Biblical Scholarship Supports 

Book of Mormon Authorship

The Nephi Project

November 2000, Bear River City, Utah

Copyright ©   2000 Nephi Project. All rights reserved

By George D. Potter

Today Documentary Hypothesis or Higher Criticism is the methodology used by scholars at the world’s leading universities as well as most Jewish and Christian seminaries.  The line of scholarship sets aside dogmatic assumptions about the authorship of the Bible, and looks to linguistics, archaeology, history and other disciplines to decipher the authorship of the scriptures. 

The Documentary Hypothesis school of biblical inquiry needed a millennium to finally be accepted by scholars as the prevailing theory on the origins of the Five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch.  Prior to 1830, the date of the first edition of the Book of Mormon, scholars supporting this line of reasoning were persecuted.  One such notable scholar,  Benedict Spinoza, wrote in his Tractaus theologico-politicus (1670 A.D.  “It is …clearer than the sun at noon that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but by someone who lived long after Moses.[i]

Under its hypothetical framework, biblical scholars have amassed substantial evidence that neither Moses, nor any one man, was the author of the Pentateuch.   The body of evidence for this conclusion includes a pattern of doublets (multiple accounts of the same events), events transpiring after the time of Moses that he could not have known about, contradictions in the reporting of the same events, writing styles indicative of a later period, and considerable historical evidence supporting the motives of the authors at the alleged time and place in which the hypothesis holds the books were written.   Although LDS Church leaders have generally criticized Documentary Hypothesis[ii], others have taken a tolerant view.   J. Reuben Clark, Jr., wrote:

I am not really concerned, and no man of faith should be, about the exact authorship of the books of the Bible. More than one Prophet may well have written parts of books now collected under one heading. I do not know. If so, what of it? Shakespeare's literature is neither lost nor dimmed because Bacon may have written it[iii]

According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism the LDS Church “has taken no official stand concerning the collection and transmission of these legal texts in the Pentateuch.

Why use a controversial hypothesis to test Book of Mormon authorship?  First, it is for that very reason.  Being generally rejected by most Book of Mormon scholars, Documentary Hypothesis evidence provides a more unbiased test than is usually offered by Book of Mormon scholars. 

Second, the evidence compiled by Documentary Hypothesis represents an enormous body of biblical inquiry.  Using the inferences of the Documentary Hypothesis to test Book of Mormon authorship stacks the sacred record’s claim against the finest in current biblical scholarship. 

Third, proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis have focused their Pentateuch research on a place and period relevant to the origins of Book of Mormon; Palestine between the time the tribes of Israel were divided into two kingdoms in 922 B.C. and the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.  This was the era in which they believe that at least four versions of the Books of Moses were written, and initially edited into one text.   Sjodahl uses the second verse in the Book of Mormon to explain why this is important when trying to tie the initial authors of the Book of Mormon to this ancient world.

It is certain that, if this verse had been penned by a modern impostor, he would have written, not "the language of my father," but "Hebrew," because that is the term now always used to denote the language spoken and recorded by the Jews at the time of Lehi. But Nephi did not know it under that name. The expression used is, therefore, unmistakable evidence of the genuiness of the book.[iv]

 

Still, this author has several reservations in using the Documentary Hypothesis evidence to test Book of Mormon authorship.  First, there is no one Higher Criticism hypothesis or accepted summary of its findings.  It is a line of biblical research that is worldwide and on-going.  Second, any attempt to reduce the Documentary Hypothesis evidence into a model simple enough to use for comparison to the Book of Mormon authorship claims would be an oversimplification.   Third, it might appear to the reader that the author agrees with the Pentateuch authorship conclusions of Documentary Hypothesis.   I do not.   However, that does not lessen my regard for the quality of their deductive inquiries and empirical research.

To minimize these concerns I have chosen to use a recent third party work to represent the latest Documentary Hypothesis evidence, Richard Elliott Friedman’s book, Who Wrote The Bible?   Friedman is a leading figure in Documentary Hypothesis.[v]  LDS scholar Kevin Christensen calls Friedman’s book  “a popular survey of the evidence for the documentary hypothesis that dominates modern Biblical scholarship.[vi]  Harvard Magazine endorsed the book in this fashion:  “It is an event to have a book as readable and exciting as Who Wrote the Bible?  It has about it the resounding smack of solid truth?”  Friedman writes of his book “I have spoken almost exclusively in terms of the facts themselves – meaning the evidence from the text and from archeology – I took this approach because I wanted this to be a presentation of evidence and conclusions rather than a history of scholarship”[vii].

