New Approaches to the Book of Mormon
Brent Lee Metcalfe, editor
“In Plain Terms That We May Understand”: Joseph Smith’s Transformation of Hebrews in Alma 12-13
David P. Wright
The most notable literary products of Joseph Smith’s relatively short life were his ancient scriptures: the Book of Mormon, his revision of the Bible (JSR; portions of which are in the Pearl of Great Price), and the Book of Abraham.1 These were put forward as records of ancient peoples, restoring or revealing ideas, histories, covenants, and ordinances lost to humanity or “hidden up” to come forth in the last days. Mormon tradition at the beginning accepted these works as ancient, and today great reservation is shown in traditional circles to suggestions otherwise. Nevertheless, some studies in recent years have been making it clearer that these works are not ancient but recent compositions set pseudonymously or pseudepigraphically in the past.2 In [p.166] my view these studies are on the right track, and in what follows I would like to add to the evidence for this view. Specifically I will show that Alma chapters 12-13, traditionally dated to about 82 B.C., depend in part on the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews, dated by critical scholars to the last third of the first century C.E. The dependence of Alma 12-13 on Hebrews thus constitutes an anachronism and indicates that the chapters are a composition of Joseph Smith.
But I have another purpose in this study which goes beyond this simple auctorial observation and which actually constitutes the major goal here. I am interested more generally in how Joseph Smith used Hebrews in his composition of Alma 12-13: What parts of that epistle did he pick up? How did he represent and transform these elements in the Book of Mormon chapters? What new ideas grew out of his use of the biblical text? What solutions did he give to difficulties that appear in the text of Hebrews? Answers to these questions will tell us something about Smith’s view of the Old and New Testaments and about the development of religious ideas in his life and in early Mormonism. I make these observations my major goal, too, because going beyond observations about authorship to see the creativity in Smith’s use of the biblical material and to observe how the Book of Mormon reflects his life will demonstrate to the religious community that it can learn from, and appreciate its scriptural heritage despite conclusions about, authorship (see the afterword, which follows below). One of the points I hope will be borne out is that Smith is as interesting and religiously relevant when understood to be the author of the Book of Mormon as when he is considered the translator.
I assume Joseph Smith’s authorship in this study in order to speak about how he has used and transformed the biblical text. At certain points in the discussion, however, I will break out of this mode to note pieces of evidence which demonstrate the dependence of Alma 12-13 on Hebrews. When I cite the Bible in English, I will generally use the King James Version (KJV), whose influence is manifested in the chapters of Alma and the Book of Mormon generally. Though modern scholarly translations are clearer, having the idiom of the KJV in mind will facilitate comparisons.3 The Book of Mormon text I use is, despite its failings [p.167] and tentativeness, the FARMS critical text.4 I use this because in most matters it gets us closer to what the original, dictated text was like. It should be noted that there are not differences among this text, the Printer’s Manuscript (P), the first edition (1830), and the current Latter-day Saint edition which affect the conclusions of this paper.
1. Melchizedek, From Mystery to Biography
One of the passages on which Alma 13 relies for its discussion of priesthood is Hebrews 7:1-4. These four verses supply basic information about the priestly personage Melchizedek, which is transformed into a new creation in Alma 13. There common-sense and theological difficulties are resolved, and a midrashic5 biography of Melchizedek is developed.6 I will first lay out the relevant material from Hebrews and then look at what the Book of Mormon does with it.
A major goal of the so-called epistle to the Hebrews is to show how Jesus functioned as a priestly figure, who brought expiation and salvation to believers. In making this argument the work refers several times to Psalm 110:4, “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek,” which it interprets messianically as a promise or declaration about Jesus.7 Jesus has a priesthood like Melchizedek’s. To explain what this priesthood entails, Hebrews paraphrases the story in Genesis 14:18-20 about Melchizedek’s meeting Abraham after the patriarch returned from a battle in which he rescued his nephew Lot. These few verses along with the brief reference in Psalm 110 are the only places in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) which mention Melchizedek, and the writer of Hebrews uses them to full advantage.
Hebrews summarizes the Genesis material, following it almost word for word after reiterating the passage from Psalm 110:4 (at the end of chapter 6). This summary reads: “For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; to whom also Abraham gave a [p.168] tenth part of all …” (Heb. 7:1-2a). This paraphrase repeats all the main points of Genesis 14:18-20 and adds a bit of information from the context of these verses (see the appendix for the texts listed side by side). The only point left unmentioned is Melchizedek’s bringing forth bread and wine.8 This is omitted as apparently unnecessary to Hebrews’s context and argument.
After this reference to scripture, Hebrews elaborates and explains the relevance of the information in the Genesis passage. Though some of this elaboration may depend in some points on traditions about the biblical character Melchizedek available in the writer’s first century environment,9 the construction of the argument which follows seems to be the writer’s own. Hebrews characteristically uses material from the Old Testament to formulate arguments addressing the concerns and questions of the writer’s generation,10 and its argument at 7:1-4 (and the following verses) exemplifies this tendency. The citation and argument are presented to answer questions which have arisen during the author’s period about the nature and function of Jesus’s death.
The first interpretive move of the writer is to give a simple linguistic interpretation of Melchizedek’s name. The name is “first … by interpretation King of righteousness” (Heb. 7:2b). This derives from a possible meaning of the individual elements of the name Melchizedek: malki—meaning “king” and cedeq meaning “righteousness.” The interpretation of the name is followed by an interpretation of the title “King of Salem”: “and after that [secondly] also King of Salem, which is, King of peace” (v. 2c). This is an interpretation of the city name Salem, in Hebrew, çalem, which the author construes as similar in meaning to Hebrew çalom, “peace.” King of Salem is King of Shalom.11 These interpretations are not new with the author; they were [p.169] standard first-century Jewish interpretations of the name and title of Melchizedek.12
After this the writer presents what seems to us an odd explanation about the genealogy of Melchizedek and also a conclusion about his character. Melchizedek being “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually” (7:3). One reason for this description has to do with the lack of information dealing with Melchizedek in the Bible. As I have noted only two places in the Hebrew [p.170] Bible mention him: Psalm 110 and Genesis 14. The Genesis 14 passage presents Melchizedek as a full blown figure. But in contrast to many other notable figures in that book, his genealogical connections are not known. This silence about the family relations of a religiously significant personality in part led the writer of Hebrews—or the tradition upon which the writer depends13—to speculate that Melchizedek lacked ancestry and posterity and was therefore an immortal priest.14
The idea that Melchizedek was an eternal priest may also reflect ideas, some of them found in documents discovered in Qumran, that Melchizedek was a heavenly or angelic figure functioning in an eschatalogical, “last-days” context.15 Another element in the formation of Hebrews’s thought may be Psalm 110:4 itself, where the eternal priesthood of the Davidic priest is being read back onto Melchizedek. What is interesting about Hebrews is that even in view of the extravagance of the writer’s claims about Melchizedek, he is very reserved when compared with other treatments of Melchizedek from approximately the same period.16
Presenting Melchizedek as an eternal priest provided the basis for arguing about the superiority of his priesthood over that of Aaronic priests and with this the superiority of Jesus’s priesthood over the levitical order. The reader may follow this in Hebrews. All that needs to be noted here is the verse which opens this discussion, the last verse we are interested in here for our comparison with Alma 13. The writer addresses his readers: “Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils” (Heb. 7:4).
Joseph Smith used and reinterpreted these four verses from Hebrews 7 to develop new understandings about the figure Melchizedek. [p.171] The main passage in Alma 13 which reflects the Hebrews passage encompasses verses 17-19: “Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem, and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abominations. Yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness. But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent. And Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days, therefore he was called the Prince of Peace,17 for he was the king of Salem. And he did reign under his father. Now there were many before him, and also there were many afterwards, but none were greater. Therefore of him they have more particularly made mention.” Note that in this passage six of the elements or motifs of Hebrews 7:1-4 appear in the same order as the Hebrews passage (see the Appendix): (1) the mention of Melchizedek with the demonstrative “this”; (2) the mention of his kingship over Salem; (3) the mention of his priesthood; (4) a remark about the meaning of his name or title; (5) a remark about his having or not having a father; and (6) a remark about his greatness. This sharing of elements in a common order is one of the strong evidences that Alma 13 depends on Hebrews, especially since the last three of these common elements are only in Hebrews (not in Genesis) and part of the epistle’s own argument.
Other verses in Alma 13 exhibit the language and ideas of Hebrews 7:1-4. Alma 13:15 refers to the matter of Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek: “And it was this same Melchizedek to whom Abraham paid tithes. Yea, even our father Abraham paid tithes of one-tenth part of all he possessed.” And verse 7 together with verses 8-9 reflect the Hebrews material about an absence of genealogy. Verse 7 reads: “This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world—or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things.”
As is clear already from this summary of borrowed material Smith does not simply cite the passage from Hebrews but gives it a new context and meaning. This is often to clarify difficult conceptions in the biblical text. For example, he solves the problem of Melchizedek’s apparent lack of parents in two ways. First, at the end of verse 18 he added the statement that “he did reign under his father.” This phrase, which because of its brevity may be easily missed, responds to a key conceptual [p.172] difficulty in Hebrews. Second, Smith gave the problematic description “having neither beginning of days, nor end of life” new referents so that it might make better sense. In this he exhibits the principle of textual conservation. Before showing what he did with this problematic description, I would like to elucidate the principle of textual conservation with a “textbook” example from another of Smith’s compositions.
The example—a case where the element conserved is awkwardly superfluous and thus evidence that the text is revising the biblical text (in other words, Smith’s text does not derive from an ancient source)—is the story of the creation of the woman and animals in Abraham 5. In the biblical text (Gen. 2:18-25) God says that he is going to create a “help meet” for the male. God then, surprisingly in view of our understanding of what this help meet should be, creates the animals. The man names the animals—but “for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.” God then creates the woman and the man declares her to fit the bill of a help meet. Abraham 5, responding to the difficulty, reverses the order of the creation of the woman and the animals. In this text when God says he is going to create a help meet, he creates the woman. Switching the order of creating the animals and the woman demonstrates Smith’s impulse to conserve the text. Although reversing these creative acts makes it unnecessary—even illogical—to retain Genesis’s transitional phrase “there was not found an help meet for him,” Abraham 5 retains this phrase awkwardly, though slightly altered to a positive formulation, at the end of the animal creation pericope or passage (5:21): “And Adam gave names to all cattle, to the fowl of the air, to every beast of the field; and for Adam there was found an help meet for him.”18
[p.173] Textual conservation is found in Joseph Smith’s use of Hebrews 7:3 in Alma 13. Smith gives Melchizedek a father, as we have seen, but he does not delete entirely the elaborate phrasing of Hebrews 7:3. He places it in a new context, where it makes better sense. It is not Melchizedek who is genealogy-less; now it is the priesthood and Jesus. Alma 13:7, using the language of Hebrews 7:3, says that the priesthood existed from “the foundation of the world—or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity.…” Of course some modification is necessary: the elements about the lack of parents, descent, and life are dropped because they make no sense with a principle, power, or office. But the phraseology of Hebrews 7:3 is retained in the new context whenever possible. Alma 13:8, with more abbreviation, refers to this reapplication of the Hebrews element when it says the priesthood and related matters are “without beginning or end.” The next verse applies this eternalness to Jesus, saying “the Only Begotten of the Father … is without beginning of days or end of years” (13:9). The application of this phraseology to the priesthood and to Christ, by the way, is not a random pasting of excised text but part of the attempt of the chapter to show how priesthood callings are typological of Jesus’s redemption. (See Section 3 below, for the matter of typology.) In this we see a creative transformation of a biblical passage to help establish a new religious perspective.
Still a shadow or trace of the original passage remains after Melchizedek has been given a father and the problematic description has been severed from him. Alma 13:19 continues that “there were many before him, and also there were many afterwards.” The notion of no beginning and no end in Hebrews, with the ensuing context about Melchizedek’s greatness, apparently generated this statement dealing [p.174] with people before and after. Hence there is a seventh element to add to the assemblage of motifs in a common order between Alma 13:17-19 and Hebrews 7:1-4, noted above. Another trace of Hebrews 7:3 and its applicability to Melchizedek is found in Alma 13:18 where it says that Melchizedek “took upon him the high priesthood forever.” This echoes the Hebrews notion that Melchizedek “abideth a priest continually.”19
A small but significant case of textual conservation can be seen in how Melchizedek’s priesthood is specified in Alma. Hebrews throughout speaks of Jesus as a high priest and also refers to high priests of Aaronic descent, but Melchizedek is simply a “priest” in Hebrews 7:1. Still Alma 13:18, which parallels this verse, says that Melchizedek received the “high priesthood”; in other words he was a “high priest.”20 Where does Alma come by this designation? Certainly the designation is influenced by Alma 13’s more general discussion of priesthood as “high priesthood.” This discussion itself seems to be inspired by other passages in Hebrews referring to high priesthood. But there is a specific element in the Hebrews parallel which seems to generate the denomination of Melchizedek as a high priest. Note that Hebrews 7:1 says, following the wording of Genesis, that Melchizedek is a “priest of the most high God.” In contrast Alma says that Melchizedek received the “high priesthood according to the holy order of God.” The “high” element seems to have been transferred from describing God to describing Melchizedek’s priesthood in Alma.21
A change which shows an attempt at making better theological sense of the Hebrews material is the expansion of the scope of Abraham’s tithe.22 In the context of Genesis 14, Abraham pays a tenth on [p.175] the spoil which he took in the battle described in the first part of that chapter.23 Hebrews 7:4 specifically states that this was from the spoils of battle: “Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.” Smith generalizes this tithe in Alma 13:15 to say that it came from all Abraham’s property: “Yea, even our father Abraham paid tithes of one-tenth part of all he possessed.” He makes it a general principle, perhaps implying that Abraham paid tithe to Melchizedek regularly many times in his life. Melchizedek was his bishop, so to speak.24 Notably, at the same time Smith changed the scope of the tithe, he left out any mention of a war context. By generalizing the tithe a more meaningful didactic context is generated. People in the nineteenth century do not have war spoils, but they do have possessions. With a general context, modern disciples can follow the example of Abraham.25
With regard to a textual matter pertaining to the tithe, Alma 13:15 twice refers, redundantly it seems, to Abraham paying tithes. The principle of textual conservation seems to be involved here. The first statement about Abraham paying tithes in Alma 13:18 uses different terminology than that in Hebrews 7:2. The Hebrews passage says “Abraham gave a tenth part of all” to Melchizedek (cf. v. 4); the first part of Alma 13:15 says “Abraham paid tithes” to the priest. The second part of Alma 13:15 has language more in tune with Hebrews 7:2: “our father Abraham paid tithes of one-tenth part of all.” It is possible that Smith, after using general language about paying tithes, sought to align it more with the Hebrews description. He did this by adding the gloss word “yea” followed by the more similar language. Note how this text conserving [p.176] gloss is redundant in saying that he “paid tithes.” This is something of a resumptive repetition which provides a “vehicle” for carrying the new information of the gloss.26
A movement from a particularized to generalized context is seen in Smith’s treatment of the interpretations of Melchizedek’s name and title in the last half of Hebrews 7:2. In Alma Smith does not deal with linguistic interpretation but rather contextual extrapolation. He constructs a midrashic biography of Melchizedek, where the explanation of his name as “King of righteousness” becomes the grounds of speaking about Melchizedek’s and his people’s righteousness and where the title “King of peace” becomes the basis for talking about the result of Melchizedek’s preaching and the people’s turning to righteousness.
