Documentary Hypothesis – The Name of God

May 25, 2012

ImageOn my six month visit – work attempt in Britain last year I happened to go to the outdoor museum for Welsh history in Cardiff.  In amongst the various industrial, pre industrial and celtic round houses was a small little church.

While disassembling the St. Telios church the museum discovered that the building which was over 600 years old had original paintings underlying the protestant white wash.  These paintings were not fantastic designs and creations of a wealthy class or church where money was not an object.

These paintings as the one on the right demonstrates were more like sacred attempts by local artists to point to the divine.  Simplistic in tone but not in message.  In fact this painting is of the Trinity encapsulating the Father on the throne, the Holy Spirit on the top of the cross in a form of a dove and God the son upon the cross.

In each case this manifestation of God as three while in one in some ways is found in the modern bible in the old testament.  Yahweh is just one name for God.  There is also El, Elohim, El-Shaddai and Adoniah which is translated often as LORD (though literally means master) in the English language versions.  Each of these names means something slightly different to Biblical era Israelites and the Jewish exiles.

For scholars these names were the first hint that maybe the Torah or the first five books of the Old Testament was not the work of a single writer but a mash up of various writers. For the Documentary Hypothesis these names of God meant different things. Much like how we identify the Trinity as three separate personages to use Joseph Smith’s dated term.

The difference with scholars is that they see each of these as different because in large part they are taking from different writers.  Each with a different historical and political reason for their viewpoint.  In some ways that would seem easy, but even with these names there is more confusion as each so called group uses all of them.  So not so straight forward and obvious.  In fact after Moses received the name of God as Yahweh they converge and use either Yahweh or Adonai.

So what to make of this idea.  Well you can look at it two ways.

1. The reasons for the various names is that before Moses the Patriarchs did not know Yahweh by that name so for narrative purposes it was not mentioned.

2. Or is it a case of different writers using different conventions or traditions J writes about God = Yahweh throughout while E, and P only bring the name in after Moses.

If 2 is correct then how do we view these naming conventions and do they make a difference.  A scholar may say that it points to the Canaanite origins because El was the head of their gods and Yahweh was a storm god who was not as important.  If that is the case then how do the reconcile the eventual merger of the two names.

One reason argued is that E was a Northern Israeli version of the Torah while J is the Jewish version.  What seems odd then is why did the P or Priestly version then adapt the E version of the story.  So much so that some argued at times that there is no E and that what we think of as E is really P.

In a Mormon perspective then we are left with some interesting ideas.

 Multiple names for deity

If one looks at archaeology and other sources scholars like to point to multiple deities of Canaanite gods make up the the beginnings of the monotheistic Israelites.  For many Christians and Jews that would be a difficult argument and for most Mormons as well.  Yet if we believe in a idea of becoming gods ourselves than it would be logical that there would be more than one God.  In fact we make that statement quite clearly.

So the concept that there may be some bleed over about the names of God and the names of gods seems to be less problematic in some ways for us.  Not a perfect fit I grant you but it might be something to explore as others have done with Asherah.  In some ways the alternative message might be that as Mormons we are ready to keep an open mind rather than close ourselves off on a book that we believe the word of God as far as it has been translated correctly.

I have more thoughts on all of this later specifically is E real, if it is real does it represent the brass plates?  Also what are we to make of the academic retrenchment arguing against the Documentary Hypothesis but now to bed.


Is the Documentary Hypothesis antithesis of Mormonism or a point of explanation? A discussion

May 19, 2012

Kevin Barney at the turn of the century published a fine article in Dialogue discussing the Documentary Hypothesis and specifically its effect on Mormon thought about the writers of the Bible.  The idea that Moses is not the writer of the five books which we claim he wrote is not a new discussion.  In fact one might say that much of what was written down, including his final speech in Deuteronomy would obviously fall after his death so logically could not have been documented by him.

When I first and secondly read the Old Testament I found these first five books particularly hard to overcome.  In much of the later three books I was glazed over.  In some respects I put that on a combination of thousands of years separating me from the authors and the fact that the book we used in the LDS church is so full of Shakespearian era dialect that it almost impossible to make it through without a guide to get you through.