            If the finest biblical scholarship provides compelling evidence placing the Book of Mormon authors in Palestine by 922 and 587 B.C., it would be naïve to argue that anyone wrote the book in New York in the 1820s.   The Book of Mormon claims its initial author was Nephi.  The young prophet-scribe wrote that his father’s family lived in Jerusalem contemporary with Jeremiah, but fled the city prior to its destruction (587 B.C.).  Before leaving Jerusalem for a promised land, Nephi acquired the brass plates that appear to have served as his family’s theological (1 Nephi 4:15,16; 5:21) and linguistic (1 Nephi 3:19) foundations.   The brass plates contained the genealogy of Nephi’s family that indicated that he was a descendent of Joseph (1 Nephi 5:14), confirming that he was not Jewish, that is, of the tribes that formed the kingdom of Judah after the division of the kingdom after Solomon’s death.   Nephi’s golden plates tell us that he was from the tribe of Manasseh (Alma 10:3), and that his wife was of the tribe of Ephraim[viii]; both tribes that had been part of the kingdom of Israel. 

Nephi acquired the brass plates in Jerusalem, the capital city of the southern kingdom, Judah.  However, Nephi took the plates from the house of a distant relative named Laban, also a descendent of Joseph, thus, the kingdom of Israel.  Of particular interest to this authorship test is that the brass plates contained a version of the Five Books of Moses (1 Nephi 5:11).  Nephi copied verses from the brass plates into his own account for the “learning and the profit of my (his) children” (2 Nephi 4:15).  Since the brass plates were used to preserve the Nephite’s language (1 Nephi 3: 19) and to teach each new generation to read (Mosiah 1:2,3), we can presume that the writing style found on the brass plates was carried on by Nephi’s descendents and became a style that was evident throughout the Book of Mormon.   In this regard, the original authorship style of the Book of Mormon rests with Nephi and to some degree with the scribes who engraved the brass plates.   In summary, the Book of Mormon’s first authors were from tribes that had once formed the kingdom of Israel.  Does biblical scholarship support this  authorship claim? 

Test One:  Multiple Versions of the Pentateuch

A primary premise of Documentary Hypothesis is that there is evidence that many versions of the Books of Moses probably existed during the time the brass plates were written and for certain in Nephi’s time.   Richard Friedman summaries this hypothesis:

There was evidence that the Five Books of Moses had been composed by combining four different source documents into one continuous history.  For working purposes, the four documents were identified by alphabetic symbols.  The document that was associated with the divine name Yahweh/Jehovah was called J.  The document that was identified as referring to the deity as God (the Hebrew, Elohim) was called E.  The third document, by far the largest, including most of the legal sections and concentrating a great deal on matters having to do with priest, and so it was called P.  And the source that was found only in the book of Deuteronomy was called D.[ix] 

What did Nephi see on the brass plates?   J. M. Sjodahl, suggests that “the collection of Laban, known in the Book of Mormon as the Brass Plates, must have been unusually complete, judging from the contents. It must have been a very valuable library”.[x] Fortunately, Nephi provided an itemized accounting of the separate documents contained on the brass, including four sets of scriptures, at least three were Mosaic in nature having prophecies dating back to the beginning plates (1 Nephi 5:11-13).   The evidence of Documentary Hypothesis for versions J E D P correlates remarkably well to what Nephi found on the brass plates.    This author suggest one possible comparison:

1.      Brass plates contain “the five book of Moses” (v. 11) which compares to the combination of versions E J in the Biblical Pentateuch.  The brass plates included the fifth book or version D. (The complete Hexateuch, E J and P blended was not combined until Erza.[xi])

2.      The brass plates contained a record of the Jews from the beginning”  (v.12), compares to version J, the version whose author(s) came from in the kingdom of Judah.

3.      The brass plates set of “prophecies of the holy prophets from the beginning” (v. 13) compares to version E, whose author(s) like Nephi came from the tribes that had formed the kingdom of Israel.

4.      The brass plates record of “many prophecies spoken of by the mouth of Jeremiah” (v. 13) compares with the Book of Jeremiah.

5.      Nephi described no set of plates equivalent to the P or Priestly version.

Whether these comparisons are accurate or not, the conclusion of biblical scholars is that during the period that Nephi lived there were different accounts of the stories from the beginning up to Moses is supported by the Book of Mormon.