The detail of this argument needs to be fleshed out. The pericope about Melchizedek is found in Alma 13:14-19. Here it is said that in the days of Melchizedek, his people humbled themselves (v. 14). Melchizedek was king over Salem and earlier in his lifetime “his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination. Yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness. But Melchizedek, having exercised mighty faith and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent …” (vv. 17-18). These verses may develop from the description in Hebrews of Melchizedek as a “King of righteousness.” That is, the implications of that explanation of his name are being projected into the narrative. To be sure the pericope never mentions the explained title “King of righteousness” or even the term “righteousness” as something Melchizedek or his people sought after or achieved.27 But textual conservation suggests that the name might not have disappeared totally. It makes sense to find it preserved conceptually in the story.
This seems confirmed in how Alma 13 deals with the explanation of Melchizedek’s title as “King of peace.” The narrative about Melchizedek in Alma 13 continues with further description relating to this title. The people repented “And Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days, therefore he was called the Prince of Peace, for he was the king of Salem” (v. 18). This indicates that the title “King of peace” in Hebrews has generated a segment of the story about Melchizedek and his people, and the events of history projected from this title become the basis for [p.177] the title “Prince of Peace” given in Alma.
More precision can be given to this observation. The explanation of the name “King of righteousness,” which Hebrews notes as the “first” explanation it gives, may have led to the formulation of the first part of the story in Alma 13:14-18a. And the explanation of the title “King of peace,” which Hebrews gives “after that,” led to the formulation of the last part of the story in Alma 13:18b. In other words the “first” and “after that” in Hebrews may have been taken by Smith not as the interpretation of Melchizedek’s name and title in order but as designations which he received at two different points in his lifetime.
Alma’s title for Melchizedek is “Prince of Peace”28 not “King of peace” as in Hebrews. The question arises as to where this particular title came from. It does not come wholly out of the title “King of Salem” but derives in part from Isaiah 9:6, which speaks, as it is interpreted in Christian tradition, of the Messianic “Prince of Peace.” By bringing in this Messianic rifle, Smith is able to further forge the typology of priesthood: just as Jesus is the “Prince of Peace,” so any righteous priesthood leader can be by pursuing his calling of teaching. (On this, see Section 3, below.)
The way the two texts treat Melchizedek’s name and rifle is, by the way, further proof of the dependence of Alma 13 on Hebrews. Hebrews derives explanations by simple linguistic definition; Alma 13 in contrast does not betray linguistic interpretation: the element “prince” in Alma does not exactly match the meaning of melek “king,” and “Prince of Peace” derives out of a situation of peace established by Melchizedek. It is hard to imagine Hebrews’s explanations deriving from Alma or a text like Alma. But it can be imagined, as I have here, how elements of Alma derive from Hebrews. The logical priority of Hebrews’s interpretation in connection with the many other parallels between Hebrews and Alma indicates that Alma is secondary to, and depends on, Hebrews.
The lack of linguistic savvy shown in the treatment of Melchizedek’s name and title in Alma 13 makes sense in light of the fact that Smith was unfamiliar with Hebrew at the time of composing the Book of Mormon. His Hebrew study did not begin in earnest until early 1836 (see Zucker 1968).29
[p.178] A final observation for this part of my study—I noted above that in Hebrews 7 mention of Melchizedek’s bringing forth bread and wine was omitted. Interestingly this is also missing in Alma 13 (it is found, however, in JSR Genesis 14). Why is this the case? Certainly Smith could have used it to develop a typology of Christ, a matter that is his concern elsewhere in Alma 12-13. Why did he not do this? The reason is clear in view of the argument that I am presenting here: Smith was relying on Hebrews not Genesis 14 for his information about Melchizedek in the composition of these particular chapters. Since Hebrews did not have this element, it did not enter into Smith’s consideration.30
2. Hardening, Provoking, Entering, Procrastinating
Other chapters of Hebrews which influenced Joseph Smith’s composition of Alma 12-13 were Hebrews 3 and 4. Hebrews cites part of Psalm 95 in the middle of chapter 3, and at the end of chapter 3 and at the beginning of chapter 4 it gives a somewhat lengthy interpretation of the meaning of the Psalm for its first-century audience. The Book of Mormon also has a citation of what is supposedly a scriptural passage (it is not Psalm 95) with an application of its elements to its audience. The citation, its context, and the interpretation built upon it are similar enough to those in Hebrews to constitute a parallel and demonstrate dependence of Alma on Hebrews. But there are significant differences between the parallel elements in the two works. A study of these provides insight into how Smith modulated existing scriptural text to new ends. We find here, as in the foregoing discussion, a tendency to generalize and abstract material that has a more particularized context in Hebrews.
I will first summarize the material in Hebrews. In chapter 3 the writer says that believers in Jesus can be his “house” over which he rules if they continue in their faithfulness. This sets up the occasion for an exhortation to faithfulness, which is introduced by the citation of the last half of Psalm 95. This citation is introduced by the phrase: “Wherefore, as the Holy Ghost saith.”31 The words of the Psalm then follow: “Today [p.179] if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness, when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter into my rest'” (Heb. 3:7-11).
This passage refers to the story in the Hebrew Bible about the Israelites’ rebellions in the wilderness before they entered the land of Canaan.32 After citing this psalm, Hebrews continues with an exhortation directed toward the author’s “brethren” and built upon the elements of the psalm. Four topics or motifs deriving from Psalm 95 receive special emphasis in this exhortation: (a) hardening hearts, (b) entering into God’s rest, (c) “Today” as the time for faithfulness and when some divine promises are to take effect,33 and (d) provoking God (references are given below).
[p.180] Alma 12-13 contains a “citation” paralleling that in Hebrews 3, and these Book of Mormon chapters focus on the same four elements just listed. The high priest, Alma, speaks about God giving commandments to people and revealing the plan of redemption (12:32). In this context he introduces his citation with: “But God did call on men, in the name of his Son … saying” (v. 33). The citation follows (vv. 33-35): “If ye will repent, and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son. Therefore whosoever repenteth and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of their sins, and these shall enter into my rest. And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that they shall not enter into my rest.” After the quotation Alma resumes his general exhortation as is indicated by the words “And now, my brethren …” (v. 36).
The citations and their contexts in Alma 12 and Hebrews 3 share four elements in the same general order (see the appendix). Even though the two works are not citing the same passage, they both (a) begin their citations by reference to divine instruction: “as the Holy Ghost saith” (Hebrews) and “God did call on men … saying” (Alma). Then come the citations. The Alma citation has two motifs similar to those of the Hebrews citation in the same order: (b) the notion of hardening of hearts occurs first followed by (c) the notion of God swearing that hardened people will not enter his rest. Finally (d), each quotation is followed by exhortation with similar language: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief” (Hebrews) and “And now, my brethren, behold I say unto you that if ye will harden your hearts …” (Alma). Both address their audience as “brethren” and refer to hearts.
The parallels between these two texts are too precise to be coincidental; some sort of interdependence must exist. This interdependence is confirmed by the texts’ focusing on the same four motifs outside the quotations’ contexts (see below). What is the nature of this dependence? On the basis of the texts that stand before us, the conclusion is that the Alma 12 passage depends on that in Hebrews 3. The logic is this: Hebrews 3 and Alma 12 depend ostensibly on different sources for their citations. But it would be a tremendous coincidence for them to have the same motifs and the same citation structure if they came from separate sources. The contradiction between their certain interdependence and their divergent citations is solved when the nature of the citation sources is recognized and considered. The citation in Hebrews 3 derives from an attested source, Psalm 95, whereas that in Alma 12 derives from an unattested source. This suggests that Alma 12’s citation does not really rely on an [p.181] unknown source but on the citation and context of Hebrews 3 itself. Alma 12 invents a citation, thus transforming the sense of the Hebrews material for its own ends.34
This invented quotation is a good example of Smith’s creative reworking of the Bible. The substance of Alma’s citation has been “generalized” so that it no longer refers to ancient Israel in the wilderness as Psalm 95 did, which context Hebrews acknowledges. The context of Alma’s discourse in the verses before the quotation gives the impression that Alma’s citation is to be considered an exhortation given at the beginning of human history. Moreover, the citation itself has been “Christianized” in that Jesus’s atonement is brought into play: God “will have mercy on” those who do not harden their hearts “to a remission of their sins” through his “Only Begotten Son.” In this we see that just as Melchizedek’s biography was expanded from a limited event of Abraham paying war tithes to a summary of the priest-king’s life work, so this passage from scripture with a limited historical framework—the wilderness rebellions of the Israelites—has been generalized, even primordialized, and thus made more universally applicable.
I have noted that Alma 12-13 focus on the same four elements or motifs as Hebrews 3-4. In these common motifs we find further exemplification of the move from a specific toward more universal and general contextualization. These four elements in Hebrews 3-4 and the number of times they occur outside the quotation of Psalm 95 in Hebrews 3:7-11 are as follows: (a) hardening hearts, mentioned three times (Heb. 3:13, 15; 4:7; cf. 3:12), (b) entering into God’s rest, eleven times (Heb. 3:18, 19; 4:1, 3, 5, 6b, 8, 9, 10, 11), (c) “Today” as the time for faithfulness and when some of the divine promises will take effect, four times (Heb. 3:13, 15; 4:7b [cf. 4:8]), and (d) provoking God, two times (Heb. 3:15, 16). Alma 12-13 have a similar numerical concentration of the same four elements (these numbers exclude the instances in the “citation” of Alma in 12:33-35): (a) hardening hearts, eight times (Alma 12:10b, 11, 13b, 36, 37; 13:4), (b) entering into God’s rest, seven times (Alma 12:36, 37; 13:6, 12, 13, 16, 29), (c) acting in the present on matters of faithfulness, two times (Alma 13:21, 27; cf. 12:24-28), and (d) provoking God, four times (Alma 12:36, 37).
This focusing on similar motifs demonstrates further textual interdependence. One fact that shows the direction of dependence is that [p.182] only two of these motifs—hardening hearts and entering into God’s rest—are found in the citation in Alma 12:33-35. The other two motifs—attending to faithfulness in the present and provoking God—are not in this citation. Hebrews on the other hand derives all four elements from its citation of Psalm 95. Where does Alma come by the two motifs not found in its citation? When one considers all the textual parallels between Hebrews and Alma 12-13, it seems these motifs were inspired by Hebrews.
Joseph Smith used these basic elements to serve new ends.35 The phrase in Hebrews (from Psalm 95) which reads “To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” appears to be a stimulus for the phrase: “do not procrastinate the day of your repentance” (Alma 13:27). This phrase appears here first in the Book of Mormon. Elsewhere it appears only in Alma 34:33, 35 and in Helaman 13:38. Alma 12:24-28 talk about humanity’s probationary state, and the discourse returns to the subject after the discussion of priesthood—after the material on Melchizedek—with the words “Now is the time to repent, for the day of salvation draweth nigh” (13:21). After a discussion about receiving revelation and expecting Jesus in the flesh, the famous exhortation of Alma 13:27 appears.36 One should observe that the phraseology about not procrastinating was common in the religious environment of Smith’s day,37 which helps explain why the terminology in Alma 13 diverges from the parallels in Hebrews: the Hebrews terminology brought to mind the issue of attention to faithfulness in the present and Smith used a more current idiom to express this.
The issue of “provocation” is also instructive of how Smith used the biblical text. First a textual matter must be explained. Verse 8 of Psalm 95, which has this term, is to be understood and translated differently than its rendering in Hebrews 3:8 and in KJV of Psalm 95:8 (which is the same as Heb. 3:8). The Hebrew terms behind the [p.183] translations “provocation” and “temptation” are actually place names. Hence the verse should be translated: “Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah.”38 These were places in the wilderness where the Israelites rebelled against God.39 It is true that because of this rebellion context, the names are viewed respectively as being connected with the Hebrew roots rib, “to argue, contend,” and nissa, “to put to the test, to try.” And it is true that the terms meriba and massa occur as common nouns.40 But the words as they appear in Psalm 95 are preeminently proper nouns; the wilderness context makes this clear. The reason for Hebrews 3:8 having the terms “provocation” and “temptation” is due to its dependence on the Greek Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Bible that was made by stages in the third and second centuries B.C.41 The appearance of this translation tradition in Alma 12-13 is an anachronism and provides another bit of evidence that Alma 12-13 depend on Hebrews.
This rendering of place names as common nouns in Hebrews allowed Smith to manipulate the notion of provocation in a creative fashion, generalizing the notion by setting it in another place, or other places, in history. Note that Alma 12:36-37 talk about how sin provokes God so that he sends his wrath. In discussing this it refers [p.184] to “first” and “last” instances of provocation: God will send his wrath upon the wicked “as in the first provocation, yea, according to his word in the last provocation as well as the first, to the everlasting destruction of your souls” (v. 36).
What exactly are the first and last provocations? These begin to find their meaning in the explanatory parallel which follows: “therefore, according to his word, unto the last death, as well as the first.” The first and last provocations seem to be connected with the first and last deaths: First and last deaths are treated earlier in the chapter and are connected with other firsts, seconds, and others. Alma 12:31 speaks of God having given commandments—first commandments—which were transgressed, leading humans to become “as Gods, knowing good from evil.” This by its context refers to the commandment not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. After this transgression, “God gave unto them [other] commandments … that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death …” (v. 32). The “second death” is treated earlier in the chapter in verses 15-16. After people come to stand before God in judgment, “then cometh a death, even a second death, which is a spiritual death; then is a time that whosoever dieth in his sins, as to the temporal death, shall also die a spiritual death. Yea, he shall die as to things pertaining unto righteousness.” It appears from these verses taken together that the first provocation is the sin of eating of the fruit in the Garden of Eden; this provocation brought the first death or temporal death. The last provocation seems to have to do with an individual’s sin, which provokes the wrath of God to inflict a second or spiritual death.42
3. Priesthood Order
It has become clear in the foregoing that Alma 12-13 tend to generalize or abstract particularistic formulations in Hebrews and seek to solve logical or theological problems in that New Testament text. There are some other apparent difficulties in Hebrews regarding the priesthood—the duties of the priesthood, the scope of those who possessed it, and denomination of priesthood—that Alma 13 treats differently. It is difficult in each case to say that Joseph Smith is exegetically “solving” these difficulties. Perhaps Hebrews is acting more as a springboard for perceptions which develop apart from the Hebrews text, and these perceptions happen to “solve” difficulties simply because they are different.
