The Jacob (pseud)epigraphon in the book of Alma

I have no idea how many Mormons there are in biblical and related studies. It’s a very small percentage, I’m sure. But they and Mormonism were nicely included in the two volume reference work, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. A Mormon scholar wrote the entry on the Testament of Adam, and Mormons in general are listed on the back cover (easily accessible here) along with Christians, Jews, and Muslims, as ‘people of the book.’

This was due entirely to the magnanimity of the editor, James Charlesworth, I suspect, who once spoke at BYU on the topic of Messianism in the Pseudepigrapha and the Book of Mormon (not to mention his once having been teacher to the founder of FARMS and to one of the chairs of BYU’s department of Ancient Scripture). His talk is about as genteel a treatment as could be hoped for from a bible scholar.

One of the challenges in the study of Old Testament pseudepigrapha is the issue of the (possible) later Christianization of texts that were (hypothetically) written by Jews. So of the “apparently later Christian” material in the Book of Mormon, such as Mosiah 3:8-10, Charlesworth says in his talk that it does not necessarily rule out Jewish composition before the Common Era:

In these three verses, we find what most critical scholars would call clearly Christian phrases; that is, the description is so precise that it is evident it was added after the event. The technical term for this phenomenon is vaticinium ex eventu. The specific details are the clarification that the Messiah will be called ‘Jesus Christ,’ that his mother will be called Mary, that salvation is through faith—indeed faith on his name—that many will say he has a devil, that he will be scourged and crucified, and finally that he will rise on the third day from the dead. Do not these three verses contain a Christian recital of Christ’s life?

How are we to evaluate this new observation? Does it not vitiate the claim that this section of the Book of Mormon, Mosiah, was written before 91 B.C.? Not necessarily so, since Mormons acknowledge that the Book of Mormon could have been edited and expanded on at least two occasions that postdate the life of Jesus of Nazareth. It is claimed that the prophet Mormon abridged some parts of the Book of Mormon in the fourth century A.D. And likewise it is evident that Joseph Smith in the nineteenth century had the opportunity to redact the traditions that he claimed to have received.

Today biblical scholars are making significant and exciting discoveries into the various strata of ancient documents through the use of what is called Redaction Criticism, a method employed to discern the editorial tendencies of an author-compiler. Perhaps it would be wise for specialists to look carefully at this phenomenon in the Book of Mormon. The recognition that the Book of Mormon has been edited on more than one occasion would certainly explain why certain of the messianic passages appear to be Christian compositions.

After a fashion, here Charlesworth is defending Mormon belief in the antiquity of its founding scripture, though not a Mormon himself. And he is suggesting the use of tools of higher criticism to do it, namely redaction criticism.

Charlesworth spoke at BYU in the 1970s, a few years before volume one of The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha was published. Since then, besides the waning of redaction criticism, there has recently been an effort to supplement his editorial work with another volume, simply called More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. I don’t know, but it is not impossible that a Mormon scholar or two is writing entries for the volume. Mormons in general might also be listed on the back cover when it is published.

All this makes the absence of any Mormon *texts* from the compiled volumes of Old Testament pseudepigrapha rather striking. Is it that friendliness and open mindedness only go so far? they cannot risk contempt from the academy, as the basic rules of scholarship prohibit something like the Book of Mormon from counting as biblical, i.e. ancient? or is it just that no Mormon text meets the criteria for inclusion in these compiled volumes of Old Testament pseudepigrapha (in brief, refer to the link to MOTP above for criteria)?

The Jacob (pseud)epigraphon in the book of Alma presents an interesting manageable case. Quoted by chief captain Moroni within the record of Helaman on the (large) plates of Nephi as edited by Mormon, the text proper is brief (Alma 46:24b-25 in bold):

24.Yea, let us preserve our liberty as a remnant of Joseph; yea, let us remember the words of Jacob, before his death, for behold, he saw that a part of the remnant of the coat of Joseph was preserved and had not decayed. And he said—

Even as this remnant of garment of my son hath been preserved, so shall a remnant of the seed of my son be preserved by the hand of God, and be taken unto himself, while the remainder of the seed of Joseph shall perish, even as the remnant of his garment. 25.Now behold, this giveth my soul sorrow; nevertheless, my soul hath joy in my son, because of that part of his seed which shall be taken unto God.

26.Now behold, this was the language of Jacob.

Could a text such as this be included? should it? why or why not? if it were included, what might the text edition look like? In a follow up, I’ll throw out some ideas, and, lest anyone cry foul, I’ll even look at how the Jacob (pseud)epigraphon is used in the book of Alma.

  • Carl Griffin

    My colleague at the Maxwell Institute, Kristian Heal, was invited to write the MOTP article on the Syriac History of Joseph. So there is at least one Mormon contributor.

  • g.wesley

    Good to know. Thanks for the info Carl.


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