But as I have learned over the years having a document compiled by multiple authors by an editor who for reasons only known to him/them left conflicting stories to intermingle in the book.  It now made sense in a totally different way why I could find this all so much more difficult to read.

The idea that documentary hypothesis works well with me for that reason to begin with.  The idea that there are multiple writers with varying agendas makes perfect sense.  As a historian I have noted that the past is a combination of everyone’s viewpoint.  From the eye witnesses to the various second hand accounts to the academic papers each offer a slice of a historical argument and each of us makes are piece with what we can accept.  Sometimes we accept myth making over history because it makes us feel better.  Sometimes we prefer history because we want to see a fair viewpoint.

At times with ancient literature we only have their word for it.  In some cases archaeology can help but it cannot always answer in a definitive way.  Many times it is educated guess work no different than a historian looking at Herodotus or Julius Caesar.  So while one has to be careful at making broad gestures I think it is important that we understand the academic need to understand why things came to be.  

Given those ideas we now have to go back and examine what our own challenges are with this hypothesis.  Will it always be something which we cannot agree like Evangelical Christians who see this as challenging to their understanding to their view point on Biblical inerrancy. Similar to Muslims who see the Quran as a book from God to man with no middle interpretation.  

What I am proposing here is an examination of the articles by Barney, Sorenson and others who argued for the hypothesis and see whether the foundations of this idea and how these compare to Book of Mornon scholarship and if there are ways we can build a bridge to where each of the variant ideas carry us and how they can be defined.  Is there four authors, many more fragments which make up the five books, is there points that come from after the exile that must be evaluated in light of what Joseph translated.  

I personally love Sorenson’s hypothesis that the brass plates were the Northern tribes version of the Bible which make up the E version or P version of the scriptures depending on the current viewpoint.  Whereas J version speaks to the Jews in Judah during the monarchical period. In many ways I want to continue that discussion.

So I hope you will join me in this process as it has been a while since I wrote here I hope you will join me along the road.  Apologies if this does not completely make sense but hopefully we will achieve something of interest for more than just me.


Constitutional fight about polygamy

December 2, 2010

After the government of British Columbia (BC) tried to convict a fundamentalist Mormon sect in Bountiful, BC on charges of polygamy they have moved on to more dangerous grounds.  The government wants the Supreme Court of BC to confirm or deny the constitutionality of Polygamy under the law.  If the court confirms that polygamist relationships should be protected under law, as same sex marriage was in 2005, then a law which has existed over 100 years with the movement of Mormons to Canada in the 1890s will be removed.

It is fascinating to see how this plays out.  I am convinced that the BC court will rule that polygamy should be protected, while illegal underage marriages and abuse should be prosecuted.  If the Canadian courts are to be consistent with the trends over the past 1o years I can see no other reaction.   There seems to be no law against multiple partners, laws were struck down on other definitions of what a marriage entails so there is little that can be said in favour of single partner unions over a multiple partner other than what havoc it will play with divorce and pension laws.

While there are other reasons to be unhappy with what is going on in Bountiful (there are some who are saying things are not so bad others would of course disagree) there is little that can be presented that would justify continuing discrimination under this evaluation.

I think I have been pretty clear that I do not defend anything going on in Bountiful, I have heard a few horror stories that also do not surprise me.  Yet polygamy, either polygyny or polyandry,  as a relationship is seemingly little different from other monogamous relationships that can have abuse and problems.  Of course this could be the tip of a another relationship iceberg and may prove that government sponsorship of marriage in general is just not tenable if what the definition becomes is always legally moved to various more distant goal posts.

This reference case could just be the beginning of a new world for those who believe and practice polygamy.


All Hallows Eve – A History

October 30, 2010

The origins of Halloween or All Hallows Eve are old.  So old that I think most of us have no idea why we do what we do on the day.  Of course one could Wikipedia the origins and quickly come up with a great deal of answers.

But I thought I would stick to some scholarly writers to gather the information on the day that kids anticipate and parents prepare knowing that the best thing to come out of the experience is a parent tax and an extended kids snacks for schools we no longer have to put out for a month.