[p.185] The first apparent difficulty concerning priesthood in Hebrews is the impression, a correct impression in the historical context, that mortal43 priesthood has to do with cultic matters—the temple, sacrifices and offerings, festivals, and matters of purity.44 It is not an office under which all religious duties are subsumed. This is the context in the several places where human priests or priesthood are mentioned,45 and this is generally the context, though it is necessarily spiritualized, where Jesus is referred to as priest or high priest.46 It is this cultic context, in fact, that reveals where Hebrews derives some of the stimulus for describing Jesus as a priest and particularly a high priest. Since priesthood was cultic, there would seem to be no reason in attributing to Jesus this office. On the other hand, one of the troubling events in Christian history was the death of Jesus, the messianic leader of the community. Jesus’s suspicions that he might suffer death may have led to his own speculation about the meaning of that death. Certainly early on his followers began to describe his death as a sacrificial, expiating death.47 Hence this general perception about Jesus’s death was probably not new to the author of Hebrews in the later part of the first century when he wrote. But this author takes this basic notion and builds on it a much more elaborate metaphoric description of Jesus in relation to the cult. In Hebrews Jesus continues to be a sacrificial animal, and his blood effects expiation.48 His flesh is [p.186] also likened to the temple veil through which the believers pass to salvation.49 And he is called a high priest. A partial basis for Jesus’s priesthood, Psalm 110:4, calls its addressee a priest, not a high priest. But it is the comparison of Jesus’s expiatory work with that of the Aaronide high priest, particularly on the Day of Atonement (cf. Lev. 16), that appears to give him the specific denomination of “high priest.”50 At any rate all this shows that in describing priesthood, the book of Hebrews represents it as an office limited to cultic matters.
Another ostensible difficulty in Hebrews is that the priesthood of the Melchizedek type does not appear to be available to humans in general. Only two are mentioned as having this type of priesthood: Melchizedek and Jesus. The limited character of this priesthood is betokened, moreover, in the author’s description of Jesus’s priestly function as being chiefly expiatory—to rectify the sins of believers (see Heb. 7-10). Jesus’s priestly and expiatory function, the writer argues, stood in stark contrast to the character of the expiatory work carried out by the priests of Aaronic descent. There were many Aaronide priests. Why? Because they were mortal and needed to be replaced. They performed many sacrifices. Why? Because the sacrifices were not “perfect” (cf. Heb. 10:1-12). Jesus’s priestly act changed all this. As a heavenly high priest, he effected expiation in the heavenly sanctuary with his own blood. This he needed to do only once because his sacrifice was perfect. Since Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice, there was implicitly no more need for human priests.
The third theological difficulty in Hebrews concerns the denomination of the priesthood. I have already noted how Hebrews uses Old Testament texts as sources for the ideas it develops. Another example of this dependence is the characterization of Jesus’s priesthood as being like that of Melchizedek. The author’s inspiration and justification for this is Psalm 110:4: “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, ‘Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.'” This is a royal psalm which, according to historical-critical study, speaks ideally of the kings of the Davidic dynasty.51 Royal psalms acquired an eschatological [p.187] significance in the Second Temple period (515 B.C.-70 C.E.) and came to form part of the expectations of a “messiah” in the first century C.E. The writer of Hebrews sees this verse of Psalm 110 as being spoken to Jesus. This is a foundational text for the argument of the author of Hebrews; he cites it or refers to it six times.52 This denomination of Jesus’s priesthood as being “after the order of Melchizedek,” however, contains a theological difficulty. Why is Jesus’s priesthood named after Melchizedek’s? Should it not be the other way around? Should not Christ’s priesthood be the paradigm?53
Alma 13 has something to say about each of these three difficulties. Unlike Hebrews, Alma 13 does not recognize cultic duties but rather connects the duties of the priesthood with teaching: “the Lord God ordained priests … to teach these things [the foregoing commandments and admonitions] unto the people” (13:1). Priests are “called … to and ordained … to teach [God’s] commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest” (v. 6). When the chapter speaks of Melchizedek, the matter of tithes (which is related to the cult) is juxtaposed with the statement that he acquired priesthood (vv. 14-15). But a more intimate connection is made later between his priesthood and his preaching repentance (v. 18).54 This understanding of priesthood duties pervades the Book of Mormon and supports the [p.188] observations made about the matter in Alma 13: being a “priest” was largely a teaching office or one of ecclesiastical supervision, sometimes accompanied by judicial functions.55 This view of priesthood correlates generally with the meaning of the terra “priest” in Smith’s day and his use of the term outside the Book of Mormon. A priest in the nineteenth century could be “any licensed minister of the Gospel,” and Smith called protestant preachers “priests.”56
The limitation of Melchizedek’s priesthood to two persons, is obviated when Alma 13 grants priesthood—actually “high priesthood”57—to a large number of faithful people (males according to the context of priesthood in the Book of Mormon and according to the context of its development in later Mormonism). The text says that these people are called by a “holy calling”58 to the priesthood by “the foreknowledge of God” (cf. Alma 13:1-18; on the nature of this calling, see below). It is possible to argue that the text intends this priesthood to be the right of all faithful males. Alma 13:5, which says that this calling was prepared for “such as would not harden their hearts,” seems to suggest this.59
Other passages indicate that this calling might have been intended for only some males, since, for instance, logically not everyone could be a teacher. Alma 13:2, which distinguishes between priests [p.189] and people, supports this idea. Likewise the story about Melchizedek which speaks of him as high priest versus his people may hint that the calling was not democratic (vv. 14-19). Alma 13:4, which says that some on account of their lack of spirituality did not receive priesthood and adds that “if it had not been for this, they might have had as great privilege as their brethren,” may indicate that all righteous males can receive the priesthood calling. But the modal phrasing “might have had as great privilege” makes me shrink somewhat from this conclusion. If it had read “they would have had as great privilege,” I would be certain that it included all righteous males.
Two additional points need to be considered before discussing the third theological difficulty in Hebrews: (1) the manner of being called to priesthood and (2) the typological significance of this call. Alma 13 says that people are “called and prepared” for the priesthood “from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works” (v. 3). That is, before people were born, the deity’s omniscience allowed him to perceive what the faith and acts of individuals would be before these individuals actually existed in mortality. Those whom he foresaw to be faithful—or a select number of these—he designated to become priests in their mortal lives.60 This faith and these good works are therefore not, as contemporary Mormon theology might suggest, things done in a premortal existence. They are acts in mortality, which God previewed. The mortal context of these good works is indicated by the context of 13:10-12.
How is this priesthood calling through foreknowledge to be conceived? Contemporary Mormon theology might suggest it was some sort of actual ordination performed in the preexistence on preexistent spirit beings. Alma 13 is not so clear about this. Although it does speak of people “being called and prepared from the foundation of the world” (v. 3), it elsewhere speaks of the priesthood or “holy calling” only being “prepared” at that time (vv. 3b, 5, 7). This may indicate that this was more a plan than a rite. This projected calling would then be complemented or actualized by some ordination in life. The last half of verse 3 may hint at such bifurcation when it says that faithful people “being left to choose good or evil … having chosen good … are called [note the present tense referring apparently to the present mortal situation] with a holy calling … which was prepared [here the past tense refers to what happened at the “foundation of the world”] with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.” [p.190] The two parts of priesthood bestowal—preparation and actualization—might be comprehended in the term “ordain” which heads verse 3. But the language applying to the two different phases does not seem to be consistent in the chapter.61 An observation arising from the evidence just reviewed is that this passage on priesthood in Alma may not be evidence of a premortal existence for humans. It may be that in 1829 Smith did not yet have a fully developed view of the notion.62
[p.191] Despite the difficulty in sorting out the details of the description, the verses do speak of a pre-creational preparatory “calling” or assignment to priesthood. In this a typological connection with Jesus and his redemption is made. Alma 13:2 says that “priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.” Verse 16 says “these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of his order … that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord.” Though this follows the verse describing payment of tithes to Melchizedek, it does not refer to the typological significance of offerings but to the calling to priesthood. A reflection of this typological concern outside Alma 13 is found in Helaman 8:18, which says that “many before the days of Abraham … were called by the order of God, yea, even after the order of his Son. And this that it should be shown unto the people, a great many thousand years before his coming, that even redemption should come unto them.”
The typology intended by the passage may have involved the following. Regular human high priests on the basis of God’s foreknowledge of their righteousness were prepared, or more specifically their calling was prepared, “before the foundation of the world” (Alma 13:3, 5, 7), just as the plan of salvation or redemption had been planned and prepared “before the foundation of the world” (12:25, 30; 13:5; cf. more broadly vv. 18-33). Each individual who takes up his prepared commission to the priesthood acts in a way similar to Christ who will come and fulfill his redemptory responsibilities.63 [p.192] Note in particular the connection of the redemption of Jesus with priesthood ordination in Alma 13:2, 3 and Helaman 8:18. Another dimension of this typology is suggested by the parallel between the plan of redemption which is made known by “faith” and “holy works” (Alma 12:30) and the acquisition of priesthood which comes by “faith and good works” (13:3). Other aspects of the priesthood typology may be exhibited in calling Melchizedek a “Prince of Peace” rather than “King of peace” as in Hebrews and in applying the statement about a lack of “beginning of days” in Hebrews 7:3 to Jesus in Alma 13:9. (See Section 1 above.)
One thing to note here is that Alma 12-13 share an interest in typology with Hebrews. Hebrews uses the earthly temple cult to illustrate the expiatory work of Jesus and talks of the earthly service being “the example and shadow of heavenly things” (8:5). The cultic law was a “shadow of good things to come” (10:1).64 The use of the Melchizedek material for Hebrews, moreover, was a matter of establishing a similitude (7:15). The typology in Alma 12-13 is different from that in Hebrews, but these typologies need not be identical to argue that Hebrews spurred Smith to develop notions of typology in Alma 12-13.65 That a typological concern is found in both works adds another thread to the rope of similarities which binds Hebrews and Alma 12-13 together.
The connection of priesthood with Jesus’s redemption brings us finally to the third theological problem in Hebrews: designating Christ’s priesthood as being after the order of Melchizedek. It would be theologically less problematic if the reverse were found—Melchizedek’s priesthood should be after the order of Jesus—and this is exactly the switch Alma 13 makes. It says that “Melchizedek, having exercised mighty faith … received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God” (Alma 13:18). This “holy order of God” (also v. 6), sometimes called simply the “holy order” (vv. 8, 10, [p.193] 11), is defined more fully at the beginning of the discussion as “the order of the/his [God’s] Son” (vv. 1, 2, 7, 9) or “his [the Son’s] order” (v. 16). It is said that God ordained priests after “his [God’s] order, which was after the order of his Son” (v. 1).
It seems that the term “order” in these cases is used more technically than the term in Hebrews or Psalm 110:4 to indicate a distinct class or category. This is particularly clear in verse 7 where the term is used as a simple noun and not with prepositional force: “which order was from the foundation of the world.” The Hebrew term cal-dibrati in Psalm 110:4, in contrast, means something close to “like; similar to.”66 The paraphrase in Hebrews 7:15—”after the similitude of Melchizedek,” kata ten homoioteta Melchisedek—indicates that Hebrews understood it in a nontechnical sense. Smith therefore transformed the meaning of the text somewhat: “order” does not signify simple analogy, but category, class, even rank.67
[p.194] It would be reductionist to characterize connections between Alma 12-13 and Hebrews as mere exegetical responses—certainly other factors helped move Smith to compose the text in this case. But the problems in Hebrews do seem to have guided the formulation of Alma 12-13 to some degree, and thus these chapters constitute something of an exegetical response to Hebrews. Again, the nature of this [p.195] response reflects a tendency to ground religious or doctrinal perspectives in primordial events and revelations and to make their scope more universal. For example, rather than denominating and developing a concept of priesthood by a mortal, the text connects the name and origin of priesthood to the beginning of geological history and with the formulation of the plan of salvation at that time. It tends toward universalism by giving priesthood more general duties, teaching responsibilities in particular, not just cultic and expiatory duties. This allows it to become the endowment of more than a few persons. Priesthood is also universalized by making it a means of typifying Jesus and his redemption. Moreover, by making priesthood typological and primordializing it, these chapters contribute to the larger goal of the Book of Mormon: to “prove” that Jesus is the Christ. The existence of priests becomes a revelation of Jesus.
4. The Catalogue of the Faithful
Perhaps the most famous chapter in Hebrews is chapter 11. It begins with a definition of faith and goes on to give a long catalogue of past faithful—including Enoch, Abraham, and Moses—and examples of their faith. Alma 13:10-12 appear to be a reflex of this chapter. The text reads: “Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood, there were many which were ordained and became high priests of God. And it was on account of the exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish—therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb. Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence. And there were many, an exceeding great many, which were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.” These verses have a narrative-like character and speak in summary of past exemplary ancients. This parallels roughly the narrative-like genre of Hebrews 11 which speaks of past exemplary ancients. That these verses constitute a parallel to Hebrews 11 is shown also in the way faith is discussed. Faith is presented in an instrumental fashion in Alma; it was “on account of the exceeding faith and repentance” that they were called after the holy order. The instrumentality of faith is one of the memorable motifs of Hebrews 11, being mentioned about twenty times.
The noteworthy development in Alma 13:10-12 compared to Hebrews 11 is the connection of priesthood and faith. In Hebrews these two matters are separate. The issue of priesthood does not occur [p.196] anywhere in Hebrews 11. When priesthood is discussed in Hebrews, it is spoken of in connection with Jesus, Melchizedek, and the Aaronide priests, not the exemplars of faith. What Alma 13:10-12 do is to bring the themes of faith and priesthood—two of the main themes of Hebrews—into play with one another, suggesting that the great ancients—at least the males68—listed in that chapter also had priesthood.
This understanding is confirmed by another passage from the Book of Mormon, Ether 12:4-32, which certainly depends on Hebrews 11 (see the Appendix). This passage refers to New World personages and in passing to Old World faithful (Ether 12:10), with this summary: “Behold, it was by faith that they of old were called after the holy order of God.” Note the similarity to Alma 13:10-11: “there were many who were ordained and became high priests … on account of the exceeding faith … they were called after his holy order.” The composition of Ether 12 chronologically follows that of Alma 13 and thus presumes the thought of the Alma chapter. Ether 12 can be seen as bringing out the implications of the earlier thought of Alma 13:10-12 and supports the notion that this thought has its roots in Hebrews 11.
