmatic slumber.
Have they succeeded? The idea of a restored, pristine, authentic Jesus has indeed caught fire; many people are excited by it and motivated to great good deeds. But all we can be sure of is that the new portrait(s) of the historical Jesus is (are) powerful. What we can never be sure of is whether we have got it right. We may have somehow managed to hit the bull's-eye, but we can never know. What we can be sure of is that our "historical Jesus" construct is a Christological model we have devised, based on our own selective sifting of the scriptural evidence, just as Athanasius, Apollinarius, and Nestorius did. And we have "marketed" it as a (new) alternative to the old church model of Jesus. Thus any historical Jesus construct is certainly a new Christological option even if it also somehow happens to hit upon what Jesus of Nazareth was really like. Albert Schweitzer, in his great book The Quest of the Historical Jesus, skewered most of the previous attempts to restore the "historical Jesus," showing how each theoretical Jesus "just happened" to mirror the theological preferences and social agendas of the scholar himself.
In other words, the scholars were doing pretty much the same thing the early Christians were: imagining a Jesus in their own image. Their "historical" Jesuses are not so much what Jesus was as what he should have been. The sort of Jesus who could serve as the figurehead for the creation of a desirable kind of Christianity. So what tries to be the rediscovered past is really a novelty, pointing the way, not to the past, but to the future. We might sum up the tendency of all such "reconstructions" with the popular movie title Back to the Future.
Seen this way, the roots of the Latter Day Saint movement among the Campbellite Restoration movement makes new sense. When the other Campbellite sects blazed a trail "back to the Bible," i.e., to the early church of the New Testament, they were unwittingly retrojecting onto the past their own ideas of how the church ought to be. Obviously Alexander Campbell and the others had derived their ideals from a selective reading of the New Testament documents (noticing certain things and ignoring others), so it was not as if they had created their scriptural prototype of Christianity out of thin air. And, by the same token, neither had Joseph Smith. Assuming he was the author of the Book of Mormon, Smith's fabricated picture of a pristine ("Nephite"[="neophyte"?]) American Christianity was in fact his own biblically-informed ideal of what American Christianity in his own day ought to become. And, for a great many Americans, it did. Joseph's Smith's creation and retrojection of an artificial, superior biblical past is thus seen to be simply the most dramatic and thorough-going of all "restorationist" creations.
Thus far we have suggested that, if Joseph Smith is to be considered, not the excavator and translator, but the author of the Book of Mormon, the situation is far removed from that of some crude hoax or practical joke. The creative fabrication of a supposedly ancient document is in natural continuity with the process of historical reconstruction. Just as the latter is an attempt to move from ancient evidence to a new product synthesizing (some of that) evidence, so is the former. The difference between them is important, but only in some senses, not in others. In the one case, the pseudepigraphist understands that he is fashioning a version of events that almost certainly never actually occurred. It would be the wildest stroke of luck if he had chanced upon ancient reality, and he would never be able to know that he had. But, really, how much different is the position of the historian? He, too, is exercising historical imagination in an attempt to paint a plausible picture of what might have happened in the past. True, he is bound to the extant evidence more closely than the pseudepigraphical writer who feels free to imagine new characters and events. But the historian, too, may posit characters of which he knows nothing, but who are likely enough to be equivalent to real characters, who must have played analogous roles, even though no specific evidence of them happens to survive. Surely Napoleon had various advisers. If no evidence of their identities and words happens to survive (there is no real reason it should), then may we not sketch out such characters and assign them names? Journalists do this all the time. Granted, the historian may not feel entitled to do it, but historical novelists do. And, the further we go into the past, the smaller the gap stretches between historians and historical novelists. But, granted, the analogy between Joseph Smith and historical critics eventually runs thin and peters out. But that it extends so far is the surprising thing.
Narrative Worlds Without End
And where that analogy ends another, even closer, begins. We have already referred to the analogy between the Books of Deuteronomy and of Mormon, both being judged by modern critics as unhistorical pseudepigrapha (i.e., scriptural texts penned under the name of an ancient author). What Joseph Smith did, as historical critics understand the matter, is exactly what all ancient pseudepigraphists did, and he belongs to an illustrious company. Smith belongs among the authors of the Book of Daniel, the Book of Deuteronomy, the Book of Zohar; the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus), not to mention a greater or lesser number of other Epistles attributed to Paul; 1 and 2 Peter; 1, 2, and 3 Enoch; 1, 2, and 3 Baruch; the Apocalypse of Moses, Madame Blavatsky's Book of Dzyan, and a number of "rediscovered" Tibetan Buddhist texts.6 But is this group a company of saints or rather perhaps a rogues' gallery? Traditionally apologist and polemicist alike have equated "pseudepigraphist" with "fraud" or "liar." And there is a trivial sense in which such a characterization is correct.
It is that same sense in which a fiction writer is a liar and a deceiver. That is, even though the book jacket be labeled "Fiction," the writer strives to woo the reader into that state of "temporary willing suspension of disbelief" that Coleridge called "poetic faith." For the time being, the reader of a novel, the viewer of a play, allows himself or herself to be drawn into the events of a fiction, to be moved by the fortunes and misfortunes of the characters, etc. One enters a fictive world, a narrative world, in order to feel and experience things one would never otherwise experience. We now recognize, as Aristotle did, the wholesome and edifying function of temporarily suspending disbelief. But it has not always been so. Shakespeare and others were obliged to reassure their audiences that what they were about to see or read was "The True History of Richard III," or whomever.7 Some were not able to understand the difference between fiction and lying. The problem was that of "bifurcation," the reduction of a complex choice to an over-simple one. One's alternatives are not either "fact or deception," "hoax or history." Were the parables of Jesus either factual or deceptive? Did he intend anyone to think he was talking about the case of a real prodigal son of whose improbable homecoming he had yesterday read in The Galilee Gazette? Of course not; he knew that his audience knew he was making it up as he went, as an illustration. And this is pretty much the same kind of "deception" practiced by the scriptural pseudepigraphist, whether ancient or modern.
It may help at this point to remind ourselves of the distinction between the author of a story and the narrator of the story. The author is the actual person composing and producing the text. Let Herman Melville serve as an example. The narrator, on the other hand, is one of the characters in the story, chosen by the author as the one from whose viewpoint the story is to be related to the reader. So the textual self-designation "I" refers not to the author but to the narrator. "My name is Ishmael." Does this mean that Melville is trying to deceive us as to what his name is? No, of course not. We are once again temporarily suspending disbelief, entering into a narrative world. While inside it, we are listening to the narrator, a fictive construct of the author. For the meantime, the author is forgotten in favor of the narrator. "Ishmael is certainly a tough old salt!" one reader may remark to another. But when they have both laid the finished novel aside, they will begin to speak of Melville's, not Ishmael's, strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Accordingly, we ought to realize that for Joseph Smith to be the author of the Book of Mormon, with Moroni and Mormon as narrators inside the text's narrative world, makes moot the old debates over whether Smith was a hoaxer or charlatan.
Following Hans Frei, many recent Protestant theologians (e.g., George Lindbeck and William C. Placher), recognizing the narrative nature of the Bible, both its largely fictive character and the pseudonymity of most of the writers, bid us enter into that narrative world, that sacred epic, ourselves and so become participants in that drama of salvation history.8 We transcend the mundane world by bathing that world with the illuminating rays of our narrative imagination. We think this or that "is going on" in the world, that life is "about this or that;" in short, we think to identify which dramatic scenario is being symbolically played out on the stage of life. If we choose a scenario in which things are tending toward a happy ending when nice guys finish first, we will no doubt choose to act the role, as best we can, of one of those "nice guys." If we imagine no story to be taking place around us, we may stop trying to get somewhere; we may conclude that life is meaningless and we may stop trying to achieve anything. All meaning is the imposition of a narrative world onto the ambiguous text of life in the world. Joseph Smith was affording people the opportunity to write themselves at the same time into the plots of both the epic of biblical Israel and that of American pioneer Christianity. Something like Civil War Reenactment hobbyists. They are living in a saga of the past. We are doing the same every Sunday in a worship service. We have sought out a brief vacation in what Berger and Luckmann (The Social Construction of Reality) call a "finite province of meaning,"9 where for the duration we believe not in electric lights and the radio, as Bultmann said, but in demons, angels, and spirits.10 Afterward we return to the larger, public world of experience, where none of the stories seems to describe events.
Devout Mormons, like other devout Christians, have internalized the narrative world of scripture so that they always carry it about with them and see all experience through the colored lenses it provides. Just as Don Quixote, living in the benign delusion of a chivalric romance, saw his Lady Dulcinea in the tattered rags of a peasant wench, so does the Christian see his Lord, the Son of Man, in the smudged and blood-shot face of "the least of these my brethren." So, of course, does the Mormon Christian, but he also sees the biblical epic of Israel replaying itself in the pioneer struggles of the North American continent. The meaning of our lives resides in the particular story we have chosen to live out by way of exemplar or of script. And in creating the whole saga of the Nephites and the Lamanites in America, Joseph Smith created a new world of meaning in which millions of people continue to find rewarding and fulfilling roles to play. In this, the achievement of Joseph Smith as a foundational figure can be compared with that of Christ: "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Behold, the old has passed away, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
"Why Is it that You Ask My Name?"
Envision the situation that led to the production of pseudepigrapha in the ancient world and in the modern alike. It all begins with the process of the closing of the canon of scripture. Josephus informs his readers that the authority of the Jewish priests and scribes had come to substitute for that of the ancient prophets, since the voice of prophecy had long ago fallen silent. Christians reading Josephus often read him naively at this point. They cite Josephus and then point to John the Baptist as a renewal of prophecy after centuries of silence. They fail to realize that Josephus was giving a prescriptive account, not a descriptive account. The priestly and scribal establishment position had officially closed the canon of prophecy. It wasn't that new prophets were no longer forthcoming. Rather, the point was, they were no longer welcome.11
In fact, the Bible makes clear that prophets had never been particularly welcome. Like Homer's Cassandra, their voices usually went unheeded and were often silenced by force. If a prophet were sufficiently popular, the authorities had to appear to take him seriously to maintain credibility with their flock (c.f., Mark 11:27-33). The first step was to silence the prophet; the second was to domesticate his inconvenient oracles by a process of official exegesis. Jesus satirized this process as adorning the tombs of the old prophets while you secretly build new ones for their present-day successors--like Jesus himself! (Matthew 23:29-31) "Blessed are you when all men despise you and cast out your name as evil, for so they did to the prophets who were before you. But woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so they extolled the false prophets" (Luke 6:22, 26) of the past--and the true prophets after they killed them!