Test Two:  Israeli “E” and Jewish “J” Versions of the Books of Moses

This second test is more explicit.  The evidence at the core of Documentary Hypothesis asserts that there were different versions of the Books of Moses used by each of the two kingdoms.  Friedman concludes, “If we separate the Elohim (E) stories from the Yahweh (J) stories, we get a consistent series of clues that the E stories were written by someone concerned with Israel and the J stories by someone concerned with Judah”.[xii]

Does the Book of Mormon support the theory that there existed a separate version of the  Books of Moses for each kingdom?  The answer is clearly, yes, and it distinguished these two records by their tribal origins more any other ancient record.  Nephi and the brass plates had their roots in the kingdom of Israel, the land of the Documentary Hypothesis E version.  The Book of Mormon reads:

“Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins (Joseph (Ephraim/Israel)  v. 4) shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together…(2 Nephi 3:12)

The Book of Mormon goes so far as to explain how a version in the brass plates (presumably an E version of the kingdom of Israel/Joseph) is different from the modern the Bible that is based on the Jewish Torah:

The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many. (1 Nephi 13:23)

Test Three:  Did a version of the Books of Moses exist that could be identified as “prophecies of the holy prophets” (1 Nephi 5:12)

The brass plates set of “prophecies of the holy prophets” is not identified as belonging to another group, i.e. the Jews.  It can be assumed that this record was their tribal version of the Book of Moses, the kingdom of Israel version, the E version.  Does Doctrine Hypothesis support the idea that there existed such a version of the Books of Moses in Nephi’s time.   Friedman writes: “They [E and D] both placed greater emphasis on the role of prophets – which makes sense, given that their heroes included such figures as Moses, Samuel, Ahijah, and later Jeremiah.”[xiii]  Version D is identified as Deuteronomy, which does not cover events from the beginning of time.  However, version E includes the creation and emphasizes the prophets.  Biblical scholars have concluded that version E was written by authors from the kingdom of Israel.  Not only does this support the authorship claims of the Book of Mormon, it explains how the collector Laban, from the same tribes, came to possess the manuscript. 

Again, Nephi explained that the Jewish version differed from the Joseph or Israel versions on the brass plates.  The brass plates contained more  “prophecies” (1 Nephi 13:23); it emphasized the prophets.  Evidence for this argument is found in the Book of Mormon.  Nephi writes of his father recounting prophecies of Joseph of Egypt (2 Nephi 3), presumably from the Israel or E version since, according to Documentary Hypothesis version E gave special treatment to Joseph[xiv].  This prophecy of Joseph’s is not found in the Hebrew Bible.  In summary, Biblical inquiry confirms what Nephi reported 2600 years earlier; there was a version of the Books of Moses that emphasized prophecies.

Test Four: The Name of Deity, E (Elohim) and J (Yahweh/Jehovah)

According to Friedman, “the Elohim group includes the names of all the tribes of Israel.  The group of stories that invoke the name of Yahweh are the stories of: Reuben, Simeon Levi and Judah”[xv].   According to this Documentary Hypothesis conclusion, Nephi, from Israel, would have been expected to have called deity “God” or “Elohim”.   That is, even though he dwelt in Judah, he would have been taught his religious terminology by the priest of Israel, including his father.  However, if Nephi had invoked the name “Jehovah” for deity, he would have used the terminology of Judah, and biblical scholarship would question the authenticity of the Book of Mormon’s authors.   Book of Mormon scholars have applied this technique to the name of Christ to show that the Book of Mormon was written by more than one author.[xvi]  Friedman writes:

The two stories have two different pictures of what happened.  Now, the three investigators noticed that the first version of the creation story always refers to the creator as God – thirty five times.  The second version always refers to him by his name, Yahweh God – eleven times.  The first version never calls him Yahweh; the second version never calls him God.[xvii]

In translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith differentiated “God” and “Jehovah”.  Book of Mormon refers to deity as “God” 1339 times.  The title Jehovah is only found in the Book of Mormon twice, once in a quotation from Isaiah (a prophet from Jerusalem who would have written in the “J” fashion, see 2 Nephi 22:2.), and in the last sentence in the Book of Mormon, where Moroni is clearly referring to Christ, not the Father, as Jehovah (Moroni 10:33,34).  

Test Five: Does the Book of Mormon text contain the predicted bias of an author who is a descendent from the kingdom of Israel during that period?