By combining the essence of Hebrews 11 with priesthood issues Joseph Smith further expanded the scope of those who held priesthood office in antiquity. Further Hebrews 11 can be considered a major factor in the development of the notion that priesthood calling was determined by God’s foreknowledge of faith which individuals would show in mortality.
5. Death Then Judgment
Another item shows how broadly Hebrews served as inspiration in the composition of Alma 12-13. In Hebrews’s argument about Christ’s priesthood and unique expiatory act, the author notes that Jesus did not need to “offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with the blood of others [of other animals, on the annual Day of Atonement ceremony]” (Heb. 9:25). If he did need to offer himself repeatedly he would need to “have suffered” many times “since the foundation of the world.” “But now,” the author says, “once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (v. 26). He concludes this part of his argument with an analogy drawn from the situation of mortality generally: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment, so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many …” (vv. 27-28).
[p.197] Alma 12 reflects this same language but in an entirely different context. Alma speculates that if Adam and Eve had partaken of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, they would have lived forever and “been forever miserable, having no preparatory state; and thus the plan of redemption would have been frustrated” (v. 26). But instead “it was appointed unto man [sic] that they must die; and after death, they must come to judgment, even that same judgment of which we have spoken, which is the end” (v. 27). Notice the sequence of words, “appointed,” “men,” “die,” “after,” and “judgment,” which parallels the Hebrews passage. The speech continues, telling how after the Fall the plan of redemption was communicated by angels to humans. This continuation recapitulates some of the language found in the verses in Hebrews: “And after God had appointed that these things should come unto man …” (v. 28). Thus, although the matter of a singular death does not appear in Alma 12:27-28, the discussion belongs to the same general conceptual area and may have stimulated in some way the discussion of the first and second deaths in Alma 12-13.69
Excursus 1: Miscellaneous Contacts Between Alma 12-13 and Hebrews
Other possible contacts between Alma 12-13 and Hebrews are summarized here. It is hard to judge the relation of these motifs in the two books, but there are some elements appearing in Alma 12-13 listed below which seem to be generated from attention to Hebrews (A., elements (a) and (b); B.; and perhaps C. and D.) and therefore offer further evidence that Alma 12-13 and Hebrews have a genetic relationship. The relationship of the other elements in the two texts is less “tight” and may be simply coincidental.
A. Each text has concluding exhortations (Alma 13:21-30 and Hebrews 13). In these exhortations certain similar ideas are mentioned: (a) a call to offer prayer or praise “continually” (Alma 13:28; Heb. 13:15); (b) a call to submission (Alma 13:28; Heb. 13:17). These exhortations also include the mention of: (c) angels (Alma 13:22, 24, 25, 26; Heb. 13:2) and (d) a hope of things to come (Alma 13:24-27; Heb. 13:14). The exhortative conclusion of Hebrews may have had some general influence on Alma 12-13.
[p.198] B. Both books use the phrase “from the foundation of the world” (Heb. 4:3, 9:26; Alma 12:25, 30; 13:3, 5, 7). Though the phrase occurs elsewhere in the New Testament, the connection of this phrase with the development of priesthood issues suggests that the occurrence of the phrase in Hebrews may have stimulated to some extent its use in Alma 12-13.
C. Both speak of “just men” (Heb. 12:23; Alma 13:26).
D. Zeezrom was convinced that Alma and Amulek “knew the thoughts and intents of his heart” (Alma 12:7). Similar phraseology is found in Hebrews 4:12 which says that the word of God is a “discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Part of the phrase occurs in Mosiah 5:13 and may indicate that the phrase was part of Joseph Smith’s scriptural vocabulary generally and may not have been drawn directly from Hebrews.70 The phrase “intents and thoughts of the heart” appears in the KJV only in Hebrews.71
E. Attention to angels is found more broadly (cf. A., (c)). Apart from the passages from the final exhortation, compare Alma 12:29 and Hebrews 1:4-7, 13; 2:2, 5, 7, 9, 16; 12:22. The treatment of angels is quite different in the two books. A similarity of treatment might be found in the notion that angels are means of revealing God’s word (Alma 12:29, 13:22-25; Heb. 2:2). Could there be any connection between the conception presented in Alma of angels delivering commandments or announcing Jesus’s coming before the time of Jesus (which is the historical point of view of that book) and the notion in Hebrews 2:2 that angels were the ones who spoke the law which contrasts with the later revelation of Jesus himself (cf. Heb. 1:1 and chap. 2 passim)?
F. Both books speak of “good works” (Heb. 10:24; Alma 13:3; cf. Heb. 6:1, 9:14; Alma 12:8, 12, 14, 30).
G. Finally, both share motifs of strange land and wandering (Heb. 11:9, 37-38; Alma 13:23).
Excursus 2: Joseph Smith Revision, Genesis 14
Joseph Smith’s Revision (JSR) of Genesis 14, the chapter from the Old Testament which speaks about Melchizedek, depends in part on Hebrews and reflects further Smith’s rethinking of the Bible. The discussion here cannot be exhaustive, but some of the issues involved can be noted. One point here is that the JSR does not contain ancient material (except for its basis in Genesis) but depends on Hebrews and [p.199] hence postdates it.72 JSR Genesis 14 builds on some of the ideas established in Alma 12-13. Work on the JSR began in the summer of 1830, not long after completion of the Book of Mormon in 1829. Work on Genesis 14 was undertaken between 1 February and 8 March 1831 after Smith had moved to Kirtland, Ohio.73 In many cases the JSR gives solutions different from those in Alma 12-13. Some of these reveal influence of ideas developed between the time of completion of the Book of Mormon and the revision of Genesis and thus exhibit the JSR’s nineteenth-century provenance.74
A. Melchizedek’s genealogy: The JSR responds to the issue of Melchizedek’s genealogy in Hebrews 7:3 in a way slightly different from Alma 13. Alma 13:7-8 say that the order of the priesthood was “without beginning of days or end of years.” To refer this directly to priesthood meant that despite the principle of textual conservation, the phrase “without father, without mother” could not be retained. JSR Genesis 14 reorients the description slightly so as to be able to retain the essence of this element. It says that the order of the priesthood “came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God” (JSR Gen. 14:28). This particular orientation toward the Melchizedek material in Hebrews allowed Smith to adduce the notion that priesthood “was delivered unto men by the calling of his [God’s] own voice” (v. 29).75
[p.200] B. God’s oath: The statement about priesthood coming by God leads to a description of Enoch receiving priesthood by oath (JSR Gen. 14:30). The text says: “For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains. …” The oath here reflects Psalm 110:4 (which is cited in Heb. 7:21; cf. 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11, 15, 17) and the argument in Hebrews that the higher priesthood is signalled by an accompanying oath (7:20, 21, 28). The JSR phrase “with an oath by himself” also reflects Hebrews 6:13 which itself refers to Genesis 22:16. (For other cases of oath in the two works, see Heb. 6:16-17; JSR Gen. 14:35; and compare the matter of God swearing in Ps. 95 cited by Heb. 3:11 and chaps. 3-4 passim.)
C. Priesthood order: Priesthood order in JSR Genesis 14 is denominated in a way similar to that in Alma 12-13 and in contrast to the “problematic” denomination in Hebrews. But there are some interesting differences. The JSR text calls the priesthood “the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch” (v. 27). This designation, however, is not left as the prime designation. The text, almost as a gloss, adds: “it being after the order of the Son of God” (v. 28; cf. vv. [p.201] 32-33). By speaking of Enoch rather than Melchizedek, the JSR implies that any exemplary ancient may be used as a means of designation. In this way it can be seen as expanding the conceptualization of Hebrews despite the particularist way it is represented. The JSR, like Alma 13, also makes it clear that the priesthood is ultimately to be connected with Jesus, not any particular mortal.
D. Melchizedek’s name: JSR Genesis 14 exhibits the same approach to Melchizedek’s title and name as did Alma 13, basing it on the biography of the individual not linguistic interpretation. The simple linguistic operation in Hebrews 7 is a primary mode of explication. This is a sign that the order of dependence is JSR Genesis 14 on Hebrews.
Much like Alma 13, JSR Genesis 14 uses the elements given in the linguistic explication of Melchizedek’s name in Hebrews to build a biography of Melchizedek. The interpretation of his name as “king of righteousness” in Hebrews became the basis of speaking about Melchizedek’s establishing righteousness in JSR Genesis 14:33-34, 36. The phrase “wrought righteousness” in these verses was perhaps sparked by the same phrase in Hebrews 11:33 (in another context). Smith’s interpretation of Melchizedek’s title as “king of peace” in Hebrews became the basis of speaking about the priest’s establishing peace. From this situation the JSR gives Melchizedek a new title: “Prince of Peace,” which is apparently influenced by Isaiah 9:6 (so also Alma 13:18). The JSR also calls him the “king of heaven … in other words, the King of Peace” (JSR Gen. 14:36). The title “king of heaven” was derived from his people’s righteousness such that they “obtained heaven” (JSR Gen. 14:34). The notion here seems to be that obtaining heaven is in essence achieving a state of peace; hence the king in such a situation can be called a “king of peace.” The mention of the title “King of peace” in addition to “Prince of peace” is an example of textual conservation. Note that Alma 13:18 mentioned only “prince of peace” not “King of peace.” The JSR brings the two titles together in its text.
The midrash here about Melchizedek’s life goes in a slightly different direction than that in Alma 13. There is no mention of the wickedness of the people in the JSR, only their righteousness. And their righteousness is such that they “obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken …” (JSR Gen. 14:34). This different direction is explained in part by the fact that Smith’s conceptions about Enoch developed after completion of the Book of Mormon and during his revision of the first chapters of Genesis where Enoch is briefly mentioned.76
[p.202] E. Translation: Another link between JSR Genesis 14 and Hebrews, which relates the foregoing matter, is in the notion of the “translation” of the righteous found in both works. JSR Genesis 14 says that Melchizedek was “ordained a high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch” (v. 27). The text then digresses to say that God had sworn to “Enoch and his seed … that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power by faith” (vv. 30-31). Those who had this faith and partook of this “order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven” (v. 32). The text then turns back to Melchizedek saying that he had obtained this order, that his people wrought righteousness, and that they “obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken …” (v. 34). In other words, Melchizedek and his people were translated, or came close to it.
How does the JSR come by this notion? Hebrews speaks of “entering into God’s rest,” a notion that could have been transformed into that of translation. Compare Alma 13:12 which says that many were sanctified, made pure, and entered into the rest of God. Also, the notice about Enoch’s translation in Hebrews 11:5, the only place in the entire Bible which mentions this with the term “translation,”77 probably influenced the linking of Enoch and Melchizedek in JSR Genesis 14. JSR Genesis 14 here blends the matters of Melchizedek’s righteousness and Enoch’s translation, which are separately treated in Hebrews. Thus we see again a tendency toward generalization and universalization.78
F. Stopping the mouths of lions: JSR Genesis 14 uses other material from the catalogue of the faithful in Hebrews 11 to describe the figure Melchizedek. At the end of Hebrews 11 the blessings and might of faithful characters are summarized: “through faith [they] subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped [p.203] the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (Heb. 11:33-34). Some of these statements are used to describe Melchizedek in JSR Genesis 14:26 (the similar phrases are underlined): “Now Melchizedek was a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire.”
Here we find another example of blending together of discrete elements from Hebrews. Indeed this particular matter, like the matter of translation, comes directly from Hebrews 11. It shows a tendency to bring in material from that catalogue of the faithful to expand the biography of Melchizedek.79
G. Priesthood and faith: Priesthood and faith are connected in the JSR chapter in a way similar to what we have seen in Alma 13:10-12. Melchizedek, according to JSR Genesis 14:26-27, obtained priesthood by faith. JSR Genesis 14 also develops another view about priesthood and faith. Verses 30-31 give a long list of actions and effects which can be compared to a similar list in Hebrews 11:33-34. But the substance of these two lists is different. Only in one instance are they similar: “turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (Heb. 11:34) and “put at defiance the armies of the nations” (JSR Gen. 14:31). Given JSR Genesis 14’s general dependence on Hebrews, some sort of influence might be assumed despite the differences. In Hebrews 11 the acts in the list are performed simply by faith. In JSR Genesis 14, they are performed by faith and priesthood. This particular connection of faith and priesthood is not found in Alma 13.
H. Bishop Melchizedek and the tithe: JSR Genesis 14 turns Melchizedek into a “bishop” of sorts. He is now “the keeper of the storehouse of God” (v. 37). This transformation is not due to any dependence on Hebrews; it reflects the development of Smith’s thought and the situation in the church around the beginning of 1831. The Enoch speculations show that Smith’s thoughts were turning to matters of church community, sustenance, and the concept of Zion. In February 1831 he received his first revelation that mentioned the “storehouse” of the church (D&C 42; cf. vv. 34, 55).80 This revelation [p.204] is contemporary with the date of his work on Genesis 14 (see above). According to the revision of Genesis 14, the tithes are now to be given to support the poor. Doctrine and Covenants 42:34 says that the residue of consecration properties “shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy” (see all of vv. 30-39). Thus JSR Genesis 14, produced in February-March 1831, corresponds to the Latter-day Saint situation in February 1831, not only in regard to the place where tithes were kept but also to their purpose.
The soundness of the conclusion that Alma 12-13 depend on Hebrews is made clearer by considering possible traditional-rationalist81 explanations.82 The most reasonable traditional-rationalist solution to evidence offered in this study is to hypothesize the existence of a parent text containing all the phraseology and basic ideas common among Alma 12-13, Ether 12,83 and Hebrews. The Book of Mormon chapters and Hebrews, in this view, depend on this parent text, and that explains the similarity. This text would have to be more similar to Hebrews than to Alma—a “Proto-Hebrews” text, as it were, rather than a “Proto-Alma” text. This is because it would be difficult to explain how or why the author of Hebrews rejects the sources in a parent text which were similar to Alma and the general and less-problematic formulations of matters in that text and goes to the Old Testament to make similar points but in a particularist and narrow manner. This extreme logical difficulty requires the hypothesis that the parent text was similar to Hebrews in the material parallel between Hebrews and Alma 12-13.
This Proto-Hebrews theory has several difficulties. It requires that a source covering much of Hebrews exists at least 700 years before Hebrews was composed. The text would have to include at least the following: (a) Hebrews 3:7-11, a version of verse 12, plus exposition [p.205] of this material from Psalm 95 highlighting the matters of heart-hardening, entering into God’s rest, “Today” as the time of faithfulness, and provocation; (b) the essence of Hebrews 7:1-4 and a relatively extensive discussion of priesthood; (c) a version of Hebrews 9:27-28; (d) much of Hebrews 11; (e) scattered verses or parts thereof outside Hebrews 11 parallel to Ether 12 (see the Appendix); (f) some of the parallels in Excursus 1; and (g) a messianic typological element. In large part it would be a “prooftext” composition bringing together material from Genesis 14 and Psalm 95 making some points similar to those in Hebrews.