In view of this situation, what was a new visionary to do? He had a message to declare to his contemporaries, but there was no point in simply announcing it publicly, only to be carried away and executed. Then who would hear the message? So pseudepigraphy was born. Whereas the old prophets had spoken their messages, the new ones, the pseudepigraphists, wrote down their oracles and circulated them in this form as an underground samizdat. But they knew it was important, even when speaking in the name of the Lord, to be speaking also in the name of a famous prophet. One might have established one's own prophetic charisma by personal appearances, as Isaiah and Jeremiah had, but then personal appearances were needlessly dangerous. So, in order to gain a hearing, to have their oracles taken seriously, they wrote fictively under the names of ancient worthies such as Enoch, Moses, Daniel, Baruch, etc. Oh, the words themselves would ring with their own truth if they first managed to be read, and that was the trick. So one puts Daniel's or Moses' name on it, and then the reader soon finds himself recognizing the Word of God no matter the name of the human channel through which it may have come. Did it matter much to an ancient Jewish reader that the Word of God had come through Isaiah or through Jeremiah? No more than it does to most modern readers of either prophet. All that matters is that is one is reading the prophetic Word of God. And then it ought hardly to matter whether the real writer were Isaiah of Jerusalem or a later visionary appropriating his name (as in the cases of the Second and Third Isaiah and the Ascension of Isaiah).12
The closing of a canon is a momentous event in the history of any religion. It signals that the establishment (who caused the canon to be closed and who decided what belonged in it and what did not) has decided that the formative period of the religion is over and that the religion must be standardized and consolidated.13 You are setting about the laborious task of building the ark of salvation, and you don't want anyone rocking the boat after you've built it. You don't want to hammer out a doctrine of the Trinity, only to find some prophet popping up who announces the revelation of a fourth person in the Godhead! 14 So the guardians of the newly-minted orthodoxy, disdaining the doctrines taught in this or that gospel or prophet, cross these off the canonical list. And they claim the prerogative of rightly interpreting the contents of what remains: "First of all, you must know this: no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20). Thus the long unwillingness of Roman Catholicism to open the Bible for everyone's scrutiny. Zechariah knew the situation well: "And if anyone again appears as a prophet, his father and mother who bore him ill say to him, 'You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of Yahve' ... On that day every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies; he will not put on a hairy mantle [the distinctive "uniform" of prophets, as with Elijah and John the Baptist] in order to deceive, but he will say, 'I am no prophet, but I am a tiller of the soil...'" (Zechariah 13:3-5).
In fact these very oracles are found in a section of the book that critical scholars dub Deutero-Zechariah. The original Zechariah was some sort of cultic prophet attached to the temple and its hierarchy, the very group who were trying to clamp the lid on populist prophecy. And in order still to have a chance to be heard, someone, one of those later prophets "ashamed of his vision," i.e., not daring to publish it under his own name, retreats behind the pen-name of one of the old prophets. Having discovered his imposture, though not his real name, we still call him "Deutero-Zechariah," "the Second Zechariah." But the name hardly matters; the content does, and this is why "Deutero-Zechariah" set pen to paper. If the sharp edges of the old prophets and seers have been smoothed out by harmonizing exegesis, then it is the pseudepigraphist's aim to sharpen that edge again by introducing new and harsh words under the prophets' names. All right, the new visionary may not dare appear in public, but the authorities will not dare to condemn new, "newly rediscovered" writings by the old, canonical prophets. In this way, the newer prophets sought and managed to slip under or over the fence built around the scriptural canon.
It may seem a great irony that a religion whose leaders claim the authority of the prophetic word as their charter of authority will at the same time be so opposed to receiving any new prophecy! But it is no irony at all, for the very notion of a canon of scripture denotes that the living voice of prophecy has been smothered out and replaced with scribal authority, exercised by the official exegetes who will make the old oracles ring, not with God's voice, but with their own. "I have no word from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the grace of the Lord has been found trustworthy" (1 Corinthians 7:25; c.f., 2 Timothy 1:2-3). Jesus "taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes" (Mark 1:22)-- which is, of course, why the scribal establishment decided they had to be rid of him! It is well depicted in Dostoyevski's Parable of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov. Jesus reappears on earth--and the first thing the church does is to arrest him and condemn him to the stake! It has taken the Church long enough to consolidate its absolute power over the minds and consciences of the faithful, and they are not about to allow Jesus' living voice return to stir things up! These are the battle lines: canon versus prophecy. The guardians of the canon use the fossil-prophecy of the past in order to turn back the challenge of living prophets by using their own weapon against them. "We know that God has spoken to Moses, but, as for this man, we do not even know where he comes from!" (John 9: 29).
In short, both the new prophets and the establishment are trying to hide behind the names of the ancient, canonical prophets, in order to claim their authority for what each side is saying. The establishment scribes are using the corpus of the scriptural prophets as something of a ventriloquist dummy to spout their own views, but just as surely, the pseudepigraphists are impersonating the old prophets, speaking with their own voices while donning the deceptive Esau-mask of pseudepigraphy. The question is: who wears the mantle of the old prophets?
We see exactly the same situation repeated only a couple of centuries later when both orthodox bishops and heretical dissidents alike claimed apostolic succession. If the Pope of Rome claimed to be the successor of Linus, Peter's appointed successor in Rome, Basilides the Gnostic claimed to have received his gnosis at the hands of Glaukias, the secretary of Peter. Both are vying for recognition as the true heirs of the apostle. No wonder there were so many New Testament pseudepigraphs penned in the early church, and no wonder so many of them were excluded from the official established list! The same thing would happen yet again some centuries later when Muslim scholars decided they had to establish criteria for sifting out false hadith from genuine ones, since all tried to claim the authority of a traditional saying of Muhammad in order to promote their own views.
Even so, Joseph Smith, bitterly disillusioned by the strife and confusion of rival Christian sects in his own day, each claiming the authority of the Bible as the warrant for its distinctive teachings, finally decided to cut the Gordian Knot of Bible exegesis by creating a new scripture that would undercut the debating of the denominations and render them superfluous. He sought to found a new Christianity on a completely new basis: a new scripture from the old source, more Bible. A third Testament called the Book of Mormon. And just as the theologians of the Protestant sects followed the example of the scribes and Pharisees of old, resting their claims upon the scribal authority of exegeting ancient revelation writings, Joseph Smith was wise enough to adopt the old strategy of putting forth his own revelations in the outward form of an ancient manuscript, a pseudepigraph. If only writings of old prophets are to be taken seriously, then by all means let's write one! It's the only way left to gain media access!
But Joseph Smith hardly intended to reopen the gates of prophecy to all who might feel themselves inspired. His own pseudepigraph served rather as a new and ready-made canon, an authoritative pedigree to root his new community in the holy past, to give it instant venerable equality with the established Protestant sects, even superiority. Prophecy would continue, but only through his own mouth, as he soon stipulated.
So far we have tried to indicate how, far from being a mischievous or malicious hoaxer, Joseph Smith as the author of the Book of Mormon would simply have been doing the same thing the authors of the various biblical and extra-biblical pseudepigrapha were doing. If we still wish to dismiss Smith as a hoaxer and a liar, or, to put it another way, if we feel entitled to decree that God could never sink to inspiring a pseudepigraph 15 (and if we think we are privy to the literary tastes of the Almighty, we are claiming to be prophets ourselves!), then we have no option but to dismiss the biblical pseudepigraphs along with the Book of Mormon. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. What's good for the stick of Ephraim is good for the stick of Judah. This point hardly escaped the literalistic biblicists of the past, who tried to defend the historical genuineness of 2 and 3 Isaiah, 2 Zechariah, Deuteronomy, Daniel, the Pastoral Epistles, etc., just as zealously as they sought to debunk the Book of Mormon. A case in point would be Gordon H. Fraser, author of the polemical What Does the Book of Mormon Teach? One can scarcely imagine him welcoming Higher Critics of Scripture to apply the same critical tools on Fraser's beloved Bible as he himself has used in vivisecting the Mormon Scripture.16
Such apologists/polemicists professed to see no problem in accepting the claim of the Book of Daniel to have been penned in the Babylonian and Persian periods and then sealed away to be discovered by Jews living at the time of the events predicted in the book (Daniel 12:4, 9), i.e., the period immediately preceding the ejection of the Seleucid tyranny from Judea. No matter that the "historical" descriptions nearer the ostensible of time of Daniel are filled with linguistic and historical anachronisms while the sections closer to the end are eagle-eyed in their "predictions" of Antiochus IV Epiphanies, even of his troop movements in Palestine. When Gabriel directs Daniel to seal up the prophecy and stash it away for the benefit of readers hundreds of years in the future, the same alarm ought to be going off in the fundamentalist apologist's head that he hears when faced with Mormon claims that Joseph Smith "found a book" on Hill Cumorah. Of course he does not see them the same way, since Daniel is part of his Protestant canon, while Mormon is not. Thus, the latter may be safely debunked and discredited (and thus kept safely outside the charmed circle of the canon, as if by a fiery sword that turns every way), while the former must be kept safe, lest it lose its favored position within the canon and be "cast forth as an unclean thing" (Ezekiel 28) from the Garden of God's Word.
But in the wake of historical criticism (which one cannot keep out as long as one resolves with Martin Luther to admit the Grammatico-Historical Method to the study of Scripture, reading Scripture as any other human writing), most theologians have come to accept that God might inspire an authoritative pseudepigraph as easily as he might inspire a parable. Thus there no longer seems anything incompatible between a book being scripturally inspired and authoritative on the one hand and being a historically spurious but fictively edifying pseudepigraph on the other. Deuteronomy and its theology are probably taken with much greater seriousness than ever before in Christian history now that its true character (and thus its intention) can be truly understood for the first time. In the same way, we hope to show, a new treasure house of riches may be disclosed in the pages of the Book of Mormon once one comes to recognize the skill and the goal of the theological artistry exercised by Joseph Smith as the author, not just the translator, of the Book of Mormon.
We have already indicated that Joseph Smith as the creator of the Book of Mormon had simply used the same strategy as many biblical writers, adopting the outward form of an ancient manuscript as a metaphor for saying that the coming of this Word was "from of old, from ancient days" (Micah 5:2). If we are going on that basis to dismiss the Book of Mormon as a spurious fake, we are showing we have the same theologically tin ear the opponents of Jesus had when they said, "How can this man say, 'I came down from heaven'?" "You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?" Presently we will attempt to demonstrate that Joseph Smith also followed pretty much the same method of composition as that employed by the various biblical pseudepigraphists. Thus he will come to look more and more like what we are suggesting he was: a writer of new Scripture, not merely a discoverer or translator of ancient Scripture. But we must first pause to ask if, however consistent with the goals and methods of biblical pseudepigraphists, such a role for Joseph Smith would not be impossibly incompatible with his own claims for himself and Latter Day Saint claims about him.
In a word, No. We have already recalled the fact that, after setting forth the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith began to prophesy in his own voice. The Mormon canon obviously contains many such inspired speeches by the Mormon prophet. The work of a prophet is not that of a transcriber or translator. To equate the two is to deny the vast gap between Moses and the latter day scribes, the distance between the Prophet Jeremiah and his secretary Baruch, or between the Gnostic Revealer and the shepherd Muhammad 'Ali al Samman who chanced upon the Nag Hammadi texts while hiding from his enemies in an Egyptian cave. According to the traditional story of the origins of the Book of Mormon, when read the traditional way, the role of Joseph Smith was more like that of John the Baptist, hardly that of a prophetic revealer in his own right, but rather simply the herald for another [in Smith's case, this other would be a book] who would be a prophetic revealer. And yet this picture blatantly belies the central importance of Joseph Smith as revealer, prophet, and Moses-like founder of the Latter Day Saint community. He was a living prophet whose voice was the mouthpiece for God to issue regulations for the fledgling nest of faith.