The Pagan Roots

Halloween most people know is a pagan holiday in origin which much like the Solstice was co-opted by the early Christians to change the focus away from the pagan rituals and to make it more Christian centred.   The origins are Celtic.  We mostly know this from Gaulic Celtic sources1.

In Celtic worship November 1st was the New Year for them, it was called Samhain.   The Celts viewed the day as starting at sun down, so thus the New Year started on what would be October 31st for our understanding.  Geo Athena Trevarthen explains that there was good religious reason for this:

Why should the year begin in darkness?  In The Conquest of Gaul Caesar said Celtic Gauls claimed descent from Father Dis, a god of death, darkness and the underworld. Consequently, each day began at night. The year begins with darkness because all things do; just as the baby forms in the mother’s womb, the new day begins in midnight’s darkness.

So an interesting understanding comes from this, the Celtic idea for the new year is not spring, when things are new in nature, or at the winter solstice where day begins to return again rather it came from another origin.  They saw darkness as the origin of life, so thus it was something to celebrate.   For us who live in an age where darkness is conceived as something to be frightened of this is likely a strange concept.  Anyone who has lived, especially in Wales, during a winter of cold, wet, and dark, would understand why this was seen as such a significant event.

A major reason for this day in Celtic myth was a celebration of death and life, death from the loss of those who will not survive the cold winter months and for the conception of new life which, lets be honest here, was one thing that would be common in months after the harvest and most of the hard work was done.   Sitting by the fire only gets you so far at the end of the day.

Another Celtic portion to the modern version of the day was the release of chaos during the darkness of that period.  In later folklore this idea was personified in a letting loose of youth.  Perceived by some as a way to keep reign on them the rest of the year.  In Scotland and Ireland this meant teens and children would play practical jokes and some not so harmless tricks on others in the community.

As Jack Santino says, “All Hallows Eve, alias Hallow Even, alias Hallowe’en is an ancient Celtic pre-Christian New Year’s day in modern dress.”2 Read the rest of this entry »


Stephen Hawking is wrong and here is why

September 2, 2010

Stephen Hawking, the great British physicist is putting out a new book.

In The Grand Design Hawking argues that, “”It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.”

He argues that gravity alone will always do it without any kick necessary from any Eternal power.   Part of his proof is the discovery of other planets in other solar systems.  To Hawking it proves that God did not create a world specifically in the perfect place for a once in an eternity chance of humanity.  I am not a physicist, nor have a I read the book, but just going on what I have read in various sources here is my unscientific opinion.

I think most Mormons accept that the universe is run under laws.  They are natural laws which govern all level of worlds.  That is one thing that both science and our faith agree.

Hawking and others seem to see that as justification for the lack of a God like figure.  I think most Mormons see it as God in everything.  We see his power in how the universe is governed not under pure chaos as some feel but rather under a structure and order which is influenced by God where necessary to get the right outcomes.  I would suggest that is how each of our lives work.

Give that then rather than seeing earth as an accident of one time positioning seems counter to the Mormon understanding of the universe.

Abraham 3

11 Thus I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another; and he told me of the works which his hands had made;

12 And he said unto me: My son, my son (and his hand was stretched out), behold I will show you all these. And he put his hand upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof.

In this writing it appears that Abraham was introduced to the concept that the earth was not alone and that there were many more like them.  To my mind the simple discovery of more earths does not suddenly suggest that this one is just some cosmic event ruled only by gravity.  In my estimation we have known about other planets for a while now, ever since some one realized Mars and Venus were not simply stars.

I think that the big bang or the new Darwinian moment that some are spinning, much like Book of Mormon DNA everyone will go too much on both sides.

Though I think he did a great service for the Creation from Nothing crowd:

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” Hawking writes.

So there you go Creation from nothing DOES exist, or doesn’t, or something…

Personally I think that is a stretch of logic but as I say my physics ended in grade 12 so I might not be the most logical source for an opinion ;0).