Added to the difficulty of positing a text of this scope 700 years before Hebrews was written is the difficulty of positing this type of text in the preexilic (pre-586 B.C.E.) period. Positing such a text presumes that there is something of an authoritative Old Testament canon, which includes Genesis 14 and Psalm 95 and can be excerpted to provide a collection of authoritative statements for some additional extensive exegetical purpose. Certainly many biblical texts existed in the preexilic period, and the Bible itself has instances where later passages interpret earlier passages.84 But critical study of the biblical canon and the growth of biblical exegesis indicates that the type of text that Proto-Hebrews would have to be would be unlikely in the preexilic period.
This traditional-rationalist explanation of a major source text for Hebrews also conflicts with what critical scholarship has been saying about the biblical and extrabiblical sources of, and influences on, Hebrews. Scholarship recognizes that Hebrews does not create all of its argument by itself but relies on tradition and perhaps even on some unknown written sources (in addition to the Bible) in some of the places where we have seen the epistle parallel elements in Alma 12-13. But these traditions and sources are in general relatively recent developments for the author of Hebrews, not traditions and sources going back 700 years. Moreover, the traditions and sources found or supposed by scholars for the passages in Hebrews relevant to Alma 12-13 are diverse. They reflect different traditional tendencies within early Judaism as well as Hellenistic influences. They are not likely to be found in one traditional or textual source.85 Critical scholarly explanations of the background of Hebrews thus create another obstacle to accepting this traditional-rationalist explanation of the parallels between Hebrews and Alma 12-13.
[p.206] A further difficulty concerns the purpose of the Proto-Hebrews text. The theory could not be expected to go into detail about the goal of this document, but the nucleus of material to be included suggests the text would have been engaging questions similar to those that the author of Hebrews was answering, questions about priesthood, typology and the/a messiah, and so forth. Just as the form of the text would not fit well into the preexilic period, so the questions presumed to be addressed by Proto-Hebrews would not fit well. On the other hand Hebrews’s argument fits perfectly into the questions and concerns of first-century C.E. Christianity in its struggle to make sense of its relationship to the laws of the Hebrew Bible and the practices of early Judaism.
Another difficulty is that Hebrews, when it cites scripture, and this includes passages such as at 3:7-11 and 7:1-2, relies on a Greek translation.86 We have already seen this in the matter of “provocation.” If the author of Hebrews depends on Proto-Hebrews—and this would have to be a Hebrew text—it is difficult to imagine why he would exit this source and turn to a Greek text.
As noted, if there were a Proto-Hebrews text it would be more similar to Hebrews than to Alma. This would mean that what I have argued about Joseph Smith’s transformation of Hebrews would have to apply to the high priest Alma. Alma would be the one midrashically developing a biography out of a linguistic interpretation of Melchizedek’s name and title; he would be the one inventing the citation of Alma 12:33-35; he would be the one solving the questions about priesthood; and so forth.87 This means that the general, universal, and primordial contexts of the principles taught there would be largely Alma’s making and would constitute creative exegetical development.
One should note at the end of this list of difficulties that JSR Genesis 14 does not help solve the problems presented above, but in fact creates more of them for the traditional-rationalist argument (see Excursus 2). JSR Genesis 14 is hardly the source of the discussion of Melchizedek and other matters parallel between Alma 12-13 and Hebrews. A traditional-rationalist argument which seeks to include JSR Genesis 14 in the mix (and for consistency it should) needs to expand the Proto-Hebrews hypothesis and claim that the Proto-Hebrews text was also the source for JSR Genesis 14. The Proto-Hebrews text would have to be enlarged to [p.207] include material similar to the parallels between Hebrews and JSR Genesis 14 (see Excursus 2). This requires pushing back the date for Proto-Hebrews even further, far before 600 B.C.E.
These difficulties show that this traditional-rationalist solution to the textual relationship of Hebrews and Alma 12-13 is weak. Indeed this solution seems neither logically nor historically possible. Above all this hypothesis involves inventing the existence of a text to adjust and justify the dating of another text, a circular and highly questionable endeavor. Some bits and pieces of evidence could be brought to bear on these difficulties (some I have noted and in anticipation reacted to in the notes of this paper), but comparative studies always generate some evidence in divergent directions.88 None of the internal and comparative evidence I have seen comes close to supporting an explanation of authorship other than what I have offered in the body of this study.
A final implication pertaining to authorship needs to be brought out. The evidence I have reviewed indicates that Alma 12-13 were written by Joseph Smith. It goes almost without saying that this conclusion means further that the rest of the Book of Mormon was composed by him. Logical—even theological—consistency indicates that it is unlikely that these chapters would be his composition while others would be ancient.89 Furthermore, there is evidence for nineteenth-century provenance of other parts of the Book of Mormon.90 And as I have noted, there is evidence that Smith’s other “ancient” compositions are not actually ancient but arise out of his interactions with biblical texts and religious ideas of his period.91
As I indicated at the beginning of this paper, my major goal was to go beyond observations about the identity of the work’s author. My main purpose has been to describe some of the traits or characteristics [p.208] of Joseph Smith’s use of Hebrews in Alma 12-13. A summary of these traits is useful here. One should note that any given example of the transformation of biblical text in Alma 12-13 might be subsumed under several of these traits at the same time. The traits themselves tend to blend into one another at points. The purpose of this classification is not to offer a precise typology but to sort out in a rough way the types of operations we see going on in Alma 12-13. Such classification provides a basis for further study.
(1) One trait is textual conservation, the retention of elements in the biblical text.92 This trait is to be found more consistently in the JSR or in the chapters of the Book of Mormon which have patent citations of biblical texts.93 But Alma 12-13 exhibit enough conservation to show that it was an operative principle for Joseph Smith even in his looser and more expansive reworkings of the biblical text such as in Alma 12-13. The tendency to conserve text can be seen to induce the creative rewriting of biblical text. Smith could not always discard an uncomfortable or superfluous element but felt a need to formulate a new context for it.
(2) Another trait is solving problems in the biblical text.94 The attempt to solve problems is clearer in some cases than others (cf. the matter of Melchizedek’s genealogy to the less direct solutions to problems discussed in Section 3, above). Criteria for determining if a change in a text seeks to solve a problem will have to be developed in future studies.
(3) Joseph Smith’s rewriting further exhibits what can be called midrashic transformation or expansion of textual implications.95 Here elements of the biblical text serve as seeds for the germination of radically different ideas.
(4) The three traits described thus far often include the trait of [p.209] recontextualization. To save text, to solve problems, or to develop implications, the biblical phraseology and ideas were placed in a new context. It is this creation of new contexts which is the creative hallmark of Smith’s use of the Bible in Alma 12-13. Recontextualization can create a text which seems on the surface to have no direct relationship to the Bible.
(4a) One form of recontextualization is generalization or universalization.96 Principles or ideas having narrow or particular contexts in the biblical context are given a broader or more generally applicable context and justification.
(4b) A similar form of recontextualization is primordialization.97 Principles or ideas with narrow or particular contexts in the Bible are placed in contexts at the beginning of human history or even before the creation of humans and the earth.
(4c) Another form of recontextualization is confiation.98 Here matters unrelated in a biblical text are placed together in a similar context. This collocation generates new ways of thinking about the subjects which were unrelated in the biblical text. My study has shown how Smith mixed diverse elements in Hebrews into a unit in Alma 12-13. Conration, however, could include examples of the mixing of elements taken from different biblical texts.
These traits grow out of, and reflect, Smith’s ideology and attitude toward Christianity and the Old and New Testaments. He had a “Christian primitivistic” view regarding religion, a view shared by others of his time and the areas in which he lived.99 According to this view Christianity during the centuries between the time of the first Christians and the present had deviated from the true course, and there was therefore a need to go back to or restore primitive Christianity. Smith’s basic primitivistic tendency was augmented by a notion that the true religion, Christianity, was found not only among [p.210] the first Christians but also among the prophets, patriarchs, and other righteous people before Jesus’s mortal advent.100
These perspectives were accompanied by the judgment that the Old and New Testaments, records which could presumably provide the necessary exemplary and fundamental information for the restoration of true religion, were defective. For example, the Old Testament did not reveal anything directly or explicitly about Christian notions supposedly prevalent among the ancients. Indeed deists and other rationalists had used and were using this as evidence against the validity of Christianity.101 Moreover, Christianity had developed divergent practices and ideas which conflicted with one another. God’s revelation, being a true revelation, surely would have settled these matters before they arose. These apparent holes and gaps in the Testaments meant for Smith that the scriptures were not as complete as they once were. “Precious parts” had been taken away, which left questions and occasions for stumbling.102 Thus Smith developed the view that the restoration of the true gospel required also the restoration of texts which would make up the deficiency found in the Testaments. This ideology and attitude led him to rewrite the Bible in the ways reviewed in this paper.103 Logical gaps were filled, problems were solved, and religious principles and ideas were given broader justification.104
These techniques of biblical revision with their driving ideology continued to manifest themselves in all of Smith’s other “ancient” scriptures during the rest of his life. Recognition of this makes the sequence of his works understandable. For example, almost immediately after he finished the Book of Mormon, he began revising the Bible. From a traditional point of view, these two works are quite distinct from one another: one is supposed to be a translation from an ancient text inscribed [p.211] on metal plates, the other a restoration of lost passages from the Bible using the English (KJV) text. But the two works are actually not much different from one another in some of their basic methods of composition. The Book of Mormon is a new narrative, not a reworking of biblical stories, but it uses the KJV in various ways: in extensive explicit quoting, as in the citation of several chapters from Isaiah; or in a looser reworking of the biblical text, such as in the case examined in Alma 12-13. Through this use of the Bible in the Book of Mormon Smith developed his method of revising the biblical text. By the time he completed the Book of Mormon, he was fully prepared and enabled to move to the task of revising the KJV. Indeed using the Bible in composing the Book of Mormon might have brought the project of revising the Bible to mind. It is possible too that the similarity of how he treated the Bible in both works explains in part why he called each work a “translation.”
Similar observations can be made about the Book of Abraham, a work begun by Smith in 1835 and continued in the years that followed. Again tradition would understand this text as having a character entirely different from the Book of Mormon and the JSR: it is viewed as a translation of an Egyptian text. But as I have indicated incidentally at some points in this paper, this work is basically a reworking of the English biblical text (some Hebrew learning is exhibited as well, but not much). Consequently, in all his work there is a consistency in approach and method: he is not working in any of them with ancient languages (except for the bit of Hebrew in Abraham) and in all of them there is attention (to a greater or lesser degree) to revising or responding to the KJV. (This common character of all the works shows, by the way, that Smith, and not some other nineteenth-century personage, is the author of the Book of Mormon.)
Future textual research will undoubtedly augment what I have attempted to accomplish in this essay, showing the creative and religious genius of Joseph Smith. Such study will demonstrate that the Book of Mormon is a work which, to use the language of Jacob Neusner about the Mishnah, “compliments its audience” (1977, 319).
Some might think that acceptance of the conclusion that Joseph Smith is author of the Book of Mormon requires rejecting the work as religiously relevant and significant. I append this afterword to make it clear that such a rejection does not follow from this critical judgment. Historical conclusions about a scriptural text, such as who authored it, are existential judgments, as William James has pointed out, and can and should be separated from judgments about spiritual value (James 1961, 23). Historical conclusions might be made about a scriptural text [p.212] showing that it has errors and demonstrates more humanness than previously thought, but these conclusions do not mean a priori that the text has no religious value. They are only challenging if one retains a traditional viewpoint which requires that scripture, to be scripture, be miraculous, free (or mostly free) of error, and God’s own word rather than humans’ words about God. One can adopt an alternative attitude, tempered by the acceptance of critical conclusions (or more abstractly the critical method, which generates critical conclusions), that allows the text to speak a spiritual message. This attitude depends less on scripture’s proving itself to the reader and more on an individual’s and community’s willingness to appreciate the text as religiously relevant.
The separation between existential and spiritual judgments and the change in presuppositions about the nature of scripture have been exemplified in the work and lives of modern Jewish and Christian students of the Bible. Many of these scholars have come to conclusions about the biblical text very similar in tenor to those offered in this paper about the Book of Mormon.105 For example, they recognize that authorship of many biblical books is not that which tradition or the texts themselves claim. Many texts attributed to early times were actually written later. Many of the events recorded in the Bible did not actually occur. And some of the works were written pseudonymously, in the names of writers who did not write them.106 Despite these historical conclusions, these scholars have found religious value in the Bible. Indeed, having made this distinction in judgments, they have reintegrated the historical observations into the religious side by viewing them as evidence of how God works. The critical approach does not lead then to a denial of the hand of God. Rather it becomes a way of understanding God’s manner of revelation. The way these scholars have managed a religious, yet critical, approach shows the possibility of such with regard to Joseph Smith’s scriptures. Their response should be studied by Mormons for indications of how we might deal with a critical and religious reading of scripture.107
[p.213] Certainly a critically based approach to the Book of Mormon as scripture would lead to a different reading of that book. I would like here, in conclusion, to suggest one way the work might be read. Adopting the critical conclusion about authorship made in this paper might lead one to appreciate the Book of Mormon as a window to Joseph Smith’s life, revealing the sharpness of his intellect and portraying his religious growth. It records many of his questions and answers. It reflects his internal struggles and spiritual challenges in the context of his social and religious environment. As such it becomes a “true record,” to adapt William James’s phrase applied to Jewish and Christian scripture critically read, “of the inner experience of [a] great-souled [person] wrestling with the crises of [his] fate” (1961, 24). The Book of Mormon is the apprentice’s workshop of Smith’s prophetic career. In it we see him becoming a prophet. By careful and critical reading of its chapters against the environment in which it was produced, we can understand him much more completely and thus appreciate the foundations of the tradition he inaugurated. We can also use this study of Joseph Smith to reflect on our own situations and work out solutions to our questions and problems.
2. See Ashment 1979; Hill 1989, 19-30; Hullinger 1992; Hutchinson 1985, 1987, 1988; Russell 1982, 1983; Smith 1981; Thomas 1983; Vogel 1986, 1988, 1990; and see the papers in this volume. Hugh Nibley, in a generation past, and more recently the associates of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, plus some others, have argued in many articles and monographs for the antiquity of the Book of Mormon. This work has shown on occasion some striking coincidences between elements in the Book of Mormon and the ancient world and some notable matters of Book of Mormon style (on matters of style, see my review, Wright 1989, and especially p. 17 on methodological priorities in studying Book of Mormon style). But much of this work has been highly speculative and has been unable to deal satisfactorily with major textual ideational, and cultural anachronisms that are found in the Book of Mormon. Anachronism, particularly of the textual sort (as discussed in this paper), is the main criterion in determining dates of texts.