By itself, the Book of Mormon’s preference for naming deity proves little.  Nephi might have randomly selected his name preference for deity, which was followed by subsequent authors.   However, Documentary Hypothesis scholars argument that specific indicators exist which distinguish E authorship from J authorship, and that when considered together these indicators provide compelling evidence as to the origins of the authors of the Books of Moses.   Friedman explains:

The cumulative, consistent conclusion from all of this evidence, it seems to me, is (1) the early investigators were right about the existence of the two sources, J and E; (2) the person who wrote J was particularly concerned with the kingdom of Judah, and the person who wrote the E was particularly interested in the kingdom of Israel.[xviii]

Does Book of Mormon attest to the bias of a kingdom of Israel (E) scribe or a kingdom of Judah (J) authorship?  For example, a key symbol in the kingdom of Israel was the bronze snake that the Lord had Moses make[xix].  The icon is mentioned in version E and the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 17:41), but does not appear in the J version[xx]. The opposite is true of the ark-of-the-covenant, an important icon for Jerusalem and the temple, and therefore the kingdom of Judah.  The ark is mentioned in the J version[xxi].  It does not appear in the E version or the Book of Mormon. 

Friedman shows that the different versions of the Books of Moses contain a “chain of clues to the identity of their authors”[xxii].  However care should be taken when comparing E and J clues for inclusion or exclusion from the Book of Mormon or the brass plates.  First, we have no list of all the stories on plates of brass or the large plates of Nephi.  Second, inclusion or exclusion of a biblical event in the Book of Mormon is meaningless.  Both kingdoms shared all the biblical stories and the same basic faith.   Only if there exists significant historical evidence showing a pattern, which provides a rational basis for explaining why it is present or is not, can we then conclude that the Book of Mormon authors were from one kingdom or the other.

What pattern would indicate a reliable bias?  Documentary Hypothesis points to the animosity that existed between the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah at that time.  The initial author of the Book of Mormon was familiar with the enmity between the two groups.  In selecting verses from Isaiah to copy onto the small plates, Nephi provides possible clues as to his family’s feeling toward the people of kingdom of Judah.  “Manasseh and Ephraim shall be against Judah” (2 Nephi 19:21) and “Let us (Ephraim, Syria and Remaliah) go up against Judah and vex it.” (2 Nephi 17:5,6) and “Hear ye now, O house of David… The Lord shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah, the king of Assyria.” (1 Nephi 7:17)  

            Friedman provides several iconographic and theo-political preferences that can be used to distinguish the period authors of the two kingdoms.  Here are three:

1.) The Positioning Of Moses And Aaron

Current Documentary Hypothesis thinking suggest that:

E is a source which particularly emphasizes Moses as its hero, much more than J does.  In this story, it is Moses’ intercession with God that saves the people from destruction.  E also especially develops Moses’ personal role in the liberation from slavery, in a way that J does not[xxiii].

 

In the kingdom of Israel version, Moses is a hero, while Aaron is shown in an unfavorable light.  Friedman reasons that the probable writer of the E version was a Levitical priest from Shiloh[xxiv].  The Shiloh priest prided themselves on being descendents of Moses.  The priest in Judah were descendents of Aaron.[xxv]

The name of Moses is recorded 63 times in the Book of Mormon, while Aaron, the first high priest in the Aaronic order is never mentioned.  According to Friedman, the E version of Moses shows “a powerful composition reflecting a special interest, sympathy for the prophet (3 Exodus 3:8), while the J version focus on Jehovah’s role in the liberation” (3 Exodus 3:10)[xxvi]  Here are only a few of the references to Moses in the Book of Mormon: “Let us be strong like unto Moses” (1 Nephi 4:2); for he [Moses] spake unto the waters”  (1 Nephi 4:2); Moses lead them out of bondage” (1 Nephi 17:24); “Moses commanded to do a great work” (1 Nephi 17:26); “he shall be great like unto Moses”(2 Nephi 3:9); and “Moses will I raise up, to deliver my people out of the land of Egypt” (2 Nephi 3:10).  