The closest history-of-religions parallel would have to be the Prophet Muhammad. Like Joseph Smith, Muhammad claimed to be the one to disclose the revelations of a hitherto-unknown book. These revelations include hitherto-secret histories of prophetic personalities including Noah, Moses, and Jesus. In the case of Muhammad, this book was the "Mother of the Book," the heavenly prototype of the Qur'an (or Koran). Muhammad would simply speak forth the revelations dictated to him by the angel Gabriel who read them off the pages of the heavenly original. But this did not make Muhammad any less of a prophet, since the book from which he believed himself to be "quoting" ("Qur'an" means "repetition") was a celestial object (analogous to the "Akashic Records") unavailable to human beings in any other form. To say one is conveying the unseen text of a heavenly volume is to say one is the channel for the revelations as they enter into human eyes and ears for the first time. Thus Muhammad was no mere recording secretary, but rather a prophet in the strict sense of the word. Later tradition depicted the caliph Uthman as commissioning Zaid ibn Thabit to bring together all extant Qur'an manuscripts and standardize them into a textus receptus, and thus Zaid would be a closer analogy to Joseph Smith on the traditional understanding of Smith as a transcriber and translator of the golden plates. But clearly Joseph Smith is supposed to be on Muhammad's level, not on Zaid's. And if Smith were simply equivalent to Zaid, or to Baruch instead of Jeremiah, then we would have a problem accounting for the full prophetic dignity subsequently ascribed to him. Would not his "new" character as a prophetic revealer have to be understood as a self-exaltation against the ostensibly sufficient revelation of Mormon and Moroni? Would not Joseph Smith actually be interposing himself between scripture and the faithful? Would it not make much better sense all around to suppose that the Book of Mormon itself was the first revelation to come by Joseph Smith, its author? Seen this way, Smith's authorship of the Book of Mormon would simplify rather than complicate, vindicate rather than discredit, his claim to prophetic inspiration.
Reformed Egyptian as Glossolalia
The clue to this as the true scenario lies in Smith's supposed use of the magical oracular glasses of the Urim and Thummim. These are said to have enabled him to find clear meaning in a text that was to him but a "field of signifiers" (Roland Barthes) or perhaps to create meaning there. The metaphor of the Urim and Thummim glasses is exactly parallel to Paul's characterizing glossolalia not as a human language unknown to the speaker, an indefensible and absurd claim, but as the ecstatic "tongues of angels" which sing the glories "which man may not utter." While no mortal may render their meaning exactly, it is nonetheless possible, Paul says, to "interpret" them. But this is closer to interpreting omens or dreams (nonverbal) than it is to translating a text. Apollo's oracle at Delphi, overcome with volcanic sulfur fumes, would mumble on in ecstatic gibberish, which an interpreter standing by would render roughly into human conceptuality. To imagine glossolalia as a translatable language, as many Pentecostal defenders of the practice do, is to bring the practice into needless discredit, since linguistic analysis has more than once demonstrated that there is no syntactical structure among the glossolalic sounds.17 Pentecostal literalists fear that, if they admitted that glossolalia is simply the inspired product of the Spirit-energized glossolalist, rather than the tongues-speaker being a stenographer taking divine dictation, the divine quality they attribute to the sounds would be gone. Likewise, we fail to grasp the metaphor of the Urim and Thummim if we imagine Joseph Smith was simply using something like a translating program on a computer.
If we have ears to hear, we will recognize the Urim and Thummim tale as a metaphor for Smith looking at America through the lenses of the Bible, and at the Bible through the lenses of the American experience. The Book of Mormon was the inspired result, not an ancient text merely translated, but a creative extended metaphor. To defend the notion of a genuine ancient manuscript merely being translated from an imaginary "Reformed Egyptian" language, for fear that the Book of Mormon will otherwise forfeit its authority, is like the poor Pentecostals trying to convince themselves and others of the literally miraculous character of their speaking a genuine ancient language unknown to themselves. In both cases, the proof of the pudding would seem to reside in the eating, not in the package design and advertising slogans. Why defend a metaphor as if it were a literal fact, when factually it is manifestly false, while symbolically it may be profoundly true? Tongues-speaking is not speaking a genuine foreign language. The Book of Mormon never existed as a set of golden plates in a foreign language, either. Neither is the point. But speaking mysteries in the spirit is genuinely revelatory, and so is a book which translates the frontier heritage of America into the language of the Bible.
Even the designation of the supposed original language of the Book of Mormon can be taken as a clue to the real state of affairs: the term "Reformed Egyptian" carries resonances, first, of the biblical exodus of Israel from Egypt. Americans from Benjamin Franklin onward have seen it as a paradigm for the journey of American colonists and immigrants to freedom on these shores. And of course Joseph Smith and his followers repeated the story of the Exodus in their own experience as they moved from the hostile East to the Promised Land of Utah, where they could sit in peace, each beneath his vine, and where, delivered out of the hand of their enemies, they might worship without fear. Like Moses, Joseph Smith was not destined to enter the land with them, and at the same time we cannot help but be reminded of "Joseph in Egypt," the persecuted young visionary despised by his contemporaries but called to great things.
Second, the enigmatic term "Reformed Egyptian" signifies the new start Christianity was making in America under Smith's own leadership. Smith had begun what he regarded as a new Reformation in Protestant Christianity. Hence "Reformed Egyptian": that is the language Joseph Smith and his Book of Mormon were speaking. It was no more a genuine but unknown ancient language than Pentecostal glossolalia is, but it was every bit as much a super-verbal metaphor for new inspiration.
To say the Book was rendered from "Reformed Egyptian" was, then, to carry both the foundation myths of biblical Israel and Protestant Christianity into the modern America of the early nineteenth century. It was to say that that great epic of salvation history was far from over, that it continued to unfold here and now. And a powerful image for this is the discovery in one's own time of an ancient bible of American revelation. But an even more potent image for the same thing is the writing of a new chapter of the biblical epic in modern America! And this is just what Joseph Smith did. There are not two authorities vying for priority in Mormonism, Joseph Smith's prophecies versus the letter of the inspired text of the Book of Mormon. No, there is only one authority: the divinely inspired prophecy of Joseph Smith. And the Book of Mormon is the fundamental prophecy of Joseph Smith.
Latter Prophets and Latter Day Saints
Thus far we have been applying to the study of the Book of Mormon a technique of biblical criticism called "form criticism" by some and "genre criticism (Gattung criticism)" by others. Usually, when we speak of the "forms" of biblical literature, we are referring to individual, self-contained passages within a larger book, e.g., a type of psalm (a lament, a coronation psalm, a song of ascents or pilgrimage psalm, a wisdom psalm, an acrostic, a hymn of praise, etc.), a kind of story (a controversy story, a miracle story, a discipleship paradigm, a pronouncement story or apophthegm, a parable, etc.) or saying (an aphorism, a proverb, a Christological "I-saying," a sentence of holy law, a passion prediction, etc.), a variety of prophecy (an oracle of doom, a promise of hope, an apocalypse), and so on.18 By contrast, when we speak of Gattung or genre, we have in mind a larger literary unit as a whole. Here we might contrast a prophetic book like Isaiah with an Apocalypse like Revelation, Daniel, or IV Ezra. We might contrast Luke's Gospel, a book much like a Hellenistic hero biography,19 with his Book of Acts, a work much resembling contemporary historical and picaresque novels.20 We might compare the Pauline Corpus with various kinds of ancient correspondence including the personal letter (e.g., Philemon), the treatise put in epistolary form (Romans), the church order (compare the Pastorals with church orders like the Dead Sea Scroll Manual of Discipline or the Didache (Teaching) of the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles), or the pseudepigraphical epistle as from an ancient authority (some of the epistles attributed to the Cynics, to Plato, or to Apollonius of Tyana). What we are looking for in all cases is a set of distinctive formal marks identifying a passage or a whole book with others of the same type and function, so as to place it in a larger, common category. This may help us place the work in question in the stream of the historical evolution of forms and genres. For instance, narratives like those of the Transfiguration of Jesus or of his walking on water, which look much like scenes involving various Greco-Roman "son of god" or "divine man" figures, seem to presuppose a setting in the wider Hellenistic world, and thus an origin after the time that Christian missionaries had penetrated the Mediterranean world with their preaching.
Further study will reveal specific formal categories for individual passages of the Book of Mormon, but thus far it is quite clear that the Book as a whole fits very comfortably into that broad class of pseudepigrapha which seek, as late-comers, either official entry into the canon of scripture or at least similarly high credibility by using an ancient authority's name. We might get more specific and suggest that the Book of Mormon conforms to the genre of "the Latter Prophets" rather than that of the "Former Prophets." The difference between these two species of biblical books is that the Former Prophets are collections of prophetic oracles or speeches, gathered and recorded by their hearers and disciples (think here of the Book of Isaiah, the Book of Jeremiah, the Qur'an). The Latter Prophets, on the other hand, are a series of edifying (and usually semi-legendary) histories written from the moralistic standpoint of the prophets: when the people are faithful to God, God's reward follows them. But when the nation is unfaithful, they have only God's wrath to look forward to. Since the experience of the Babylonian Exile made it clear that the prophets had been quite right about all this, the exiled scribes and priests of Judah compiled what we call the Deuteronomic History (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) according to the prophetic philosophy of history. They assembled many historical stories, sagas, and legends, welding them into one overarching unity. All victories were made into deliverances by God, all defeats and oppressions made into divine scourges. When a king goes against God's Word, he is terribly punished, while the faithful kings are honored by God. Another book of this kind in the Bible (though written too late for inclusion in the "Prophets" category) is the Chronicler's history (Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles). It is clear that the Book of Mormon belongs with these works. It is a sort of Deuteronomic history of ancient America, illustrating its preachings with object lessons of the fates of wicked Lamanites and virtuous Nephites. It represents an artificial effort to extend the biblical histories of Israel and Judah up nearer our own day.
It may help to remind ourselves what sort of book the Book of Mormon is not. For one thing, it is not a Gospel, does not even contain a Gospel, even though Jesus Christ appears as a character in the Book of Mormon. He appears there almost in passing, just as the Deuteronomic historians found space for several long and short episodes of Elijah and Elisha and their miracles and disciples. There are epistles, at least letters, but these are embedded (or "imbricated"--Roland Barthes) in the surrounding narrative, playing a role analogous to that of a Greek chorus in a play, commenting on the action as it moves along, so the reader can keep up with the flow. Luke uses such letters throughout the Book of Acts. Luke has much in common with the Old Testament Deuteronomic History, as recent scholars have noted. And so does the Book of Mormon.
Prophecy and Palimpsest
Recently scholars have reopened an old debate over the narrative books of the Bible, a debate that has interesting implications for our estimation of the Book of Mormon. Critical analysis of the Bible began with seventeenth-century French physician Jean Astruc, who suggested that the Pentateuch was less likely a single work from the pen of Moses than a compilation of pre-existent source documents. These, he reasoned, might be distinguished from one another and reconstructed by means of distinguishing the names used for the Deity: Yahve ("Jehovah"), Elohim, Adonai, Elyon, etc. Not long thereafter, Baruch Spinoza, a Jewish philosopher and mystic, carried this study further, as did a whole series of 18th and 19th century German savants culminating with Julius Wellhausen (Prolegomena to the History of Israel). Wellhausen believed (and most scholarship follows his lead even today) that virtually every verse of the Pentateuch could be confidently assigned to one or another of these earlier source documents (J, E, D, and P). The stylistic and theological features of each source were so distinctive that there was seldom any danger of confusing them. Wellhausen spoke of each of the early documents as if it were the unified work of a single creative author. J (the Yahvist writer), Wellhausen crowned the great literary genius of the Pentateuch, P (the Priestly writer) the worst of the four with his endless windy repetition and love for great masses of dry statistics.