Teaching history at home

September 1, 2010

Rather than go into a long discussion on a point which is nebulous to what I really want to talk about let me just say:

I have two kids who are being home schooled and three that are at school and one that thinks she should be…

My twins have had speech/communications issues and learning disabilities which are not severe enough to hold them back or get special help yet they are basically the type of kids that the system shuffles along while shrugging.

So my wife put her foot down and we are now home schoolers.  In the process of looking for suitable materials one thing is clear to me.  Homeschooling seems to be something religious people predominately do.

How do I know this?  Well loads of the history books avoid evolution (they talk of “nomads”) and give way to much credence to bible as truth.  Look, I am all for that, to some extent, but I consider it to be foolhardy to ignore science.

So we have been combing around for some world history books that might interest grade 4 students that would not talk down to them or be boring.  So with this in mind I also put my foot down on the pseudo-history that some of the books had.

Now let me introduce my choice.  This book on the right had a good mix of web page style  fitted with actual information.  It seems to be a good introduction to world history without going overboard.  It also includes a wide variety of things, including the story of the Israelites but in a much more classroom style.

Case in point, the opening discussion is about evolution of man but it is a brief discussion, it has the various bipedal ancient hominids on a suspects wall with a brief introduction.  Then it moves on into Egypt discussing some of the roles of Egyptian religion and lifestyle.  It is done in a cartoon type format.

As some who takes history seriously I found the book both cheap ($17 bucks on Amazon) and a good way to get them interested in history.   My wife is using the book to reinforce language arts so that they learn more than just history.

If you are considering homeschooling I would certainly recommend it.  At least for younger kids.

Of course the advantage to home schooling is we can go on a “field trip” to the museum whenever we feel like to also reignite the learning process in a different way.

Day one done lets see what tomorrow brings.


God are you against me?

September 1, 2010

It a common question that people ask themselves.  How do we deal with God when it appears we get hurt by decisions that seem right, seem authorized and yet explode in our face?

What do we do when doubt and anger creeps in when it seems like God does not hear our prayers or worse, he allows all these things to happen to us?

About two years ago things happened to me that I found myself left empty and outraged.  I was mad, not at the church, not at the leadership, but at God.  I felt that he abandon me after leading me down a primrose path which created a terrible set of circumstances.  So I hated God, I disbelieved his ability to save me.  In other words I lost my belief.

I spent probably 18 months going through the motions.  Doing all the things I used to but losing any desire to continue to act as a real Latter-day Saint.   This is not an uncommon experience, of course, many have fallen out with faith in religions world wide.

During my four years in Britain it was common to see chapels being used as pubs, garages and houses.   Some were just plain abandoned, they had become derelicts because the population rarely attend church.  In fact our kids easily got into a Church in Wales (Anglican) school because we were attending church.  I was told that many were amazed because it was “difficult” to qualify.

As the years have gone by and I have become more in tune with God again I have realized that while I am still not happy with my so-called Job moment, I understand better that I needed to overcome it.  Unlike Job I found I could not just let it all fall off my strong testimony.

I have seen now that some aspects of what happened would have made life difficult on us as we were entering a depressed economy in a tiny community in the mountains. However though my goal has changed some it is not completely turned on its heels.  In fact I am still able to do some of the things I wanted to even if it was not in manner I wanted.  In fact I have picked up the derelict bricks and slowly rebuilt the temple in my heart.

My understanding of God and his role in my life has changed to some degree, yet I feel like I have a much better understanding of how my Father in Heaven works with me.  My personal relationship with God is like any other relationship.  I can build or destroy it, it is my choice.  Can I rebuild that relationship with someone I cannot see?

There is a key I decided that the problem was me.  In evaluating my anger I decided that it was something that created a gap.  I felt discouraged and annoyed about all that had happened and blamed it on God.  Deciding to begin reaching out to God once more is something which seemed easier said than done.  But I felt the need, to once again accept that I am unable to control everything.

However, with a rebuilt relationship there is a slow and steady approach.   So anyone could return to accepting that God is not to blame for everything, and maybe one border guard should not determine how I view my relationship with God.  I am not the best of students but I can say I am learning on this eternal path… I hope all of those who question God can come to an understanding.


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