2) The Covenant

During the period between 922 B.C. and 587 B.C. Palestine was more a land of tribes than nation-states.  No other rivalry was more intense than that between the tribes of Joseph (Manasseh /Ephraim) and Judah.  At the heart of the matter was which tribe had the birthright or covenant with God.  The kingdom of Israel claimed that the birthright was held by the Ephramite kings (1 Kings 11:35-36), while the kingdom of Judah claimed the Davidic covenant wherein God promised the throne to the tribe of Judah (2 Samuel 7:16).   Biblical scholars note that the E version shows the birthright as being given to Joseph’s son Ephraim (Genesis 48:8-20), while the J version has the birthright going to Judah (Genesis 49:8).[xxvii]   The person, Judah, was only mentioned three times in the Book of Mormon, and each time the author is quoting someone citing a biblical source.  That is, the Book of Mormon prophets never use Judah’s name when writing original scripture.[xxviii]  The Book of Mormon mentions his half-brother Joseph 31 times. 

Does Joseph or Judah hold the birthright covenant in the Book of Mormon?  The book does not specify, so it is not possible to determine the author’s position on this matter from the text alone.  The Book of Mormon mentions four times the “promise” the Lord made with Joseph, and provides Joseph a land of inheritance.  These are both indicative of a birthright.[xxix]  However, the book states in six places that the Jews are the covenant people of the Lord. 

According to Documentary Hypothesis the conditionality of the covenant with the Jews is an indicator that the writer had origins in the kingdom of Israel: 

Modern investigators were confused over these insertions about the Davidic covenant.  Sometimes the insertions reiterated this promise that the Davidic kings would rule forever, even if they sinned (2 Samuel 7); but sometimes they seemed to be saying the opposite, that the kings could rule only if they did not sin. (1 Kings 8:25)[xxx]

In some verses, the Book of Mormon suggests that the Jewish covenant was conditional:   “as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel.” (2 Nephi 30:2)  In other places in the book, the covenant appears to be an eternal one waiting for the Jews to be restored to it: 

And behold they shall go unto the unbelieving of the Jews; and for this intent shall they go--that they may be persuaded that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; that the Father may bring about, through his most Beloved, his great and eternal purpose, in restoring the Jews, or all the house of Israel, to the land of their inheritance, which the Lord their God hath given them, unto the fulfilling of his covenant; (Mormon 5:14)

The Jewish covenant in the Book of Mormon is eternal, thus unconditional in the respect that it will not be taken away, yet conditionally applied to each Jew based on his righteousness.   Compare the verses above (Mormon 5:14) with Friedman’s description of the Jewish covenant in Deuteronomy:

The Davidic covenant, therefore, became a promise only that the throne was eternally available to David’s family.  Even if it was unoccupied at the present, there was always the possibility that a descendent of David, a messiah, might come someday and rule justly.[xxxi]   

Friedman believes that the author of Deuteronomy came from the kingdom of Israel and was connected to the authors of the E version[xxxii].   He summarizes the author’s beliefs as having:

…pictured  the covenant promise to David to be partly conditional and partly unconditional.  The throne of Judah in Jerusalem was unconditional.  It was to belong to David’s descendents forever.  But the throne of all Israel was to belong to them only if they were worthy.[xxxiii]

The Deuteronomy and Book of Mormon doctrine on the Davidic covenant are remarkably alike, but in opposition to the J version’s definition of the covenant.  To the kingdom of Judah authors, it was unconditional. 

3. ) The Prohibition of Idols   

The E and J versions differ on the commandment that forbids idols.  The kingdom of Judah’s J version prohibited only molten images which biblical scholars see as targeting King Jeroboam’s molten gold calves or the Bull-EL that marked the two holy sanctuaries of the kingdom of Israel.  On the other hand, the E version denounces both graven and molten images, including the graven golden cherubs[xxxiv] in the temple in Jerusalem.  The law, as found in the Book of Mormon, agrees with the E version; it prohibits both graven and molten images. (see Mosiah 13:13 and 1 Nephi 20:22)  Nephi seems to confirm this principle when he inscribed in his record the words of Isaiah “Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria (Ephraim) and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and to her idols?” (2 Nephi 20:11).

            When compared to the conclusions of biblical research, there seems to be little doubt that the Book of Mormon was written with the bias of the kingdom of Israel author of that period.  Therefore, as the book claims, the authors of the Book of Mormon must have been a product of the faith and traditions of that kingdom.