Wellhausen's astonishingly comprehensive book was eventually to sweep the field and become critical orthodoxy. But Herman Gunkel arose in the name of form criticism to challenge Wellhausen's conclusions.21 He pointed out that the narratives of the Pentateuch (and of the Deuteronomic History as well) bore the tell-tale marks of transcribed oral tradition. This meant that Wellhausen's four authors were rather more like collectors or compilers of popular traditional stories, analogous to the Brothers Grimm, who fanned out over the German countryside eager to interview old nurses and grandmothers and to write down the earliest extant versions of the old fairy tales, before they became lost to history in a changing world.
Gunkel's approach was by no means incompatible with Wellhausen's, since the latter had never claimed that the Yahvist, the Elohist, and the Priestly writer were composing from whole cloth, out of their imaginations. The only adjustment one need make in Wellhausen's theory to make room for Gunkel's alongside it was to see the four Pentateuchal writers (and the Deuteronomic historians) as compilers who naturally put their own stamp on their material as they retold it and worked it up into a consecutive narrative. The result was that scholars would look both for signs of earlier oral transmission of a particular passage (or "pericope") and for signs of the individual compiler's rewriting or redaction (creative editing) of the passage. Both techniques together illuminated the texts to an even greater extent than Wellhausen's original source criticism. Now one could try to demonstrate both the nature of the source material used and what the author had done with it. The comparison would often yield new data on what goal or effect the writer/redactor was trying to achieve by editing and rewriting in the precise way he did. This method became known as "redaction criticism." Much was learned by applying these critical tools to the Old Testament (and, later, to the New Testament as well).22
But in recent years some scholars have questioned both the presuppositions and the methods of form criticism. Beginning with Güttgemanns (Candid Questions Concerning Form Criticism), many scholars have turned the microscope on the narrative materials of both Testaments. Frank Kermode, Robert Fowler, Werner Kelber, and Frans Neirynck 23 have shown how deeply the distinctive vocabulary and structure of the evangelist Mark have penetrated his text. There seems to be less and less need to posit a traditional basis for biblical narratives, or rather perhaps, one may minimize the extent to which the biblical narrators were dependent upon any prior sources they may have used. In the latter event, the biblical authors would have simply derived ideas from traditional stories but retold them entirely from their own standpoint, just as one finds today comparing Hollywood Bible epics with the underlying Bible stories.
And the more of the narrative that makes sense as the product of the author's skill, the less sure we can be that there ever was a source. He may, as we have just observed, have been less slavishly bound to the wording of his source, but then are we sure we are justified any longer in believing he was dependent upon a prior source document at all? The evidence for a source has faded away in a case like this. Scholars are now beginning to move toward a very different approach to the use of previous sources by later biblical narratives. It may be, say scholars like Randel Helms, Thomas L. Brodie, and John Dominic Crossan, that the Gospel writers did not so much employ oral traditions of Jesus as the basis for their work as they have perhaps rather taken Old Testament texts, disregarded the plots, and reshuffled various descriptive details and narrative sequences abstracted from the larger story to use as building blocks for their own new stories, which are then provided with a definite biblical ring, and yet without recalling a particular story.
Helms, Brodie, and Crossan all break down numerous Gospel stories into various phrases and motifs derived from this and that Old Testament story. Crossan isolates all the Old Testament passages which the Gospel Crucifixion narratives cite as prophetic predictions of the death of Jesus and proceeds to demonstrate how the Gospel stories seem to have been composed, not from historical memory of the events, but by connecting the dots provided by the Old Testament passages. It is not that Mark 15's account of Jesus' crucifixion is simple reportage of events that mirrored the "predictions" of Psalm 22. Mark does not even refer to Psalm 22 as a prediction. It begins to appear as if Mark possessed no traditional story of Jesus' death, only the bare preaching that Jesus had died on the cross. The rest he had to fill in. As his material he used the collection of Passion "testimonia" drawn by early Christian preachers from the scriptures, especially the Psalms.24
Brodie, to take but a single example, derives Luke's story of the anointing of Jesus (Luke 7:36-50) from the tales of Elisha in 2 Kings 4:1-37, the episodes of the widow with the vessels of oil and of the Shunammite woman. As Brodie sees it, Luke derived the character of Simon the Pharisee, Jesus' rather chilly host, both from the Shunammite who is pictured as initially wary of Elisha and from Elisha's disciple Gehazi who fails in the healing mission assigned him by Elisha. The sinful woman who anoints Jesus is a character combining traits of the Shunammite woman and the widow of the guild prophet who, at Elisha's direction, pours out the self-replenishing oil to pay her creditors. The two creditors in Jesus' parable of the two debtors (contained in the anointing story) were suggested to Luke by the creditors of the prophet's widow who threatened to take her two children as collateral for her debts. Simon's invitation to Jesus was derived from the Shunammite's invitation of Elisha to stay with her. Her miraculous conception of a son led Luke to imply (Brodie thinks) that Simon the Pharisee had a change of heart, a sort of rebirth. The debt of the sinful woman is a moral one, while that of the guild prophet's widow is a financial one. Both debt crises are mediated by the prophet, Jesus in the one case, Elisha in the other. Thus the Jesus story has been derived from the two Elisha tales, while not actually modeled upon them.25
Helms concentrates on the Gospels, but here is an example of his work on another biblical narrative, one from the Acts of the Apostles. Helms traces a series of probable connections between the opening chapters of Ezekiel (in the Greek Septuagint translation) and the story of Peter's vision in Acts 10:9-16. Ezekiel has a series of visions which teach him what he will have to endure as a prophet of God. In the first one (Ezekiel 1:1) Ezekiel sees heaven opened (enoichthesan hoi ouranoi), while in Acts 10:11 Peter also sees "heaven opened" (ten ouranon aneogmenon). In a second vision Ezekiel is shown something (a honeyed scroll) and told to eat (phage) it (Ezekiel 2:9), while Peter is shown a great sheet of sailcloth containing all manner of animals, including those deemed unclean by Leviticus. He, too, is commanded, "Arise, Peter, kill and eat (phage)!" In a subsequent vision, Ezekiel is told to eat bread baked over a dung fire, something ritually unclean, which he as a priest is ill-inclined to do. He retorts to God: "By no means, Lord!" (Medamos, Kyrie), just as Peter does at the command to prepare unclean food: "By no means, Lord!" (Medamos, Kyrie). It is hard to resist the conclusion Helms reaches: Luke has invented the episode of Peter's vision based on the series of visions in the beginning of Ezekiel. Luke didn't even have to read very far into Ezekiel to find enough details to mix together into a new story.26
While this sort of cannibalizing of old texts to fashion new ones may seem arbitrary to some readers, we must note that the technique is not merely the product of modern theory, as if modern scholars had simply inferred that the Gospel writers must have been doing something of the kind. These practices of recombining bits and pieces from this and that separate passage to create, in effect, a new Bible verse have long been familiar as a standard exegetical procedure of the old rabbis. For instance, Mark's citation of Isaiah (in Mark 1:2-3, "As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, 'Behold. I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'") turns out in fact to be a conflation of three Old Testament passages, Malachi 3:1 ("Behold I send my messenger [the word translated "angel" from both Hebrew and Greek originals] to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger [or angel] of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts."), Exodus 23:20 ("Behold, I send an angel [or messenger] before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared."), and Isaiah 40:3 ("A voice cries: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'")
Notice the effect produced by the silent juxtaposition of the three verses. Mark's "my messenger" comes from Malachi 3:1. Mark's "to prepare thy way" comes from Exodus 23:20, while "Behold, I send [my] angel/messenger before..." is common to both of these texts, and it was this similarity that had already led Jewish scribes to conflate the two verses even before Mark's time. The citation of Isaiah 40:3, reemphasizing it to make it say "a voice crying in the wilderness, [saying] 'Prepare the way of the Lord" instead of, as originally, "a voice crying, 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,'" denoting the preparation of a clear path for the Jewish exiles from Babylon back through the desert to Canaan also occurs in the Dead Sea Scrolls. None of the three passages originally meant anything like what Mark makes of them in combined form. We might question whether this sort of treatment of the biblical text even counts as exegesis, but in fact it was characteristic of Mark's time and of esoteric Jewish exegesis for long afterward.
The presupposition was the distinctly un-Protestant notion that, being a divinely inspired book, the Bible was susceptible to all manner of clever manipulation. Whatever one might make it seem to mean, it meant, since it could be no coincidence that the text should yield up such fortuitous recombinations. God must have intended any message the imaginative exegete could squeeze out of it by hook or by crook.27 There are various well-known Kabbalistic methods including Temurah (reading the Hebrew text from left to right, like a word search puzzle, to find hidden "backward masking" revelations), Notarikon (reading each letter of a word as the first letter of each word in an implied sentence of cryptic revelation), and Gematria (reading the letters of a word as if the digits stood for numbers, so that that word would be considered interchangeable with any word elsewhere in Scripture that added up to the same sum). New revelations excavated by such methods were called "combinations," and to devise striking new ones was a mark of spiritual enlightenment. In Isaac Beshevis Singer's novel Satan in Goray, one particular Kabbalistic guru, Reb Gedaliya, is acclaimed for this: "he ... adorned his speech with mystical combinations and permutations."28 An angel proclaims, "All the worlds on high do tremble at the unions he doth form. The power of his combinations reaches even to the heavenly mansions. From these combinations seraphim and angels twist coronets for the Divine Presence." 29
In all the cases treated by Crossan, Helms, and Brodie (and in numerous others),30 the verbal parallels and recurrences of similar motifs are clear enough that we may assume the New Testament writers have made use of Old Testament materials, but not in such a way as to inhibit their creativity. In the nature of the case, it would be extremely difficult to try to break down an Old Testament story into such building blocks from earlier sources utilized in such a transforming way. It works so well in New Testament criticism because we still have the earlier source-texts used by the Gospel writers (each other's gospels and Old Testament texts). When we are left without surviving documents, we are reduced to pure speculation.
In the heyday of form criticism, scholars concentrated on the surviving formal characteristics of individual passages in Mark's Gospel, believing that Mark had not used any of our other Gospels, nor indeed any written gospel at all, but rather a number of orally transmitted traditions, something like the individual hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, passed down from the early days. If here and there one could still discern the marks of an earlier, oral version of an episode or saying in Mark, one might then infer from the diversions from the oral form the redactional changes Mark made when incorporating them into his Gospel. As we have just seen, in recent years scholars have attributed more and more of the stories to Mark himself, with fewer signs left to imply a pre-existent oral, traditional form. But even here it is sometimes possible to spot them, as Dennis R. MacDonald tries to do in his The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon, in which he attempts to dislodge three of the major stories of Paul from the literary tapestry of the Acts of Paul. As we read them now, the tales are woven into the seamless fabric of the work as a whole, but there are still some formal factors giving evidence of earlier, oral form, despite the thorough retelling in the author's own vocabulary.31
It would take a large-scale scrutiny of the Book of Mormon, and in minute detail, to determine whether there is any evidence of oral, preliterary traditions underlying any of the stories of the Book. If scholars were to conclude the narrative of the Book of Mormon had been worked up from traditional material, this would go a long way toward vindicating the claim of the Book to be based on ancient accounts of ancient events, even though such a conclusion would not fit very well the accounts given in the Book of its own composition by eye-witnesses. But on the whole, thus far it appears that the Book of Mormon is the product of the kind of process discussed by Helms, Brodie, and Crossan: the scrambling of motifs and distinctive phrases from previous literary texts in order to produce a new text of the same basic type.
