A Case for the DH, Part III: No New Covenant (not in Exod 34, anyway)

A Case for the DH, Part III: No New Covenant (not in Exod 34, anyway) May 14, 2007

The evidence and discussion in parts I and II are more than just academic exercises and proofs of the DH, because they deal with a narrative that is central to some of the fundamental tenets of the Church: the “New Covenant” that we understand God to have made with the Israelites. In the compiled version of Exod 34, it appears that Moses went up the mountain a second time to get a new set of tablets. The first set, which was intended to include the decalogue and possibly the Covenant Code (Exod 21-23), was smashed in Exod 32. The second set, as we have seen, looks as if it contains the words the covenant of Exod 34:10-26. But when the strands are separated (as we have done with confidence), there is nothing new to be written on the second set of tablets. And J only ever has one covenant: the one that stipulates that in exchange for obedience to vv. 10-26, God would be with Israel when she went into the promised land. It’s only because someone tried to make a Diatessaron-like narrative that we suppose a new covenant ever existed. Thus the “new covenant” is a product of the compiler’s work, not of any “original” story.

The conclusions of this study are not auxiliary to Latter-day Saint theology. As our narrative has it, because of the wickedness of the Israelites, God retracted the original covenant (the Melchizedek Priesthood, some construe as the Endowment) and instead instituted a secondary, “lesser” covenant (the Aaronic Priesthood). JST Exod 34:1-2 reports:

And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two other tables of stone, like unto the first, and I will write upon them also, the words of the law, according as they were written at the first on the tables which thou brakest; but it shall not be according to the first, for I will take away the priesthood out of their midst; therefore my holy order, and the ordinances thereof, shall not go before them; for my presence shall not go up in their midst, lest I destroy them.

But I will give unto them the law as at the first, but it shall be after the law of a carnal commandment; for I have sworn in my wrath, that they shall not enter into my presence, into my rest, in the days of their pilgrimage. Therefore do as I have commanded thee, and be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, …

This raises an important point, that the JST not only is rendered problematic when the strands are separated, but even if the strands weren’t separated, what the JST (and D&C 84) produces is not a narrative consistent with the Bible: if God waited until Exod 34 to give the “lesser law”, what is one to make of all the legal material in Exod 20, 21, 22, 23, 25-31, etc?

Don’t mistake, I’m not trying to prove revelation “untrue” (whatever that might mean), but rather to discuss its nature. If we’re right about the source division, we can put Exodus 34 into the same category of the Golden Plates, Book of Abraham, Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, perhaps the Book of Mormon itself, the JST, and the Masonic connections to the Endowment: something provoked the Prophet’s to question and then to receive revelation on the matter, but we need not suppose that that revelation included an accurate reflection of history or (less troublingly) of what the original text “meant”, in any of these cases.

This line of questioning, imho, has the potential not only to broaden the discourse on revelation and its history, but also the potential to help us achieve a more subtle relationship with revelation and to shorten the distance between Joseph Smith ‘s revelations and those of an “average” member of the church. The more we are able to view the mechanisms of such revelation, perhaps the more we will be able to nourish the same tendencies in ourselves. But perhaps this opens up an entirely new can of worms…


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