Test Six:  Were there prophecies “spoke by the word of Jeremiah”

At first glance, this would hardly seem to be a serious test of the Book of Mormon’s authorship.   Every Bible and Torah has the Book of Jeremiah.  The key is that up to a few years ago, it was widely held by scholars that Jeremiah wrote the Book of Jeremiah.   Today Biblical scholars believe Baruch son of Neriyah wrote it.  “Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah: and Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the LORD, which he had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book.” (Jeremiah 36:4)  Friedman writes, “We have an explicit portrayal of his (Jeremiah) dictating prophecies to Baruch, who writes them on a scroll”[xxxv].  The Book of Mormon is consistent with biblical evidence in stating that the brass plates that contained the prophecies of Jeremiah were not written by his hand, but were “spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah” (1 Nephi 5:13).

Test Seven:  Was Lehi a colleague of Jeremiah?

Nephi’s text suggest that his father was a spiritual colleague of the prophet Jeremiah.(1 Nephi 7:14)  How can this be confirmed?  First, Lehi knew which scriptures Jeremiah was quoting (1 Nephi 5:13).  How could Lehi have known this unless he had followed Jeremiah and heard his sermons?  Second, it seems that Nephi and his descendents admired Jeremiah for he is quoted by Book of Mormon prophets over five hundred years after his death (Helaman 8:20).  Third, Lehi knew when Jeremiah was put in prison. (1 Nephi 7:14)      Fourth, Lehi’s message to the Jews seemed to echo Jeremiah’s,  “repent or be destroyed”, and the reaction of the Jews to Lehi’s message was similar to how they treated Jeremiah,  he was mocked (1 Nephi 1:19-20) and they sought to kill him.  (1 Nephi 1:2:13) 

            Since Lehi was from the kingdom of Israel, Documentary Hypothesis thought would reason that he would have had the same religious roots as Jeremiah.  There is some biblical research that suggests that Jeremiah’s message was indeed the same as Lehi’s.  Nephi, Lehi son, spoke of Moses as a great heroic figure, whose example they should follow (1 Nephi 4:2).   Nephi uses the story of the bronze snake when teaching his brothers (1 Nephi 17:41).  The Book of Mormon includes a New World prophet named Samuel, possibly hinting that biblical Samuel’s name appeared on the brass plates and that Old World prophet was held in high esteem by the descendents of Lehi.   According to Documentary Hypothesis evidence, these are direct parallels to what Jeremiah taught.  Friedman believes Jeremiah was a Levite priest from Shiloh, which had been the religious center of the kingdom of Israel.  Jeremiah, like Lehi, was probably a descendent of refugees who came from the kingdom of Israel south to Judah before the fall of their homeland to the Assyrians.  Friedman writes of Jeremiah:

…he is the only prophet to allude to the story of Moses’ bronze snake.  The story of that snake comes from E, the Shiloh source.  King Hezekiah had smashed the snake.  His destruction of an old relic that was associated with Moses himself was probably a blow to the priest of Shiloh.  They were the ones who told its story, they held Moses’ in particular great esteem, and they may have been Moses’ descendents.

…he (Jeremiah) is also the only prophet to refer to Samuel, the priest-prophet-judge who was the greatest figure in Shiloh’s history.  Jeremiah speaks of Samuel alongside Moses as the two great men of the people’s history.[xxxvi]   

However, the most significant evidence that they taught the same message is the treatment of the Davidic covenant.  We already saw how the Book of Mormon doctrine of the conditional yet unconditional doctrine parallels exactly with that of the Book of Deuteronomy.  But what does this have to do with Jeremiah and Lehi?  According the Friedman, all the evidence suggests that Jeremiah dictated to Baruch the accounts of Moses that became the Book of Deuteronomy![xxxvii] 

Test Eight:  Version P:  Did it exist in Nephi’s world?

In my suggested comparisons between Documentary Hypothesis’s four versions of the Books of Moses and the brass plates, I suggested that Version P, the priestly codes and laws, were not on the brass plates.   However, this is not a failed test of the Book of Mormon, rather a compelling argument that its authorship is genuine.  Why?  First, from what Documentary Hypothesis tells us about the content of this version, it would be unlikely that Laban, Nephi or anyone from the kingdom of Israel would have considered it sacred scripture.   Second, although a version P is not explicitly mentioned in the Book of Mormon, there are several verses in the book that hint of version P’s existence. 

Friedman credits P as containing, “a tremendous body of law, covering about thirty chapters of Exodus and Numbers and all the book of Leviticus”[xxxviii].   Are these laws and codes scriptures the kingdom of Israel prophets would have included on the brass plates?  Are the scriptures at all?  There is no body of laws or codes in the Book of Mormon.  According Professor Eduard Reuss version P writings were never mentioned by ancient prophets.[xxxix]  If they were not mentioned by the prophets, why would they have been found on the brass plates?  Certainly, Documentary Hypothesis reasoning would imply that authors from the kingdom of Israel would not have place version P among their sacred records.