By way of contrast, in Smith's Inspired Version of the Bible we have something very much like the tendentious spot-revisions traditional redaction critics traced in the use Matthew and Luke made of Mark. (And if it were ever determined whether Joseph Smith used as his Grundschrift for the Book of Mormon the book View of the Hebrews, we would be able to do more traditional redaction criticism on the Book of Mormon as a prior stage of analysis. He might be shown to have utilized many elements from the earlier work and yet fleshed them out in a completely distinctive way, much as the evangelist John has done with the traditions he had in common with the Synoptists (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).
If the Book of Mormon is the literary creation of Joseph Smith, who wrote new biblical-sounding stories by combining familiar biblical vocabulary and motifs, then we may do exactly the same sort of comparative redactional analysis on the Book of Mormon that scholars have been doing on the Bible. Joseph Smith's fundamental source material still survives: the Bible. And like the Gospel writers as understood by Crossan, Brodie and Helms, Joseph Smith seems to have created new holy fictions by running the old ones through the shredder and then reassembling the shreds in wholly new combinations. His method appears to be precisely that of the old rabbis and of the New Testament evangelists. So not only did Joseph Smith do the same sort of thing biblical writers themselves did to produce new Bible text, he even did it the same way, as we hope now to demonstrate by turning to a specific passage of the Book of Mormon.
Let us choose for closer scrutiny a section of Mormon Scripture, 3 Nephi, chapters 19 and 28, which tell of Jesus ordaining a new, Nephite, set of 12 disciples, three of whom are granted supernatural longevity in order to continue the work of preaching the gospel until the second advent of Christ. We will compare the episode of the three Nephite apostles with a parallel account glossing John 21:22 that appears in Book of Commandments VI.
In 3 Nephi 19, Jesus names the Nephite Twelve who, on the spot, fulfill the command of Jesus in Matthew's Great Commission, teaching the multitudes what Jesus has taught them, e.g., to pray to the Father in Jesus' own name. On the same occasion the Twelve are filled with the descending Holy Spirit: "And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and did bear record" (19:14). Obviously this whole sequence is meant explicitly to recall and replay the New Testament events whereby the original apostles were chosen for their mission and sent forth. Those events are telescoped here, as the narrative jumps, so to speak, from Mark chapter 3 to Acts chapter 2, from the calling and numbering of the disciples to their endowment with the Spirit. There are several interesting inferences to be drawn.
First, since this sequence is a cameo of the longer Gospel-Acts sequence, what 3 Nephi 19 does is to provide a reader-response commentary by Joseph Smith on that original Gospel-Acts sequence. He has produced what he sees as the gist of the original, which is a legitimization myth for a group of leaders to mind the store in the absence of Jesus (Weber's "routinization of charisma"). The whole Mark-Acts sequence is based on the Pentateuchal accounts of Moses heeding Jethro's advice to share the burden with a chosen group of seventy elders. In Exodus 18, these men are hardly chosen before they are endowed with the Holy Spirit. This pattern is broadly reproduced in Mark 3, where we can detect an underlying pre-Markan version in vv. 20-21, 31-32, 13-19, exactly paralleling Exodus 18:5-7, 13-27. Acts 2 reflects the alternate account of the same event (Numbers 11:16-17, 24-30), in which these seventy assistants receive the spirit of Moses, much as elsewhere the spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha (2 Kings 2:9-11).
By chopping all the intervening material in the Gospels between the initial calling of the Twelve and their endowment with the Spirit in Acts 2, Joseph Smith has correctly recognized that both stories are functionally equivalent, both of them trying to buttress the ecclesiastical authority of the college of apostles. To say that Jesus chose them before his death and resurrection means the same as saying the Spirit filled them (thus placing his Imprimatur on them) after the death and resurrection. Of the two, we may guess that the Gospel version is the later of the two, the Acts version being the earlier. As in the comparison between Acts 10 (the Cornelius episode) and Matthew 28 (the Great Commission to preach to the Gentiles), we have to assume that the original story of a revelation from the Spirit eventually became suspect as being dangerously subjective (like the visions of Gnostic heretics) and so gave way to a later, more literal, concrete, "objective" version in which the earthly Jesus had already guaranteed the point at issue. Hard-nosed conservatives denied the validity of dreams and visions to validate some new development and demanded proof the earthly Jesus had mandated the controversial novelty (Of course, if he had, we would never be witnessing such a debate!). From then on, it proved irresistible to supply such "proof" in the form of a newly invented saying of Jesus.
So if we find one account of the Twelve being consecrated by the endowment with the Spirit after the resurrection of Jesus, we are not surprised to find another in which they are already constituted as the Twelve in the time of Jesus' earthly ministry. This would mean that the actual origin of this group lay in the days of the early Church, not in the earlier time of the earthly Jesus, but that it was eventually imaginatively retrojected into that earlier period.32
Joseph Smith has eliminated all the narrative material separating the two apostolic legitimization stories. Why has he done it? Remember, all that intervening matter in the Gospels is largely devoted, first, to expounding the deposit of teaching which Jesus had supposedly chosen these men to spread. As becomes especially clear in Luke 33 the reason the disciples have been retrojected into the earthly life time of Jesus is so that the bishops of Luke's day could appeal to the Twelve as witnesses of what Jesus really did and said, so as to cut the ground from under those who would like to fashion their own arbitrary oracles of Jesus.
But once you retroject the post-resurrection group of the Twelve back before the crucifixion, you inadvertently produce the anomaly that, though already working with Jesus, the disciples seem completely unprepared for what happens to Jesus. To put the Twelve on the scene with Jesus so as to have them share his charisma by association is to present the Twelve as already in the role of triumphant, elite authorities (like a group of local Congressmen posing for pictures with Mr. Big, the President). But this stance ill-befits a narrative the whole point of which is to have Jesus inexorably moving towards a tragic martyr death. When Simon Peter dares rebuke the soon-to-be-suffering Son of Man, "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you!" (Matthew 16:22), he is saying no more than Paul says in Romans 5:9: "For we know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again." The difference is that whereas Paul writes explicitly after the resurrection of Christ, Peter in Matthew speaks implicitly after the resurrection.
As Theodore J. Weeden boldly delineated in his Mark: Traditions in Conflict,34 the clash between arrogant triumphalism on the part of the Twelve and self-abasing servanthood embodied by Jesus reflects an early church debate between those who brag, "I am of Cephas (or Paul, or Apollos)" and those who say, "I am of Christ!" In 2 Corinthians Paul makes it clear that his own career of apostolic suffering and set-back is ipso facto more Christ-like than that of the miracle-mongering "super-apostles" of Corinth, simply because the power of God is seen nowhere better than amid the cruciform sufferings of men.35 Though Joseph Smith himself would finally follow in his Master's footsteps to the atoning gallows, his New Christianity as shown in 3 Nephi is a triumphal Christianity without the cross. Keep in mind that, once Jesus touches down in ancient America, we are seeing a recap of major Gospel events. We are seeing, so to speak, the American version of the Gospel. The story is being acted out (almost like a Hill Cumorah Pageant!) by multitudes like those of Galilee, by disciples such as Peter and Andrew, and by the Savior himself, and it all eventuates in Jesus appointing the New Twelve and then returning to heaven. All is there, all in place as in the original Gospel narrative, save that the cross is nowhere to be found. This is the Docetic Christology of Gnostics, Encratites, Muslims and others. Christ appears in the world to teach authoritatively, to set up the institution that tells such stories as this one in his name, and then to return to heaven, but by no means to die.
Some may protest this reading, since, obviously, the whole business is happening after the crucifixion and resurrection in Jerusalem. Why should Jesus die again? Yes, but then why does he appear in America at all? Why not just have missionaries from Jerusalem make their way to America to announce the momentous tidings that have taken place in the Holy Land? Or, to put it another way, if Jesus himself had to appear to the ancient Americans, why did he not also appear personally to the Corinthians, the Ephesians, the Romans, etc.? To have Jesus appear in person in ancient America and essentially to repeat the Gospel story, is to posit a separate and distinctive incarnation of Jesus Christ for America. To make the pattern complete, we might have expected to see Jesus crucified anew by wicked Lamanites. And that is exactly what we would see, except for a different Christology, that of a Christ with a crown but not a cross.
And here again, Smith's redaction of the Gospel story enables us to look back at the New Testament Gospels and see things in a clearer light. For again Smith has recapitulated the Christological evolution underlying the Gospels. At first, we may imagine, the atoning martyrdom
of Jesus made sense as a way of rationalizing the shock the disciples felt at God allowing his faithful servant to die. It was to be understood as the wisdom of God made manifest in the foolishness of men. This is the way Paul sees it in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, where he mentions no miracles, nothing spectacular, only a crucified man. Early Christians expected the imminent return of "this same Jesus" (Acts 1:11) who would make his next appearance as "the Messiah appointed for you" (Acts 3:20). His Messiahship lay in the (imminent) future, not in the past. But as more time went by, and still no second coming materialized, Christians began to reinterpret the past career of Jesus, the only one available to them, in messianic terms, adding the technicolor of miracles and divine self-disclosures.36 In the Gospels, later than Paul, Jesus becomes a demigod striding the earth. When arrested, he flattens the soldiers like bowling pins with a single utterance (John 18:6), and then condescends to come along quietly anyway.37
Paradoxes and historical implausibilities like these reflect the ill-fit of the two motifs now forcibly juxtaposed in the Gospels: the tragic martyrdom--of a superhuman demigod! The ultimate conclusion to this line of reasoning is to say that, since Jesus could not be defeated and destroyed by his enemies, then he wasn't. As in the Gospel of Peter where the crucified Jesus feels no pain, or in the Acts of John, where Jesus appears to John in a cave in the Mount of Olives to tell him that the form on the cross is not really he. Or as in the Gospel of Barnabas, where Jesus ascends to heaven during the arrest, while some other man is taken and crucified. The Book of Mormon has gone the whole way: in its American incarnation of Jesus, a "second first coming," so to speak, the crucifixion is eliminated altogether! The tension found in the Gospels between an original account of the Servant Messiah tragically martyred and the later overlay of triumphalism, where, in truth, it is the resurrected Jesus who appears throughout, from the baptism on,38 is neatly eliminated in the Book of Mormon in favor of the latter conception. It is explicitly the mighty Risen One who appears in America, just as for the canonical Gospels, it is implicitly the Risen One who is born in Bethlehem and continues on throughout the story. As the Christology of divine triumphalism had already won the day in Corinth (occasioning Paul's polemics, already quoted), it has long reigned unopposed in optimistic, "can-do" American Christianity, no matter the denominational label on the bottle. But Latter Day Saints are the only ones to make it (almost) explicit.
