Ten Tidbits about the Old Testament

Ten Tidbits about the Old Testament September 6, 2007

This post joins the previous ones of similar title on the New Testament and Book of Mormon.

I make no claims that these are the biggest nor the most tantalizing, but here are ten tidbits about the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) that receive little attention (in my experience) in Church settings. I’m intentionally leaving out the better known biggies, such as JEDP, two or three Isaiahs, or the fact that “history” in the modern sense wasn’t an operative category for the authors of the Hebrew Bible. These topics are more widely discussed elsewhere and don’t lend themselves easily to one-line smackdowns. Here’s the list, with thanks to my fellow bloggers for corrections and additions, esp Moggett, Nitsav, and HP:

1. “Thou shalt not kill” should be translated “you shall not murder”.

2. Prophecy: Prophecy was restricted, for the most part, to speaking about contemporary situations. This changed in the exile and post-exile. [Corollary: It’s highly unlikely that the Immanuel prophecy references Christ, which is a centuries later connection resulting from interpretation of prophecy. The connection is forged when Matthew uses the Septuagint’s mistranslation of ‘young woman’ (Heb. ‘ ‘almah ‘) as ‘virgin’ (Gk. “parthenos”) in the infancy narrative.]

In some texts, prophecy was a professional vocation, which some scholars have compared to a guild. Additionally, it also involved ecstatic (some translate “frenzied”) behavior at times. Prophets competed with each other and women could be prophets. Finally, Prophecy is coterminous with kingship (more or less).

3. Messiah: Some scholars says there’s only one clear reference to a coming Messiah. It’s in Daniel 9:25, I think. (And see #8, below). There’s no indication of a resurrection until quite late, nor is there any link between the messiah and resurrection, nor does the messiah suffer. The messiah of deutero-Isaiah is Cyrus. The Ancient of Days in Daniel is God rather than Adam and the Son of Man is a collective figure.

4. There’s not a shred of evidence that the Endowment derives from rituals performed in Solomon’s Temple, let alone any kind of marriages.

5. There is a discrepancy about who killed Goliath. See 1 Sam 17 (David) vs. 2 Sam 21:19. (The KJV will lead you astray in 2 Sam 21:19.) It’s more likely that David didn’t kill Goliath, but perhaps rather another, anonymous, Philistine.

6. Though it’s clear Israelite religion wasn’t always monotheistic, we also don’t find the LDS conception of the Godhead (Father, Son, Holy Ghost) present. Further, as many know already, there is no Jehovah = Jesus; Elohim = God the Father correlation. (Apparently there wasn’t in early Joseph Smith, either, but this is outside my expertise.) Finally, there was never any god called “Jehovah” in the ancient world. “Jehovah” arose by a misunderstanding of how the tetragrammaton (YHWH) is vowelled. (It was most likely vocalized as ‘Yahweh’.)

7. As in the NT, the notion of Priesthood is severely restricted to persons able to officiate in the cult. (As for the “lowering” of the priesthood, this is the result of our interpretation of the combination of two texts that did not originally show a “new” covenant being made. See my posts on this.)

8. The last texts of the OT (= parts of Daniel) were probably written in the second century BC, not the fifth.

9. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job all present radically divergent outlooks of the way the world works, specifically around the question of theodicy.

10. The Israelites were not radically different from their neighbors, especially in terms of material culture. They worshiped the same gods, (sometimes by different names), spoke the same language, and by and large existed in continuity with the “evil” Canaanites that preceded them. That, and they intermingled even with “forbidden” population groups whenever possible.


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