            All the same, the Book of Mormon suggests that a doctrine or manuscript was circulating among the Jews at the time of Lehi that included false teachings.  The P version was, according to the Documentary Hypothesis, an invention of the Priests of Judah, it was a rebuttal to versions J E.   Jeremiah was from the E school and from the kingdom of Israel ancestry.   Biblical scholars hold that Jeremiah was extremely critical of version P.  Friedman explains:

Jeremiah knew the Priestly laws and stores.  He did not like them, but he knew them. 

How hostile he was to them can be seen in an extraordinary passage in the book of Jeremiah.  Jeremiah says to the people:

How do you say, “We are wise, and Yahweh’s torah is with us?”  In fact, here, it was made for a lie, the lying pen of scribes.”[xl]

Jeremiah was openly critical of version P.  Why?  Documentary Hypothesis suggests that the Priestly version, P, lessens the importance of the prophets and the Torah, and boosted the need for centralized worship and the priest.  Sacrifices and other rites could only be made through a priest and usually only at a temple.  While E Version emphasized prophets, the entire P version, by far the largest of all the versions, only mentions the prophets once.[xli]  Indeed, Jeremiah’s and Lehi’s failed mission of persuading the Jews to reject version P is what possibly led to the end of the what scholars call “the great age of the prophets”.  This period ended shortly after Jeremiah’s death.[xlii]   One prophet in particular seemed to be trivialized by the P author. It was Joseph of Egypt.  Friedman explains:

The story of Joseph, for example, is about ten chapters long in JE but just a few sentences in P.  We can explain this partly in recognizing that the person who fashioned P rejected the angels, dreams, talking animals, and anthropomorphisms of JE.  And so he eliminated most of the Joseph story, which involves six dreams in the JE version.[xliii] 

Assuming that the Documentary Hypothesis version P existed, Lehi certainly would have been side-by-side with Jeremiah in proclaiming its falsehood.  Lehi’s own revelations came in the form of dream (1 Nephi 2:2, 3:2, 8, 16:9), and a central figure in Lehi’s teachings was the prophet Joseph, the great patriarch of his family. (2 Nephi 3)  Prophets and prophecies was a core belief of Lehi and Nephi.  The reason Nephi was sent to obtain the brass plates was so the family would have a record of the prophecies of the holy prophets. (1 Nephi 3:19-20)  Nephi taught that “by the Spirit are all things made known unto the prophets” (1 Nephi 22:2), and that the words of the prophets were necessary for salvation (2 Nephi 26:6). 

Indeed, the existence a P document, that diminished the prophets is strongly implied in Nephi’s text.  Writing of his father’s mission, Nephi states, “the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out”(1 Nephi 1:20). Later he wrote that,  “Jerusalem must be destroyed, because of the wickedness of the people.  For behold, they have rejected the words of the prophets.” (1 Nephi 3:17-18)   Nephi is not speaking of some past event, but a rejection of the prophets by the current generation in Jerusalem, perhaps those who were following a version P.  He writes: “For behold, the Spirit of the Lord ceaseth soon to strive with them; for behold they have rejected the prophets and Jeremiah have they cast into prison. (1 Nephi 7:14)”

Test Nine: Version D:  How Could Deuteronomy Have Been Part of the Book Of Mormon?

Documentary Hypothesis scholars believe that versions J E were combined into the first four Books of Moses before the P version was written sometime between 722 B.C. and 609 BC[xliv].   Therefore a version of the first four Books of Moses already existed in Nephi’s time.   However, the young prophet identified a set of scripture on the brass plates that contained the Five Books of Moses.  Was that possible in Nephi’s time under the conclusions drawn by modern biblical scholarship?  The Documentary Hypothesis holds that the book of Deuteronomy, version D, was the book found in the Temple in Jerusalem by Hillkiah in 622 B.C.,[xlv] and as Friedman contents it was probably dictated by Jeremiah.  Biblical scholars claim that king Josiah used the book to instigate religious reform throughout his kingdom. [xlvi]  It is reasonable to assume that the wealthy Laban, who associated with the elders of the city of Jerusalem (1Nephi 4:22), would have been in possession of such a religious code and would have had it inscribed on the plates along side the other sacred records.  Laban appears to have been an influential member of the kingdom of Israel refugee community that settled in Jerusalem after the fall of the kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.  The scholars suggest that Jeremiah was a priest from the order of priest that had been at Shiloh in  kingdom of Israel, and was part of the same refugee community as Lehi and Laban.  If Jeremiah dictated Deuteronomy, Laban, undoubtedly had access to it.