If It Tarry, Wait for It
We ought to note briefly that Joseph Smith was not without precedent when he wrote of a parallel life and ministry of Jesus taking place in his own homeland in order to supply an independent pedigree for the faith community there. The various British tales of young Jesus visiting the shores of Britain with his uncle Joseph of Arimathea, and of Joseph later returning there carrying the Holy Grail with him are foundation legends for Celtic Christianity, trying to stake an apostolic claim independent of Rome.39 Advocates of the British Israel theory40 and Christian Identity sects still employ these legends for the same reason.41 And Joseph Smith was doing the same sort of thing, inventing a separate origin for his own kind of American Christianity. The idea is summed up well in Galatians 1:11-12, "For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel that was preached by me is not according to man. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ." Paul, in order to protect his own independent authority, denies he is in any way dependent on the earlier apostles or that his Christianity is derivative from theirs (and thus possibly a distortion of it, as someone seems to have been alleging). Rather, he reverses the implied accusation: since he knows his gospel came directly from God, then, if that of the Jerusalem apostles is in any important respect at variance, it is the Jerusalem apostles who must be the heretics, the revisionists. In the same way, Joseph Smith, by having Jesus Christ himself found the Nephite Church in America, is claiming to have his Christianity direct from the horse's mouth. If the Methodist, Baptist, and Congregationalist ministers choose to remain aloof from his reforms, they are only incriminating themselves as heirs of a corrupt gospel, a degenerate Christianity, "another Jesus, a different Spirit, a different gospel" (2 Corinthians 11:4). And Smith would say, with Paul, "I think that I am not in the least inferior to these superlative apostles" (2 Corinthians 11:5).
So, to return to the main point, the story in 3 Nephi collapses the two-fold story of the authorization of the original Twelve into a single continuous story, directly linking the choosing of the Nephite Twelve with their Pentecost of the Spirit and fire. In the Gospels and Acts, these events in the lives of the Jerusalem Apostles are separated by many chapters because in the Gospels the original Twelve are used as object lessons or straight men during the teaching period of Jesus' ministry, often in order to warn the reader about the seductions and abuses of power in the church hierarchy (compare, e.g., Mark 9:33-35; 10:35-37, 41; 1 Corinthians 1:11-12; 12:21-25). And this is inevitably the sort of argument made by those who do not currently wield power and aimed at those who do. By eliminating this material, with its frequent embarrassments to the disciples (that is, by having nothing analogous, nothing with Nephite disciples as the butt of the story), Joseph Smith gives an unambiguously positive portrait of the New Twelve. On the one hand, he has implicitly removed the Gospel's critique of power (such as Smith himself would come to wield), and on the other he has made the New World Twelve to appear superior to their Jerusalem predecessors. Mormon Christianity is thus not merely a return to or restoration of the primitive church: it is an improvement on the original, and we will presently see another sign pointing in the same direction.
If the Spirit-baptism of the Nephite Twelve recalls both the infilling of the seventy elders of Israel with the Spirit Moses had and the anointing of Elisha with the wonder-working spirit of Elijah, then we find ourselves in the position to understand the 3 Nephi motif of Jesus asking the New Twelve, just before he ascends for good, what request they would make of him (3 Nephi 28:1). We do not find such a scene in any of the Gospels (except, perhaps, for a garbled echo in Mark 10:35ff), but we do find it in the analogous scene of dialogue between Elijah and Elisha just before the former ascends into heaven: "Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you" (2 Kings 2:9). What we are suggesting is that Joseph Smith was quite sensitive to the implicit connections between the sources of the Pentecost narrative upon which he based the Spirit-baptism scene of the Nephite Twelve, and that he used the various original motifs in a new combination to construct his own new episode. He based it on the choosing of the Twelve in Galilee and on the Spirit-baptism of the 120 in Jerusalem on Pentecost, seeing that these passages were in turn dependent on the two Pentateuchal accounts of the ordination of the Seventy as well as the story of the ascension of Elijah.
Joseph Smith further reinforced the greater spiritual quality of the New Twelve (= the new religion) over the old by combining the thrice-repeated Gethsemane prayer in the Synoptics with the so-called High Priestly Prayer of John chapter 17. Here (3 Nephi 19:19-35), Jesus prays in serenity, as seems becoming to the Son of God, not in the indecorous tones of an agitated death row convict as he does in the Synoptic Gethsemane. (John likewise rewrote the scene in John 12:27-30.) And yet, as in the Synoptic Gethsemane, Jesus prays at a distance from them and subsequently returns thrice to his waiting disciples. In the Synoptics Jesus finds the disciples asleep each time he returns to them, and we are to understand that they have somehow missed an opportunity to aid him, perhaps to save him from an untimely death. But in 3 Nephi, the New Twelve are made of sterner stuff than the old. Jesus finds them fervently watching and praying. Once again, the New American Christians imagine themselves superior in devotion to the original disciples and the religion represented by them. They are Elisha to mainstream American Protestantism's Elijah.
We have noted that the element of tension between the martyr Jesus and the triumphant demigod Jesus in the Gospels arose as a result of early Christians coping with the non-appearance of the awaited second advent by essentially retelling the first coming as if it were already the second, already the coming in divine glory. It was that hindsight reinterpretation that provided the basis for the Book of Mormon's triumphalist Christology. But we are not finished with the New Testament writers' attempts to deal with the anxieties of the delayed Parousia of Christ. Let us consider briefly the three most important New Testament attempts to rationalize the failure of the promise of Jesus made in Mark 9:1 (8:44 in the Inspired Version), "Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." This was a dangerous statement, one open to clear and embarrassing disconfirmation. What happened when years went by and all those with Jesus were sound asleep in their graves, like Abraham, not having received what was promised, though espying it, as Moses did the Promised Land, from afar (Hebrews 11:13)? Quite a bit of jeering, like that the Emmaus disciples no doubt expected from their neighbors once they got home! Scoffers began to mock, saying, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers [the first generation of disciples] fell asleep, all things continue on as they have since the beginning of time" (2 Peter [another pseudepigraph, see below] 3:4).
But Christians had their answers ready (1 Peter 3:15), though we might wonder how convincing they sounded to anyone else. 2 Peter's answer is to say that, even though there has been a delay, it is a good thing, not a bad one, since it means God has extended the deadline for repentance (3:9). Such straw-grabbing transformations of necessity into virtue are typical among end-of-the-world movements whose deadlines pass.42 Mark's own attempt to sidetrack criticism aimed the failure of the promise in 9:1 was his placement, immediately following, of the Transfiguration story (9:2-8). Mark seems to want to lead the reader to accept the Transfiguration (where Jesus appears already as we imagine him in heaven, conversing with his Old Testament colleagues Moses and Elijah) as a kind of proleptic, anticipatory coming of the kingdom of God. Yet this can scarcely have been the original point of the troublesome prediction. Having forgotten the original apocalyptic meaning of the phrase "kingdom of God" as a future time, Mark sees the term, as centuries of subsequent Christians have done, as denoting a place far removed from us,43 but of which one might have a vision, like Moses did atop Sinai. This would explain why Jesus takes with him only Peter, James and John: Mark had to adjust the Transfiguration scene to accommodate it to Jesus having said that only "some" of those standing with him would see the vision before they died. Mark's intent was to reinterpret the promise of the second coming as referring to something secretly happening in the generation of Jesus. (Thus also: "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?" John 14:22.) The event was not generally known, Mark implies, because, at the time, only a few saw it and were then sworn to secrecy (Mark 9: 9). In passing, it is worth noting that, of all the miracles 2 Peter might have attested, he chooses the Transfiguration (1:16-19) and then makes it somehow a confirmation of "the prophecy"--that of Jesus in Mark 9:1?
We find in John 21, a later appendix to that Gospel (see the original conclusion at the end of chapter 20), a related attempt to explain away the albatross promise. It appears that, by the time the Gospel of John was written, of all the Twelve, only the unnamed "Beloved Disciple" (traditionally identified with John the son of Zebedee)44 was left alive, but that soon after, he, too, gave up the ghost. This occasioned a crisis, as that disciple had been the last ray of hope that the second advent of Christ might come soon. With him dead, the scoffing began in earnest. The response of "the community of the Beloved Disciple"45 was to append a new chapter to their Gospel, containing the famous scene where Jesus tells Peter to mind his own business, that, for all he needs to know about the Beloved Disciple's eventual fate, that disciple might as well be granted to survive to the second coming. (The same point is made, i.e., to provide for the delay of the second coming, in Acts 1:6-8). The original promise as we read it in Mark 9:1 was made to "some," but in John 21 it has shrunk to apply to the only remaining disciple. (Similarly, we might wonder if Mark 13:30 preserves a still earlier version, where the whole generation was expected to behold the Parousia, and that Mark 9:1 is already a later narrowing of scope to accommodate the death of the greater part of Jesus' contemporaries.)
The far-fetched apologetical argument in John 21:23, is that, technically, Jesus didn't say that the Beloved Disciple would live till the Parousia, only that, hypothetically, he might. Like Matthew's attempt to disarm the scoffing of opponents on another front (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:4, 11-15), we may wonder if this rebuttal produced less skepticism or more. At any rate, we are going to find both Mark's and John's attempts to explain away the failure of the Parousia reflected in our 3 Nephi passage. There Joseph Smith has ingeniously utilized both underlying passages in the service of a radically new way of dealing with the problem, one that in the 1820s had become all the more serious.
Apocalypse and Apologia
First, in 3 Nephi 19, we find clear borrowings from the Synoptic Transfiguration narratives (there being none in John's Gospel, since there Jesus is practically transfigured from page one):46 "And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto him; and his countenance did smile upon them, and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus; and behold the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness, yea, even there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof" (3 Nephi 19:25). In verses 31-34 we learn that Jesus went on to pray to the Father in glossolalic utterances beyond the capacity of mere humans to relate or record. It is a moment of epiphany like that of Paul, swept up to the Third Heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. The same set of elements recurs later on in the sequel to this scene, in 3 Nephi 28. Jesus, in a last dialogue with the Nephite Apostles before his final ascension (the whole scene being strikingly reminiscent of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic text, the Apocryphon, or Secret Book, of James, also a dialogue after Jesus had ascended from the Mount of Olives and returned, and before he is to reascend for good, just as in 3 Nephi), bids each one make whatever request he wishes. Nine of them make the unspectacular request that, when, as old men, their labors in the gospel are over, they may leave the world behind to join their Lord in Heaven. (What had they expected otherwise?) That artificial-sounding request reveals its point only once Jesus asks the same question of the last three disciples. They remain coyly silent until Jesus draws them out, whereupon they admit that, like the compassionate Bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism who defer their own well-earned Nirvana to labor on for the good of others, they would prefer to remain alive in the flesh to spread the gospel till the end of the age. To depart and be with Christ would be good, but to continue on for the sake of the churches is better (Philippians 1:23-25).