3. In a few cases, when it is not crucial for comparative matters, I provide my own translation. An eclectic transliteration of Hebrew, Aramaic, Phoenician, and Akkadian is used in this study for technical reasons. The transliteration of consonants is: alef=’; bet=b; gimel=g; dalet=d; he=h; waw=w; zayin=z het=H (also used for Akkadian -h-); tet=T; yod=y; kaf=k; lamed=l; mem=m; nun=n; samekh=s; ayin=c; pe=p; tsadi=c; qof=q; resh-r; sin=S; shin=ç; taw=t. The length or brevity of vowels is not marked in these languages (nor in transliterated Greek).
4. See FARMS 1987. I have kept traditional spelling of names and conventional modern spelling of words. I have provided my own punctuation. I have also updated or smoothed out the punctuation of the KJV in places to make it more readable.
5. “Midrash” is a genre of interpretation found in Jewish tradition whereby a scriptural text is recast, interpreted, or elaborated on, thus providing an explanation of various elements in the scriptural text and filling out the logical gaps of that text. For a more technical definition, see Fitzmyer 1974a, 222; Vermes 1970; 1973, 1-10; Michel 1966, 256.
6. For traditions about Melchizedek in Early Jewish, Qumran, Rabbinic, Christian, and Gnostic literatures, see Kobelski 1981; Horton 1976; Delcor 1971; Michel 1967; 1966, 257-58; Attridge 1989, 192-95; Fitzmyer 1974b, 1974a; Héring 1970, 53-55; Welch 1990; and see the literature cited in these works.
8. The words of the blessing of Genesis 14:19b-20a are also left uncited, but the blessing is mentioned. The matter of the bread and wine could have been used by the author of Hebrews to good typological advantage with respect to the Eucharist (Attridge 1989, 188). Joseph Smith transforms this along this line in his revision of Genesis 14.
10. The Old Testament is referred to explicitly, quoted, or paraphrased (i.e., introductions and context indicate a quotation or paraphrase) in the following verses: 1:5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10-12; 2:6-9, 12, 13; 3:7-11, 15; 4:3, 4, 7; 5:5, 6; 6:14; 7:1-2, 4, 17, 21; 8:5, 8-12; 9:20; 10:5-7, 8-9, 15-17, 30-31, 36-38; 12:5-6, 26; and 13:5 (for another listing of references, see Spicq 1952-53, 1:331-33). Besides these, many other allusions—citations of parts of phrases here and there and summaries of Old Testament stories—exist. Chapter 11 is a good example of this. Hughes 1979 discusses many of these examples but in an unsatisfactory way. See Hurst 1990, 61-63; Spicq 1952-53, 1:330-50.
11. The historical or original meaning of the name Melchizedek is not certain. The available evidence indicates that the -zedek (cedeq) portion of the name was probably a title or name of a deity, “Zedek.” Hence the name could mean “My king is Zedek.”
See Kobelski 1981, 55-56; Delcor 1971, 115-18; Rosenberg 1965, 161-77; Fitzmyer 1974a, 229-31; R. Smith 1965, 146-48; Attridge and Oden 1981, 44-47 and 85n74; Astour 1966, 282-83; Cross 1973, 161, 209; Albright 1924-25, 63-64n172; Attridge 1989, 188-89; Horton 1976, 42-44; Spicq 1952-53, 2:182; Westermann 1985, 204; Buchanan 1972, 118-19; Héring 1970, 56; Welch 1990, 245. This explanation of the name is set within the critical perspective that ancient Israelite religion grew out of a Canaanite milieu—i.e., monotheism as we know it in the Bible was the result of a historical and ideational development over the history of preexilic Israel. On this see the recent book of Mark Smith (1990). It should be noted that although the interpretation of Melchizedek’s name as theophoric is the most attractive historical interpretation, the name could be titular in nature, and early Jewish interpreters including the author of Hebrews could therefore have some justification in their explanations (see the next note for Philo and Josephus). A tenth-century-B.C.E. Phoenician inscription reads: “May the Heaven-Lord, the Byblos-Mistress, and assembly of the holy gods of Byblos prolong the days and years of Yehimilk over Byblos, because he is a righteous king (mlk cdq) and an upright king (mlk yçr) before the holy gods of Byblos” (Donner and Röilig 1971-76, text #4: 3-7, see 2:6-7; cf. the fifth-fourth-century-B.C.E. inscription #10:9 with just mlk cdq). But the roots cdq and yçr here, in Phoenician texts, remind one of the Phoenician characters Sydyk and Mishor (Attridge and Oden 1981, 44-45; Rosenberg 1965, 162-63) who perhaps reflect deities. Compare the divine pair cdq mçr at Ugarit (Astour 1966, 282-83). Cf. the personified and divinized pair Kittu (which approximates the notion of cedeq) and Misharu in Akkadian texts (Rosenberg 1965, 161-62; CAD M/2 118b). Thus somehow the Phoenician texts referred to here may echo divine names and not simply be royal epithets.
The meaning of “Salem” is less clear. It is not certain whether it is to be connected with the root çlm that signifies “well-being; wholeness” nor is it clear whether this is to be connected with Jerusalem. Psalms 76:3 (English v. 2) (contra Horton 1976, 50) and 110:4 indicate a connection of Salem with Jerusalem. Genesis 14, however, could refer to some other locale. See Gammie 1971; Hertzberg 1928; Cody 1969, 87-93; R. Smith 1965, 139-52; Rowley 1959; 1963, 17n4, 18n4; Fitzmyer 1974a, 231-33; Rosenberg 1965; Spicq 1952-53, 2:182-83; Skinner 1930, 267-68; Emerton 1971, 412-13; Albright 1924-25, 63-64.
12. Cf. Philo, Legurn Allegoria, 3.79: ”Melchizedek, too, has God made both king of peace (basileus res eirenes), for that is the meaning of ‘Salem,’ … he is entitled ‘the righteous king (basileus dikaios).'” Josephus, Antiquities, 1.10.2 180: ”Melchizedek: this name means ‘righteous king’ (basileus dikaios), and such was he by common consent, insomuch that for this reason he was moreover made priest of God”; Jewish War, 6.10.1 438: Melchizedek was “called in the native tongue ‘Righteous King’ (basileus dikaios); for such indeed he was.” See the Targumic and Qumran evidence summarized by Kobeiski 1981, 55, and its relevance to this interpretation. It should be noted that Philo’s and Josephus’s designation as basileus dikaios is slightly different from Hebrews’s basileus dikaiosynes.
14. Cf. Fitzmyer 1974a, 235-36; Attridge 1989, 189-90. On cautions about this notion that the idea arose out of the gaps of the Genesis 14 story, see Horton 1976, 152-60; Kobelski 1981, 115. Horton notes that a factor for this description of Melchizedek to be considered along with the silence of Genesis 14 is that this is the first place in the Pentateuch where a priest appears. It thus has special significance and receives special attention. For the linguistic and ideational background of the terms “without father” and “without mother,” see Michel 1966, 261; Moffatt 1924, 93.
15. See particularly the Hebrew Melchizedek scron from cave 11 (11QMelch). For the text and a discussion of this and related Qumran documents, see Kobelski 1981, and the literature there. Also see pages 115-29 there for possible influences on Hebrews 7. Cf. Fitzmyer 1974b, 267; Astour 1992, 685; Brooke 1992, 687-88. Hurst 1990, 54-60, 65-66, argues that 11QMelch cannot really be connected with Hebrews. For general eschatological influences generating the conception about Melchizedek as an eternal priest, see Michel 1966, 262-63.
18. On the dating of the creation story in the Book of Abraham, see n62. Another type of textual conservation is found in cases where Smith rewrote a text to solve a theological problem and recontextualized problematic language. Genesis 6:6 says that “it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” This makes God appear imperfect and fickle. Instead of throwing out the statement, Smith recontextualizes it making Noah the one who repents. Smith adds a few verses telling about Noah’s unsuccessful attempt to preach repentance (JSR Gen. 8:10-12=Moses 8:23-24) then rewrote Genesis 6:6 as Noah’s response to his failed mission: “And it repented Noah, and his heart was pained, that the Lord had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (JSR Gen. 8:13=Moses 8:25).
The Aramaic targumim (translations) of the Hebrew Bible reflect similar tendencies in textual conservation when elements of the biblical text are recontextualized. Compare, for example, God’s question to Adam (“Where are you?”), when the latter hid after eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:9). The question in the biblical text poses a difficulty in that it makes it appear as if God is ignorant of the man’s hiding place. The Palestinian targumim solve this theological difficulty and in doing so display textual conservation. Targum Neofiti, one of the examplars of the Palestinian tradition, reads: h’ kl qqq Clm’ dbryt gly qdmy hçwkh wnhwrh gly qdmy w’t Hçb dl’ gly qdmy ‘tr d’t bgwyh ‘n by’ mcwth dpqdt ytk; “Behold, the entire world that I created is known before me—darkness and light are known before me. Do you think that the place where you are hiding is not known before me? Where is the commandment which I commanded you?” Here God is represented as knowing all, even the place where Adam is hiding. The question “Where are you?” of the biblical text is no longer suited to the context. Instead of discarding it, however, it is recontextualized to refer to God’s commandment (or commandments; see the marginal gloss to the Neofiti and also the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan in the Miqra’ot Gedolot [British Museum Manuscript Add. 27031 seems to be corrupt in the last phrase] and the manuscripts of the Fragmentary Targum).
Smith solves the problem of Genesis 3:9 by having the man and woman, not God, walk in the Garden in Genesis 3:8; cf. also Gen. 8:21 and JSR Gen. 9:5. This leads to their going to hide among the trees. While they are going to hide, God asks his question. In this context the question receives a new formulation: “Where goest thou?” (JSR Gen. 3:13-15=Moses 4:14-15). God exhibits no ignorance because he catches the man and woman before they actually hide. That Joseph Smith responds to problems of the biblical text in a way similar to the targumim is an indication that the JSR is secondary to the biblical text, hence not ancient. This observation can be applied to the Bible material appearing in the Book of Mormon.
20. The Targum Neofiti gives Melchizedek high priesthood when it expansively translates: wh’ hwh kwhn mçmç bkhnt rbth qdm ‘lh’ qqq cl’h; “he was a priest who served in the high priesthood before the most high God” (in Gen. 14:18). See Kobelski 1981, 64, 68-69. Philo also calls him “high priest of the great God” (megas hiereus tou megistou theou; De Abrahamo 235). It seems that the designation of Melchizedek as a high priest would be a natural development in Jewish exegesis inasmuch as Melchizedek appears as the only, therefore primary and chief, priestly figure in the story of Genesis 14. A connection between Melchizedek and the Aaronide high priesthood has been observed even by critical scholars (cf. Emerton 1971, 416). The designation of him as high priest would be by analogy to the Aaronide high priest. Note that in Neofiti’s and Philo’s descriptions, God still remains the “most high.” In Alma 13:18, God is no longer designated “most high.”
23. It has been argued that there is a contradiction in this with Genesis 14:22-23, which says that Abram/Abraham will not take of the spoil so that the king of Sodom will not be able to say he made the patriarch rich (cf. Emerton 1971, 408). How can Abraham pay tithes if he does not possess the spoil? The solution is to see that in war contexts, there is often a requirement to make a donation (though not necessarily a tithe) of the spoil to the deity (via the priests; cf. Num. 31:10-12, 25-54; this might echo tithe issues; see Milgrom 1990, 262-63, esp. in v. 30). Abraham is making this type of donation to Melchizedek. The remaining nine-tenths is his to do with as he will and it is this that he according to context refuses to take. However, the deity’s share is not his to refuse.
25. Most critical scholars see Genesis 14:18-20 (and perhaps also 17b) as an addition to the story. If this Melchizedek story existed as a separate tradition before its incorporation into Genesis 14, the tithe might have been paid on something other than war spoils. Such a critical decontextualizing of the passage, however, does not lead to any knowledge about what the tithe could have come from. To say that it was from all of Abraham’s possessions would be pure speculation.
26. This argument shows that paying “tithes of one-tenth part” is not a tithe on a tithe (cf. Num. 18:26). This genitive construction is merely a genitive of equivalence meaning Abraham “paid tithes, i.e., one-tenth part. …”
28. Philo describes Melchizedek in the course of his exegesis as “ruler/prince of peace, of Salem” (hegemon eirenes Salem; Legurn Allegoria 3.80). This designation he develops in contrast to the “prince of war” (archon polemou). These designations seem to grow out of the particular philosophical point he is making.
29. Welch 1990, 262, recognizes the lack of linguistic concern in Alma when he says: “Alma also feels no need for pendantry [sic] over etymologies either regarding the name Salem or the name Melchizedek.” Cf. his comment on p. 263.
30. Another sign of the dependence of Alma 13 on Hebrews and not on Genesis is the appearance of the tithe-paying patriarch’s name as “Abraham” (Alma 13:15) rather than “Abram” as it is in Genesis 14. Hebrews 7:1-4, even though they are relying on Genesis 14 which has the patriarch’s earlier name, refers to him as “Abraham” (Greek, Abraam; cf. the Septuagint on Genesis 14 which has Abram; only from Genesis 17:5 on does it have Abraam).
31. This introduction, similar to another introduction to a scriptural citation in Hebrews 10:15 where Jeremiah 31:33 is cited, shows that the Old Testament is the specific source of the citation. Cf. Attridge 1989, 24, 114.