The Book of Mormon’s account that Deuteronomy was on the brass plates is in harmony with the evidence of biblical scholarship.  Had Nephi’s claim of having seen the Five Books of Moses occurred just twenty-five years earlier, current biblical evidence could be used to dismiss the Book of Mormon as a fraud.  However, just the opposite is the case.  Nephi left Jerusalem with a copy of the Five Books of Moses before the destruction of Jerusalem by king Nebuchadnezzar.  Documentary Hypothesis evidence would imply that such an assertion could only be true if the initial author of the book left Jerusalem between 622 B.C. (when Deuteronomy was discovered in the temple) and circa 587 B.C. (the date Jerusalem was destroyed).   The Book of Mormon records Nephi leaving Jerusalem circa 597 B.C.  Since biblical scholars have Deuteronomy only being discovered in Jerusalem in 622 B.C., the Book of Mormon’s original author must be placed in or around Jerusalem at the time Nephi claims his family left the city.  The historical evidence on Deuteronomy’s authorship was not known in 1830, yet it mandates that the Book of Mormon’s first author had to have been in Jerusalem at the time he claims to have been. 

In summary, the leading school of biblical scholarship, Documentary Hypothesis, provides compelling linguistic, iconographic and historical evidence that can be used to show that the Book of Mormon’s original authors came from descendents of the kingdom of Israel and that they were intimately aware of the theo-political communities of Jerusalem in 600 B.C.     To have written the text of the Book of Mormon, its initial authors had to have lived in Jerusalem, have descended from the tribes of the kingdom of Israel, and have known first hand the doctrines that were supported and rejected by Jeremiah. 

 

[i] Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote The Bible? (San Francisco: Harper, 1997)  21.

[ii] Two examples are B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, Vol.2, p.23 &47 and Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.3, p.187

[iii] J. Reuben Clark, Jr., On the Way to Immortality and Eternal Life, p.210.

[iv] For example, M. Sjodahl, An Introduction to the Study of the Book of Mormon, p.200

[v] Richard Elliott Friedman is a professor of Hebrew and compartive literature and holds the Katzin Chair of the University of California, San Diego.  He earned his doctorate at Harvard and was a visiting scholar at Oxford and Cambridge.

[vi] Kevin Christensen, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: A Response to David Wright on Historical Criticism, 78.

[vii] Friedman,  161.

[viii] Discourse by Apostle Erastus Snow," at Logan, Utah, May 6, 1882, see Journal of Discourses, vol. 23, pp. 184, 185.

[ix] Friedman, 24.

[x] J. M. Sjodahl, An Introduction to the Study of the Book of Mormon, p.204

[xi] Friedman. 223.

[xii] Ibid. 61.

[xiii] Ibid. 128.

[xiv] Ibid. 65

[xv] Ibid. 63.

[xvi] Mack C. Stirling, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, p.296

[xvii] Ibid. 51.

[xviii] Ibid. 67.

[xix] Ibid. 126.

[xx] Ibid. 253.

[xxi] Ibid. 75.

[xxii] Ibid. 70.

[xxiii] Ibid. 71-72.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid. 80.

[xxvii] Ibid. 63-65.

[xxviii] Lehi quotes the prophet Joseph some an undetermined source (2 Nephi 3:12), presumably the brass plates, and the Lord is quoted citing Malachi (3 Nephi 24:4)

[xxix] See LDS Bible Dictionary, BIRTHRIGHT.

[xxx] Friedman, 133.

[xxxi] Ibid. 143.

[xxxii] Ibid. 129.

[xxxiii] Ibid. 133-134.

[xxxiv] Ibid. 74-76.

[xxxv] Ibid. 147.

[xxxvi] Ibid. 126.

[xxxvii] Ibid. 146-147.

[xxxviii] Ibid. 162.

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] Ibid. 209.

[xli] Ibid. 128.

[xlii] Ibid 156-157.

[xliii] Ibid. 204.

[xliv] Ibid. 210,215.

[xlv] Ibid. 101.

[xlvi] Ibid. 101-102.

 

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