Jesus happily grants their request, and to equip them for their long career, he transfigures them so their bodies will neither age and die nor succumb to attempts to martyr them. Therefore, that they might not taste of death there was a change wrought upon their bodies, that they might not suffer pain nor sorrow save it were for the sins of the world" (v. 38). And then the narrator takes the reader on a proleptic survey of the vicissitudes they will endure, thanks to this divine empowerment. Most of these are derived from Paul's catalogue of apostolic sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33,47 a passage adjacent to that of Paul's heavenly journey, which we have seen that Joseph Smith used in composing the scene in 3 Nephi chapter 19, where Jesus speaks revelations that man may not utter. The same source is used again here in 3 Nephi 28, since the Nephite disciples are made to share the Pauline rapture and to hear the unutterable secrets spoken in the tongues of angels (cf. The Testament of Job, XLVIII-L, where Job's daughters are overcome with heavenly rapture and speak with the tongues of angels. There, too, we are told that the utmost revelations received upon that occasion have been discretely left unrecorded (LI:4)). In short, what happened to Jesus himself in chapter 19 now happens to them in chapter 28. When one adds the note that they will suffer, if at all, to atone for sins (!), all becomes clear: the Three Nephites are veritable vicars of Christ on earth. (And again we are strikingly reminded of the Apocryphon of James, where Jesus, about to ascend, challenges the disciples to become like him, even to ascend into heaven like him, even to get there before him!)48
Second, the request of the three Nephite Bodhisattvas is also more than a little reminiscent of another revelation vouchsafed to Joseph Smith, that recorded in Chapter VI of A Book of Commandments (1833). Not only is the stylistic similarity of the resultant Gospel-like narrative to the text of the Book of Mormon quite revealing, implying that the Book of Mormon originated in the same fashion as the narrative of A Book of Commandments VI:1-3; the content forms a strikingly close parallel to the story of the Three Nephites in 3 Nephi 28: "And the Lord said unto me: 'John, my beloved [note that Smith makes explicit the traditional guess that the Beloved Disciple was John son of Zebedee], what desirest thou?' and I said 'Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may bring souls unto thee.' And the Lord said unto me: 'Verily, verily I say unto thee, because thou desirest this, thou shalt tarry till I come in my glory." And for this cause, the Lord said unto Peter: 'If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? For he desiredst of me that he might bring souls unto me; but thou desiredst that thou mightest speedily come unto me in my kingdom. I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has undertaken a greater work. Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye desired."
Here are all the basic elements of 3 Nephi 28: Jesus invites the disciples to make any request of him before he ascends. In verse 2's implied flashback we learn that he had already elicited and granted Peter's request, which involved ministering for Christ till he died, then going straight to the heavenly kingdom, precisely as the first nine Nephite disciples asked in 3 Nephi 28:2, "We desire... that we may speedily come unto thee in thy kingdom." Thus there is exactly the same contrast between Peter on the one hand and John on the other as we see in the case of the nine Nephite disciples and the last three, almost word for word.
Given the fact that John son of Zebedee is paralleled with the Three Nephites, one wonders if the Nephite trio was not perhaps suggested in the first place by John's having been one of the three Pillars (Galatians 2:9) along with James and Peter.49 The implied parallel becomes explicit in a subsequent redaction of the Book of Commandments passage two years later in Doctrines and Covenants 7, where Joseph Smith first seems to grant Peter's request for a speedy entrance to his kingdom, but then instead assigns him and James son of Zebedee to assist John in his age-long evangelistic mission. The fact that the first promise to Peter has not been erased and replaced, but only supplemented and retracted by means of adding new text is a classic example of what Gospel critics call a "redactional seam," a tell-tale sign of secondary embellishment. But why should Joseph Smith not simply have rewritten the text, omitting the initial granting of Peter's wish, thus avoiding the confusion that now besets the passage? Because the text of A Book of Commandments VI was already too familiar to a wide and eager readership for part of it to be omitted. After all, neither jot nor tittle might pass from the text of scripture! But who would complain about more inspired prose? Thus the strategy of doubling back.
Apparently the reason for the secondary expansion was that the Prophet Smith wanted to provide "biblical" precedent for a new administrative arrangement whereby he as the First President would be assisted by two cousellors, a triumvirate pattern also replicated on the lower levels of bishopric and stake president. Not accidentally, this innovation coincided in date with the redaction of the Book of Commandments VI episode. So John, James, and Peter are now made, in effect, to constitute an apostolic "First Presidency" by direct order of Jesus. In all this, Joseph Smith was again following in the tradition of the biblical writers, as when the writers of Exodus 18 and Numbers 11 ascribed to Moses the pedigree for their own councils of elders.
Another fascinating development introduced in the Doctrines and Covenants 7 redaction of Book of Commandments VI, draws the parallel between John and the Three Nephites even closer. Like the Three Nephites, John is miraculously transfigured to make his superhuman longevity possible. The transfiguration is closely reminiscent of the transfiguration of the Patriarch Enoch into the fiery form of the angel Metatron, the Lesser Yahve, in the Hekhaloth apocalypse 3 Enoch. Enoch, like John, was the especial beloved of God (Genesis 5:24). Thus the same honor is granted to both, just as in early Christian Adoptionist Christology it was Jesus himself, having proved his worth as a servant of God, who was transfigured and taken up to reign alongside of God (see Shepherd of Hermas, Similitude 5, 6:1-8).
What new manuscript evidence had come to light for Smith to make these expansion? The passage as it appeared in Book of Commandments VI was said to have been "translated from parchment" in April 1829. Had some new manuscript pages surfaced in the meantime? A different recension, perhaps, with more text? No, for the introduction to Doctrines and Covenants 7 still places the revelation/translation in April, 1829, the same occasion. This is important data for understanding Smith's prophetic methodology. 50 As already suggested for the composition of the Book of Mormon, we can see that for Joseph Smith to "translate" an ancient text could not possibly have meant rendering a text written in one language, phrase by phrase, into another. Again, the "parchment" Smith used was the "arche-writing" of the subconscious (Jacques Derrida).
Surely it is it no accident that in 3 Nephi 19 and 28, Book of Commandments VI, and Doctrines and Covenants 7 Joseph Smith has taken up elements from the Synoptic Transfiguration as well as from the dialogue between Jesus and Peter over the eventual fate of John, and worked them together into two parallel narratives in which John in one case and the Three Nephites in the other are transfigured to remain upon the earth till the second coming in order to preach the gospel. The effect of the singular juxtaposition and recombination of these various elements is to come up with a completely new explanation of the delay of the Parousia. You will recall that Mark's strategy was to reinterpret "seeing the kingdom of God come with power" as a reference not to the end of the age, but rather to the Transfiguration, something else that could have been seen before the death, already in the past in Mark's day, of the last of the disciples. John's strategy was quite different: he tried to escape the terrible embarrassment by saying that everyone had stupidly misinterpreted, not the character of the predicted Eschaton (the second coming of Jesus) as in Mark, but rather the role of the Beloved Disciple in that scenario. The disappointed Millerites of the nineteenth century used pretty much the Johannine rationalization (William Miller must have misinterpreted Daniel's prophecy of the judgment to come by March 21, 1844), while Jehovah's Witness preferred the Markan strategy when their own date for the second advent passed, reinterpreting it as something that had (invisibly) taken place.
But Smith's solution? He rejected the assumption, common to Mark and John, that the kingdom of God as predicted by Jesus was supposed to come before the normal life spans of the disciples would have been over. John 21:22 would never have created the crisis implied by the narrator's desperate reinterpretation unless the saying, like the promise in Mark 9:1, had been universally taken to presuppose a normal life span for the disciples. But when in Mormon Scripture Jesus grants the requests of the Three Nephites and of John for eternal life in the flesh, he supposes nothing else than the long continuance of the world beyond Apostolic times. Smith's bold version may justly be ranked as equally or more desperate than the reinterpretations of Mark 9 and John 21, but it is no less brilliant for that.
Essentially Joseph Smith makes these four characters assume the role of the Wandering Jew.51 This Passion legend, cut from the same pious cloth as the tales of St. Veronica and of Longinus the blind centurion at the cross, depicts a Jew in the crowd along the Via Dolorosa who reviles Jesus in his lowest moment and is cursed by Jesus to "Tarry till I come again." He walks wearily through the world seeing sorrow upon sorrow, never to be released from this tiresome penance till the trump of Gabriel should sound. Probably intended as an allegory justifying the tribulations of Jews through the centuries, the legend in all of its many forms obviously presupposes that the bitter exchange between Jesus and the Jew occurred in the distant past; thus, the motif cannot possibly have been an early one. Even so, Joseph Smith's application of the same motif to John and the Three Nephites reveals itself to be no tradition from the era of Jesus but rather a late apologetical attempt to root out a problem that could not otherwise be solved except by rewriting the story.
And, finally, it is perhaps not right to say Smith's version has the world continue far beyond the limits of the Apostolic Era. It would be closer to the truth to say that, by elongating the lives and apostolic ministries of John and the Three Nephites, Smith is extending the Apostolic Age up to and including our own time! The Apostles turn out to be our contemporaries in the literal sense! New chapters continue to be added to the Acts of the Apostles, so to speak, in our own day. And (need we add?) that is exactly the point of Joseph Smith producing a new "ancient" scripture in his own day to be added onto the canon.52 Joseph Smith himself was that Nephi unto whom Jesus spoke one day, saying, "Behold, other scriptures I would that ye should write, that ye have not... How be it that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them?" (3 Nephi 23:6, 11). "And now it came to pass that Jesus commanded that it should be written; therefore it was written according as he commanded" (3 Nephi 23:13). And it was called the Book of Mormon, with none other than Joseph Smith for its inspired author.
1. Norman Golb, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Search for the Secret of Qumran. New York: Scribners, 1995, 382-385.
2. Traditionally, scholars have taken for granted that the Dead Sea Scrolls were the product of Essene scribes living in a monastery at Qumran. Though Norman Golb has cast serious, even damning doubt on this assumption, many scholars who depart from the traditional consensus at other points cling to the notion of an Essene monastery at Qumran. John J. Collins (The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Ancient Literature. New York: Doubleday, 1995) maintains substantially the traditional Essene view, while Robert Eisenman, who identifies the Scrolls' Teacher of Righteousness with Jesus' brother James the Just, the Wicked Priest with Annas, and the Spouter of Liars as Paul (Eisenman and Michael Wise (trans.) The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered. Rockport: Element, 1992; Eisenman, Maccabees, Zadokites, Christians and Qumran: A New Hypothesis of Qumran Origins. Studia Post-Biblica XXXIV. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1983; James the Just in the Habakkuk Pesher. Studia Post-Biblica XXXV. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986; Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception. Simon and Schuster, 1993) and Barbara Thiering, who identifies the Wicked Priest as Jesus and the Teacher of Righteousness as John the Baptist (The Gospels and Qumran: A New Hypothesis. Australian and New Zealand Studies in Theology and Religion. Sydney: Theological Explorations, 1981; The Qumran Origins of the Christian Church. Australian and New Zealand Studies in Theology and Religion. Sydney: Theological Explorations, 1983; Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Unlocking the Secrets of his Life Story. New York: HarperCollins, 1992; Jesus of the Apocalypse: The Life of Jesus After the Crucifixion. New York: Doubleday, 1995), all agree that Qumran was a monastery.
3. Kurt Rudolf, Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism. Trans: Robert McLachlan Wilson. New York: Harper & Row, 1983, 43.
4. Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.
5. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology. Trans: Gayatri Chakrvorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978, Part II, chapters 1 and 2, 101-164.
6. Lama Anagarika Govinda, "Introductory Foreword" to W.Y. Evans-Wentz (ed.) The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Or The After-Death Experiences on the Bardo Plane, according to Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup's English Rendering. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978, liv.-lv.
7. Willaim Nelson, Fact or Fiction: The Dilemma of the Renaissance Storyteller. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973.