32. The Psalm’s text depends in large part on wilderness rebellion traditions such as those recounted in the Pentateuch. Note the following passages whose language Psalm 95 shares: Num. 14:22, “All the people who saw (haro’im) my glory, my signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness”//Ps. 95:9, “they saw my work(s) (ra’u pocoli/ay)”; Num. 14:22, “they tried me (waynassu ‘oti)”; Deut. 6:16, “Do not try (tenassu) the Lord your God just as you tried [him] (nissitem) at Massah” (cf. Deut. 33:8)//Ps. 95:9, “your fathers tried me (nissuni)”; Num. 14:22, “they did not hearken to my voice (welo’ çameeu beqoli)”//Ps. 95:7, “if you hearken to his voice (‘im beqolo tiçmecu)”; Num. 14:30 “you shall not come into the land (‘im-‘attem tabo’u ‘el-ha’arec) which I swore [literally lifted up my hand] to have you dwell in”; Num. 14:23, “they shall not see the land which I sware (niçbacti) to their fathers—all those who spurn me shall not see it”; 14:24, “Caleb, I will bring him (wahabi’otiw) into the land to which he shall come (ba’)”; Deut. 12:9, “you have not come (ba’tem) yet to the rest (menuHa) and inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you”//Ps. 95:11, “I swore (niçbacti) in my wrath, They shall not enter (yebo’un) into my rest (menuHa’ti).” With regard to the matter of rest, new camp sites in the wilderness were called “resting places” (menuHa; cf. Num. 10:33). The final menuHa “rest” for the Israelites was the land of Canaan, as Deut. 12:8-10 indicates. Moses tells the people that, being on the east of the Jordan, they had not yet come to the “resting place” (menuHa) and to the inheritance (naHala) which God is going to give them (this may refer to the temple, cf. the context of bringing offerings and see Preuss 1985, 306). They still have to cross the Jordan River. Then they will dwell in the land which God is giving them as an inheritance (manHil ‘etkem), and he will give them rest (heniaH lakem; same root as menuHa). This term also has an element of respite from enemies: Solomon praises God who has given “rest” (menuHa) to “his people, Israel” (1 Kgs. 8:56). The passage from Deuteronomy just noted says that in this land the Israelites shall live in security (wiçabtem-beTaH; Deut. 12:10; cf. 3:20; 25:19; Josh. 1:15; 21:44; 22:4; Ex. 33:14; 2 Sam. 7:1). On the “provocation” (meriba) and the “day of temptation” (yom massa) of Psalm 95 in Hebrews 3:8, see the discussion below and n39.
33. On the senses of “Today” in Hebrews, cf. Barrett 1956, 366-67 (and passim). The writer uses “Today” as being the time when “the readers of the epistle must give heed to the admonition” (cf. 3:13), but it is also used in an eschatological sense to indicate that “the rest [of God] remains still open to the faith of those who hear his words” (3:15-4:11, esp. 4:7-8).
34. One could hypothesize the existence of a parent text which would give rise to the commonalities between the texts and yet allow for the differences between the cited sources. This theoretically could solve the difficulties noted. But this textual hypothesis has grave difficulties, which I discuss in the conclusion to this paper.
35. Readers may pursue on their own how Joseph Smith generalized the matters of hardening hearts and entering into God’s rest by reviewing the passages cited above. On the matter of rest, cf. the context of the Hebrew Bible in n32. The notion in the Book of Mormon is much more abstract and general than the notion in Psalm 95 and even the development of the idea in Hebrews 3-4.
36. The appearance of the motif of procrastinating the day of one’s repentance in Alma 34:33, 35 is accompanied by some of the themes found in Alma 12-13: hardening hearts (34:31), the plan of redemption (34:31; cf. Alma 12:25, 26, 30, 32, 33), and bringing forth fruits for repentance (34:30, 13:13; cf. 12:15). The Hebrews 3-4/Psalm 95 notion is not the only impetus for the idea that the present is the time when faith and righteousness must be pursued. Compare 2 Corinthians 6:2, “now is the day of salvation” with Alma 13:21, “now is the time to repent, for the day of salvation draweth nigh.” Compare with this Alma 34:31: “now is the time and the day of your salvation.”
38. For the phrase “day of” with a geographical noun following, cf. “day of Midian,” Isa. 9:3 (English v. 4); the “day of Jezreel” Hos. 2:2 (English v. 1:11); “day of Jerusalem,” Ps. 137:7; “day of Egypt,” Ezek. 30:9. Modern translations and treatments of Psalm 95:8 render the terms as proper nouns (see, for example, the NJPS, RSV, NRSV, NAB, JB, NJB, NEB, NIV; Weiser 1962, 627; Kraus 1989, 244, 247-48; Dahood 1968, 352, 354). The Aramaic Targum to the Psalms renders the words in terms of their common noun meanings: l’ tqçwn Ibkwn hyk bmcwt’ hyk ywm’ dnsytwn ‘lh’ bmdbr’, “Do not harden your heart as in the quarrel, as on the day when you tried God in the wilderness.” The targumim are interpretive translations and often seek to bring out latent meanings of the text. Hence this evidence does not indicate that the nouns are to be taken as common nouns. For this tendency of the targumim, see Targum Onkelos on Deut. 1:1 and Vermes 1963, 167-68.
40. Meriba is used as a common noun only in Gen. 13:8; Num. 27:14. Massa occurs four times as a common noun (Deut. 4:34; 7:19; 29:2 ; Job 9:23; the Deuteronomy instances are in the plural in the sense of “miraculous/wondrous acts”).
41. See Attridge 1989, 115; Spicq 1952-53, 2:72, 73; Michel 1966, 182; Buchanan 1972, 61. That the author of Hebrews depends on the Septuagint is also seen in his drawing an analogy between the “rest” of Genesis 2:2 and Psalm 95:11 in Hebrews 4:4-5, which is easier to do when using the Septuagint which uses the same word stem in both passages (katepausen, “he rested,” and katapausin, “rest [noun],” respectively) as opposed to the Hebrew which uses different roots (wayyiçbot, “he rested,” and menuHa, “rest [noun]”). See Attridge 1992, 102.
42. All these observations should make it clear that Smith is not working with Psalm 95 directly. He reflects this through Hebrews’s treatment of the Psalm, just as he reflects material about Melchizedek through Hebrews’s treatment of that figure. On a separate matter, compare Jacob 1:7b-8a, which may also depend on Hebrews.
43. There was speculation about priestly function of angels and of a heavenly Melchizedek in various streams of early Jewish tradition. These heavenly priests often had more than strict cultic functions (cf. Attridge 1989, 97-103; Kobelski 1981, 3-23, 49-74). In fact, in 11QMelch what is said about cultic functions of Melchizedek is not clear (see Kobelski 1981, 64-71).
44. The writer is not getting things wrong here; priesthood according to the Hebrew Bible mainly has to do with cultic matters. “Priesthood” (kehuna) was a matter of functioning as a “priest” (kohen), i.e., in cultic matters. Calling a prophet’s power “priesthood” is a later development, growing out of developments in Christian tradition and out of later exegeses of works such as Hebrews as we find in Alma 13 (see below). One may speak of prophetic divine power and calling (cf. Jer. 1:4-10), but calling this “priesthood” when speaking of ancient Israel is anachronistic and determined by a later conception of “priesthood.” For an attempt to find a less or noncultic meaning of kohen in Psalm 110:4, see Horton 1976, 45-48. His attempt is forced. At any rate, whether kohen in Psalm 110:4 meant something other than a cultic functionary at an earlier period, it certainly was understood in a cultic (though metaphorical) sense by the writer of Hebrews.
50. Heb. 2:17; 3:1; 4:14-15; 5:10; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1; 9:11; 10:21; for the human comparison cf. Heb. 5:1; 7:27, 28; 8:3; 9:7, 25; 13:11; note the conflation of the Aaronide office with the quotation from Psalm 110 in Hebrews 5:10: “Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.” Cf. Joseph Smith’s “heightening” of the priesthood in Alma 13:18 vis-à-vis Heb. 7:1 (see the discussion in Section 1, above).
51. Though earlier generations of critical scholars dated the psalm to the second century B.C.E., it is probably preexilic (i.e., before 586 B.C.E.). It apparently strives to connect the Davidic dynasty back to the supposed earlier king of Jerusalem (=Salem), i.e., Melchizedek. The Davidic king or the dynasty is being pronounced a priest or priests collectively, after the order of Melchizedek. There is a tradition of David’s sons being priests (2 Sam. 8:18) and David himself acted in quasi-priestly roles (2 Sam. 6:12-19). See Kraus 1989, 350-51; Weiser 1962, 695-96; Cross 1973, 264-65. For other “royal psalms,” see Psalm 2 (which Hebrews makes use of: Heb. 1:5, 5:5), 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 89, 101, 132. On the use of the psalm in Second Temple times, see Kobelski 1981, 52-53.
52. Heb. 5:6, 10, 6:20, 7:11, 17, 21; cf. 7:15, 28. The psalm otherwise serves as a basis of argument or exposition: Heb. 1:3, 13, 8:1, 10:12-13, 12:2; and cf. Matt. 26:64; Mark 12:36; Acts 2:34-36 (and see Kobelski 1981, 53).
53. Once Hebrews comes close to reversing the denomination: “but [Melchizedek was] made like unto the Son of God [and] abideth a priest continually” (7:3). This does not cancel out the impression of problematic designation imparted otherwise. This may have in fact given Smith a lead on how to reconstrue the denomination.
54. The closest we come to cultic matters is the metaphoric description of sanctification and purification of obedient believers in Alma 13:11-12, which might be said to come partly through being ordained a priest.
The notion of sanctification as found in Alma 13:11-12 does not occur in the Hebrew Bible but is apparently a later development basing itself on notions of sanctification in the New Testament. For the language and ideas of Alma 13:11-12, cf. Rom. 12:9, 15:16; 1 Cor. 1:2, 6:11; Eph. 5:26-27; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; Rev. 7:14 (cf. forerunners in Dan. 11:35; 12:10). On the notion of sanctification in the Old and New Testaments, see Wright 1992; Blackman 1962. The notion of sanctification appears in Hebrews at 2:11, 10:10, 14, 29. It does not appear that these Hebrews verses were particular stimuli for the appearance of the notion in Alma 13.
55. Cf. 2 Ne. 5:26; Jacob 1:17-19; Jarom 1:11; Mosiah 6:3, 18:18, 24, 26, 28, 23:15-17, 25:19, 21, 26:7, 27:1, 22, 29:42; Alma 1:3, 26, 4:4, 7, 18, 20, 5:3, 6:1, 8:11, 23, 15:13, 16:5, 23:4, 30:20-22, 23, 28, 29, 31, 45:22, 23, 46:6, 38; Hel. 3:25; 3 Ne. 6:22. Even King Noah’s priests “teach” and pass judgments (Mosiah 11:5, 7, 11, 12:17, 25, 17:1, 6, 12; for other contexts where evil people have priesthood, see Alma 14:18, 27, 16:18, 35:5). Note the continuity in function into the “Christian” era of the Book of Mormon: Moro. 3:1-4; cf. the new function in Moro. 4:1.
56. See D. Peterson 1990, 193-95 for a discussion (and cf. Toscano 1989, 8-9). For Smith’s and his contemporaries’ use of the term, cf. JS-H 1:6; Jessee 1989, 238, 298. Peterson accepts the Book of Mormon as ancient and develops an argument that Book of Mormon priests had cultic duties by virtue of the fact that “pre-Christian” Book of Mormon people said they observed the “Law of Moses” (2 Ne. 5:10, 25:24) and had a temple. He does recognize, however, that the Book of Mormon mainly characterizes the function of priests as teaching (pp. 193-95).
58. “Holy calling” appears in Alma 13:3, 4, 5, 6, 8—but only in 2 Timothy 1:9 in the Bible—and constitutes on the face of it an anachronism. The term in Alma 13 may be stimulated by “heavenly calling” in Hebrews 3:1.
59. That entering into God’s rest is the result of “sanctification” and that “sanctification” may be connected with priesthood calling in verses 10-13 indicate that priesthood was to be the entitlement of all righteous males. But since the call to righteousness is to females (who presumably in Smith’s view do not receive priesthood) as well as males and the promise of entering God’s rest is for both genders, perhaps the notions of sanctification and priesthood are to be separated.
61. It is hard to figure out in other verses whether foundational and mortal contexts are differentiated from one another. This same bifureation in priesthood bestowal is seen perhaps also in verse 8: it begins by reference to general ordination and then speaks of a holy calling (the foundational element?) and being “ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order” (the actualization?). The verse then uses the two terms in summary, “which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or end.” Other verses start to make sense along these lines: verse 6 speaks of people “being called by this holy calling [the foundational situation?] and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God [the mortal situation?].” Other occasions of the term “ordain” seem to connote both the call and actual ordination, sometimes with focus on the mortal acquisition of this office (cf. vv. 1, 2, 10). The noun “ordinance” seems to have reference to the mortal acquisition (v. 8) but may be a more comprehensive term (v. 16). For a different discussion, see Toscano 1989, 10-13.
62. Apropos of this matter, in his revision of the first chapters of Genesis (found in Moses 2-3), begun relatively soon after his completion of the Book of Mormon, Smith interprets the first part of the creation story in Genesis (1:1-2:4a//Moses 2:1-3:4a) as referring to a physical creation of inanimate forms and a spiritual creation of life forms including humans. Though Jesus existed here at the beginning of creation (cf. Moses 2:1, 26), humans were not created spiritually until the “sixth day” of creation after inanimate forms were created (cf. Moses 3:5, 7 vis-à-vis 2:26-31). The physical creation of life forms in this story comes in the second part of the creation story (Moses 2:5-25//Gen. 2:4b-25). Smith’s conception about when humans were spiritually created changed between the revision of Genesis 1-2 and the composition of the Book of Abraham (which is also a revision of the biblical text). In Abraham the first part of the Creation consists of the physical creation of inanimate forms and the physical preparation for animate forms (Abr. 4:1-5:7); the second part of the creation story consists of the physical creation of life forms (Abr. 5:7-21). Where is the spiritual creation of humans? It is pushed beck to Abraham 3, before any work on the earth had begun.
63. It is possible that the typology also consists in the function of human priesthood bearers in teaching the people to repent and prepare for Christ’s redemption (cf. 13:1, 17-18). Verse 6 talks of people being ordained “to teach [God’s] commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest.” This forms a link to 12:34, which more fully says that the person who does not harden his heart “shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest.” If so, this complements the other typological function just noted; it does not contradict it.
65. The scriptural and traditional precedents that lie behind each element of the typology still need to be examined. For example, New Testament tradition sees aspects of the “redemption” as existing “before foundation of the world” (cf. Matt. 25:34; John 17:24, etc.). The New Testament also sees leaders being called “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4) and 1 Peter 1:2 talks of election “according to the foreknowledge of God” (cf. also Jer. 1:5; Isa. 49:1, 5).
66. Cf. the prepositional usages in Ecclesiastes 3:18, 7:14, and possibly 8:2 (contrast the use as a noun meaning “claim, suit” in Job 5:8). Cf. the prepositional usage in biblical Aramaic, Dan. 2:30, 4:14. Many interpretations have been offered about the meaning of the phrase in Ps. 110:4 (see Kobelski 1981, 118; Horton 1976, 52n1; Delcor 1971, 121; Fitzmyer 1974a, 225-26; Kraus 1989, 351). One speculative yet contextually reasonable explanation is offered here. One is struck by the context of Ecclesiastes 8:2-3, which contain roots of two other words found in Psalm 110:4 besides the phrase cal-dibrat(i). Those roots are çbc, having to do with swearing an oath, and mlk, “king.” Ecclesiastes 8:2-3 could be construed as: “Observe the command of the king, ([‘et?]-pi-melek çemor) but do not be hasty in the utterance of an oath by God (wecal dibrat çebucal ‘elohim ‘al tibbahel).” The linkage of these almost redundant terms dibrat- and çebucat- in this understanding of the verse indicates that they could be understood as something of a “word pair” which could be “broken up” in poetic parallelism. This is what could be going on in Psalm 110:4. In that case, dibrati could be understood as a concrete noun meaning something like “oath” or “utterance” and the -i suffix could be taken as a first person suffix pronoun referring to God. The verse would translate this way:
niçbac yhwh welo’ yinnaHem
Yhwh has sworn and will not recant:
“You are a priest forever,
By my utterance (you are a) Melchizedek.”