8. Hans Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Ninetennth Century Hermeneutics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977; George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984; William C. Placher, Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation. Louisville: Westminster/JohnKnox, 1989.
9. Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Garden City: Doubleday Anchor, 1967, 25.
10. Rudolf Bultmann, "New Testament and Mythology," in Hans Werner Bartsch, ed., Kerygma and Myth. Trans: Reginald H. Fuller. New York: Harper & Row, 1961, 5.
11. Paul D. Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic: The Historical and Sociological Roots of Jewish Apocalyptic Eschatology. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975, 252.
12. D.S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic 200BC-AD 100. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964, 127-139; John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to the Jewish Matrix of Christianity. New York: Crossroad, 1989, 30-31.
13. Frank Kermode, The Art of Telling: Essays on Fiction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983, chapter 8, "Institutional Control of Interpretation," 168-184; James Barr, The Bible in the Modern World. New York: Harper & Row, 1973, chapter IX, "Limitation and Selection," 150-167.
14. Walter J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals: The Charismatic Movement in the Churches. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1973, 31-32 ("It was now realized that the recently formed Assemblies of God would have to take action against the innovators ["Jesus Only" or "Oneness" believers], as vigorously as the Methodists, Baptists and Holiness denominations had acted against themselves [the Pentecostals] ten years previously."); David Reed, "Aspects of the Origins of Oneness Pentecostalism," in Vinson Sinan (ed.), Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins. Plainfield: Logos International, 1975, 143-168.
15. See Clark H. Pinnock, Biblical Revelation: The Foundation of Christian Theology. Chicago: Moody Press, 1976, 94: "Critical theories which propose deceitful literary forms and historical blunders do indeed manifest belief in the humanity of Scripture, but explicitly repudiate its divine authorship."
16. Gordon H. Fraser, What Does the Book of Mormon Teach? An Examination of the Historical and Scientific Statements of the Book of Mormon. Chicago: Moody Press, 1964.
17. William J. Samarin, Tongues of Men and Angels: The Religious Language of Pentecostalism. New York: Macmillan, 1972; Eugene A. Nida, Glossolalia: A Case of Pseudo-Linguistic Stucture, cited in John P. Kildahl, The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues. New York: Harper & Row, 1972, 47; Felitias D. Goodman, Speaking in Tongues: A Cross-Cultural Study of Glossolalia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972, 99-125.
18. Martin Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel. Trans: Bertram Lee Woolf. New York: Scribner's, nd; Rudolf Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition. Trans: John Marsh. New York: Harper & Row, 1972; Vincent Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition. London: Macmillan, 1957; Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus. Trans: S.H. Hooke. New York: Harper & Row, 1954, 2nd ed. 1972; Reginald H. Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives. New York: Macmillan, 1971.
19. Charles H. Talbert, What is a Gospel? The Genre of the Canonical Gospels. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977; Philip L. Shuler, A Genre for the Gospels: The Biographical Character of Matthew. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982; Richard A. Burridge, What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Sereis, 70. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
20. Richard I. Pervo, Profit with Delight: The Literary Genre of the Acts of the Apostles. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987; Mikeal C. Parsons and Richard I. Pervo, Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993; Richard I. Pervo, "Romancing an Oft-Neglected Stone: The Pastoral Epistles and the Epistolary Novel," Journal of Higher Criticism, Vol. 1, Fall 1994, 25-48.
21. J.C. O'Neil, "Gunkel versus Wellhausen: The Unfinished Task of the religionsgeschichtliche Schule," Journal of Higher Criticism, Vol. 2, no. 2, Fall 1995, 115-121.
22. Hans Conzelmann, The Theology of Saint Luke (originally: "The Middle of Time"). Trans: Geoffrey Buswell. New York: Harper & Row, 1961; Willi Marxsen, Mark the Evangelist: Studies on the Redaction History of the Gospel. Trans. James Boyce, Donald Juel, William Poehlmann, Roy A. Harrisville. New York: Abingdon Press, 1969; Günter Bornkamm, Gerhard Barth, and Heinz Joachim Held, Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew. New Testament Library. Trans: Percy Scott. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969; Joachim Rohde, Rediscovering the Teaching of the Evangelists. Trans: Dorothea M. Barton. New Testament Library. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968; Norman Perrin, What is Redaction Criticism? Guides to Biblical Scholarship. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976.
23. Frank Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979; Robert M. Fowler, Let the Reader Understand: Reader-Response Criticism and the Gospel of Mark. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991; Werner H. Kelber (ed.), The Passion in Mark: Studies on Mark 14-16. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976; Frans Neirynck, Duality in Mark: Contributions to the Study of the Markan Redaction. Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium XXXI. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1972; Mark Allan Powell, What is Narrative Criticism? Guides to Biblical Scholarship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990; Earl Richard, Acts 6:1-8:4: The Author's Method of Composition. SBL Dissertation Series 41. Missoula: Scholars Press, 1978.
24. John Dominic Crossan, The Cross That Spoke: The Origins of the Passion Narratives. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988; Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991, 367-390.
25. Thomas Louis Brodie, "Luke the Literary Interpreter: Luke-Acts as a Systematic Rewriting and Updating of the Elijah-Elisha Narrative in 1 and 2 Kings," Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, 1981, 173-188.
26. Randel Helms, Gospel Fictions. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1988, 21.
27. "What happens when a mystic encounters the holy scriptures of his tradition is briefly this: the sacred text is smelted down and a new dimension is discovered in it. In other words, the sacred text loses its shape and takes on a new one for the mystic... The holiness of the texts resides precisely in their capacity for such metamorphosis." Gershom Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism. Trans: Ralph Manheim. New York: Schocken Books, 1974, 11-12.
28. Isaac Beshevis Singer, Satan in Goray. Trans: Jacob Sloan. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1955, 140.
29. Ibid., 146-147.
30. E.g., Michael D. Goulder, Midrash and Lection in Matthew. London: SPCK, 1974.
31. Dennis Ronald MacDonald, The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983, 17-33.
32. Walter Schmithals, The Office of Apostle in the Early Church. Trans: John E. Steely. New York: Abingdon Press, 1969, 68-70.
33. Charles H. Talbert, Luke and the Gnostics: An Examination of the Lucan Purpose. New York: Abingdon Press, 1966, chapter 1, "The Authentic Witness," 17-32.
34. Theodore J. Weeden, Mark: Traditions in Conflict. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971.
35. Dieter Giorgi, The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians. Trans: Harold Attridge, Isabel and Thomas Best, Bernadette Brooten, Ron Cameron, Frank Fallon, Stephen Gero, Renate Rose, Herman Waetjen, Michael Williams. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986.
36. William Wrede, The Messianic Secret. Trans: J.C.G. Greig. The Library of Theological Translations. Greenwood: Attic Press, 1971.
37. Ernst Käsemann calls this a "naive docetism" on John's part. The Testament of Jesus: A Study of the Gospel of John in Light of Chapter 17. Trans: Gerhard Krodel. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978, 26.
38. James M. Robinson, "On the Gattung of Mark (and John)," in Donald G. Miller (ed.), Jesus and Man's Hope. A Perspective Book. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, 1970, 99-130. Robinson demonstrates the currency in early Christian Gospels of the tendency to superimpose a later, post-Easter period of plain revelation of Christian doctrines onto the earlier, pre-Easter period of enigmas and parables, resulting in the obscuring of that pre-Easter stage as well as any difference between the two periods.
39. Arthur Edward Waite, The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal: Its Legends and Symbolism Considered in their Affinity with Certain Mysteries of Initiation and other Traces of a Secret Tradition in Chrisitan Times. London: Rebman Limited, 1909, Book VII, "The Holy Graal in the Light of the Celtic Church," 433-461; Lionel Smithett Lewis, St. Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury: or The Apostolic Church of Britain London: James Clarke & Co. LTD, 1964; R.W. Morgan, St. Paul in Britain; Or, The Origin of British as Opposed to Papal Christianity. London: Covenant Publishing Co. LTD, 1925.
40. J.H. Allen, Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright: An Analysis of the Prophecies of the Scriptures in Regard to the Royal Family of Judah and the Many Nations of Israel, the Ten Lost Tribes. Merrimac: Destiny Publishers, 1917; H.L. Goudge, The British Israel Theory. New York: Morehouse-Gorham Co., 1943.
41. Michael Barkun, Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994; J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America. Revised and Updated Edition. Garland Reference Library of Social Science (Vol. 797). Religious Information Systems Series, Vol. 7. New York: Garland Publishing, 1992, "The Identity Movement," 68-80; William L. Ingram, "God and Race: British Israelism and Christian Identity" in Timothy Miller (ed.), America's Alternative Religions. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995, 119-126.
42. Leon Festinger, Henry W. Rieken, Stanley Schachter, When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World. New York: Harper & Row, 1964, chapter I, "Unfulfilled Prophecies and Disappointed Messiahs," 3-32.
43. Johannes Weiss, Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Trans: Richard H. Hiers and D. Larrimore Holland. Lives of Jesus Series. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971; Rudolf Otto, The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man: A Study in the History of Religion. Boston: Starr King Press, 1938, 2nd ed. 1943, rpt. 1951.
44. R. Alan Culpepper, John the Son of Zebedee: The Life of a Legend. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994; James H. Charlesworth, The Beloved Disciple: Whose Witness Validates the Gospel of John? Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1995.
45. Raymond E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple: The Life, Loves, and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times. New York: Paulist Press, 1979.
46. Käsemann, Testament of Jesus, chapter II, "The Glory of Christ," 4-26.
47. Here, too, we find Smith's eagle-eye at work. As Darrell J. Doughty has only recently pointed out, the list of Pauline sufferings, far from contrasting with Acts' depiction of Paul as an always-triumphant "divine man" (as Ernst Hänchen and Philipp Vielhauer contend), seems to presuppose precisely such a "Pauline legend." Joseph Smith could see this with no trouble, as is implied when he ascribes the same resume of martyr-sufferings to the Three Nephites who endure it all only by virtue of having superhuman transfigured bodies!
48. The frequent parallels between specific Book of Mormon texts and various Jewish and Gnostic Christian pseudepigrapha call for a much more extensive study than is possible even to begin here.
49. Roman Catholic exegetes have traditionally identified James the Just with James the son of Zebedee, while Protestants have identified James the Just as the brother of Jesus, distinguishing James the son of Zebedee as another person altogether. On the Protestant reading, James the brother of Jesus becomes one of the three Pillars without having been numbered among the disciples of Jesus.
50. I owe the Book of Commandments reference, as well as the implications of the redaction of the passage in Doctrines and Covenants, to Brent Metcalfe.
51. George K. Anderson, The Legend of the Wandering Jew. Hanover: Brown University Press; University Press of New England, 1965, 101-102, identifies the Three Nephites as variants of the Wandering Jew, but says nothing of the application of the same motif to John in Doctrines and Covenants 7.
52. 2 Peter is itself a pseudepigraph closely analogous to the Book of Mormon in that it tries to extend the echoes of the Apostolic Age into its readers' time, somewhere in the mid-second century. It invokes Peter to address new problems which have arisen since "the fathers fell asleep," including Peter himself! What would Peter have said? Someone who thought he knew penned a letter with Peter's name attached to it so as to authoritatively settle the points at issue.
Robert M Price
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