Here the ideal king or Davidic dynasty is designated a Melchizedek by metaphor rather than by simile. Or perhaps the reference to Melchizedek should be taken as a simple vocative, “You are a priest forever, by my utterance, O Melchizedek,” using the name of the early king of Salem as a designation for the king or royal house. The former solution is preferable because it forms a nice parallel with kohen, “priest.” (Cf. the NJPS on the last phrase: “a rightful king by My decree.”)
67. The matter of priesthood “order” is concentrated in Alma 13, but the notion appears elsewhere in the Book of Mormon and even in chapters written before Alma 12-13. The following gives something of a lexical entry summarizing the term. Meaning “A” pertains to priesthood and relates to the issues of Alma 13. Meaning “B” is to be compared to the usage in Alma 13 too, though in a different context. Meanings “C” and “D” have a different orientation but may color the understanding of “order” in usages A and B.
A1: In a few cases “order” refers clearly to priesthood. Accompanying phraseology is similar to that in Hebrews: “Alma … confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God” (Alma 4:20); “Alma [was] the high priest according to the holy order of God” (5 headings); people were “ordained by the holy order of God” (49:30); “many … were called by the order of God; yea, even after the order of his Son” (Hel. 8:18); “by faith … they of old were called after the holy order of God” (Ether 12:10); “Jacob [was] called of God and ordained after the manner of his holy order” (2 Ne. 6:2).
A2: Priesthood order is also reflected in teaching contexts: Alma teaches “according to the holy order of God, by which he had been called” (Alma 8:4); he is “called to speak after this manner, according to the holy order of God, which is in Christ Jesus” (5:44); he declared the word of God “according to … the holy order by which he was called” (6:8); he says “this is the order after which I am called, to preach unto my beloved brethren” (5:49). Cf. 49:30. These passages relate to the observation above that the main purpose of priests in the Book of Mormon was to teach. There might also be here a connection with the notion of church regulation in these cases (see “C” below).
A3: Alma ordains priesthood leaders “by laying on his hands according to the order of God, to preside and watch over the church” (6:1). Cf. 49:30. This seems to refer to priesthood order but could have something to do with the “order of the church” (see “B” below) or with the regulation of “laying on of hands” (cf. “C”).
B: “Order” appears in a different sense when it is used for the establishment of the “order of the church,” meaning its organization (6:4, 8:1). This may have to do with ordaining priests and other leaders (cf. 6:1), but it refers to church structure rather than priesthood type. This may cast light on the concrete use of “order” with respect to priesthood; i.e., a priesthood order is an element in the larger structure of the church. Elements of meaning “C” may be implicit in these passages. “Order” in the cases here is probably not to be construed as simple “regularity” or “peace” (as in 46:38).
C: “Order” appears in the sense of church “regulation” or “commandments” when people are said to “walk after the holy order of God” (5:54, 7:22). This can be compared with meaning “B.”
D: “Order” is used, in ways similar to the foregoing, to refer to an illicit clerical class or religious tradition:
D1: The clerical class is found where Amlici was “after the order of the man that slew Gideon” (2:1); an accusing judge is “after the order and faith of Nehor, who slew Gideon” (14:16; this may belong to D2).
D2: The religious tradition is found in the case where Amalekites, Amulonites, and their synagogues were “after the order of the Nehors” (21:4b, 24:28, 29 [here “Nehor” instead of “Nehors”]). Other instances of “order” lie or appear to lie outside this sorting out of occurrences pertaining to priesthood and church order.)
69. In the New Testament the idea of a second death occurs only in the book of Revelation, though it exists in the literature of early and Rabbinic Judaism (e.g., Philo, De Praemiis et Poenis, 70-71; Fragmentary Targum Deut 33:6; Targum Jonathan Jer 51:39). See Ford 1975, 350, 393-94. The phrase is not in the Hebrew Bible. This indicates that the idea is probably a development in the late Second Temple period and is thus another anachronism in the Book of Mormon.
74. I have checked the JSR Gen. 14:25-40 against Old Testament Manuscript #2 (cf. Matthews 1975, 62-81). The RLDS edition (Joseph Smith 1944) is a faithful rendition of this material, and so I cite from that edition.
75. It might be thought that the expression in the JSR that priesthood “came not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother” has a parallel in the Tell el-Amarna correspondence of the fourteenth century B.C.E. Abdi-Heba was installed in his position of ruler of Jerusalem (the same city which Melchizedek might have ruled) about which he says in a letter to the Egyptian royal court: “Look, as for me, neither my father nor my mother set me in this place; the strong arm of the king [of Egypt] made me enter the house of my father!” (amur anaku la abiya u la ummiya çaknani ina açri anne zuruH [=zrc] sarri dannu uçeribanni ana bit abiya; #286: 9-13; cf. #287: 25-28, #288: 13-15; on the translation, see CAD E 269b; Z 167; Pritchard 1969, 487-88; Knudtzon 1915, 1:860-69). It is important to recognize the differences here: Abdi-Heba was not a king like Melchizedek; the passage does not deal with priesthood; the context of Abdi-Heba’s expression is one of subordination and petition; and Abdi-Heba’s office ultimately did come from man—the Egyptian king. Skinner 1930, 270; Fitzmyer 1974a, 236n48, reject a connection between the Amarna expressions and Hebrews 7:3; cf. also Horton 1976, 54-60.
Another passage, in Philo, De Congressu 99, might be thought to echo the sentiment of JSR in this general matter when it says that Melchizedek was a self-instructed (automathes) and self-taught (autodidaktos) priest. While one might think that self-teaching equals divine (not human) calling, this is not what the text says. Philo is making a philosophical observation, which is based on the silence of the biblical text about how Melchizedek fits into tradition.
Another parallel which can be brought into the discussion is Jubilees 13:25-27, which speaks of the payment of the tithe after the battle. It says that the tithe is to be given to priests “(as) an ordinance forever … And there is no limit of days for this law because he ordained it for eternal generations” (Wintermute’s translation in Charlesworth 1985). This resonates with statements in Hebrews, Alma, and JSR Genesis 14 about something in connection with the Melchizedek story having no “beginning of days or end of years/life” (see Welch 1990, 248, 267n25). There is a gap in the manuscripts of Jubilees which makes the context here difficult, and interpretations cannot be certain. But it should be noted that it is clearly the law of the tithe, not people or priesthood, which has no limit. More particularly, the tithe here (as in the Priestly tradition of the Pentateuch) is a prebend for the priests. Prebends for priests in this Pentateuchal tradition are often called Hoq colam (ledorotekem), “a perpetual due (throughout your generations)” [Ex. 29:28; Lev. 6:11 [English 6:18]; 7:34; 10:15; 24:9; Num. 18:8, 11, 19); Huqqat colam ledorotam, “eternal due throughout their generations,” is used for priestly prebends too (Lev. 7:36). The terms Hoq Colam and Huqqat colam (sometimes with accompanying ledorotekem/ledorotam) also are found in the sense of “perpetual statute” regarding various cultic rules [Ex. 12:14, 17, 27:21, 28:43; Ex. 30:21; Lev. 3:17, 6:15 [English 6:22], 10:9, 16:29, 31, 34, 17:7, 23:14, 21, 31, 41, 24:3; Num. 10:8, 15:15, 19:10, 21; Ezek. 46:14; cf. the non-cultic use in Jer. 5:22). In one case Huqqat colam ledorotekem is found in the midst of rules surrounding the Levites, the tithe they receive, and their cultic duties (Num. 18:23). It seems that this Priestly language is the generator of Jubilees’s prescription. Note Jubilees says the tithe is “an ordinance forever” (=Hoq/Huqqat colam) and that it was ordained “for eternal generations” (=approximately ledorotekem/ledorotam). The statement that “there is no limit of days” for the law of tithing seems to grow out of this cultic language and context, not out of a tradition about Melchizedek. (The Priestly terminology discussed here, by the way, appears in connection with the priesthood in Ex. 29:9, 40:15; and Num. 25:13.)
78. 11QMelch, as I noted, talks of a heavenly Melchizedek, indeed one who “supervises” and aids the righteous. One might construe this as a parallel with the notion in the JSR that Melchizedek and his righteous people were perhaps translated. This supposition disappears upon examination of the stark differences in conceptions. One might think that the tradition in 2 Enoch 71-72 about the hiding of young Melchizedek in Eden when the flood was about to break out on the earth is a reflection of his being translated (note that in 71:1 Michael or Gabriel is told to go down and “take” Melchizedek and place him in Eden). This seems to be only coincidental: not much else in the story (except for passages that coincide with the Genesis 14 story) is similar to JSR Genesis 14 and, when he is “taken,” Melchizedek is a child.
80. For the date of this composite section, see Woodford 1974, 527, 533-34 and his textual analysis; see also Arrington, Fox, and May 1976, 1-40. Sec. 41:9, 4 Feb. 1831, is the first mention of the office of bishop in the D&C (cf. Roberts 1957, 2:366-67). The mention of “bishop” in D&C 20:67 is an addition postdating the 1833 Book of Commandments (cf. Woodford 1974, 1:331, 334). The connection of tithes with a storehouse is found in Mal. 3:10 (cf. outside the context of tithes, Gen. 41:56; Deut. 28:8; etc.).
81. This term refers to one who seeks to establish traditional assumptions about the Book of Mormon but does so through rationalist means (such as one finds current in the publications of FARMS). Not entertained here are arational or irrational solutions.
82. Welch’s explanation (1990) of the sources of Alma 13:13-19 provides an inadequate solution to the problem because it does not recognize or explain the parallels between this Alma passage and Hebrews 7:1-4 nor does it recognize and explain the other parallels that exist between Hebrews and Alma 12-13 or Ether 12.
83. Ether 12 needs to be included in the traditional-rationalist judgment since the most logical explanation from that vantage point is that this chapter comes by its material from the same parent text that Alma 12-13 depends on. In the traditional-rationalist view, it would be hard to argue that Moroni depends on Hebrews itself.
86. There have been some arguments to the contrary, but it seems clear that the Greek translation is the source of scriptural quotations. See Spicq 1952-53, 1:334-36, 338-39 (and 330-35 generally); Artridge 1989, 23-24 (and the literature there); 1992, 102-103; Hurst 1990, 4, 132; Michel 1966, 75, 182, 256; Moffatt 1924, lxii; Héring 1970, xii, xvi. See also n41 herein.
89. Ostler (1987) offers a hybrid approach. He argues that the Book of Mormon has an ancient core which has been significantly expanded by Joseph Smith. The main criticism of this view is that it is hard to sustain by internal logic. Sometimes propositional revelation (on this see Dulles 1983, 36-52; also Gnuse 1985, 22-44) appears to be accepted; other times it is rejected. It also removes many passages which speak of Jesus and his divine mission, a move which contradicts the self expressed goal of the work in proving that “JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD” (Title Page).
91. Some would argue that statements about the plates by early members of the church are evidence of the antiquity of the work. The mystical and secretive treatment of the plates, especially vis-à-vis the mundane and public treatment of the Egyptian papyri which were the springboard for the Book of Abraham, vitiates the force of this evidence. It seems that the evidence of the text itself, such as we have examined here, must take priority in compositional judgments.
92. Examples: the phrase “one-tenth part of all” in Alma 13:15 from Hebrews 7:2; “without beginning of days” in Alma 13:7 (cf. vv. 8, 9; and cf. v. 19) from Hebrews 7:3; “high” of priesthood in Alma 13:18 from “high” of God in Hebrews 7:1.
94. Examples: giving Melchizedek a genealogy (Alma 13:18; cf. Heb. 7:3); redenominating the priesthood after Jesus rather than after Melchizedek (Alma 13:1, etc.; cf. Heb 5:6, etc.); the problems of the duties and scope of the priesthood (see Section 3 above). Cf. the matter of “high” in Alma 13:18 (see n92).
95. Examples: building a “biography” of Melchizedek in Alma 13:14-19 from the interpretation of his name and title in Hebrews 7:2; creating an entirely different quotation and quotation-context in Alma 12:33-36 on the basis of Hebrews 3:7-12; creating a typology for the priesthood in Alma 13; cf. the phrase “there were many before him and also there were many afterwards” in Alma 13:19 which perhaps derives from Hebrews 7:3.
96. Examples: expanding the scope of Abraham’s tithe (Alma 13:15) and ignoring the war context in Alma 13:14-19 generally; ignoring the wilderness rebellion context in Alma 12:33-37 (cf. Heb. 3:7-12); expanding the duties of the priesthood and the scope of those who can be priests (see Section 3 above); cf. the matter of generalizing the interpretation of Melchizedek’s name and title.
97. Examples: placing the quotation dealing with hardening hearts back toward the beginning of human history (Alma 12:33-35); placing “provocation” at the beginning of human history (Alma 13:36-37); establishing a call to the priesthood at the “foundation of the world” in Alma 13; placing the language of Hebrews 9:27 in a context of the fall (Alma 13:27-28).
101. See Hullinger 1992; cf. Paine 1794-96, for some of the objections that were circulating just before Joseph Smith’s time (see Hullinger’s discussion, pp. 21-24). Paine’s book is relevant because the Joseph Smith family had a copy of the work (see Hullinger, 35).
102. Cf. 1 Ne. 13:26: “they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away”; cf. vv. 28, 29, 32, 34. This removal of portions of the Bible is one of the reasons for Joseph Smith’s work (vv. 35-42).
105. This, by the way, shows that the conclusions made here about the Book of Mormon cannot be used to funnel Mormons into fundamentalist Christianity. It is the height of methodological inconsistency to think that critical method of study can be applied to the Book of Mormon and that its results can be accepted while leaving the Bible exempted from critical study.
107. See, for example, Barr 1980, 1983; Brown 1981; Childs 1979; Dulles 1983; Greenberg 1984; Gnuse 1985. See also the suggestions for Mormon perspectives in Hutchinson 1987, 1988. Mark Thomas’s work also has provided some positive perspectives (see Thomas 1983, and his essay in Vogel 1990). See also my 1992 article.
108. This has “more excellent way.” One might think that Hebrews’ use of “way” and “more excellent” led to the use of this phrase in Corinthians. “More” with “excellent” occurs elsewhere only in Psalm 76:4; Romans 2:18.